English civil war: The Rise of the Opposition

James I was not long in gaining a personal unpopularity that helped to strengthen Parliament's hand. At the Hampton Court Conference (1604) he resolutely refused to compromise with Puritans on religious questions. The Parliament that met in 1604 soon clashed with the king on questions of finance and supply. James was forced to temporize because of his urgent need of money, but the dissolution of the Parliament in 1610 left feelings of bitterness on both sides.

A new Parliament met in 1614, and the Commons engaged in quarrels not only with the king but also with the House of Lords. Because it passed not a single statute, this was called the Addled Parliament. James had little understanding of the popular unrest and aroused deeper opposition by his continued collection of impositions and benevolences, his dependence on favorites, and his scheme of a Spanish marriage for his son Charles.

Meanwhile a legal battle was being waged in the courts, with Sir Francis Bacon zealously upholding the royal prerogative and Sir Edward Coke defending the supremacy of common law. The king dismissed Coke from the bench in 1616, but the Parliament of 1621 impeached Bacon. The last Parliament (1624) of the reign accompanied its grant of money with specific directions for its use. James's reign had raised certain fundamental questions concerning the privileges of Parliament, claimed by that body as their legal right and regarded by James as a special grant from the crown.

Charles I, married to a French Roman Catholic princess, Henrietta Maria, proved more intractable and even less acceptable to the Puritan taste than his father, and Parliament became even more uncompromising in the new reign. The leaders of the parliamentary party—Coke, John Pym, Sir John Eliot, and John Selden—sought ways to limit the powers of the king. The Parliament of 1625 granted him the right to collect tonnage and poundage (customs duties) only for a year and not, as was customary, for his entire reign. The Parliament of 1626 went further and impeached the king's favorite, George Villiers, 1st duke of Buckingham. Charles dissolved it in anger.

Failing to raise money without Parliament, he was forced to call a new one in 1628. The new Parliament drew up the Petition of Right, and Charles accepted it in order to get his subsidy. He continued to levy customs duties, an act that the parliamentarians declared illegal under the Petition of Right. Parliament in 1629 vigorously protested Charles's collection of tonnage and poundage and the prosecution of his opponents in the Star Chamber. The religious issue also came up, and Commons resisted the king's order to adjourn by forcing the speaker to remain in his chair while Eliot presented resolutions against popery and unauthorized taxation.

In the succeeding 11 years Charles attempted to rule without a Parliament, resorting to such expedients as ship money (a tax levied originally on seaports but extended by Charles to the entire country) to raise revenue. The reprisals against Eliot and the prosecution of William Prynne and John Hampden aroused widespread indignation. Charles's chief advisers, Archbishop William Laud and Thomas Wentworth, later 1st earl of Strafford, were cordially detested.

The ominous peace was broken by troubles in Scotland, where efforts to enforce Anglican episcopal policy led to the violent opposition of the Covenanters and to war in 1639 (see Bishops' Wars) and compelled Charles to seek the financial aid of Parliament. The resulting Short Parliament (1640) once more met the king's request for supply by a demand for redress of grievance. Charles offered to abandon ship money exactions, but the opposition wished to discuss more fundamental issues, and the king dissolved the Parliament in just three weeks.

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

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