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Civil War comes to Deerhurst


This role-playing activity was designed by Dale Scarboro, who teaches the seventeenth century at A level in Cheltenham. Its aim is to help students understand the impact of the English Civil War on local people and communities, such as Deerhurst, which lies three miles south of Tewkesbury. Like many role-plays the great virtue of this activity is that it forces students to think about events ‘from the inside’ of the situation. This isn’t simply about famous people doing things ‘over there’ but about what you would do when faced with conflicting orders or when the ‘great events’ turn up on your doorstep. Have you got time for an activity like this? Some might say not because no student is going to be faced by an exam question on the Civil War in Deerhurst but that ignores the motivational impact of this activity which stimulates students to read independently about the national events which create the background to this activity. Students will also deepen their understanding of the intertwining of politics and religion and economics – and that will come through in any future essay they tackle.

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A formatted version of this activity should print from your browser (omitting this support section).

Or, a WORD version of this activity can be downloaded, click here.

This activity is based on the ’Role Play’ style of model; for more examples of this model, click here.

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By the end of the role play, students should have a clear idea of the answers to the following questions:

  1. Why was it impossible for Deerhurst to keep out of the Civil War?
  2. What effects did the war have on the local community in Deerhurst? Why did it have these effects?
  3. What did the people of Deerhurst hope to achieve by supporting Parliament at the beginning of the war?
  4. By the time the war ended, had the people of Deerhurst achieved what they had hoped to achieve at the beginning? If not, why not?
  5. Why will it be difficult to make Deerhurst work together again as a community in the future

Setting Up

1. Students need to understand some key ideas about the context for the role-play. The people of Deerhurst enjoyed considerable freedom to regulate and police their parish. The King, the Court and the Privy Council in London seemed a long way away. Local people called their county their ‘country’, and decided for themselves how to apply the law in their parish. They called this their ‘liberty’.

Few people in Deerhurst were able to vote in parliamentary elections, but many people at one time or another held one of the many unpaid offices of government at parish level – churchwardens, overseers of the poor, constables, and so on. By sharing the workload of local government, the people had a sense of community and common purpose. They called this the ‘commonwealth’.

Unfortunately for the people of Deerhurst, both sides in the Civil War wanted to hold the nearby town of Tewkesbury. When war broke out in 1642 Deerhurst, like Tewkesbury, chose to support Parliament. Deerhurst church had been the scene of one of the altar controversies of the 1630s, an indication of the strength of Puritan sympathies in the village. However, Parliament’s hold on this area was insecure: Tewkesbury and Deerhurst lay roughly the same distance from Gloucester (Parliamentarian) and Worcester and Sudeley Castle (both Royalist), and was not far from the Royalist Welsh border country. Tewkesbury changed hands many times during the Civil War. Every time this happened, Deerhurst changed hands as well.

2. You need to photocopy the role cards below so they can be handed out.

Role Cards

Teacher / Referee

Your job is to present Deerhurst vestry with the first two event cards; to collect written notes when the game turn requires it; and to generally manage the simulation. Event 6 is also in your care.

Roundhead Army

You represent Parliament’s armed forces. Your task is to ensure that Parliament’s instructions are carried out. You have military force at your disposal when you are in possession of Deerhurst.

Royalist Army

You represent the King’s armed forces. Your task is to ensure that His Majesty’s commands are obeyed. You have military force at your disposal when you are in possession of Deerhurst

Sir Walter Bressingham, Lord of Priory Manor

Your landlord, Thomas, Lord Coventry, is an ardent Royalist. You are a committed Anglican of Puritan sympathies. You hold the advowson to Deerhurst church (the right to appoint the incumbent to be minister of the parish).

Henry Cassey of Wightfield Manor

You are a Roman Catholic who refused to attend church services at Deerhurst until the Puritan minister in 1634 was forced to restore the communion table and rail it off with altar rails. Since then you have been a regular attender. Being a Catholic you have always stressed your loyalty to the King of England as a way of reassuring your neighbours of your loyalty to the Crown. However, because you cannot take the oath required by the Act of Supremacy, you are barred from holding office, despite your considerable wealth.

William Troughton, Puritan minister of Deerhurst church

Deerhurst parish has a long history of Puritan sympathies. Your two predecessors were reprimanded for baptising children without making the sign of the cross, and for refusing to wear a surplice. You describe yourself as a ‘godly’ minister: before the Book of Common Prayer was abolished you frequently deviated from its order of service.

Thomas Clutterbuck, Constable of Deerhurst

You are a yeoman farmer, owning your own farm with an income large enough to sustain your economic independence, but too small to admit you to the ranks of the gentry. You and your fellow yeomen think of yourselves as the ‘free Englishmen’, the salt of the earth. You are currently serving as the Constable of the parish, a responsibility you perform for no pay, but out of a sense of responsibility.

Giles Hawker, Overseer of the Poor

You are a yeoman farmer, owning your own farm with an income large enough to sustain your economic independence, but too small to admit you to the ranks of the gentry. You and your fellow yeomen think of yourselves as the ‘free Englishmen’, the salt of the earth. You are currently serving as Overseer of the Poor, a responsibility you perform for no pay, but out of a sense of responsibility.

John Powell, Churchwarden of Deerhurst

You are a tenant farmer, renting your land from Thomas Clutterbuck. You are currently serving as one of the two Churchwardens in Deerhurst, responsible for maintaining the fabric of the church building, keeping an eye on attendance at church services and generally assisting the minister in his parochial work.

John Fluck

You are a tenant farmer, renting land from Sir Walter Bressingham of Priory Manor. You owe Sir Walter £20, but there is little prospect of your being able to find this much money with which to repay him.

Edmund Mortimer

You are a yeoman farmer, owning your own farm with an income large enough to sustain your economic independence, but too small to admit you to the ranks of the gentry.

Walter King

You are a tenant farmer, renting your land from Giles Hawker, the Overseer of the Poor. You were recently found to be responsible for an illegitimate child born in the parish, and you have been ordered by Giles Hawker to pay the mother a regular income until the child comes of age.

The Activity

1. The teacher takes the role of referee.

2. Two class members assume the roles of the Royalist Army and the Roundhead Army.

3. Members of the class each assume one of the roles described in the role cards.

4. The game progresses through the series of ‘event cards’ below. These event cards are based on actual events that took place during the Civil War.

5. At each game turn, an event card is presented to the Deerhurst village council by either

  • The teacher
  • The Royalist Army
  • The Roundhead Army

6. As a result of the event cards, one of three things will happen:

  • The players are faced either with a group decision, and must discuss the situation before deciding on a course of action by a show of hands.
  • The players are faced with a personal decision. When forced to make a personal decision, the players all write their decisions down on a piece of paper and hand them in to the teacher/referee. These pieces of paper must have their role card names on them. These decisions are kept secret from the other players.
  • The teacher/referee pauses the game to discuss the event and its implications.

7. A new event card is presented to the village council.

Managing the role play.

a. Depending on the number of students, they can either double up on roles or one of the tenant farmers, yeomen and/or gentlemen can be dropped from the simulation.

b. The event cards are presented to the council either by the teacher/referee, the Royalist Army player or the Roundhead Army player. To show who is in charge of the various event cards, a baton or some other symbol of authority can be passed between these three.

c. Event No.2: When Tewkesbury was presented with this problem, the town chose the third alternative.

d. Event No.6: the battle of Ripple Field offers an opportunity for added realism – e.g. by playing a recording of battle sound effects.

e. Players representing the Royalist and Roundhead armies could dress up in period costume to add a further element of authenticity. However, weapons are banned from the classroom.

f. One corner of the classroom can be designated to represent a jail, into which the council or the Army players can throw individuals.

Event cards

1. Teacher/referee

August 1642. Civil War has broken out between the King and Parliament.

This letter has been received from the High Constable of Tewkesbury Hundred:

To the constables of all the parishes in Tewkesbury Hundred:

Be advised that the situation in Tewkesbury is very uncertain. The Borough Corporation is solidly for Parliament, whereas most people of quality in the town say they support the King. In order to prevent bloodshed, I hereby order all parish constables to collect together all arms and ammunition in their parishes and send them to Tewkesbury for safe keeping.

Group decision : Do we obey his instructions? What are:

  • The possible benefits, and
  • The possible risks?

2. Teacher/referee

August 1642. This letter has been received from the Governor of Worcester:

You will be aware of the rebellion that has recently broken out in London. In order to secure the King’s Peace amongst His Majesty’s loyal subjects, upon receipt of your declaration of loyalty to His Majesty, a troop of horse under the command of a trusted officer will be sent to maintain peace and security against disaffected elements that might attempt to take advantage of the current rebellion in London. All arms, armour and ammunition will be handed over to the appointed officers to enable them to carry out their work.

Signed: Sir William Russell, Governor of Worcester

Group decision : How should we respond?

  • Should we reply declaring our loyalty to the King and accept his offer of protection?
  • Should we reply affirming our loyalty to ‘King and Parliament’? If we do this, he may attack us.
  • Should we draft a positive reply to Russell’s letter, but send a copy of both his letter and our reply to Gloucester to find out their response before sending it?

3. Roundhead Army

August 1642. Parliament has established a Defence Association for Gloucestershire. All loyal subjects are invited to make a voluntary contribution to Parliament’s cause.

Individual decision : Will you donate money to Parliament? Each member of the council writes down his/her decision – Yes or No - on a piece of paper with his role name on it and gives it to the teacher/referee.

4. Royalist Army.

February 1643. The Royalists have taken Tewkesbury. Sir William Russell demands that Tewkesbury donate £500 for the King, on the grounds that it previously donated £500 to Parliament. Similarly, he now demands that Deerhurst parish contribute £X (figure can be provided by the teacher/referee by examining the returns from turn 3) to balance the figure previously donated to Parliament.

Individual decision : Will you donate money to the King? Each member of the council writes down his/her decision – Yes or No – on a piece of paper with his role name on it and gives it to the teacher/referee.

5. Roundhead Army.

March 1643. Parliamentary forces have taken Tewkesbury. Parliament is demanding a weekly tax on all property owners. Catholics are to pay double. Anyone who failed to contribute to Parliament’s cause in turn 3 is to be charged treble the normal amount, on the grounds that they are ‘delinquents’ – i.e. Royalist sympathisers. (Teacher/referee now gives the names of those who DID contribute in turn 3 to the Roundhead Army player).

Group decision : Do we identify Henry Cassey of Wightfield Manor as a Catholic to the Roundhead Army?

Teacher intervention : At this point the teacher pauses the game to consider the latest event.

  • How has Parliament’s decision to demand a weekly property tax affected people’s attitudes towards Parliament? Do you still feel that Deerhurst’s decision to support Parliament at the beginning of the war was the right one?
  • How do you feel about Parliament’s decision to force Catholics to pay double the rate?
  • How do you feel about the way the decision some of you took to donate money to Parliament is now being used to identify as ‘delinquents’ those people who didn’t make this donation?

6. Teacher/referee

April 1643: the Battle of Ripple Field, a mile or two north of Tewkesbury. Volleys of musketry can plainly be heard in Deerhurst, punctuated by the much louder sound of artillery gunfire and explosions. Everyone is frightened, and praying that the fight will not spread into Deerhurst.

Teacher intervention : How are you affected by the sounds of battle? In particular:

  • Which side do you hope will win?
  • Why do you want this side to win?

Point of information: Parliament’s forces came off worse during the battle, but the Parliamentarians retained control of Tewkesbury.

7. Roundhead Army

July 1643. Parliament has imposed a sales tax on basic commodities like salt (needed to preserve food), beer (better than water – most people drink at least 6 pints a day!), and bread. A county committee has been established by Parliament to oversee its enforcement.

Teacher intervention : You have no choice but to pay this tax, as long as Parliament is in control of Deerhurst.

Individual decision : Does the new tax make anyone feel differently about Parliament? Is it an imposition? Is it in a good cause?

8. Royalist Army

August 1643. The Royalists have taken control of the whole county of Gloucestershire, including Bristol and Tewkesbury. The only town holding out for Parliament is Gloucester. It appears that the King is winning the war.The commander of the Royalist force in Tewkesbury has threatened to destroy the house of anyone known to have actively assisted Parliament. (Teacher/referee now gives the names of those who DID contribute in turn 4 to the Royalist Army player).

Individual decision : Do you now wish to declare openly for the King? This must now be done publicly by acclamation or a show of hands.

9. Roundhead Army.

September 1643. The Earl of Essex has taken Tewkesbury and Cirencester for Parliament. Parliament has passed a Sequestration Ordinance – the estates and property of all Royalist ‘delinquents’ are to be confiscated and placed in the hands of Parliament men. Anyone failing to comply with this Ordinance is assumed to be a Royalist ‘delinquent’.

Individual decision : Do you now wish to identify the Royalist delinquents in Deerhurst? If so, you must do so publicly.

Group decision : Do we want to throw all Royalist delinquents into jail?

10. Teacher/referee

October 1643. The Royalist Sir William Vavasour has taken Tewkesbury with 400 Welsh soldiers. He has been joined by Prince Rupert with a powerful force of cavalry. Rupert has threatened to burn the houses of any people known to have supported Parliament’s cause. Deerhurst council is ordered to identify all those who have actively assisted Parliament.

Teacher intervention : How do you feel now about the way the war is going? In particular:

  • Which side do you want to win, and why?
  • Which side do you think is going to win, and why?
  • Why is the war becoming more violent?

11. Roundhead Army.

June 1644. Colonel Edward Massey has taken Tewkesbury for Parliament. The tide of war has turned in favour of Parliament. Parliament has set up a committee to investigate allegations of tax abuses in Gloucestershire, with extra penalties against Royalist delinquents. Anyone who knowingly protects a Royalist or a Catholic from the full penalty of the law is to be regarded as a delinquent.

Group decision : Do we identify all the Royalists and Catholics in Deerhurst?

12. Roundhead Army.

August 1644. Parliament has passed an Ordinance to deal with people who have hidden their assets from its tax collectors. You are ordered to investigate allegations that some residents of Deerhurst parish have hidden their money, or taken other measures to avoid complying with the law. Anyone reported as having made comments in support of the King is to be arrested.

Personal decision : Do you wish to inform Parliament about any member of Deerhurst village council whose loyalty has been suspect? Each player writes down on a piece of paper anything he/she wishes to report to Parliament and hands it in to the teacher/referee.

13. Teacher/referee

End of game. The teacher reads out the final statements of all the players.


When the game is over, the teacher needs to draw out the following issues:

1. The Civil War drove a wedge into local communities for various reasons:

  • People were forced to choose sides.
  • The demands of both armies compelled individuals to protect their own interests. Sometimes the only way to do this was to inform on their neighbours.
  • The war provided an opportunity for local people to settle old scores – arguments between rival families, personal rivalries, etc.

2. In 1642 the people of Deerhurst chose to support Parliament to defend their ‘liberty’, by which is meant their ancient freedom to regulate their own affairs and to use their discretion when enforcing the law.

3. In order to win the war, Parliament has been forced to centralise power at the expense of local liberties. This is shown in the creation of county committees, higher taxation, the confiscation of property and the imposition of stiffer penalties.

4. Deerhurst’s experience may have been unusual in that the area changed hands so often, but the effects on local government were much the same throughout the country.

5. The future is therefore full of difficulties. What problems will the country face? These will include:

  • What Cromwell later called the ‘healing and settling’ of the commonwealth. Can the people ever forgive and forget?
  • By 1646 the roles played by Parliament and the King in the 1630s seemed to have been reversed. Parliament was beginning to appear as the ‘innovator’ – the threat to traditional liberties – while the King was beginning to appear as the defender of the old constitution.
  • Parliament has taken a major step in the direction of ‘state-building’ – i.e. towards the creation of a centralised ‘military-fiscal state’. Will Parliament now deconstruct this power and return to the ‘status quo ante’?

User Feedback

From Emma Boustead who’s taken an activity created for A level and adapted it for use with Y8.

I used the Civil War role-play in a simplified version with a top set year 8 group.

To help the characters work out their relationship to one another and their position in the community we created a 'web' using their character cards.

After the simulation we looked again at the relationships to see how the civil war arriving had broken apart the community and used it to identify where conflicts had been resolved and how new ones had developed.

Each character had money depending on their position, they really thought hard before they decided which side to support!


  1. What are the advantages and problems of using this style of activity with A level students?
  2. Did this have an impact on the quality of discussion among students? If so, how and why and what can be learned from this?
  3. Did you make the right choices about which students played which parts? Did you learn anything about individual students that would have been harder to learn from more standard activities?
  4. [For later] What was the impact of this activity on students’ later work on the Civil War? Did it improve their confidence and overall understanding? [discuss with students]


England 1625–1660: Charles I, the Civil War and Cromwell

Dale's book, England 1625–1660: Charles I, the Civil War and Cromwell, is part of John Murray's highly successful Advanced History Core text series, full of activities, diagrams and text that helps students bridge the gap from GCSE to A Level.

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Constructive feedback is always welcome, particularly anything that will help other teachers.

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Setting Up

The Activity


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England 1625–1660: Charles I, the Civil War and Cromwell