How far do you agree that Parliament’s superior economic resources account for its victory in the First Civil War?

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The First Civil War came to an end in 1646 when Charles surrendered to the Scottish after four years of fighting. However Parliament’s victory was not inevitable, during the first two years Parliament suffered a number of losses, for example they lost Bristol in 1643which caused many to question Parliament’s ability to win the war and advocate a peace negotiation with the King. A number of factors contributed to Parliament’s victory, yet it was not primarily Parliament’s superior economic resources. Although their superior economic resources contributed, it was arguably the signing of the Solemn League and Covenant that explain Parliament’s victory. The Scottish alliance has been identified as a turning point in the war, while Pym’s tactical genius also played a vital role in laying the foundations of Parliament’s military power.  Consequently it can be agreed that Parliament’s superior economic resources accounted for its victory to a certain extent, as they allowed Parliament to finance their army effectively, but it was essentially due to the Scottish alliance that Parliament was able to win the war.  


The most important factor for Parliament’s victory was the signing of the Solemn League and Covenant in 1643, which provided the terms on which the Scottish entered the war. The signing of the Covenant played an important role in restoring Parliament’s morale, as it gave fresh resolve to some wavering Parliamentarians who were loosing hope that the war could be won in 1643. This was vital in ensuring that Parliament was able to continue its war efforts and defeat the Royalists. Furthermore, the treaty provoked the King to sign the Cessation Treaty with the Irish Catholic rebels in 1643; this was a huge publicity failure alienating a large number of his supporters and angering many of those who were wavering in their support of Parliament. Therefore Charles unintentionally secured greater support for Parliament’s war efforts. The alliance with Scotland brought an army of 22,000 skilled men led by the leader Alexander Leslie; the Scottish were experienced soldiers who had already acquired successful battle experience in the two Bishops’ Wars. The increase in manpower and expertise greatly aided Parliament’s war efforts, as demonstrated by the Battle of Marston Moor in 1644 - the battle in the North was Parliament’s first decisive victory and disrupted Charles’ monopoly power over the Northern area and resources. The Scots’ first military objective was to take Newcastle, which they soon successfully occupied, however the main prize in the North was York, as the King had chosen to make York his temporary capital. Consequently Sir Thomas Fairfax moved towards York from the South, joining the Scottish and Manchester’s Eastern Association army. The gathering of Parliament’s forces drove Prince Rupert to abandon his position in Shrewsbury and march to his relief, leading to the Battle of Marston Moor, which virtually destroyed Royalist power in the north of England. Subsequently the signing of the Solemn League and Covenant was the most important factor accounting for Parliament’s victory, as the Scottish involvement meant the King was forced to divert his resources between the North and South, allowing Parliament to siege areas such as Newcastle and York. Furthermore because of the Scottish influence in the North Parliament was able to redeploy its armies to the Midlands and the South. The importance of the Covenant was also highlighted by leading Parliamentarian’s at the time, John Pym saw the treaty as essential to Parliament’s prospects while Manchester thought the Scottish indispensable to Parliamentarian prospects. The signing of the Covenant can also be linked to Pym’s tactical genius, as it was his final contribution to Parliament’s war effort. Consequently the Scottish alliance was arguably more of an important factor than Pym’s tactical genius and Parliament’s economic resources, because both those factors had been present since the outbreak of war, yet it was 1643 when the Scots became involved that has been identified as the turning point.  


Pym’s tactical genius also heavily influenced Parliament’s victory in the First Civil War, as he was able to hold together a divided Parliament creating a bridge between the ‘War’ and ‘Peace’ party, despite their conflicting aims, and implementing an infrastructure that ensured Parliament could take full advantage of its long-term strengthsPym was able to use the dangers and disasters of the military situation to persuade conservative MPs to adopt radical measures. For example Pym used the failure at Edgehill in 1642 and Rupert’s assault on Brentford to persuade MPs to establish compulsory weekly assessments that imposed a specific sum of tax on each county, forming the basis of an effective financial system. Furthermore in 1642 Pym was able to reduce local obstruction by establishing the Midland and Eastern Association, which co-ordinated county administration and military effort. The army of the Eastern Association became Parliament’s most effective force and the Royalists never managed to invade East Anglia. Therefore Pym’s tactics allowed Parliament to organise their forces effectively and defend key areas that provided a number of resources. This can be linked to Parliament’s superior economic resources, as the retention of East Anglia meant Parliament enjoyed a populous, wealthy and sizeable geographical base where taxes could be roused. A further example of Pym’s influence came after the breakdown of peace negotiations at Oxford in 1643, where he was able to convince Parliament to assume powers of taxation. Pym organised loans from City financiers and introduced several fiscal innovations such as; excise duties - a sales tax- and a sequestration ordinance, which confiscated Royalist properties. These financial measures ensured that Parliament could afford to supply and pay its armies securing their loyalty; this contrasted to Charles’ troops as most of the commanders were forced to pay their troops out of their own pocket. Furthermore it was Pym who proposed an alliance with Scotland in 1643 and persuaded Parliament to agree, by avoiding total commitment to Scottish Presbyterianism by agreeing to call an Assembly of Ministers to devise a scheme of reform. Consequently without Pym’s tactics there may have never been an alliance with Scotland, and with the rich south-eastern counties under control, the support of the navy and the Scottish alliance, those who took over Pym’s role arguably had the best material for success. However the Scottish alliance still remains the most important factor, as although influential Pym’s importance is limited by his death in 1643 and Parliament’s failure up to that point. The resistance at Hull and Gloucester and the unexpected success of the Eastern Association armies, along with Essex’s victory at Newbury bought Parliament time to come to alliance with Scotland, yet without this it was very unlikely Parliament would win the war – even Pym saw the treaty as essential to Parliament’s war effortsYet Pym’s tactic’s remains more important than Parliament’s economic resources, as his tactics meant Parliament was able to employ their resources effectively – at the outbreak of war Charles’ success was much down to Parliament failing to employ their resources. This demonstrated that although they possessed resources, without making proper use of them Parliament would not have won the war.  


Finally, although not the most important factor, Parliament’s superior economic resources did contribute to Parliament’s victory. Parliament controlled London and East Anglia the richest and most heavily populated areas of England, which meant they were able to raise money and men without difficulty. Furthermore the territory that Parliament controlled was rich in iron, for producing cannon and other weapons, cloth to supply uniforms and leather to supply saddles and shoes- enabling Parliament to have successfully equipped soldiers. Consequently the New Model Army was the first fully professional, properly paid, properly equipped and professionally led army – however it was not created until 1645, therefore Parliament’s victories before their creation, such as the Battle of Marston Moor in 1644, weakens the argument that Parliament’s superior economic resources were behind their ultimate victoryParliament also held control of the ports where trade was able to produce taxation, this contrasted to Charles who was dependent on his supporters for money, and it also allowed Parliament to prevent Charles from importing foreign goods and aid. However Parliament’s economic resources was not the most important factor explaining their victory due to a number of reasons. Firstly it took time for Parliament’s resources to kick in and become effective, which demonstrated that without Pym’s tactics Parliament’s economic advantage may not have been put to good use and impacted the outcome of the war. Additionally Charles was not without his own material advantage – Charles held control over the North of England, the whole of Wales and the South West of England, which had sources of cloth and leather. Furthermore, Charles also began to develop an effective administration and military system from 1643; for example splitting the nation into six districts, collecting taxes more efficiently and appointing ‘grandees’. Additionally, despite their economic superiority, Parliament still suffered looses as late as 1644, for example Essex’s attempt to undermine the King’s position in Cornwall was a total failure. Consequently Parliament’s superior economic resources was not the most important reason for Parliament’s victory, as although it meant Parliament was able to supply and pay their troops, had the Scottish alliance not increased Parliament’s man power – the Royalists had 18,000 men while Parliament now had 27,000 – and attacked Charles from another front is was unlikely Parliament would have won the war. Furthermore without Pym’s tactics the resources may not have been taken advantage of effectively and therefore had limited effects on Parliament’s war efforts; it was Pym that devised effective taxing systems such as compulsory weekly assessments 


In conclusion, rather than Parliament’s superior economic resources accounting for its victory in the First Civil war, it was ultimately the signing of the Solemn League and Covenant that allowed Parliament’s victory over the Royalists. Although Parliament’s resources allowed for them to finance the war, as the rich and prosperous South East was ideal for taxing, critics have identified the Scottish alliance as the turning point in the civil war. The Scottish alliance forced Charles to divert his attention to the North as well as the South and allowed Parliament to outnumber Charles’ forces by 9,000 men – man power being arguably more important than economic resourcesPym’s tactical genius was also an important factor of Parliament’s victory as it laid the foundations for victory by employing full use of Parliament’s economic resources, such as his taxing systems. Furthermore Pym was behind the alliance with Scotland, as he proposed the idea, and then convinced Parliament to agree to the idea. However his influence was arguably less important than the signing of the Solemn League and Covenant, as his death in 1643 meant he no longer influenced Parliament’s decisions. Furthermore over time the Royalists also began to develop an effective administration system, for example splitting the nation into six districts; this infers that Pym’s tactics were not the most important reason behind Parliament’s victory. However, it can be argued, Pym’s tactics were more important than Parliament’s economic resources, as without Pym, Parliament may not have been able to use their economic advantage effectively. Consequently, although Parliament’s superior economic resources aided their victory, it was the signing of the Solemn League and Covenant that mostly accounted for Parliament’s success, closely followed by Pym’s tactical genius. 


Ella S. GCSE English Literature tutor, GCSE Economics tutor, A Level ...

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