English Civil War Essay

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The English Civil War was as much the response to the effects of the Reformation as it was a response to the needs of the rising middle classes, the landed gentry. The war itself involved the king, Parliament, the aristocracy, the middle classes, the commoners, and the army. The War tested the prerogative of the king and challenged the theory of divine right. War raged between Parliamentarians, Royalists, Cavaliers and Roundheads and every religious sect in England. The years before 1640 in England were years of national disillusionment. The gap between the court and Protestant elements widened, the golden age of drama and literature was over, the religion of the court and at Oxford and Cambridge seemed diffused, and scientific ideas, though popular in London and at Oxford and Cambridge, as yet had received no official recognition. In the meantime, censorship grew more severe, and lawyers became the patrons and consumers of art. For the most part, energies which had been devoted to literature in the mid-to-late 16th century were now channeled into political and theological concerns. The Civil War was both religious and political, as well as social and economic. But it was also a legal battle between the king and his subjects. The transition from QUEEN ELIZABETH I (1533-1603, r.1558-1603) of the Tudor House to that of James I (1566-1625, r.1603-1625) and the Stuarts was quite dramatic. Elizabeth had been an astute manager of men as well as of England. She chose her advisers well and introduced a modicum of civility into court society and encouraged the patronage of the arts. However, Elizabeth refused to marry and so the successor to the throne remained a thorny problem. A crisis was avoided when her chief minister, Robert Cecil (1563-1612), arranged for the king of Scotland, James Stuart, or James VI, to succeed the throne upon Elizabeth's death in 1603. Elizabeth also refused to act decisively against those Catholics remaining in England. There were those who hoped that upon Elizabeth's death, that Mary, Queen of Scots (1542-1587), a Catholic, would succeed the throne. Mary had already been removed from Scotland by Calvinist nobles and was now a prisoner in England. A Catholic plot to drive out Elizabeth remained until Elizabeth agreed to execute Mary on February 8, 1587. There were other dangers that confronted the English government under Elizabeth. Throughout the late 16th century economic forces had transformed English society. The nobility no longer had a vital military role to play in England. They were also losing their authority in government while the House of Commons was becoming the near equal of the House of Lords in Parliament. Finally, the nobility seemed to be losing out in terms of England's increasing prosperity, as new elements, such as the gentry, entered the scene. The gentry was a broad group of people that had done quite well since the early 16th century when they purchased the land the English crown had confiscated when the monasteries were closed. The gentry also found themselves more thoroughly involved in the commerce of the nation which found them at odds with the nobility who were traditionally aloof from business matters. Integral to the administration of the local parishes, the gentry now wanted a voice in Parliament. Their argument was simply that since they had helped increase the wealth of the nation they too ought to share in the governing of the nation. The existence of the gentry in the early 17th century was not enough to stimulate a civil war. What helped create the foundation for the Civil War was the fact that many of the gentry were sympathetic to the Puritans, who argued that the Anglican Church established by Elizabeth was far too close to Roman Catholicism, and so they sought to reduce the influence of ritual and hierarchy within the Church. Elizabeth refused to do so. James I, however, was handicapped. He was brought up in Scottish court society, a society patterned on the...
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