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Using the British Civil War in Colchester in the early nineteenth century

The Civil War was a political conflict and was used centuries afterwards to explain contemporary politics. A few historians have noted that the Victorians were fascinated by the war, but it has never been fully explored. From my research it is clear that the siege of Colchester was politically relevant to the town’s local and national politics. It also had a wide impact culturally, as the war was used to create a shared past for the whole town. Nonetheless, the focus of this blog will centre on politics. The most obvious use of politics can be particularly found around the local associations, the Literary Institute and Mechanical institute of both the Conservatives and Liberals as each party used the history to make arguments in their contemporary world. Parties framed their present-day concerns through reference to the conflict, from the French Revolution to the reform and emancipation acts of the nineteenth century.

Civil War stories revolved around people, and Colchester was no exception. Charles Lucas, George Lisle and Thomas Fairfax would remain popular characters in the nineteenth century. These men were used to present themes and arguments throughout the period. Lucas and Lisle in particular became figures of loyalty, whether in paintings, plays or historical books. Colchester struggled with a character such as Fairfax, who although was responsible for the dreadful siege, was also instrumental in the restoration of the monarchy; the Royalists and later the Conservatives struggled placing him in their narrative until the end of the nineteenth century.

The Siege of Colchester caused extreme damage to many sites in Colchester which lasted throughout the nineteenth century. St. Botolph’s was rebuilt in the 1830s and its cornerstone was inscribed with note to the siege. The building of St. Botolph’s was a response to the growing chartist movement which also expanded fears of revolution. The Civil War could be deployed in the siege ruin to remind people of the damage done by such a conflict.

The Civil War was used to address political concerns in Colchester and is an incredibly important part of Colchester’s story. My research looks at how the siege was used in different ways throughout the century, this is just a glimpse into one of its uses.

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