The reconvened parliament in Oxford went poor, and after a month Charles closed it down, and concentrated instead on the Spanish war. Surely, the recapturing the glory of Drake & Hawkins would relight Parliament’s fire for war!
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The Oxford Parliament
The Bodleian Library formed host to the parliament, and the chamber of the Commons specifically sat in the divinity school, pictured above. For an article of how the parliament organised itself in Oxford, there is a great article here at the History of Parliament blog.
Obviously you are expecting me to sweep you away from plague torn London to the green fields of 17th century Oxford and the reconvened 1625 parliament and I will do that at some point, but I promised faithfully last time that we would talk about religion and Richard Montague, and I think it’s important that we do that first. Because it will hopefully throw a useful light on what will be an irritating habit of MPs over the next few years to keep returning to the subject of religion, however hard the government tries to just show me the money. I hate to use a dog walking analogy again, but it’s like when you get into a particular field and the bloody dog hares off lkie a blue-arsed fly into the distance to the same spot every time despite your desperate entreaties for him not to – because something died down there 10 years ago, smelt just fantastic, and the doggie brain remembers that, and the nose can still do the honours, because the doggie nose is quite a thing. Drives me up the wall when I forget and haven’t applied the lead before said field. Keeps going back to the same old spot. Anyway – parliament and indeed the people keep doing that, and there’s an argument that it is this that leads to Civil War – don’t discuss yet!
When that I was and a little tiny boy (With hey, ho, the wind and the rain) I wondered at the rubric of the civil war I often came across, which was that Charles I was a closet Catholic trying to take England back to Rome, and although this could have been that my brain was as small as were my legs and mainly focussed on my spaghetti hoops, but it seemed even to me that surely the evidence that Charles was an honest defender of the Church of England was legion and irrefutable, and that whatever you think of the chap he took his coronation oath to defend the church very seriously indeed. After the session of the 1629 parliament, just as an example, he promised that
‘neither shall we give way to the authorising of any thing, whereby any innovation may steal or creep into the church; but to preserve the unity of doctrine a discipline established in the time of Queen Elizabeth, whereby the church of England hath stood and flourished ever since’
Which seems fair enough. And yet it is also true to say that very intelligent people believed the’ king as closet papist’ story at the time. I am reading the Tyrannicide Brief by Geoffrey Robertson at the moment about John Coke, the lawyer that prepared the case against Charles I, and in it he visits the Calvinist minister of the Italian Church in Geneva, John Diodati, who remarks that
‘the protestants have Charles I’s body but the papists have his heart’
Well, I guess I put it down to the extraordinary hysteria that griped most of England, Wales and Scotland at the time about the spiritual threat of the Pope as anti-christ, and the Catholic powers arranged against them; so that the constant professions by Charles that he would admit of no innovations and maintain the church of the Elizabethan settlement just fell on ears both deaf, and on mouths that had an axe to grind.
But it was Conrad Russell I believe who came to me one day, gently took me by the hands and led me into the light. Does that sound a little creepy? I mean the answer’s obvious really when he said it. Charles’ understanding of the Elizabethan Settlement was just different to those of many of his opponents. What Conrad also maintained which shone a ray of light into the larger, and yet more cluttered brain of my adult years was the idea that not only did Charles’ view of what constituted the Elizabethan church differ from some of his enemies, from also from most of his friends. So, although we are just about to talk of Arminianism, there is another level to this – Charles even left the Arminians behind in his view of church doctrine, which was illustrated by the affair of Richard Montague.
The nub of it was the extraordinary status awarded by both Montague and Charles to the role of bishops. I’d better explain who Richard Montague was. In 1624 this rector and Archdeacon involved himself in a dispute about the true doctrine of the church. This was a long running dispute between lets us call them the Calvinists, and the growing party of Arminians. At its heart was the doctrine of Predestination, where really lay the one core belief shared across the church of England. As I think I claimed way back in 1559, the Church of England has always been a compromise, an attempt in itself to deliver religious toleration by allowing as broad a range of views as possible; and broadly I suppose summarised by the description as Protestant theology wearing proto Catholic ceremonial.
But even Predestination began to be challenged by the teachings of Jacob Arminius; I don’t think I want to go into the various degrees of Predestination and double predestination, so forgive me if I offend those of you who really know this stuff by saying that the most extreme Calvinist believed that it didn’t matter what you did in your life, you were either saved or dammed, although there were also more gentle Calvinist positions on that, claiming that you can have an impact during your life; while Arminius preached that actually God had an eye out for you even in your life and how you behaved could make a difference. At the Synod of Dort in the Netherlands, attended by English divines, Arminius was officially rejected by the Reformed Churches and the Synod produced in 1619 the Canons of Dort – to which English Calvinists ached for the Church of England to sign up to also, and keep trying to achieve that aim.
So, thus far the basis of Calvinism Vs Arminianism. There’s a lot more to it than that, which we’ll come to, but the most threatening part is the core belief of predestination, which actually gets talked about less in history things like mine for some reason, and the focus turns to ceremonial and royal authority – I guess because that’s sexier. If sexy be the right word. But at the heart of the struggle between the traditional Calvinist Church of England, and the innovation of Arminianism, is the challenge to that core belief of predestination.
Now James showed some signs of wandering towards the Arminian side a bit more by the end of this reign, but one of his signal achievements was that he managed to keep a balance between Calvinist divines and Arminian; he wandered because he began to see puritans, who usually mapped onto extreme Calvinists, as carrying the seeds of disloyalty to royal church authority, and he was prejudiced against the more radical Calvinists from his Scottish experience with the likes of Andrew Melville. But by the time of his death really the Calvinists were in a comfortable ascendancy within the Church of England, the pressure towards separatism as I have said before was tiny, but Arminianism felt they had a voice. Part of what he did was simply to not allow people to preach and publicly debate the finer points of these tiny theological differences that got the more extremist so warm under the ruff. And actually that turned out to be an important part of a clever, effective and very, very important royal balancing job, as Charles’ neck would discover to its cost. I have to say I know it’s not a popular view but I suspect that just sweeping stuff under the carpet is more often a good strategy than we’d like to think. Don’t shout at me.
So Richard Montague then. He got involved in the Calvinist-Arminian debate when in 1624 he published ‘A Gagg for the New Gospell? No. A New Gagg for an old Goose’. This catchily titled little number was an answer to an earlier paper by another divine. It included an aggressive attack on the Calvinist doctrines of predestination, which he claimed had no part in the 39 Articles that formed the theological statement belief of the Church of England. The Commons got angry about the New Gagg; but the Commons weren‘t supposed to comment on doctrine, that was the job of the Convocation of the Church , so they referred it to George Abbot, the reassuringly Calvinist ABC. He tried to have James squish Montague’s publication, but annoyingly James just asked Montague to clarify his position. The result was a doubling down from Montague, an even more aggressive attack in his next bestseller, the Apello Cesarum; One big danger in Montague’s argument was that it removed a careful distinction James had made. He made a clear distinction between Puritans and Calvinists. Calvinists were fine, he was one too he said, born and bred, tick. Puritans he defined as those that denied the authority of the king in the church – Presbyterians, Non Conformists and separatists. Montague argued there was no such distinction – Calvinist were all non conformists because pre-destination had no place in Church of England theology. This obviously challenged the fundamental fudge on which the unity of the Church of England had depended. Then James croaked before it was clear where he came down on as regards Montague’s opinions.
Is this frying your brains or are you still with me? Not many gags in theological debate, I have to say. But next to the bit about how Charles then deals with this – but firstly back to that bit where Charles’ views exceeded even the more radical Arminians, where even they would not follow Montague. That concerned the extraordinarily high view both Charles and Montague had of bishops; they were not simply officers of the church, in Charles view they were part of a succession appointed by God; without them Charles said
We should have neither lawfull priests nor sacraments duly administered
Almost no one, not William Laud, not his closest supporters would follow Charles into this theory of the divinity of Bishops. For Charles it’s not just about Bishops and their role in supporting royal influence in the church – the divinity of the bishop’s role under pinned the legitimacy of the church of England. The point I am rather clumsily making then, just to cut to the chase, is that the view Charles had of the church of England was an extreme one in itself.
So finally I reach the point;when he stood up and declared that he would admit of no innovation from Elizabeth’s settlement almost no one believed him – because as far as they were concerned that’s exactly what he was doing already. In this way the circle is squared – both protagonist and antagonist firmly believed they were sincere. Worse, neither were able to admit that the other party sincerely held their opposing view, and so they passed like ships in the night, unable to understand the position of the other. As an aside, when we come to introduce John Pym, it is worth noting that parliament acquired a leader who would also hold views that many on the Calvinist side considered too extreme for their blood; and so the leader of parliament and the leader of the royalist cause – were themselves leading factions within their own faction, which made it difficult if not impossible to build a broad unified party.
As we will hear, Charles also begins to support the Arminian viewpoint, and that will do the most damage. But it’s an important part of the story that he sets himself into a position that will make even his supporters look at him askance.
Back to Richard Montague and the parliament then. The parliament in London were frustratingly limited in what they could say to Montague, because they were not supposed to rule on doctrine, but they heard him claim that his views had been approved by James, so they charged him with dishonouring the king’s memory, and contempt of parliament in publishing his second paper, and then on 9th July, Charles dropped a bombshell – effectively by pulling rank. He announced that Montague had been appointed a royal chaplain, and was just his servant, and so Parliament should just drop the whole thing and he, Charles would deal with anything which needed doing, any disciplinary procedures or investigations and so on. Which was of course effectively nowt. There was nothing parliament could do, parliament was prorogued at that point anyway, but it left a nasty taste in the mouth, and the Calvinists now had a reasonably worrying view of the religious tendencies of their royal master.
If Charles hoped that moving to Oxford in August would clear the air, he was sadly mistaken. The plague was now approaching Oxford, like a spider crawling up the bed in front of the eyes of a terrified arachnophobe, so parliament were desperately pulling their toes up the bed away from said plague ridden spider, and wishing to be gone. Also, the news about those blasted boats lent to France were all over the place. Now France had made peace with the foreign power they wanted t use them against, Genoa, and so what were they for now? Everyone was faced with the prospect of English protestant warships being diverted by the French to be used to suppress French Protestants at La Rochelle. Which was a horrifying prospect. Meanwhile, they appeared to have been asked for extra money, even though they’d already voted subsidies for the king. That was annoying, because surely it was time to turn to grievances were sidelined, and they’d been warned off religion again.
In a long speech to both houses Buckingham was having none of their irritations. And defended the government’s record as far as the ships were concerned. And to be fair to him he was the victim there of a real stitch up by one of the century’s outstanding statesmen and wheeler dealers, Cardinal Richelieu. Buckingham stoutly repeated the demand to parliament for extra supply because the bills were not imaginary, and war, which parliament had asked for, was pricey. One of the problems was that they were effectively now asking for just another £40,000. So on the one hand, MPs worried about the precedent; because it was traditional to have but one bill on subsidies for each parliament, and having the prospect of as many as the king liked opened the prospect of badgering, and much as everyone loves badgers, no one, ladies and gentlemen, wants a badger in the House. But also – all this fuss over a mere £40,000 – really? Surely the king can raise that by borrowing on the money markets so we can get away from that creepy plague spider on the sheets. One of the people objecting incidentally was Thomas Wentworth, the future earl of Strafford and famous supporter of the king; Edward Coke was on his hind legs again, objecting to the procedure, though saying that he’d willingly give £1,000 to prosecute the war on a private basis.
Buckingham’s style didn’t go down well either he was undeniably a bit full of himself. One of the MPs, a Cornish man called John Eliot was a client of Buckingham at the parliament, but even with him Buckingham’s tendency to big himself up went down poorly
‘Many things of arrogance were observed, as in the narrative which he made of that great change in Christendom, usurping that work unto himself which time and providence had effected, turning fortuities into glory.’
John Eliot would transfer his allegiances to an alternative Peer, the Earl of Pembroke, who’d been active at court longer even than Buckingham, as part of the so-called Patriotic Party. This would yield Buckingham bitter fruit – Eliot was a talented parliamentary speaker. And you know – a troublemaker.
Charles moved smoothly into badgering mode; his new Chancellor of the Exchequer, Richard Weston, an increasingly important councillor of the king, was sent with a message – get me supply voted we need to get that fleet on the high seas to prosecute this war against Spain you voted for, or it’ll be too late in the year – and any way – see that spider? You’d better be quick, it’s got plague and it’s coming for you.
But parliament would not do so. Robert Phelips again, spoke for many. You might remember that he had tried to help the king in London, but he had something of a history as a bit of a troublemaker. Another Cornishman as it happens, Phelips had pursued grievances at the 1614 and 1621 parliaments under James; there appears to be emerging a correlation between lip and Cornishmen we should keep an eye on. He was also another MP who’d been trained as a lawyer at the Inns of Court in London. So this made the abuse of procedure – for him there should be no subsidies without discussion of grievances, and there should be only one grant of subsidies – very important to him. Many lawyers in parliament were very conscious, more than most, of parliamentary privilege; and also very conscious of how badly parliamentary representation was faring on the continent. So Phelips spoke up and what he said was interesting:
‘We are the last monarchy in Christendom that retain our original rights and constitutions, let them not perish now. Let not posterity complain that we have done for them worse than our fathers did for us’
Somewhere someone in court marked Phelips’ card. We must talk about lawyers vs Clerics sometime soon, but this is not that time. For Phelips though, and the Commons generally agreed with him, they would go no further without going in the right order. And so effectively they said no to their king, and drew up a Remonstrance, in the standard passive aggressive style, thanking the King for reassuring them that he’d make no innovations in religion, but effectively saying come back to us on supply and subsidies when there’s been a chance for us to discuss reforms and grievances.
Worse – all of this leads to resentment beginning to focus on Buckingham himself. It’s interesting, but we have seen in Robert Phelips, John Eliot and Thomas Wentworth three Buckingham clients starting the parliament doing their bit to help the boss; and ending up going their own way. This hacked Buckingham off something rotten; what is the point of promoting the interests of your clients if they are then not going to do what you tell them? And it reveals a different attitude to clientage and loyalty that has resonance also with the king, I think. What the Duke wanted in return for favour was loyalty to himself as a person and complete commitment to his policies. What Wentworth, Phelips and Eliot were offering was an alliance of equals in which their views would carry as much weight as anyone else’s with Buckingham. It’s an important difference of viewpoint.
There’s also a whole lot of back door politicking stuff going on, which I really don’t think we should get into in detail, but let me try and summarise; just so you know it’s going on because this is a pimple that will turn into a carbuncle of epic proportions. Essentially, Buckingham gets worried about the muttering amongst MPs about government policy and his personal arrogance. So, he turns to his locker of secret strategems and clever tricks and remembers that aha! Last time he’d distracted the lightening directed at him by throwing a royal minister to the wolves, Francis Bacon, and while the wolves had been busy ripping that body to shreds, they’d been too busy to see him creeping away. Great, let’s do that again.
So Buckingham he identified one Lord Williams Keeper of the Great Seal, as a suitable mark, and questions appear from his client MPs about Williams’ role. Now Lord Williams is in a sense an easy target – he’s the Bishop of Lincoln as it happens, but a slightly unlikely Bishop; very heterodox, friendly with all sorts and folks from all religious groups and a man who likes to live in style. Also though, he’s sadly very good at the briefing game – and shoves everything right back at Buckingham. To give him his due, Williams does not leave it there; he warns Charles that there is a head of steam working itself up against his favourite; and that when it came to parliament, he Charles should manage that very carefully indeed or he could find himself in hot water.
So Charles surveyed all of this and was not pleased with what he saw. He talked to his Privy Council about what to do and there was a full and frank exchange of views; Lord Williams warned against giving up, and that all that would happen if Parliament was dissolved would be the need for a new parliament, and at that new parliament, and if so in his words ‘the next swarm will come out of the same hive’.
That is to say, the problems will simply resurface also deal with them now. But Charles saw a growing discontent with his buddy, uppity MPs asking questions rather than doing what they were told, and no prospect of supply being granted any time soon – and we are in August, and if the fleet is going to sail and give the Spanish a bloody nose, they are going to have to get on with it. And so he went to his Room of Requirements because he was in need and the Room gave him his magic wand, the Wand of Dissolution. And Charles waved the wand, and parliament was dissolved, and all his worries disappeared. Well, they didn’t, he still didn’t have his money, but that battle could be fought another day.
So just in summary; we have quietly and by little baby steps, come to a pretty pass. If we stand back and compare Stuart parliaments to Tudor, there’s a theme emerging. Somehow the Tudors manage the whole thing better; they throw parliament bones at various points – such as Henry VIII declaring that how he was never so great as when he stood in parliament. Elizabeth stroked and praised them – she knew when to gibe way gracefully when she knew she’d hit a sore point as with monopolies and her Golden Speech of 1601; she managed them when they got uppity, and generally the role of parliament was to meet with their monarch, pretty meekly, and be part of the government and they generally do what they are told.
Under the Stuarts, despite James’ undoubtedly active political antennae, somehow the iron fist, just as present under the Tudors if not more so, keeps pocking out of the velvet glove and getting in the parliamentary eye. So already, there’s a sense of dissatisfaction with the shiny new king. The money thing now; there is one line of thought amongst historians – Conrad Russell in particular, who argues that this is insane by parliament – they simply have no idea what it takes to prosecute a war, the poverty of the English crown and its lack of firepower and a professional army will lead to disaster, they are obsessed with nothing but their constituents’ feelings not the national need, and they share in the blame. Another line of thought is that in fact MPs were just kidding themselves when they railed against foreign powers – they didn’t really want or were prepared for the sacrifices of a war. But probably the truth of it is as much poor handling. There was a head of steam behind war; but MPs were painfully aware of the needs and concerns of their countries, and that weighed heavily with them. No-one really tried to persuade them that their constituents could be proud of how their money was spent. All they could see was a lack of clarity about what exactly was required; that they have voted money for war to finance Count Mansfield, only for it to die in the mud without any impact. They now had royal navy ships which might be used against protestants and no one would reassure them that this time all would be different by telling them exactly how the campaign would be run this time, because apparently it was part of the king’s arcane mysteries. So – £140,000 was as far as they were prepared to go.
Well – wherever your sympathies lie, Charles and Buckingham did not lack for determination and persistence. They would have their revenge, and anyway all the problems with parliament would surely be solved by a jolly good war when Mr Jingo would ride into town on his horse war fever to save them all.
And so we come at last to the revival of the glorious days of Drake, Hawkins, Frobisher, all those golden victories on the Spanish Main. We are off to war, never mind the money, the purses will open in the joy of victory and achievement. In the short term he’d use the subsidies and the first instalment of the Queen’s dowry to pay the bills. The man selected to lead the glorious beard singeing exercise was one Edward Cecil, now raised up to the rank on Viscount Wimbledon; it appears that Buckingham was desperate to do it, but was talked out of it, which he would later remember and put right next time. So Robert Devereux, the Earl of Essex was sent with Wimbledon to advise. We have heard of Robert before – this had been the young man that married Frances Howard, only to be publicly humiliated by her affair with Robert Carr, and divorce on the grounds of impotence. But Essex had 5 years military experience fighting in the 30 Years War in the Rhineland. Cecil was ordered to singe the king of Spain’s beard; more specifically to destroy the King of Spain’s shipping, and, if possible, take possession of some port on the Spanish coast, and keep an eye on the Treasure fleet – and capture it if possible, since this would be the time it appeared from the west laden with colonial treasure. All very Elizabethan. Meanwhile, after the fleet had sailed, Buckingham vented his spleen on Lord Williams and had him removed from his position as Lord Keeper, on the ‘who durst defy the omnipotent to arms’ principle, and then went to the Netherlands to organise a Treaty.
The result was indeed a Treaty, signed in December 1625 by the English, Dutch and the Danes, the Treaty of the Hague. Parliament had disliked Buckingham bigging himself up as a great diplomatic broker, but to be fair to Buckingham, he was no slouch on the European stage. OK, Richelieu was in the process of burning him with the ships thing, but he was doing exactly the same with the Dutch, in spades actually. And now Buckingham had assembled an impressive anti Hapsburg league. Each of the countries agreed to work together to contain Habsburg power, secure the restoration of the Palatinate, and preserve the liberties of the German princes. Christian of Denmark committed to raise an army of 36,000 men, the English and Dutch committed to help pay for it, and England and the Dutch Republic agreed to raise a new joint fleet. They tried to persuade France to sign the Treaty of the Hague too, but no dice; in this Buckingham saw the hand of Richelieu and a little more bitterness was sewn.
He arrived back in England to hear that the results of the Spanish jury was in. Well there was rumour and counter rumour as normal actually; one ambassador wrote home saying the English had scored famous victories and revived the glory days of Drake, others were hearing less positive things. What actually happened was this.
Wimbledon and his commanders floated off the coast of Spain in late October when they finally arrived, and decided that Cadiz was the ideal target. Wimbledon was very worried; his 18,000 army and navy men were sick, very, very inexperienced, unhealthy and the rawest of raw recruits. The fleet had been put together in double quick time, and it showed in the quality of provisions. None the less things started off well, when the fort protecting the harbour fell, and after a bit of the required dithering, 2,000 men were put ashore to attack the town. They appeared not to have sufficient food or water though, which was a problem, and therefore took the executive decision, that in such circumstances raiding the local farms and house wherein were stored vast quantities of wine formed a reasonable solution. Well – problem solved! Everyone could drink. As one report related:
The whole army, except only the commanders, was all drunken and in one common confusion, some of them shooting at one another amongst themselves.
OK, one problem solved another bigger one created then. Eventually the army was reloaded on the ships. Obviously, this was not going to look good back home, so they went for plan B and looked for the Treasure fleet. They did see some ships, couldn’t intercept them; if they had stayed a couple more days the history of all of this could have been so very different – because the treasure fleet was indeed coming in. But they had suffered enough – possibly the crew were still drunk and everyone had heard enough of Danny Boy and the Mountains of the Morne, so they instead did the Lindisfarne thing and ran for home. If they’d had skirts, they’d have lifted them. They didn’t sail home so much as straggle home, shedding infected dead bodies as they went. By the time they reached home it was like the rime of the Ancient mariner – the many men so beautiful and they all dead did lie. Killed by disease, malnutrition or just forced to commit suicide by the 15th rendition of that dirge 500 Miles. Or maybe just the first rendition was enough. Of the 18,000 ish that set out about half returned and many of them were left hanging around English harbours half naked begging for food and drink; the privy Council had allocated £5,000 for their relief, but it was clearly not enough; Plymouth council who were having to deal with many of them reported they were
‘so poorly clad that they have hardly wherewithal to cover their nakedness; which has been. . . the greatest cause of their sickness and mortality’
Meanwhile there was more bad news; Richelieu and Louis had decided that before the Hapsburg could be dealt with, the Huguenots needed to first. They started by inflicting a massive defeat on the Huguenot admiral Soubise, and threw the Huguenot army off the Isle de Rhe. The isle de Rhe was critical to La Rochelle. It must be said that it still is – providing the vast majority of the cycle hire shops, but back in 1626 it was rather more existential; the island controlled the access to the city – La Rochelle now lay open to siege and could not be resupplied by sea. Soubise had almost no ships left; Huguenot sea power, such a thing since Elizabethan times, was deceased. Soubise fled to England, to return to La Rochelle for the coming storm.
Charles met with his Privy Council, and by 12th December it was decided that there was nothing for it; Pandora’s Box must be opened again. Parliament must be recalled, for money to have a second hack at the Spanish war.
 Russell, C ‘The Causes of the English Civil War’, p196
 Robertson, G The Tyrannicide Brief’, p46