Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Charles I: problems with parliaments (1625-9)

Charles’s inheritance

Charles as he liked to be portrayed,
by Anthony Van Dyck
His inheritance was complex and potentially problematic. It included:

  1. Multiple monarchies: the fact that he was king of three kingdoms (England and Wales, Scotland, Ireland)
  2. Financial problems: the inability of the Crown to make ends meet
  3. The growth of religious dissent:  Charles was the first monarch to be brought up in the Church of England. His reign saw rise of Arminianism, a theology that originated in Holland, which was a reaction to the extremes of Calvinism. In England this also entailed the bringing in of more ‘high church’ practice into Anglican services
  4. Charles exacerbated these potential problems when at the beginning of his reign he married the Catholic princess, Henrietta Maria of France. When she refused to attend Charles’s coronation in 1626 she became the first consort in English history to dissociate herself from the ceremony.

Henrietta Maria of France,
Charles' Catholic wife

The character of Charles I

Historians are agreed that the accession of Charles I marks a turning point. In character and appearance he was a complete contrast to his father, dignified where James was crude, detached where James was earthily accessible. The fact that he was the second son and only became the heir after the death of his elder brother Henry in 1613 might have contributed to his sense of insecurity. As if to compensate for his own insecurity, he developed an inflated sense of the dignity of kingship, and in defining his own position so uncompromisingly, he forced others to define theirs. He became fatally identified with one particular outlook and ruthlessly excluded those with opinions that differed from his own. In his efforts to root out the disloyal, his fears became self-fulfilling. Though his accession was the smoothest since the accession of Henry VIII in 1509, the honeymoon period did not last long.

Charles’s early parliaments

Charles’s early parliaments were dictated by three issues, all inter-connected:

  1. Money: would parliament grant subsidies to the king?
  2. Religion: there was unease at Charles’s support of Arminian clergy
  3. Foreign policy: Charles’s refusal to support the Protestant cause in the Thirty Years’ War aroused great resentment.

In Charles’s first parliament (1625) John Pym, the MP for Tavistock, emerged as a critic of the king’s religious policy, which was seen to favour the Arminians. In the subsequent parliament (1626) Pym led the attacks on Charles’s favourite, George Villiers, duke of Buckingham. With his relationship with Parliament deteriorating, Charles resorted to extra-parliamentary means to raise money. In September 1626 he authorized the levying of a Forced Loan to raise the equivalent of five subsidies. It was claimed that this was justified because of the national emergency (war with France) and this claim was strongly supported by sermons preached between February and July 1627 by Arminian clerics, who argued that the king was answerable only to God.  Fiscally the loan was a considerable success, yet the political cost was severe. 

The root of the controversy lay in a fundamental ambiguity within the constitution. Those who opposed the loan did not deny that the king could raise taxes in emergencies but they asserted that at this time no such emergency existed and that therefore Charles was abusing his emergency powers.

The Petition of Right

With the government desperately short of money, Charles summoned his third Parliament for March 1628. The members - 27 of whom had been imprisoned for refusing the forced loan - assembled in a mood of grave anxiety. Instead of mounting a direct attack on Buckingham, they drew up a Petition of Right and presented it to the king in June.  

The Petition of Right
It sought the king’s agreement

  • not to raise taxation without Parliament’s consent
  • not to imprison any subjects without just cause
  • not to billet troops on civilians without their consent
  • not to impose martial law on civilians

The Petition cited Magna Carta and a range of medieval statutes to  to create the impression that it was simply declaring existing law. In fact, it was stating the law more precisely than it had ever been stated before.  On 7 June Charles reluctantly accepted the Petition, and, believing that it would have statutory force, the Commons promptly passed a bill for five subsidies.

What followed next greatly increased the king’s reputation for duplicity. When the Petition came to be printed, he instructed the royal printer to efface the original statute number with a pumice stone, thereby undermining its authority as a statute. (These dealings came to light in 1629.)

The second session of Charles’s third parliament met between January and March 1629.  On 2 March the Speaker, Sir John Finch, had to be held in his chair to forestall a dissolution while the Commons passed resolutions against religious innovation and taxation policy. Charles dissolved the parliament on 10 March, and imprisoned 9 members.

On 27 March he issued a proclamation stating that he would not recall parliament until ‘our people shall see more clearly into our intents and actions’. Eleven years would elapse before he faced another Parliament. In the four years since his accession he had alienated a significant number of his subjects and raised fundamental legal, constitutional and religious issues.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.