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The Roundheads &
The Cavaliers

The Story of The English Civil War 1625-49

So how did The King end up fighting a war against the Houses of Parliament?

After the Magna Carta was signed in 1215, Kings were expected to talk the talk but not exactly walk the walk. Charles I of the Stuart line didn't quite agree. He believed that he had been chosen to rule by God and that meant he didn't have to obey Parliament. For the first time since the Magna Carta an English King wanted to be all-powerful. Parliament warned the King to back down and he refused. The puritan politician Oliver Cromwell raised an army against him and the English Civil War began.

The civil war took place between the dandy, pretty-boy, royalists known as the Cavaliers (which is French for knights, think the three musketeers) and the dour, working class, puritan, democrats known as the Roundheads (due to their round metal helmets). One of the famous battles gave rise to a still popular children's rhyme.

Sang by children:

"Humpty Dumpty sat on the wall
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall
All the kings horses and all the kings men
Couldn't put Humpty together again"

Humpty Dumpy was slang for Fatso or fatty. And it was the nickname for a huge cannon that belonged to the Cavaliers. The Roundheads hit the wall upon which the gun was mounted with their own artillery early in the battle. The wall collapsed toppling the gun. All the King's horses and all the King's men couldn't pull the gun back upright and it was rendered useless.

The roundheads won that battle and indeed the war. Cromwell's New Model Army defeated the Kings cavaliers and the Welsh and Scots who sided with him. Cromwell assumed the role of Lord Protector and head of Parliament. While he ruled Britain he advocated religious tolerance for all except Catholics, he invited Jews to return to England, he fought a war with the Dutch and suppressed a rebellion in Ireland.

Many in his time saw Cromwell as being a bit of a stick in the mud. At Christmas 1642 he took the bar humbug crown by banning the troops from mince pies, plum pudding and all the trimmings. He proclaimed:

'Because it may call to remembrance our sins and the sins of our forefathers, who have turned this feast, pretending the memory of Christ, into an extreme forgetfulness of Him by giving liberty to carnal and sensual delights'.

Although not adverse to the occasional party and an enjoyer of music, Cromwell was stricter with his citizens than himself.

He banned theatre, dancing and singing in public too. Boys caught playing football were whipped in the street. You could receive a hefty fine for going for a walk on a Sunday. Make up was forbidden too and groups of soldiers patrolled the streets scrubbing the makeup off those who disobeyed. This stricture was enforced because puritans believed that all physical and worldly pleasures were distractions from spiritual duty. Echoes of the Puritan past can still be felt in British culture today.

Then in 1658 he was overcome by Malaria. Back then the disease was actually quite common in Southern England. Ironically the cure for Malaria was already available because the Jesuits had recently discovered Quinine being used in Peru. But as the medicine was then called 'Jesuits Powder' Cromwell refused to take it. Why? Because he was a protestant and didn't trust the Jesuits, otherwise known as 'the foot soldiers of the pope'!

Cromwell was buried at Westminster Cathedral.

If you feel the need to impress anyone break out the word 'interregnum'. This is the proper name for Oliver Cromwell's Britain and it's Latin meaning 'Between Kings'.

After Cromwell's death the Puritan government was too weak to rule and Parliament invited King Charles II to return.

Charles II saw to it that 12 years to the day after Charles I had been beheaded the three leaders who had been responsible for the event were exhumed from their resting place at Westminster Abbey and taken to Tyburn and hanged. Following the hanging, the twice-dead bodies of Cromwell, Ireton and Bradshaw, were decapitated and while the bodies were buried beneath the gallows the heads were displayed on top of Westminster Hall stuck on spikes.

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