The Friends Inaugural Annual Lecture


The Friends held their inaugural Annual Lecture at the Museum recently. Professor Ronald Hutton, of Bristol University and television fame, had the undivided attention of the large audience as he spoke about the diverse causes of the Civil War, which really did divide families and set brother against brother or father against son. In examples he quoted, long-time friends found themselves fighting against one another with terrible consequences.

Even civilians not directly involved in the fighting found their lives changed irrevocably – a farmer near Ludlow had his horses taken to pull guns so could no longer use his plough. He resorted to cultivating his fields by spade but then his spades were taken to dig fortifications and he found himself in gaol, unable to pay his taxes or feed his starving family.

Professor Hutton explained that to challenge the authority of the king, parliament had to have a substantial number of great nobles on its side. The older nobility, who had served in government and at court, tended to fight against the king (their long-establishment gave them a greater confidence in challenging the crown). The classic royalist noble tended to hail from a family that had not been involved in government or court, or a nouveau riche who had got their title since 1600.

Both sides had more or less equal support among the rest of society. And on both sides, rank-and-file troops on the ground came from the lower classes and fought for the same reasons: partly ideological, but mostly because big money was offered upfront for service at the beginning of the war. Then, when the money ran out, they were conscripted by force by both sides.

During the course of the war both sides gradually pushed out the nobility from their armies because, in order to win, they had to grab talent wherever they found it.

The Civil War was responsible for 250,000 deaths – 10% of the population – a bigger percentage than any other English war before or since. Its effects were still being felt two generations later.