In Part Five we examine how and why the Independents around Fairfax and Cromwell, previously the more left-leaning elements of the bourgeoisie, carried out a balancing act, trying to develop their own interests while manoeuvring between the Presbyterians on their right and the Levellers to their left. Eventually they felt compelled to try to eradicate the Levellers altogether.
Colonel Rainborough: "The poorest he that is in England hath a life to live as the greatest he; and I think it is clear that every man that is to live under a government ought first by his consent to put himself under that government."
The outcome of the military struggle was largely decided by the result of the Battle of Naseby in June 1645 but the war and the embryonic revolution continued. In Part Four we examine how a radical wing developed to the left of the Independents - who consisted of the more ‘moderate’ protestant elements on the Parliamentary side.
The most prominent radical democratic grouping was the Levellers. In simple terms the twin demands of the Levellers were freedom of conscience in religious matters and the inalienable right for citizens to choose the government they wanted. Such a government therefore owed its power to the people’s consent. With unprecedented boldness the Levellers advanced the idea that the people must be sovereign.
The two previous parts of this article analysed the processes of change in England in the period from the late fifteenth century to the early seventeenth century and tried to explain why King and Parliament found themselves on a collision course which culminated in a bloody civil war.
In this part we attempt to show how one major effect of the struggle against the King and other forces of reaction was to open up an unprecedented ferment of hopes and aspirations among the supporters of Parliament. As the war proceeded, these aspirations became increasingly polarized, reflecting the constantly changing balance of class interests and class forces within the ranks of the Parliamentarians.
In the first part of this article we attempted to identify the interacting economic, social and political processes which led to the crucial confrontation between classes known as the English Civil War. In Part Two we will examine these processes in greater detail.
The English Civil War was part of a social revolution. It was not a clash of personalities between King Charles, he of the flowing locks, frills and furbelows and Cromwell, austere and even dour though he may have been. It was not simply a clash between old and new forms of religious worship although there was always a suspicion that James perhaps, but Charles more definitely, wished to rehabilitate Catholicism. Nor was it simply a clash between a monarch who wanted absolute power and a Parliament defiantly determined to defend and develop its political influence. Material interests were involved. This was class struggle.