Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Uncivil war

In the seven years between 1642 and 1649 a staggering one in ten of the adult male population of the British Isles died. This was more than three times the proportion that died in the First World War and more than five times the proportion that died in World War Two.

If disease, dislocation and famine are added to battle deaths, and the timeframe extended to include the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland (1649 – 1653) the total number of dead could be as high as 868,000. The vast majority of these were in Ireland in the later period (with up to 600,000 deaths).

The English Civil War is poorly named on two main counts – it had an even greater impact on Ireland, Wales and Scotland and was as much warfare between these countries as it was internal strife. As a percentage Ireland was most affected (losing up to 40% of its population), followed by Scotland (6%) and England (3.7%). The total number of civil war deaths in Great Britain is estimated to be around 185,000 – around 4% of the total population (compared to the First World War’s 2.19% and the Second World War’s 0.94%).

Other pre-twentieth century conflicts resulted in a smaller proportional death toll, largely because the fighting took place far from the island fortress. Britain lost between 250,000 and 300,000 in the Napoleonic Wars (1803 – 1815) (representing just 1.875% of Britain’s growing population) and only 22,000 in the Crimean War. 

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