What were the causes of the English Civil War?

1642 marked the year that the English people waged war against each other, bringing bloodshed and revolutionary change to England. But what events led to this dramatic event in England’s history?

You can download the worksheet for this lesson below. If you are unable to download the worksheet, complete the tasks in the yellow boxes below.

Favourite = A person that the King kept close to them as they could provide useful advise on running the country.
Mismanagement = When something is not managed well.
Taxation = The process of gaining money from the population.

TASK ONE: The buildup to Civil War.

Read the information below on the events that led to the English Civil War. Complete a 9-grid storyboard that outlines the key events that led to the outbreak of war within England.

Why events led to the English Civil War?

Charles I adopted the English throne in 1625 after his father, James I, had died. Charles believed in divine right of kings (the belief that the king had permission from God to rule the country in the way he thought it was appropriate). To Charles, there was no need for Parliament or any other form of authority to make decisions – he could do it all himself.

The divine right of kings was a Catholic idea, yet since the Tudor period, most people in England were Protestant. Therefore many people did not agree with Charles’ idea of having total control of the country. The religious situation was worsened when Charles married Henrietta Maria, a Roman Catholic from France. Throughout his reign, the English Church was becoming more Catholic, worrying the many protestants that lived in England.

King Charles I was a strong believer in the divine right of kings. Catholics were more likely to believe in this, but Protestants did not agree with the idea.

Yet it wasn’t just religious divisions that troubled many in England. Charles rapidly lost the confidence of the English people and his parliament through the mismanagement of the country. Charles had waged war with both Spain and France in 1625 and 1627, respectively. The campaigns were a disaster: England lost both wars, and it cost the English crown a severe amount of money.

Although Parliament had little power at this time, it was needed to approve laws on taxation for the king. Charles needed to increase taxes to improve the economic health of the country. Parliament met in 1629 and refused to grant Charles with the taxation laws that he wanted. Charles was outraged by the actions of parliament: he was the divine King, and any challenge to this was, he thought, a direct attack on God.

Monarchs in the early modern period relied on parliament to increase taxes for the crown.

In anger, Charles proceeded to close Parliament and chose to rule England by himself for the next 11 years. This period was known as the ‘Eleven Year Tyranny‘, as Charles became the only person making decisions in England. He relied on his favourites to help him run the country. Yet Charles quickly found that without Parliament, he could not legally raise taxes in England. He had to find unusual methods to ensure the crown received more money.

Charles found an old medieval law that stated that anyone who earned over £40 a year had to be a knight (about £9,000 in today’s money, so not very much). Being a knight meant paying a regular sum of money to the King. This idea seemed ludicrous to the people of England – this was an ancient law that no longer mattered. In 1630, Charles began punishing people that did not pay.

He also found another medieval law that demanded that coastal towns pay the crown ‘ship money’. This traditionally allowed Medieval kings to pay for a navy. In 1635, Charles made the inland counties of England pay ship money too, angering people across the country.

Official royal documents outlining the total amount of ‘ship money’ raised in different counties under Charles I.

By 1640, Charles knew that he could not go on leading the country without raising taxes, and called back Parliament. Charles demanded that the English parliament listen to his demands for an increase in taxation. Instead of raising taxes, however, MPs at Westminster presented Charles with the Grand Remonstrance – a list of 204 complaints about the way he was running the country.

Infuriated, Charles attempted to arrest the five leading MPs that encouraged this rebellion in Parliament. They escaped however, and shortly afterwards Parliament demanded that Charles make 19 changes to the way he was running the country before any taxation laws would be passed. This was known as the 19 Propositions.

Not willing to budge on his stance, Charles declared war on the English Parliament in 1642. The English Civil War had begun.

Parliament’s ’19 Propositions‘ proved to be the trigger cause for the English Civil War.

TASK TWO: What was the reason for the outbreak of civil war?

Historians have regularly argued that the English Civil War occurred for three main reasons:
– Religious reasons = the difference of religious opinion between Catholic and Protestant beliefs in England.
– Political reasons = the struggle for power between the King and the Parliament.
– Economic reasons = the money that England had.

Look back over your storyboard and the information about the buildup to Civil War – can you find as many different points to put under each heading in the table below? The first has been done for you.

TASK THREE: What was the most important reason for the outbreak of the English Civil War?

Look back at your table for Task Two. Which reason do you believe was the most important for the outbreak of the English Civil War – was it religious, political or economic reasons?

Use the structure below to help you answer your question.


What is your clear point/argument? Which reason do you believe is the most important for the outbreak of the Civil War – religious, political or economic?

What specific evidence can you use to show that this reason is important? Use at least 2x bits of evidence from the information above.

Why is this reason more important than the other reasons? Explain why it holds special importance.

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