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Balance of Power: August 1642

Updated Sunday, 7th January 2001

The country was split - the Civil war even pulled apart friends and family

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Map of England, August 1642

The terrible brutality of a civil war lies in its ability to create divisions within communities and families. As the recent conflicts in Rwanda, Sierra Leone and the former Yugoslavia have shown, there is nothing more destructive than a nation at war with itself.

Though casualties, in the absence of modern automatic weapons, were lower than in twentieth century wars, the English Civil War was extremely violent and bloody. Across the country, with war looming, families and communities were forced to decide.

The Verney family was split asunder by the conflict. Sir Edmund Verney, the King's Knight Marshal and loyal servant to Charles, unsurprisingly fought for the Cavaliers; his son, Ralph Verney was the MP for Aylesbury and supported the Roundheads while his brother, Edmund Verney, followed his father in fighting for the King.

The great friendship of Sir Ralph Hopton and Sir William Waller, who had spent the 1620s fighting side by side for the Protestant cause on the Continent, was similarly strained by the conflict. As Waller followed his Presbyterian creed and declared for Parliament, Hopton stood by a King whom he had frequently criticised in the past. Sir William and Sir Ralph were to meet many times in battle as they engaged time and again for control of the West Country.

For one moderate nobleman it was all highly confusing. Wandering through Westminster, the Norfolk gent Sir Thomas Knyvett was accosted by Parliamentarians and asked to take up his command of the local militia;
'Twas no place to dispute, so I took it and desired some time to advise upon it. I had not received this many hours, but I met with a declaration point blank against it by the King.'

Poor old Knyvett was in a complete spin:
'Now there is so much declared as makes all officers in the Kingdom traitors of one side or the other. Neither are standers in any better condition.' He would finally declare for the King. Like many who joined the Royalists, he had little love for Charles, but he couldn't bring himself to resist his lawful sovereign.

The very idea of rebelling against the anointed monarch was just too awful for many people to contemplate. Since their earliest days at Church, the English people had been instilled with the strict teachings of the Homily on Obedience:
'The authority of kings are ordinances not of man, but of God. We may not resist, nor in any wise hurt, an anointed king.'
The Homily was based on the clear Biblical decree of Romans 13:
'For there is no power but of God; the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever resisteth the power resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that shall receive to themselves damnation.'
The idea of resisting divine power was too sinful. As a result, many counties, such as Yorkshire, Cheshire, and Cornwall, signed pacts of non-aggression to avoid the horrors of war. They didn't last long.

As 1641 marched on, England was becoming slowly divided between Royalist and Parliamentarian sympathisers. Generally, the West and North were for the King; the East and South for Parliament. The areas with strongest support for Parliament were those with a strong history of Puritanism such as Essex and East Anglia. Crucially for the Roundheads, both London, Bristol and Newcastle, the commercial centres of the seventeenth century, were all under Parliamentary or Covenanter control. Parliament also had charge of the Navy which prevented any foreign help from reaching Charles.

 

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