At the height of the First English Civil War, and faced by the intolerable pressure of placating both roundheads and cavaliers without alienating either, a Wiltshire village constable wrote a note to himself: 'Woe is me, poor Bastard', 1 During the British and Irish Civil Wars millions of men, women, and children must have expressed similar sentiments, for the conflict made a misery of the lives of both civilians and soldiers alike. Hardly a parish remained untouched. As General Robert Venables, a parliamentary commander, afterwards recalled, the wars were so general that almost every man was in action or affection engaged in them in one part or another. 2
Although perhaps as many as one adult Englishman in four served in the armed forces, the vast majority of the population remained civilians. Unlike noncombatants in a modern war they were rarely the target of military actions, such as bombing. Since the weapons of the seventeenth century lacked modern destructiveness, not many civilians become 'collateral casualties'. Compared to other wars, both ancient and modern, few folk became the victims of atrocities. Yet the lot of the civilian was unpleasant: armies constantly marched through towns and villages, trampling crops, plundering homes, abusing women, the old, and children. And as they did so they spread diseases that killed as many, if not more, people than combat itself.
Women and children were almost by definition civilians. For men, however, the line between civilian and soldier became a blurred one. For instance, the militia units which were mobilized to fight the war, had a strong non-combatant tradition that tended to lessen their military effectiveness. Uniforms, the most obvious visible distinction between soldier and civilian, did not become widespread until the third or even fourth year of the First English Civil War, while in Ireland and Scotland they remained the exception rather than the norm. Troops did not enlist for a set period of time. Desertion and re-enlistment became so widespread that soldiering was more a revolving door than a long-term commitment. In many ways the story of the British and Irish Civil Wars was the story of