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Charles, Prince of Wales
King Charles I (1600-1649) started the first English Civil War on 22nd August 1642 when he raised his standard at Nottingham Castle. Charles’ supporters were called Royalists or Cavaliers and the Parliamentarians were also known as Roundheads. Royalists kept their hair long but Parliament’s soldiers adopted shorter cuts. Support for the king was also a show of faith in Charles, Prince of Wales and the English monarchy, by then seven hundred and fifteen years old.
The king appointed Charles an honorary captain in the King’s Horse Guard and on 23rd October 1642, he and younger brother James (1633-1701) observed the Battle of Edgehill. An eager Charles wanted to join his father on the battlefield but he was dissuaded by courtier Sir Edward Hyde, later Lord Clarendon. (1609-1674.) By the late 1650s, Hyde was Charles' chief advisor.
James was almost captured by the Parliamentarians. The fighting concluded after over twenty-four hours and neither side could claim a decisive victory. For the next two years, the two Charles’ and James moved with their armies or took refuge in Oxford where the king established his headquarters in late 1642.
Commander In Chief
At almost fifteen years of age, Charles was made the Commander in Chief of the Royalist Forces in the west of England and he based himself in Bristol. His advisory council included Sir Edward Hyde. Although he did not know it, his departure from Oxford to fulfill his duties in Bristol marked the final time that Charles saw his father.
Prince Rupert of the Rhine, Charles’ first cousin (1619-1682) was Captain General of the Royalist Army from late 1644 and in command in July 1643 when the Royalists won Bristol from the Parliamentarians. It was at Rupert’s insistence that Charles was given a superior title to his own. Rupert’s younger brother Prince Maurice (1621-1652) fought alongside him in several battles including 1643’s Storming of Bristol. in February 1644 Rupert was made President of Wales.
In summer and autumn 1645 the Royalists suffered demoralising and deadly defeats at the Battle of Naseby, in Leicester, Gloucester, Langport, Bridgewater and Sherbourne. The parliamentarian Lord General Thomas Fairfax (1612-1671,) in control of much of the south west, took his opportunity to seize Bristol. The Siege of Bristol ran from 21st August to the 11th September.
Prince Rupert realised that the king’s best course of action was to negotiate peace but Charles I refused so Prince Rupert led the doomed defence of Bristol as commanded, whilst Charles, Prince of Wales retreated to the Royalist territories in Cornwall. Rupert surrendered Bristol; the king was incensed and he dismissed his nephew. This led to a court martial on Prince Rupert’s insistence.
The prince was found not guilty of misconduct and the loss of Bristol was deemed inevitable at the point of capitulation. Rupert and Maurice remained loyal to the cause but their relationship with their uncle was damaged. They took no further active role in the first English Civil War.
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After fleeing from the besieged city of Bristol in late summer 1645 Charles retreated to Cornwall where he spent over four months at Pendennis Castle by the River Fal. On the 16th February 1646, The Battle of Torrington in Devon brought another defeat for the Royalists under Lord Ralph Hopton (1596-1652.) As the Parliamentarians gained more territory Charles sailed southwest from the mainland to St. Mary’s, the largest of the Isles of Scilly situated approximately fifty nautical miles away. Parliamentarian ships were in pursuit until a welcome storm saved the royal from capture.
St. Mary’s had a substantial garrison on the west coast. After six weeks on the island, he proceeded to the Royalist held Jersey in the English Channel, and between April and June 1646 he resided at Governor’s House in the grounds of Elizabeth Castle, named after Elizabeth I (1533-1603.) The final stage of his journey took him to France and his mother Henrietta Maria (1609-1669) at the royal palace of St. Germain-en-Laye just outside Paris. Several of Charles I’s advisors believed that the prince should have remained in England but the king wished to prevent his heir’s capture or death at the hands of the enemy.
The Disastrous Second English Civil War
The Scottish Covenanters were Presbyterians who opposed the controversial religious reforms which Charles I and the Archbishop of Canterbury William Laud had proposed in 1637, thereby triggering The Bishops Wars in Scotland. The Covenanters added their strength to the Parliamentarian cause which secured their victory. On the 5th May 1646 Charles I handed himself in to the Covenanters at Newark in Nottinghamshire. On 24th June 1646, the Royalist’s Oxford headquarters surrendered. The first English Civil War was over.
King Charles convinced the Scottish Covenanters that he could help them if they switched sides and fought to destabilise the English parliament. He and the Covenanters signed The Engagement in December 1647, this document promised that England would adopt the Presbyterian faith for three years if they could achieve the goal of ousting the Parliamentarians. James Hamilton, 1st Duke of Hamilton (1606-1649) and the Engagers Army prepared for a land campaign in summer 1648.
In England and Wales determined Royalists fought back against the Parliamentarians giving new hope. That spring, Charles, Prince of Wales relocated from Paris to his sister Mary's court at The Hague because he believed that the Dutch would offer him essential support for military action. He secured a fleet of ships which meant that Charles could coordinate his activities with the Duke of Hamilton’s and the uprisings on the south coast of England.
Hamilton’s army was defeated at the Battle of Preston on 19th August 1648 by Oliver Cromwell and the New Model Army as Charles and his fleet of ships were still making their crossing; upon receiving the news of Hamilton’s defeat and seeing enemy ships in the Thames and English Channel, Charles’ ships returned to The Hague without seeing fruitful action. The Covenanters delivered Charles I to the Parliamentarians. This signalled the end of the Second Civil War. The Duke of Hamilton was executed for high treason.
In London, parliament underwent Pride’s Purge, named after the New Model Army’s Colonel Thomas Pride, in late 1648. It evicted members who were moderate in their outlook towards the king and Presbyterianism. Their presence would have jeopardised the desired guilty verdict at Charles I’s trial for high treason. Hundreds of miles away at The Hague, Charles, Prince of Wales could only pray for a miracle. It didn't happen.
- King Charles II of England | Unofficial Royalty
- The Origins & Causes of the English Civil War
- English Civil Wars | Causes, Summary, Facts, Battles, & Significance | Britannica
English Civil Wars (1642–51), fighting that took place in the British Isles between supporters of the monarchy of Charles I (and his son and successor, Charles II) and opposing groups in each of Charles’s kingdoms.
- BCW Project :: British Civil Wars, Commonwealth & Protectorate 1638-1660
Biographies, articles, military history and timelines of the British Civil Wars, Commonwealth and Protectorate, 1638-60.
© 2021 Joanne Hayle