English 245 with Dr. G @ SUNY TC3   




Link Library




Syllabus & Schedule





1. Classical Britain

2. Beowulf 1

3. Beowulf 2

4. Middle Ages

5. Romance

6. Sir Gawain

7. Malory

8. Chaucer's Miller

9. Wife of Bath

10. Religious Protest

11. Biblical Drama

12. Play of Mankind

13. Early Modern Period

14. Thomas More

15. Philip Sidney

16. Print Culture

17. Walter Raleigh

18. Twelfth Night 1

19. Twelfth Night  2

20. Civil War

21. An Age of Irreverence

22. Aphra Behn

23. Reading Papers

24. Gulliver

25. Rape of the Lock

26. School for Scandal

27. New God

28. Revolution

Final Exam

***   20. The English Civil War ***



A revolution without freedom
Vol. 1B, pages 1768-1798 and 1814-1823
  from the
Longman 3rd ed.
"The Civil War, " "Milton," and "Aeropagitica"

Cromwell's report on Drogheda appears online at
also here

A text of Eikon Basilike is also available online at

Selections from Milton's Eikonoklastes are found online at

Selections from Areopagitica are found online at

The petition of London wives can be read here


The lesson includes both a quiz and a journal writing assignment to be submitted on the interactive course site at  SUNY Learning Network.  


Write for an hour (or more if you have time). Make notes you will find useful on the final essay. Some other journaling ideas for today include:

The textbook says we are in the "early modern" period of British literature. What seems modern about the English Civil War period? What is not modern?

Was King Charles God's representative, or was Cromwell? Are conflicts among Islamic sects today a repeat of the Christian sectarian violence at the reformation?

Are Milton and Sidney making the same points against censorship? Or are their arguments different?











See General instructions on Journaling for this course. For a sample journal, see Dr. G's 2007 Brit Lit 1 Journal.

Adapted and enlarged by Dr. G from David Damrosch, et al.,
Teaching British Literature (New York: Longman, 2003)

The English Civil War (1642-1651),
aka the War of Three Kingdoms

In the early and middle 17th century, wars of religion raged across Europe, notably including the Stuarts' three kingdoms of Anglican England, Presbyterian Scotland, and Catholic Ireland. The sectarian violence did not result in a victory of any religion over the others. On the contrary, it produced revulsion at religious intolerance. It led to the Age of Enlightenment and modern secular states in which the business of government was no longer to grow any particular church or to suppress any particular forms of worship. Freedom of religion enshrined in the US Bill of Rights reflects this establishment of multicultural tolerance.

Along with state religion, the British monarchy itself was a casualty of these sectarian wars. Subjects rose up against King Charles I (1600-1649), removed him and executed him, and formed a republic managed by Parliament and its chosen leaders. This so-called Commonwealth of England was short lived, but when the monarchy was restored in 1660, the new king Charles II had little political power, compared to his royal predecessors. The stage was set for the Glorious Revolution of 1688 which established the essentially figurehead monarchy of the modern United Kingdom. Real power shifted to the parliament, which claimed descent from the Saxon Witan, the council of the wise that not only advised Saxon kings but as need arose chose their successors.

Printing presses ran in the civil war era without effective censorship. Accordingly, literary records of the time are plentiful and, as samples in our anthology suggest, highly partisan. Propagandists of every cause tried to harness the power of text to conform public thinking, but ultimately their persuasions seem to have had limited effect. The publication of various points of view fueled debate, analysis and skepticism.

The chief literary figure of this period, John Milton (1608-1674), exemplifies early modern disillusion. Milton's loss of faith in both the king and the Cromwell-led Parliament led him to embrace religious tolerance and pluralism. To this later period of his life belong his famous retellings of the Bible: Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained and Samson Agonistes. Focusing on personal views of great public subjects, Milton modeled not only the protestant ideal of religion without church but also the subjective form of poetry that would become standard in later modern times.




Reenactment of Cromwell's New Model Army using both muskets and pikes.

Above: Charles I with an eye on a heavenly crown as glorified in Eikon Basilike. The image bears the following legends

  • Immota, Triumphans — "Unmovable, Triumphant" (scroll around the rock);

  • Clarior é tenebris — "Brighter through the darkness" (beam from the clouds);

  • Crescit sub pondere virtus— "Virtue grows beneath weight" (scroll around the tree);

  • Beatam & Æternam — "Blessed and Eternal" (around the heavenly crown marked Gloria ("Glory").

  • Splendidam & Gravem — "Splendid and Heavy" (around the Crown removed from the King's head and lying on the ground), with the motto Vanitas ("vamity").

  • Asperam & Levem — "Bitter and Light", the martyr's crown of thorns held by Charles, with the motto Gratia ("grace").

  • Coeli Specto — "I look to Heaven"

  • In Verbo Tuo Spes Mea — "In Your Word is My Hope"

  • Christi Tracto — "Word of Christ"

  • Mundi Calco — "I tread on the world".


Young Milton served in the English Civil War as a word warrior. His
Eikonoklastes (meaning "image breaker," 1649) was written as a response to the Charles I's Eikon Basilike (meaning "royal image," 1649), which shows  the king as a loyal servant of God beset by irreligious ne'er-do-wells whose rioting and lawlessness brought on the civil war, rebellions, and overthrow. The image of the king as martyr may have appealed to loyalists and aristocrats, but it seems to have confirmed for the king's opponents that he was too arrogant to appreciate that he had brought his trouble on himself by attempting to rule as an absolute monarch and as head of the kingdom's only recognized church.

Milton's response has distinctively modern touches, including ideas that the head of state should be a servant of the people, that the state should be based on the rule of law and not the will of any one person, that the people have rights to present grievances, that imposition a state religion causes persecution and conflict, and that religiosity in a ruler is often the mark of a tyrant.

Areopagitica (1644)
Milton's reputation is higher in the United States than in the United Kingdom because of the attack on the king in Eikonoklastes, but he is revered in both nations for Areopagitica, his powerful argument against state censorship. Westerners today takes for granted the ideas underlying freedom of the press, but they were new during the Reformation, and there is no better statement of them than Milton's. The poet had seen first hand Galileo's predicament as the pope's prisoner, and he also had been asked to play a role as censor in Cromwell's cabinet--a job that he could not accept. From these experiences he saw that a free society, in which citizens can read and judge for themselves, is superior to a state-controlled society, and he was not afraid to say so.

In Miltonism, the individual must know both virtue and vice, so that virtue can be desired and chosen as the known better path. The state in Milton's view must not be a promoter of religion, but it should be a facilitator of the free exchange of ideas, not simply to multiply opinion but to pursue the truth.

Other Writers

The "Petition of Gentlewomen and Tradesmen’s Wives" (1642) gives a sense of the unrest in London in the early 1640s—including the economic hardships of the people as well as the complaints against the Bishops. This text also documents English outrage at reported massacres of English protestant colonists in Ireland. Conflicts in Ireland fueled pressure in England to end the monarchy, since many English protestants saw Charles as a closet-Catholic, and a potential ally of "papists" in Ireland.

That women banded together to produce a petition can be seen as a striking example of women’s communal political activity in the early modern period. However, it seems likely that this petition was written and organized by the women's church leaders, all of whom would have been male. The "reasons" at the end of the petition make it clear that petitioning the government was a "strange" thing for women to do, and that these women were addressing their problems only out of spiritual concern. If the Catholics take over, all of their souls will be damned (because women will convert to a false religion), the petition argues. The women do not seek to be equal with men in authority or wisdom. Was the exclusion of women from power a contributing cause of the brutality that marked the reformation period? Some say so.


The conflict in Ireland is illustrated in our book by Oliver Cromwell’s Letter of Sept. 17, 1649.  Cromwell was Parliament's hero at the Battle of Naseby, which was the decisive battle in Parliament's war against the king. Thereafter he was seen by supporters as "God's hand" in military affairs against the Royalists.

In this letter Cromwell justifies the massacre of Irish Catholics at Drogheda. Here, near Dublin, several thousands of "these barbarous wretches" were killed or shipped into slavery, as revenge for Irish shedding of "innocent blood" of the English overlords. It is also a warning to "prevent the effusion of blood for the future." Why English revenge would stop the cycle of violence, when Irish revenge had only provoked his atrocities, Cromwell does not say. His language reveals his view of himself as a religious crusader as well as civil warrior.

Cromwell was faced with an armed rebellion in Ireland, led by foreign Catholics supporting the Stuarts, but the way in which this rebellion was put down through terrorism of civilians and confiscation of property appears to have done more harm than good to England in the long run. England was protected from invasion but not from the contempt of the majority in Ireland.

Cromwell's letter can be read in connection with Elizabethan poet Edmund Spenser’s "A View" (also in our anthology) which, like many other English tracts on Ireland, proposed the military conquest of Ireland that Cromwell carried out. At the time of the confiscations, Spenser’s grandson received a letter from Cromwell granting him his land and mentioning that Cromwell had actually read his grandfather’s writing on Ireland. An Irish account of the confiscations is given by Seán O Duibhir an Ghleanna (John O’Dwyer of the Glenn) (c. 1651).





Left: Oliver Cromwell by Pieter van der Faes.





John Lilburne

For a sense of the dissent that arose within the Republican movement over discontent with Cromwell’s failure to live up to the ideals of the English revolution, see John Lilburne, England’s New Chains Discovered (1648). For his fierce resistance to censorship and dictatorship, "Freeborn John" is one of sources of the US Constitution's Bill of Rights and, more broadly, the human rights movement which would become prominent in the 1800s.

In Presbyterian Scotland, war was premised on the English imposition of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer. The turmoil is illustrated in "The Story of Alexander Agnew, or Jock of Broad Scotland" from the newspaper Mercurius Politicus. Agnew was the first Scot to be publicly tried for atheism.



Left: John Lilburne (1614?-1657).





Edward HydeFinally, Edward Hyde’s”The Death of Montrose” from The True Historical Narrative of the Rebellion (1704) shows the participation of some Scots in the royalist cause, with James Graham, Fourth Earl of Montrose figuring as the hero of the highland Scots’ support of the Stuarts. Hyde appeals to secular sensibilities as one of the few historians of the period to take a dim view of religious conflict.




Left: Edward Hyde, 1st Earl of Clarendon (1609-74).


Dr G's Editorial Comment

The English Civil War is of much the same character as all the wars of religion that ripped continental Europe apart throughout the "early modern" period. It is too bad that the disastrous conflicts of this period are so little remembered or even studied today, except by those who hold a grudge. Reflection on the religious wars of the time led to the Enlightenment or "Age of Reason." Most people had had their fill of holy war.

It's also too bad that war could not have been relegated to history. If you were going to war in the new age (and you were still going to war all the time), the decision had to be justified on political or economic grounds. It seems as if reason came to serve much the same function in justifying war as God previously had.

Given humanity's experience in the 19th and 20th centuries, and affairs in America throughout my lifetime, the conclusion I draw is war is a constant condition of mankind, whether we are talking about Arabs or Americans or Britons or others, and the only changes that occur from time to time are the weapons and the excuses.

War is the most important subject in literature, I think. Literary studies should engage much more with this subject matter: propaganda, justifications for war, criticisms of war, outcomes of war in relation to justifications. I am amazed that my generation, which in the beginning ended the Vietnam War, grew up not only to allow a perpetual state of war to continue but, after 9/11, to plant seeds from which eventually may grow a military dictatorship in the US.

We are in a truly scary place today, and yet we continue to treat literature as if it is about entertainment, and history as if it is about the past. No wonder the study of English, history and other humanities increasingly is seen as irrelevant to education and unnecessary for most people to know. No wonder we elect those that we do.

I believe our system is salvageable, but your generation will be sorely challenged. Students of literature, who redefine the subject as a serious one, can contribute to solutions.


From Wikipedia: English Dissenters

From Wikipedia: Clan Stewart

For a full historical account of the English Civil War period, see Martin Bennet’s The Civil Wars in Britain and Ireland 1638–1651 (1997).

English Civil War Society:

Society of King Charles the Martyr http://www.skcm.org/SKCM/skcm_main.html

John Milton from Bartleby

John Milton, Areopagitica from Bartleby. Also  Areopagitica from Oxford University.  Complete Poems in English from Bartleby. Tractate on Education (1673) from Bartleby. The largest selection of Milton texts appears at the Dartmouth Milton Reading Room. A good selections is also found at Luminarium on John Milton: http://www.luminarium.org/sevenlit/milton/

John Milton's Defense of the People of England attacks arguments made by Claude Salmasius, a Catholic scholar who had attacked democracy as an unstable form of government and who had characterized the revolutionary government in England as an unpopular military dictatorship.

John Milton chapter by George Saintsbury with bibliography from the Cambridge History of English Literature at Bartleby.

For discussion, the Milton-L Home page: http://www.richmond.edu/~creamer/milton/

BBC: Choosing Sides in the English Civil War

BBC: The Rise and Fall of Oliver Cromwell:

Pragmatic royalist Thomas Hobbes from Bartleby.




























If you know of an excellent website that would wonderfully  complement this lesson, please send it to Dr. G.



 Copyright 2008 by Gary Homer Gutchess.