This book explores the greatest concentration of armed violence to take place in the recorded history of the islands of Britain and Ireland. More men died of wounds sustained in battle within these islands in the decade of the 1640s than in any other of our history. It has been calculated that between 1642 and 1651 there were at least 463 military clashes in which one or more persons was killed; the same period witnessed more than half the battles involving above 10,000 men ever fought on English soil; it is likely that as many as one in three or one in four of all the male population between the ages of 16 and 50 bore arms for part or all of the war; and a majority of the incorporated towns of the kingdoms of Britain and Ireland were both garrisoned and besieged for days, weeks, or months. The biggest and bloodiest single battle ever fought on English soil was the battle of Towton which took place in a blizzard in North Yorkshire in 1461 (it was the battle that gave Edward IV the throne); but the next five in size were fought in the 1640s at Marston Moor, Newbury, Edgehill, Lansdown, and Naseby.
This extraordinary military history was accompanied by extraordinary political events in each of the kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland. Since the beginning of the fourteenth century, reigning English monarchs had been deposed on eight occasions ( 1327, 1399, 1461, 1470) 1471, 1484, 1485, 1553) and most accessions had been contested. However, with the anomalous exception of Lady Jane Grey in 1555, no monarch had hitherto been put on trial and executed; nor had the institution of monarchy itself ever been at serious risk before it was abolished in the late winter of 1649, to be replaced first by a Commonwealth and then by the Protectorate of Oliver Cromwell. The House of Lords was abolished along with the monarchy, and so was the Established Church--from 1647 to 1660 men and women had an obligation to attend worship every Sunday, but not worship in a parish church. They could gather in any religious assembly which the regime of the moment deemed to be no threat to the civil peace. As a direct result of these changes, all the land belonging to the crown, to the bishops, and to the cathedral chapters and the estates of almost one thousand prominent royalists were sold off. It was the greatest redistribution of land in English history after the Norman Conquest and the dissolution of the monasteries.