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The British Civil Wars and Revolution, c.1638-49 - 30 credits (HS1742)

Module Tutor: Dr Lloyd Bowen

Course Description

In the mid-seventeenth century England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland were engulfed in a destructive and transformative civil war. This module examines this remarkable period in an innovative fashion by considering the British dimension of the conflict. This charts how developments in Scotland and Ireland, as well as England and Wales, are crucial to understanding the origins and progress of conflict. The course thus considers the rising of the Scottish Covenanters who challenged against their king’s authority in 1638, as well as events such as the bloody Irish Rebellion of 1641 which speeded England’s descent into Civil War. In addition to this multi-kingdom perspective, the module also pays particular attention to the cultural and social impact of civil war. It explores the newly-expanded world of news, print and propaganda in this ‘first age of journalism’, and examines the arguments about this new public sphere of print made by people like the poet John Milton and the radically democratic Levellers. The module deals with one of the most exciting and absorbing periods of British History when the fault lines between kingdoms and communities released forces which ultimately saw the king executed and a pan-British Republic established by the force of Cromwell's New Model Army.

Credits: 30

Availability of module: Not running in 2013/14


Necessary for

Teaching methods

A range of teaching methods will be used in each of the sessions of the course, comprising a combination of lectures and seminar discussion of major issues. The syllabus is divided into a series of major course themes, then sub-divided into principal topics for the study of each theme.

The aim of the lectures is to provide a brief introduction to a particular topic, establishing the salient features of major course themes, identifying key issues and providing historiographical guidance. The lectures aim to provide a basic framework for understanding and should be thought of as useful starting points for further discussion and individual study. Where appropriate, handouts and other materials may be distributed to reinforce the material discussed.

The primary aim of seminars will be to generate debate and discussion amongst course participants. Seminars for each of the course topics will provide an opportunity for students to analyse and further discuss key issues and topics relating to lectures.


Students will be assessed by means of a combination of one 1000 word assessed essay [15%], one 2000 word assessed essay [35%] and one two-hour unseen written examination paper in which the student will answer two questions [50%].

Course assignments:

Assessed Essay 1 will contribute 15% of the final mark for the module. It is designed to give students the opportunity to demonstrate their ability to review evidence, draw appropriate conclusions from it and employ the formal conventions of scholarly presentation. It must be no longer than 1,000 words (excluding empirical appendices and references).

Assessed Essay 2 will contribute 35% of the final mark for the module. It is designed to give students the opportunity to demonstrate their ability to review evidence, draw appropriate conclusions from it and employ the formal conventions of scholarly presentation. It must be no longer than 2,000 words (excluding empirical appendices and references).

The Examination will take place during the second assessment period [May/June] and will consist of an unseen two hour paper that will contribute the remaining 50% of the final mark for this module. Students must write 2 answers in total.

Summary of course content

Section I: The Crisis of the Three Kingdoms, 1638-42.

  • Scotland and the Covenant.
  • England and Wales: The Long Parliament and the Localities.
  • Ireland in Revolt.
  • The British Problem.

Section II: A Question of Approach: Historiography, Models of Allegiance and the Civil Wars

  • Whigs and Marxists.
  • The Civil Wars and the Forces of History
  • Revisionism: The Accidental Civil War?
  • A Cultural and Ethnic Conflict?
  • The Civil Wars: Revolt or Revolution?

Section III: The Course of War, 1643-6.

  • The Solemn League and Covenant and the Cessation.
  • Faction and Faith:  The Making of the New Model Army.
  • The Politics and Problems of Armies Foreign and Domestic.
  • Neutrals and Localists? Clubmen and Committees.
  • The Local and the National in the Civil Wars.

Section IV: Revolution and Regicide, 1647-9.

  • Post-War Politics: The Army, the Levellers and the Search for Settlement
  • The Second Civil War, 1648.
  • 1649: Regicide and Revolution.
  • The Nature of the British Revolutions.

Section V: New Publics

  • Print and Propaganda: The Mechanics of Mobilisation.
  • Gangraena and the World of Civil War Print
  • Censorship and Freedom: John Milton’s Areopagitica and the Politics of Print
  • A Public Transformed? Print and Political Opinion
  • Newsbooks, Petitions and Pamphlets: A Documentary Session

Section VI: Radicalism and Political Consciousness

  • Popular Radicalism?: The Levellers, the Army and the People
  • Democratic Revolutionaries? The Nature and Influence of the Levellers
  • Religious Radicalism: Sects, Heretics and Hysteria
  • “Radicalism”: A Useful Category of Analysis?

Learning outcomes

Students will be able to:

  • Demonstrate a broad and systematic knowledge of the key themes and events in the history of the British Civil Wars.
  • Identify the strengths, weaknesses and problems of historical interpretations surrounding Britishness and the civil wars.
  • Discuss and evaluate different interpretations about the significance of issues such as print, the public sphere and radicalism during the 1640s.

Skills that will be practised and developed

Students will extend their ability to:

  • Summarise and appraise the relative merits and demerits of alternative views and interpretations and evaluate their significance.
  • Identify the strengths and weaknesses, problems and/or particularities of alternative historiographical interpretations of the British civil wars, such as the debate over the three kingdoms model, the ethnic nature of civil war, the contexts of regicide, the concept of an expanded public sphere.
  • Communicate ideas and arguments effectively
  • Modify and defend their positions on debates and issues concerned with Britain in the 1640s.
  • Formulate and justify their own arguments and conclusions about issues raised through the module.
  • Present accurately, succinctly and lucidly, and in written or oral form their arguments in accordance with appropriate scholarly conventions their opinions on matters relating to the Civil Wars in Britain.
  • Evaluate a range of arguments of alternative historical and historiographical interpretations such as the role of religion, ethnicity and class in the outbreak of civil war.
  • Manage their time and organise their own study methods and workload.

Suggested book purchases

A recommended purchase is Michael Braddick, God’s Fury, England’s Fire: A New History of the English Civil Wars (St Ives, 2008).

Suggested preparatory reading

Other useful introductions are:-
Ian Gentles, The English Revolution and the Wars in the Three Kingdoms, 1638-1652 (London, 2007)
David Scott, Politics and War in the Three Stuart Kingdoms, 1637-49 (Basingstoke, 2004) [good on the high politics of the three kingdoms].
Blair Worden, The English Civil Wars 1640-1660 (London, 2009) [a briefer, but scholarly introduction]
For the historiography of this period, recommended texts are:
R.C. Richardson, The Debate on the English Revolution, Revisited (3rd edition, Manchester, 1998).
Ronald Hutton, Debates in Stuart History (Basingstoke, 2004).