Why, and with what consequences did Charles I fail to defeat the Covenanters in 1639-1640?

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Why, and with what consequences did Charles I fail to defeat the Covenanters in 1639-1640?

In 1637 King Charles I's introduction of the Book of Common Prayer to Scotland sparked widespread social unrest and rioting in Edinburgh. This led to the formation of the National Covenanters which was an Scottish Presbyterian alliance who opposed Charles's religious reforms in Scotland. This resulted in two conflicts in 1649 and in 1640 fought between Charles and the National Covenanters, collectively known as the Bishops' wars. There has been much debate between historians such as Adamson and Gentles over the reasons and consequences of Charles's failure to defeat the Covenanters. The most significant reasons why Charles failed to defeat the Scots between 1639 and 1640 was a combination of lack of support from the Short Parliament, a chronic lack of funds and the superior quality of the Covenanters' Army. The significant consequences of Charles's defeat include destabilisation within Charles's three Kingdoms, rebellion in Ireland and the onset of the Long Parliament. This essay will be organised into two parts, the first section will examine the specific reasons why Charles failed to defeat the Covenanters while the second section will focus on the consequences of Charles's failure.

Firstly it is important to assess Charles's failure to defeat the Covenanters in the First Bishops' War of 1639. David Scott states that 'the Scot's military preparations were more than matched by the King's own – at least on paper'. This is true to an extent as Charles and his advisers drew up an extensive war plan for the campaign against the Covenanters. The marquess of Hamilton was to launch an amphibious assault on Scotland's eastern coast, the Earl of Strafford was to raise ten thousand men in Ireland and Charles himself was to march an English Army to the Scottish border. However in reality these plans were too ambitious, as Strafford failed to raise enough men and Hamilton's naval plans failed to come to fruition. It is also fair to say that Charles underestimated the resolve of the Covenanters. Scott states that 'Charles seems to have believed that merely by marching an army to the border he would intimidate the Covenanters into submission'. This view was not just shared by the King but also by the Earl of Clarendon who wrote 'the glory of such a visible appearance of the whole nobility would at once terrify the Scots'. However this was a naive view. The Scots led by Alexander Leslie were highly religiously motivated and refused to back down, as they saw their religious principles and ideals under threat. The Covenanters Army was highly organised, extremely determined and was made up of a large amount of experienced veterans who had fought for the protestant cause on the continent. The Scots also called upon the services of veteran Mercenaries from Northern Europe. In contrast Ackroyd states that Charles's English Army was 'ill organised and largely apathetic'. It is fair to say that Charles's Army lacked the same intense motivation as the Scots did and many English Protestants actually sympathised with the Covenanters cause. It is clear that Charles's Army was inexperienced, under trained and inferior to the one put together by the Covenanters. Hamilton wrote to the King  stating 'you will find it work of great difficulty and of vast expense to curb them by force, their power being greater, their combination being stronger than can be imagined'. Furthermore Charles's campaign was compounded by lack of funds, only two hundred thousand pounds was allocated for the whole campaign. By May 1649 the Lord Treasurer had announced that the revenue had been exhausted and Sir Edmund Verney wrote to his son 'our men are very raw, our arms of all sorts naught, our victuals scarce, and provision for horses worse' this quote emphasis the lack of funds and provisions the King's forces suffered. The King clearly did not have the required funds necessary to fight a long campaign against the Covenanters. By June 1649 the First Bishops' Wars was over with barely any direct conflict between the two sides. In June 1649 the King agreed to the Treaty of Berwick which was seen as a clear victory for the Covenanters. Overall it is clear to see that a combination of the King's naivety, lack of funds and the inferior quality of Charles's Army contributed to Charles's failure to defeat the Covenanters in the First Bishops' War. It is now important to assess the reasons why Charles failed to defeat the Covenanters in the Second Bishops' War.

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In 1640 Charles again was at war with the Covenanters. The King's leading advisor by this time was Strafford, who had successfully suppressed opposition in Ireland and believed he could do the same in Scotland. Strafford advised the King to 'go on with an vigorous war, loose and absolved from all rules of government; being reduced to extreme necessity'. This was an expensive approach and to raise the necessary funds a new Parliament was to be called, thus in April 1640 the Short Parliament was summoned and Charles's eleven years of Personal Rule was over. Fissel states that 'the Short ...

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