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news release

Attention: News editors PR4539

5 December 2001

The civil war of the 1640s cost a quarter of a million lives.

Most people think of this brutal period as the English Civil War. The new BBC/OU series, Civil War, shows that it was in fact a war involving all of Scotland, Ireland and England.

Most people think the Civil War was a constitutional battle between King and Parliament. Civil War shows how religion sparked the conflict.

Starting at 8.30pm on Monday January 7h on BBC TWO, the series scrutinises the causes of the Civil War. Presenter Dr Tristram Hunt journeys through Britain and Ireland, bringing one of history’s bloodiest conflicts alive with dramatic reconstruction of the key political, religious and military moments: the battle of Marston Moor, the Irish Rebellion and the execution of Charles I.

Dr Hunt said: “I think the fraught relationship between Scotland, Ireland and England is at the heart of British history. The so-called ‘English Civil War’ between King and Parliament was a war of three kingdoms driven by religious differences. ”

Programme one, The Breakdown, begins with the mutilation of three London Puritans; they are Protestants tortured by their own Protestant church. The arrogant religious policies of Charles I are dividing England. Puritans fear he is selling out the Church of England and his relations with Parliament crack. But it is not in England that war begins. Dr Hunt journeys to Edinburgh to show that it is in Scotland that the ‘English Civil War’ ignites.

In programme two, Taking Sides, Dr Hunt shows how events in Ireland accelerate war warwain England. He visits the Orangemen of Portadown at their 12th July march  they still commemorate the 1641 slaughter of Protestants by Catholics. The Irish rebellion destroys the fragile relationship between King and Parliament, plunging England into civil war. The country divides into Roundheads and Cavaliers. After military stalemate at the battle of Edgehill, Charles retreats to Oxford. He signs a peace-deal with the Irish; Parliament allies with the Scots. The three kingdoms are now heading along an unstoppable path to war.


Programme three, Total War, witnesses Cromwell’s triumph at the battle of Marston Moor and sees his rise to power and examines how religion, not politics, drove his ambition. Meanwhile in Scotland, the ‘English Civil War’ degenerates into a brutal clan feud between the MacDonalds and Campbells. Despite his military setbacks, Charles thinks he can still win. Cromwell knows he has to end the fighting once and for all by beating Charles. He does so by creating a more professional New Model Army. At the battle of Naseby in Northamptonshire Charles is conclusively defeated. In Scotland his allies are comprehensively finished off. He sees no way out but to run.

Programme four, Endgame, begins with a captured Charles trying to divide the Roundhead alliance of Parliament and Scots. In Ireland, his Catholic supporters are gaining ground. Parliament is terrified and places him under lock and key. Meanwhile, in Putney the New Model Army is debating truly radical ideas about religion, society and democracy. But the debates come to an end as Charles escapes and starts a second civil war with help from Scotland. Cromwell crushes the uprising and the army demands Charles be tried for his war-mongering. By re-igniting the war Charles’s fate is sealed: amazingly, the King is tried and then executed as a traitor to his country.

Dr Hunt argues that Civil War is a textbook lesson in political mismanagement. He said:

“With devolution for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, the United Kingdom is returning to its pre-19th Century condition of competing political powerbases. Managing these different interests is the key to keeping the country together: Charles I failed. The events of those years have much to teach today’s political leaders.”

Notes to editor:

The Civil War website at www.open2.NET provides viewers with further insight into this historic era. The site revisits each programme, with chapter overviews by the presenter Dr Hunt and detailed analysis of the decisive events, key players and battles of the period. The feature “Tremors” assesses the factors that proceeded the war and explores the significant “Aftershocks” of the resulting violent political and religious changes. Three interactive maps illustrate the political landscape, depicting who controlled the most important territory and where the battles took place. A viewer’s booklet also accompanies the series and is free by calling 0870 900 0312.

The series is made by leading independent production company WarkClements.

For preview tapes and photographs from the series please contact the Open University Media Relations office.

Media Contact

Fiona Leslie Open University Media Relations 01908-653256

Neil Coaten Open University Media Relations 01908-652580

Gary Spink Open University Media Relations 01908-653343

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