The Coming of Civil War

Although Charles I's actions had aroused controversy almost from the moment he ascended the throne in 1625, his control over his kingdoms remained relatively firm until 1638, when Scotland rebelled in protest against his attempt to impose a new liturgy on its church.  In the spring of 1640, shortly after the failure of the English Short Parliament, the King launched the second of two military campaigns against the Scottish rebels.  Instead of meeing the army that Charles had cobbled together from English militia forces on their own territory, the Scots invaded England.  In late summer they routed a contingent of the English army that was attempting to halt their advance and proceeded to occupy Newcastle, giving them the ability to choke of the supply of coal needed to heat London during the winter.  This defeat discredited the King, ultimately forcing him to convene a new Parliament that assembled in Westminster in November of 1640.

The political struggle that ensued, as Charles tried to regain his lost authority while Parliament's leaders sought to reduce him to a royal figurehead, was accompanied by an unprecedented outburst of political excitement.  Censorship of the press effectively collapsed as the number of printed items rose dramatically, from an average of around 500 titles a year in the 1630s to 2,177 in 1641 and 4,188 the following year, a figure not exceeded again until the eighteenth century.  There was also a shift toward the publication of short topical items, including pamphlets, parliamentary speeches and the first English domestic newsbooks, direct ancestors of the newspaper.  Politics spilled into the city's streets, as demonstrators attempted to shape events.  Already in the spring of 1640 London apprentices had attacked Lambeth Palace, the residence of Archbishop William Laud of Canterbury, who was widely blamed for the King's ecclesiastical policies and the unpopular war with Scotland.  In the autumn London puritans presented a petition to Parliament calling for the abolition of the English bishops, with all their "roots and branches".  The following March and April, as impeachments proceedings against Charles's leading minister, Thomas Wentworth Earl of Strafford, reached their climax apprentices again poured into the streets of Westminster to intimidate the Earl's supporters and demand justcie against him.  By late spring, however, armed gentlemen loyal to the King began to attack the apprentices, contesting control of Westminster's streets.  London was therefore not only the epicenter of the political crisis but an active participant in it.  Charles's loss of control of the City government in elections in December 1641 further weakened his position, leading indirectly to his decision to abandon his capital a few months later.  Thereafter the size of the city's population and economy provided Parliament with one of its chief stategic assets.   

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