Wars of the Three Kingdoms

The Wars of the Three Kingdoms,[lower-alpha 2] sometimes known as the British Civil Wars,[lower-alpha 3][lower-alpha 4] were an intertwined series of conflicts that took place between 1639 and 1653 in the Kingdoms of England, Scotland and Ireland – separate kingdoms which had the same king, Charles I. The wars were fought mainly over issues of governance and religion, and included rebellions, civil wars and invasions. The English Civil War has become the best-known of these conflicts. It ended with the English parliamentarian army defeating all other belligerents, the execution of the King, the abolition of the monarchy, and the founding of the Commonwealth of England; a unitary republic which controlled the British Isles until 1660.

Wars of the Three Kingdoms
Part of the European wars of religion

Monarch of the Three Kingdoms: Charles I in Three Positions by Anthony van Dyck, painted in 1633
Date1639–1653 (14 years)

English Parliamentary Army victory over all other protagonists

  • Execution of King Charles I
  • Exile of Charles II
  • Defeat of the Irish Confederates
  • Defeat of the Scottish Covenanters
  • Establishment of the republican Commonwealth
English, Scottish and Irish Royalists Scottish Covenanters
Irish Confederates Parliamentarians
Commanders and leaders
Casualties and losses
50,000 English and Welsh[1] ? ? 34,000[1]
127,000 noncombat English and Welsh deaths (including some 40,000 civilians)[lower-alpha 1]

The wars arose from civil and religious disputes, mainly whether ultimate political power should be held by the King or by parliament, as well as issues of religious freedom and religious discrimination. Royalists (or 'Cavaliers') supported Charles I in his claim to be above parliament. Parliamentarians (or 'Roundheads') believed the King was behaving as a tyrant, particularly by levying taxes without parliamentary consent. They wanted parliament to have more power over the King, although some were republicans who wanted to abolish the monarchy. Reformed Protestants such as the English Puritans and Scottish Covenanters opposed changes the King tried to impose on the Protestant state churches, and saw them as too "Catholic". Meanwhile, the Irish Confederates wanted an end to discrimination against Irish Catholics, greater Irish self-governance, and to roll back the Plantations of Ireland. The wars also had elements of national conflict, in the case of the Irish and Scots.

The series of wars began with the Bishops' Wars of 1639–1640, when Scottish Covenanters who opposed the King's policies took over Scotland and briefly occupied northern England. Irish Catholics launched a rebellion in 1641, which developed into ethnic conflict with Protestant settlers. The Irish Catholic Confederation was formed to control the rebellion, and in the ensuing Confederate Wars it held most of Ireland against the Royalists, Parliamentarians and Covenanters. Both the King and parliament sought to quell the Irish rebellion, but neither trusted the other with control of the army. This tension helped spark the First English Civil War of 1642–1646, which pitted Royalists against Parliamentarians and their Covenanter allies. The Royalists were defeated and the King was captured. In the Second English Civil War of 1648, Parliamentarians again defeated the Royalists and a Covenanter faction called the Engagers.

The Parliamentarian New Model Army then purged England's parliament of those who wanted to negotiate with the King. The resulting Rump Parliament agreed to the trial and execution of Charles I, and founded the republican Commonwealth of England. His son Charles II signed a treaty with the Scots. During 1649–1653, the Commonwealth (under Oliver Cromwell) defeated the Scots and remaining English Royalists, and conquered Ireland from the Confederates. Scotland and Ireland were occupied, and most Irish Catholic lands were seized. The British Isles became a united republic ruled by Cromwell and dominated by the army. There were sporadic uprisings until the monarchy was restored in 1660.