England was peaceful in the year 1642. It was said only four people in the entire country then knew how to fire cannon.
People travelled in safety throughout the towns and countryside.
But seven years later the nation seemed to go mad. The English people turned upon one another in a war of astonishing cruelty.
Next Friday is the anniversary of the start of this tragedy.
The Civil War was one of the darkest moments of English history. It tore families apart, cut down a generation, and killed relatively more people than World War I.
Twenty-five per cent of all adult males were caught up in the fighting; 150 towns suffered serious destruction; 11,000 houses were burned or demolished; and 55,000 people were made homeless.
On the one side there was traditional religion of the Church of England, and the ancient rule provided by the monarch.
On the other side were extremist fundamentalists called Puritans, who believed only in their private interpretations of Scripture.
Sadly, there were terrible cruelties on both sides. Such cruelty seems to be what happens when a nation turns in on itself—as occurred later in the American Civil War and in revolutions in France and Russia.
When the Puritans gained power in England, they banned the Holy Communion, wedding rings, theatres, sport on Sundays, and Christmas Day observances. People convicted of adultery were put to death.
The Puritans abolished the House of Lords and killed leading Anglicans like the country’s King and the Archbishop of Canterbury.
And the widespread slaughter in Ireland by the Puritan general Oliver Cromwell causes many Irishmen to hate England even to this day.
When Cromwell died and Anglicans regained leadership in the nation, their intolerance of religious extremism drove many Puritans to leave and go overseas to the new English colony of America.
Why did the Civil War arise, and why at that particular time? Oddly, a major factor appeared to be the translation of the Bible into English.
“After the Bible was translated into English,” wrote a commentator, “Every man, nay every boy and wench that could read English, thought that they spoke with God Almighty and understood what He said.”
Numerous sects sprang up, some bearing strange names: the Levellers, the Diggers, the Ranters, the Muggletonians.
It was a long time before sanity was restored.