What is the most important reason to study the English Civil War?

The English Civil War saw England divided between Royalists and Parliamentarians that had radically different ideas about how England should be run. It was a bloody war that tore the country apart. But why should we study the event?

You can download the worksheet for today’s lesson here. If you are unable to download the worksheet, please complete the tasks in the yellow boxes below.

KEY WORDS:
Civil War = A war between groups of people from the same country.
Supremacy = When something has more power than something else.
Republic = a form of government that has no king or queen.

STARTER:
Look at the image below – we are unsure at the moment about anything in this picture, but we do know it was painted at the time of the English Civil War at around 1649.
Write down five questions you would want to ask to help you understand this image. Use:
Who, what, why, when, where and how

What do you think the most important question is that you want to ask?
I think the most important question I have asked is… because…

A painting by an unknown artist from around 1649.

TASK TWO: Why should we study the English Civil War?

Read the information below on why studying the English Civil War is important. Use the information to fill in a table like the one below.

Why should we study the English Civil War?

Death

The population of England was about 4 million people in 1600. This was before the industrial revolution, meaning that most people still lived in rural areas and lived off the land.

The English Civil War split the country in two, between those who believed that the King should run the country (Royalists) and those who believed MPs should run the country (Parliamentarians). People from all over the country began joining military units to fight each other. It is estimated that around 250,000 people died during the Civil War (about 6% of the population, or 1 in 16 people).

Not everyone died as a direct result of combat. Many people died of starvation as farm land was destroyed after farmers left their animals and crops to fight. Without farmers to produce food, tens-of-thousands of people died from starvation during the Civil War.

Fighting was fierce on both sides. Death became a common part of everyday life in the English Civil War.

A new way of running England

Ever since the victory of William the Conqueror in 1066, England had been ruled by a monarch (the king or queen of the country). The monarch had a large amount of power and could make dramatic changes to the law if they wished. They could declare war on other countries, call parliament whenever they liked, controlled the country’s finances and could grant titles, land, money and jobs to people.

The English parliament had always held some power in England during this time. Its elected MPs could pass laws on taxation and pass laws, however it was very rare for parliament to pass anything the monarch disagreed with. It mostly advised the monarch and did whatever the king or queen wanted them to do.

By the time the Civil War broke out, Parliamentarians argued that parliament should have supremacy over the monarch- the Parliament should have the powers of the monarch and the monarch should not tell it what to do. For a short while following the Civil War, England became a Republic: it had no monarch and ruled by democracy while most other countries were run by a king or queen.

The English Civil War put the future of parliament and the monarch in the spotlight.

New ideas

Modern Britain is enjoys a democratic system whereby the people vote for the political party they wish to lead them. Today, the elected government has much more power than the Queen. We can trace Britain’s democratic roots back to the English Civil War in the 1640s, as this was the first time people questioned the supremacy of the monarch.

It would be interesting to consider what political system we would have in Britain today if the English Civil War never occurred.

The English Civil War brought about new political ideas, forging the way we organise the country today.

The execution of a King

Not only did England replace its system of rule, it also chose to execute its King.

It was common throughout history for English Kings to be killed. Harold Godwinson was killed by William the Conquerors army at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. Moreover, Henry VII’s army killed Richard III during the War of the Roses, bringing about Tudor rule in England in 1486.

Yet the execution of Charles I in 1649 was the first and only time the English government chose to execute its own monarch. Why did this occur, and what were the consequences of this execution?

Charles I was central to the English Civil War. It is argued that if he was a better ruler of England the Civil War would never have occurred.

Oliver Cromwell

Following the English Civil War, Oliver Cromwell became the ‘Lord Protectorate’ of the English people. He became the first person to rule England without holding the title of ‘king’ or ‘queen’.

He completely changed the way England was run, dividing England in sections with each ruled by a military leader. Over 30,000 people attended his funeral, and there is now a statue of him outside the houses of Parliament. Yet there is debate over whether Cromwell is a hero or a villain in British history.

TASK TWO: What is the most important reason for studying the English Civil War?

Look at your table you have completed in the last task. Which reason do you think is the most important when studying the English Civil War? Explain why.
Point: I think the most important reason was…
Evidence: This was an important reason because…
Explanation: This reason is therefore more important than the others because…

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