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Bishops' Wars

The Bishops' Wars, a series of armed encounters and defiances between England and Scotland in 1639 and 1640, functioned as a curtain-raiser to the English Civil War.

King Charles I of England, who also ruled Scotland, had attempted to impose a new Anglican-oriented Prayer Book on the Scots. A riot at Edinburgh in 1637 quickly led to national resistance, and when in November 1638 the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland at Glasgow defied Charles’s orders and abolished the office of bishop, the King had to choose between tame submission and immediate war. In 1639 he gathered an English force, and marched towards the border.

Table of contents
1 First Bishops' War (1639)
2 Interlude
3 Second Bishops' War (1640)
4 See also

First Bishops' War (1639)

But English laymen, though asked to supply the money which Charles needed for the support of his army, deliberately kept it in their pockets, and the contributions of the clergy and of official persons were not sufficient to enable the King to keep his troops long in the field. He therefore thought it best to agree to terms in the "Pacification of Berwick" (18 June 1639), granting the Scots parliamentary and ecclesiatical freedoms.


Misunderstandings broke out as to the interpretation of the peace treaty, and Charles having discovered that the Scots were intriguing with France, fancied that England, in hatred of its ancient foe, would now be ready to rally to his standard. After having ruled alone for eleven years, in April 1640 he once more called a parliament.

The so-called Short Parliament demanded redress of grievances, the abandonment of the royal claim to levy ship-money, and a complete change in the ecclesiastical system. Charles thought that it would not be worth while even to conquer Scotland on such terms, and dissolved parliament. A fresh war with Scotland followed.

Second Bishops' War (1640)

Thomas Wentworth, now earl of Strafford, became the leading adviser of the King. He threw himself into Charles’s plans with great energy and left no stone unturned to furnish the new military expedition with supplies and money. But no skilfulness of a commander can avail when soldiers are determined not to fight.

The Scots crossed the river Tweed, and Charles’s army was well pleased to fly before them. In a short time the invaders overran the whole of Northumberland and County Durham. (See Battle of Newburn.) Charles had to leave the two counties in Scots hands as a pledge for the payment of Scots expenses when he agreed to peace at Ripon in October 1640; and he also had to summon another parliament to grant him the supplies which he needed to make that payment. An impoverished King and a resurgent Long Parliament now drifted towards civil war.

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See also