But for other historians, this is a crucial, even the crucial, issue – no matter how and why the political or social elites may have fallen out amongst themselves, full-scale civil war could have occurred only because of much broader and deeper fractures present within society and the country as a whole.Accordingly, from the 1960s onwards a great deal of research and writing has analysed developments, opinions and divisions in towns, counties, regions or the provinces as a whole during the pre-war decades and on through the civil war itself; while some of this work has tended to focus on urban and rural elites, much of it has sought to cover a broader social span or has specifically addressed questions of non-elite, popular opinion and allegiance.
But for other historians, this is a crucial, even the crucial, issue – no matter how and why the political or social elites may have fallen out amongst themselves, full-scale civil war could have occurred only because of much broader and deeper fractures present within society and the country as a whole.
One was mainly secular, namely a growing power-struggle between on the one hand parliament in general and the House of Commons in particular, anxious to gain a greater role in government and to win power to enable it to protect and promote the rights and liberties of the people, and on the other hand the crown, which sought to retain powers and prerogatives itself.
The second was mainly religious, namely a growing power struggle between on the one hand a vociferous band or party of Godly puritans, who wanted the process of Protestant Reformation to go much further and who were dissatisfied with the existing state church, and on the other hand the crown and upper echelons of the Church of England, who supported the status quo or who were reluctant to push ahead with further Reformation anywhere near as far or as fast as the puritans wanted.
For much of the Victorian and Edwardian period, the so-called Whig interpretation dominated the field.
This tended to stress two elements, both of them long-term problems festering away at the heart of the English state.
Charles’s handling of parliament, of domestic and foreign affairs, of fiscal and religious policies, proved to be disastrous, and his personal approach to government contributed greatly to a breakdown in trust and to the outbreak of civil war.
From the nineteenth century onwards, most historians have taken a top-down approach to analysing the causes of the war, looking at the role and motivation of the leading political and social players in the conflict and in many cases focusing on the world of Whitehall and Westminster, on developments in central government and administration.
Although it is one of the most intensely and actively researched issues in English and British history, it remains unresolved and continues to divide historians.
From time to time, one particular line of explanation has been dominant for a few years or decades and has been supported by the majority of historians then active, but there has never been complete unanimity and temporarily fashionable explanations have always been challenged after a time and the incomplete consensus supporting any one line has repeatedly broken down.
Some, like Harrington, have continued to look to long-term problems, issues or developments, dating back to the early Tudor or even the late medieval period, while others, like Hyde, have argued that state and society were sound until the early seventeenth century or beyond and that the causes of the war were very short-term, emerging only in the 1620s or the 1630s.
Many of the so-called revisionists, who dominated the field for parts of the 1970s and 1980s, took this second line, attempting to discredit older explanations which rested on long-term causes and instead tending to stress shorter-term issues, problems which came to prominence only after 1625.