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Suffering and loss in the English Civil Wars

Published: 
10 February 2017
English Civil War reenactment
English Civil War reenactment

One of the bloodiest moments in the history of England will be investigated in a new online project examining the human cost of the country’s Civil Wars.

Historians at the universities of Southampton, Nottingham and Cardiff, led by the University of Leicester, will examine how ordinary men and women remembered the 17th century conflict and how victims of the war negotiated with authorities for charitable relief.

‘Welfare, Conflict and Memory during and after the English Civil Wars, 1642-1700’ is a four-year project funded by a major grant of over £800,000 from the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

The project’s main output will be a freely accessible website containing photographs and transcriptions of every petition for financial relief made by maimed soldiers and war widows in England and Wales, relating to losses suffered in the civil wars. It will be complemented with a separate educational site for schools entitled ‘Death and Survival in the Civil Wars’.

Professor of Early Modern History at the University of Southampton, Mark Stoyle, comments: “The petitions submitted by wounded veterans and soldiers’ widows permit us to glimpse the human impact of the mid-seventeenth-century conflict in the most vivid and intimate detail. The thousands of documents housed in individual record repositories across the country represent a dispersed national archive and by bringing them together and making them freely available online, the project will enable us to hear the voices of ordinary soldiers and widows en masse, for the first time.

“The Civil Wars affected every corner of England and Wales and it was said at the time that there were very few parishes in which someone was not either killed or wounded during the conflict. The evidence of the petitions makes it possible for us to drill down into the history of many of those parishes and to identify thousands of otherwise obscure men and women living in them, whose worlds were turned upside down.”

Genealogists and family historians will also benefit from the website’s searchable list of claimants to military welfare, detailing sums awarded to them.

The project’s principal investigator at the University of Leicester, Dr Andrew Hopper says: “The project will publish and interpret the graphic testimonies of what it felt like for everyday 17th century people to live with horrific wounds, trauma, suffering and loss inflicted by a war that took away a larger proportion of the British population than both world wars.”

The project team will collaborate with the recently established National Civil War Centre at Newark Museum, Nottinghamshire. Building on the Museum’s successful ‘Battle-Scarred’ exhibition about Civil War military welfare, the project and Museum will organise special events, exhibitions and teachers’ workshops. The project will also support the production of a research monograph and articles, as well as an international conference and two collections of scholarly essays.

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