Counting the cost of Britains most damaging conflict

A new Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) funded project is supporting a team of academics from Leicester, Nottingham, Cardiff and Southampton universities who are revealing the human cost of the British Civil Wars.

The project, entitled ‘Civil War Petitions: Conflict, Welfare and Memory during and after the English Civil Wars (1642-1710)’, investigates how wounded soldiers, war widows and other bereaved family members obtained welfare support from the state in the seventeenth century.

In England and Wales, a greater proportion of the population died during the British Civil Wars (1642-1651) than the First World War. Thousands of those who survived incurred terrible injuries, whilst widows, orphans and other dependants faced daily struggles following bereavement. These are human stories, of course, which remain all too sadly familiar in societies around the world today.

Parliament, and later the restored monarchy, recognised that they had a duty of care to the soldiers who had been wounded or killed in their service and made funds available to support wounded soldiers or their bereaved families. Veterans, widows and orphans were entitled to petition for pensions and gratuities from the state. These petitions are at the core of the project’s research.

As well as looking at recipients of relief, the project also examines how those who managed welfare systems responded to the strain of supporting thousands of soldiers and civilians, often with limited budgets. The relationship between relief provision, political partisanship and contested memories of conflict forms a key area of investigation.

The project will officially launch on Thursday 26 July with an event at the National Civil War Centre, Newark Museum, Nottinghamshire from 6-8 pm. Please note that this event is by invitation only.

From 26 July 2018 onwards, the Civil War Petitions website will provide images and transcriptions of the petitions submitted by victims of the conflict for financial aid, alongside certificates of support issued by medical practitioners and military commanders; it will also include records of the thousands of payments which were made. This archival material will be released on the website at regular intervals throughout the course of the project.

Future development of the website will include an educational section for schools, and Civil War Petitions will also be supporting a series of annual teachers’ workshops at the National Civil War Centre.

Dr Andrew Hopper, Principal Investigator and Associate Professor in English Local History at the University of Leicester, said: “We are extremely grateful to the AHRC for making it possible for us to investigate this landmark moment in the history of welfare and uncover how so many ordinary people looked back on the Civil Wars. That some Civil War pensioners were still claiming relief beyond 1700 is a salutary reminder of how the human costs of wars long outlast the treaties that end them.”

Carol King, Assistant Manager at the National Civil War Centre, added: “These petitions contain a treasure trove of historical information. Digitising and putting them online is laying bare the brutal nature and consequences of the British Civil Wars for ordinary people, whose voices are often lost in such conflicts.  We are thrilled to be able to collaborate in this landmark project.”