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Charles I

Reign

Early Struggle with Parliament

A shy and dignified figure, he was popular at the time of his coronation, but he immediately offended his Protestant subjects by his marriage to the Catholic Henrietta Maria, sister of Louis XIII of France. Charles's favorite, Buckingham, was unpopular, and the foreign ventures under Buckingham's guidance were unfortunate, particularly the unsuccessful expedition to Cádiz (1625) and the two disastrous attempts to relieve French Protestants in La Rochelle (1627 and 1628). Nor would Parliament willingly grant money to help Charles's sister, Elizabeth of Bohemia, and the Protestants in the Thirty Years War. The reign eventuated in the bitter struggle for supremacy between the king and Parliament that finally resulted in the English civil war.

Parliament had a substantial role in the making of money grants to the king and adopted the tactic of withholding grants until its grievances were redressed. The Parliament of 1625 refused money, demanded ministers it could trust, and was soon dissolved by Charles. That of 1626 was dissolved when it started impeachment proceedings against Buckingham. Charles, to meet his needs for money, resorted to quartering troops upon the people and to a forced loan, which he attempted to collect by prosecutions and imprisonments.

Forced to call Parliament again in 1628, he was compelled to agree to the Petition of Right, in return for a badly needed subsidy. Charles adjourned Parliament when it declared that his continued collection of customs duties was a violation of the Petition. Although Buckingham was assassinated (1628), the parliamentary session of 1629 was bitter. It closed dramatically with a resolution condemning unauthorized taxation and attempts to change existing church practices.

The Years of No Parliament

Charles governed without Parliament for 11 years after 1629, which were marked by popular opposition to strict enforcement of the practices of the Established Church by Archbishop William Laud and to the ingenious if disingenuous devices employed by the government to obtain funds. The royally controlled courts of high commission and Star Chamber waged a harsh campaign against nonconformists and recusants (Catholics), and large emigrations to America, of both Puritans and Catholics, took place. The trial (1637–38) of John Hampden for refusal to pay a tax of ship money greatly increased public indignation. Meanwhile Charles's deputy in Ireland, Thomas Wentworth, earl of Strafford, was carrying out a wide program of reforms through his oppressive policy of "Thorough."

Renewed Struggles with Parliament

Conditions in England reached a crisis when Charles attempted (1637) to force episcopacy upon the Scots, an attempt that was violently opposed by the Scottish Covenanters and that resulted in the Bishops' Wars. Unable to wage war effectively, Charles in May, 1640, summoned the so-called Short Parliament, which demanded redress of grievances before granting funds and was dissolved.

Another attempt to carry on the war without Parliament failed, and the famous Long Parliament was summoned in November. Under the leadership of John Pym, John Hampden, and Sir Henry Vane (the younger), Parliament secured itself against dissolution without its own consent and brought about the death of Strafford, the abolition of the courts of high commission and Star Chamber, and the end of unparliamentary taxation.

Charles professed to accept the revolutionary legislation, though he was known to hold strong views on the divine right of monarchy. Parliament's trust in the king was further undermined when his queen was implicated in the army plot to coerce Parliament, and Charles was suspected of complicity in the Irish rebellion (1641) and its resulting atrocities, especially in Ulster. In 1641, Parliament presented its Grand Remonstrance, calling for religious and administrative reforms and reciting in full its grievances against the king. Charles repudiated the charges, and his unsuccessful attempt to seize five opposition leaders of Commons in violation of traditional privilege was the fatal blunder that precipitated war.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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