An uncivil war

If you want to understand how Skinheads feel about Goths, try reading a Puritan scribbler’s criticism of a painting of an aristocratic Cavalier – contempt dripping from every word (see panel).
Tristram Hunt quotes it in The English Civil War At First Hand – an attempt to explain, in the words of contemporary reporters, that deadly explosion of tribal hostilities in the 17th Century.
“The mental world of early modern Britain is a different place,” Hunt sums up. “The supremacy of the Bible was all-encompassing. Its books, its psalms, its legends, were guides to daily conduct in real life.”
Something big had changed, however. Henry 8’s revolt against Rome was not all about his divorcing problems. It reflected growing disillusion with a Church which used Latin and ornamented ceremony to keep the ordinary man dependent on its priesthood. The foundation of the Church of England took the lid off a lot of radical rethinking about the relationship God intended man to have with the Bible. Lucy Hutchinson, wife of a London-based Roundhead organiser, summed up: “The nation became divided into three great factions: the Papist, the State Protestant and the more religious zealots who afterward were branded with the name of Puritan.”
Fundamentalists on all sides were already squaring up when Charles I married a haughty French Catholic and started turning the clock back in terms of religious tolerance, quite apart from over-ruling Parliament in secular matters .
In the testimonies of the time, gathered by Hunt, we glimpse the fragmentation, fear, distrust and hate, which set Royalist against Democrat, Catholic against Protestant, High Church against Chapel, Moderate against Fundamentalist, congregation against preacher, sect against sect and brother against sister – with Scottishness and Irishness and Englishness complicating the whole bloody mess.
It was all so horrible and gruelling that after allowing the beheading of Charles 1, the Brits eventually agreed to import a replacement monarch rather than live any longer in the can of worms which revolution had opened up.
Even Oliver Cromwell said when it was all over: “The Lord hath done such things among us as have not been known in the world these thousand years.”
The whole episode was, says Hunt’s book, a lesson which explains our enduring distrust of idealists.
Nothing was the same again. But making Parliament and Monarchy fudge along together took us back to something we recognised – and have clung onto since.
The compromise was the more surprising because, according to Hunt, the trouble started with a fundamentalist monarch – especially after he got a queen who encouraged him to believe he was bound to be right, because he had been chosen by God.
After declaring war on Parliament and its forces, Charles stayed a jump ahead of them for some time by moving around the country. York was his main provincial stronghold to start with. But Hull, which held one of the national armouries, was under Parliamentary control, and the rest of Yorkshire was battlefield.
The turning point was the Battle of Marston Moor, where Royalist forces from York rendezvoused with reinforcements commanded by Prince Rupert and joined battle with London’s army. Rupert was an effective soldier, in spite of his interest in big hats and scarves, and the Royalists looked like the favourites until their best men came up against Oliver Cromwell’s hand-picked Christian jihadis – each one chosen for his belief that he was fighting God’s cause and would be rewarded in Heaven if not on Earth.
Marston Moor was the beginning of Cromwell’s rise to absolute power. He did not much care what his evangelists believed, as long as they believed it passionately. Hunt quotes several comments on the baffling diversity of those who signed up to “pull down Babylon” – Baptists, Anabaptists, Antinomianists, Arminianists, Familists, Ranters, Quakers, Seekers, and sub-divisions of each. Yorkshire’s amazing variety of tiny chapels commemorates the explosion of working-class revisions of God’s rules which powered Cromwell’s New Model Army. As far as he was concerned, it was all to the good if some of them gave ordinary Brits the creeps.
Hunt relates a confrontation over a village Christening which ended with Anabaptist soldiers urinating in the font and baptising a horse to underline their attitude to traditional ceremonial.
The Scots and the Irish had their own divisions. Irish Catholics saw the general chaos as their opportunity to fight back against creeping Protestantism. One way and another, they had a lot of grievances to avenge and their fervour and brutality are part of the explanation for Orange Irish feeling against Papism today. The stories of atrocity lost nothing in the telling and scared the bejasus outof English and Scots Protestants too.
Hunt quotes a Bradford Puritan, Joseph Lister, describing a typical panic: “John Sugden came up in the chapel door and cried out ‘Friends, we are all as good as dead, for the Irish rebels are come as far as Rochdale and will be at Halifax and Bradford shortly’. People’s hearts failed them with fear. But some horsemen were prevailed with to go to Halifax, to know how the case stood – it proving only to be some Protestants that were escaping out of Ireland for their lives; and this news we received with great joy.”
After Scots and English Catholics had been smacked into line, Cromwell went to Ireland to give theirs twice as much of the same treatment, with general approval. And so another set of resentments was left to smoulder, from those days to these.

* Thepaperback of the English Civil War At First Hand, published by Penguin, is priced at £10.99.

Panel …

Extracts from PICTURE OF AN ENGLISH ANTIC
(with a list of his ridiculous Habits and apish Gestures)

* His hat in fashion like a close-stoolepan.
* Set on the top of his noddle like a coxcomb.
* A feather in his hat, hanging down like a Fox taile.
* A long wasted dubblet unbuttoned half way.
* Little skirts.
* His breeches unhooked ready to drop off.
* His codpiece open tied sat the top with a great bunch of riband.
* His sword swapping between his legs like a Monkeys taile ….

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