​How divine right sparked the English Civil Wars

Painting of Charles I and Royalists before the Battle of Edgehill
On 22 August in 1642, the English Civil War began. The King, Charles I, was close to bankrupt and enraged by the demands of Parliament. He rode to Nottingham and raised his standard to rally supporters to his side.

Charles’ fury stemmed from his belief that he had a divine right to govern. He had dismissed Parliament in 1629 and governed England under his ‘personal’ rule for 11 years.

But he needed Parliament to give him legitimacy as he tried to introduce taxes and raise funds to further his ambitions. Without Parliament’s support, his attempts at increasing the Crown’s coffers were deeply unpopular.

He extended the Ship Tax, changing it from a temporary tax paid by counties with a coastal border to support the navy in times of war, into a permanent tax paid by every county. 

His attempts to reform the Church of Scotland and expand his religious policies north of the border led to war and a crushing defeat, which left the Scots occupying Newcastle and Durham.

The English public demanded the return of Parliament to put a check on Charles, and the King finally relented.

The new Parliament’s first act was to arrest and put on trial the King’s closest advisers.

Once simply a collection of aristocrats who met occasionally to offer the King advice, Parliament was now showing a new determination to govern.

In 1641 Charles agreed to an unprecedented law that Parliament could not be dissolved without its own consent. Fuelled by this success, Parliament abolished the hated Ship Tax and continued to extract further concessions from the King.

Charles I’s decision to declare war at Nottingham split England in two, with family members frequently fighting on different sides during the nine-year conflict, and the wars stretched into Wales, Scotland and Ireland, with consequences that are still felt today.

These battles were some of the bloodiest ever fought in the UK, and the outcome changed the relationship between Monarchy, Parliament and the People forever. 

Want to know more? Join an English Civil Wars history tour to delve into the history of the English Civil Wars. Our small-group tours are based in Oxford and Bath, and led by historian Julian Humphrys.

Our next Oxford tour starts on Friday 2nd  October and visits battle sites at Naseby, Edgehill, Stow-on-the-Wold and more.

More articles about the English Civil Wars
>> The Battle of Worcester: the final chapter
>> How Charles I's Royalist revival was crushed at Preston 
>> Marston Moor - a reckoning for the Royalists 
>> How Cropredy Bridge created the New Model Army 
>> Julian Humphrys on his English Civil War tours 
>> ​The third and final siege of Oxford
>> The Battle of Naseby  

Picture credit: Charles I, Prince Rupert and the Royalists prepare for the Battle of Edge Hill, Walker Art Gallery / Public domain