Last updated

Prince Rupert of the Rhine, often considered to be an archetypal Cavalier. Anthonis van Dyck 058.jpg
Prince Rupert of the Rhine, often considered to be an archetypal Cavalier.

The term "Cavalier" ( /ˌkævəˈlɪər/ ) was first used by Roundheads as a term of abuse for the wealthier royalist supporters of King Charles I and his son Charles II of England during the English Civil War, the Interregnum, and the Restoration (1642 – c.1679). It was later adopted by the Royalists themselves. Although it referred originally to political and social attitudes and behaviour, of which clothing was a very small part, it has subsequently become strongly identified with the fashionable clothing of the court at the time. Prince Rupert, commander of much of Charles I's cavalry, is often considered to be an archetypal Cavalier. [1]



Cavalier derives from the same Latin root as the Italian word cavaliere, the French word chevalier, and the Spanish word caballero, the Vulgar Latin word caballarius , meaning 'horseman'. Shakespeare used the word cavaleros to describe an overbearing swashbuckler or swaggering gallant in Henry IV, Part 2 (c. 1596–1599), in which Robert Shallow says "I'll drink to Master Bardolph, and to all the cavaleros about London". [2] Shallow returns in The Merry Wives of Windsor (c. 1597), where he is called "Cavaleiro Justice" (knightly judge) and "bully rook", a term meaning "blustering cheat". [3] [4]

English Civil War

An engraving depicting Charles I and his adherents. King Charles I and his adherents.jpg
An engraving depicting Charles I and his adherents.

"Cavalier" is chiefly associated with the Royalist supporters of King Charles I in his struggle with Parliament in the English Civil War. It first appears as a term of reproach and contempt, applied to the followers of King Charles I in June 1642:

1642 (June 10) Propositions of Parlt. in Clarendon v. (1702) I. 504 Several sorts of malignant Men, who were about the King; some whereof, under the name of Cavaliers, without having respect to the Laws of the Land, or any fear either of God or Man, were ready to commit all manner of Outrage and Violence. 1642 Petition Lords & Com. 17 June in Rushw. Coll. III. (1721) I. 631 That your Majesty..would please to dismiss your extraordinary Guards, and the Cavaliers and others of that Quality, who seem to have little Interest or Affection to the publick Good, their Language and Behaviour speaking nothing but Division and War. [2]

Charles, in the Answer to the Petition 13 June 1642, speaks of Cavaliers as a "word by what mistake soever it seemes much in disfavour". [5] It was soon reappropriated as a title of honour by the king's party, who in return applied Roundhead to their opponents. At the Restoration, the court party preserved the name, which survived until the rise of the term Tory. [5]

Social perceptions

Lord John Stuart and his Brother, Lord Bernard Stuart, c. 1638, by Sir Anthony van Dyck. Both Lord John Stewart and Lord Bernard Stewart died in the English Civil War, fighting on the Royalist side. Sir-Anthony-van-Dyck-Lord-John-Stuart-and-His-Brother-Lord-Bernard-Stuart.jpg
Lord John Stuart and his Brother, Lord Bernard Stuart , c.1638, by Sir Anthony van Dyck. Both Lord John Stewart and Lord Bernard Stewart died in the English Civil War, fighting on the Royalist side.

Cavalier was not understood at the time as primarily a term describing a style of dress, but a whole political and social attitude. However, in modern times the word has become more particularly associated with the court fashions of the period, which included long flowing hair in ringlets, brightly coloured clothing with elaborate trimmings and lace collars and cuffs, and plumed hats. [6] This contrasted with the dress of at least the most extreme Roundhead supporters of Parliament, with their preference for shorter hair and plainer dress, although neither side conformed to the stereotypical images entirely. [7]

Most Parliamentarian generals wore their hair at much the same length as their Royalist counterparts, [8] though Cromwell was something of an exception. The best patrons in the nobility of Charles I's court painter Sir Anthony van Dyck, the archetypal recorder of the Cavalier image, all took the Parliamentary side in the Civil War. Probably the most famous image identified as of a "cavalier", Frans Hals' Laughing Cavalier , shows a gentleman from the strongly Calvinist Dutch town of Haarlem, and is dated 1624. These derogatory terms (for at the time they were so intended) also showed what the typical Parliamentarian thought of the Royalist side – capricious men who cared more for vanity than the nation at large. [9]

The chaplain to King Charles I, Edward Simmons described a Cavalier as "a Child of Honour, a Gentleman well borne and bred, that loves his king for conscience sake, of a clearer countenance, and bolder look than other men, because of a more loyal Heart". [10] There were many men in the Royalist armies who fit this description since most of the Royalist field officers were typically in their early thirties, married with rural estates which had to be managed. Although they did not share the same outlook on how to worship God as the English Independents of the New Model Army, God was often central to their lives. [11] This type of Cavalier was personified by Jacob Astley, 1st Baron Astley of Reading, whose prayer at the start of the Battle of Edgehill has become famous "O Lord, Thou knowest how busy I must be this day. If I forget Thee, do not forget me". [12]

At the end of the First Civil War, Astley gave his word that he would not take up arms again against Parliament and having given his word he felt duty bound to refuse to help the Royalist cause in the Second Civil War; however, the word was coined by the Roundheads as a pejorative propaganda image of a licentious, hard drinking and frivolous man, who rarely, if ever, thought of God. It is this image which has survived and many Royalists, for example Henry Wilmot, 1st Earl of Rochester, fitted this description to a tee. [13] Of another Cavalier, George Goring, Lord Goring, a general in the Royalist army, [14] the principal advisor to Charles II, Edward Hyde, 1st Earl of Clarendon, said:

Triple Unite gold coin of 1644: the Latin legend translates as "The religion of the Protestants, the laws of England and the liberty of Parliament. Let God arise and His enemies be scattered." England (Great Britain) 1644 Triple Unite of Charles I.jpg
Triple Unite gold coin of 1644: the Latin legend translates as "The religion of the Protestants, the laws of England and the liberty of Parliament. Let God arise and His enemies be scattered."

[He] would, without hesitation, have broken any trust, or done any act of treachery to have satisfied an ordinary passion or appetite; and in truth wanted nothing but industry (for he had wit, and courage, and understanding and ambition, uncontrolled by any fear of God or man) to have been as eminent and successful in the highest attempt of wickedness as any man in the age he lived in or before. Of all his qualifications dissimulation was his masterpiece; in which he so much excelled, that men were not ordinarily ashamed, or out of countenance, with being deceived but twice by him. [15] [16]

This sense has developed into the modern English use of "cavalier" to describe a recklessly nonchalant attitude, although still with a suggestion of stylishness. Cavalier remained in use as a description for members of the party that supported the monarchy up until the Exclusion Crisis of 1678–1681 when the term was superseded by "Tory" which was another term initially with pejorative connotations. Likewise, during the Exclusion Bill crisis, the term Roundhead was replaced with "Whig", a term introduced by the opponents of the Whigs and also was initially a pejorative term. [17]

In arts

Charles I in Three Positions, the triple portrait of Charles I by Anthony van Dyck Sir Anthony Van Dyck - Charles I (1600-49) - Google Art Project.jpg
Charles I in Three Positions , the triple portrait of Charles I by Anthony van Dyck

An example of the Cavalier style can be seen in the painting Charles I, King of England, from Three Angles by Anthony van Dyck.

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">English Civil War</span> Series of civil wars in England between 1642 and 1651

The English Civil War refers to a series of civil wars and political machinations between Royalists and Parliamentarians in the Kingdom of England from 1642 to 1651. Part of the wider 1639 to 1653 Wars of the Three Kingdoms, the struggle consisted of the First English Civil War, the Second English Civil War and the Third English Civil War. The latter is also known as the Anglo-Scottish war, since most of the fighting took place in Scotland.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Roundhead</span> Parliament supporter in the English Civil War

Roundheads were the supporters of the Parliament of England during the English Civil War (1642–1651). Also known as Parliamentarians, they fought against King Charles I of England and his supporters, known as the Cavaliers or Royalists, who claimed rule by absolute monarchy and the principle of the divine right of kings. The goal of the Roundheads was to give to Parliament the supreme control over executive administration of the country/kingdom.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Cavalier poet</span>

The cavalier poets was a school of English poets of the 17th century, that came from the classes that supported King Charles I during the English Civil War (1642–1651). Charles, a connoisseur of the fine arts, supported poets who created the art he craved. These poets in turn grouped themselves with the King and his service, thus becoming Cavalier Poets.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Edward Hyde, 1st Earl of Clarendon</span> English politician and historian (1609–1674)

Edward Hyde, 1st Earl of Clarendon, was an English statesman, lawyer, diplomat and historian who served as chief advisor to Charles I during the First English Civil War, and Lord Chancellor to Charles II from 1660 to 1667.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">George Goring, Lord Goring</span> English Royalist soldier

George Goring, Lord Goring was an English Royalist soldier. He was known by the courtesy title Lord Goring as the eldest son of the first Earl of Norwich.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sieges of Taunton</span> Series of three blockades during the First English Civil War

The sieges of Taunton were a series of three blockades during the First English Civil War. The town of Taunton, in Somerset, was considered to be of strategic importance because it controlled the main road from Bristol to Devon and Cornwall. Robert Blake commanded the town's Parliamentarian defences during all three sieges, from September 1644 to July 1645.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Jacob Astley, 1st Baron Astley of Reading</span> British Royalist commander

Jacob Astley, 1st Baron Astley of Reading was a Royalist commander in the English Civil War and most famously served during the Battle of Newbury and Naseby. He also was involved in the Dutch Revolt and the Thirty Years War. After the second phase of the Civil War, he was imprisoned and then retired in Maidstone. He died shortly after in 1652.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sir Richard Grenville, 1st Baronet</span>

Sir Richard Grenville was a professional soldier from Cornwall, who served in the Thirty Years War, and 1638 to 1651 Wars of the Three Kingdoms. He was the younger brother of Sir Bevil Grenville, who died at Lansdowne in 1643, and grandson of Admiral Sir Richard, killed at Flores in 1591.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">William Lenthall</span> Speaker of the House of Commons (1591–1662)

William Lenthall (1591–1662) was an English politician of the Civil War period. He served as Speaker of the House of Commons for a period of almost twenty years, both before and after the execution of King Charles I.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Wars of the Three Kingdoms</span> British civil wars, 1639–1653

The Wars of the Three Kingdoms, sometimes known as the British Civil Wars, were a series of intertwined conflicts fought between 1639 and 1653 in the kingdoms of England, Scotland and Ireland, then separate entities united in a personal union under Charles I. They include the 1639 to 1640 Bishops' Wars, the First and Second English Civil Wars, the Irish Confederate Wars, the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland and the Anglo-Scottish war (1650–1652). They resulted in victory for the Parliamentarian army, the execution of Charles I, the abolition of monarchy, and founding of the Commonwealth of England, a unitary state which controlled the British Isles until the Stuart Restoration in 1660.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Anglo-Scottish war (1650–1652)</span> Conflict between supporters of Charles II and the English Commonwealth

The Anglo-Scottish war (1650–1652), also known as the Third Civil War, was the final conflict in the Wars of the Three Kingdoms, a series of armed conflicts and political machinations between shifting alliances of religious and political factions in England, Scotland and Ireland.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">First English Civil War</span> First of the English Civil Wars (1642–1646)

The First English Civil War took place in England and Wales from 1642 to 1646. It is part of the 1639 to 1653 Wars of the Three Kingdoms, which also include the Bishops' Wars, the Irish Confederate Wars, the Second English Civil War, the Anglo-Scottish war (1650–1652) and the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland. Historians calculate some 15% to 20% of all adult males in England and Wales served in the military between 1639 and 1653, while around 4% of the total population died from war-related cause, versus 2.23% in World War I. These figures illustrate the impact of the conflict on society in general, and the bitterness it engendered.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Charles I Louis, Elector Palatine</span> Elector palatine of the Rhine

Charles Louis, Elector Palatine, was the second son of Frederick V of the Palatinate, the "Winter King" of Bohemia, and of Elizabeth Stuart, Queen of Bohemia and sister of Charles I of England.

The Battle of Brentford was a small pitched battle which took place on 12 November 1642, between a detachment of the Royalist army under the command of Prince Rupert, and two infantry regiments of Parliamentarians with some horse in support. The result was a victory for the Royalists.

Events from the year 1643 in England. This is the second year of the First English Civil War, fought between Roundheads (Parliamentarians) and Cavaliers.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Cornwall in the English Civil War</span>

Cornwall played a significant role in the English Civil War, being a Royalist enclave in the generally Parliamentarian south-west.

Sixteen forty-six was the fifth and final year of the First English Civil War. By the beginning of 1646 military victory for the Parliamentary forces was in sight. A Royalist army was defeated in the field at the Battle of Torrington on 16 February and the last Royalist field army was defeated at the Battle of Stow-on-the-Wold on 21 March. From then on the New Model Army cleared the remaining Royalist strongholds. The politics moved into a post-war phase with all the major factions in England and Scotland trying to reach an accommodation with King Charles I that would further their own particular interests.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Boy (dog)</span> Famous army dog

Boy was a white hunting poodle belonging to Prince Rupert of the Rhine in the 17th century. Parliamentarian propaganda alleged that the dog was "endowed" with magical powers.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Five Members</span> MPs that Charles I attempted to arrest in 1642

The Five Members were Members of Parliament whom King Charles I attempted to arrest on 4 January 1642. King Charles I entered the English House of Commons, accompanied by armed soldiers, during a sitting of the Long Parliament, although the Five Members were no longer in the House at the time. The Five Members were:

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Capture of Wakefield</span> 1643 engagement of the First English Civil War

The capture of Wakefield occurred during the First English Civil War when a Parliamentarian force attacked the Royalist garrison of Wakefield, Yorkshire. The Parliamentarians were outnumbered, having around 1,500 men under the command of Sir Thomas Fairfax, compared to the 3,000 led by George Goring in Wakefield. Despite being outnumbered, Parliamentarians successfully stormed the town, taking roughly 1,400 prisoners.



  1. Manganiello 2004, p. 476.
  2. 1 2 OED 1989, "Cavalier".
  3. Brewer, E. Cobham (1898). "Bully-rook". Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. Philadelphia, PA: Henry Altemus via
  4. Busse, Ulrich (22 September 2002). Linguistic Variation in the Shakespeare Corpus: Morpho-syntactic Variability of Second Person Pronouns. John Benjamins Publishing. ISBN   1588112802 via Google Books.
  5. 1 2 Chisholm 1911, p. 562.
  6. OED 1989 , "Cavalier", Meaning 4. attrib., First quotation "1666 EVELYN Dairy 13 Sept., The Queene was now in her cavalier riding habite, hat and feather, and horseman's coate".
  7. Ashelford, Jane, The Art of Dress: Clothes and Society 1500–1914, pp. 73–75, 2009, ISBN   9781905400799, google books
  8. Ashelford, 73
  9. Stoyle 2003.
  10. Carlton 2002, p. 52.
  11. Woolrych 2002, p. 249.
  12. Hume 1841, p.  216 See footnote r. cites Warwick 229.
  13. Barratt 2005, p. 177.
  14. Memegalos 2007, inside front cover.
  15. Clarendon 1839, p. 3.
  16. Chisholm 1911a, p. 259.
  17. Worden 2009, p. 4.



Further reading