Roundheads and Cavaliers made up the two opposing sides in the English Civil War, fought between 1642 and 1651. The term “roundhead” appears to originate with the short, cropped hairstyle worn by many Puritans, a stark contrast to the longer ringlets and wigs fashionable with opposing Cavaliers. Yet much more than different styles of haircut separated Roundheads and Cavaliers; their widely differing political and religious beliefs lay at the heart of the Civil War.

Power of the King

Cavaliers supported the English King, Charles I. Charles believed in the divine right of kings, a doctrine that maintained that he had been appointed monarch by God and could therefore do no wrong. Charles had constant money worries, and when Parliament refused to grant him money in 1629 he dissolved it and used outdated medieval laws to raise taxes independently. Believing that, as King, he could do what he wanted, Charles ruled for 11 years before calling another Parliament in 1640 to ask for more money to fund a war.

Role of the Parliament

Oliver Cromwell emerged as the Roundhead leader.
Oliver Cromwell emerged as the Roundhead leader.

Roundheads, on the other hand, gave their support to Parliament as a means of keeping the king under control. They resented Charles’ high-handed way of dealing with the country and were angered by his lengthy dissolution of Parliament. From their perspective, only Parliament had the right to levy taxes and the king should come to an agreement with the Parliament before receiving any tax-related income. Member of Parliament Oliver Cromwell persuaded Parliament to create the New Model Army, an efficient military force formed from the Roundhead population that defeated the royalist army at Naseby in 1645 under Cromwell’s command.

Place of Religion

The politics of religion, however, provided some of the most bitter disagreements of the Civil War era, and today many historians see the entire Civil War as a war of religion. The king, and many of his Cavalier followers, preferred a “high” form of Anglican worship similar to that of the Catholic church. His wife, Henrietta Maria, was also a Catholic. Both these factors made Roundheads, who tended to be of a more Puritan religious outlook, suspicious. They rejected the color and pomp of the Anglican church and demanded simpler churches and austere forms of worship. Charles outraged many of his Scottish Presbyterian subjects when he attempted to force a new, Anglican-style Book of Common Prayer on them in 1637.

Resolution?

Charles was executed in London in January 1649, on the orders of a court set up by Parliament. Parliament then ruled that no new monarch would be appointed, turning England into a Republic. Between 1653 and his death in 1658, Oliver Cromwell acted as Lord Protector, but in 1660 Charles’ son, Charles II, accepted an invitation to return from exile in France as monarch. He did so under the condition that he would submit any agreement for Parliament’s consideration. However, the wartime issues, particularly relating to religion, had not been resolved, and would reappear during Charles II’s reign and that of his brother, James II, who was deposed by King William III in 1689.