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Why did Charles I fight the Civil War?

Conrad Russell finds that it is easier to understand why sheer frustration may have driven Charles to fight than to understand why the English gentry might have wanted to make a revolution against him.

Civil wars are like other quarrels: it takes two to make them. It is, then, something of a curiosity that we possess no full analysis of why Charles I chose to fight a Civil War in 1642. Yet the early seventeenth century was in many ways a good period for gentry, and a bad period for kings. If we were to search the period for long-term reasons why the King might have wanted to fight a Civil War, we would find the task far easier than it has ever been to find long-term causes why the gentry might have wanted to fight a Civil War.

Why, then, has the task never been attempted? The trouble, I think, comes from our reliance on the concept of 'revolution.' Revolutions are thought of as things done to the head of state and not by him. The result is that Charles has been treated as if he were largely passive in the drift to Civil War, as a man who reacted to what others did, rather than doing much to set the pace himself. This picture is definitely incorrect. Whether the notion of an 'English Revolution' is also incorrect is a question I will not discuss here. Anyone who is determined to find an 'English Revolution' should not be looking here, but later on, in the years 1647-1653, and those years are outside the scope of this article. This article is concerned with the outbreak of Civil War, an event in which the King was a very active participant.

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