The English Civil War: Glossary

From Absolutism to Whig, with Puritan and Popery somewhere in between, all the key terms are in our glossary

By: The Civil War team (Programme and web teams)

  • Duration 10 mins
  • Updated Sunday 7th January 2001
  • Introductory level
  • Posted under World History, History
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Crowd - detail from Execution of King Charles I Copyrighted image Copyright: Wark Clements

ABSOLUTISM
A political system in which legislative and executive authority is vested in the person of the sovereign, with little or no role for democratic representation.

ACT OF ATTAINDER
A Parliamentary Act condemning persons convicted of high treason to loss of property and goods. Rules of evidence are relaxed in an Act of Attainder and often only a general presumption of guilt is required. An Act of Attainder was brought against Strafford by Pym when the latter was unable to prove the charges of treason he had brought against the King's minister. Under pressure from Parliament, Charles reluctantly signed the death warrant and Strafford was executed on 12th May, 1641.

AGITATOR
A soldiers' representative in the New Model Army. The rank and file were the first to elect agitators but the officers followed suit later. When the army's General Council was formed in June 1647, agitators were included in it along with senior army officers. Most agitators supported at least some Leveller ideas.

ANGLICAN
Pertaining to the Church of England, a moderately reformed Protestant church organised along Episcopal lines (i.e. with bishops).

CALVINISM
Pertaining to the beliefs of the French theologian and reformer, John Calvin (1509- 1564). Calvin endorsed a Presbyterian model of church government and insisted that the bread and wine of the eucharist should be taken in a commemorative manner only. Calvinism put down strong roots in Scotland and Holland. Calvin is also strongly associated with the doctrine of predestination.

CAVALIERS
A pejorative term applied to Royalists during the Civil War. Derived from the Spanish term 'caballero' (cavalry), Spanish cavalry troops were believed by Protestants to behave in a high handed and brutal manner.

COMMONWEALTH
The political settlement of the early Republican period (1649- 53)

COUNTER-REFORMATION
Attempts by the Catholic church and secular Catholic authorities to stem the flow of Protestantism and reform some of the worst excesses of medieval Catholicism.

COVENANTER
The term applied to Scottish Protestants who endorsed the 1638 National Covenant which affirmed a determination to defend the Scottish Kirk from Laudian reforms, and who wished to secure an extension of Presbyterianism into England. The Scottish Covenanter army invaded the north of England in January 1644 in support of the English Parliament.

DIVINE RIGHT
A system of political thought which asserts that monarchs are anointed by God to rule on earth, and that to challenge a sovereign's will is to defy the will of God. The execution of Charles I in 1649 (and the absence of any divine wrath) tended to undermine this concept.

ENGAGEMENT
The name of the agreement signed by Charles and the Scottish Covenanters on December 26th, 1647. Under the terms of the Engagement, the Scots would provide Charles with an army of 20,000 men on condition that he introduced Presbyterianism to England for three years following his return to the throne. The Engagement made the resumption of hostilities inevitable and the Second Civil War commenced in March 1648. On learning of the Engagement, Parliament passed the Vote of No Addresses which prohibited all future discussions with the monarch.

EPISCOPALIAN
A form of church government based on bishops. Episkopi is the Greek word for 'bishop'.

EUCHARIST
The sacrament of the Lord's supper (Holy Communion).

GRAND REMONSTRANCE
A petition passed by the Long Parliament in November 1641 which catalogued religious and political abuses alleged to have been committed by Charles during his period of personal rule.

GRANDEE
A term applied to the senior officers in the New Model Army, usually drawn from a higher social class than the rank and file troops.

IMPEACHMENT
Parliamentary proceedings against a King's minister for failing to carry out his duties in the prescribed manner.

INDEPENDENTS
Radical Protestants who opposed state-regulated worship and who believed that the only form of church organisation sanctioned by the Bible was a congregation of like-minded believers who might 'call' one of their number to become a minister. Independents in Parliament and in the Army generally favoured a vigorous prosecution of the war effort and opposed the moderate Presbyterian old guard (who favoured a negotiated end to the War).

IRONSIDES
The term applied to Cromwell's Cavalry, so-called because of their metal breastplates. Later applied to all Parliamentary cavalry who wore similar armour.

JACOBITE
Anyone who supported a Stuart restoration after 1690. There were several Jacobite risings in the early eighteenth century but the most famous Jacobite Rebellion occurred in 1745-46, and was led by Prince Charles Edward Stuart ('Bonny Prince Charlie'), grandson of the deposed James VII/II. 'Jacobus' is Latin for James.

LAUDIAN
Relating to the church reforms initiated by Archbishop of Canterbury William Laud between 1633 and 1641. Laud favoured a 'high church' form of Anglicanism which emphasised vestments, church ornaments and a special intermediary role for the clergy between God and man. Laud's Puritan critics regarded this as tantamount to Catholicism.

LEVELLER
Name applied to supporters of John Lilburne, William Walwyn, Richard Overton et al, called after the early rioters against enclosure who 'levelled' fences erected by landlords around former common lands. Although they did not support a universal franchise, the Levellers certainly supported a massive extension of voting rights, abolition of censorship, and dis-establishment of the Church of England. An egalitarian political grouping, Colonel Thomas Rainsborough memorably stated: 'the poorest he that is in England hath a life to live as the greatest he'.

LEVIATHAN
In Hebrew, a huge sea creature; in political philosophy, a book published by Thomas Hobbes in 1651. Hobbes' philosophy was directly influenced by the chaos and uncertainty of the Civil War era. In Leviathan, he argued that everyone should subordinate their short-term selfish interests to the will of an all-powerful sovereign, a Leviathan, in order to maintain stability and order.

LUTHERAN
Pertaining to the religious beliefs of Martin Luther, the Protestant reformer (1483- 1546). Although he was not the first cleric to question the supremacy of the Catholic Church, Luther was the first to inspire a series of successful breakaways which undermined the Church's authority and resulted in major religious divisions in western Europe.

NATIONAL COVENANT
Following the attempt to introduce the Anglican Prayer Book to Scotland in 1637, Scottish resistance to Anglicanism was embodied in the signing of the National Covenant in Greyfriars Kirk in February 1638 by leading Scottish nobles, gentry and clergy. The Covenant promised to defend the Church of Scotland from Anglican innovation and to uphold Presbyterianism, and many ordinary people signed the document as it travelled through Scotland in 1638. Although the Covenant proclaimed loyalty to the sovereign, Charles I interpreted it as a challenge to his authority, and when the Church of Scotland abolished Bishops in November 1638, this resulted in the Bishops' Wars of 1639- 40.

NEW MODEL ARMY
The name given to the re-organised army formed by Parliament in April 1645, and based on the army formerly commanded by the Earl of Essex and the forces of the Eastern Association. Most seventeenth century armies were organised along rather chaotic feudal lines but the New Model Army embodied a number of military innovations: soldiers were to be paid regularly, promotion was to be based on merit, and looting was forbidden. New Model Army soldiers were also inspired by strong religious convictions and quickly proved their worth in the Second Civil War. New Model Army soldiers were extremely receptive to Leveller ideas.

PLANTATION
The name given to the colonies of Scottish and English Protestants established by the Crown in Ireland from the mid-sixteenth century onwards. Although the first plantations were in central and southern Ireland, following the Flight of the Earls (1607) most of the Jacobean plantations were located in the counties of Ulster.

POPERY
The crude term for Roman Catholicism, generally used by Protestant bigots.

PRESBYTERIAN
Pertaining to a system of church government in which power is vested in the hands of ministers and lay elders (Presbyters). The Church of Scotland is a Presbyterian church.

PROTECTORATE
The name given to the political settlement which predominated during the later Republic (1653- 1660). Under a constitution known as the Instrument of Government, Cromwell served as Lord Protector.

PURITAN
The term applied to reforming Protestants who wanted to purge or 'purify' the Church of England of all remaining Popish influences from the later sixteenth century onwards. Puritanism grew in strength and number during the early seventeenth century and was a major factor in precipitating the Civil Wars. Puritans tended to regard moderate Protestantism or Anglicanism as little better than Catholicism.

REFORMATION
The term applied to the religious revolution which occurred in sixteenth century western Europe, and which led to the division of the continent into Catholic and Protestant spheres of influence. Protestantism proved popular in the north and west (Scotland, Holland, Scandinavia, northern Germany, England) while Catholicism remained dominant in the south.

ROUNDHEADS
The term applied to Parliamentary supporters and soldiers during the Civil War era, so-called because of their close-cropped haircuts.

RUMP PARLIAMENT
The term applied to the remnants or 'rump' of the Long Parliament after it was 'purged' by Col. Thomas Pride in December 1648. 180 moderate or conservative MPs were barred or arrested and the Rump initially consisted of 56 radicals who were willing to support the army in its policy of trying and executing the King. Hamstrung by a cash shortage and continuing political division, the Rump proved ineffectual during the Commonwealth era and was dissolved by Cromwell in April 1653.

SELF-DENYING ORDINANCE
An Ordinance is any decree issued by Parliament which does not have Royal Authority. The Self-Denying Ordinance came into effect on 3rd April 1645 and prohibited peers or MPs from holding command in the New Model Army (though Cromwell was exempted). This action weakened the influence of the Parliamentary moderates and Presbyterians, and dramatically enhanced the effectiveness of the New Model Army.

SHIP MONEY
A levy or tax designed to aid coastal protection and finance the Royal Navy. Ship Money was originally only levied in the coastal counties but Charles' decision to extend it throughout England in 1635 provoked massive opposition and a legal challenge from John Hampden. Charles won the legal battle but the hostility remained. Ship Money was finally abolished by the Long Parliament in July 1641.

SOLEMN LEAGUE AND COVENANT
An alliance concluded between Parliament and the Scottish Covenanters in September 1643. The Scots Covenanters agreed to bring an army into England to help Parliament in its war against the Crown, and Parliament promised to enforce Presbyterianism in England in return. The Royalists had made significant military advances during the summer of 1643 and the conclusion of the Solemn League and Covenant offset some of these gains. The Scots Covenanter army entered the north of England in January 1644 and played a major role in the Battle of Marston Moor.

THOROUGH
The policy associated with the Earl of Strafford in Ireland throughout the 1630s. In practice, it took the form of enforcing religious conformity, enhancing royal authority in the courts, and a more rigorous management of Royal estates and revenues. Many opposition MPs feared that Ireland was merely a dress rehearsal for England, hence their strong hostility to Strafford.

TORY
From about 1680 onwards, a Tory was anyone who supported the Crown and the Royal Prerogative against Parliament, and who tended to support high church Anglicanism. Originally a term for an Irish brigand, the Tories evolved into the Conservative and Unionist Party in the nineteenth century.

TRANSUBSTANTIATION
The Catholic belief that the bread and wine consumed during communion is turned into the literal body and blood of Christ by the action of the priest. Protestants repudiated this concept and consume the bread and wine in a commemorative or symbolic manner only.

VOTE OF NO ADDRESSES
After Charles I concluded his Engagement with the Scots in December 1647, Parliament passed a Vote of No Addresses which prohibited all future negotiations with the monarch.

WHIG
From about 1680 onwards, a Whig was anyone who tended to support Parliament in its battles with the Crown, and who tended to favour a more tolerant religious settlement. A whiggamore was originally a term for a Scottish Covenanter and, in the nineteenth century, the Whig Party evolved into the Liberal Party.

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