What if Charles I had
won the English Civil War?
There are a number of
histories, including many on the site, that have a parnerment
republican victory in the first English civil war, resulting in a new
monarch or a genuine republic. The
recent threads of my research, however, led me towards a different
consideration: What if Charles I had won the English Civil War?
the possible outcomes, lets take a quick look at the origins of the civil war.
England in the era of Charles I was a fairly peaceful place. Charles had
real hope of fulfilling his father's, James I of England and Scotland, dream of
uniting the entirety of the British Isles in a single Great Britain. Charles
also shared his father's feelings in regard to the power of the crown, the
Divine Right of Kings. Although a pious monarch, Charles demanded outright
loyalty in return for "just rule". Any questioning of his orders was insulting
or blasphemous. It was this later trait and a series of events that tested it,
seemingly minor on their own, that led to a serious break between Charles and
the Parliament, eventually leading to war.
Parliament had little
formal power prior to the war. It
was not a permanent branch of English government, but temporary advisory
committees summoned by the English monarch whenever additional tax revenue was
required, and subject to dissolution at the monarch's will.
However, as its members held responsibility for collecting taxes, the
English monarchs needed their help in order to guarantee that revenue came in
without difficulty. If the gentry were to refuse to collect the King's taxes,
the King would be powerless to compel them. Parliaments allowed representatives
of the gentry to meet, converse and send policy proposals to the King.
These representatives did not, however, have any means to force their
will upon the King.
Charles did not do
much to avoid causing concern to his people.
Fiercely independent after Elisabeth I, the English people were concerned
by his marriage to a French Roman Catholic princess shortly after his accession
to the throne in 1625. Further,
after a disastrous war with France, Charles dismissed and recalled Parliament,
but faced opposition and demands from them, which Charles regarded as cheek.
The new Parliament drew up the Petition of Right in 1628, and Charles
accepted it as a concession to get his subsidy. The Petition referred to the
Magna Carta and said that a citizen should have: (a) freedom from arbitrary
arrest and imprisonment, (b) freedom from non-parliamentary taxation, (c)
freedom from the enforced billeting of troops, and (d) freedom from martial law.
This did not please
Charles. He used several cunning
methods to avoid summoning another Parliament; the most controversial of these
was the revival and extension of ship money. This tax had been levied in the
medieval era on seaports, but Charles extended it to inland counties as well.
The tax had not been approved by Parliament, however, and a number of
prominent men refused to pay it on these grounds. Reprisals conducted against a
few of them only served to strengthen the anti-Charles factions that were slowly
growing in England, while a series of disastrous wars with Scotland weakened the
hand that Charles played with.
Parliament took the opportunity to strengthen its own hand in the Long
parliament, which declared that Parliament should be reformed every three years,
and refused the king's right to dissolve Parliament. Other laws were passed
making it illegal for the king to impose his own taxes, and later passed a law
that gave members control over the king's ministers.
believed that there was one last card to play.
Strafford had raised an Irish Catholic army and was prepared to use it
against Scotland. Of course the very thought of a Catholic army campaigning
against the Scots from protestant England was considered outrageous by the
parliamentary party. In early 1641 Strafford was arrested and sent to the Tower
of London on the charge of treason.
In an attempt to sacrifice himself to avert the looming war, Strafford
convinced a reluctant Charles to consent to his execution.
Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford, was executed on May 12th, 1641.
It was too late.
Revolts arose in Ireland, rumours spread that the Irish were being
supported by the king, and Puritan members of the Commons were soon agitating
that this was the sort of thing Charles had in store for all of them.
When Charles attempted to arrest five members of the Parliament, the
Parliament refused to hand them over and, as his power disintegrated, Charles
fled London and raised an army using the archaic system of a Commission of
Array. He raised the royal standard at Nottingham in August, but in 1642 the
military governor of Kingston upon Hull declared the city for the
Parliamentarian cause and refused the King entry into the city and its large
arsenal. Charles I besieged the
city unsuccessfully. This siege precipitated open conflict between the
Parliamentarian and Royalist causes.
The war, to cut the
reminder short, consisted of many small battles, until the king was finally
captured. Being in prison,
however, did not stop Charles from conspiring and, 1648, he was executed by the
Parliamentary forces, while his son, Charles II, was defeated and forced to
flee. After considerable trouble,
Oliver Cromwell took control of the nation and, after his death, Charles II was
able to return to England.
However, control of most of the nation's affairs were now in the hands of
parliament - no king has been able to push them too far.
Why did parliament
win? There are many theories, but
the simplest explanation - which is usually the best - is that parliament
controlled most of the available resources and manpower of England, had at least
an understanding with the Scots and had the time to develop new tactics and
organisations, such as the New Model Army.
Charles hoped that quick victories would negate Parliament's advantage in
material, which precipitated the siege of Hull in July 1642, which provided a
decisive victory for Parliament.
Despite having an advantage in leadership quality in his first years, Charles,
like Hannibal before him, was unable to crush the Parliament in London or win a
decisive victory. Once Parliament
had time to adapt and deploy, their victory was almost assured.
So, how can Charles win the war? He must act decisively while most of the people are still deciding which way to jump. OTL had most of the important people either trying to keep their heads down or joining the Parliamentary cause. Therefore, lets have him head with his army to Kingston upon Hull in 1642, as per OTL. However, let's have Charles manage to bribe the military governor of Kingston upon Hull and therefore gain access to the arsenal. This allows him to reequip his army and recruit new men, while causing people who are considering Parliament to wait for further developments.
needs to head for London and besiege the city, finally tricking or bribing
people into allowing his troops access.
Parliament is divided, with many of the more radical members either
calling for a fight to the death or a retreat to Essex.
However, the majority give up the fight and open the doors to Charles and
his men, although the people on Charles' 'shoot to kill' list, including John
Hampden, John Pym, Arthur Haselrig, Denzil Holles, and William Strode, (all of
whom Charles attempted to arrest just before the start of the war), flee and
proclaim a exile government in Scotland.
However, as Parliament has been defeated, most people are hastily trying
to make deals with Charles.
There is another
possibility for an outright Charles win.
The Battle of Edgehill ended in a draw, with Charles slightly ahead and
in the position of being able to march on London.
However, he had not succeeded in destroying the parliamentary army, which
was commanded by Essex. What if
Charles had used his superiority in cavalry and destroyed the opposing army?
While that would not wipe out all the opposing forces, it would leave
parliament with only the ‘trained bands’ (militia) to draw on, forces that were
historically unwilling to march beyond their regions.
While the Scots would, one hopes, have been unwilling to allow a Charles
victory, it is unclear what they could do to avert one, and the worst that could
happen would be a final sundering of Scotland from England.
The massive collapse in morale would have made treating with Charles
Anyway, no matter how
he won, Charles now holds the whip hand and intends to use it.
He sees that he has been repeatability humiliated by Parliament and sees
his new victory as proof of his divine right.
Someone like Charles would not be satisfied with just the victory, he
would want to grind their faces in it and force them to acknowledge his divine
right. We have no idea, of course,
how Charles would have framed such a proclamation, but it might run something
"Charles I, by
the grace of God, monarch of the British lands and her colonies, stands at the
supreme authority under god in England, granted victory by divine right.
Parliament reaffirms his powers to tax and make laws as the final arbiter
of British matters, and recognises him as the supreme and unquestionable lord of
England, the representative of God himself.
As appointed by God, to disobey his rules is blasphemy and will be
punished for it, if not by the agents and loyal servants of the king, then by
perhaps? Compared to some Middle
Ages documents, its very modest.
Basically, Charles has stripped from Parliament every right it claimed and
dragged out of the monarchs since 1100.
Charles now has complete power over England, including the right to tax
without reservation, the right to appoint and dismiss advisors, the right to
have a regular, pernerment, stipend to maintain the new army, the right to be
supreme judge of every case and the power of life and death over the whole
kingdom. The Parliament, which is
now a shadow, is required to confirm the death sentences on the former members,
which is intended to make them compliant in the king's actions.
Future revolts would be very difficult.
Charles first action
as the new, all-powerful, king is to build up the army.
Not only using the nucleus of the forces he led to London, but also
adding the remains of the catholic army and menicaries from Europe.
The purpose is to have an army that's loyal to the King alone and not to
any other faction. He also orders
the private forces in the services of the nobles to be disarmed, apart from the
nobles who supported him unquestionably.
He places this army under Prince Rupert, his nephew, and a man much loved
by his troops - hated by everyone else - a dashing and bold military commander.
He orders Rupert to prepare for an exhibition to Scotland, to settle
affairs with the Conventers.
The Scots declare
themselves independent and Charles orders invasion.
With the more powerful army, Rupert defeats the Scots in a number of
pitched battles and forces them to the discussion table.
Soon, Scotland is forced under Charles complete control.
This allows Charles to continue to shape the British religious landscape.
In OTL, Charles
believed in a pomp-and-ceremony version of the Anglican Church, a feeling held
by his main political advisor, Archbishop William Laud. Laud had become the
Archbishop of Canterbury in 1633 and started a series of reforms in the Anglican
Church to make it more ceremonial, starting with the replacement of the wooden
communion tables with stone altars, which led to Puritans accusing Laud of
trying to reintroduce Catholicism.
If that was true, Charles might have sought confirmation of his authority from
Personally, I don't
believe that was accurate.
However, Charles does seem to have been very tolerant of Catholics, and was
trying to tighten his control of the church.
There would have been numerous small revolts across England, but Charles
would probably manage to squash them all.
Many Puritans would flee to America and I suspect that many others would
join them. Ironically, the Irish
would probably not revolt as much in this timeline.
In the long run, this
would be totally disastrous for England.
Not only have the beginnings of democratic control been stamped out,
Charles would have established a tradition of direct, personal, rule, with all
the power in one set of hands. If
the English Crown can tax at will, without legal controls, then the incentive to
develop the English financial system is none-existent.
Without that as a system for developing Britain's resources, Britain
would remain a poor nation.
tradition of 'Englishman’s rights' would have been destroyed.
This suggests that the moral base that eventually formed the British
Empire would not exist. Slavery
and similar matters might last longer in this timeline, while, instead of the
Americans having basic home rule, a viceroy might be appointed, with troops to
back him up. The American
Revolution might happen earlier in this timeline, but instead of a democratic
nation, the outcome might be a new monarch, or a religious, puritan,
One piece of better
news is that it would have done wonders for European unity.
Charles was related to many of the European Kings by marriage and they
would have had considerable interest in working together in maintaining the
status quo. However, Charles would
not have been able to finance the British forces that existed in OTL, so Britain
might, on the other hand, be invaded by France or Spain, which would have more
undeveloped wealth to use to build ships.
The bad news is that
Britain would be a dangerous place.
There would be constant revolts in Scotland and parts of England,
particularly in the places that have to support the new army, which would
tighten Charles' grip on power.
Britain might end up looking like Yugoslavia or Vietnam.
Ironically, one good
outcome of this is that Ireland would be more peaceful.
Charles used Catholic troops from Ireland, which gives him some interest
in being reasonably tolerant towards the Irish people than anything else.
Worse, however, would
be the spread of censorship.
Literacy rates would fall, while scientific discussions and free debate would be
stifled. This would have
unpredictable effects on the development of Britain.
There are two very
long-term effects of this outcome.
One is that the British Empire, as we knew it, will almost certainly not happen.
This outcome lacks both the financial system that financed the empire and
the mindset that allowed the colonies to develop their own economies.
That suggests that Britain will fail to keep the colonies as
money-makers, which could mean that they get abandoned at some point.
Further, this Britain will not be able to afford global commitments nor
get unduly upset about barbarian kings in India and elsewhere.
So, who will be the
superpower of the world? I suspect
that either France or Russia will be the superpower, at least for some time.
Both nations have the men, although, barring revolution of some kind,
they won't be able to become world-shakers.
The Dutch might develop a financial system that can support such efforts,
but they lack the manpower to use it.
That said, they could take over India instead of the British, which might
give them the manpower.
It is possible to
make a case that a planned economy is better than a unplanned one, which might
give Britain an advantage it lacked in OTL, but its unlikely that Charles’
descendents would succeed any more than France or the USSR.
Without computer records, instant communication and a method of ‘watching
the watchers’, it is unlikely that a planned economy could succeed.
Of course, if they’re all equally bad, it may not matter that much.
The other long-term
effect would be the destruction of the origins of democratic societies.
In the long run, the Dutch do not have the resources to survive against
France, Spain, or Prussia. Even
under a best-case situation, they’ll be absorbed or at the very least lose their
empires, unless they somehow manage to build an independent, outside Europe,
colony, such as the Portuguese tried to do with Brazil.
This alternate world will see a constant cycle of revolutions and