Which Side Are You On?

Laughing Cavalier by Hal

Hal’s Laughing Cavalier: He had an amazing outfit.

Cavalier or Roundhead?

Royalist or Parliamentarian? A question which has been on everybody’s lips throughout the Basing House project. This is a question which many of us will have thought about before while running around the school playground or sitting in a history lesson but how easy is it to choose?

For some the question comes down to looks. We are all familiar with the image of the laughing Cavalier and the po-faced Roundhead. One of them dressed in their floppy hatted finery and the other in precise modern military uniforms. But for some it comes down to more earnest political considerations, do you defend the king and all he stands for or do you fight the tyranny of an absolute monarch?

These images of the two sides are deep rooted in our national psyche and it is fun to put your-self in the position of choosing. The reality however was much more complicated. The country was divided on many different issues only some of which make sense to us. Matters of religion, politics, geography, gender, family and self-interest all played a part in people’s decision to take sides. This complexity was so great that was a long time before it became obvious that there would be only two opposing camps. Even after the two sides were established they never resembled anything as coherent or co-ordinated as a modern army.

It quickly becomes clear that without taking into account a huge range of factors it is very difficult to make a decision at all. Where would you have lived? Would you have been wealthy or poor? A Protestant or a Catholic? A man or a woman? The truth is that one or all of these factors would probably have made the decision for you.

In fact if you really think about it then it’s very likely that you would have been on whatever side a local gent told you to be on.

So in light of all of this historical confusion and anachronism how can we really make an informed choice?

Well… I for one would rather wear a big floppy hat than a grey helmet any day. And who bans Christmas?!

Which Would You Choose?



  1. Warwick Louth · · Reply

    I think you need to factor in the fact that decisions were equally made regarding regional loyalties and those of the local lord to what side one fought for. Obviously by opposing the local lords loyalties, he has the ability to throw you off his land/not pay your wages. A local lord e.g. Bulstrode Whitelocke, the Earl of Essex (believed to be a staunch backroom Royalist, his campaign choices bear fruit to this, many remaining inconclusively on the offencive against the King), indeed the the governor of Gloucester, Colonel Edward Massie, might find the opposing side offers a far wider chance of promotion and personal gain, thus changing sides multiple times during the war Also I think you can factor in the role of impressment of prisoners of war from 1643 onward after the siege of Bristol. The presentment of this was largely either be shipped into the slave trade of the West Indies or fight for parliaments cause. Equally the idea of Cavaliers and Roundheads being based upon religious stylistic levels I think can be done away with. The prime example of this is demonstrated through the fact that Cavaliers did indeed fight on Parliament’s side e.g. Sir Thomas Fairfax/Sir William Waller and Puritans did also fight for the King e.g. Sir Ralph Hopton based on wider moral obligation. Arguably therefore, I think the idea of choosing sides during the war was not a choice the typical 17th century person would have, dictated far more by the part of the country they live in and connections to local gentry and circumstances than personal choice. For me, I reenact in a Royalist regiment in the Sealed Knot, although personally I support morally the role of Parliament, therefore this debate continues even today. Just thought I’d say my pennies worth here 🙂

    1. All good points Warwick, it’s certainly much easier to talk about these things with the benefit of hindsight.

  2. Very nice , but your have forgotten the 3rd party in the civil war, the Levellers, (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Levellers) who would have been very happy if the Roundheads and Royalists had taken their war elseware

  3. You have forgotten the 3rd party to the argument, the Levellers, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Levellers who would have been very happy if Charles and Cromwell and their friends would have fought their war elsewhere

    1. Warwick Louth · · Reply

      Yes, certainly the Levellers, although besides radicals such as Lilburne and Hampton, they’re clout is certainly not felt until the second and third civil wars. Another party that certainly everyone forgets is the clubmen movement. This involved villagers forming bodies of men together with various implements of harm to hand to basically protect against the ravages of a 17th century army. Instilling themselves upon a local town or village, an army on the march would billet its troops in their houses, take all the food, drink and women, often smash any iconoclasm in the local church and then leave behind a promissory note of recompense, often of which was never redeemable. This movement became such a problem for both armies that armies of as much as 3000 men threatened Sir Thomas Fairfax’s Northern Association army in siege lines around Leeds. Also you can’t go without mentioning the Digger faction, led by the alias of Gerard Winstanley, it was made up of disillusioned members of the New Model Army who believed that they were owed land and rights for fighting for parliament. It was based around a pseudo-communist collective taking and growing food, although unwilling to fight and often open to dictation, meant that such a group died out very quickly. Even among the puritan faith there was the like of the Fifth Monarchist men, a radical sect believing that God should be the head of state, in which a large amount of the regicides were made up from. So ultimately even after personal considerations, beliefs could not be chosen easily in 17th century England. Thanks for pointing out I’d missed that argument mate 🙂

  4. Roundhead here.

    This is an interesting blog to have found! I was just reading this post and remembering back to my A-level lessons on the Interregnum when I released this is associated with the University of Southampton – I am hoping to start reading History there this September!

    Also, I’ve literally just posted a piece on the Royal Baby, if anyone – Royalist or Parliamentarian – would care to read I’d hugely appreciate it.

    1. Hi! It’ll be great to see you in September, you’ll have to come and visit us in the Archaeology Department! I’ll share your post on our Facebook page now! Cheers, Nicole

      1. Thank you ever so much!

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