The Civil War – more than just men with beards
One of my first experiences with the English Civil War was at school. A rather overweight middle-aged man with a beard came into the class dressed as a Roundhead and showed off muskets, pikes and general fighting tactics.
Yet despite all this effort, I found it rather uninspiring. When you also combine it with the main battles being in rather bland fields, for a while the civil war was something old and rather meaningless.
It was only later when I had to study the social side and the impact of the war that it finally became quite impressive. Here are my top three reasons why:
- The Civil War still remains the last major armed conflict fought on English soil. Despite two World Wars (including the Battle of Britain in the air), we haven’t experienced land combat on mainland Britain since. We find it difficult to imagine from recent history that ordinary people would have been caught up in the conflict and could not have been protected from it.
- It was a period where Britain temporarily became a republic – and not that temporary either, it lasted 11 years! Many historians also see this as one of the reasons why Britain adapted better to the social changes of industrialisation and avoided the revolutions that swept Europe.
- The ideas of the Civil War challenged the influence of the state in people’s religious beliefs. The church was a way to influence communication to ordinary people and there was state persecution of religion. It may seem a little old hat now but this was a significant step towards freedom of thought and expression.
Add into all of this, Nottinghamshire as the starting point and the place of surrender for King Charles I and now there’s more intrigue in the mix for us. In raising his flag at Nottingham Castle, Charles effectively starts the scrap with a gesture of defiance after years of niggles and disagreements.
It’s in historic Newark that you can see best how the Civil War affected real people. The town was held by Royalist troops and often laid siege over the conflict. So if you’ve recently seen a siege scenario unfold on the news in somewhere like Libya or Syria, some 350 years ago in England it was Newark. The technology would have been different but the effect on people would have been similar.
A few years ago, my parents went on a short break to Dublin and came back to tell me that ‘there’s a lot of history there – you can still see the bullet holes in the walls’. They were surprised when I told them they could find similar at Newark Castle too – and so could you.
Take the Civil War trail around the town to discover more, and we have a mouth-watering prospect of a National Civil War Centre due for September 2014 to help tell the tale.