Charles I of England

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Charles I Stuart, King of England, Scotland, & Ireland.

Charles I (November 19, 1600January 30, 1649) was the second son of James VI of Scots and I of England. He was King of England, Scotland and Ireland from 27 March 1625 until his regicidal murder.[1]

Early life

Charles was born in 1600 in Dunfermline Castle, a third child and second son to James VI, King of Scots, and his spouse Anne, Princess of Denmark, who were married in 1589. As he grew, a slight impediment in his speech became noticeable, and he had a weakness in the joints of his legs. He overcame the physical defects and showed considerable stamina throughout his life, although the speech impediment remained with him, one of the reasons for his shyness and reserve.[2]

When his parents left to take up the English throne also, Charles was left behind and did not go south until August 1604. He became a skilful horseman, and eventually excelled in various other sports and manly exercises. He felt that the most important element in his education was the theological one and he remained throughout his life deeply religious and devoted to the Church of England; also maintaining rigorous sexual morality and exquisite manners. On November 12, 1612 his elder brother, Prince Henry, the heir to the thrones, died from what is thought to have been typhoid. Charles became the heir-apparent at the age of 12. King James had arranged the marriage of his daughter Elizabeth to the Elector Palatine, one of the leading Protestant princes in Germany and now proposed that Charles should marry the Infanta of Spain, in his scheme of things to bring peace between the two religions and to demonstrate how balanced England was. These plans were shattered by the outbreak of the Thirty Years War in 1618. The following year Charles's mother died. At this time Charles fell under the influence of George Villiers, later Duke of Buckingham.

The Venetian Ambassador reported in 1621: "Charles is dignified in manner and active in habits. He rides well and distinguishes himself at tennis and at the tilting yard. He has good taste in music and painting. His moral conduct is irreproachable and he blushes at an immodest word."[3]


In 1621 Charles began to enter politics, when during the Parliament of that year, he was sent to plead for Francis Bacon before the House of Lords where he was being impeached, one of several victims of Parliamentary wrath. Here began Charles loathing and distrust of Parliament. It had been called to vote upon Supply, not as an examination of their grievances. There had been no cases of Impeachment between 1459 and 1621! The House of Commons in the end gave limited financial aid, voting only two subsidies, and insisted on debating foreign policy, despite King James's protest that such questions were his alone to decide. This produced as a reply from the Commons: the "Protestation" of December 18, 1621, in which were asserted the privileges of Parliament. The king tore the "Protestation" out of the Commons Journals with his own hands and dissolved Parliament.[4]

King James returned to the idea of Charles marrying the Spanish Infanta, hoping to halt Spain's aggressive policy in Germany as part of a marriage settlement. On February 18, 1623 Buckingham and Charles, in disguise, left for Madrid. They halted for two days in Paris, where Charles first saw the young Princess Henrietta Maria, in a masque. However the proposed marriage to the Infanta was a fiasco. The Papal Dispensation for the marriage, for instance, was full of rigorous conditions. Finally Charles accepted defeat and returned home, greatly embarrassed, amid general rejoicing that the heir to the throne had returned unmarried and a Protestant. The last Parliament of King James's reign assembled in February 1624 enthusiastically voting for war with Spain, which was to drag on for four years. Yet they then voted an inadequate sum of money in Subsidy, advocating a naval war only, and forbidding a continental expedition. King James died in March 1625.[5]

In May 1625 a formal treaty and marriage agreement (prepared by Cardinal Richelieu) was made with King Louis XIII of France for King Charles, as he now was, to marry Louis's sister, 14 year-old Princess Henrietta Maria, and a marriage ceremony took place, by proxy, at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. A further marriage ceremony took place at Canterbury, after her arrival in England, on June 12, 1625.

Buckingham, however, arrogantly ignored the treaty with France, and in 1627 thrusted himself into French politics by sailing to the relief of the Protestant city of La Rochelle, before its citizens had finally broken with the French king or asked for help. It was another disaster and soon the English were driven ignominiously home and the city fell to the French king. In August 1628 Buckingham was assassinated by an unbalanced lieutenant, John Felton, at Portsmouth.[6]


Religious conflicts permeated Charles' reign. Despite his efforts, his failure to successfully aid Protestant forces during the Thirty Years War, plus the seasonal revolts in Roman Catholic Ireland, coupled with such actions as marrying a Roman Catholic princess,[7][8] generated an unjustified degree of mistrust of the king by the more radical Protestants. Further, Charles, being a High Church of England advocate[9], allied himself with other High Church religious figures, such as the ecclesiastic Richard Montagu, and William Laud whom Charles appointed Archbishop of Canterbury. Many of Charles's Protestant subjects believed, rightly or wrongly, that this brought the Church of England too close to the Roman Catholic Church. Charles's later attempts to force Episcopalian reforms upon Scotland led to the Bishops' Wars and the Covenanting wars.


Unlike today, Parliament during the Tudor and Stuart reigns sat rarely. Charles's first parliament in 1625 met first in London, then in Oxford to avoid the plague raging int he capital. It awarded only two Subsidies, a sum wholly inadequate for the conduct of seriosuw arfare. Charles was even more annoyed by parliament's refusal to vote him the right to collect tonnage and poundage (customs duties) for life, as had been granted to the monarch at the beginning of every preceding reign since 1400. This parliament was dissolved in August 1625. His second Parliament was called for February the following year. It repeated and exaggerated all the opposition of 1625. No more money, they said, would be forthcoming until the hopeless Buckingham was removed from his positions. Charles refused on principle as he felt Parliament should not dictate to him his choice of advisors. In his address to Commons and Lords at Whitehall in 1626 his tones of personal affront he adopted in his relations with Parliament were clear. This parliament was dissolved in August, without having voted Supply. Failure of Parliament to grant finance resulted in the resort to all sorts of expedients, which rapidly caused resentment.Therefore in March 1628 Charles summoned his third parliament. This Paarliament presented Charles with their Petition of Right, which, faced with further military defeats, Charles signed on June 7th. They also embarked on an assault on the Royal religious position by impeaching Roger Manwaring, a clergyman who had declared that to refuse the forced loans was to defy God as well as the King. Parliament was again prorogued and Charles made peace with both France and Spain. Charles also returned to the old system of a Privy Council debating questions of policy.[10]

In January 1629 Parliament again assembled and the extremists now moved against the King on religious grounds as Charles had issued a declaration in December 1628 that parliament had no right to meddle in Church affairs. The church had taken a definite hardening of the line against Puritan tendencies. In addition the House brought before it Royal Officials who had levied tonnage and poundage. Charles forbade questioning of his servants and ordered the House to adjourn. For a while it refused and the King threatened to send Royal Guards to disperse the House. Before the doors were opened and the members dispersed they declared three treasonous Resolutions, which almost certainly would not have passed a vote, "passed by acclamation". This parliament had been a step too far and many of the opposition joined the King's side. Parliament would not sit again for eleven years. With no war and no domestic conflict a great quietness descended over the land.[11]

Personal rule

During the 1630s Charles repaired and strengthened the Navy, helped by the imposition of the tax known as 'ship money', from which the magnificent ship, Sovereign of the Seas was built and launched in 1637. But the principle concern of Charles's administration in the eleven years of personal rule was the government of the church and matters of religion: "Men are ruled more by the pulpit than by the sword", he said. He sought with Laud to eradicate Puritanis, and he wanted to impose a new "beauty of holiness" on the forms of worship used in his kingdoms. This had disastrous results in Scotland. In the Spring of 1639 the National Covenant was signed by all classes of Scottish Protestants, rich and poor, swearing to resist the changes to the death, if necessary. In 1639 Charles marched northwards to Scotland, with a reluctant army. A little aimless skirmishing was ended by the Peace of Berwick in June. Charles then recalled Thomas Wentworth, Lord Deputy of Ireland since 1632. Wentworth, respected and feared but not liked, arrived on September 22nd and became Charles's principal advisor, and was created Earl of Strafford in January 1640.

Parliament recalled

Charles had ruled for years without Parliament but ultimately became engaged in a struggle with Parliament as he attempted to raise revenue for military purposes. Parliament would seek to use these requests to curb his Royal prerogative which Charles, like his father, believed was divinely ordained. The Earl of Strafford was responsible for the fatal decision to call Parliament again. he had completely miscalculated the possibility of winning support for Royal policies in the English Parliament. he believed that the extremists would again discredit themselves, as in 1629. Before Parliament met, Strafford made a lightening visit to Dublin in march 1640, and won from the Irish Parliament the vote of four Subsidies to pay for the raising of an army to be used against the rebellious Scots in Ulster and in Scotland. As soon as the English Parliament assembled on April 13, 1640 it became obvious that the Commons were in no mood to obediently support the King against the Scots. The Parliamentary opposition, notably John Pym, were in touch with the Scots and they stood together against the King. Parliament was dissolved. It became known as the "Short Parliament."[12] A propaganda campaign was launched against Charles by Calvinists and Puritans, whose ideological descendents would one day become the Whigs: they used the cry of "absolute monarch" as a meme in their war on him.[13] Serious disorders now broke out in the country as taxation was levied in a variety of different ways. On August 29, 1640, the Scots advanced across the Tyne defeating an English army. Newcastle and counties Durham and Northumberland fell. Charles was forced to sign the humiliating Treaty of Ripon which required a huge money indemnity which could only be paid by parliamentary grant. On November 3, 1640, the "Long Parliament" was opened by King Charles. He had a hostile reception and had to return two days later with a conciliatory speech. Strafford was impeached and Archbishop Laud sent to the Tower. Other Ministers fled the country. In the Autumn of 1641 a Royalist Party began to constitute itself.

Civil War

The final years of his reign were marked by the English Civil War, when the traitorous forces of a modest majority of the English and Scottish Parliaments challenged the king's fundamental rights and declared war upon him. Simultaneously they used his position as head of the Church of England to pursue religious policies which generated the antipathy of extreme reformed groups such as the Puritans. Charles at first was winning the Civil War, his forces being popularly known as Cavaliers. However his arch-adversary, Oliver Cromwell, a Puritan, sent Commissioners to Jewish bankers in Amsterdam to raise funds to equip a New Model Army. This was done, one of the conditions extracted from Cromwell being the lifting of the Decree of King Edward 1st banishing Jews from England. The New Model Army, with new equipment, training and funding was ultimately able to defeat the Royalist forces in the First Civil War (1642–45), after which Parliament requested that the King accept its demands for a much more constitutional monarchy. Accepting some conditions he secretly attempted to forge an alliance with the Scots and escaped his house arrest, going to the Isle of Wight. This provoked the Second Civil War (1648–49) and a second defeat for Charles, who was subsequently captured, illegally tried in Westminster Hall, convicted, and mockingly executed at Banqueting House, Whitehall, for "high treason". The monarchy was then abolished and a republic called the Commonwealth of England under Oliver Cromwell formed. Jews were allowed back.


Charles's son, Charles II, who had fought during the Civil War, notably at the Battle of Worcester, became king after the restoration of the monarchy in 1660.[13] In that same year, Charles I was canonized as St. Charles Stuart by the Church of England.[14]


  1. History — Charles I (1600–1649). British Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved on 2008-04-20.
  2. Watson, Professor D.R., The Life & Times of Charles I, London, 1972, pps:12-17. ISBN:0-297-99436-X
  3. Watson, 1972, p.25.
  4. Watson, 1972, p.25-7.
  5. Watson, 1972, pps:27-43.
  6. Watson, 1972, p.59.
  7. Queen Henrietta Maria, 1609–69. Retrieved on 2008-04-20.
  8. Queen Henrietta Maria, 1609–69. Retrieved on 2008-04-20.
  9. Watson, 1972, p.20.
  10. Watson, 1972, pps:53-60.
  11. Watson, 1972, pps:60-5.
  12. Watson, 1972, p.93-5.
  13. 13.0 13.1 Charles I (r. 1625–49). Retrieved on 2008-04-20.
  14. Charles, King and Martyr. SKCM. Retrieved on 2008-10-16.

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