In this article we will discuss about the life of Charles I (1625-49) of London. After reading this article you will learn about: 1. Charles I Accession: Character 2. Charles and His Parliament 3. Eleven Years’ Personal Rule of Charles I (1629-40) 4. Long Parliament 5. The Civil War.
- Charles I Accession: Character
- Charles and His Parliament
- Eleven Years’ Personal Rule of Charles I (1629-40)
- Long Parliament
- The Civil War
1. Charles I Accession: Character:
Born at Dunfermline in Scotland on November 19, 1600, Charles ascended the throne at the age of twenty-five. He was proclaimed king on the day of his father’s death. The possessor of the Crown was changed but the administration of government was unaltered. Buckingham still the first in power with equal influence over proud and dignified Charles I as over vain and vulgar James I.
Initially Charles exhibited himself as temperate, chaste and serious, and naturally the people must have had at the beginning of his reign, a reasonable expectation of being religiously and quietly governed.
In many ways Charles I was an attractive personality but unfortunately he shared his father’s handicap of not understanding the people over whom he ruled, nor did his education fit him to do so. Brought up from infancy to believe in Divine Right of Kings he came to think it beneath his dignity to take his people or their representatives into confidence.
His manners were dignified, his private life was spotless. Grave, temperate, and serious, religious, educated and emmaculate, Charles I was every inch a king. He had great artistic interests and patron of Inigo Jones and Vandyck who painted and made the portrait of Charles so familiar.
Though a man of taste, Charles was an unsatisfactory ruler. He was high-browed, over-confident and unreliable in dealing with others. He seldom knew his own mind and was fundamentally weak, hesitating and narrow-minded. His obstinacy prevented him from taking lessons from his father’s experience. His belief in Divine Right of Kings made him stiff, unrelenting and contemptuous of human laws.
Believing himself to be God’s anointed he demanded unquestioned obedience of his subjects and at the same time considered it beneath his dignity to be answerable to his people. It was his extremely closed mind about royal dignity that widened the rift between the Crown and Parliament leading to an open struggle. Such was the personality that ascended the English throne.
Duke of Buckingham the handsome and dashing adviser had been already committed to a French alliance. Marriage of French King Louis XIII’s sister Henrietta Maria had already been arranged for and it was celebrated by proxy within three months of Charles’ accession and before Parliament could meet to ask awkward questions which were sure to be asked because in the last Parliament of James I Buckingham had assured the nation that no concession to the English Catholics would follow the French marriage, although secretly he had given just the contrary assurance to Louis XIII. The Puritans objected to such a marriage, for the queen was a Catholic and her fondness for dancing, play-acting, etc., gave offence to their religious conservatism.
2. Charles and His Parliament:
It is said that James had sown the wind and Charles I reaped the whirl-wind. Charles I was brought up in a Divine Right atmosphere and imbibed the high notions about royal prerogatives. He held the Divine Right of Kings as tenaciously as his father had done.
This ran contrary to the ideas of the Parliament which during the previous reign had developed new consciousness of power which brought fresh difficulties for Charles I. Charles was obstinate and tactless and easily antagonized the Parliament to the point of hostility which led to the civil war.
Religion, finance, Divine Right of Kings, foreign policy was the causes of the struggle between Charles and his Parliament. These were precisely the causes which were responsible for the rift, between the Crown and Parliament even during his father’s reign.
Charles was an Anglican in his religious persuasion but his marriage with Henrietta Maria—the Catholic princess of France made him eager to tolerate the Catholics. In fact, contrary to his assurances to the Parliament towards the end of James I’s reign, Buckingham had agreed to this kind of toleration as a condition for the marriage.
The Parliament was Puritan and Charles’ known hostility to Puritanism gave offence to it. To curb the growing strength of the Puritans and the non-conformists Charles did not hesitate to try them in the Court of High Commission and punish them with death. Religion, therefore, was one of the major causes of the widening of the gulf between the King and Parliament.
Finance proved another great hurdle for Charles in carrying on with his Parliament. Charles’ financial need compelled him to summon Parliaments. War with Spain called for greater financial support. Extravagant schemes like expedition to Cadiz and above all the fall in the value of money due to influx of American gold enhanced the need for money.
But the Parliament which saw its real power lay in voting of grants or withholding them, naturally sought to use money as a lever.
It would not allow the Crown to exercise arbitrary power of taxation, nor would it make any liberal grant commensurate with the king’s need. Finance, therefore, became the major issue between the Crown and Parliament.
The real issue of the struggle between the King and Parliament was where the supreme authority of the State, that is the sovereignty lay, whether in the King or in the Parliament. Imbued with the high notions of royal prerogatives and blind belief in the Divine Right of Kings, Charles would not yield to the Parliament’s demand for greater control over the government of the country and in doing so wanted to make the ministers answerable to it.
Charles, however, regarded the ministers as his servants and as such, according to the Theory of Divine Right answerable only to him and him alone. Parliament’s criticism of their actions or attempts to control them was presumptuous and audacious.
Foreign policy, as was under James I, another bone of contention between the King and the Parliament. Charles’ ambitious but unsuccessful schemes of foreign policy made the Parliament more inimically disposed towards the Crown.
The failure of Cadiz and Rochelle expeditions, breach with France and engagement at once in war with France, Spain and Catholic Germany which rendered success impossible angered the Parliament. Parliament’s disapproval of Charles’ foreign policy was seen in its miserly voting of grants from time to time and Charles’ dissolution of Parliaments and recourse to arbitrary financial expeditions.
The Crowning defect of Charles I was his inability to recognise that he was out of tune with the spirit of the time. He suffered from his father’s handicap of not understanding the national mind. His obstinacy and pig-headed tenacity to have his own way, his reposing of confidence in persons lacking popular confidence widened the rift with the Parliament.
As Parliament after Parliament had been summoned the above causes of the conflict between the Crown and Parliament became more and more manifest. The embarrassment Of the treasury, expenses of the Spanish war so rashly commenced, and inconsiderate profusions of James I compelled Charles to summon his first Parliament on June 18, 1625.
Charles in his opening speech touched upon the State of public affairs and spoke of the aid required for the Spanish war and of his zeal for Protestant religion. The Lord Keeper Williams in reply to the request of the Speaker of the House assured that “the king confirmed all their privileges without exception”.
Charles though after such a confidential and satisfactory declaration, the Parliament would fulfil his wishes by voting grants. But he was surprised and not a little annoyed to find the Parliament refuse to grant more than two subsidies wholly insufficient for his great wants as well as for his war, and tonnage and poundage for only one year although it was customary to grant tonnage and poundage to the king for life.
This conduct of the Parliament proceeded from its dislike of Buckingham, king’s marriage with a Catholic princess, oppression of the Puritans and the idea that advantage should be taken of granting supplies for redress of grievances. The Parliament made generous grant conditional upon the king’s reform of the Church along Puritan lines. Charles felt insulted.
But the Commons realised that by controlling finance they might control king’s policy. They wished to be consulted about foreign affairs, to discuss religion and all that. All this being contrary to Charles’ intentions he dissolved his first Parliament.
The king now in order to counteract the influence of the Parliament and to show the injustice of its want of confidence in the government, some bold and showy enterprise was to be undertaken.
A great fleet was to be fitted out against Spain and its expenses were to be met by raising funds by issuing writs under the privy-seal demanding loans from private persons and chiefly from those who presumed to think that grant of money and redress of grievances should go together. Refusal of loan so demanded entailed striking the person refusing, out of the Commission of the peace.
By this and other arbitrary means a fleet of eighty sails was despatched with the vague instruction to intercept the Spanish treasure-ships and to land army on the Spanish coast. Lord Wimbledon was placed in command of the expedition.
Ten thousand set on shore near Cadiz and after plundering cellars of sweet wine got heavily drunk to be surprised by the Spanish troops who tore off their ears and pulled out their eyes.
A few thousands died of a contagious disease, the Spanish treasure-ships escaped capture. In the mean time Buckingham had gone to Holland to get support of the Dutch with no much success. The failure of Cadiz expedition was also due to Buckingham’s hopeless mismanagement.
Charles I was in urgent need of money and was compelled to summon his second Parliament in 1626, precisely six months after the dissolution of the first. The leaders of this Parliament were Sir John Eliot, Sir Thomas Wentworth and John Pym. The Parliament that now assembled has been called a great, warm and ruffling Parliament.
The second Parliament met on February 6, 1626 and instead of beginning by granting the supplies as the king wished and hoped the Parliament appointed several committees to make enquiries relating to war, taxes, administration, monopolies, religion, etc., and to draw up a statement of grievances.
Eliot made a fiery speech saying:
“our honour is ruined, our ships are sunk, our men perished, not by the enemy, not by chance, but by those we trust”, meaning Buckingham. The king took offence because of this tirade and told the House through the Speaker that he would not allow the house to question his servants, much less one who was nearest to his heart.
He also reminded the House that the “Parliaments are altogether in my power for their calling, sitting and dissolution and as I find the fruits of them good or evil, they are to continue or not to be”. Charles also told the House “I wish you to hasten in granting the supplies, for every delay will be most injurious to yourselves, and if any evil arises from it, I think I shall be the last to feel it”.
Charles’ admonition to the Parliament through the Speaker of the House was liable to many objections. But the Commons believed itself called upon to do its duty to put an end to the embarrassment of the treasury. The House provisionally voted three subsidies, but added that the bill should not be passed till the king had heard and answered the grievances of the Parliament.
The House declared decidedly against Buckingham. Soon news arrived that France had made peace with Spain. This was a bitter blow to England. After further debate the Commons formally impeached Duke of Buckingham at the Bar of the House of Lords for hopeless mismanagement of the war.
The king at once got Eliot and Digges imprisoned but released them due to the refusal of the Commons to transact any business unless they were set free. But the Commons again addressed itself to the impeachment proceedings. To save Buckingham, Charles dissolved the Parliament.
Charles now began raising money for illegal means. By a forced loan which offended the tradesmen of London, Charles equipped more ships and men to continue the war with Spain. The next year he quarreled with Louis XIII, his brother-in-law who demanded the terms of the marriage treaty (1625) to be carried out.
Charles now not in good terms with his queen actually drove her and her French attendants from England and by the end of the year England and France were at war.
Buckingham sent an expedition to La Rochelle the Huguenot (i.e. the French Protestant) stronghold which the French minister Richelieu was then besieging. The idea was to relieve the Protestants there. Buckingham himself was in command.
To meet the expenses of war Charles imposed tonnage and poundage, benevolences and forced loans were demanded. A general loan on pain of imprisonment was exacted, soldiers were billeted in private houses and martial law was enforced.
Darnell and four other Knights refused to pay the loan and they were imprisoned. Writs of habeas corpus were issued by the King’s Bench for production of the Five Knights, but the Warden of the Fleet (prison) sent reply that they were detained by the command of the king.
The question whether detention by king’s command was a valid ground was discussed at length in the Court of King’s Bench, but ultimately the verdict of the court was in favour of the king.
This decision of the court gave the king a great weapon while it had endangered the liberty of the subjects. In the mean time Buckingham’s expedition to the Isle de Re in order to relieve siege of Huguenot stronghold of Rochelle by Richelieu proved a total failure. Forced loans and other arbitrary expedients having proved unavailing Charles was obliged to summon his third Parliament.
The third Parliament met on January 29, 1628 and at the very outset Sir Robert Cotton plainly declared that money and popularity could not be separated. If the hearts of the subjects could be gained, their hands and their purses could be won.
In his opening speech Charles said that “danger threatens all, the necessity is notorious and I have called a Parliament to provide means for our safety and the preservation of our allies … if, God forbid, you should not do your duty and refuse to contribute to what the state needs in these times, I am bound, for the discharge of my conscience, to employ those other means which God has placed in my hands… Do not take this as a threat, for I disdain to threaten any except my equals, but as an exhortation”.
The Commons were not to be cowed by the threatening language used by the king. Sir John Eliot thundered against the king’s methods of raising money and defended the rights of the House.
Majority of the Commons who were true friends of the country, without being frightened into servile submission or provoked to temper, resolved to proceed with cool-headedness so that the king might not find any pretext to dissolve the Parliament.
Together with the deliberations on the public wants, they entered on discussion relating to administration, billeting of soldiers in private houses, forced loans, arbitrary arrests, declaration of martial law and other grievances.
Sir Robert Philips said that even the ancient slaves had one day free to themselves when they could speak and act freely, namely on the day of Saturnalia, festival. But not so in England where everyone is a freeman.
“What avail useless words about rights and privileges of Parliament if it is speedily dissolved and nobody secure at any other time of his person and property.” Benjamin Rudyard said “Now it must be decided whether Parliament shall live or die. It is not well- being, but existence that is at stake.” Sir Thomas Wentworth blamed not the king but those in charge of administration for reducing the Crown to poverty and clearly declared that “Till liberty is secured no new grants must be made”.
The Commons passed two resolutions to the effect that no freeman was to be imprisoned without a due process of law and without cause mentioned in a lawful warrant; and that no tax was to be levied without the consent of the Parliament. They then proceeded to draw up a petition to the king. Five subsidies were, however, voted but the Money Bill was not to be passed till the grievances were redressed.
The Parliament drew up the famous Petition of Right which declared:
(1) Any gift, loan, benevolence and tax without the consent of Parliament, illegal.
(2) No person shall be arrested, condemned, or deprived of his property without the cause shown and except according to laws of the land and by judgment of his peers.
(3) Soldiers shall not be arbitrarily billeted on the citizens, contrary to the laws and no citizen shall be tried and punished by martial law.
(4) No one may interrupt or suspend the course of the laws in individual cases or create extra-ordinary courts of justice.
(5) It also demanded relief according to laws of the land.
The Petition of Right was sent to the Lords on the 8th May, 1628, and on the 12th the king sent a communication in which he sought to show how much he had yielded hitherto and offered to only confirm old laws. The House of Lords made some addition to the petition which was to the effect that the entire sovereign power was to be left with the king for the protection, safety and happiness of his people.
This led to a serious debate in the Commons.
Sir Edward Coke who took a leading part in drawing up the petition observed that “This addition destroys the whole bill”. Sir Thomas Wentworth remarked that “If this addition is adopted matters will be worse than they were before”. After some further attempts by the king to entirely prevent this bill had failed, the king gave his consent to it.
The Petition of Right was passed, the Commons in gratitude voted subsidies, granted tonnage and poundage to the king for life and demanded removal of Buckingham. But before the Parliament could enter into further discussion against Buckingham, the king prorogued the Parliament.
Buckingham went down to Portsmouth to embark once more for relieving La Rochelle but when he was there he was assassinated by a discounted officer named Felton.
The constitutional significance of the Petition of Right lay in the fact that it was the “first step in the transfer of sovereignty from king to Parliament. The Acts of which the Petition of Right complained were all prerogative acts, acts above law, acts of sovereignty.
These prerogatives had been exercised by the king down to this time with no serious opposition. What the Parliament insists upon is that now these acts must be transferred out of the sphere of that prerogative into the sphere of law, into the sphere of that law which is above the king”.
The Petition of Right intended to limit the arbitrary power of the king in four directions:
(i) He was not to become a military despot. The members recalled that the fall of Rome was due to the insolence of soldiers, and Buckingham’s troops who had been billeted on private citizens were no less insolent,
(ii) Courts martial were forbidden to try civilians. These two clauses were regarded as the Charter of the most civilian nation of Europe.
(iii) The Petition of Right made all financial impositions dependent on the consent of the Parliament, thereby to limit king’s arbitrary power of taxation. (iv) Individual liberty was safeguarded by making it obligatory to show the cause of arrest in the warrant issued lawfully.
While the first session of the third Parliament took first step towards the transfer of sovereignty from the king to the Parliament, the second session took the first step towards revolution. The Parliament was Puritan while Charles was in favour of Arminianism.
Religion, therefore, became the bone of contention. To add to this was the controversy over the question whether prohibition of taxation without the consent of the Parliament covered customs and impositions.
Charles resolved to dissolve the Parliament but before he could do so occurred the famous scene when the Speaker while attempting to leave the House was held forcibly to his chair, door locked and three resolutions sponsored by Sir John Eliot were passed.
(i) any one who should bring innovations in religion,
(ii) any one who should advise levying of tonnage and poundage, and
(iii) all who would pay tonnage and poundage not voted by the Parliament should be accounted capital enemies of the nation. Charles imprisoned Eliot and eight other leaders of the opposition. The third Parliament was dissolved.
It became evident that no conciliation between the King and the Parliament was possible. While Parliament found it most effective weapon in its hand to refuse granting of supplies. Whenever it did to save embarrassment of the treasury it did in a most niggardly way. In matters of religion the Parliament was intolerant and would never tolerate the bishops.
The king found that the Parliament was trying an over- swaying power which belonged to the king, as Charles thought, and not to the Parliament. Finding it impossible to carry on with the Parliament Charles decided to rule without any.
3. Eleven Years’ Personal Rule of Charles I (1629-40):
When Charles I dissolved his Parliament in 1629, he hoped never to summon the Parliament during his lifetime. He thought himself to be at liberty to pursue and practise that form of government that commended itself to him as the most right type.
To his mind, king was the guardian of the constitution and of the Church and out of that belief he declared in 1629, when he took over the administration entirely in his hands that he would maintain the established doctrine of the Church of England as also the just rights and liberties of his subjects.
But difficulty of the whole situation was that Charles himself was to be the sole judge of what would be the just rights and liberties of his subjects.
During the period of eleven years’ un-parliamentary rule Charles was bent on:
(i) raising money by unconstitutional financial expedients;
(ii) punishing those who might refuse to comply with his demands;
(iii) enforcing his own ideas of Church Government. Two names which are particularly associated with the eleven years’ un-parliamentary rule are those of Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford and Archbishop Laud.
Financial necessities of the king compelled him and his ministers to employ every means of raising funds to which a legal colour might be given, or at least the existing laws might be circumvented in raising the needed amount, (a) Obsolete statutes were revived and fines and forfeitures made on the pretext of their breach. Every freeholder worth £40 per annum was compelled to become Knights; those who I refused to accept this distinction was heavily fined. (b) Long forgotten forest laws were likewise revived and persons who were found to have encroached upon the dis-afforested parts of the royal forests were heavily fined, (c) Strict inquisition into titles to estates was made and unauthorised titles made authorised on heavy payments. (d) Tonnage and poundage were being collected on the plea that the Petition of Right did not specifically forbidden them, and that the king was entitled to levy them by the exercise of royal prerogatives. (e) The monopolies had been declared illegal in 1624 but an exception was made in case of two companies and corporations. Charles on this plea began granting monopolies to corporations and companies; his argument was that the granting of monopolies to individuals was forbidden but not to companies and corporations. (f) But the most productive of all financial expedients was Ship-Money. About the legality of this levy there has been a great controversy. There is no doubt that the king could not levy any direct tax. But we have seen that James I had levied duties on various articles of daily use and in Bates case the court found him right.
Thus by the exercise of royal prerogatives Charles I also began to levy Ship-Money, a tax which could only be levied on the coastal towns for their defence. But Charles first levied it on the coastal areas in 1634, extended it over inland areas in the year following and levied it for a third time in 1636 over the whole country.
Obviously, Charles found Ship-Money to be the most paying of all his financial expedients. Hampden refused to pay this tax, he was hauled up before the king’s court and was found guilty by a verdict of seven against five of the judges.
It is noteworthy that the older judges decided in favour of John Hampden while the younger judges were against him. The swing was towards a judicial recognition of the royal prerogatives.
Although, from the contentions of the judges both for and against, the legality or otherwise of the Ship-Money cannot be definitely decided, yet its political inexpediency is unquestionable. In fact, the judgment proved of more advantage and credit to the gentleman condemned than to the king.
The nation realised that the judiciary was no longer the protector of the liberty of subjects. Another result of the decision on the Ship-Money question was an increase in the reluctance with which it was being paid. The net result of Charles I’s financial policy was to unite all classes of the country against him.
The chief advisers of Charles I during this period were Archbishop Laud and Thomas Wentworth. Archbishop Laud was the bishop of London and a confidant of Charles. He was promoted to the Archbishopric in 1633. Thomas Wentworth was a champion of Parliamentary rights and privileges but changed his side and turned to the king. He was made Earl of Strafford.
Archbishop Laud was out to enforce upon the people Charles I’s idea of Church Government and public worship. Laud was a learned and energetic man no doubt but he was narrow-minded, and a bitter enemy of the Puritans. The Puritans, in spite of their opposition to the Anglican Church remained within it so long. But Laud was determined to drive them out of it.
He loved ceremonial worship and introduced certain innovations into the Church. He changed the position of the communion of table from the middle of the hall to the eastern corner of the Church. The Puritans suspected Laud to be a Catholic for all these innovations, but in reality, he was a hater of Popery.
He wanted to enforce his ideas about the Christian worship by stamping out all opposition through the Courts of Star Chamber, High Commission, etc.
Bishop Laud’s policy of religious persecution drove many of the moderates to the Puritan side, but on the whole his policy of repression succeeded well so far as the English people were concerned. But his attempt to introduce the English Prayer Book in Scotland gave rise to most determined opposition.
The Scotch drew up a Covenant called the National Covenant in 1638 in which they pledged themselves to resist the Prayer Book at any cost. Charles I raised an army to support Laud in his policy of enforcing the. English Prayer Book upon the Scottish people. But to his utter dismay, he found that his soldiers would not fight seriously against the Scots.
The conflict that arose out of Charles and Laud’s policy of forcing down the Scots to a uniform system of worship as the English Church would dictate is known in history as the Bishops’ War since its idea was to maintain the position of the Bishops in Scotland.
In the mean time Strafford was in Ireland putting down the Irish people and their Catholic religion with an iron hand. In a letter to Laud, Strafford called his own policy of ruthless repression as thorough Strafford was in favour of strong and ruthless measures and in Ireland his policy paid.
Bishops’ War compelled Charles to summon Strafford, the man of the thorough fame to advise the Crown. The only advice Strafford could offer under the circumstances was to summon the Parliament and to ensure the supply of money for the effective prosecution of the war with Scotland. Charles, reduced to extremities, listened to Strafford and summoned his long forgotten Parliament in 1640.
This was a clear confession that Charles’ financial expedient and un-parliamentary rule did not carry him or his policy too far. Now that the Parliament understood the weakness of the Crown sufficiently well, it refused to make any grants unless the grievances of the nation were removed first.
Charles who had summoned the Parliament in the hope of liberal grants dissolved it in great disgust. He probably had not yet given up the idea of ruling despotically. This session of the Parliament having been very short, it is known in history as the Short Parliament. Charles now, both in despair and anger, led a small army into Scotland, but the Scots succeeded in pushing within the borders of England.
Charles had to compound the armed conflict by promising to the Scots a heavy amount as indemnity and allowing them to remain within the English soil until the indemnity was paid. Now Charles had no more illusion about the need for keeping the Parliament in session, however, unwillingly. Not many months after the session of the Short Parliament was dissolved, Charles summoned the Parliament again, which due to its long session from 1640 to 1660, is known in history as the Long Parliament. Thus Scotland forced Charles to give up his arbitrary rule.
About the nature of eleven years’ un-parliamentary rule by Charles I there has been divergence of opinion. Lord Clarendon remarked after the dissolution of the third Parliament “there quickly followed so excellent a composure through the whole kingdom that the like peace and plenty and universal tranquility for ten years was never enjoyed by any nation”.
He gave details of the abuses of the reign as well. Hume was even greater defender of the arbitrary exercise of power by Charles.
According to him – “The grievances under which the English laboured, when considered in themselves without regard to the constitution, scarcely deserve the name, not were they either burdensome on the people’s properties or any way shocking to the natural humanity of mankind”. These remarks apart, although the Parliament was suspended and Charles took up arbitrary powers into his own hands the Parliament remained in its original vigour though not in session. No amount of absolute power was capable of effecting more than a very partial suppression of liberties.
True, the sale of monopolies, imposition of tonnage and poundage, imposition of Ship-Money on inland areas were unconstitutional and arbitrary acts and gave rise to discontent yet the distraint of Knights, fines imposed according to forest laws, etc., were neither without precedent nor against laws, although mostly old and obsolete. Legalities of such impositions could not be indeed questioned.
In foreign affairs, Charles’ steps conformed to the national demand for peace. In 1638 he signed a treaty with Spain about the safety of Palatinate. If not for honouring the wishes of the people, at least for want of funds, Charles did not or could not act arbitrarily.
It must be conceded that Charles, in a general way was willing to promote popular well-being, to strengthen the finances and to make the national defence stronger in order to avoid humiliations and to compel a general reverence for Christianity by suppressing religious controversies. Artists like Van Dyke and Rubens, poets like Donne and Herbert, and many other dramatists received his patronage.
Unpopularity of Charles was to a large extent due to his bad selection of advisers. Wentworth, later Strafford and Laud were persons who were hated by the people. This hatred was reflected on the king and he had naturally a share of that popular distemper.
With a weak executive with insufficient finance, with no imaginative foreign policy Charles both reigned and ruled only on a small scale. The country was in peace, “Charles was a despot, but an unarmed despot”. Nobody could contend that he ruled mostly in accordance with the laws, though old, of the realm. Charles’ rule therefore was anything but tyranny.
In England Charles was successful in subduing Puritanism but his attempt to introduce English Prayer Book in Scotland was forced with the determined national opposition of the Scots. In 1638 the Scots drew up a document called National Covenant by which they pledged to resist the Prayer Book.
Charles raised an army but it was incapable of looking the Scottish army in the face. Charles could not enter Scotland and by the Treaty of Berwick allowed the Scots to settle their own affairs. The war is known as Bishops’ War for Charles’ idea was to maintain the supremacy of the bishops in Scotland.
Sir Thomas Wentworth later made Earl of Strafford was sent to Ireland where he pursued a policy of discipline and ruthless suppression. His stern system of government was known as thorough. Defeat in the Bishops’ War had unnerved Charles, he recalled Strafford and took his advice. Strafford had found it impossible to collect money and advised the king to summon Parliament. But Charles was averse.
The leaders of the opposition Essex, Bedford, Warwick, Sele, Saye and Brooke among the Lords and Pym and Hampden among the Commons met in a Conference and put up a petition to the king known as Petition of the Peers, in which they enumerated the prevailing evils under seven heads and suggested summoning of the Parliament as the only remedy.
Charles was still unconvinced and instead of a Parliament he summoned a Great Council of the Peers. This Council, however, negotiated a treaty with the Scots at Ripon, who had invaded England and crossed the borders, although the terms were no better than a royal surrender.
The Scots were to be in occupation of Northumberland and to receive £850 daily until the matter of dispute was finally settled. It became clear that the final settlement would depend on the Parliament. At length Charles I gave way, Parliament was summoned in 1640, and it was a surrender.
The Parliament met in April 1640 and was asked to vote money which the members refused till their grievances were redressed. Charles in disgust impatiently dismissed the Parliament. But the Scottish army was staying on the English soil at England’s cost. The king could not wait long before be was compelled to call the Parliament again. The first Parliament which sat for a very brief period is called Short Parliament.
In November, 1640, the famous Long Parliament assembled at Westminster and was not finally dissolved before 1660.
4. Long Parliament:
The elections to the Long Parliament created far more excitement than those to the Short Parliament. The electors rejected the official candidates and sixty per cent of the candidates returned had been members of the previous Parliament.
Hardly the Long Parliament met, it became evident that now, as six months ago in the Short Parliament, grievances were to have precedence over-all other questions. Pym in his masterly analysis of the misrule demanded punishment of those who sought to alter religion and to change of government of the kingdom which were high treason.
It became known that Strafford would try to forestall Pym by accusing him and other Parliamentary leaders of treason. Rumours were also there that some coup d’etat was intended.
Quick action was therefore necessary and immediately resolution to impeach Strafford was passed mainly on his alleged intention to bring Irish soldiers to subdue England. Strafford was taken to the Tower through multitude of insulting and scornful spectators. Archbishop Laud was likewise charged with treason.
In the course of the impeachment proceedings it was found that the charge of treason against Strafford was untenable, for treason, according to law then could be against the king, but Strafford far less doing anything against the king was only too faithful to him.
The Commons then dropped the impeachment proceedings and introduced a Bill of Attainder by which any person thought dangerous to the state might be condemned to death by an Act of Parliament. The Bill was passed and Strafford was executed. Archbishop Laud was also executed. Charles I had most reluctantly to give his consent to the execution of his advisers.
The Parliament then busied itself in passing a series of Acts intended to make absolute government impossible for the future. Tonnage and poundage was granted to the king for two months only and it was accompanied by the declaration that the previous exaction of these duties had been against the laws of the land and henceforth could not be levied without the consent of the Parliament.
Ship-money was declared illegal and the decision against Hampden who refused to pay the imposition, was denounced as contrary to law, and annulled.
The boundaries of forests were asserted to be the limits and bounds that obtained in the twentieth year of the reign of James I. Imposition of fines for invading the long forgotten boundaries of royal forests therefore became illegal.
Distraint of Knighthood, that is to compel any one to take upon himself the order of Knighthood was declared illegal.
Arbitrary courts like the Court of Star Chamber, the Court of High Commission, the Council of North and the Council of Wales were abolished.
In order to prevent any further attempt by the king to rule without Parliament, Triennial Act was passed which provided that a new Parliament must be summoned within three years after the last meeting of the previous Parliament. By another Act it was declared that the Long Parliament could not be dissolved without its own consent.
In the meantime a petition was presented to the Parliament praying for the ending of episcopacy, i.e. rule of the church by bishops, in all its roots and branches. The Puritan members considered the petition and drew up a Root and Branch Bill to end episcopacy. But the Bill fell through.
This was for the first time that the Parliament was divided. So long a vast majority of the Lords and Commons had been united in the opposition to the king. But the Root and Branch Bill divided it, for, many feared that the Parliament was going to the extremes. A moderate party, therefore, sprang up.
It was out of the debate on this Bill that the germs of the future Roundheads, the extreme Puritans, and Cavaliers, that is, the supporters of King Charles were formed. Among the former were Pym, Hampden, Oliver Cromwell, and in the latter were Lord Falkland, Sir Edward Hyde the later Earl of Clarendon, Chancellor and historian.
The constitutional significance of the enactments by the Long Parliament was that these destroyed royal tyranny and made government without Parliament impossible. The abolition of the arbitrary courts like Star Chamber, High Commission, etc., meant much more than the abolition of unpopular tribunals.
It meant “rooting up from its foundations of the whole of the administrative system which had been erected by the Tudors and extended by the Stuarts”. The value of the remedial enactments undertaken by the Long Parliament was that the Stuart autocracy was ended. “The responsibility of the ministers to Parliament, the power of the purse in the House of Commons, the Supremacy of the Common Law and of the regular courts of justice” says Montague “had been asserted beyond the possibility of doubt or dispute”.
The Parliament adjourned for six months and again met in October. In the meantime Charles visited Scotland in his attempt to win over the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Church promising favour to Presbyterianism and Covenanters. He also tried to find out the secret correspondence between the Parliamentary leaders and the Scots so that they might be charged with treason.
Hamilton and Argyle were suspected and were to be put under arrest. But they escaped arrest by flight. In October, when the Parliament met news arrived of rising of the Irish against their lords. In a sudden rebellion thousands of Protestants were massacred.
This only served to increase the Puritan fury. The partial revelations of the two army plots and rumours about the queen’s intrigues with Catholic powers of the continent inflamed public opinion.
The news from Ireland reached London just at the time when the Grand Remonstrance was under discussion. The inevitable result of the news was that those who believed or suspected Charles’ complicity became more and more determined to impose still further shackles upon him.
Pym and others held that the rebellion was the effect of evil counsellors and so long they would remain in office financial grants to suppress the rebels would be used for fomenting that rebellion or encouraging similar attempts by papists in England.
If, therefore, the king would not repose his confidence in counsellors that enjoyed Parliament’s confidence the Commons would be forced to defend Ireland from the rebels as also to secure them from such evil and mischievous counsellors, and “to commend those aids and contributions which this great necessity shall require to the custody and disposing of such persons of honour and fidelity as we have cause to confide in”.
This, as Gardiner says, was the signal for the final conversion of the Episcopalian party into a royalist party. The Irish rebellion hastened the Civil War.
The Commons, at once laid the Grand Remonstrance on the table and passed it by a narrow majority of only eleven.
The Grand Remonstrance was the work of different hands, and was, therefore, often disjointed and full of repetition. It opened with enumeration of grievances, which constituted a statement of misgovernment. Then there was a list of remedies already carried out and demanded (1) that the ministers and ambassadors of the Crown should be such as the Parliament may have cause to confide in. The ministers should be sworn to observe the laws of the land and not to receive any gift, payment or pension from any foreign, power, (2) that the king should reduce the power of the bishops and remove oppressions in religion, (3) that the country must be safe-guarded from the designs of the Roman Catholics through a Standing Commission, and a test should be applied to detect false conformity, (4) that all illegal exertions and grievances should be placed before and punished by sessions and assizes, and the judges should be sworn to put laws into effect.
From the re-assembly of the Parliament in October, 1641 till August, 1642, the Commons were bent on seizing control of both church and state until they compelled Charles to reply “If I granted your demands, I shall be no more than the mere phantom of a king”. The fact that the Grand Remonstrance was passed with a slender majority of eleven showed that anti-Puritanism was growing.
The Grand Remonstrance has been rightly regarded as one of the most important documents in English constitutional history. The heat and length of the debate on the document and the division it caused among the Commons showed the importance with which it was regarded by the contemporaries. The royalists regarded it as a libel framed against the king, and a plain sedition.
The opposition considered it as a matter of life and death. Such was the store set by it by the opponents that Cromwell remarked that if the Grand Remonstrance was rejected he would have sold all he had, next morning and never have seen England. The importance of the document also lay in the fact that it contained the germ of the Cabinet and ministerial responsibility to the House.
The queen and the Cavaliers urged upon Charles I to strike at Pym, King Pym as he was called, before it was too late. London was the stronghold of Puritans. They and the London merchants who had felt the weight of Charles’ taxation most heavily were inflamed against the Cavaliers. Both were itching for getting at each other’s throat.
Pym was a steady person He was determined to deprive the king of the command of the militia, for crushing the Irish rebellion militia must be called out and once Charles would have the command of the national army what was the guarantee that he would not use it against the Parliament and destroy English liberty?
A Militia Bill was, therefore brought forth, by which contrary to all English law and custom, it took the command of the militia from the hands of the king. Charles naturally refused to give his consent to this bill.
Early in January, Charles was advised by the queen and the Attorney General to impeach Pym, Hampden and three other prominent members of the Commons. The members were alarmed. But Charles promised on the word of a king that no violence was intended. Yet he went, next day, to the House with four hundred swordsmen under the command of his German nephew Prince Rupert.
The five members were forewarned of the real intention of the king and had earlier left the House. As the king eyed the members there was dead silence, but the five members. could not be found. The king asked the Speaker Lenthall where the members were to which he made his historical reply “I have neither the eyes to see nor tongue to speak in this place except at the bidding of the House”.
From this moment, the Speaker ceased to be the king’s servant and became the servant of the House. Charles remarked after scanning the benches “I see, all the birds are flown” and left word that they should be sent to the king as soon as they would be there. The king left the House amid cries of “privilege, privilege!”
The king had by now reached a point of no return, for this unprecedented step, the king had practically outlawed himself. Reconciliation having been past long back, Charles determined to try the issue of war and sending the queen out of the country, took up his quarters at York.
The Parliament claimed control over the militia and took over the command o the navy. During the months to follow, both sides began raising troops. London which was a Puritan stronghold supplied enough troops to quell royalist opposition. During the eight months from January to August, 1642, the king also gathered an army in the North. The country was fast moving towards a Civil War.
5. The Civil War:
The most fundamental cause of the great Civil War was the conflict between the royal prerogatives and the Parliamentary privilege. Not that the conflict was all Charles I’s creation, but it had its history from the beginning of the seventeenth century. What Charles did was to precipitate the issue.
By illegal impositions, invasion of liberties of the people, and by claiming superiority over laws of the land, Charles had overridden the authority of the Parliament. Charles’ ideas of Divine Right of Kings had ill-suited the temper of the time and the Parliament.
While the king claimed himself, as God’s anointed, to be the exclusive repository of sovereignty, the Parliament as representative of the nation claimed Parliament to be the repository of national sovereignty. The issue between the two was, therefore, where did sovereignty reside?
Economic prosperity due to the growing trade and commerce brought money into the members of the middle-class which constituted the backbone of the Parliament. London was the stronghold of the affluent merchant community. With wealth came independence and fearlessness. This was one cause why the middle-class gentry could afford to play the part it did to limit the power of the King.
Religious oppression had a major part to play in the causation of the Civil War. While the Parliament and the people were predominantly Puritan, Archbishop Laud sought to establish conformity in certain religious formalities which were nothing but an indirect way of linking England with Rome.
Ever since the submission of the Millenary Petition to James I in 1603, the Puritans had been under the impression that the Stuart kings would not grant them any freedom of conscience. Pym and Hampden, the Parliamentary leaders got the Puritan cause supported by the Parliament.
Religious discontent got mixed up with civil and political matters and the Puritans determined to defend their religious liberties by appealing to arms.
Unfortunately for the Stuarts when the Parliament and people became more and more self-assertive and more mindful of Parliamentary privilege and supremacy of common law, the king’s government was becoming progressively weak. This weakness was due to the financial embarrassment of the treasury as well as the lack of military strength.
The efficiency of the bureaucracy also gradually failed, particularly because it was composed of royal favourites. Scottish invasion and the Irish rebellion revealed in the fullest both the financial and military weakness of the king.
The Theory of Divine Right, held so fast by James I and Charles I at a time when the people and the Parliament became courageous and vocal about their rights and privileges left reconciliation out of question. The gulf between the two had widened and was impossible to be bridged, one or the other side must yield and surrender.
The circumstances that precipitated the issue was Charles’ rash act of attempted arrest of five members of the Commons. This was deemed to be a great affront to the Parliament and its privileges. This became all the more suspect because of Charles’ refusal to consent to the Militia Bill which sought to take the command of the national militia out of the king’s hands.
The opposition feared that Charles would use the militia to suppress the opposition.
The Parliament’s political programme had been set forth in the Nineteen Propositions which were delivered to the king on June 1, 1642. According to Ludlow these propositions were “the principal foundations of the ensuing war”.
The Nineteen Propositions may be summarised as follows:
“that the privy councillors, the great officers of state, the governors of fortifications should be appointed only with the approval of Parliament; that the king’s children should be educated by, married to, those in whom Parliament had confidence; that the laws against Roman Catholics should be strictly executed and papish peers excluded from the House of Lords; that the king should accept such a reformation of the church as Parliament advised; that he should sign the militia ordinance; that he should abandon delinquents to the justice of Parliament; and that the peers created thereafter should not be admitted to the House of Lords without consent of both Houses of Parliament.”
Charles in his reply called the Nineteen Propositions ‘a mockery and a scorn’ and said that if these would be accepted, they would annihilate the royal power and leave nothing but empty forms of majesty.
With regard to reformation of the church he observed that no church on earth professed true religion and there could be found no church with more purity of doctrine than the Church of England, or government or discipline was better established than in England by law, and he would maintain it both against the papists and separatists.
Reconciliation became impossible. Both sides began raising troops and Charles who had taken quarters in York raised his standard at Nottingham in the early Summer of 1642, both sides drew swords against each other.
The great issue to be decided by the Civil War was whether the sovereignty resided in the king or the Parliament. The issue, though political had a religious overtone, and had it not been religion complicating the political issue, the whole thing might have perhaps been decided without appeal to arms.
Added to the political obstinacy of the king was the unbridgeable gulf between the Puritan and followers of the Laudian Church.
So greatly important an issue was to be decided in a war between two small minorities. Not half the nation, nor even half the gentry joined the war either on the king’s or the Parliament’s side. Except London, there was no rush to arms, for it was not like the French Revolution, a war of classes. No class was to lose or win property privileges.
The labourers in the field remained neutral to the end. But in villages larger numbers enlisted for war under their landlords, few, however, joined the Puritan side. During the first Civil War a large minority of the gentry in every Shire sided with the Parliament. The most devotedly royalists were the largest owners of land.
The smaller squires, at least many of them were the Roundheads. The wealthy and better educated areas North and South of London sided with the Parliament. In East Anglia, West Riding of Yorkshire and Midland countries the yeomen freeholders were solid for the Parliament, but in the districts beyond the Severn where Puritanism was known as a new religion of the cockneys, they were the backbone of the royalist cause.
The small manufacturing towns like Manchester, Birmingham, Colchester, sea ports like Hull, Portsmouth and above all London itself stood by the Parliament. On the king’s side were the three isolated and backward regions of the North, the West and Cornwall.
The colleges at Oxford and a few at Cambridge melted down their valuable plates for the king as did many old county families. It may be mentioned that with the change in the future of war this local distribution changed, but class distribution changed less.
The Parliament’s most important asset was the Navy which had deserted the king; this made it impossible for the king to get help from abroad.
The troops of both sides composed, besides horsemen, pikemen and musketeers. The weapons carried by the musketeers were clumsy and it took a long time to fire a musket. The rank and file had no previous experience of war, although many of the officers on both sides had seen action in Holland and Sweden in the Thirty Years’ War.
Prince Rupert, son of Elector Palatinate, and Charles’ nephew was made the general of the Royalist Horse. Dashing though he was, Rupert was inexperienced and very young. The general of the Parliamentary army was the Earl of Essex, son of Elizabeth’s favourite Earl of Essex. The royalist army was commanded by the king himself, but he was a poor uninspiring commander, vacillating and almost every moment irresolute.
The standard was raised on August 22, 1642, the day of the anniversary of the Bosworth Field, at Nottingham, but it was blown down the same night which appeared to be a bad omen for the king. Charles moved towards London, hoping to recruit more men as he would be proceeding on the march.
Essex with 20,000 troops was at Northampton guarding the way to London, and intercepted the king at Edgehill (1642) where the first battle of the Civil War was fought. Rupert routed the Puritan horse, but could not win any decisive victory.
Charles continued his march to London. He took Oxford on the way before reaching the Capital. Essex reinforced by the London train-bands was face to face with the royal army at Turnham Green. Essex had double the king’s number with him which compelled Charles to withdraw to Oxford which became his headquarter for the rest of the war.
In 1643 Charles planned a three-pronged attack on London. Earl of Newcastle overran most of the North for the king and shut up Lord Fairfax and Sir Thomas his son in Hull. But his advance towards London was checked by Cromwell who was the only great military leader produced by the Civil War. Towards the west Sir Ralph Hopton’s forces attempted to take Plymouth, but it held out.
In central England Cavalier raids from Oxford led to a skirmish at Chalgrove near Thame in which the Puritan leader John Hampden was mortally wounded and the parliamentary troops completely routed. In the same year royalist attempts against the towns in the West Riding twice failed, but in the third, New Castle routed the Parliamentary troops under Sir Thomas Fairfax at Adwalton Moor (June 30, 1643).
In the west of London the royalist leader Sir Ralph Hopton defeated the Parliamentary troops at Stratton. The advance of the king’s main army was held up by resistance at Gloucester but Charles replied by laying seige of the town. But as Essex advanced to its relief, Charles raised the seige and blocked the Way of Essex.
At Newbury an indecisive battle was fought in which Lord Falkland who so hated to shed the blood of his countrymen that he rode into the battle with his sword seathed. This incomparable nobleman lost his life by a Puritan bullet running through him.
By the end of 1643, the royalists had reasons to see signs of promise, for they now held most of England except East Anglia and countries round London, and although Hull, Plymouth, Gloucester or London they could not occupy.
At this stage Pym made a treaty, Solemn League and Covenant with the Scottish Covenanters who promised to send an army of 20,000 men to assist the Parliamentary party. In return, a Presbyterian Church was to be setup in England. Charles looked to Ireland for help, where a Supreme Council had been set up for the re-establishment of Roman Catholicism in Ireland and to observe the allegiance to King Charles.
The Irish also drew up an oath to bind themselves into a Confederation. The lands of the Irish Protestants and neutrals were all confiscated. The king through his representative in Ireland concluded a Cessation by which hostilities of the Catholics and Protestants were to be suspended for a year during which negotiations for a settlement were to be conducted.
But the Irish did not send any troops to Charles’ assistance, although they granted him £30,000. The only other advantage that the king derived was that cessation of hostilities in Ireland released the English forces which he could now make use of.
Next year Cromwell led the Parliamentary army assisted by 20,000 Scottish troops and routed the royalists at Marston Moor (July, 1644). This was followed by the surrender of York to the Parliamentary side, thus the North of England was lost to Charles. Prince Rupert in appreciation of the Parliamentary troops nicknamed them Ironsides which name was later applied to the Puritan soldiers and their general.
Meanwhile Earl of Montrose who took up the royalist cause and had some success made Cromwell realise the need of strengthening the command side of the Parliamentary army. Cromwell obtained a self-denying ordinance passed whereby the incompetent Parliamentary generals—the members of both the Houses, were got rid of and Cromwell formed his famous New Model Army.
Pym, an able Parliamentary general had died within three months of the signing of the Solem League and Covenant with the Scots. Fairfax and Cromwell organised the New Model Army and trained it during the winter of 1644-45.
This army formed the backbone of the Parliamentary forces and began with an army only 22,000 strong but by the end of 1645 reached a total of 80,000. Cromwell made good soldiery rather than religious fanaticism as the test of his troops.
The Parliament promised to pay the army regularly and to give complete control of its training to the generals. The New Model Army was composed of independents opposed both to Presbyterian and Episcopalian Churches.
Another advantage of this army was that its cavalry was derived mainly from the old army of the Eastern Association of Cromwell and commanded by veterans who could inspire confidence. But the greatest advantage lay in its commanders.
The first engagement of the New Model Army was the relief of Tauton, the next was a cavalry raid around Oxford, Charles’ headquarters. In the summer of 1645 the New Model Army was ready for its work and Cromwell and Fairfax sought Charles out at Northamptonshire where his main army lay. This was done in order to forestall Charles from joining forces with Montrose of Scotland.
In the battle Nasby the royalists were completely routed. Charles’ supporter Montrose who was earlier successful was defeated by the Covenanters who supported the Parliament’s cause. Defeat at Nasby had driven Charles out of the Midlands and he had no more armies left to fight for him.
The war degenerated into raids and sieges of towns and manor-houses but with the surrender of Oxford even this resistance by the royalist forces ended. Shortly before the fall of Oxford, Charles had surrendered to the Scots Newark. The Scots handed Charles to Parliament in return for £400,000 as their cost of war. This ended the First Civil War both in England and Scotland with complete victory for the Parliament (1646).
In the hour of triumph it often becomes difficult to refrain from harsh use of victory by the winning side. In the First Civil War the Parliament won, they now proceeded to deal with their beaten enemies— the royalists. Victory in the First Civil War did not at once transfer the royal sovereignty to the Parliament.
This left a time gap which was used by the enthusiasts and breakers of customs for some over doings. This was due to the absence of first rank politicians, Pym and Hampden already dead, and second rank politicians succeeding to their position.
The Cavaliers had surrendered in a spirit of open conciliation and if the Parliament had allowed some form of toleration for the Prayer Book Service and left their properties that survived the ravages of the Civil War, untouched, it would not have been difficult to establish a constitutional monarchy. But the idea of granting religious toleration and financial immunity at the end of a fierce Civil War, was not considered to be within the region of practical politics.
The Parliament, therefore, proceeded to deal with their beaten enemies. The Prayer Book Service was forbidden by law, and two thousand Anglican clergy were expelled from their livings, each, however, with a small pension. All who had fought for or helped the king were forced to pay heavy fines varying from a sixth to one-half of their estates.
This crushing blow embittered the royalists beyond any hope of reconciliation. Common sufferings gave the gentry an entirely new attachment to the Anglican clergy which was to last for centuries. The royalist gentry had to cut down their trees, mortgage their estates and send their wives to soften the.
Roundhead Committee-men in London by bribes and tears. Fear and poverty reigned in many homes where party feeling would otherwise have soon died out, but harsh treatment made it unforgettable. In one respect, the Parliament men were commendable. They did not shed any blood except that of Archbishop Laud in January, 1645, after which they stayed their hands.
The Puritans were by no means united, the Presbyterians were in a majority in the Parliament and in pursuance of their promise by Solemn League and Covenant, they set up a Presbyterian Church system by an Act of Parliament. Yet the fact remained that the New Model Army was predominantly Puritan. There were also many Puritan sects outside the Parliament.
The Puritan sects like the Baptists and Independents believed that every congregation however small should be free to rule itself, but the Presbyterians who were both narrow and rigid in their views would not find this independence suitable.
In 1646, the Parliament passed bills suppressing all these sects. Milton writing about that time remarked “A little generous prudence, a little forbearance of one another, and some grain of charity, might win all into one brotherly search after truth”.
The Parliament (the Long Parliament still sitting), was not content with persecuting the Independents in the army. They now proposed to disband the bulk of the New Model Army without payment of its arrears of pay. The reason behind this was the illogical deduction that any command issued by the Parliament, because of the heights to which it had been raised by the victory, would be obeyed.
The personal jealousies also played their part, for the self- denying ordinance had excluded the members of the Houses from the command of the New Model Army. Stapleton and Waller whose military career had been cut short by the self-denying ordinance could not forget it. The most important motive for the conduct of the Parliament was the wish to appear as the friends of order.
The order disbanding the New Model Army without arrears of pay was not obeyed. The soldiers remained in camp. The Parliament instead of paying them off while they were ready to go home on receipt of their wages, entered on a great political and military intrigue.
The leaders of Parliament determined to raise enough troops to coerce the New Model Army in the name of the king and partly in alliance with the Royalists. They now decided to bring the king to London from Holmby House where he was kept confined after the Scots had handed him over to the Parliament, and act in his name.
Cromwell had for months honestly tried to keep the peace and to that end had urged the Parliament to pay the soldiers, and the soldiers to obey the Parliament. As he was a firm believer in peace and constitutional government he was willing to disband the New Model Army after they were paid.
At the initial stage the mutiny of the army was stirred up by others, but once he found the Parliament not amenable to reason he decided to side with the army. He despatched Cornet Joyce to forestall the Parliamentary leaders with five hundred men to seize the King and thereby to prevent the King’s joining the Presbyterian government aimed at by the Parliament. Cornet Joyce and his men brought Charles to Hampton Court where Fairfax and Cromwell had already reached (May, 1647).
The army then marched into London. The Houses to avoid conflict yielded to the approaching army. Many members of the two Houses including the two Speakers Manchester and Lenthall came to join the advancing forces. The city militia did not dare fight and Hyde Park was occupied without a battle. Eleven Parliamentary leaders were expelled from their seats. The leaderless Presbyterian majority was permitted to resume power on sufferance. Then the army retired and everything became quiet.
At Putney, the headquarters of the army, a series of debates among the elected agents of the army proposed a democratic constitution to be put in force immediately. But Cromwell and Ireton pointed out that army had no power to legislate. Republicanism and universal suffrage demanded by the debaters could not be obtained at that time.
The same summer Cromwell and his son-in-law Ireton put up before the king a treaty called the Heads of Proposals. According to its terms Charles was to be restored to the headship of the government; freedom of worship was to be ensured for all except the Anglicans and the Roman Catholics; the Long Parliament should set a date for its own dissolution; henceforth there should be biennial Parliament lasting for not less than one hundred and twenty days with control over the army and navy for ten years; no royalist to hold office of the state for five years or to be elected member of the Parliament till the end of four years; there should be a Council of State with 20 persons to be agreed upon now, for a period of seven years, who should conduct all foreign negotiations but should require consent of the Parliament for making peace or war; great officers of the state were to be nominated by the Parliament directly for ten years and indirectly thereafter; there should be equal electoral districts, and the royalists were to be allowed to compound for their delinquency on easy terms.
The merit of the Heads of Proposals itself was the cause of its failure. It was drawn up to conciliate all and as it happens in such cases of ambitiousness, it displeased all. It compressed the work of generations and there lay its cause of doom. The Heads of Proposals angered the king and he spoke bitterly to Ireton and others: ‘You cannot be without me; you will fall to ruin if I do not sustain you’.
It was taken as a hint that Charles had some secret strength upon which he was making this remark. The army leaders became convinced of his duplicity. Charles was only playing with the men who had gone beyond anything he could hope.
On the 15th November, 1647, Charles fled from Hampton Court to Carisbrooke Castle in the Isle of Wight. From that retreat he spent the whole of winter and spring calling upon the Scots, Presbyterians and the royalists to rise and destroy the sects.
Another war was a foregone conclusion. Cromwell and Ireton became alienated from the army and the Parliament because, it was complained, the fallen power of the King, Lords and the Prelates was being sought to be restored. Cromwell saw that the proposed treaty was a failure.
“A noble rage filled the soul of the man who had striven so hard to make sure the footing of peace.” War clouds were scudding up again. On May 1, 1648 in a prayer meeting of the army leaders, Cromwell and others stood in tears of disappointment as they agreed that their late negotiations with the king brought upon them the punishment of God by the way of rising troubles.
Cromwell as well as many others declared “if ever the Lord brought us back again in peace” they would “call Charles, that man of blood, to account for the blood he had shed”. With such fierce exaltation the army leaders rode forth to war. The Second Civil War began now. The Presbyterians of England joined hands with the Scots.
Fairfax at once besieged and captured the Presbyterian town of Colchester, Cromwell rode north to meet the Scots and put their horsemen to flight after the battle of Preston (1648) and captured all the Scottish infantry. Cromwell’s victory made the army master of the situation and returning to London, it turned on the English Presbyterians who were most powerful in the Parliament.
England was now at the mercy of the New Model Army which was now enemy of both the King and the Parliament.
It wanted to punish Charles for his duplicity and for the recurrence of war and to punish the Presbyterian members of the Parliament. In December, 1648, Cromwell sent Colonel Pride and his musketeers to the House of Commons to prevent 100 Presbyterian members from entering the House and to carry off 50 members to prison.
This Colonel Pride and his soldiers did. This is known as Pride’s Purge, after which less than one hundred members, all Independents remained to form the Rump—the remainder of the Long Parliament.
What was to be done of the King. Cromwell decided on his death, for it was Charles whom, he considered, responsible for so much bloodshed. If it were possible to forgive the King for the First Civil War, he could not be forgiven for causing the Second. It was thought that as long as the King would be alive, there would be no end of intrigues with the Scots, Irish or the French. He had forfeited all trust.
A Bill for the trial of the King for waging war against his Parliament, which was nothing short of treason was passed by the Commons. The Lords threw out the Bill. The Commons now resolving that the “people are under God, the original of all just power” passed the Act setting up a Commission of 135 members to try the King.
The charge against Charles was that he had endeavoured to “subvert the ancient and fundamental laws and liberties of this nation, and in their place to introduce an arbitrary and tyrannical government” and he had pursued that aim “with fire and sword” and also by a “cruel war”.
The court for the King’s trial was presided over by John Bradshaw, a Puritan lawyer, and John Cook acted as prosecutor. That the charge of treason against the king was not at all maintainable, goes without saying. Treason cannot be pleaded against the king. The king rightly questioned the legality of the court trying to judge him. He protested ‘I am here by no law’.
He protested having done any crime against the people, for liberties of his people were bound up with his own. ‘The King cannot be tried by any superior jurisdiction on earth.’ But these were unavailing. Bradshaw bullied the unfortunate monarch into silence and at last refused to allow him to speak.
He was found guilty in this farce of a trial and sentenced to death and was executed in front of the King’s palace at Whitehall on January 30, 1649.
Nowhere before Charles I had showed himself so dignified of bearing as on the scaffold. He was immaculately dressed in warmest suit which he chose for himself. “Dress me in the warmest of suits, or else I shall shiver in cold and they shall think I am trembling out of fear.” His proud, fearless and majestic bearing made a great impression on the multitude that gathered to witness the execution.
In a short speech Charles claimed himself to be a martyr to the cause of Kingship. Execution over, his bleeding head was held high in view of the multitude and a shriek burst from them. “There was such a groan by the thousands then present, as I never heard before and desire I may never hear again” said an eye-witness.
The king’s body was kept in the Whitehall. At night the watchers saw a man enter with his face covered by his cloak, approach the body, weep, and say a cruel necessity. It was thought that the man was Oliver Cromwell.
The execution ordered by the court presided over by Bradshaw and carried out under the signatures of John Bradshaw, Thomas Grey, Oliver Cromwell and fifty-six others has remained ever since a matter of dispute till the present-day. ‘A cruel necessity’ supposed to have been muttered by Cromwell was partially true. Cruel indeed it was for a nation to lead its king to the block.
The multitude that gathered to witness the execution burst into a sombre groan at the cruel sight of the bleeding head of Charles held up to their view. The regicides could never anticipate the bitterness aroused all over Europe by the execution of the king. The general sympathy for the king was enhanced by the Eikon Basilike supposed to have been written by Charles I and was in the press at the time of his execution.
The reading of the book aggravated grief at the loss of so excellent a prince. The contemplation of Charles’ virtues rendered the wickedness of his persecutors more odious. Edition after edition of the book, and in different languages, forced the Council of State to call upon Milton, the celebrated poet to write a reply in his Eikonoklastes to destroy the idol created by the ‘mad multitude’ out of Charles I.
But this did not have the desired effect. For, two editions in English and one in French while sufficed for the Eikonoklastes, whereas some fifty in a year were too few for Eikon Basilike. This was obviously because of the cruelty of the execution.
All executions are cruel, but necessity sometimes justifies even such cruelty. Whether Charles’ execution was a necessity is also open to criticism. Those who had charged him of high treason and high crimes had their arguments in the fact that if Charles would have been allowed to live there would be no end of intrigues and war. This was the lesson that the Parliament had learnt when it was negotiating with him.
It was Charles who had caused the Second Civil War and Cromwell and other leaders, as they proceeded to the war declared their determination “to call Charles Stuart, that man of blood, to account for the blood he had shed”. His execution was thus predetermined and when Charles lost, he paid with his blood
But more important was the fact that the necessity was not justified by law. The English constitution never knew, nor does it know up to the present-day how to try a king. Charles I was true when he questioned the legality of the court. Further, execution did not bring to an end arbitrary government in England.
English liberties were indeed in greater jeopardy during the period of Cromwellian rule which showed that Charles’ execution did not satisfy the argument of necessity.
Even the composition of the court trying the king was not constitutionally valid. The Bill for trial was thrown out by the Lords whereupon the Commons unilaterally passed it into an Act, as they called it. But legally or constitutionally it was untenable.
This apart, the fact that monarchy was restored in 1660, and another revolution, bloodless though, had to be undergone for establishment of limited monarchy and English liberties, proved that the execution was a premature step.
Yet in conclusion it may be said that one result of the execution of Charles was that it proved the supremacy of law and that the lex is above rex, i.e. law is above the King.