Civil War, Revolution, Rebellion? What on earth do we call it?
I don’t know about you, but I find that in History names can cause really big arguments. Was it the Second World War, or is it World War Two? is it the Great War or World War One? For some people, you say the wrong one and it is as though you have just launched an attack against their family. Basically, names are a really big deal.
So this leads me to my own period; The seventeenth century involves a conflict which has over the centuries seen a renaming time and time again. I of course refer to the British Civil War of the 1640s. Now for those with a keen eye will have already noted I have given the conflict a name, The ‘British Civil War’. For me, this is the correct way of looking at the wars. It involves more than just the England, it has Scotland, Wales, Ireland and Cornwall (Yes, Cornwall!), but it was at the same time a war that divided families and localities; towns and villages could be split on who they supported. For me, it is a word that encompasses the entirety of the conflict, and I always tell off those around me for using the wrong words.
What else could we call it, I hear you ask? Well you have probably heard of the English Civil Wars, a term that has often been used to describe it. I feel this name is just too narrow to really encapsulate the entire war and issues that are taking place throughout the entire Kingdom at this point. It makes England everything and the other nations merely spectators, and there is just something off about that.
Then we have the war of the Three Kingdoms, which isn’t a bad term to use. After all, it is more inclusive than the English Civil War, but it doesn’t really take Wales into account as a separate people group, or again Cornwall.
After the Second World War, the term English Revolution became quite a big phrase to use and if you went to most history books since then, the term Revolution is often used. Now, I don’t think it’s a revolution, the term ‘revolution’ was really first used in the eighteenth century and its always a bit problematic if you just put modern concepts on the past. The term for me is politically charged rather than an historical event and so I don’t use the term Revolution. Never once did the Parliamentary forces believe they were fighting against the King, but rather his advisors, one of their battle chants was for King and Parliament, hardly the cry of a Revolutionary army. The event of 1649, the death of the King was a last act to stop a deadly and bitter war.
Oh, I forgot one other term that has been used to call the wars: the Great Rebellion. This was popularised in the eighteenth century by Clarendon, who saw the Parliamentarian uprising as a rebellion against Charles. This hasn’t been properly used for a long time, as the image of families and localities being torn by a conflict took over. Rebellion just war too impersonal for many people, but who knows maybe it will make a comeback!
I can imagine that after saying this, I may raise a few eyebrows! Basically, the war has had many different names, and will continue to do so. It would not surprise me that in a few decades a new term for the conflict will emerge. Terms change as society changes, and if you really do want to call it the English Revolution, I will forgive you! After all, in History names are a big thing and for some the term revolution is incredibly important, but History is all about opinions on things like this right?
By Michael Sewell
Michael, a long-time resident of Kent, now in exile in Essex, is currently researching how the British Civil Wars were remembered in the long nineteenth century, focusing in on Colchester. He has a real passion for the seventeenth century, as well as looking at how History is used and remembered by people. Michael spent the majority of his university life at the University of Winchester where he picked up a keen interest in how nations were formed and how we as nations remember our past. Now at Essex, he has a keen interest in public history and loves talking about history to people!