These conflicts were concerned with how the three Kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland should be governed.
Roundheads were the supporters of the Parliament of England during the English Civil War (1642–1651). Also known as Parliamentarians, they fought against King Charles I of England and his supporters, known as the Cavaliers or Royalists, who claimed rule by absolute monarchy and the principle of the divine right of kings. The goal of the Roundhead party was to give the Parliament supreme control over executive administration of the country/kingdom.
Most Roundheads sought constitutional monarchy in place of the absolute monarchy sought by Charles; however, at the end of the English Civil War in 1649, public antipathy towards the king was high enough to allow republican leaders such as Oliver Cromwell to abolish the monarchy completely and establish the Commonwealth of England.
The Roundhead commander-in-chief of the first Civil War, Thomas Fairfax, remained a supporter of constitutional monarchy, as did many other Roundhead leaders such as Edward Montagu, 2nd Earl of Manchester, and Robert Devereux, 3rd Earl of Essex; however, this party was outmanoeuvred by the more politically adept Cromwell and his radicals, who had the backing of the New Model Army and took advantage of Charles’ perceived betrayal of England in his alliance with the Scottish against Parliament.
England’s many Puritans and Presbyterians were almost invariably Roundhead supporters, as were many smaller religious groups such as the Independents. However, many Roundheads were members of the Church of England, as were many Cavaliers. Roundhead political factions included the proto-anarchist Diggers, the diverse group known as the Levellers and the apocalyptic Christian movement of the Fifth Monarchists.
Origins and Background
Some Puritans, but by no means all, wore their hair closely cropped round the head or flat and there was thus an obvious contrast between them and the men of courtly fashion, who wore long ringlets. During the war and for a time afterwards, Roundhead was a term of derision—in the New Model Army it was a punishable offence to call a fellow soldier a Roundhead. This contrasted with the term “Cavalier” to describe supporters of the Royalist cause. Cavalier also started out as a pejorative term—the first proponents used it to compare members of the Royalist party with Spanish Caballeros who had abused Dutch Protestants during the reign of Elizabeth I—but unlike Roundhead, Cavalier was embraced by those who were the target of the epithet and used by them to describe themselves.
“Roundheads” appears to have been first used as a term of derision toward the end of 1641, when the debates in Parliament in the Clergy Act 1640 were causing riots at Westminster. The Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition quotes a contemporary authority’s description of the crowd gathered there: “They had the hair of their heads very few of them longer than their ears, whereupon it came to pass that those who usually with their cries attended at Westminster were by a nickname called Roundheads“. The demonstrators included London apprentices, for whom Roundhead was a term of derision, because the regulations which they had agreed to included a provision for closely cropped hair.
According to John Rushworth the word was first used on 27 December 1641 by a disbanded officer named David Hide. During a riot, Hide is reported to have drawn his sword and said he would “cut the throat of those round-headed dogs that bawled against bishops”; however, Richard Baxter ascribes the origin of the term to a remark made by Queen Henrietta Maria, wife of Charles I, at the trial of Thomas Wentworth, 1st Earl of Strafford, earlier that year. Referring to John Pym, she asked who the roundheaded man was. The principal advisor to Charles II, Edward Hyde, 1st Earl of Clarendon, remarked on the matter, “and from those contestations the two terms of Roundhead and Cavalier grew to be received in discourse, … they who were looked upon as servants to the king being then called Cavaliers, and the other of the rabble contemned and despised under the name of Roundheads.”
After Anglican Archbishop William Laud made a statute in 1636 instructing all clergy to wear short hair, many Puritans rebelled to show their contempt for his authority and began to grow their hair even longer (as can be seen on their portraits) though they continued to be known as Roundheads. The longer hair was more common among the “Independent” and “high ranking” Puritans (which included Cromwell), especially toward the end of the Protectorate, while the “Presbyterian” (i.e., non-Independent) faction, and the military rank-and-file, continued to abhor long hair. By the end of this period some Independent Puritans were again derisively using the term Roundhead to refer to the Presbyterian Puritans.
Roundhead remained in use to describe those with republican tendencies up until the Exclusion Crisis of 1678–1681; the term was then superseded by “Whig”, initially another term with pejorative connotations. Likewise during the Exclusion Bill crisis, the term Cavalier was replaced with “Tory”, an Irish term introduced by their opponents, and also initially a pejorative term.
Cavalier was first used by Roundheads as a term of abuse for the wealthier royalist supporters of King Charles I and his son Charles II of England during the English Civil War, the Interregnum, and the Restoration (1642 – c. 1679). It was later adopted by the Royalists themselves. Although it referred originally to political and social attitudes and behaviour, of which clothing was a very small part, it has subsequently become strongly identified with the fashionable clothing of the court at the time. Prince Rupert, commander of much of Charles I’s cavalry, is often considered to be an archetypal Cavalier.
Cavalier derives from the same Latin root as the Italian word cavaliere and the French word chevalier (as well as the Spanish word caballero), the Vulgar Latin word caballarius, meaning ‘horseman’. Shakespeare used the word cavaleros to describe an overbearing swashbuckler or swaggering gallant in Henry IV, Part 2 (c. 1596–1599), in which Robert Shallow says “I’ll drink to Master Bardolph, and to all the cavaleros about London”. Shallow returns in The Merry Wives of Windsor (c. 1597), where he is called “Cavaleiro-justice” (knightly judge) and “bully-rook”, a term meaning “blustering cheat”.
English Civil War
“Cavalier” is chiefly associated with the Royalist supporters of King Charles I in his struggle with Parliament in the English Civil War. It first appears as a term of reproach and contempt, applied to the followers of King Charles I in June 1642:
1642 (June 10) Propositions of Parlt. in Clarendon v. (1702) I. 504 Several sorts of malignant Men, who were about the King; some whereof, under the name of Cavaliers, without having respect to the Laws of the Land, or any fear either of God or Man, were ready to commit all manner of Outrage and Violence. 1642 Petition Lords & Com. 17 June in Rushw. Coll. III. (1721) I. 631 That your Majesty..would please to dismiss your extraordinary Guards, and the Cavaliers and others of that Quality, who seem to have little Interest or Affection to the publick Good, their Language and Behaviour speaking nothing but Division and War.
Charles, in the Answer to the Petition 13 June 1642, speaks of Cavaliers as a “word by what mistake soever it seemes much in disfavour”. It was soon reappropriated as a title of honour by the king’s party, who in return applied Roundhead to their opponents. At the Restoration, the court party preserved the name, which survived until the rise of the term Tory.
Cavalier was not understood at the time as primarily a term describing a style of dress, but a whole political and social attitude. However, in modern times the word has become more particularly associated with the court fashions of the period, which included long flowing hair in ringlets, brightly coloured clothing with elaborate trimmings and lace collars and cuffs, and plumed hats. This contrasted with the dress of at least the most extreme Roundhead supporters of Parliament, with their preference for shorter hair and plainer dress, although neither side conformed to the stereotypical images entirely.
Most Parliamentarian generals wore their hair at much the same length as their Royalist counterparts, though Cromwell was something of an exception. The best patrons in the nobility of Charles I’s court painter Sir Anthony van Dyck, the archetypal recorder of the Cavalier image, all took the Parliamentary side in the Civil War. Probably the most famous image identified as of a “cavalier”, Frans Hals’ Laughing Cavalier, shows a gentleman from the strongly Calvinist Dutch town of Haarlem, and is dated 1624. These derogatory terms (for at the time they were so intended) also showed what the typical Parliamentarian thought of the Royalist side – capricious men who cared more for vanity than the nation at large.
The chaplain to King Charles I, Edward Simmons described a Cavalier as “a Child of Honour, a Gentleman well borne and bred, that loves his king for conscience sake, of a clearer countenance, and bolder look than other men, because of a more loyal Heart.” There were many men in the Royalist armies who fit this description since most of the Royalist field officers were typically in their early thirties, married with rural estates which had to be managed. Although they did not share the same outlook on how to worship God as the English Independents of the New Model Army, God was often central to their lives. This type of Cavalier was personified by Jacob Astley, 1st Baron Astley of Reading, whose prayer at the start of the Battle of Edgehill has become famous “O Lord, Thou knowest how busy I must be this day. If I forget Thee, do not forget me”.
At the end of the First Civil War, Astley gave his word that he would not take up arms again against Parliament and having given his word he felt duty bound to refuse to help the Royalist cause in the Second Civil War; however, the word was coined by the Roundheads as a pejorative propaganda image of a licentious, hard drinking and frivolous man, who rarely, if ever, thought of God. It is this image which has survived and many Royalists, for example Henry Wilmot, 1st Earl of Rochester, fitted this description to a tee. Of another Cavalier, George Goring, Lord Goring, a general in the Royalist army, the principal advisor to Charles II, Edward Hyde, 1st Earl of Clarendon, said:
[He] would, without hesitation, have broken any trust, or done any act of treachery to have satisfied an ordinary passion or appetite; and in truth wanted nothing but industry (for he had wit, and courage, and understanding and ambition, uncontrolled by any fear of God or man) to have been as eminent and successful in the highest attempt of wickedness as any man in the age he lived in or before. Of all his qualifications dissimulation was his masterpiece; in which he so much excelled, that men were not ordinarily ashamed, or out of countenance, with being deceived but twice by him.
This sense has developed into the modern English use of “cavalier” to describe a recklessly nonchalant attitude, although still with a suggestion of stylishness. Cavalier remained in use as a description for members of the party that supported the monarchy up until the Exclusion Crisis of 1678–1681 when the term was superseded by “Tory” which was another term initially with pejorative connotations. Likewise, during the Exclusion Bill crisis, the term Roundhead was replaced with “Whig”, a term introduced by the opponents of the Whigs and also was initially a pejorative term.
An example of the Cavalier style can be seen in the painting Charles I, King of England, from Three Angles by Anthony van Dyck.
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