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Winter in Oxford

Updated Sunday, 7th January 2001

Getting to grips with the power of the press - Charles made good use of his winter in Oxford

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Fighting in the 17th Century was brutal, but it could also be peculiarly civilised. One of its most civilised aspects was the cessation of conflict during winter. No one wanted to fight when it was cold - so they didn't. But, just as importantly, neither side had a plan. Both King and Parliament needed time to ponder their next moves. No one had expected this kind of stalemate following Edgehill and Turnham Green. A pitched battle was meant to have solved the issue. Stalemate was the worst of all worlds.

So Charles set himself up at Oxford and had an absolute ball of a time. Oxford had always been a conservative stronghold. The University was the spiritual home of Laudianism and a keen supporter of Royalism. It welcomed him with open arms. The town, on the other hand, was less supportive of Charles- reflecting the age-old town-gown conflict.

Charles and his entourage happily set up Court within the university. New College was the principal magazine, and livestock was penned together in Christ Church's great quadrangle. The King enjoyed the city's conservatism, high-mindedness and deference. Festivities began anew and Rupert was the toast of the Cavalier social scene. No event was complete without the dashing Prince's presence. Anyone who was anyone left ghastly London and headed down to Oxford. Charles liberally rewarded his followers and those who had excelled themselves at Edgehill with university honours.

Christ Church quadrangle, Oxford Copyrighted  image Icon Copyright: indiekidsdontdance under CC-BY-NC-SA licence
Christ Church quad, Oxford

He awarded 18 Doctors and 48 Bachelors of Divinity; 34 Doctors and 14 Bachelors of Civil Law; 5 Doctors and 8 Bachelors of Physics; 76 MAs and 12 BAs - until the university authorities asked him to stop. The King felt remarkably chipper, so when Parliamentary Commissioners turned up in Oxford proposing unreasonable terms, he sent them packing. 

'There are three things I will not part with', Charles told them 'the Church, my crown, and my friends; and you will have much ado to get them from me.' Both King and Parliament remained confident of victory and neither seemed particularly interested in a settlement.

More importantly, at Oxford the Royalists finally realised the power of the press, something quite new for the Royal family. In 1641, censorship had collapsed and since then the popular press had exploded in volume. The civil war generated a vast number of tracts and papers charting the progress of the conflict.

In Oxford, the Cavaliers began to print a weekly newsletter, Mercurius Aulicus, depicting the Parliamentarians as traitors and religious extremists. In the guise of its editor, the Laudian clergyman Dr Peter Heylin, King Charles had at last got himself a spin doctor. Though no match for the great Puritan poet John Milton, it showed that the Royalists had begun the PR fight for favourable opinion.

 

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