if Charles I had won the English Civil War?
There are a number of histories, including many on
the site, that have a parnerment Cromwellan or
republican victory in the
first English civil war, resulting in a new monarch or a genuine republic.
The recent threads of my research, however, led me towards a
different consideration: What if Charles I had won the English Civil War?
Before considering the possible outcomes, lets take a
quick look at the origins of the civil war.
England in the era of Charles I was a fairly peaceful place.
Charles had real hope of fulfilling his father's, James I of England and
Scotland, dream of uniting the entirety of the British Isles in a single
Great Britain. Charles also shared his father's feelings in regard to the
power of the crown, the Divine Right of Kings. Although a pious monarch,
Charles demanded outright loyalty in return for "just rule". Any
questioning of his orders was insulting or blasphemous. It was this later
trait and a series of events that tested it, seemingly minor on their own,
that led to a serious break between Charles and the Parliament, eventually
leading to war.
Parliament had little formal power prior to the war.
It was not a permanent branch of English government, but temporary
advisory committees summoned by the English monarch whenever additional
tax revenue was required, and subject to dissolution at the monarch's
will. However, as its members
held responsibility for collecting taxes, the English monarchs needed
their help in order to guarantee that revenue came in without difficulty.
If the gentry were to refuse to collect the King's taxes, the King would
be powerless to compel them. Parliaments allowed representatives of the
gentry to meet, converse and send policy proposals to the King. These representatives did not, however, have any means to
force their will upon the King.
Charles did not do much to avoid causing concern to
his people. Fiercely
independent after Elisabeth I, the English people were concerned by his
marriage to a French Roman Catholic princess shortly after his accession
to the throne in 1625. Further,
after a disastrous war with France, Charles dismissed and recalled
Parliament, but faced opposition and demands from them, which Charles
regarded as cheek. The new
Parliament drew up the Petition of Right in 1628, and Charles accepted it
as a concession to get his subsidy. The Petition referred to the Magna
Carta and said that a citizen should have: (a) freedom from arbitrary
arrest and imprisonment, (b) freedom from non-parliamentary taxation, (c)
freedom from the enforced billeting of troops, and (d) freedom from
This did not please Charles. He used several cunning methods to avoid summoning another
Parliament; the most controversial of these was the revival and extension
of ship money. This tax had been levied in the medieval era on seaports,
but Charles extended it to inland counties as well. The tax had not been approved by Parliament, however, and a
number of prominent men refused to pay it on these grounds. Reprisals
conducted against a few of them only served to strengthen the anti-Charles
factions that were slowly growing in England, while a series of disastrous
wars with Scotland weakened the hand that Charles played with.
Parliament took the opportunity to strengthen its own hand in the
Long parliament, which declared that Parliament should be reformed every
three years, and refused the king's right to dissolve Parliament. Other
laws were passed making it illegal for the king to impose his own taxes,
and later passed a law that gave members control over the king's
Charles, however, believed that there was one last
card to play. Strafford had
raised an Irish Catholic army and was prepared to use it against Scotland.
Of course the very thought of a Catholic army campaigning against the
Scots from protestant England was considered outrageous by the
parliamentary party. In early 1641 Strafford was arrested and sent to the
Tower of London on the charge of treason.
In an attempt to sacrifice himself to avert the looming war,
Strafford convinced a reluctant Charles to consent to his execution.
Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford, was executed on May 12th,
It was too late.
Revolts arose in Ireland, rumours spread that the Irish were being
supported by the king, and Puritan members of the Commons were soon
agitating that this was the sort of thing Charles had in store for all of
them. When Charles attempted
to arrest five members of the Parliament, the Parliament refused to hand
them over and, as his power disintegrated, Charles fled London and raised
an army using the archaic system of a Commission of Array. He raised the
royal standard at Nottingham in August, but in 1642 the military governor
of Kingston upon Hull declared the city for the Parliamentarian cause and
refused the King entry into the city and its large arsenal.
Charles I besieged the city unsuccessfully. This siege precipitated
open conflict between the Parliamentarian and Royalist causes.
The war, to cut the reminder short, consisted of many
small battles, until the king was finally captured.
Being in prison, however, did not stop Charles from conspiring and,
1648, he was executed by the Parliamentary forces, while his son, Charles
II, was defeated and forced to flee.
After considerable trouble, Oliver Cromwell took control of the
nation and, after his death, Charles II was able to return to England. However, control of most of the nation's affairs were now in
the hands of parliament - no king has been able to push them too far.
Why did parliament win?
There are many theories, but the simplest explanation - which is
usually the best - is that parliament controlled most of the available
resources and manpower of England, had at least an understanding with the
Scots and had the time to develop new tactics and organisations, such as
the New Model Army. Charles
hoped that quick victories would negate Parliament's advantage in
material, which precipitated the siege of Hull in July 1642, which
provided a decisive victory for Parliament.
Despite having an advantage in leadership quality in his first
years, Charles, like Hannibal before him, was unable to crush the
Parliament in London or win a decisive victory.
Once Parliament had time to adapt and deploy, their victory was
So, how can Charles win the war? He must act decisively while most of the people are still
deciding which way to jump. OTL
had most of the important people either trying to keep their heads down or
joining the Parliamentary cause. Therefore,
lets have him head with his army to Kingston upon Hull in 1642, as per OTL.
However, let's have Charles manage to bribe the military governor
of Kingston upon Hull and therefore gain access to the arsenal.
This allows him to reequip his army and recruit new men, while
causing people who are considering Parliament to wait for further
Reequipped, Charles needs to head for London and
besiege the city, finally tricking or bribing people into allowing his
troops access. Parliament is
divided, with many of the more radical members either calling for a fight
to the death or a retreat to Essex. However,
the majority give up the fight and open the doors to Charles and his men,
although the people on Charles' 'shoot to kill' list, including John
Hampden, John Pym, Arthur Haselrig, Denzil Holles, and William Strode,
(all of whom Charles attempted to arrest just before the start of the
war), flee and proclaim a exile government in Scotland.
However, as Parliament has been defeated, most people are hastily
trying to make deals with Charles.
There is another possibility for an outright Charles
win. The Battle of Edgehill
ended in a draw, with Charles slightly ahead and in the position of being
able to march on London. However,
he had not succeeded in destroying the parliamentary army, which was
commanded by Essex. What if
Charles had used his superiority in cavalry and destroyed the opposing
army? While that would not
wipe out all the opposing forces, it would leave parliament with only the
‘trained bands’ (militia) to draw on, forces that were historically
unwilling to march beyond their regions. While the Scots would, one hopes, have been unwilling to
allow a Charles victory, it is unclear what they could do to avert one,
and the worst that could happen would be a final sundering of Scotland
from England. The massive
collapse in morale would have made treating with Charles inevitable.
Anyway, no matter how he won, Charles now holds the
whip hand and intends to use it. He
sees that he has been repeatability humiliated by Parliament and sees his
new victory as proof of his divine right.
Someone like Charles would not be satisfied with just the victory,
he would want to grind their faces in it and force them to acknowledge his
divine right. We have no
idea, of course, how Charles would have framed such a proclamation, but it
might run something like this:
"Charles I, by the grace of God, monarch of
the British lands and her colonies, stands at the supreme authority under
god in England, granted victory by divine right.
Parliament reaffirms his powers to tax and make laws as the final
arbiter of British matters, and recognises him as the supreme and
unquestionable lord of England, the representative of God himself.
As appointed by God, to disobey his rules is blasphemy and will be
punished for it, if not by the agents and loyal servants of the king, then
by God afterwards."
Bit overdone, perhaps?
Compared to some Middle Ages documents, its very modest.
Basically, Charles has stripped from Parliament every right it
claimed and dragged out of the monarchs since 1100.
Charles now has complete power over England, including the right to
tax without reservation, the right to appoint and dismiss advisors, the
right to have a regular, pernerment, stipend to maintain the new army, the
right to be supreme judge of every case and the power of life and death
over the whole kingdom. The Parliament, which is now a shadow, is required to confirm
the death sentences on the former members, which is intended to make them
compliant in the king's actions. Future
revolts would be very difficult.
Charles first action as the new, all-powerful, king
is to build up the army. Not
only using the nucleus of the forces he led to London, but also adding the
remains of the catholic army and menicaries from Europe.
The purpose is to have an army that's loyal to the King alone and
not to any other faction. He
also orders the private forces in the services of the nobles to be
disarmed, apart from the nobles who supported him unquestionably.
He places this army under Prince Rupert, his nephew, and a man much
loved by his troops - hated by everyone else - a dashing and bold military
commander. He orders Rupert
to prepare for an exhibition to Scotland, to settle affairs with the
The Scots declare themselves independent and Charles
orders invasion. With the
more powerful army, Rupert defeats the Scots in a number of pitched
battles and forces them to the discussion table.
Soon, Scotland is forced under Charles complete control.
This allows Charles to continue to shape the British religious
In OTL, Charles believed in a pomp-and-ceremony
version of the Anglican Church, a feeling held by his main political
advisor, Archbishop William Laud. Laud had become the Archbishop of
Canterbury in 1633 and started a series of reforms in the Anglican Church
to make it more ceremonial, starting with the replacement of the wooden
communion tables with stone altars, which led to Puritans accusing Laud of
trying to reintroduce Catholicism. If
that was true, Charles might have sought confirmation of his authority
from the pope.
Personally, I don't believe that was accurate.
However, Charles does seem to have been very tolerant of Catholics,
and was trying to tighten his control of the church.
There would have been numerous small revolts across England, but
Charles would probably manage to squash them all.
Many Puritans would flee to America and I suspect that many others
would join them. Ironically,
the Irish would probably not revolt as much in this timeline.
In the long run, this would be totally disastrous for
England. Not only have the
beginnings of democratic control been stamped out, Charles would have
established a tradition of direct, personal, rule, with all the power in
one set of hands. If the
English Crown can tax at will, without legal controls, then the incentive
to develop the English financial system is none-existent.
Without that as a system for developing Britain's resources,
Britain would remain a poor nation.
Further, the tradition of 'Englishman’s rights'
would have been destroyed. This
suggests that the moral base that eventually formed the British Empire
would not exist. Slavery and
similar matters might last longer in this timeline, while, instead of the
Americans having basic home rule, a viceroy might be appointed, with
troops to back him up. The
American Revolution might happen earlier in this timeline, but instead of
a democratic nation, the outcome might be a new monarch, or a religious,
One piece of better news is that it would have done
wonders for European unity. Charles
was related to many of the European Kings by marriage and they would have
had considerable interest in working together in maintaining the status
quo. However, Charles would
not have been able to finance the British forces that existed in OTL, so
Britain might, on the other hand, be invaded by France or Spain, which
would have more undeveloped wealth to use to build ships.
The bad news is that Britain would be a dangerous
place. There would be
constant revolts in Scotland and parts of England, particularly in the
places that have to support the new army, which would tighten Charles'
grip on power. Britain might
end up looking like Yugoslavia or Vietnam.
Ironically, one good outcome of this is that Ireland
would be more peaceful. Charles
used Catholic troops from Ireland, which gives him some interest in being
reasonably tolerant towards the Irish people than anything else.
Worse, however, would be the spread of censorship.
Literacy rates would fall, while scientific discussions and free
debate would be stifled. This
would have unpredictable effects on the development of Britain.
There are two very long-term effects of this outcome.
One is that the British Empire, as we knew it, will almost
certainly not happen. This
outcome lacks both the financial system that financed the empire and the
mindset that allowed the colonies to develop their own economies.
That suggests that Britain will fail to keep the colonies as
money-makers, which could mean that they get abandoned at some point.
Further, this Britain will not be able to afford global commitments
nor get unduly upset about barbarian kings in India and elsewhere.
So, who will be the superpower of the world?
I suspect that either France or Russia will be the superpower, at
least for some time. Both
nations have the men, although, barring revolution of some kind, they
won't be able to become world-shakers.
The Dutch might develop a financial system that can support such
efforts, but they lack the manpower to use it.
That said, they could take over India instead of the British, which
might give them the manpower.
It is possible to make a case that a planned economy
is better than a unplanned one, which might give Britain an advantage it
lacked in OTL, but its unlikely that Charles’ descendents would succeed
any more than France or the USSR. Without
computer records, instant communication and a method of ‘watching the
watchers’, it is unlikely that a planned economy could succeed.
Of course, if they’re all equally bad, it may not matter that
The other long-term effect would be the destruction
of the origins of democratic societies.
In the long run, the Dutch do not have the resources to survive
against France, Spain, or Prussia. Even
under a best-case situation, they’ll be absorbed or at the very least
lose their empires, unless they somehow manage to build an independent,
outside Europe, colony, such as the Portuguese tried to do with Brazil.
This alternate world will see a constant cycle of revolutions and
An idea that has been going round the AH world for some
time with no obvious source is that states with a tradition of dictatorial
government, however expressed, tend to slip back to that if a crisis
happens. For example, Germany
in 1933, when trouble happened, the president held dictatorial powers –
and we all know what happened then. Similar
examples include China, Russia, Iraq and Iran.
On the other hand, states with a democratic tradition, such as the
USA, Britain, Canada and Australia, stay democratic despite serious
trouble. They do get powerful
governments at times of crisis, but they do stay democratic, hold
elections and rule gently. A
Charles victory in 1642 shatters the path to a democratic state, the
formations of ‘American liberty’ and power in the hands of the