The Independents in the English Civil War

The Independents in the English Civil War

The Independents in the English Civil War

The Independents in the English Civil War

Excerpt

The English Civil War still remains something of an enigma. Many careful studies have been made of various aspects, and bold interpretations offered of the whole, yet the puzzle is not fully solved. Why did the war break out? Why did the opposing parties find supporters?

The bold interpreters have found the mainspring to be religion, political or legal theory, economic or class interest. The careful students of detail have sorted out various pieces of the jig-saw, but the very clarity of small sections has often made the perspective of the picture more difficult to discover.

The chief difficulty, I believe, is to correlate the religious motive with the social and political With the exception of work on the Levellers, no attempt has been made to dear up this difficult problem, and unfortunately the excellent work done on this movement has tended to give it a pre-eminence in recent interpretations at the expense of certain more important factors in the war. Because the Levellers appeared to fit so neatly into a certain pattern of classes, this pattern was then extended to include all the contestants of the conflict in an arbitrary fashion, with insufficient supporting evidence. The same care that has been given to the study of the Levellers must also be spent in examination of the other parties.

This essay is an attempt to discover the connexion between the Parliamentary Independent party and religious Independency. The old Whig interpretation of the Civil War made a simple equation between the political Independents and all those who desired religious toleration. This view does not square with either the religious or political facts, for as the events of 1647-60 show, the independents were not a homogeneous party. On the other hand, there was a connexion, strong though undefined. In the early seventeenth century, men were insistent on precision in theological matters, and terms such as Independent or Presbyterian, even when used in a loose, popular way, had some connexion with their strict definition.

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