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Learning English - Beyond the Postcard
  Oxford text

Oxford and the English Civil War
In the 17th century, Oxford played an important role in Britain’s civil war. The war was between those who supported Parliament and those who supported the King.

Read the text below, then try and answer the questions which follow. You can also see definitions of the vocabulary in bold.

  Oxford Civil War battle reenactment - Courtesy The Sealed Knot
By August 1642, it had become clear that the disagreements between the two were so severe that they would only be resolved by fighting. The king, Charles I, returning from the north, raised his standard at Nottingham, and moved towards London. After a first, somewhat inconclusive battle, he was able to continue on his way south.. But the capital sympathised with Parliament, and his way was barred. So in November the King turned towards Oxford, to make that his headquarters.

King Charles - picture courtesy The Sealed KnotHis plan was to bring together his own army with two others loyal to him, one in the west and one in the north, and overwhelm London by force. But the three armies were too far apart, and it proved difficult - and in the end, impossible - to achieve his objective. The war dragged on, therefore, and the king was forced to spend much more time based at Oxford than he originally intended.

The city took on a much more military character. New College became the main magazine, for example; and cattle to feed the army were kept in the great quadrangle of Christ Church (the college which became the King’s residence). So many soldiers in the streets led to so much brawling that the sale of alcohol was forbidden after nine in the evening. Oxford scarcely functioned as a university at all.

The war continued for over three years, with the King’s side gradually losing ground all over the country. Eventually the advancing Parliamentary armies began to close in on Oxford from all directions; but before the net was completely tight, the King - in disguise - slipped out.

The city was fortunate in that it escaped a siege. It was clear that the King’s loyal troops could not defeat the forces ranged against them, and so a surrender, with no loss of life and little loss of honour, was negotiated. In June 1646 the last members of the King’s court left Oxford.

See vocabulary

Exercise - Comprehension

Look at the statements below, according to the text are they true or false?

1: The king went to Oxford after he had defeated London  
2: The king's plan didn't work as well as he had hoped.  
3: The life of the university wasn't badly affected by the military presence in the town.  
4: The king escaped from Oxford by hiding his identity.  
5: After a long battle Oxford was taken by the Parliamentary armies.  
Check your answers Check your answers

Links for more information
The Sealed Knot - English Civil War re-enactment
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