Tuesday, 24 January 2012

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

On The road to civil war

King Charles 1
England’s new king, a dogmatic & inflexible man, retained the old favourite and George Villiers kept the power & influence bestowed upon him by the old king.
James died owing the city of London over £200,000 & Charles immediately borrowed another £60,000 to stage a splendiferous funeral for his father. Mourning garb was distributed to nine thousand people.

Ignoring his parliament’s objections Charles married Henrietta Maria, the 15 year old sister of Louis XIII of France, on13th June 1625. The secret agreement with his brother-in-law to relax restrictions on Catholics was contrary to his statement to parliament & the very reason that his parliament had objected to the marriage in the first place.
Duke of Buckingham
In October 1625, nearly 18 months after the declaration of war with Spain, Buckingham sent a fleet of 100 ships, under the command of Sir Edward Cecil, a veteran soldier but unused to naval combat, to Spain, where he attempted to emulate Drake’s feat of singeing the King of Spain’s beard in Cadiz. His men took the fort that defended the harbour. The city’s defences were modern & the Spanish ships at anchor were able to sail away as Cecil had failed to give the necessary orders. The plan to intercept the annual treasure fleet also failed. Errors came thick & fast – the fleet was under-supplied & the troops were poorly disciplined.
Cecil returned to England in December, where the king ignored the whole embarrassing debacle. When House of Commons attempted to impeach the Duke of Buckingham, whose swift rise to his current exalted position had earned him many enemies, Charles dissolved parliament to protect his favourite.
Meanwhile the king turned to forced loans as a means of raising much needed funds.  The Court of Wards was used to bring Charles an income of £35,000[i] per annum, more than he received from the royal estates. He raised monies by grant of patents & monopolies & sold knighthoods (subjects were fined for not paying for the honour). In 1634 there were soap riots, over soap monopolies granted to courtiers. Charles imprisoned 76 men of ‘substance’ without trial. In the autumn of 1627 the Trial of the Five Knights; one of whom had been denied Habeus Corpus, had raised great public anger, when the judges had decided in the king’s favour.

The third parliament of Charles’ reign was called in March 1628 – Buckingham planned to attack Calais & raise a royal standing army. Twenty seven of the 76 men of ’substance’ came as MPs in the new parliament. Parliament felt that the king was twisting the law, using it for purposes for which it had not been intended. Both Lords & Commons petitioned against arbitrary taxation without Act of Parliament. Charles prorogued parliament in June, as parliament was considering removing Tonnage & Poundage, one of the major sources of the king’s income.

In April 1628 a fleet under the Earl of Denbigh set sail for la Rochelle, but returned home without engaging the enemy. Buckingham now set to organising a second fleet, but was stabbed to death in August by an army officer, who felt that Buckingham had passed him over for promotion

. Deeply saddened by Buckingham’s death, Charles now turned to his wife for sympathy & support. The capitulation of la Rochelle to Louis XIII & Cardinal Richelieu, in October, meant that the disastrous war with France could be ended.
John Pym
Parliament was recalled in January 1629, when Charles again raised the issue of Tonnage & Poundage. Parliament was not minded to be helpful to the king over his financial problems & his critics started attacking the practices of customs officers & the rituals now creeping into church services – the ‘cults’ of angels, crucifixes, saints, candles & altars were attacked by John Pym. The king dissolved parliament in March, having issued arrest warrants for 6 of the MPs who led the attacks on his policies.

Charles now moved away from working with parliament, to the more centralised continental style of monarchy. He appointed Viscount Wentworth (former opponent in parliament) to positions of authority in Dublin & York. Wentworth, later to become the Earl of Strafford, was an excellent administrator and worked in collaboration with Bishop Laud of London, now a privy councillor. The two men were however overbearing, tactless & bitterly unpopular.

The most inflammatory of the money raising devices was the levy of ‘ship money’ in 1635. Originally coastal towns were responsible for paying ship money for the defence of the realm & £104,000[ii] was collected. Now the whole country was to share the responsibility & £218,500[iii] was demanded. The country’s landowners felt threatened by a taxation not approved by parliament.

Charles & Henrietta Maria
The country was beginning to feel the winds of recession. The king & queen were patrons of the arts & spent money on houses & artworks – Mytens, Rubens & van Dyke were commissioned to paint the king, his wife & children. In 1628 Charles’ agents outbid Cardinal Richelieu for the Gonzaga collection of Titian, Raphael & Tintoretto paintings. Masques became increasingly elaborate & expensive. The Puritans looked askance on the king’s artistic expenditure.

In June 1633 Charles paid his first visit to Scotland, where he alienated most of his subjects by commanding a coronation with the full Anglican ritual. His attitude towards the Calvinists thoughout the visit seemed almost designed to irritate & annoy. Before leaving he ordered that all Scottish ministers should wear white surplices, instead of their customary black.
By the end of July the England had a new archbishop – Laud was raised to the throne of Canterbury. The king, influenced by his Catholic wife, was leaning towards re-union with Rome.
Archbishop Laud
The king was also concerned by the rise of Puritanism in the country & with Laud was determined to stem its influence. Ideological enemies of the king were savagely punished. In 1630 a Scotsman who had called bishops ‘Ravens & Magpies’ was arraigned before the Court of the Star Chamber for declaring ‘the prelacy in Church’ to be ‘satanical’. He was whipped, imprisoned, fined, had his ears clipped, nose slit on either side & branded on the cheeks.
Egged on by Laud, the Court of the Star Chamber was in frequent use to deal with political & religious dissent. Three of the chamber’s victims won popular acclaim in 1637 – Prynne, Bastwick & Burton all had their ears chopped off as well as being imprisoned. They became martyrs in the eyes of their fellow countrymen.
The Treasury was under the control of Bishop Juxon, who in June 1636 was also made First Lord of the Admiralty. In 1637 a test case opposing the Ship money was brought before the court by John Hampden, a Buckinghamshire gentleman, as a matter of principle. Hampden believed that parliament should be responsible for deciding how money was to be raised. By a narrow margin the Chief Justice brought in a judgement for the king.

In 1637 Charles ordered the use of a new prayer book, almost identical to the Book of Common Prayer, for use in Scotland without consulting its parliament or the Kirk. This led to rioting & formalised opposition in the National Covenant. Unable to control the situation from London, Charles agreed to a General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, which in November 1638 decided on the removal of the bishops from the Kirk and the abolition of the prayer book.
By early summer in 1639 Charles had raised an army & marched up to Berwick on Tweed. With neither army prepared to risk more than the occasional scuffle the Pacification of Berwick was agreed in June, Charles accepting that disputed questions be referred to a new General Assembly or parliament. The Scottish parliament thereupon abolished the Scottish bishops, while the General Assembly re-enacted all the provisions passed the previous year.
Marie de Medici

Charles was further beleaguered by the arrival of his mother-in-law, Marie de Medici, at the end of October 1638. Marie had fallen out with her son who, with Cardinal Richelieu, had wrested control of France from his mother’s domineering hands. Following involvement in a number of plots aimed at putting her younger son Gaston on the throne, Marie had been exiled from her adopted country. Charles found himself paying the dowager Queen of France £3,000[iv] a month – another strain on already stretched resources.
Believing the Scots were in league with the French, Charles called a parliament in April 1640 (known as the Short Parliament) hoping for monies to fight his Scottish subjects. Parliament called for the abolition of ship money, redress of grievances & a complete change in the ecclesiastical system. These terms were unacceptable to Charles & he dissolved parliament in May. By September 1640 the Scots had invaded Northumberland & Charles’ army fared so badly that Charles had to leave Northumberland & County Durham in the care of the Scots under the Treaty of Ripon in October. The Scots were to be paid £850[v] per day.
Thomas Wentworth,
Earl of Strafford

The second parliament of the year, or Long parliament, was now called by Charles. Of the 493 MPs, 399 were in opposition to the king. Parliament began impeachment proceedings for Archbishop Laud. Parliament passed the triennial bill, whereby the members could mobilise a parliament, if the king did not call one within three years. Charles gave his royal assent in February. The following month Stafford, Charles’ most able supporter, was tried for high treason & was found guilty. Having assured Stafford that under no circumstances would he sign a death warrant, Charles sent Stafford to his death on 10th May 1941.
In the same month Charles assented to an act, which forbade the dissolution of the English Parliament without Parliament's consent. Ship money, fines in destraint of knighthood and forced loans were declared unlawful, monopolies were cut back severely, and the Courts of Star Chamber and High Commission were abolished. All remaining forms of taxation were legalised and regulated by the Tonnage and Poundage Act. Throughout May, the House of Commons launched several bills attacking bishops and episcopalianism in general, each time defeated in the Lords.

The country was moving ever closer to civil war.


The English Civil War – Robert Ashton, 1978 Wiedenfeld & Nicholson

Charles the First – John Bowle, 1975 Wiedenfeld & Nicholson

Richelieu and His Age – His Rise to Power – Carl J Burckhardt, 1967 George Allen & Unwin


[i] £4.63 million RPI as at 2010 - all calculations from www.measuringworth.com
[ii] £13.5 million as above
[iii] £28.3 million as above
[iv] £363,000 as above
[v] £112,000 as above

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