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When Britain Killed Its King

Jan 28, 2022
History
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30
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In the 17th century, Britain decided to kill its king and experiment with life without a monarch.

In this episode we'll learn about the English Civil War, the 11 years the country spent without a monarch, why the monarchy was eventually restored, and the impact this had on the country.

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[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:22] I'm Alastair Budge, and today we are going to be talking about When Britain Killed Its King.

[00:00:29] On January 30th, 1649, outside the Palace of Whitehall, in central London, a man walked up to a large, raised stage. Below him, thousands of people waited eagerly to see history made.

[00:00:47] The man knelt on the ground, and made a signal with his hand.

[00:00:53] On this signal, a man whose face was covered raised an axe high and brought it down on the other man’s neck, cutting it clean off from his body.

[00:01:06] That man was King Charles the First of England, the first and only British king to be executed.

[00:01:14] In this episode we are going to tell this story, of the English Civil War, how Britain came to kill its king, what happened in the subsequent 11 years when there was no official king, why the monarchy was eventually restored, and how it changed the country forever. 

[00:01:35] This episode has not only been a really fun one to write, but it also deals with an important period in British history, so I hope you’ll enjoy it.

[00:01:45] OK then, When Britain Killed Its King.

[00:01:51] For many people, when they think about kings or queens, the UK comes to mind. 

[00:01:57] Unlike other countries, France, Germany or Italy, for example, the UK still has a monarchy, there is a king or queen. 

[00:02:06] Queen Elizabeth, the current queen of the United Kingdom, has been on the throne for 70 years, since 1952. 

[00:02:15] And for anyone under the age of 70, in fact, they will have never known another British monarch, and no living person has ever known a United Kingdom without a monarch.

[00:02:28] And when you think about countries that have had revolutions and decided to execute their monarchs, you might think of the guillotine and the French Revolution, not of Britain.

[00:02:41] But it might surprise you to find out that Britain too killed a king and got rid of its monarchy, and indeed the country lived without a monarch for a period of 11 years in the 17th century.

[00:02:56] This period, from 1649 to 1660 is known as the Interregnum - or the time between reigns. 

[00:03:06] It is this unique and fascinating and turbulent period that we are going to explore in today‘s episode. 

[00:03:13] Our journey will involve five different stages – all interlinked: the background to the dispute and the nature of the four countries involved at its start; the causes of the civil wars and the major events, especially the battles; the trial and and execution of the King; the Interregnum or period of rule when there was no king and the people who had deposed and executed him were in power; and finally, the restoration or return to power of the next king, Charles II, who was the dead king’s son. 

[00:03:52] It is quite a complicated period in British history, so I will try to stick to the most important parts and also to give you a clear sense of the chronology – in other words the key dates and events. 

[00:04:08] Right, let’s start with some background. There had been a monarch, a king or queen, on the throne of England since the year 849. 

[00:04:20] So why, what circumstances caused the country to decide that it didn’t want one 800 years later, in 1649, and to decide that it didn’t just want to get rid of the king, it publicly executed him?

[00:04:36] Well, let me paint you a picture of life in Britain in the early 17th century. 

[00:04:43] King Charles the First had been on the throne since 1625. 

[00:04:49] What this meant in practical terms was that he was king of the Kingdom of England, Scotland and Ireland. The Kingdom of England also included Wales, and the Kingdom of Ireland included all of Ireland, so Charles was the ruler of all of the British Isles.

[00:05:09] It may seem strange to you but the King saw himself as ruling on behalf of God, as God’s agent on earth. 

[00:05:19] This was a really important belief or doctrine and was called the Divine Right of Kings. 

[00:05:27] Although Charles had a small group of advisors, called the Privy Council and a larger group of men elected to Parliament [members of parliament or MPs as they are now known], he saw himself as the decision maker; he expected to be able to rule without the support of Parliament. 

[00:05:50] In other words, Charles wanted to be an absolute ruler or autocrat

[00:05:57] Although Britain may have had elements of a democracy, a fledgling or embryonic democracy let’s say, it was very much a dictatorship with some democratic elements. 

[00:06:12] To add to the mixture, Charles was a vain and by all accounts rather stupid man who always thought he was right. 

[00:06:22] And although Britain was 100 years away from the Industrial Revolution which would transform the country and create a great deal of wealth, it was, in 1639, prosperous in the rural areas where the profitable trade in wool was the main industry. 

[00:06:41] At the same time, London, which was even then about six times the size of the second largest city, Norwich, had many wealthy people and even had its own semi-official army, the militias. 

[00:06:58] As the English wealthy business people and land owners grew in power, so understandably they expected to have more influence on how the country was run. 

[00:07:11] This was especially the case with three matters which were vital background to the dispute which led to the first English civil war.

[00:07:22] The first one has to do with tax. Although the King had considerable private money of his own, for spending to do with the country, he needed to raise additional money through taxes. 

[00:07:37] Parliament often would not vote to raise or authorise taxes as they did not agree with what the king wanted to spend the money on. This was often, understandably, an area of conflict. 

[00:07:52] The second battle ground or area of dispute was religion. In England the Church of England, otherwise known as the Anglican Church, was Protestant, following the break with the Catholic Church under Henry VIII more than a century earlier. 

[00:08:10] However, there were still many people in England who continued to follow the old faith of Catholicism, there were still plenty of Catholics. 

[00:08:20] There was great suspicion amongst the most hardline or fanatical protestants, especially those who were described as puritans, that the King was secretly inclined towards Catholicism, that he was a secret Catholic. 

[00:08:38] This religion was linked in their minds with foreigners, especially those from England‘s most fierce enemies, France and Spain. 

[00:08:49] Something that added fuel to this already combustible fire was the fact that the King had married a Catholic, Princess Henrietta Maria of France. 

[00:09:02] The third area of dispute links with the first and has to do with economic policy, especially as it provided funds for foreign wars. 

[00:09:13] Charles had conducted an expensive and disastrous war with Spain between 1625 and 1629. 

[00:09:21] Parliament refused to vote for more money for this foolish war. The King had to resort to an unpopular and illegal method of raising funds: he forced people to lend him money and imprisoned those who didn't. 

[00:09:39] This gives you a sense of what Charles thought he could get away with - he thought that Parliament essentially existed as a way to provide him with whatever he needed.

[00:09:52] This dispute led in 1629 to the King eventually dismissing or dissolving Parliament and not recalling it again for 11 years. Essentially, he got rid of the main element of democracy in the country.

[00:10:11] OK, let’s move on to the events and unrest which led to the first Civil War. 

[00:10:18] Problems with religion were not confined to England. 

[00:10:22] Scotland was much more dominated by hardline protestants than England. The influence of the radical Swiss preacher, John Calvin had been especially strong in Scotland the century beforehand. 

[00:10:36] King Charles unwisely tried to impose on Scotland his own idea of a prayer book, which was called the Book of Common Prayer. 

[00:10:46] It was a terrible error of judgment, and the Scots simply said “no, we’re not accepting this”.

[00:10:55] When the Scots would not accept Charles‘s command, he tried to beat them into submission and started a war in 1639. As well as leading him into further conflict with Parliament, Charles’s unwise war led to a humiliating defeat. 

[00:11:15] Back in London, in January 1642, the King tried to arrest the members of Parliament who were leading a rebellion against him. 

[00:11:25] He wanted to imprison them and then likely execute them for treason or rebellion against the king. 

[00:11:34] Very sensibly, the MPs involved, including a man we will hear much of later, a strict protestant called Oliver Cromwell, decided to not attend Parliament.

[00:11:47] Clearly, trust between the monarch and Parliament had broken down completely. There was no going back.

[00:11:56] By June that year, Charles had moved his court and army to the city of York in the north of England, and a full-blown civil war was imminent

[00:12:08] The forces of Parliament, or the Parliamentarians, as they came to be called, set up their base in London. A formal declaration of war followed and the first major battle, an inconclusive one, took place in October 1642 at Edgehill in Warwickshire, in the heart of England. 

[00:12:31] I will not attempt to deal with all of the elements of the first English Civil War, but will firstly try to give you some flavour of what kind of war it was and secondly tell you what were the factors which led to the Parliamentarians eventually winning. 

[00:12:49] Like any war it involved a tremendous amount of destruction, death and suffering. 

[00:12:56] As with any civil war, it divided communities and families, even setting brother against brother, father against son. 

[00:13:07] Whereas some civil wars, the Spanish Civil War, for example, set different social classes against each other, the first English Civil War did not divide simply by social class, it wasn’t a case of left vs right, poor vs. rich. 

[00:13:26] Religion was a big element, with the hardline protestants or puritans [as they were sometimes known] being more likely to side with Parliament. 

[00:13:36] Geographical region also played a part, with the King strongest in the north of England, the Midlands and much of the south and west, while the Parliamentarians were strongest in London and the East of England. 

[00:13:51] A major factor in the victory of the Parliamentarians or Roundheads as they were sometimes called, was that, although they occupied a smaller portion of the country, they held the more significant parts of it than the King’s side – they held the ports, making it easier to trade, and they held the places where gunpowder and ammunition were stored, called “arsenals”.

[00:14:18] For the football fans out there, yes the football team “Arsenal” gets its name because it was founded next to the Royal Arsenal. 

[00:14:28] As to the kind of warfare waged, the kind of war that was actually fought, there were lots of small battles or skirmishes, many sieges of towns and a handful of major battles which typically involved between 12,000 and 20,000 soldiers on each side. 

[00:14:50] Cavalry was important, so that’s soldiers on top of horses. So was the use of infantry, the foot soldiers, who would be armed with large spears or pikes

[00:15:04] Cannons destroyed old style castles and city walls. You can still see many examples of castles whose fortifications were destroyed in these wars. 

[00:15:15] A crucial factor was that, until 1644, neither side had what we would call nowadays a professional army. 

[00:15:26] However, in 1644 Parliament created a professional army, known as the New Model Army. 

[00:15:35] This was very well trained and therefore disciplined in battle. It was a vital factor behind the decisive victory of the Parliamentarians in June 1645 at Naseby in Lincolnshire when they defeated the King’s forces for good

[00:15:55] King Charles tried to figure out a way to get out of the situation, and to make a deal with Parliament, but there was none. 

[00:16:04] He surrendered to the Scottish army in 1646, who were on the side of the Parliamentarians. 

[00:16:11] This was the end of the First English Civil War, but let’s remember that Charles I is technically still the King of England, Scotland and Ireland.

[00:16:23] Back to the chronology and onto what is called the Second Civil War which I will deal with briefly. 

[00:16:30] In this war, which occurred after the King’s surrender to the Scottish army in May of 1646, there was a rebellion both of the English Navy and also of various remaining pockets of Royalist forces. 

[00:16:47] The result of these uprisings was that the New Model Army, with Oliver Cromwell as one of its leading commanders, seized power, expelling the more moderate members of parliament and executing the leaders of the various uprisings against them. 

[00:17:06] This led to Parliament becoming smaller in number and, critically, becoming composed of much more extreme, hardline members. 

[00:17:17] Now, we need to move on to the third part of the story, which is the trial and execution of King Charles I. After trying his luck negotiating both with Parliament and the Scots, he was handed over to Parliament in 1647, and in January of 1649 he was accused of treason.

[00:17:40] The charge against the captured King was that he had tried “to achieve a tyrannical power” and to “overthrow the rights and liberties of the people”. 

[00:17:52] He stood trial, although he refused to accept the legality of the process, and he was unsurprisingly found guilty. 

[00:18:02] As we heard at the start of the episode, he was beheaded at Whitehall in London on 30th January 1649. 

[00:18:12] British monarchs had been killed in battle before, but Charles was and still is the only British monarch to have been executed following a trial, and Oliver Cromwell was the man held responsible, for better or for worse, for his execution. 

[00:18:31] For many people, even people in Britain today, the killing of a king – or regicide as it is known – was a terrible, evil, ungodly thing. 

[00:18:43] Remember, the divine right of kings is this idea that the king or queen is literally placed on the throne by God, and so the idea that God’s own king could be murdered was, well, it was heretical.

[00:19:01] Each year on the 30th of January there is a procession of people towards Whitehall, mainly dressed in 17th-century costume, that commemorates his execution. I have a photo of myself maybe aged eight, my siblings and cousins that shows us dressed up and taking part in this procession, although the whole event was much more about having fun dressing up and waving swords and shields than it was about commemorating Charles‘s execution or martyrdom as it was viewed, especially in Catholic France and Spain. 

[00:19:38] So, we have had two civil wars and the death of Charles I; we now need to cover the third Civil War, the return of the next king and then finally, the lasting influence of these events on Britain. 

[00:19:55] The Third Civil War went as follows. Although they didn’t like him as an individual, the Scots had been against the execution of Charles. 

[00:20:05] They were angry that they had not been listened to, although their army had been an important factor in the defeat of the King. 

[00:20:14] As a result, they invaded England with Charles‘s son, Prince Charles, as their leader, with the intention of putting him on the throne

[00:20:24] By now, however, the New Model Army, led by Oliver Cromwell, was quite a formidable force. 

[00:20:32] It initially defeated the Scots at Dunbar just south of Edinburgh in September 1650 then, after the Scots had invaded England, Cromwell's army of 32,000 troops defeated Charles and the Scots’ 16,000 strong army at Worcester, in central England. 

[00:20:53] Prince Charles now was a fugitivepursued by the Roundheads, and he famously hid in an oak tree as part of his escape. 

[00:21:03] Those of you who are admirers of English pubs will know that one of the most popular pub names is the Royal Oak. Each one of these pubs commemorates that story of Prince Charles hiding in an oak tree, before he managed to get to safety in France.

[00:21:23] Well, having got rid of the royalist threat, first of King Charles the first and then his son, Prince Charles, what does the leader of the Parliamentarians, Oliver Cromwell do? 

[00:21:36] Well, he argues with his MPs about what sort of constitution or rulebook should be established. 

[00:21:44] In the end, no one can agree and, to cut a very long story short, Oliver Cromwell ends up by ignoring Parliament and ruling pretty much as a dictator – which for many people must have seemed like no improvement on what they had under Charles. 

[00:22:04] This type of rule was described as the Protectorate, which, along with the name of Cromwell‘s small advisory committee, the Committee of Safety, will probably sound quite sinister to you, it sounds almost Orwellian

[00:22:20] The final stop in our whistle stop tour of this action-packed 21 years of British history is the return of a king, otherwise known as the Restoration. 

[00:22:33] Oliver Cromwell, who had ruled the country with an iron fist, died in 1658, and was replaced by his son, Richard.

[00:22:43] Influential people in England, especially the head of the Army, a man called General Monck, decided that this new ruler, Richard Cromwell, was not up to the job; so he contacted the exiled Prince Charles. 

[00:23:01] Prince Charles was invited back and was crowned as Charles II, ruling from 1660, and the country has had a king or queen ever since. 

[00:23:14] This period directly after Charles II was put back on the throne was called the Restoration, because the monarchy was “restored”. 

[00:23:25] During the Protectorate, religion had become stricter, theatres had been closed and the Puritans made sure that not much fun was had.

[00:23:36] So the country was ready for a party and in Charles II it had found a true party animal

[00:23:45] He was known as the Merry Monarch - merry means happy, by the way. And he set an example of extravagant living – wine, women and song. 

[00:23:58] In fact, many of the current English aristocracy trace their titles back to Charles II and his at least 12 illegitimate children. 

[00:24:10] So, finally, let us consider what were the main influences of this passage of events on British history. 

[00:24:19] Well, most immediately, as happens with civil wars in general, there was awful destruction, bitterness, death and suffering. Just focussing on England, where most of the destruction happened, it is estimated that around 200,000 people died, half of whom were men who died in battle. 

[00:24:43] Given that the English population was about 4.5 million people, this was just under 5% of the population – a higher proportion than died in the 1st World War. 

[00:24:56] A second consequence was the storing up of resentment about English rule in both Ireland and Scotland. 

[00:25:05] Both countries were occupied by Oliver Cromwell and his newly professionalised army. The Irish were treated particularly brutally, especially with the terrible massacre of civilians in 1649 after the sieges of Drogheda and Wexford. And if you mention the name Oliver Cromwell in Ireland, you will certainly make some people very upset.

[00:25:31] Thirdly, the creation of the New Model Army was the beginning of the British Army and therefore, for better or for worse, the start of a revived sense of British military capability to defeat armies abroad. 

[00:25:48] In Europe this culminated in the victory of the Grand Alliance coalition led by John Churchill, yes an ancestor of Winston Churchill, over the supposedly invincible forces of Louis XIV at Blenheim in 1704. 

[00:26:06] And with this increasing power of its new, professional army came the rise of the British Empire. 

[00:26:15] Finally, it became apparent several years into the Restoration that a more progressive and rational balance had eventually been struck between the monarch and Parliament. 

[00:26:28] Arguably, this development could not have happened had it not been for all the bloody turbulence of the three civil wars and the flawed experiment and the failure of the Protectorate. 

[00:26:42] The newly established constitutional monarchy helped create stability and led to the foundation of many important institutions which increased prosperity and laid the foundations for The Industrial Revolution. 

[00:26:58] Let’s conclude with the man regarded by some as one of the greatest English people of all time, and by others as a merciless and power-hungry dictator, Oliver Cromwell. 

[00:27:10] Oliver Cromwell had died a hero in England, and was buried in Westminster Abbey in London.

[00:27:18] When he was made king, Charles II pardoned most of his father’s opponents, but for those who had signed his father’s death warrant there was no mercy

[00:27:30] The only problem for Charles II was that the man he held most responsible for his father’s death had died in 1658, a year before Charles II was made king.

[00:27:43] There’s not much you can do to punish a dead man, but Charles II sure did try.

[00:27:51] On the 30th of January 1661, two and a half years after he had died and on the anniversary of the execution of Charles I, Oliver Cromwell’s body was dug up, hung in chains, and then his head was cut off. 

[00:28:08] During the restoration of the monarchy, although he was dead, Oliver Cromwell was public enemy number one. 

[00:28:17] But with time, he has come to be viewed with less hostility

[00:28:23] He is certainly one of the most important individuals in British political history, and his statue stands proudly outside the Houses of Parliament. 

[00:28:32] And, unlike many others, at the moment no one is campaigning to have it taken down

[00:28:41] OK then, that is it for today's episode on When Britain Killed Its King, the English Civil War and the Interregnum.

[00:28:50] I hope it's been an interesting one, and if you weren’t aware of it before, now you know a little bit about what happened when Britain experimented with life without a monarch.

[00:29:02] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode. 

[00:29:05] You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.


[00:29:15] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:29:20] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.


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[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:22] I'm Alastair Budge, and today we are going to be talking about When Britain Killed Its King.

[00:00:29] On January 30th, 1649, outside the Palace of Whitehall, in central London, a man walked up to a large, raised stage. Below him, thousands of people waited eagerly to see history made.

[00:00:47] The man knelt on the ground, and made a signal with his hand.

[00:00:53] On this signal, a man whose face was covered raised an axe high and brought it down on the other man’s neck, cutting it clean off from his body.

[00:01:06] That man was King Charles the First of England, the first and only British king to be executed.

[00:01:14] In this episode we are going to tell this story, of the English Civil War, how Britain came to kill its king, what happened in the subsequent 11 years when there was no official king, why the monarchy was eventually restored, and how it changed the country forever. 

[00:01:35] This episode has not only been a really fun one to write, but it also deals with an important period in British history, so I hope you’ll enjoy it.

[00:01:45] OK then, When Britain Killed Its King.

[00:01:51] For many people, when they think about kings or queens, the UK comes to mind. 

[00:01:57] Unlike other countries, France, Germany or Italy, for example, the UK still has a monarchy, there is a king or queen. 

[00:02:06] Queen Elizabeth, the current queen of the United Kingdom, has been on the throne for 70 years, since 1952. 

[00:02:15] And for anyone under the age of 70, in fact, they will have never known another British monarch, and no living person has ever known a United Kingdom without a monarch.

[00:02:28] And when you think about countries that have had revolutions and decided to execute their monarchs, you might think of the guillotine and the French Revolution, not of Britain.

[00:02:41] But it might surprise you to find out that Britain too killed a king and got rid of its monarchy, and indeed the country lived without a monarch for a period of 11 years in the 17th century.

[00:02:56] This period, from 1649 to 1660 is known as the Interregnum - or the time between reigns. 

[00:03:06] It is this unique and fascinating and turbulent period that we are going to explore in today‘s episode. 

[00:03:13] Our journey will involve five different stages – all interlinked: the background to the dispute and the nature of the four countries involved at its start; the causes of the civil wars and the major events, especially the battles; the trial and and execution of the King; the Interregnum or period of rule when there was no king and the people who had deposed and executed him were in power; and finally, the restoration or return to power of the next king, Charles II, who was the dead king’s son. 

[00:03:52] It is quite a complicated period in British history, so I will try to stick to the most important parts and also to give you a clear sense of the chronology – in other words the key dates and events. 

[00:04:08] Right, let’s start with some background. There had been a monarch, a king or queen, on the throne of England since the year 849. 

[00:04:20] So why, what circumstances caused the country to decide that it didn’t want one 800 years later, in 1649, and to decide that it didn’t just want to get rid of the king, it publicly executed him?

[00:04:36] Well, let me paint you a picture of life in Britain in the early 17th century. 

[00:04:43] King Charles the First had been on the throne since 1625. 

[00:04:49] What this meant in practical terms was that he was king of the Kingdom of England, Scotland and Ireland. The Kingdom of England also included Wales, and the Kingdom of Ireland included all of Ireland, so Charles was the ruler of all of the British Isles.

[00:05:09] It may seem strange to you but the King saw himself as ruling on behalf of God, as God’s agent on earth. 

[00:05:19] This was a really important belief or doctrine and was called the Divine Right of Kings. 

[00:05:27] Although Charles had a small group of advisors, called the Privy Council and a larger group of men elected to Parliament [members of parliament or MPs as they are now known], he saw himself as the decision maker; he expected to be able to rule without the support of Parliament. 

[00:05:50] In other words, Charles wanted to be an absolute ruler or autocrat

[00:05:57] Although Britain may have had elements of a democracy, a fledgling or embryonic democracy let’s say, it was very much a dictatorship with some democratic elements. 

[00:06:12] To add to the mixture, Charles was a vain and by all accounts rather stupid man who always thought he was right. 

[00:06:22] And although Britain was 100 years away from the Industrial Revolution which would transform the country and create a great deal of wealth, it was, in 1639, prosperous in the rural areas where the profitable trade in wool was the main industry. 

[00:06:41] At the same time, London, which was even then about six times the size of the second largest city, Norwich, had many wealthy people and even had its own semi-official army, the militias. 

[00:06:58] As the English wealthy business people and land owners grew in power, so understandably they expected to have more influence on how the country was run. 

[00:07:11] This was especially the case with three matters which were vital background to the dispute which led to the first English civil war.

[00:07:22] The first one has to do with tax. Although the King had considerable private money of his own, for spending to do with the country, he needed to raise additional money through taxes. 

[00:07:37] Parliament often would not vote to raise or authorise taxes as they did not agree with what the king wanted to spend the money on. This was often, understandably, an area of conflict. 

[00:07:52] The second battle ground or area of dispute was religion. In England the Church of England, otherwise known as the Anglican Church, was Protestant, following the break with the Catholic Church under Henry VIII more than a century earlier. 

[00:08:10] However, there were still many people in England who continued to follow the old faith of Catholicism, there were still plenty of Catholics. 

[00:08:20] There was great suspicion amongst the most hardline or fanatical protestants, especially those who were described as puritans, that the King was secretly inclined towards Catholicism, that he was a secret Catholic. 

[00:08:38] This religion was linked in their minds with foreigners, especially those from England‘s most fierce enemies, France and Spain. 

[00:08:49] Something that added fuel to this already combustible fire was the fact that the King had married a Catholic, Princess Henrietta Maria of France. 

[00:09:02] The third area of dispute links with the first and has to do with economic policy, especially as it provided funds for foreign wars. 

[00:09:13] Charles had conducted an expensive and disastrous war with Spain between 1625 and 1629. 

[00:09:21] Parliament refused to vote for more money for this foolish war. The King had to resort to an unpopular and illegal method of raising funds: he forced people to lend him money and imprisoned those who didn't. 

[00:09:39] This gives you a sense of what Charles thought he could get away with - he thought that Parliament essentially existed as a way to provide him with whatever he needed.

[00:09:52] This dispute led in 1629 to the King eventually dismissing or dissolving Parliament and not recalling it again for 11 years. Essentially, he got rid of the main element of democracy in the country.

[00:10:11] OK, let’s move on to the events and unrest which led to the first Civil War. 

[00:10:18] Problems with religion were not confined to England. 

[00:10:22] Scotland was much more dominated by hardline protestants than England. The influence of the radical Swiss preacher, John Calvin had been especially strong in Scotland the century beforehand. 

[00:10:36] King Charles unwisely tried to impose on Scotland his own idea of a prayer book, which was called the Book of Common Prayer. 

[00:10:46] It was a terrible error of judgment, and the Scots simply said “no, we’re not accepting this”.

[00:10:55] When the Scots would not accept Charles‘s command, he tried to beat them into submission and started a war in 1639. As well as leading him into further conflict with Parliament, Charles’s unwise war led to a humiliating defeat. 

[00:11:15] Back in London, in January 1642, the King tried to arrest the members of Parliament who were leading a rebellion against him. 

[00:11:25] He wanted to imprison them and then likely execute them for treason or rebellion against the king. 

[00:11:34] Very sensibly, the MPs involved, including a man we will hear much of later, a strict protestant called Oliver Cromwell, decided to not attend Parliament.

[00:11:47] Clearly, trust between the monarch and Parliament had broken down completely. There was no going back.

[00:11:56] By June that year, Charles had moved his court and army to the city of York in the north of England, and a full-blown civil war was imminent

[00:12:08] The forces of Parliament, or the Parliamentarians, as they came to be called, set up their base in London. A formal declaration of war followed and the first major battle, an inconclusive one, took place in October 1642 at Edgehill in Warwickshire, in the heart of England. 

[00:12:31] I will not attempt to deal with all of the elements of the first English Civil War, but will firstly try to give you some flavour of what kind of war it was and secondly tell you what were the factors which led to the Parliamentarians eventually winning. 

[00:12:49] Like any war it involved a tremendous amount of destruction, death and suffering. 

[00:12:56] As with any civil war, it divided communities and families, even setting brother against brother, father against son. 

[00:13:07] Whereas some civil wars, the Spanish Civil War, for example, set different social classes against each other, the first English Civil War did not divide simply by social class, it wasn’t a case of left vs right, poor vs. rich. 

[00:13:26] Religion was a big element, with the hardline protestants or puritans [as they were sometimes known] being more likely to side with Parliament. 

[00:13:36] Geographical region also played a part, with the King strongest in the north of England, the Midlands and much of the south and west, while the Parliamentarians were strongest in London and the East of England. 

[00:13:51] A major factor in the victory of the Parliamentarians or Roundheads as they were sometimes called, was that, although they occupied a smaller portion of the country, they held the more significant parts of it than the King’s side – they held the ports, making it easier to trade, and they held the places where gunpowder and ammunition were stored, called “arsenals”.

[00:14:18] For the football fans out there, yes the football team “Arsenal” gets its name because it was founded next to the Royal Arsenal. 

[00:14:28] As to the kind of warfare waged, the kind of war that was actually fought, there were lots of small battles or skirmishes, many sieges of towns and a handful of major battles which typically involved between 12,000 and 20,000 soldiers on each side. 

[00:14:50] Cavalry was important, so that’s soldiers on top of horses. So was the use of infantry, the foot soldiers, who would be armed with large spears or pikes

[00:15:04] Cannons destroyed old style castles and city walls. You can still see many examples of castles whose fortifications were destroyed in these wars. 

[00:15:15] A crucial factor was that, until 1644, neither side had what we would call nowadays a professional army. 

[00:15:26] However, in 1644 Parliament created a professional army, known as the New Model Army. 

[00:15:35] This was very well trained and therefore disciplined in battle. It was a vital factor behind the decisive victory of the Parliamentarians in June 1645 at Naseby in Lincolnshire when they defeated the King’s forces for good

[00:15:55] King Charles tried to figure out a way to get out of the situation, and to make a deal with Parliament, but there was none. 

[00:16:04] He surrendered to the Scottish army in 1646, who were on the side of the Parliamentarians. 

[00:16:11] This was the end of the First English Civil War, but let’s remember that Charles I is technically still the King of England, Scotland and Ireland.

[00:16:23] Back to the chronology and onto what is called the Second Civil War which I will deal with briefly. 

[00:16:30] In this war, which occurred after the King’s surrender to the Scottish army in May of 1646, there was a rebellion both of the English Navy and also of various remaining pockets of Royalist forces. 

[00:16:47] The result of these uprisings was that the New Model Army, with Oliver Cromwell as one of its leading commanders, seized power, expelling the more moderate members of parliament and executing the leaders of the various uprisings against them. 

[00:17:06] This led to Parliament becoming smaller in number and, critically, becoming composed of much more extreme, hardline members. 

[00:17:17] Now, we need to move on to the third part of the story, which is the trial and execution of King Charles I. After trying his luck negotiating both with Parliament and the Scots, he was handed over to Parliament in 1647, and in January of 1649 he was accused of treason.

[00:17:40] The charge against the captured King was that he had tried “to achieve a tyrannical power” and to “overthrow the rights and liberties of the people”. 

[00:17:52] He stood trial, although he refused to accept the legality of the process, and he was unsurprisingly found guilty. 

[00:18:02] As we heard at the start of the episode, he was beheaded at Whitehall in London on 30th January 1649. 

[00:18:12] British monarchs had been killed in battle before, but Charles was and still is the only British monarch to have been executed following a trial, and Oliver Cromwell was the man held responsible, for better or for worse, for his execution. 

[00:18:31] For many people, even people in Britain today, the killing of a king – or regicide as it is known – was a terrible, evil, ungodly thing. 

[00:18:43] Remember, the divine right of kings is this idea that the king or queen is literally placed on the throne by God, and so the idea that God’s own king could be murdered was, well, it was heretical.

[00:19:01] Each year on the 30th of January there is a procession of people towards Whitehall, mainly dressed in 17th-century costume, that commemorates his execution. I have a photo of myself maybe aged eight, my siblings and cousins that shows us dressed up and taking part in this procession, although the whole event was much more about having fun dressing up and waving swords and shields than it was about commemorating Charles‘s execution or martyrdom as it was viewed, especially in Catholic France and Spain. 

[00:19:38] So, we have had two civil wars and the death of Charles I; we now need to cover the third Civil War, the return of the next king and then finally, the lasting influence of these events on Britain. 

[00:19:55] The Third Civil War went as follows. Although they didn’t like him as an individual, the Scots had been against the execution of Charles. 

[00:20:05] They were angry that they had not been listened to, although their army had been an important factor in the defeat of the King. 

[00:20:14] As a result, they invaded England with Charles‘s son, Prince Charles, as their leader, with the intention of putting him on the throne

[00:20:24] By now, however, the New Model Army, led by Oliver Cromwell, was quite a formidable force. 

[00:20:32] It initially defeated the Scots at Dunbar just south of Edinburgh in September 1650 then, after the Scots had invaded England, Cromwell's army of 32,000 troops defeated Charles and the Scots’ 16,000 strong army at Worcester, in central England. 

[00:20:53] Prince Charles now was a fugitivepursued by the Roundheads, and he famously hid in an oak tree as part of his escape. 

[00:21:03] Those of you who are admirers of English pubs will know that one of the most popular pub names is the Royal Oak. Each one of these pubs commemorates that story of Prince Charles hiding in an oak tree, before he managed to get to safety in France.

[00:21:23] Well, having got rid of the royalist threat, first of King Charles the first and then his son, Prince Charles, what does the leader of the Parliamentarians, Oliver Cromwell do? 

[00:21:36] Well, he argues with his MPs about what sort of constitution or rulebook should be established. 

[00:21:44] In the end, no one can agree and, to cut a very long story short, Oliver Cromwell ends up by ignoring Parliament and ruling pretty much as a dictator – which for many people must have seemed like no improvement on what they had under Charles. 

[00:22:04] This type of rule was described as the Protectorate, which, along with the name of Cromwell‘s small advisory committee, the Committee of Safety, will probably sound quite sinister to you, it sounds almost Orwellian

[00:22:20] The final stop in our whistle stop tour of this action-packed 21 years of British history is the return of a king, otherwise known as the Restoration. 

[00:22:33] Oliver Cromwell, who had ruled the country with an iron fist, died in 1658, and was replaced by his son, Richard.

[00:22:43] Influential people in England, especially the head of the Army, a man called General Monck, decided that this new ruler, Richard Cromwell, was not up to the job; so he contacted the exiled Prince Charles. 

[00:23:01] Prince Charles was invited back and was crowned as Charles II, ruling from 1660, and the country has had a king or queen ever since. 

[00:23:14] This period directly after Charles II was put back on the throne was called the Restoration, because the monarchy was “restored”. 

[00:23:25] During the Protectorate, religion had become stricter, theatres had been closed and the Puritans made sure that not much fun was had.

[00:23:36] So the country was ready for a party and in Charles II it had found a true party animal

[00:23:45] He was known as the Merry Monarch - merry means happy, by the way. And he set an example of extravagant living – wine, women and song. 

[00:23:58] In fact, many of the current English aristocracy trace their titles back to Charles II and his at least 12 illegitimate children. 

[00:24:10] So, finally, let us consider what were the main influences of this passage of events on British history. 

[00:24:19] Well, most immediately, as happens with civil wars in general, there was awful destruction, bitterness, death and suffering. Just focussing on England, where most of the destruction happened, it is estimated that around 200,000 people died, half of whom were men who died in battle. 

[00:24:43] Given that the English population was about 4.5 million people, this was just under 5% of the population – a higher proportion than died in the 1st World War. 

[00:24:56] A second consequence was the storing up of resentment about English rule in both Ireland and Scotland. 

[00:25:05] Both countries were occupied by Oliver Cromwell and his newly professionalised army. The Irish were treated particularly brutally, especially with the terrible massacre of civilians in 1649 after the sieges of Drogheda and Wexford. And if you mention the name Oliver Cromwell in Ireland, you will certainly make some people very upset.

[00:25:31] Thirdly, the creation of the New Model Army was the beginning of the British Army and therefore, for better or for worse, the start of a revived sense of British military capability to defeat armies abroad. 

[00:25:48] In Europe this culminated in the victory of the Grand Alliance coalition led by John Churchill, yes an ancestor of Winston Churchill, over the supposedly invincible forces of Louis XIV at Blenheim in 1704. 

[00:26:06] And with this increasing power of its new, professional army came the rise of the British Empire. 

[00:26:15] Finally, it became apparent several years into the Restoration that a more progressive and rational balance had eventually been struck between the monarch and Parliament. 

[00:26:28] Arguably, this development could not have happened had it not been for all the bloody turbulence of the three civil wars and the flawed experiment and the failure of the Protectorate. 

[00:26:42] The newly established constitutional monarchy helped create stability and led to the foundation of many important institutions which increased prosperity and laid the foundations for The Industrial Revolution. 

[00:26:58] Let’s conclude with the man regarded by some as one of the greatest English people of all time, and by others as a merciless and power-hungry dictator, Oliver Cromwell. 

[00:27:10] Oliver Cromwell had died a hero in England, and was buried in Westminster Abbey in London.

[00:27:18] When he was made king, Charles II pardoned most of his father’s opponents, but for those who had signed his father’s death warrant there was no mercy

[00:27:30] The only problem for Charles II was that the man he held most responsible for his father’s death had died in 1658, a year before Charles II was made king.

[00:27:43] There’s not much you can do to punish a dead man, but Charles II sure did try.

[00:27:51] On the 30th of January 1661, two and a half years after he had died and on the anniversary of the execution of Charles I, Oliver Cromwell’s body was dug up, hung in chains, and then his head was cut off. 

[00:28:08] During the restoration of the monarchy, although he was dead, Oliver Cromwell was public enemy number one. 

[00:28:17] But with time, he has come to be viewed with less hostility

[00:28:23] He is certainly one of the most important individuals in British political history, and his statue stands proudly outside the Houses of Parliament. 

[00:28:32] And, unlike many others, at the moment no one is campaigning to have it taken down

[00:28:41] OK then, that is it for today's episode on When Britain Killed Its King, the English Civil War and the Interregnum.

[00:28:50] I hope it's been an interesting one, and if you weren’t aware of it before, now you know a little bit about what happened when Britain experimented with life without a monarch.

[00:29:02] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode. 

[00:29:05] You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.


[00:29:15] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:29:20] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.


[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:22] I'm Alastair Budge, and today we are going to be talking about When Britain Killed Its King.

[00:00:29] On January 30th, 1649, outside the Palace of Whitehall, in central London, a man walked up to a large, raised stage. Below him, thousands of people waited eagerly to see history made.

[00:00:47] The man knelt on the ground, and made a signal with his hand.

[00:00:53] On this signal, a man whose face was covered raised an axe high and brought it down on the other man’s neck, cutting it clean off from his body.

[00:01:06] That man was King Charles the First of England, the first and only British king to be executed.

[00:01:14] In this episode we are going to tell this story, of the English Civil War, how Britain came to kill its king, what happened in the subsequent 11 years when there was no official king, why the monarchy was eventually restored, and how it changed the country forever. 

[00:01:35] This episode has not only been a really fun one to write, but it also deals with an important period in British history, so I hope you’ll enjoy it.

[00:01:45] OK then, When Britain Killed Its King.

[00:01:51] For many people, when they think about kings or queens, the UK comes to mind. 

[00:01:57] Unlike other countries, France, Germany or Italy, for example, the UK still has a monarchy, there is a king or queen. 

[00:02:06] Queen Elizabeth, the current queen of the United Kingdom, has been on the throne for 70 years, since 1952. 

[00:02:15] And for anyone under the age of 70, in fact, they will have never known another British monarch, and no living person has ever known a United Kingdom without a monarch.

[00:02:28] And when you think about countries that have had revolutions and decided to execute their monarchs, you might think of the guillotine and the French Revolution, not of Britain.

[00:02:41] But it might surprise you to find out that Britain too killed a king and got rid of its monarchy, and indeed the country lived without a monarch for a period of 11 years in the 17th century.

[00:02:56] This period, from 1649 to 1660 is known as the Interregnum - or the time between reigns. 

[00:03:06] It is this unique and fascinating and turbulent period that we are going to explore in today‘s episode. 

[00:03:13] Our journey will involve five different stages – all interlinked: the background to the dispute and the nature of the four countries involved at its start; the causes of the civil wars and the major events, especially the battles; the trial and and execution of the King; the Interregnum or period of rule when there was no king and the people who had deposed and executed him were in power; and finally, the restoration or return to power of the next king, Charles II, who was the dead king’s son. 

[00:03:52] It is quite a complicated period in British history, so I will try to stick to the most important parts and also to give you a clear sense of the chronology – in other words the key dates and events. 

[00:04:08] Right, let’s start with some background. There had been a monarch, a king or queen, on the throne of England since the year 849. 

[00:04:20] So why, what circumstances caused the country to decide that it didn’t want one 800 years later, in 1649, and to decide that it didn’t just want to get rid of the king, it publicly executed him?

[00:04:36] Well, let me paint you a picture of life in Britain in the early 17th century. 

[00:04:43] King Charles the First had been on the throne since 1625. 

[00:04:49] What this meant in practical terms was that he was king of the Kingdom of England, Scotland and Ireland. The Kingdom of England also included Wales, and the Kingdom of Ireland included all of Ireland, so Charles was the ruler of all of the British Isles.

[00:05:09] It may seem strange to you but the King saw himself as ruling on behalf of God, as God’s agent on earth. 

[00:05:19] This was a really important belief or doctrine and was called the Divine Right of Kings. 

[00:05:27] Although Charles had a small group of advisors, called the Privy Council and a larger group of men elected to Parliament [members of parliament or MPs as they are now known], he saw himself as the decision maker; he expected to be able to rule without the support of Parliament. 

[00:05:50] In other words, Charles wanted to be an absolute ruler or autocrat

[00:05:57] Although Britain may have had elements of a democracy, a fledgling or embryonic democracy let’s say, it was very much a dictatorship with some democratic elements. 

[00:06:12] To add to the mixture, Charles was a vain and by all accounts rather stupid man who always thought he was right. 

[00:06:22] And although Britain was 100 years away from the Industrial Revolution which would transform the country and create a great deal of wealth, it was, in 1639, prosperous in the rural areas where the profitable trade in wool was the main industry. 

[00:06:41] At the same time, London, which was even then about six times the size of the second largest city, Norwich, had many wealthy people and even had its own semi-official army, the militias. 

[00:06:58] As the English wealthy business people and land owners grew in power, so understandably they expected to have more influence on how the country was run. 

[00:07:11] This was especially the case with three matters which were vital background to the dispute which led to the first English civil war.

[00:07:22] The first one has to do with tax. Although the King had considerable private money of his own, for spending to do with the country, he needed to raise additional money through taxes. 

[00:07:37] Parliament often would not vote to raise or authorise taxes as they did not agree with what the king wanted to spend the money on. This was often, understandably, an area of conflict. 

[00:07:52] The second battle ground or area of dispute was religion. In England the Church of England, otherwise known as the Anglican Church, was Protestant, following the break with the Catholic Church under Henry VIII more than a century earlier. 

[00:08:10] However, there were still many people in England who continued to follow the old faith of Catholicism, there were still plenty of Catholics. 

[00:08:20] There was great suspicion amongst the most hardline or fanatical protestants, especially those who were described as puritans, that the King was secretly inclined towards Catholicism, that he was a secret Catholic. 

[00:08:38] This religion was linked in their minds with foreigners, especially those from England‘s most fierce enemies, France and Spain. 

[00:08:49] Something that added fuel to this already combustible fire was the fact that the King had married a Catholic, Princess Henrietta Maria of France. 

[00:09:02] The third area of dispute links with the first and has to do with economic policy, especially as it provided funds for foreign wars. 

[00:09:13] Charles had conducted an expensive and disastrous war with Spain between 1625 and 1629. 

[00:09:21] Parliament refused to vote for more money for this foolish war. The King had to resort to an unpopular and illegal method of raising funds: he forced people to lend him money and imprisoned those who didn't. 

[00:09:39] This gives you a sense of what Charles thought he could get away with - he thought that Parliament essentially existed as a way to provide him with whatever he needed.

[00:09:52] This dispute led in 1629 to the King eventually dismissing or dissolving Parliament and not recalling it again for 11 years. Essentially, he got rid of the main element of democracy in the country.

[00:10:11] OK, let’s move on to the events and unrest which led to the first Civil War. 

[00:10:18] Problems with religion were not confined to England. 

[00:10:22] Scotland was much more dominated by hardline protestants than England. The influence of the radical Swiss preacher, John Calvin had been especially strong in Scotland the century beforehand. 

[00:10:36] King Charles unwisely tried to impose on Scotland his own idea of a prayer book, which was called the Book of Common Prayer. 

[00:10:46] It was a terrible error of judgment, and the Scots simply said “no, we’re not accepting this”.

[00:10:55] When the Scots would not accept Charles‘s command, he tried to beat them into submission and started a war in 1639. As well as leading him into further conflict with Parliament, Charles’s unwise war led to a humiliating defeat. 

[00:11:15] Back in London, in January 1642, the King tried to arrest the members of Parliament who were leading a rebellion against him. 

[00:11:25] He wanted to imprison them and then likely execute them for treason or rebellion against the king. 

[00:11:34] Very sensibly, the MPs involved, including a man we will hear much of later, a strict protestant called Oliver Cromwell, decided to not attend Parliament.

[00:11:47] Clearly, trust between the monarch and Parliament had broken down completely. There was no going back.

[00:11:56] By June that year, Charles had moved his court and army to the city of York in the north of England, and a full-blown civil war was imminent

[00:12:08] The forces of Parliament, or the Parliamentarians, as they came to be called, set up their base in London. A formal declaration of war followed and the first major battle, an inconclusive one, took place in October 1642 at Edgehill in Warwickshire, in the heart of England. 

[00:12:31] I will not attempt to deal with all of the elements of the first English Civil War, but will firstly try to give you some flavour of what kind of war it was and secondly tell you what were the factors which led to the Parliamentarians eventually winning. 

[00:12:49] Like any war it involved a tremendous amount of destruction, death and suffering. 

[00:12:56] As with any civil war, it divided communities and families, even setting brother against brother, father against son. 

[00:13:07] Whereas some civil wars, the Spanish Civil War, for example, set different social classes against each other, the first English Civil War did not divide simply by social class, it wasn’t a case of left vs right, poor vs. rich. 

[00:13:26] Religion was a big element, with the hardline protestants or puritans [as they were sometimes known] being more likely to side with Parliament. 

[00:13:36] Geographical region also played a part, with the King strongest in the north of England, the Midlands and much of the south and west, while the Parliamentarians were strongest in London and the East of England. 

[00:13:51] A major factor in the victory of the Parliamentarians or Roundheads as they were sometimes called, was that, although they occupied a smaller portion of the country, they held the more significant parts of it than the King’s side – they held the ports, making it easier to trade, and they held the places where gunpowder and ammunition were stored, called “arsenals”.

[00:14:18] For the football fans out there, yes the football team “Arsenal” gets its name because it was founded next to the Royal Arsenal. 

[00:14:28] As to the kind of warfare waged, the kind of war that was actually fought, there were lots of small battles or skirmishes, many sieges of towns and a handful of major battles which typically involved between 12,000 and 20,000 soldiers on each side. 

[00:14:50] Cavalry was important, so that’s soldiers on top of horses. So was the use of infantry, the foot soldiers, who would be armed with large spears or pikes

[00:15:04] Cannons destroyed old style castles and city walls. You can still see many examples of castles whose fortifications were destroyed in these wars. 

[00:15:15] A crucial factor was that, until 1644, neither side had what we would call nowadays a professional army. 

[00:15:26] However, in 1644 Parliament created a professional army, known as the New Model Army. 

[00:15:35] This was very well trained and therefore disciplined in battle. It was a vital factor behind the decisive victory of the Parliamentarians in June 1645 at Naseby in Lincolnshire when they defeated the King’s forces for good

[00:15:55] King Charles tried to figure out a way to get out of the situation, and to make a deal with Parliament, but there was none. 

[00:16:04] He surrendered to the Scottish army in 1646, who were on the side of the Parliamentarians. 

[00:16:11] This was the end of the First English Civil War, but let’s remember that Charles I is technically still the King of England, Scotland and Ireland.

[00:16:23] Back to the chronology and onto what is called the Second Civil War which I will deal with briefly. 

[00:16:30] In this war, which occurred after the King’s surrender to the Scottish army in May of 1646, there was a rebellion both of the English Navy and also of various remaining pockets of Royalist forces. 

[00:16:47] The result of these uprisings was that the New Model Army, with Oliver Cromwell as one of its leading commanders, seized power, expelling the more moderate members of parliament and executing the leaders of the various uprisings against them. 

[00:17:06] This led to Parliament becoming smaller in number and, critically, becoming composed of much more extreme, hardline members. 

[00:17:17] Now, we need to move on to the third part of the story, which is the trial and execution of King Charles I. After trying his luck negotiating both with Parliament and the Scots, he was handed over to Parliament in 1647, and in January of 1649 he was accused of treason.

[00:17:40] The charge against the captured King was that he had tried “to achieve a tyrannical power” and to “overthrow the rights and liberties of the people”. 

[00:17:52] He stood trial, although he refused to accept the legality of the process, and he was unsurprisingly found guilty. 

[00:18:02] As we heard at the start of the episode, he was beheaded at Whitehall in London on 30th January 1649. 

[00:18:12] British monarchs had been killed in battle before, but Charles was and still is the only British monarch to have been executed following a trial, and Oliver Cromwell was the man held responsible, for better or for worse, for his execution. 

[00:18:31] For many people, even people in Britain today, the killing of a king – or regicide as it is known – was a terrible, evil, ungodly thing. 

[00:18:43] Remember, the divine right of kings is this idea that the king or queen is literally placed on the throne by God, and so the idea that God’s own king could be murdered was, well, it was heretical.

[00:19:01] Each year on the 30th of January there is a procession of people towards Whitehall, mainly dressed in 17th-century costume, that commemorates his execution. I have a photo of myself maybe aged eight, my siblings and cousins that shows us dressed up and taking part in this procession, although the whole event was much more about having fun dressing up and waving swords and shields than it was about commemorating Charles‘s execution or martyrdom as it was viewed, especially in Catholic France and Spain. 

[00:19:38] So, we have had two civil wars and the death of Charles I; we now need to cover the third Civil War, the return of the next king and then finally, the lasting influence of these events on Britain. 

[00:19:55] The Third Civil War went as follows. Although they didn’t like him as an individual, the Scots had been against the execution of Charles. 

[00:20:05] They were angry that they had not been listened to, although their army had been an important factor in the defeat of the King. 

[00:20:14] As a result, they invaded England with Charles‘s son, Prince Charles, as their leader, with the intention of putting him on the throne

[00:20:24] By now, however, the New Model Army, led by Oliver Cromwell, was quite a formidable force. 

[00:20:32] It initially defeated the Scots at Dunbar just south of Edinburgh in September 1650 then, after the Scots had invaded England, Cromwell's army of 32,000 troops defeated Charles and the Scots’ 16,000 strong army at Worcester, in central England. 

[00:20:53] Prince Charles now was a fugitivepursued by the Roundheads, and he famously hid in an oak tree as part of his escape. 

[00:21:03] Those of you who are admirers of English pubs will know that one of the most popular pub names is the Royal Oak. Each one of these pubs commemorates that story of Prince Charles hiding in an oak tree, before he managed to get to safety in France.

[00:21:23] Well, having got rid of the royalist threat, first of King Charles the first and then his son, Prince Charles, what does the leader of the Parliamentarians, Oliver Cromwell do? 

[00:21:36] Well, he argues with his MPs about what sort of constitution or rulebook should be established. 

[00:21:44] In the end, no one can agree and, to cut a very long story short, Oliver Cromwell ends up by ignoring Parliament and ruling pretty much as a dictator – which for many people must have seemed like no improvement on what they had under Charles. 

[00:22:04] This type of rule was described as the Protectorate, which, along with the name of Cromwell‘s small advisory committee, the Committee of Safety, will probably sound quite sinister to you, it sounds almost Orwellian

[00:22:20] The final stop in our whistle stop tour of this action-packed 21 years of British history is the return of a king, otherwise known as the Restoration. 

[00:22:33] Oliver Cromwell, who had ruled the country with an iron fist, died in 1658, and was replaced by his son, Richard.

[00:22:43] Influential people in England, especially the head of the Army, a man called General Monck, decided that this new ruler, Richard Cromwell, was not up to the job; so he contacted the exiled Prince Charles. 

[00:23:01] Prince Charles was invited back and was crowned as Charles II, ruling from 1660, and the country has had a king or queen ever since. 

[00:23:14] This period directly after Charles II was put back on the throne was called the Restoration, because the monarchy was “restored”. 

[00:23:25] During the Protectorate, religion had become stricter, theatres had been closed and the Puritans made sure that not much fun was had.

[00:23:36] So the country was ready for a party and in Charles II it had found a true party animal

[00:23:45] He was known as the Merry Monarch - merry means happy, by the way. And he set an example of extravagant living – wine, women and song. 

[00:23:58] In fact, many of the current English aristocracy trace their titles back to Charles II and his at least 12 illegitimate children. 

[00:24:10] So, finally, let us consider what were the main influences of this passage of events on British history. 

[00:24:19] Well, most immediately, as happens with civil wars in general, there was awful destruction, bitterness, death and suffering. Just focussing on England, where most of the destruction happened, it is estimated that around 200,000 people died, half of whom were men who died in battle. 

[00:24:43] Given that the English population was about 4.5 million people, this was just under 5% of the population – a higher proportion than died in the 1st World War. 

[00:24:56] A second consequence was the storing up of resentment about English rule in both Ireland and Scotland. 

[00:25:05] Both countries were occupied by Oliver Cromwell and his newly professionalised army. The Irish were treated particularly brutally, especially with the terrible massacre of civilians in 1649 after the sieges of Drogheda and Wexford. And if you mention the name Oliver Cromwell in Ireland, you will certainly make some people very upset.

[00:25:31] Thirdly, the creation of the New Model Army was the beginning of the British Army and therefore, for better or for worse, the start of a revived sense of British military capability to defeat armies abroad. 

[00:25:48] In Europe this culminated in the victory of the Grand Alliance coalition led by John Churchill, yes an ancestor of Winston Churchill, over the supposedly invincible forces of Louis XIV at Blenheim in 1704. 

[00:26:06] And with this increasing power of its new, professional army came the rise of the British Empire. 

[00:26:15] Finally, it became apparent several years into the Restoration that a more progressive and rational balance had eventually been struck between the monarch and Parliament. 

[00:26:28] Arguably, this development could not have happened had it not been for all the bloody turbulence of the three civil wars and the flawed experiment and the failure of the Protectorate. 

[00:26:42] The newly established constitutional monarchy helped create stability and led to the foundation of many important institutions which increased prosperity and laid the foundations for The Industrial Revolution. 

[00:26:58] Let’s conclude with the man regarded by some as one of the greatest English people of all time, and by others as a merciless and power-hungry dictator, Oliver Cromwell. 

[00:27:10] Oliver Cromwell had died a hero in England, and was buried in Westminster Abbey in London.

[00:27:18] When he was made king, Charles II pardoned most of his father’s opponents, but for those who had signed his father’s death warrant there was no mercy

[00:27:30] The only problem for Charles II was that the man he held most responsible for his father’s death had died in 1658, a year before Charles II was made king.

[00:27:43] There’s not much you can do to punish a dead man, but Charles II sure did try.

[00:27:51] On the 30th of January 1661, two and a half years after he had died and on the anniversary of the execution of Charles I, Oliver Cromwell’s body was dug up, hung in chains, and then his head was cut off. 

[00:28:08] During the restoration of the monarchy, although he was dead, Oliver Cromwell was public enemy number one. 

[00:28:17] But with time, he has come to be viewed with less hostility

[00:28:23] He is certainly one of the most important individuals in British political history, and his statue stands proudly outside the Houses of Parliament. 

[00:28:32] And, unlike many others, at the moment no one is campaigning to have it taken down

[00:28:41] OK then, that is it for today's episode on When Britain Killed Its King, the English Civil War and the Interregnum.

[00:28:50] I hope it's been an interesting one, and if you weren’t aware of it before, now you know a little bit about what happened when Britain experimented with life without a monarch.

[00:29:02] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode. 

[00:29:05] You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.


[00:29:15] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:29:20] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.