A black and white drawing of King Charles I

The Civil War in a Nutshell

30 January marks the anniversary of the execution of King Charles I, perhaps the most controversial monarch in English history. Charles I lacked the power of leadership and stubbornly refused to compromise, causing seven years of civil war and thousands of deaths. Read on to discover why Corey Bailey-Forde, a member of our Explainer’s team, finds this period of history so fascinating.

Hello, my name is Corey and I’m an Explainer at Nottingham Castle. The Explainer team are the ones wearing bright orange jumpers and shirts in the Galleries, Robin Hood Adventures, on Cave Tours and during object handling. We are part of the Learning team, so it’s not only important to us for you to enjoy your time at the Castle, but also to learn something in the process – and it’s always good for us to discover something new – no one knows everything!

I wanted to share my brief overview of the Civil War, which hopefully fuels your curiosity and encourages you to visit the Castle to discover more about Nottingham’s position in the Civil War.

There were many factors that caused the Civil War. Charles I wanted to raise money through parliament to fight wars in Scotland and Ireland, so he introduced new reforms into the Scottish church, broke promises, raised silly unpopular taxes and tried to arrest members of parliament. By August 1642, relations had reached boiling point and here, right outside our very own Castle walls, Charles I raised his standard on 22 August, officially marking the start of the Civil War.

I’ll focus on Nottingham’s part in this war, but during the initial phases, the King was on top. However, lack of support from the common man and a shortage of military experience among Royalist leaders led to his downfall, as well as the Parliamentarians developing the New Model Army.

So, when Charles I raised his standard, he hoped to secure local support, but Nottingham supported Parliament and he only had about 200 people who wanted to join the Royalist cause, so after a few days he left Nottingham.

Soon after, the Parliamentarians occupied the Castle with their own soldiers. The governor of the Castle was a man called Colonel John Hutchinson and his wife, Lucy Hutchinson, kept a diary documenting life at the castle during the civil war; in the Rebellion Gallery, you can see her diary, and read it via one of our interactives, and follow her story on a visualisation clip on a large screen.

The city of Nottingham was important for both sides due to its central position in England. The Royalists tried assaulting the castle directly, sniping from the church, sneaking in, disguising themselves – anything you can think of, they tried. However, John, Lucy and the garrison held on until the Royalists fled at the sight of Parliamentarian reinforcements.

The Scots and The Roundheads eventually took the upper hand against the King, who handed himself in, and the Cavaliers surrendered in 1646. Parliament tried to establish a constitutional monarchy; however, Charles was in secret talks with Scotland, which resulted in an agreement to defeat Parliament. This didn’t go well at all – the king was defeated, swiftly tried, and sentenced to death by beheading in 1649.

The Commonwealth of England was established and was a sort of a republic until Oliver Cromwell’s death and the people discovered his son was useless. Finally, Charles II came to the throne in 1660, invited by Parliament. As Lucy says in our Rebellion gallery, “Was it worth so many lives?”

Many people today question whether the Civil War was necessary and if Charles was a tyrant or just an ordinary King with a greedy Parliament. If you have found this very short and simplified overview interesting, then please visit our Rebellion Gallery and chat with me, or another member of the Explainer team, to learn more about the Civil War.History, in many ways, is very individual, we all think of things differently, there’s not always a correct answer, and most of history is about debate, and that’s what we want to encourage at the Castle, especially in our Rebellion Gallery and through our Civil War handling collection.

Thank you for reading and we look forward to seeing you at Nottingham Castle very soon!

Corey Bailey-Forde, Explainer

With grateful thanks to Nottingham City Council for the image of King Charles I