We are inclined to of revolutions as being historical events that disrupt the order of the world, eras that rewrite the history of their times and transform the cultures of the places. And of course the great revolutions of the world do indeed do all of these things. But simply because the historical effect of revolutions is such a radical transformation of the world, we should not therefore be lured into seeing revolutions as arising from disjunctures in the social fabric. Revolutions are not like a meteor crashing into the body politic and changing the way in which things are done in an abrupt and external fashion. The English Civil War, like other revolutionary battles, was fought along long-standing cultural, economic and religious faultlines.
Rather, revolutions are like earthquakes: While they may seem to come out of nowhere and while they certainly shake the world, they arise from long-discerned and (at least at some level) measurable and understandable forces. Revolution are always the natural results of particular sets of cultural and economic conditions. Just as it is true within the natural world - just as earthquakes arise from the shifting of tectonic plates - it is also true that all major events in human history are connected in understandable and even in predictable ways to the events that came before.
This is not (of course) the same thing as arguing that it is always easy to see (either in advance or even in hindsight) the connections between the present and the past. And this tends especially to be the case in the aftermath of revolutions because it is the nature of revolutions to bury the past that lead up to them in literal and metaphorical (and polemic) rubble. (And the farther we are in time from those original revolution the more difficult it will, of course, be for us to determine the connection between the times leading up to that revolution and the revolution itself.
But, as difficult as it may be for us to understand the nature of revolutionary eras, that is, if we want both to understand where it is that revolutions come from along with how and why it is they change in specific ways the societies in which they occur, we must look not so much to the revolutionary moments themselves as to the moments that occur before - and often many years before. We must, in other words, take a long historical view, looking not to the months before the firing of the first shot but to the years and even the decades before the revolution occurred.
This paper examines one of the more historically consequential revolutions in Western history, looking at a specific set of precedents that lead up to the English Civil War. This revolutionary battle was not as important in terms of its effects either in England or elsewhere as the American and French revolutions would be in their country of origin (as it were) or in other nations, but it would be a mistake to dismiss it as a failed revolution. Certainly the end result of this revolution was in many ways a return to the status quo (although this is arguably true of the French Revolution as well) and so it was not as radical, not as successful in revolutionary, strategic terms, as the American Revolution (or as later revolutions, such as the Russian revolution). But it changed in many ways the manner in which the English thought about their government and it rewrote the nature of power relations among the different national and quasi-national factions in the British Isles.
This paper examines one particular element of the English Revolution, looking at the Scottish Covenanter Party and its reaction to the Anglican Prayer Book. This is not to say that the English Civil War was essentially or primarily a religious war, although certainly differences over religion played into it. But the roots of the series of political upheavals that collectively constitute the English Civil War were based as much in economics as in religion, and as much in philosophy (or at least political philosophy) as in economics.
Before looking specifically at the effects of the Scottish Covenanter Party and its reaction to the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, it will be useful to summarize in broad terms the overall causes - religious and otherwise - of this war that began in that period following the Renaissance during which modern ideas of governance and of the rights of individuals were being developed.
It's the Economy - and a Number of Other Things
As Kishlanky (1997) along with a number of other scholars argues, in order to understand why war broke out in England in 1642 under the reign of Charles it is imperative that we step back a reign in history and look at conditions at the time of the beginning of James's reign. James was, of course, the first king to rule over both England and Scotland. England was a far wealthier country than Scotland and James was perhaps somewhat overwhelmed by the wealth of his Southern kingdom, and little too inclined to believe that the English treasury could not be depleted.
When Charles succeeded to the throne after the death of his fathering 1625, he brought little of a personal fortune from his Scottish holdings and so, like his father, depended upon English wealth. This was problematic because Charles (like James) was a firm believer in the divine right of kings and so no reason at all why he should have to ask the English Parliament for money.
If he had simply appropriated money from Parliament for personal expenses, he might have escaped without any serious ruffling of Parliament's feathers, but Charles - already looked upon with suspicion by a number of members of Parliament and his nobles because one of his first acts as king was to marry a very Catholic princess - quickly became involved in the religious wars of the time and began to ask Parliament to commit the monies of Protestant England to Catholic military causes.
Such requests were not well received by Parliament, which moved to use all of the resources that it had to limit the power of this Catholic king. Parliament's main power was that it oversaw most of the taxes and other levies on the people and so limited these taxes to the greatest extent possible - thereby forcing Charles to call Parliament into session again and again to ask for money. Members of Parliament took advantage of being in session to attempt to influence the king, who worked to limit that influence by finding ways to raise money without calling Parliament into session.
One of the primary ways in which he did this was a private royal court that he used to levy fines to fund both his personal needs as well as his political and religious ventures. This Court of the Star Chamber remains legendary for the oppressiveness of its policy-making schemes:
Closely linked to religion was the King's power, against which a movement had been steadily building, and which reached one of its bloodier confrontations during Charles I's "personal rule." The Court was used to enforce royal proclamations, so much so that in 1620 Chamberlain complained "the world is now much terrified of the Star Chamber, there being not so little an offence against any proclamation but is liable and subject to the censure of that court." This was exacerbated by the increase in the number of government prosecutions, many upon the oral procedure of ore tenus, based upon the defendant's admission of guilt. A good example of the way Star Chamber was used for Charles' personal rule is the case of Richard Chambers, fined £2000 for "comparing of his Majesty's government with the government of the Turks, intending thereby to make the people believe that his Majesty's happy government may be termed Turkish tyranny."
So, there was clearly a growing opposition to Charles' "personal rule" in general, which Star Chamber was used to suppress. One aspect which most irked the influential classes, next to religion, was finance. Charles, like his father, spent huge amounts, and when his lavish personal life and the needs of state were combined, he was perpetually short of funds. In the absence of a helpful Parliament, he turned to "unconstitutional modes of extorting revenue." Namely, Star Chamber, for fines naturally went to the Crown. As Kenyon states, "the most important single cause of Star Chamber's unpopularity was the role it was called to play in the 1630's in the enforcement of the King's financial and social policies." So much so that Pym, one of the leaders of the Parliamentary faction complained in 1640: "The Star Chamber now is become a court of revenue." Between 1631 and 1641, 175 actions were brought by the Attorney-General in Star Chamber, most for breach of proclamations; effectively a demand for money. A good example of this are the actions for payment of ship money.…