Welcome Professor Andrew Hopper

An historian of the Civil Wars in Britain and Ireland during the mid-seventeenth century, Professor Andrew Hopper's research looks at human costs of the conflict, and how the long shadow cast by these wars have shaped the development of our national, regional and local identities in Britain.

Tell us about your research.

I am a historian of the Civil Wars in Britain and Ireland during the mid-seventeenth century. My first research focused on how the parliamentarians were able to raise forces against the King in Yorkshire. This led to my first monograph on the Yorkshireman who became the commander-in-chief of the parliamentarian armies, entitled ‘Black Tom’: Sir Thomas Fairfax and the English Revolution (Manchester University Press, 2007).

My research then turned to the issue of side-changing during the civil wars in my next monograph Turncoats and Renegades: Changing Sides during the English Civil Wars (Oxford University Press, 2012). This book uncovered how side-changing was more prevalent than realised, and how expectations and anxieties about defections came to dominate strategy on both sides. The research built up a cultural history of honour and treachery by examining the self-fashioning of ‘turncoats’ and their representations in the contemporary press. My most recent research has focused on the human costs of the conflict, and I am preparing a third monograph for Oxford University Press under the title Widowhood and Bereavement during the English Civil Wars.

For the layperson, why is the study of the British and Irish Civil Wars important?

The British and Irish Civil Wars (1638–1652) are sometimes called by historians the Wars of the Three Kingdoms because they were the foundational moment in forging relationships between the English, Scots, Irish (Welsh and Cornish) peoples. These wars have cast a long shadow over British and Irish history since, shaping the development of our national, regional and local identities in these islands.

Like with many civil wars, the process of healing and recovery takes centuries. Those living through this turmoil felt their world had been turned upside down. People are usually shocked to learn that in England and Wales alone, a greater proportion of the population died in the Civil Wars than in the First and Second World Wars combined. Wartime percentage population losses in Scotland and Ireland were likely even higher.

These wars are especially pertinent to us now because of the possibility of the break up of the UK as a consequence of Brexit. Better mutual understanding between the English, Welsh, Scots and Irish peoples is more needed than ever.

The website for your research project ‘Civil War Petitions’: what are some of the key take-aways from this research?

The British and Irish Civil Wars are now taking centre stage as a critical event in the welfare history of Europe.

The Petitions project website www.civilwarpetitions.ac.uk, funded by a generous standard grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (2017–2022), provides photographs and transcriptions of petitions to the state from military veterans and their families for welfare payments as a result of their injuries and bereavement sustained during the English Civil Wars. It aims to share information on the human costs of this devastating series of conflicts, which continued to affect communities long after the fighting was over.

In these documents, we hear the voices of the ordinary men and women who lived and fought during the English Civil Wars. These people tell us how they looked back on their experiences during the Wars and how they coped with its aftermath. We can learn about what sort of medical care was made available to injured soldiers, and the ingenious ways that the wounded and bereaved negotiated with the authorities for financial relief. We can also discover how those who managed welfare systems responded to the enormous strains of supporting thousands of soldiers and civilians, as well as the relationship between the provision of relief, political considerations and the contested memories of this divisive conflict.

Veterans and civilians were afflicted with mental health problems as a result of the conflict. The impact of this is all too easy to imagine when we consider how British society was traumatized by the psychological legacy of the World Wars. These petitions provide a powerful reminder that the human costs of war do not end with treaties and peace settlements, but linger on for generations. Some military veterans of the 1640s were still petitioning for relief as late as 1718.

The idea that pensions should be awarded to those who were disabled in the state’s service – was this a new concept in the 17th century?

The pension scheme on which Civil-War military welfare was based was first inaugurated by an Act of Parliament under Elizabeth I in 1593. Therefore, the concept was not altogether new, but in 1642 the Long Parliament extended the pension scheme to the widows, orphans and dependents of those slain its service. Some historians consider this the revolutionary moment when the principle was first established that the state should be responsible not just for its armed services personnel, but their families also.

After the Restoration of the Monarchy and Charles II in 1660 it became more difficult for the war widows of rank and file soldiers to claim a pension. After the expiry of the scheme in 1679, war widows were excluded from state relief until the Boer War of the twentieth century.

Tell us about some of your public-engagement projects.

The main public engagement partner for the Civil War Petitions Project is the National Civil War Centre at Newark Museum in Nottinghamshire. I have been closely involved with the museum since it won a Heritage Lottery Fund grant in 2013. This award enabled Newark Museum to reopen in new premises as the National Civil War Centre in 2015. Our project’s involvement helped the museum towards their achievement of national accreditation.

I led the team that organised the inaugural conference which opened the Centre in 2015. Its topic of mortality, medical care and military welfare led to the Battle-Scarred exhibition the following year on which I was co-guest curator with Colonel Dr Eric Gruber von Arni. This exhibition focused on the themes of civil-war surgery, medicine, nursing, hospitals and pensions. It ran for 3 years from 2016 to 2019 and included as its star exhibit the wheelchair of Sir Thomas Fairfax, kindly loaned to the museum by its current owner, Tom Fairfax. A further exhibition followed in 2019, entitled The World Turned Upside Down which is still in situ. Visitor experience evaluation was paid for by the University of Leicester, along with hard copy exhibition brochures, free to visitors, and also available as PDFs on our project website.

In addition to the exhibitions, the Civil War Petitions project have worked with a team of collaborating schoolteachers and the Learning and Participation officers at the National Civil War Centre, in order to produce civil-war teaching and learning resources for the UK history classroom. Suites of resources for Key Stage 3 and GCSE level are now available and we hope to complete those for A Level by the end of the project in October 2022. These are hosted on our website.

During the lockdown of 2020, I approached the Royal Shakespeare Company to produce a short film, ‘Representing Disability in Shakespeare’s World’, in which RSC actors filmed themselves at home to dramatize the performative aspect of petitioning for a military pension.

The film compared these performances with how soldiers with disabilities caused by war were represented in Shakespeare’s plays. Maimed soldiers and war widows were required to attend county quarter sessions courts to be ‘means-tested’ in order to attest to the truthfulness of their claims, and have their wounds inspected before the local magistrates. The film was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and was shown during the UK Festival of Social Sciences in November 2020. An online workshop followed attended by historians, museum professionals, schoolteachers, military veterans, armed forces charities and scholars of disability history. ‘Representing Disability in Shakespeare’s World’ can be viewed on the Petitions project website.

My latest public engagement is editing a popular history book entitled The Civil Wars in 100 Objects, to be published as a National Civil War Centre volume, kindly funded by philanthropist Mike Gibbs of History West Midlands. The launch in 2023 will be heralded by a series of public engagement workshops and events across England in collaboration with the Learning and Participation team at the National Civil War Centre.

What changes might you see in the years ahead for your area of work and teaching at the Department?

Oxford was King Charles I’s headquarters for most of the First Civil War and so I would like to be part of enhancing the interpretation of Civil-War history and heritage in the city and region to the wider public.

I participated in the episode on Civil-War Oxford shown on Channel 4’s Britain’s Most Historic Towns TV series, presented by Professor Alice Roberts in 2019. My next step will be to organise an Oxford summer school on the Civil Wars, led by the Civil War Petitions project’s team, during July 2022. I would like to grow partnerships with Oxford’s museums and heritage professionals, to learn from them and involve them in developing the Department’s collaborative teaching potential into the future.

Learn more:

Published 11 November 2021