For Charles I, April to June 1625 was his like the honeymoon period given to new football managers – enthusiastic full of hope – and depressingly brief. The honeymoon period with his newly arrived wife Henrietta Maria, was similarly brief.
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It is a general theme in political life is it not, that after a while everyone gets a bit bored with a government. However popular or successful you might have been, there just comes a time for a change. And generally speaking, even with the likes of Elizabeth, when the old, monarch or Political party shuffles off the political coil into the political fields of Elysium wherever they might be, to endlessly debate or brief secretly against each other for eternity, everyone is filled with hope for the new regime. There is, in brief, a honeymoon period. Even if it might be as brief as that which greets each new manager of Derby County, before the stream of disasters inevitably follow. And then it – you know – ends.
Well, Charles as we mentioned last week, swept into his new role on the crest of a wave of optimism, not just because it’s always nice to have a change, but because Charles and his pal the Duke of Buckingham had rather suddenly switched from Spanish Match to Spanish Natch and the Old King who appeared to have been standing in their way was now out of the way. Edward Coke, who would prove a difficult customer for Charles in some ways had spoken in the last parliament about Charles as a sort of Henry V/Black Prince combo, and you don’t get higher praise in English history than that, let me tell you. This young prince would now lead them into a repeat of the glories of the Elizabethan Golden age. without all those famines and nasty bits of the 1590s which had all been forgotten, so that already the exploits of Drake and Spanish Armada had passed smoothy from current affairs into the sepia-tinted world of legend ad perfection, without even bothering to pause to pick up £200 or pass Go. Now their new prince was going to deliver the Golden Age Mark II, the Return, the sequel. No one ever said the expectations of the Gen Pub was reasonable.
Also. It has to be said that Charles was happily pretty experienced in the business of running and managing parliaments it seemed. Someone described Charles as having been ‘bred in parliament’ – by which they didn’t mean he was about to be made into toast, slathered with butter and marmalade and fed into the maw of democracy, but that he was experienced at managing and running them. Although actually – if the cap fits and all of that. But look the 1624 parliament he’d been involved in had probably been the happiest and most successful of James’ reign, so presumably he knew what he was doing, and all would be well. In the spirit of optimism. Let me tell you how John Eliot, MP remembered the atmosphere – you will hear the name John Eliot again, and honestly it will rarely be as a Charles I fanboy, but in March 1625 he was a client of the Duke of Buckingham, and eager to please
King James being dead and with him the fearful security and degenerate vices of a long corrupted peace in hope and expectation laid aside, with the new king a new spirit of life and comfort possessed all men
This new spirit and hope, let it be said, infused itself with Charles and Buckingham too. Obviously, they were both genuinely upset at James death; and Charles’ thoughts ran quickly to Buckingham too, whom he knew would not be able to be other than worried about how his status would change; and so he reassured his friend and mentor
‘I have lost a good father and you a good master, But comfort yourself, you have found another that will no less cherish you’
Charles took his friend back in his coach with him, confirmed him in all his offices, and had a golden key cut as a symbol that he would always be open and accessible to his friend. Now this wasn’t necessarily the best news to the political classes; after all with Buckingham sitting in the bath of royal patronage, quit a lot of the water of opportunity given the amount of patronage water he displaced. But none the less, the Venetian Ambassador was able to report that Charles first actions met with approval; he was an much more austere man than his Dad and court protocol re-appeared immediately, just s it had been in Good Queen Bess’s time, when the glorious sun of Tudor and Glory had shone over the nation
‘the King’s reputation increases day by day. He professes constancy in religion, sincerity in action and that he will not have recourse to subterfuges in his dealings.’
On 7th May they buried the old man in a ceremony that cost £50,000 which is quite an event.
Charles then hoped, nay expected, that parliament would be a doddle – he’d been so popular at the last one. This was what would happen on this order
- They‘d reconvene the parliament, which had only been prorogued not dissolved anyway, so that would only take a jiffy – less than a jiffy probably, no more than a jif
- Parliament would vote him loads of money to fight the war they had. after all, been asking for themselves
- With all that cash they would road and destroy Spains’ global empire, bring the house of Hapsburg to its knees and re-install Elizabeth and Frederick to their rights in the Palatinate
- Charles would live a long and happy life and collect lots of paintings and be generally God-like
No 1 proved an annoying problem though, because it turn out that the death of a monarch automatically dissolved parliament, so there’d have to be writs and elections and all that jazz, the old lot couldn’t just reconvene. OK, so in the words of Meatloaf, Heaven can wait. Just a few weeks, none the less it was bound to be a shoe-in to glory.
And before that, Buckingham was dispatched to France to finish the job stared by the Duc de Cheveuse, and bring the new queen, Henrietta Maria to her new home – and husband. This Buckingham was duly despatched to do, and he had another remit too. There had been a few objectives o the French marriage – obviously, married bliss was up there, tick, but there was also a matter of £120,000 dowry, tick, but also it was of course a marriage to bring two nations together in the kind of perfect peace, harmony, amity and may I say Love, in which France and England had always lived – and I’ll fight anyone who says it ain’t so, come on I daresya. A corollary of that should be mot just a marriage alliance – but a military alliance. Buckingham was a grand man with Grand ideas, he thought big; and for him the objective was a grand anti Hapsburg alliance, bringing together Denmark the German princes, the Ditch, Sweden – and now France. Together they would crush the evil empires and Spain. To get this sorted, Buckingham needed to get the man who effectively now ran France – Cardinal Richelieu.
Now Buckingham was a man who knew how to strut the big stage – he’s no shrinking violet. But in Richelieu he meets one of the classic figures of European history. I admit I am rather affected by ls trois muscatiers and all that since I’ve not studied the history in any serious way for oooh, 40 years, but I don’t think anyone would argue with me when I say Richelieu was out of the to drawer of European statesmen, and the sort of chap who focusses on doing what is required, rather than doing the best he can. To give a bit of background to both Buckingham and Richelieu’s conundrums. Both wanted the Hapsburg chin to bite the dust so that’s OK. But there’s an order and priority thing, wherein lay lucifer, lying around on the bed in satin sheets and playing lazily with his tail.
For Richelieu and his boss Louis XIII, there was the problem of the Huguenots; they and their leaders the two brothers the Duc de Rohan and the Duc de Soubise. Henry IV’s solution for the French religious wars, the parallel living based on the edict of Nantes was gradually unwinding, although it would take time to completely and brutally unravel during the resign of Louis XIV. At the French court, and this is relevant to the Story of Mr and Mrs Charles King too, a group of Catholics had become very influential – the Devots, under the leadership of Pierre de Bérulle. The Devots were an ultra Catholic group if I may put it like than, children of the Catholic league who thought all this accommodation with Prots thing was a bad idea; Pierre was chaplain to the Queen Mum, Marie de Medici. Politically they wanted alliance not war with the Catholic Hapsburg; as far as those Hapsburg chins were concerned, they wanted them grinding not dust, but protestants. Politically, Richelieu and his real politique outwits them; but culturally they remain very influential, and will influence both policy – and the attitude of the king’s young sister, one Henrietta Maria.
Anyway, so for Richelieu and Louis, Rohan, Soubise and the Huguenots were an unacceptable drain on France’s strength and the absoluteness of French royal power; and things had blown up because the crown had got involved in the region of Bearn, re-established Catholicism so the fragile balance established by Henry was damaged the Huguenots were panicked, and La Rochelle, the stronghold on the Atlantic coast was in revolt. For Louis and Richelieu; they wanted those Huguenot wings clipped before moving on chinwards.
So – Buckingham and Charles wanted to persuade Richelieu and his boss to reach an accommodation with the Huguenots that preserved the Edict of Nantes and the independence of La Rochelle, and concentrate on the Hapsburg instead. So it’s a ways and means dispute, but Richelieu would essentially give Buckingham, a bit of a diplomatic kicking, with a bit of la perfidie francaise.
Buckingham came away with Henrietta Maria to bring her back to blighty. He does not come away with what he wanted – a stated military alliance with France, peace with the Huges, and an active partnership in an anti Hapbsurg conference. He gives something away – a promise of English Naval ships to be used as part of the entente cordiale but ONLY, repeat ONLY to be used against foreign enemies like Genoa not internal ones like, um, French Protestants. Which is where la Perfidie Francaise comes in, because of course Richelieu had no intention of sticking to his word; there were only a few English merchant men and one warship in the deal, but when they come to be used, the symbolic value was out of all proportion to their military value –
‘hey Huguenots look who’s here to reduce your town to rubble! You so called Friends les Anglais perfidie! Hein, Hein!? What do you say to that rebellious pig dogs?!’
They did the same number on the Dutch as it happens. But Buckingham and Charles were equally pulled in two directions – towards the French court who were the only ones really capable of giving the Empires a bloody nose; and to the Huguenots who entirely possessed the hearts of the fiercely protestant English Gen Pub.
Anyway, that’s in the future. For the moment the Buck had to go home empty handed except for Henrietta Maria. Though before he did there’s a bit of romantic dalliance with Anne of Austria, the Queen, you know, Louis XIII’s wife – wife of the person whim whom you are supposed to making an alliance. It’s delightfully in the Dumas tradition – an evening walk in a wooded glade in Amiens, a chance meeting that wasn’t chance at all between Duc Anglais et reine Francaise, a gasp a cry of alarm from les monsieurs, a Duke that disappeared like a scared gazelle into the bushes never to be seen again – I mean, sacred blue Guv’ it’s got Artemis written all over it. But diplomatically speaking, not a good move. Whenever the name Duke of Buckingham, gets mentioned to Louis XIII, he probably displays that twitch Clouseau’s boss developed with his eyes before having a nervous breakdown.
Anywho, Henrietta Maria, after the traditional pause at a channel port for the weather, arrived at Dover castle to meet her husband. Now then, Henrietta Maria. There are two broad traditions about her. In the blue corner there is a deeply negative narrative that she perverts the king and the course of the civil war; Prots rage against her as a Catholic viper biting at the heart of protestant England, a fifth columnist, some royalists such as Clarendon described her as silly and frivolous and a poor adviser of the King. After 1660 from the Red corner, a more sympathetic narrative appears of the tragic queen, which gets a little mawkish it has to be said, ‘quell desespoir!’ and all that sort of thing. Nowadays, of course, things are a bit more balanced. Information about her movements up to the Civil wars is a little limited but after she flies to France there’s a blizzard of correspondence between her and Charles. A few things come across that we can hold onto; she’s brave, thoughtful and assertive; definitely not a cipher, someone with opinions, and you might disagree with them bit then show me the person who never puts a foot wrong during the civil wars? Or indeed, just show me a person who never puts a foot wrong. She has a POV is the thing.
The other thing is that she is indeed a child of her upbringing. The devots worked on her hard, and she sucked it up; she remained a determinedly and public Catholic, with a desire to defend the rights and fortunes of English Catholics. In the early years this, and the terms of the marriage contract, would not help the public perception of the court. That contract required her to have consistent and permanent access to her own form of worship – a commitment which was religiously adhered to, arf arf; a commitment to have her own catholic household around her, which was not, and pious words about removing persecution of Catholics which was always moonshine.
As far as the public was concerned, having a king married to a French Catholic princess was only marginally less bad than having a king married to a Spanish Catholic Princess. So when Charles prepared for his bride’s visit by suspending the Catholic penal laws in May they were less happy with their new Prince than they had been; when reports spread about the arrival of the new queen with a small group of her closest, nearest and dearest Catholic friends and priests – well a thousand of her nearest and dearest that is, they were even less overjoyed. And when the streets around Whitehall and Hampton court were home to Catholic priests in their robes and all, there was growing grumpiness. A year later in June 1626, as part of her policy of fitting in, she very publicly went to Tyburn to pray for all the Catholic martyrs killed there – don’t think she went by Smithfields, balance wasn’t her jam. So although the negative press about Henrietta Maria has no doubt been upped by protestant propaganda, it’s not without foundation.
However – let us remember that when she arrived at Dover she was but 15, having been raised on the teaching of the more extreme form of Militant Catholicism, was far away from home and from all she knew. A challenge for any 15 year old I would imagine. And she came with a sense of duty too – and part of the negative press that swirled around from France into her reputation would be that she proved resistant in the future to the more hairbrained of Richelieu’s schemes.
Anyway, it’s the 13th June, and Charles heard that his wife was on English soil and galloped post haste to arrive at Dover around 10am; which sounds a bit unlikely, when did he set off, how fast was that horse? They met at the bottom of some stairs. She knelt to kiss his hand and said
Sir I have come to this country for your majesty to use and command,
Which is probably not necessarily true but she may have thought it so at the time. There’s a story that Charles looked to see if she was wearing heels so she lifted her skirts and said something about needing no art, which was a little scandalous ankle-viewing wise and suitably French. Off they hopped to Canterbury where the marriage was consummated; the following morning Charles was apparently in high spirts, Henrietta gloomy. There were 6 weeks of partying back in London, before the couple went to separate households.
Well. By the end of six weeks it’s clear there were problems, and there would be for a while to be honest. The queen refused to take the English gentlewomen Charles suggested into her household and thereby also snubbed Buckingham’s mother; Henrietta Maria constantly listened to her confessors’ advice and to Pierre de Bérulle; Charles complained to Buckingham that ‘the monsieurs’ that surrounded the queen were ruining their marriage. There is a line of thought which goes that Buckingham was part of the problem and jealous of the new queen, poisoning his master’s mind against her; his biographer strenuously denies this. But at very least it feels as though there were 4 parties to this marriage when it started – Charles, Henrietta Maria, a cloud of French priests and gentlefolk, and Buckingham. Jus’ Sayin’ that when the number of parties was reduced to the more standard two, Charles and Henrietta Maria would get on like a house on fire – in a good way as opposed to anything to do with arson or criminal behaviour.
Right, so that’s the domestics sorted. Now – Politics.1625 and Parliament. When parliament, much delayed for various reasons, finally convened on 18th June, I think it is fair to say that, compelling though the prospect of a good chin wag would have been, politics was not the first thing on the MP’s mind. The first thing on MPs minds was that they have been called to London, a dirty smelly place full of fish at the best of time, and although it might have been the best of times it was also the worst of times because there was plague with a capital P. It had arrived on a boat from the Netherlands. Bah, those Dutch eh? By the end of the year, 70,000 would be dead of it, 35,000 in London alone, 10% of its population, so the MPs wondered if they ought to be meeting at all and could they go now please? It would duly be a short session, and people frankly felt under pressure.
Well, experienced and bred in parliaments he might have been, but Charles and Buckingham seem to have forgotten their learning because the agenda of the agenda government – by which I mean king and his Privy Council – did not really exist; or if it did consisted of the rubric that follows
King Charles and his Parliament of the year of our lord 1625
- Get parliament to vote me lots of spondulikes
- Get Parliament to vote me customs dues, called tonnage and poundage, for life a happens for every other king & queen
- Get chicken on the way home
For a well run parliament, it was necessary to manage them. That included pre-work – making sure the people you didn’t want there, didn’t get selected as far as you can manage with a few well designed words in a few well selected earholes. It meant lining up a king’s party – clients who would pop and ask helpful questions such as ‘Would the king’s royal council agree that their Prince is the brightest and best monarch England has ever had and really deserves a lot of money to prosecute his war?’ that sort of thing. With associated MPs to growl rah rah in approval. The sort of thing you can see in the UK parliament at PMQs to this day.
But probably Charles thought everything was just a shoe in; he was aware that the debt his father had so generously bequeathed him now amounted to £1m, which is a poor position from which to fight a war for which at least £300,000 would be needed just to maintain the navy, and meanwhile they had that debt to pay off. So he rather assumed parliament would just wave it through full of the same enthusiasm they had shown the previous year in providing a subsidy for Mansfield’s expedition – the one which was basically in the process of being buried in the mud about now at the siege of Breda.
If he’d had his ear to the ground, he might have picked up trouble and rumour – though to be fair if you put your ear to the ground in early modern London you’d pick up something a good deal more terminal than trouble and rumour. There was one rumour that suggested the king was delaying his coronation so as not to have to take the requisite oaths which gave him an obligation to protect the laws, or so that any laws passed in parliament would be
At the discretion of the king and not dependant on the general public authority
Now that’s someone with a suspicious mind. Anyway, Charles started off by making what I think he may have considered an unanswerable point in his speech to the combined Houses of Commons and of Lords referring to the money he required for war:
the business that is to be treated of at this this time . . . is no new business, being already happily begun by my father of blessed memory … it was by your entreaties, your engagements; so that, …I pray you remember that this being my first action and begun by your advice and entreaty, what a great dishonour it were, both to you and me, if this action, so begun, should fail for that assistance you are able to give me.
I must admit it’s a compelling argument surely – you asked for it, now pony up and pay for it. He does seem to have picked up some disquiet about religion – which came from his suspension of the catholic penal laws aforementioned and he moved to scotch them, to nip off the bud of fake news before it could burst into the flower of discord as a claim that he would was not a keeper and maintainer of the true religion. That would indeed be fake news he assured the representatives of English society, no man could ever be
More desirous to maintain that religion than he.
If there are consistent themes of Charles I’s reign, there are none more consistent than this; literally Charles’ protestations that he was a maintainer of the true religion of Elizabeth I have the consistency of a bowl of porridge. And he was not faking, I promise you that, this is a statement Charles I believed as firmly as he believed that the sun would rise in the morning – even if it was behind a load of clouds. And yet it was a statemen received with constant suspicion, and you have to wonder why, because I will go to my grave muttering from my death bed to my grieving family ‘Charles really believed what he was saying about defending the church of England, he really did…and who’s left the light on in the kitchen?’. We need to explain why this is, and I will, I promise, it is one of the key’s, in my humble opinion, that unlocks the causes of the English version of the Civil Wars. Next time maybe, if you ask me nicely.
Anyway, he then rather undermined his message by having the opening sermon preached by his new Bishop of St David’s, one William Laud. William Laud it should be said was a noted anti Calvinist, a lover of ceremony, and an Arminian. He chose to remind his listeners that kings ruled by divine right, so there’s that. Next time we must come back to that as well – we’ll do it along with the other thing I just mentioned – the ding will hum.
Scene set, the parliament was still not in possession really of a clear view of what was expected of them – money OK yes, got that, but how much? And how was it to be used? Now as far as Charles was concerned, Parliament deserved to know that it would be used to give the Spanish a boot up the bum, but that’s as far as the competence of parliament went – the whys and wherefores belong to the arcane mysteries of the king and his government, so stick to your track MPs. This stick to your track thing will also be a common cause for disputation and irritation in what lies ahead; because there were some who pointed out in 1625 that look, we did what we were told last year and voted a bag of cash, which is currently busy dying uselessly of starvation, plague and mud outside the walls of Breda. So this time could you give us a bit more about how any more money we vote for will be used? Because we need to be careful of the money the people of our countries will fork out, they are a tight bunch you know and they are relying on us.
And also – they said we’ve been here for 3 days now and people are dropping dead in the street in front of us covered in boils this is making us uncomfortable, can we do this some other time so I can go back to Loughborough where the air is less diseased?
Well, the Privy Council persuaded them to stay but darn it if they didn’t kick off by talking about religion and the case of an Arminian called Richard Montague who’d been causing upset with his religious claims. They did this sort of thing parliament, and I can understand Charles’ annoyance. He tells them constantly what’s required of them and then darn me if like rabbits seeing a dandelion they didn’t wander off in some other direction. It’s like taking the dog for a walk – he will constantly try to chase pheasants instead of following me. Tsk. Or like children, don’t get me onto children – why can’t they just do what they are told? What is that all about? I mean trust me, I’m a grown up.
Anyway, finally, finally on 30th June an MP called Francis Seymour suggested a subsidy and one 15th which would raise about £100,000. This was alarmingly low – Seymour in fact although being the first person to actually start talking about what he was supposed to be talking about, was not a fan of the government track record on the war so far, and therefore was probably consciously low balling. At which point the king’s mouthpiece, one Benjamin Rudyerd, objected saying that would barely pay for the navy’s supply of sun cream – but failed, crucially, to suggest a suitable amount. So, thinking to save the situation for his master, Robert Phelips, a client of Buckingham, bravely stepped into the breach and suggested two full subsidies which would be about £140,000. At which point Buckingham’s face was probably buried in his hands in despair as he sat in the house of Lords. Running the navy for a year alone cost £300,000 and the debt bill was £1m could we please times everything by a factor of 10?
Phelips meanwhile was pointing out that although this was about war, England hadn’t actually declared war on Spain yet, so this was technically a peacetime gift, and so this gift
would ‘express the affections of the subjects more than the value…There is no cause for more, and [he] hopes no man will press for more. They diminish the King that think money can give him reputation. The hearts of his subjects are his greatest honour and reputation
While the sound of Buckingham’s weeping could be heard distantly from the Lords, Charles actually accepted the subsidy before his favourite could nobble him and tell him no they really needed more. So suddenly Charles had the Secretary of State, John Coke pop up and ask for more and that didn’t go down well.
Then the Tonnage and Poundage vote went a bit pear shaped too. The tradition was to vote these customs for life to a new monarch. But MPs were still smarting over Bate and his currents, and the impositions James had made on Customs dues during the reign without parliamentary consent. So they wanted to redraft the bill and make sure the wording was right.
Meanwhile what with God’s judgement making people drop like flies in the streets of London, MPs really wanted to leave, and leave now before they made orphans of their families. So finally they insisted the king prorogue parliament, and hurriedly voted the king his two subsidies amounting to £140,000, and tonnage and poundage for one year only – so that they could have time to redraft the bill properly. It wasn’t meant as a point not to give Charles his customs for life, just they needed a bit more time to get the bill sorted.
Charles probably did the only thing he could – and prorogued parliament until August, and to be held in Oxford which didn’t have plague – well it didn’t in July. And hoped he could put things right in the meantime. But it is worth noting what his Scottish friend and advisor, noted at the time. This is the Earl of Kellie, who wrote
You can not believe the alteration in the opinion of the world touching his majesty
Essentially, the end of the honeymoon period had arrived- between both king and queen, and king and his people.