Drake 258  The English Civil War (1642-1651) 


For a background to events leading up to this period: Timeline of Reformation to Restoration


Understanding the basic elements of The English Civil War will help you understand:

1)    The basic issues that threw England and Europe into turmoil during/following the Reformation

2)    The political, social and theological chaos that Voltaire describes in Candide

3)    How John Locke’s theory of Toleration plays a central role in ending that turmoil, as represented in Candide and Tartuffe

4)    How Locke’s theories make America possible and predicate our Revolution and core values

5)    How the American Revolution and our core Constitutional values are the result and pinnacle of the Enlightenment, and a direct response to the turmoil and civil wars still plaguing Europe at that time.


Freedom, Reason, Order


What Enlightenment thinkers like Locke, Moliere, Voltaire, and Jefferson want is freedom – individual liberty and the right to revolution, if necessary when such liberties are not granted –  but they want freedom without the ensuing chaos, anarchy and sectarian violence that they had all witnessed of fallen victim to.  The Enlightenment is about creating a new world in which individual freedom is in balance with social order, and both are predicated on Reason.  Enlightenment thinkers argue that Reason will deliver us from both tyranny and chaos.


The American Revolution, Declaration of Independence (1776), Constitution (1787-89) (including Bill of Rights (1789) largely formed as a response to this experience; modeled after English solutions to the problems of the Extremes that had plagued England and much of 17th and 18th post-Reformation Europe.


Causes of War

The War can be viewed as a struggle for power between the old, aristocratic order and the emerging forces of Puritanism and capitalism, and as a war between the Divine Right of Kings vs. republican democracy (Parliament).


It begins, more or less, with James I (1566-1625) and ends with James' son, Charles I (1600 – 1649), losing his head.


 1) King James is an autocratic Scotsman (son of Mary, Queen of Scotts...and thus a "foreigner"), who believes in Divine Right of Kings, lives extravagantly, and distrusts Parliament.  He funds his extravagant lifestyle with high taxes, which angers wealthy Parliamentarians, who's power he then weakens.


2) The Anglican Church (Anglo = "English", the one formed by Henry VIII) is split between conservatives, who want the church to maintain its original, Catholic-style of worship and theology, vs. Puritans, who want a Calvinist model: far less ritual and far stricter moral laws.  Remember that religiously the country is already fractured along Catholic vs. Anglican lines.  James throws his lot in with the conservatives.


3) When James dies, his son, Charles I, inherits this volatile mixture.  Charles’ subsequent actions exacerbate and represent the tensions of the era. 


            Charles angers Puritans and Parliament when he:

          -- Marries Spanish Catholic Princess; this re-sparks fears that he is Catholic and will return England to Catholicism

          -- Lives even more extravagantly, raises taxes on Aristocracy; even then, the rich hated taxes

          -- Confers with French Catholic royalty; even then, no one liked the French

          -- Shows further disdain for Parliament

          -- Muffs war with Spain; even then, no one likes a king who loses a war.

          -- Makes Anglican Book of Common Prayer only legal prayer book

          -- Only allows Anglicans to sit in Parliament

          -- Eventually dismisses Parliament for 11 years etc.


The War


Together, these factors spark the English Civil War, a class war fought between the land-owning aristocracy vs. the emerging largely Puritan merchant middle class.  The old rich vs. the new rich.


The war lasts from 1642-1649.     


Eventually, Oliver Cromwell leads Puritan Parliamentary and Scottish Calvinist forces to victory and establishes a "Puritan Republic" run through Parliament by Calvinist Presbyterians, essentially a Puritan military dictatorship (a precursor to the 20th Century Fascist movements of Spain and Italy).


This Parliament votes to behead Charles I (1649): this should be seen as the radical step symbolizing the new political age: Parliament votes to kill its king; essentially Democracy beheads the Divine Right of Kings, or the emerging capitalist class beheads the old aristocracy.  We can see a similar "revolution" in Tartuffe.


Freedom And Chaos


Though Cromwell rules through 1660, similar factions continue the English Civil War through 1688 (The Glorious Revolution), at which time the monarchy is restored with limited powers;  Locke's concepts of Toleration and individual liberty are instituted; and a balance of power and stability is established.


Meanwhile, much of the rest of Europe continues to struggle with these same issues.  When Voltaire is exiled to England (1726-1729), he is struck by the English model: how Locke, especially, has created the key necessary to end the chaos and unlock a stable, tolerant, economically viable society.


Candide essentially paints a fairly accurate portrait of that anarchy, war and sectarian violence still plaguing Europe, and concludes with an argument of how to universalize the Locke-English model.   Tartuffe represents the same issues symbolically, in a single family.


The Declaration is an argument for Enlightenment Freedom, while the Constitution applies Enlightenment Reason and Moderation to balance out the competing social interests that lead to civil war:


The need for a single “King” or “Queen” (The President) vs. educated capitalist class (Congress)


Social Class vs. Freedom: Social Welfare, Egalitarianism, Democracy:  aristocratic tradition (inheritance) vs. capitalism


Religious Diversity and new need for Tolerance: how to have multiple religions/denominations in a single nation


The danger that Popular Democracy will lead toward military dictatorship (Cromwell): need for Separation of Powers and Checks and Balances. Protection of minority voices against the tyranny of the majority



See also: English Civil War