How was the English Civil War fought?

The English Civil War saw a range of weaponry used by both Royalists and Parliamentarians. But what weapons were used, which was the most effective, and which side had the advantage in the Civil War?

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

KEY WORDS:
Cavalry = Soldiers that fought on horseback.
Cavalier = The nickname given to Royalist fighters as they usually fought on horseback.
Roundhead = The nickname given to Parliamentarian fighters as they usually wore tight fitting metal helmets and cut their hair very short.

STARTER:
Look at the description of the Cavaliers and the Roundheads below.
1) Which side do you think had the advantage in the Civil War? Why?
2) List what you would need in an army to be successful on the battlefield.

Cavaliers

Royalists who fought for King Charles I were known as Cavaliers. They usually fought on horseback, meaning they were cavalry soldiers. They wore large hats to the battlefield with feathers in them to show they supported the King. Instead of armor they tended to wear highly fashionable clothes to the battlefield to show their superiority over the Roundheads.

An illustration of Cavalier soldiers.

Roundheads

Parliamentarians who fought for Parliament were known as Roundheads. They wore very tight helmets and armor to protect themselves and cut their hair very short at a time when it was fashionable for men to have long hair. Unlike the Cavaliers, they tended to be a marching fighting force. They fought under what was known as the New Model Army to distinguish itself from the English army led by Charles I.

Reenactment actors dressed as Roundheads in the English Civil War

TASK ONE: What weapons were used in the Civil War?

Look at the information below on the different types of soldiers and weapons used in the English Civil War. As you are reading, consider the advantages and disadvantages of each and add the details in to your table. Give each weapon a score out of 10 to show how effective you think each weapon was.

CHALLENGE: Based on the information you have read, which side do you believe had the advantage in the English Civil War? Why?

What weapons were used in the English Civil War?

Pikemen

The Pike was one of the most commonly used weapons on the Civil War battlefield. The pike was a long wooden shaft with a steel point on the end. They were cheap to make, soldiers required very little training to use them and they could be very effective especially when used in a group. Pikes were supposed to be sixteen feet in length but often soldiers sawed a few feet off the ends to make them easier to carry.

The Pikemen often formed the front line of an army. Operating together they had to lower their pikes to prevent a cavalry charge from breaking the ranks. The cavalrymen’s horses would be injured by the pike and would fall to the ground unseating his rider who would then be an easy target for the musketmen or for the sword. If the army was surrounded then the pikemen would form a circle and lower or raise their pikes to provide a ‘hedgehog’ of cover.

Cavalry

Horses were of central importance to both sides in the English Civil War as they allowed soldiers to charge through the battlefield quickly. Their fast speed was used to shock the opposition, and many were therefore ordered to charge headfirst at the enemy.

Cavalry were often equipped with pistols to use to fire at the enemy from a short distance. Some also had swords to swing at the opposition, meaning they acted more like medieval knights.

Although horses were tactically important in the Civil War, they were very expensive to keep, meaning that both sides spent huge sums of money on keeping their horse supplies up.

Both sides had very strong cavalry leaders, including Prince Rupert for the Cavaliers and Oliver Cromwell for the Roundheads.

Musketmen

Guns were a fairly new invention, with the first gunpowder weapons being invented around 100 years beforehand under the reign of King Henry VIII. Muskets were long, heavy guns that required a match to be lit under the gun to fire the load. This meant they became useless when it started to rain in battle.

The guns were around 4 and a half feet long, and were so heavy that musketeers had to have regular breaks from firing. They also required cleaning and reloading after every fire, meaning that it took a long time to repeat fire.

Muskets could fire at objects at around 300 yards away, but realistically were only accurate at hitting targets just 50 yards away. They required training for soldiers to use them effectively.

Cannons

The cannons used in the Civil War were very heavy and difficult to move. The largest needed a team of 16 horses to move them. More commonly, smaller cannons were used but even these required at least 4 men to move them. For this reason they had to be put into position before a battle began. The missiles fired from the cannon were usually balls of iron, but sometimes stones were used.  After the cannon had been fired the soldiers operating it had to go through a strict procedure of cleaning, loading the weapon and loading the gunpowder before it could be fired again. Aiming was difficult. It is probably true that cannons were more effective as a means of scaring the enemy than actually causing damage.

TASK TWO: What can we learn about the battles of the English Civil War.

Look at the map and the information on the Battle of Marston Moor that took place in July 1644. It was the largest battle of the English Civil War. Try to answer these questions by looking at this information:

1) Which type of soldiers are in the middle of each army, and which type of soldiers are on the outside?
2) Why might the armies have set themselves up like this?
3) Who seems to be attacking who in this battle?
4) Who do you think won this battle? Why?

The Battle of Marston Moor

Date: 2nd July, 1644
Location: Long Marston, North Yorkshire
Belligerents: Royalists and Parliamentarians
Numbers: Royalists 17,000, Parliamentarians and Scottish Covenanters 22,000
Casualties: Royalists 5,000, Parliamentarians around 300.
Commanders: Prince Rupert of the Rhine and the Marquess of Newcastle (Royalists), Lord Fairfax and the Earl of Manchester (Parliamentarians)

TASK THREE: What can you infer about the armies of the English Civil War?

Look at the source below. It explains the nature of the Roundheads’ New Model Army. Note down two things you can infer from this source, quoting the details you see in the source to help back this up.

One thing I can infer from this source is…
The detail in the source that shows me this is…
A second thing I can infer from this source is…
The detail in the source that shows me this is…

‘These men were strictly trained and strictly disciplined. But above all, they fought for God. Singing hymns, they charged into battle and their discipline proved too much for Rupert’s cavalry, for although the Cavaliers were good horsemen, they were not always good soldiers’.

This view of the New Model Army is taken from a History textbook, History Alive Book 1, by Peter Moss (1980).

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