Historians such as Conrad Russell and Kevin Sharpe have recently stressed the “British” nature of the crisis which toppled Charles I's regime in the 1640s. England, these historians remind us, was not the first of Charles's three kingdoms to rebel but the last; the Scots rose in 1639–40, the Irish rose in the fall of 1641, but the English only belatedly followed suit in August 1642. They have thus suggested that the origins of the English Civil War cannot be explained within a purely English context but must be understood within the larger vortex of multinational British politics.
This injection of the “British problem” into the historiographical debate may seem like a neutral intervention, but in practice it has been closely associated with the revisionist interpretation of the seventeenth century. Since the 1970s, revisionist historians have contended that early Stuart England was an ideologically stable society which collapsed only after a series of sudden, contingent events disrupted the existing consensus. They have thus been at pains to find short-term, nonideological explanations for the Civil War's outbreak or else face embarrassing charges that they have proven why there was no civil war in seventeenth-century England. The “British problem” has come into the debate as just such an explanation, as an answer to thorny questions about how such a violent storm as the English Civil War could have arisen out of clear skies. After all, if radicalized Scotsmen spread the language of confessional conflict and resistance theory across the border, as Sharpe has argued, then no internal explanation for the English Civil War is required.