Skip to content

The Breakdown - Scottish Origins of the Civil War

Updated Sunday 7th January 2001

Charles' attempts to rule three kingdoms as one explains the Scottish Origins of the Civil War

Map of Britain and Ireland Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Wark Clements

Charles was the monarch of three kingdoms - Scotland, England and Ireland - and his attempts to rule these three jurisdictions as if they were a unitary entity contributed to his downfall.

Charles' attempted imposition of an Anglican Prayer Book on the Scottish Kirk in 1637 sparked off major controversy and a riot in St. Giles Cathedral. Leading Scottish nobles and clergy gathered together to sign a National Covenant in February 1638 in which they promised to defend their church against Anglicanism and Episcopalianism.

Charles responded to the Covenant with fury, regarding the signatories as rebels who ought to be crushed. He gathered an army together in spring 1639, determined to teach the Scots a lesson. The Scots responded in kind, raising a Covenanter army under the command of David Leslie, a Thirty Years War veteran. The Three kingdoms were hurtling towards the abyss.

The First Bishops War ended without major violence but resulted in humiliation for Charles. His army had little stomach for the fight and he was forced to conclude the war by signing the Pacification of Berwick and agreeing to several Covenanter demands. Angry and vengeful, Charles turned to his trusted ally, the Earl of Strafford, for advice. Strafford advocated a properly funded military campaign against the Scots but this would require finance and the support of Parliament, and so, in spring 1640, Charles called a Parliament, the first in England for eleven years.

St Giles, Edinburgh, Scotland Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Used with permission

Following the riot at St Giles, the signing of the National Covenant in 1638 may be interpreted as a declaration of Scottish national identify and a determination to defend the Kirk against Laudianism. Although the Covenant proclaimed loyalty to the Crown, Charles interpreted it as an assault on his authority and determined to suppress the 'rebels'. His later troubles flowed from this decision.

Civil War: The Breakdown

 

For further information, take a look at our frequently asked questions which may give you the support you need.

Have a question?

Other content you may like

Timeline 1638 Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Wark Clements article icon

History & The Arts 

Timeline 1638

A year-by-year guide to the key events of the Civil War

Article
King Charles I, 1600 - 1649 Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Wark Clements article icon

History & The Arts 

King Charles I, 1600 - 1649

First he lost his parliament; then his throne; then his head. Find out more about the King of England during this bloody era. 

Article
The 2015 UK election result: A view from Australia Creative commons image Icon Andrew Parsons/The Conservative Party under CC-BY-NC-SA licence under Creative-Commons license article icon

Society, Politics & Law 

The 2015 UK election result: A view from Australia

Writing for The Conversation, Brian McNair shares his personal view of what the surprise majority for the Conservatives might mean for the people and nations of the UK.

Article
Taking Sides - War 1642-1644 Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Wark Clements article icon

History & The Arts 

Taking Sides - War 1642-1644

Discontent had begat disagreement; disagreement led to war

Article
Total war - 1645 Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Wark Clements article icon

History & The Arts 

Total war - 1645

It was to be a year in which the vector of victory would swoop round: 1645

Article
Timeline 1646 Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Wark Clements article icon

History & The Arts 

Timeline 1646

A year-by-year guide to the key events of the Civil War

Article
The Second Bishops' War Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Wark Clements article icon

History & The Arts 

The Second Bishops' War

Charles was once again outflanked during the Second Bishops' War

Article
The Breakdown - The Crisis Escalates Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Wark Clements article icon

History & The Arts 

The Breakdown - The Crisis Escalates

The Short and Long Parliaments provided a forum for discontent - and so the crisis escalated

Article
The English Civil War: The Breakdown - Introduction Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Wark Clements video icon

TV, Radio & Events 

The English Civil War: The Breakdown - Introduction

Tristram Hunt introduces the second section of the Civil War: The Breakdown of relationships in the nations.

Video
5 mins