Saturday, 23 September 2017

Charles I: The Personal Rule (1)

Charles I, by Sir Anthony
van Dyck (1633)
Public domain

What was the Personal Rule?

The Personal Rule is the name given to the period between the dissolution of Charles's third parliament in 1629 and his calling of what became known as the Short Parliament in 1640.  His eleven-year rule without parliament was legal, but not necessarily wise politically, as without parliament it was difficult for the monarch to assess the feeling in the country at large. 

Charles could survive without having to call parliament as long as the country was not at war. This meant that his foreign policy changed abruptly. In April 1629 he made peace with France, leaving the Huguenots in the lurch, and in November 1630 with Spain. 

While Europe was engaged in the Thirty Years' War, England stayed out of the conflict, even though Charles's sister was involved. 


What’s in a name? Personal rule? Eleven years’ tyranny? A time of discontent? Or a time when, according to the historian, the earl of Clarendon, England enjoyed 'the fullest measure of felicity that it had ever known’.  Many remembered it as a golden age. The treaties with France and Spain removed England from the war that was devastating Europe. There was a run of good harvests and the king and queen were producing a large family. Court masques and court portraiture were powerful propaganda statements for peace and prosperity. 

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Charles I: the early years

George Villiers, 1st Duke of
by Michiel van Mierevelt
Public domain

The character of Charles I

Historians are agreed that the accession of Charles I marks a turning point. Charles was different in many ways from his shrewd father and all his life he tended to latch on to stronger personalities. As if to compensate for his own insecurity, he developed an exaggerated sense of the dignity of kingship, and was inflexible and authoritarian. He became fatally identified with one particular outlook and ruthlessly excluded those with opinions which differed from his own. In his efforts to root out the disloyal, his fears became self-fulfilling. Though his accession was the smoothest since 1509, the honeymoon period did not last long. 

Charles had inherited his father's favourite, George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, who, until his assassination in 1628 had a huge influence on the young king. He also inherited a poorly-led and under-resourced war with Spain in a vain effort to revive the glories of the Elizabethan age.

On 11 May Charles married the fourteen-year-old Henrietta Maria of France (1609-69) by proxy. In June she arrived at Dover and the couple were married for a second time. The marriage began badly, with were many quarrels over religion and the king's friendship with Buckingham.

Queen Henrietta Maria
by Anthony Van Dyck
Public domain

Charles's first parliament: 1625

Two issues came to the fore in this parliament: money and religion.

Charles needed money for the war against Spain, but the Commons were reluctant to grant him all he asked for. They voted a mere two subsidies (c. £140,000) and granted him tonnage and poundage, which had been bestowed for life on every monarch since 1485, for one year only in the hope that this would pave the way for a thorough reform of the customs system. But the bill for tonnage and poundage had not passed the Lords by the time the Parliament was dissolved and Charles’s military commitments left him no choice but to collect the money without parliamentary consent.

This parliament also saw a serious escalation of religious differences. The prevailing Calvinist theology was now under attack from Arminians. The controversy between Calvinists and Arminians had begun in the Netherlands, but it took a new form in England as the Arminians became associated with 'high-church' ritual and with promulgating an extreme version of the royal prerogative.

Monday, 11 September 2017

Charles I: the king and his kingdoms

Here is some background detail that may be a bit dry but is essential in understanding the background to the Civil War.

Charles I, by Gerrit van Honthorst
(1628). Public domain

A composite monarchy

In March 1625 James I, the first Stuart monarch, died and his son succeeded as Charles IThrough his father James I and VI Charles was the inheritor of a 'composite monarchy', England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. The component parts constantly interacted with each other, yet the kingdoms (apart from England and Wales) were not united. There were three parliaments, one in Westminster and two single-chamber parliaments in Edinburgh and Dublin. The Scottish parliament was nominally independent, but the Dublin parliament was subject to Westminster. 

A Charles I sixpence showing him as King of England, Scotland,
and Ireland (and showing as well that the kings of England
were still laying claim to the French throne)

Law and the state

England had a single common law, an amalgam of ancient custom. Roman law and case-law. The thirteenth century saw the emergence of a two-chamber Parliament comprising the Houses of Lords and Commons. Parliament’s central purposes were

  1. to advise the monarch of what was happening in the localities
  2. to collaborate with the Crown in the passing of acts of Parliament (statutes)
  3. to vote taxes (the ‘extra-ordinary revenue’ of the Crown)

The period of the Reformation in the 1530s had established the King-in-Parliament as the supreme legislative authority in England. This meant that by the accession of James I in 1603 monarchs were more powerful when they acted in collaboration with Parliament and the law and when they governed with the consent of the political elite than if they tried to rule alone. Though the Crown possessed some discretionary powers, the ‘royal prerogative’, it was widely thought that such powers were granted and defined by the common law. The Crown could issue proclamations, dealing with administrative, economic, and social matters, but they were regarded as inferior to common law and statute.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017