Friday, 27 January 2012

Charles I - England’s most stupid king? Part III

The march to the scaffold

During 1640 Charles raised an army in Ireland to deal with the Scots. Although never used, Charles refused to accede to parliament’s request to disband the force of 8,000, although. 45% of the troops were paid off in May. The king’s influence in Ireland had been weakened by the loss of Stafford, who had headed the able administration there, among other duties.
Irish tempers had worsened over the years, as land gradually transferred from Catholic Irish to Protestant English ownership.

On 19th October 1641 an uprising in Ireland resulted in massacre & arson. Members of the disbanded army had been incited by their officers & Catholic priests from the Netherlands & Spain. The ringleaders in Dublin had been discovered & rounded up the night before. Elsewhere 5,000 English settlers were murdered, another 10,000 dispossessed & driven away.

The uprising exacerbated fears of Catholics in Protestant England & protestations of the Catholic Irish army’s loyalty to the crown increased suspicion in London that the Court was somehow implicated in the massacre of ‘good’ Protestant Englishmen & that this army would be used against parliament. The possibility of religious compromise was now a thing of the past, if indeed it had ever been possible. Alarmist pamphlets circulated throughout the country denouncing Papist conspiracies. There were rumours that the queen herself was to be impeached, for intriguing with the Pope.

In November 1641 Parliament presented the king with The Grand Remonstrance – detailing all the misdeeds of the king & his ministers during their rule without parliament. It demanded the right to approve all officers, ministers, councillors & ambassadors, who would be nominated by the king. This was needed, the Remonstrance stated, to give parliament confidence in the executive. The division resulted in a narrow majority of 11 in favour of the Remonstrance.

On 23rd December, fearing tumult in the capital, Charles appointed Thomas Lunsford, to be Lieutenant of the Tower of London. The City of London protested the appointment, backed by the House of Commons (the Lords having refused to petition the king) & the Lord Mayor. On the 26th Charles backtracked replacing Lunsford, a man of unsavoury character, with Sir John Byron.

Lord George Digby
On 1st January; having rejected the Grand Remonstrance, on the advice of Lord George Digby – the hothead son of the Earl of Bristol - & without the knowledge of Edward Hyde, Chancellor of the Exchequer; Charles ordered the King’s Attorney to impeach 5 of his principal enemies in the House of Commons – John Pym, John Hampden, Denzil Holles, William Strode & Sir Arthur Haselrig & Lord Montague of Kimbolton of the House of Lords. Both houses defied the king’s order.
Digby suggested to Charles that he take action of his own behalf. Accordingly on the morning of January 5th Charles, accompanied by 300 - 400 officers & swordsmen arrived at the Houses of Parliament. The king’s men forced their way into the building, where the six had already absented themselves. Charles failed to do anything but centralise resistance to his policies.  . 

Dismissing Charles’ offer of 200 armed men to protect them, Parliament now illegally appointed a Captain Skippon to be Sergeant Major General to command 8 companies of trained bands, thus challenging the king’s sovereignty. On 10th January Charles & his family left the Palace of Whitehall, abandoning his capital & moved to Windsor. The missing five members of the Commons now returned to Westminster in a triumphal procession up the Thames.
Princess Mary
In February Charles escorted Henrietta Maria & Princess Mary of Orange to Dover, where they set sail for the Netherlands. They were joined by Digby, who fled the country & was impeached by Parliament on 26th February. Charles & his eldest son, the Prince of Wales, rode for York, where the king became the centre of local patriotism & a new Royalist party. In March, despite Charles’ refusal, Parliament passed the Militia Ordinance, asserting control over the armed forces & empowering their agents to lead, conduct & employ the militia.

On 27th March Charles issued a Royal proclamation forbidding his subjects to obey the Militia Ordinance. On 1st June Parliament responded with an ultimatum of 19 propositions that Charles found outrageous – the king’s council, court officials & tutors for his children were to be appointed by Parliament, the Militia ordinance was to become statutory and the Church of England was to be settled to Parliament’s liking. Charles immediately repudiated the propositions.

Meanwhile in London Parliament was raising its forces, whilst in the north the Royalists were gathering to the support of their king. On the 4th July the two houses of Parliament appointed a Committee of Safety & on the 12th nominated the Earl of Essex as Lord General, while anxious to ‘preserve the safety of the King’s person’ and ‘the true religion liberty and peace of the kingdom’. Parliament had already taken control of the navy, the Lord High Admiral – the Earl of Northumberland taking parliament’s side in the collision between the king & parliament. Parliament controlled most of the ports.

On 22nd August Charles raised the Royal banner at Nottingham, to make war on his own subjects. His inability to compromise & his staunch belief in the divine right of his kingship gave him no other option. Lacking the navy & a regular income[i] were to prove drawbacks that the king could not overcome.

The first battle of the war, on 23rd October 1642 at Edgehill, proved inconclusive. Throughout the remainder of 1642 & the whole of 1643 a series of battles failed to give either side a real advantage. Reconciliation between the two sides was made impossible by John Pym’s impeachment of the queen on 23rd May 1643. And in the August of that year Parliament agreed the Solemn League & Covenant – agreeing to the preservation of the Church of Scotland & reforming the religion of England & Ireland. First raised in Scotland in February 1638, the Covenant railed against transubstantiation, the devilish mass, monuments & crosses, confessions, praying & speaking strange languages (to wit Latin).   

It was not until the 14th June 1645 that the decisive battle of the war was fought at Naseby. The king’s nephew, Prince Rupert of the Rhine and one of his most successful generals, advised refusing the offered battle & retiring to Newark. Charles preferred to accept his courtiers’ advice to fight. The troops of Parliament’s two foremost generals– Fairfax & Cromwell - now combined, outnumbering the Royalists two to one. The king fled the battleground leaving his Banner Royal, most of the regimental colours, his own coach and his private papers (which, when edited by Parliamentarians, proved the king’s duplicity in many matters).

Prince Rupert of the Rhine
Charles retreated to Hereford, hoping to raise more troops & hoping for aid from the Irish Catholics. He was crushed by the news that Fairfax had stormed the strategically essential Bristol. To save a useless slaughter of the 1,500 troops at his disposal, Prince Rupert capitulated as he had insufficient men to mount a proper defence.

Charles saw the surrender as a personal betrayal by Rupert, already tainted by having proposed a negotiated peace in the spring. Charles dismissed Rupert & ordered the arrest of one of Rupert’s closest colleagues, Colonel Legge, the able governor of Oxford. Another friend of Rupert’s was relieved of the governorship of Newark later in the year – probably because of the friendship, rather than an inability to do the job. Charles also demanded that Prince Rupert should swear never to fight for the king again.

In January 1646 a copy of a secret treaty negotiated by Charles’ agent, Lord Glamorgan, an English Catholic, arrived before parliament. All Catholic demands in Ireland were to be granted in return for an Irish army to invade England. Charles repudiated the treaty, but the damage had already been done.  

It was not until May 1646 that Charles placed himself under the protection of the Scots. He had not abandoned the hope that his Scottish subjects would come to his aid. In the ‘protective custody’ of his own subjects, Charles was now pressured to sign the Covenant. He ordered the surrender of the Royalist stronghold at Newark & the disbanding of Montrose’s army & leave Scotland. On the 25th June Charles consented to the surrender of Oxford.

Parliament agreed to pay the Scots £400,000[ii] to leave the country & put the land of the archbishoprics & bishoprics in England & Wales to pay the ‘ransom’. Charles delayed signing the Covenant, prevaricating in the hope of some form of deliverance. The Scots refused to take Charles back to Scotland & stayed in Newcastle. On the 28th January 1647 they handed the king over to the representatives of Parliament & received the first instalment of their ransom. Meanwhile tensions between the army & Parliament were growing. Charles, now down in Northamptonshire, hoped to take advantage of these tensions.
By June 1647 the army were considering a march on London to demand their arrears of pay. New proposals for coming to agreement with Charles were suggested by General Ireton. They were more favourable than those made at Newcastle. However the army was not in a position to dictate to Parliament, where the conservative Presbyterians threw the proposals out.

On 24th December 1647, now at Carisbrooke, Charles signed an Engagement with the Scots Commissioners – the Covenant was to be imposed by statute, there was to be no toleration of any sects, there was to be a Presbyterian hierarchy imposed for three years, pending a final religious settlement between king & parliament & the army was to be disbanded. Determined to regain his divinely ordained rights Charles decided to throw the country back into the horrors of another civil war, this time backed by a foreign army.

Oliver Cromwell
The fighting in the second stage of the civil war started in south Wales & then spread to the north. The army was now determined to call Charles to account for the blood he had spilt. By May Royalist revolts were spreading across the country. But Generals Fairfax & Cromwell mobilised quickly to stem the uprising. It was not until early July that the Scots crossed the border with a small army that was in no rush to move down towards Yorkshire; where they were routed by Cromwell on 17-8th August.
On 2nd December the army seized power, declaring the dissolution of the Long Parliament & fresh elections. On the 6th Parliament was purged by soldiers – 47 members were arrested & 96 were turned away – the remaining members sat as the Rump Parliament. Charles was transferred to Windsor.

In January the decision was taken - the king was to be tried. To the Parliamentarians it was the second Civil War that Charles held personal responsibility for; organised & effected while imprisoned at Carisbrooke – the invitation to the Scots to invade England, the country Charles was by right bound to protect. This was High Treason, which in law was punishable by death. Charles was therefore held personally responsible for all the deaths resulting from that war.

There could only be one verdict. Following his trial Charles was found guilty of high treason by the High Court of Justice in January 1649. He was executed on 30th January in front of the Banqueting Room at Whitehall Palace, having refused to accept the court’s ruling of his guilt & sentence.
James had not had an easy ride in his dealings with parliament, but Charles excelled at upsetting his MPs, seemingly unrivalled at making stands over issues that inflamed his subjects. Charles was a ruler who seems to have dealt solely in the present, rarely if ever planning ahead. An inflexible & unsubtle man, Charles did not adjust to the world around him, but expected the world to adjust to him. Charles was intransigent, unable to make concessions that crossed his notion of what was right & contradicted his Divine Rights. Charles seemed unable to make decisions in his own best interest evidenced by his refusal to redeem his promise to a loyal & able administrator - Stafford & his dismissal of his best general Rupert, at a time when good soldiers were thin on the ground - pure folly.

The most stupid king? Perhaps not, but surely a close contender?

The English Civil War – Robert Ashton, 1978 Wiedenfeld & Nicholson
Charles the First – John Bowle, 1975 Wiedenfeld & Nicholson
The Early Stuarts – Godfrey Davies, 1987 Oxford University Press
The Civil Wars of England – John Kenyon, 1988 Wiedenfeld & Nicholson

[i] In 1640 the king’s lack of monies was so dire that even his apothecary had remained unpaid for ten years
[ii] Nearly £51 million pounds using RPI to 2010 –

1 comment:

  1. Helen, Such an in depth, well-researched, and detailed piece! It explores aspect of these events that I was previously unaware of. Great job! Cathy