During the reign of King James I, the king and Parliament often quarreled. After James died, his son Charles took up the throne, things got worse. Like his father, he believed in the divine power of the king. He dissolved the Parliament for a time. He also married Henrietta Mary, sister of the king of France, and a devote Catholic. And the Puritans were opposed to all things Catholic, and because of this, he caused great alarm because the Puritan's thought that he was one of them. In 1640, a war with rebellious Scots forced Charles to call Parliament back into session, but it's members where in no mood to cooperate. Charles wanted more money for the war, while the Puritan members wanted the king to accept limits on his power, and let the Parliament's right to meet regularly. Urged on by his Queen, Charles decided to take action against the key troublemakers. On January 4, 1642, he did something no other English king had ever done. At the head of a group of armed guards, he marched into the House of Commons and tried to arrest five members. The public was outraged. Thousands of solders rushed to defend Parliament against the king. Days later Charles fled from London.
By the summer of 1642, the English people were divided. One side were those who supported the king, know as the Royalists, also called the Cavaliers because most of them were dashing horse-men. On the other side were those who supported Parliament, called Roundheads because some wore their hair cropped short and round against their faces. England was on the verge of civil war. Both sides were armed and ready. They had cavalrymen, musketeers, and gunners manning cannons. When the fighting began, both sides had successes on the battle-field. But gradually, the Roundheads began to forge a well-trained and dedicated leader. It was led by one of Parliaments leaders, Oliver Cromwell. Even though Cromwell had no previous military experience, he soon proved to be a brilliant organizer and soldier. The Roundheads fought the king's armies across England, especially in the north and west of the country, where the Royalists had most support. Thanks to Cromwell, they won great victories. Cromwell, a devote Puritan, said he was the hand of God at work in the victories of the parliamentary forces.
By 1648, the Royalists were defeated. Many people blamed King Charles for continuing the war and causing so much bloodshed. They believed the king should no longer rule England. Some Puritans in Parliament went further. They believed the king had committed crimes against the nation, and for that, he should pay with his life. The Roundheads captured Charles and brought him to London for trial before a special court set up by Parliament. The court declared him a tyrant, traitor, murderer, and public enemy to the good people of the nation. The court sentenced him to death by the severing of his head from his body. On January 30, 1649, Charles stepped onto a scaffold erected outside the royal palace of Whitehall. He wore two shirts because it was a cold day , and that no one would think he shivered with fear. He prayed and lowered his head onto the block. The executioner swung his axe. The English had killed their king.
A few Royalists rallied to support the king's teenage son, Prince Charles to be the new king, but Cromwell quickly put down the remaining resistance. After a final defeat, Prince Charles managed to escape capture. Disguised as a lady's maid, the prince fled to the south coast. There he boarded a boat for France sailed to safety. After the execution of Charles I, Parliament declared the end of the monarchy. England, they said, would no longer be ruled by a king or queen. Instead, Parliament declared England a republic to be governed by the people's representatives. The period of the republic became know as the Commonwealth. Real power however was not held in common. It belonged to the army and to the man who had built that army, Oliver Cromwell. Oliver Cromwell became England's lord protector after the Instrument of Government was written. According to the constitution, he would work with Parliament, which would make the country's laws.
But alas, it was not to be. Like James and Charles before him, Cromwell also had his problems with Parliament. In the end, Cromwell closed Parliament by force and decided to govern without it. The lord protector now ruled England as a military dictator. During the Commonwealth, the lord protector exercised greater power than Charles or James ever had as king. Cromwell and his Puritan supporters closed theaters and other forms of entertainment that the saw as immoral or evil. They banned Christmas and Easter celebrations, which they claimed were based in pagan traditions, and tried to force people to accept Puritan religious beliefs. Cromwell's army invaded Ireland and Scotland, crushing all resistance. The lord protector also won a war against Spain, gaining new territory for England in the Americas.
By the late 1650s, the English people had had enough of Cromwell's military dictatorship. Many longed for a return of the monarchy. They began to look back to the years under King Charles as the good old days. When Cromwell died in 1658, Parliament met again. The body that had struggled for so long against two Stuart Kings decided the country should invite a new Stuart to the throne. Parliament invited Prince Charles, who had fled from England a decade earlier, to return from France. On May 29, 1660, the son of the executed Charles I rode into London. Cheering crowds lined the streets to welcome him back. He ascended the throne as King Charles II. The time of Commonwealth was over. England was returned to monarchy. The nation thrived during the period of Restoration. Theaters reopened. Elegant building rose in the capitol. Philosophers, architects, and scientists made great advances under the reign of Charles II.
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