English civil war

The Nature of the Struggle

The struggle has also been called the Puritan Revolution because the religious complexion of the king's opponents was prevailingly Puritan, and because the defeat of the king was accompanied by the abolition of episcopacy. That name, however, overemphasizes the religious element at the expense of the constitutional issues and the underlying social and economic factors. Most simply stated, the constitutional issue was one between a king who claimed to rule by divine right and a Parliament that professed itself to have rights and privileges independent of the crown and that ultimately, by its actions, claimed real sovereignty.

Parliament in this period did not represent the full body of the English people; it was composed of and represented the nobility, country gentry, and merchants and artisans. The 16th cent. had seen a decline in the influence of the nobility and a striking rise in the numbers, wealth, and influence of the gentry and merchants, the beneficiaries of a tremendous expansion of markets and trade in Tudor times. It was from this middle class of gentry and merchants that the opposition to the crown drew most of its members. Their ambition to do away with financial and commercial restrictions and their desire to have a say in such matters as religious and foreign policies had been severely restrained by the Tudors, but on the accession (1603) of a Scottish king to the English throne the popular party began to organize its strength.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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