​How Oxford changed with the arrival of Charles I

Christ Church College
On 25 June in 1646, Oxford, which had been the Royalist capital during the English Civil War, was finally surrendered to Parliament

The city had been taken over by King Charles I in November 1642 and, in almost four years of Royalist occupation, life for residents changed beyond recognition. 

London had been lost to Parliament and so the king relocated to Oxford with his household, office and the full machinery of Government in tow. 

The University strongly supported the king and students were trained to serve in royal militias and paraded up and down the high street. However, the town council wanted to keep Oxford out of the conflict and was dismayed when Charles arrived with thousands of officials and soldiers, massively increasing the population of Oxford. 

Charles stayed in comfort at Christ Church College (pictured), but his supporters were billeted with residents throughout the city. 

In her memoirs, royalist Lady Ann Fanshawe described how her family had come from one of the finest households in England to be lodged with a baker and, after a lifetime of luxury, she was forced to sleep in a "very bad bed."

The town was packed, and poor sanitation led to sewerage and then plague. 

With human and animal waste filling the unpaved streets, the council decided to employ men in every parish to tackle the mess, but the action proved too little, too late, and in the summer of 1643 typhus was killing 40 residents each week. The epidemic did subside, but was followed by further plagues in 1644 and 1645.

Desperate to continue his fight against Parliament, the king took over many of Oxford's buildings to support the war effort. The Royal Mint arrived and all of the University colleges were asked to donate their plate and silver to create new coins. 

Metal workshops were taken over and ordered to produce bullets, and New College was piled high with canon and ordnance, forcing the students to move out. 

The city was now a bustling garrison town with soldiers performing drills in local parks. 

To pay for his war machine, Charles ordered the town council to raise taxes. They agreed, reluctantly, but the demands kept coming and in 1644 they finally refused. 

Civilians were equally unhappy about the long-term presence of the Royalist army, and when they were asked to help fortify the town's defences, only a few turned up to work. 

Oxford was besieged by Parliament three times during the civil war. In 1644 two large armies attempted to surround the city, but their scouting was poor and the king managed to escape with 70 carriages. 

The New Model Army tried again in 1645, but called off the attack to chase the fleeing king. Their pursuit led to a decisive defeat of the Royalist army at Naseby

By 1646 Charles I had surrendered to the Scottish army at Newark. Thomas Fairfax, commander of Parliament's army, wanted to take Oxford without any more blood and began negotiations for its surrender. 

When the Royalists departed the city in June, they left behind a town that had been totally transformed by their presence, and residents could finally restart their return to normality. 

Want to find out more?

Join our Oxford-based English Civil War history holiday. Expert Julian Humphrys will lead you on a walking tour of Oxford, visiting the sites that were most impacted by the Royalist occupation and detailing how the town changed during those years. The break also includes visits to the battle sites of Edgehill, Naseby, Stow-on-the-Wold and more. 
Picture credit: Christ Church College, courtesy of Meraj Chhaya, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons