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Timeline 1642

Updated Sunday, 7th January 2001

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

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King Charles I in court Copyrighted  image Icon Copyright: Wark Clements

January: Charles tries to arrest the five members

Fearing that Parliament is about to impeach Queen Henrietta Maria, Charles attempts to arrest his leading Parliamentary tormentors-but the 'birds have already flown'.

The King's resolve stiffened when he heard of the Remonstrance. He could see that he now faced a concerted opposition to his kingship which no number of concessions would mollify. With every inch, they wanted a mile. He purged his Council of those sympathetic to Parliament. In this new militant mode, he enjoyed the full support of his most influential adviser, Queen Henrietta Maria. There was no love lost between the steadfast Puritan John Pym and the Catholic Queen. Pym accused Henrietta Maria of all sorts of Catholic plots. The Irish rebellion became known as the "Queen's Rebellion."

When rumours began to circulate that Pym was on the verge of impeaching the Queen herself, Charles was forced to act. He accused the leaders of the Parliamentary opposition of high treason. By arresting them he hoped to quash rebellion and rip the heart out of the Parliamentarian party. This was the King's counter-coup. He could play hard-ball too. And when Charles baulked at the enormity of the move, Henrietta Maria was there to stiffen his resolve : "Go, you coward, and pull these rogues out by the ears, or never see my face more." Charles agreed and said he would be back within the hour.

On January 4th 1642, Charles marched out of Whitehall followed by 400 armed guards and made his way to the House of Commons. Tipped off by his lover, the Queen's friend Lady Carlisle, Pym learnt of Charles' approach as the Commons was in full session. Pym and his four fellow accomplices slipped out of the chamber. They left Westminster Palace by a back exit and stepped onto a waiting barge to take them downriver to the City of London. Charles burst into a shocked Commons, removed his hat, and demanded of Speaker Lenthall, 'Is Mr Pym here?' Lenthall famously replied, 'I have neither eyes to see, nor tongue to speak except as this House is pleased to direct me.' No matter, replied Charles as he scanned the Chamber, 'I see all the birds have flown.'

Failing to find Pym, Charles turned tail and pursued the fugitives deep into the City where he was met with hostile cries of 'Privilege!' from the encircling crowds. London seemed to be turning against him. Frightened by the mobs and the growing air of rebellion, Charles returned to Whitehall, gathered his wife and children and fled the capital. At dead of night, their coaches hurtled out of Westminster following the Thames down to the safety of Hampton Court. Hearing commotion and heavy knocks, the staff opened the gates to find a frightened and bedraggled royal family. With no rooms prepared, the family had to sleep together on an unmade bed.

While Charles was in Hampton, London was collapsing into anarchy. Shops closed, barricades were erected, and chains were pulled across streets. It became a capital under siege - mental siege. Fears of plots and invasions drove the populace into a frenzy. To appease the blood-lust of the anti-Catholic mob, Parliament sanctioned the execution of several priests.

In Charles's absence the Parliamentarians seized control of key strategic sites, most notably Tower Hill with its vast arsenal. Supported by the violent and excitable London mobs, the Parliamentarians gained the derisory nickname of Roundheads - because of the short-haired, bullet-headed apprentices who supported the Commons, a seventeenth century version of 'skinhead'.

Charles' decision to flee London was calamitous. One of his worst mistakes. He would never see it again as a free man. His flight separated King from Parliament and made civil war between them inevitable. Charles had lost control of the situation, felt threatened and legged it. It was a panic reaction that would have terrible consequences. The flight of Charles ended the phoney war and helped to create two sides - the fundamental prerequisite for civil war. The country's social and political elite, nestled in the Lords, the Commons and the great country houses, now had to face the choice between King and Parliament. With the emergence of a Royalist party, the country was on the path towards civil war. What split the Parliamentarians from the Royalists, the Roundheads from the Cavaliers, was not wealth or class but religion. The War of the Three Kingdoms was a conflict driven by religious divisions - beliefs that would split men from each other and inspire them to die for their cause.

March: Militia Ordinance issued

As relations between Crown and Parliament deteriorate, Parliament attempts to raise a military force. With the King out of the capital, Parliament passed the Militia Ordinances which placed all Trained Bands (the local militias) in the counties under its control. The House of Commons was starting to act independently of the King for the supposed good of the country. It declared itself more than a simple 'Court of Judicature' adjudging the rights and liberties of the country - it was also 'a Council to provide for the necessity, to prevent the imminent dangers, and preserve the public peace and safety of the realm.'

This was a massive step towards becoming a sovereign Parliament. But the militia terms of reference were basically defensive. They spoke of 'saving' the King from the Papists. The orders given to military leaders were 'to rescue His Majesty's person, and the persons of the Prince and Duke of York out of the hands of those desperate persons who were then about them.' This was not an attack on the institution of monarchy: no one believed in a republic. It was an attempt to rescue Charles Stuart, the King, from his present lunacy and his evil advisers.

Charles's response was to issue the Commissions of Array requiring all Lord Lieutenants and county big-wigs to provide him with armed forces. With the Militia Ordinances on the one hand and the Commissions of Array on the other, the country now had to choose between Parliament and King. The phoney war was over. It was decision time. For many it had all happened so quickly and unexpectedly.

Westminster politicians and county leaders were shocked at the rapid descent into civil war. A leading Parliamentarian, Bulstrode Whitelocke remarked 'it is strange to note how we have insensibly slid into this beginning of a civil war, by one unexpected accident after another.'

June: Charles issues the Commissions of Array

The King asks the Lords Lieutenant and county aristocracy to provide him with a military force. With the King out of the capital, Parliament passed the Militia Ordinances which placed all Trained Bands (the local militias) in the counties under its control. The House of Commons was starting to act independently of the King for the supposed good of the country.

It declared itself more than a simple 'Court of Judicature' adjudging the rights and liberties of the country - it was also 'a Council to provide for the necessity, to prevent the imminent dangers, and preserve the public peace and safety of the realm.' This was a massive step towards becoming a sovereign Parliament. But the militia terms of reference were basically defensive. They spoke of 'saving' the King from the Papists.

Charles's response was to issue the Commissions of Array requiring all Lord Lieutenants and county big-wigs to provide him with armed forces. With the Militia Ordinances on the one hand and the Commissions of Array on the other, the country now had to choose between Parliament and King.

The phoney war was over. It was decision time. For many it had all happened so quickly and unexpectedly. Westminster politicians and county leaders were shocked at the rapid descent into civil war. A leading Parliamentarian, Bulstrode Whitelocke remarked 'it is strange to note how we have insensibly slid into this beginning of a civil war, by one unexpected accident after another.'

August: Charles raises his standard at Nottingham

Calling on all loyal men to support the King, Charles' action signals the start of the First Civil War. As the country inexorably polarised, Charles prepared for war. He placed his beloved Queen Henrietta-Maria and their daughter, Princess Mary, on a boat bound for Holland and safety. Henrietta-Maria was laden down with valuable crown jewels in a desperate attempt to raise money abroad and drum up support for the Royalist cause; Mary was being married off to a Dutch prince in the hope of currying favour with England's Protestant allies. Typically, Henrietta Maria left her husband with some stern advice - remember, she said, 'that it is better to follow out a bad resolution than to change it so often', and not 'to begin again his old game of yielding everything.' As Henrietta Maria and Mary sailed into the distance, Charles galloped furiously along the cliffs of Dover, watching them until they finally disappeared over the horizon. Then he turned inland and readied himself for the struggle to reclaim his authority.

After months of raising troops, stalled negotiations, seizing arsenals, and securing ports, the King at last declared war and he chose the strategically vital town of Nottingham to raise his standard. On a blustery, wind-swept day the King arrived to show his hand. On a hill outside this market town of traders and silk workers, three troops of horse and 600 infantrymen paraded the Royalist standard before twenty men raised it. Unfurled and placed in a hole dug deep by swords and daggers, it bore the triumphant legend, 'Give Caesar His Due.' A proclamation condemning the Commons and their troops as traitors was read aloud by a royal herald. The die was cast; there was no going back now. England, along with Scotland, Ireland and Wales, was about to be ripped apart by a bloody Civil War.

October: Battle of Edgehill

The first major military engagement of the War - a draw.
After rallying troops in strongly Royalist areas along the Welsh Marches, Charles set out from Shrewsbury to reclaim his capital in October 1642. The Roundheads were determined to prevent the Cavaliers from reaching London. Without the advantage of modern communications, pin-pointing enemy armies was not an exact science.

After scurrying around the West Midlands raising money and recruiting men, the Parliamentary forces at last got wind of the King's march and headed down from Worcester to Warwick to intercept the Cavaliers. The two forces were to meet for the first time, the first encounter of Englishmen fighting Englishmen since the War of the Roses, on the road from Kineton to Banbury at a dramatic escarpment known as Edgehill. It was the moment when diplomacy and politics collapsed and King and Parliament went to war over their competing visions of church and state.

When Essex arrived at Edgehill, he discovered, to his great consternation, that the armies were equally matched with around 13,000 troops each, but the Cavaliers had already taken the high ground. All his intelligence had indicated that the Cavalier army was much smaller. The King's standard was borne aloft by Sir Edmund Verney, while Charles, dressed in black velvet lined with ermine, rode along the lines offering encouragement. 'Your king is your cause, your quarrel and your captain,' he told his troops.

About 3pm Essex, desperate to seize the advantage, opened fire on the Royalist forces with his cannon. Charles answered by igniting the Cavalier cannon himself. As the battle began in earnest, the commander of the foot Sir Jacob Astley offered up a prayer: 'O Lord, thou knowest how busy I must be this day. If I forget thee, do not thou forget me.' And then Rupert charged. His cavalry, short of firearms, rode tight together hoping to smash the Roundhead forces with the first impact of their charge. They came in hard on the angle, firing at the stunned infantry who turned and fled. The cavalry charged on, scattering the Roundheads and pursuing them back to Kineton. With that Astley shouted, 'March on Boys', and the Royalist foot-soldiers, armed with their huge pikes, plunged into the Roundheads.

But Rupert's enthusiasm got the better of him. His cavalry pursued fugitives and plundered baggage trains deep behind enemy lines back to Kineton. The Cavalier foot soldiers were left without cover. They came under sustained counter-attack from Essex's remaining horseguards. In the middle of the battlefield, the Royalist infantry, lost without the 'air cover' of the cavalry, was enduring heavy losses. Sir Edmund Verney was cut down and, at one point, the Royalist standard was taken by Roundhead forces. Luckily, the irresponsible Royalist cavalry at last returned to the fray and saved the besieged foot soldiers. As darkness descended, both sides retired for the evening.

As morning broke, neither force was particularly keen to renew the action. The King withdrew his men back to quarters while Essex retreated under heavy fire back to Warwick Castle. The Battle of Edgehill was an unsatisfactory draw with losses on both sides equalling around 1,500. But crucially, Essex had left the way open for Charles to carry on to London. Taking Banbury, Oxford and Reading, Charles and his forces started marching towards Westminster and an increasingly frightened Parliament.

November: Turnham Green

The battle that never was-the King forfeits his chance to capture London. Following Edgehill, London was gripped by terror. Chains went up across the streets, shops closed, angry citizens milled around Parliament fearful of their futures if a vengeful Charles stormed back. Essex's bedraggled army began to return to the capital with tales of Royalist military might and atrocities. Tales of Popish plots and Royalist spies spread throughout the capital. Prayer meetings were held to seek salvation from their wrathful King. In the midst of all this, John Pym kept his nerve. Under the leadership of an another veteran of the Thirty Years War, Sir Phillip Skippon, the Westminster Parliament called out the London Trained Bands. This home-grown but well trained militia was to provide London's only resistance against the Royalist force.

They decided to make their stand in the 'village' of Turnham Green to the west of London. Now just a suburb, in the 1640s it marked a strategic access point into London. By 13th November, a force of 24,000 London soldiers were standing ready to defend their city. When Charles saw these motivated and well-armed troops arraigned against his tired and hungry forces, he foolishly retreated. Instead of pressing on into London, or swinging south to meet up with his supporters in Kent, Charles ignored Rupert's advice and retired to Hounslow. Then back to Reading, and finally to Oxford.

The 'Battle of Turnham Green' never really happened, but retreating from London and withdrawing to Oxford proved to be a terrible strategic mistake by Charles and his forces.

 

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