How will these resources help you?

This topic can be difficult to teach because the reasons why people fought for each side are complex. The religious justifications for joining one side or the other can be difficult for students today to understand. Many people changed sides along the way, which complicated matters. The civil war is an important topic in the study of democracy and the development of the UK. It links to study of the British empire, and the relationships between the different countries within the UK. 

An overview

Choosing Sides in the English Civil War

by Dr Mike Stoyle, published by BBC History, (2017)

This essay gives an excellent summary of Charles I’s personality and the road to war, then sets out the main issues that influenced people’s choice to fight for King or Parliament. Students could divide the reasons into groups and then rank them according to what they think might have been the most important reasons for joining either the Roundheads or the Cavaliers. Students could produce pamphlets urging people to join one side or another (see the example of a contemporary cartoon given in the essay).

On why people picked certain sides

The English Civil War

by John Simkin, published by Spartacus Education, (January 2020, first published 1997)

This article is a great summary of the topic and at the bottom is a list of sources (see sources 1, 5, 9, 17, 21–23 and 25) about why different people chose different sides, even if the reason they give in the source is not true and may take some time to work out. You could prompt students to ask questions like: How reliable is the source? What is its purpose? What might it tell us about the reasons people chose particular sides? You could link this with the first resource, tying the causes to the headings created for the first task.

The English civil wars in one hour

English Civil War: A History from Beginning to End

by Hourly History, published by Create Space Publishing Platform, (2016), 9781537585178

This short book (designed to be read in less than an hour) is excellent on why people chose sides, especially Chapter 2 ‘The First English Civil War: Choose Your Side’. It also goes into the second and third civil wars. The book is ideal for a research task, or to expand on the study of the civil war to bring in Scotland and Ireland. Students could compare the reasons why people in England went to war with the reasons why people In Scotland and Ireland went to war. 

Audiovisual clips

Charles I’s Treasure Reunited - Artistic Propaganda

published by BBC, (2018)

This clip explores the proaganda that Charles I circulated through art during his reign to try and gain consensus for himself.
Charles I’s Treasure Reunited - The Civil War, Royal art is under attack

published by BBc, (2018)

An exploration of how Royal art depicted the Civil War.

Further Materials

The English Civil War: A Military History by Peter Gaunt, published by Bloomsbury Academic, (2019), 9781350143517 Find this book
British Civil Wars, Commonwealth & Protectorate 1638–1660 by David Plant, published by BCW Project Access this resource
The English Civil War: A People’s History by Diane Purkiss, published by Harper Perennial, (2007), 9780007150625 Find this book
Christopher Terry is a former Head Teacher and former academic lead for Teaching and Learning in various British and International Schools, and he has been a teacher of History for 15 years. He works as an examiner and also delivers ITT History Teacher Training in the North West of England and Internationally. He also has been a specialist advisor to OFQUAL for History and has been recognised by the Historical Association as an outstanding practitioner. 

Text © Christopher Terry, 2021.