English Civil War history influenced New England before the American Revolution.
English history influenced the thinking of American colonials, so that Americans in the 1700’s repeated the same arguments that Englishmen used against King Charles I and his use of taxation and an army in the 1600’s.
English politics and religious regulation made life hard for Protestants (especially those outside the Church of England who wanted less pomp in the church), and for those who wanted more freedom from arbitrary rule by the King. Before the English Civil War of the 1640’s, Englishpersons left England to avoid English politics and religious regulation.
New England was so far away that communications between England and New England commonly took six months. Furthermore, the colonies initially were small and weak. So until about 1750, the King and Parliament took little notice of the colonies and left them alone to struggle as best they could by themselves.
It is important to understand the English Civil War that brought an end to the reign of Charles I, if one is to truly understand the feelings that drove families to New England in the 1630’s.
Charles I (1600-1649) matured into a strong-willed Stuart monarch and an advocate of the divine right of kings. Charles was forced into conflict with Parliament that led to civil wars, first with Scotland in 1637, then with England (in 1642-46 and again in 1648), ending with his death by execution.
The most relevant aspect of his character, which hugely influenced contemporary events, was Charles’ religiosity; he was a supporter of high Anglican worship which encouraged ritual and decorum. His marriage to Henrietta Maria of France, a Roman Catholic, added to his unpopularity.
Charles dissolved Parliament three times between 1625 and 1629. (The Winthrop fleet started their sailings to New England at this time, in 1630. ) Charles ruled without summoning Parliament for 11 years. Unrest in Scotland – because Charles attempted to force a new prayer book on the country – put an end to his personal rule without Parliament. . Funds to quash the rebellion were limited and Charles was forced to call first the Short Parliament then the Long Parliament. Conflict in the House led to a foolish decision, prompted by Henrietta, to have five members arrested and civil war erupted.
In 1642 Charles took an army to attack, at Nottingham, an army assembled by Parliament. The king’s supporters, known as the Cavaliers, came from the ranks of both peasants and nobility. The Parliamentary forces were generally the civil militia forces of towns, which militia was generally formed from the emerging middle classes, especially Puritan Protestants who viewed Charles as pushing the country into becoming a Catholic country. The Puritans, because they did not use the wigs of court, and used plain hairstyles, were known as the Roundheads. This force of Roundheads was molded by Oliver Cromwell, into what Cromwell styled as the New Model Army. After about three years of battles between Cavaliers and the New Model Army, Cromwell soundly defeated the Cavaliers at Naseby in 1645. A year later, Charles surrendered a year later to the Scottish forces. In 1648 Parliament put Charles on trial for treason. He was found guilty by one vote (68 to 67) and his execution was ordered for 1649. Thus series of war between the forces of the King and the forces of Parliament became known as the Glorious Revolution of England.
The same arguments that Englishmen used against Charles I in the Glorious Revolution were used the next century by Americans against the Crown and Parliament.
To read about how the Civil Wars of England fit into the other major wars of the 17th and 18th century click here.