Did The Irish Rebellion Cause The Civil War?
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Published: Thu, 04 May 2017
The Irish rebellion was not the only factor in causing the English civil war. There were many other long term and short term factors that may have contributed to the civil war. These long term causes were power, religion and money. The short term causes were Charles’ decision to introduce the prayer book and bishops into scotish kirks, the first bishops war, the second bishops war and the Irish rebellion. All of which caused tension between king and parliament.
Power is one of the main reasons for the civil war as King Charles I was at loggerheads with parliament who also want as much power as the king had had over the past years. Parliament were angry that the King had had all of the power to himself for the past 11 years during his personal rule and they wanted some of that power for themselves. Charles tried to use the power he had to change the way the church in Scotland was run, as it says he can in the divine rights of kings which was a critical source of conflict throughout King Charles I reign.
As king and head of the Church of England, Charles had the power to change how the church was run. Charles decided to reform to church with the help of the Arch bishop of Canterbury, William Laud. This angered parliament, the majority of whom were puritans. They couldn’t accept the Laudian reforms and this became a major source of conflict though out Charles’s reign and was a major contributing factor to the start of the civil war.
Religion had been a major source of tension for many years in England as the Protestants and Catholics had been at loggerheads ever since Queen Mary I had killed thousands of Protestants. Since then, Protestants and Catholics had seen each other as a threat, which was already causing tension in England which, again, could have been a major contributor to the start of the civil war.
Money had also become a large area of concern for Parliament who felt they had to find a way to stop Charles from financing is 11 year personal rule. Parliament offered Charles Tunnage and Poundage for only one year which would have greatly angered him as monarchs normally receive tonnage and poundage indefinatly. Charles imposed the Distraint of Knighthood which angered many landowners as men owning estates worth £40 per year were meant to present themselves at a new Kings coronation for Knighting. This would mean that they had to pay extra taxes once they became a Lord or a Sir and Charles fined those who didn’t present themselves for Knighting even though this law had not been enforced since the early Tudors. This meant that Charles’s subjects would have started revolting and therefore caused extreme anger within the country and could have helped to cause the civil war.
Along with the three long term causes there were a lot of short term causes. These included the changes that King Charles tried to bring in to the Scottish Kirks, the first bishops war, the second bishops war, the actions taken by parliament to undermine King Charles and the Irish Rebellion.
Charles tried to bring in Bishops into the Scottish Kirks. Charles wanted more control over what happened in the churches, so brought in Bishops to control what happened. However, this made the Scottish feel betrayed as they felt that Bishops were too catholic for their protestant views. Charles also decided he wanted to bring in the prayer book used in English churches as he felt that the Scottish kirks were disorganised and lacked reverence. The Scottish felt their kirk was a symbol of their religious and cultural identity and by Charles trying to change the way the kirks were run they felt that their identity was being taken away from them, which made them want to fight back to stop the King making any more changes. This was a crucial factor in causing the civil war and could have been more significant than the Irish rebellion as the people of Scotland united with parliament and prepared for a war against Charles.
After 11 years of personal rule, Charles calls parliament, however, he doesn’t like what they say and quickly closes parliament again after just three weeks. This would have angered the members of parliament and made them more likely to revolt and antagonise Charles and ultimately start a civil war.
At the start of the first bishops was in 1639, King Charles began raising an army. Charles had asked parliament for money to increase the strength of the army but parliament, fearing that if the king had an army, he would use that army against them, which would have caused more tension between king and parliament. King Charles was made to sign the treaty of Berwick which forced him to abandon his plans to introduce the English prayer book in Scotland. This would have angered him as he believed that he had the right to change anything to do with the church as head of the Church of England. Also the divine right of kings said that he could change anything he wanted to and Charles strongly believed this which would have antagonised parliament and the Scottish along with Charles being angry that he was not being allowed to do what he thought he should have been. This would have played a larger role in causing the civil war than the Irish rebellion.
During the second bishops war, the Scottish invaded and occupied Newcastle and ordered Charles to pay £850 per day forcing Charles to call parliament in November 1640. This would have angered Charles as he was being backed into a corner by parliament and the Scottish and being made to do something he didn’t want to and as king, he can do whatever he wanted to as it said in the divine rights of kings.
Along with all of the rebellion happening in Scotland and trouble with parliament not allowing Charles to have any money, they also made it impossible for Charles to rule without the support of parliament. They impeached Laud (archbishop of Canterbury), created two acts, they removed the prerogative courts and proposed the act of attainder, one meaning you can’t be imprisoned or punished without trial, the other meaning that you were able to be executed without trial, parliament removed ministers and proposed a Root and Branch petition meaning there would no longer be bishops in protestant churches. They also removed money raising schemes. All of these measures were designed to back Charles into a corner and force him to call parliament as he would no longer be able to finance a personal rule. All of this would have made Charles angry as some of the policies proposed by parliament were hypocritical and forced Charles to do what parliament wanted. Parliament had stripped Charles of most of his power, which, as King, Charles felt was rightfully his.
The Irish rebellion of 1641 may not have been the only cause of the civil war but it did play a major part. In October 1641 the rebellion broke out in Ulster which would have made the people who lived their extremely anxious and it is likely that they would have fought back as a means of protecting their land. In the November of 1641, many protestant settlers were massacred by Irish insurgents. This would have made the King extremely anxious as he too was a protestant and would probably have been scared about what was to follow. In late November, early December, the Irish rebellion descended into anarchy as repressed hatred between old Irish Catholics and the new protestant settlers resulted in extreme violence.
Although to start with, most of the fighting in Ireland had been between small bands, which were raised locally and had been attacking the civilians of opposing religious and ethnic groups, towards the end of December 1641, Sir Simon Harcourt arrived in Dublin as the head of a large army which had been raised by parliament from voluntary subscriptions. This would have angered and possibly scared the Irish citizens and may have made the problem worse.
At the hight of the violence in Ireland, it is estimated that up to 12,000 protestants died, with the majority dying from cold, and disease after being expelled from their homes in the depths of winter. As a consequence of the violence happening in Ireland and the propaganda posters that were being produced, many Irish catholics and priests were arrested due to protestant paranoia. Many Irish soldiers who were returning from fighting for Kings of France and Spain were detained at ports and questioned. This would have caused the Irish to get more angry and aloud the violence to escalate. This would have added to the existing tension in England between king and parliament and their differing ideas on religion, money and power.
Many catholic rebels had claimed loyalty to the King and Charles had proposed that he lead an army to supress the rebellion. However, parliament feared that Charles, if provided with an army, would use that army to supress the rebellion in England. The puritan lawyer, John Pym, proposed that parliament should only co-operate in supressing the Irish rebellion if the King appointed advisors which had been approved by parliament, which would mean that they were less likely to suggest that Charles should start a war with parliament. However Charles felt controlled by this further attack on his prerogative and lashed out into the beginnings of the civil war.
As you can see from the points presented, there were many reasons and triggers for the beginnings of the civil war. Parliament had taken a strong dislike to Charles and pretty much from the word go had been backed into a corner by Parliament and the civil war was Charles lashing out at Parliament for being so strict with him. The Irish rebellion was the straw that broke the camels back, so to speak. In the words of the Kings supporter Earl Clarendon;
“Though Scotland blew the first trumpet, it was Ireland that drew the first blood; and if they had not at that time rebelled, and in that manner, it is very probable all the miseries which afterwards befell the King and his dominions had been prevented.”
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