In 1625 a new, fresh, bright king came to the throne seemingly eager to giht the good fight in the Protestant cause. Surely this moderate, controlled ad courteous man would be the bringer of a golen age. Events were to throw some doubt thatthe new ways would be different from the old.
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Last time we heard about the end of the reign of James I and VIth, the first king of Britain I suppose you might say. We’d heard that James’s political nous had enabled him to avoid big bust ups, while sailing admittedly close enough to the line to experience the odd luff or two. However, he had left a few tricky issues for his son and heir Charles, or at least a few unexploded bombs that would need to be defused very carefully; potential religious problems in Scotland; a legacy of distrust of behalf of the counties of England with the moral and religious rectitude of court, which was seen to have been a bit of a party palace, sugared with more than a dusting of Catholicism; a sense that maybe parliament and the common law were better defenders of English liberty and religion than the king. Oh and did I mention – a whopping £1m debt. James had so enjoyed being generous going hunting and having fun.
This time we are going to talk about the reign of his son, a stripling of 25 when his father died. It seems to me that you can very broadly divide Charles’ reign up into three chunks; a first period where he tries to rule like a Tudor hand in hand with his loving parliament, from 1625 to 1630; a period when he says hang all that, I’m doing it for myself – known to history as his personal rule, or possibly 11 year tyranny to 1640; and the last period of conflict which comes to a rather sharp end in 1649. Today we’re going to hear about the first bit; how Charles tries to work out how he wants to rule, and tries make that happen, And has, it must be said, a few problems
Now then, who is this new lad, the new king whose head is on the block, if that isn’t an insensitive phrase?
Doing History at a Gallop doesn’t mean we have to dump 1066 and all that I assume, standards must be maintained. So according to Sellars and Yeatman, Charles was
A cavalier king and therefore had a small pointed beard, long flowing curls, a large, flat flowing hat and gay attire.
Roundhead, incidentally we are told were different because
Cromwell had all their heads made perfectly round
Not an explanation I had formerly been aware of.
Now Charles had not been born to rule over us, and I am sure had his older brother Henry ruled as was supposed to happen, Charles would have made an excellent Duke of York or whatever – he would probably have gone down in history as a great patron or the arts and royal philanthropist, probably noted for his propriety and the modesty of his behaviour. For Charles had many good features. As you may or may not know, he will go down in history to many as something of a villain, and yet he makes an odd villain – which is maybe why some people see him instead as a martyr. He wasn’t the kind of guy who tortured small animals for fun or liked to take an axe to kitchen doors to get at screaming people, or go out of an evening with a chainsaw. He was a man of great self control and courtesy; he will establish a court which was as well controlled and as strict a model of propriety as any monarch could manage; I mean super formal, but well behaved, not a chip off the old block at all. If that isn’t an insensitive expression in the circumstances.
He was very cultured, and would become probably our most discerning art collector of all our monarchs, famed for it, especially his relationship with Van Dyke, famously, but also Reubens. He was deeply religious, and took his duties as a monarch very seriously – James drove his ministers up the wall, constantly unavailable out hunting; Charles was a hard worker. Well, all that sounds exemplary, bring him on, golden age coming up! And indeed the Venetian ambassador saw him arrive and was impressed
signs of being temperate, moderate, and of exchanging all the prodigality of the past for order and profit.
There will of course be a ‘but’, which we can see unfold. But as a sighter, he probably lacked confidence, and in his early years relied heavily on his best pal Buckingham, almost as though the Buckster was his glamorous and worldly elder brother. His lack of confidence made him a stickler for the small things, and each smallest thing could be taken as a test of loyalty; it’s not that Charles didn’t listen to advice, or even disagreement, but when he made a decision or gave an order, obedience and compliance was to be immediate and complete. Deviance could be seen not as having a valid alternative view, but as rebellion, and he found it difficult to accept that people with opposing opinions might hold them just as strongly as he held his own. Partly this was because he had imbibed his vision of kingship from his father’s teaching; a king’s power was absolute and his conscience came from God; and partly because his lack of self confidence made him rather inflexible. He found it difficult to bend with the wind, to live to fight another day. Finally he was deeply pious; and in common with a man who rather took things to extremes, some of his views about the Church of England would sound excessive even to his supporters.
When he came to the throne he was pretty much as popular as he would ever be in his lifetime. This was something of a turnaround. Just a couple of years before, his future subjects had watched with horror as he sped to seek an alliance with the hated and feared Spanish, and to court the hand of a Catholic princess, arm in arm with his father’s partner in crime, the Duke of Buckingham. And yet he’d returned. Not only had he returned without a Spanish queen, but he was full of the spirit of a seemingly righteous fire, ready to fight the protestant cause on the continent. He’d partnered with parliament to fund the first stage of visiting war on the Catholic Empire, to restore the Winter King and Queen to the Palatinate – even publicly using parliament to overturn the desires of James, the anointed monarch.
Count Mansfield’s exhibition it is true had finished in horrible, abject and really quite embarrassing failure, but hopes for Charles were higher than the highest kite.
This was a positive thing in a way, it’s always good to have the nation behind you, but Charles’ job in managing the three British kingdoms wasn’t trivial. It’s true to say that diversity and powerful regions weren’t rare in early modern Europe, but Charles had a right old balancing act. His largest kingdom, the 5m subjects of England and Wales was, it’s fair to say pretty united and settled with precious little spirit of dissent from it’s state church, the church of England. But his second largest, Ireland, with 1.4 to 2 million was deeply divided into Gaels, Old English and New English, a mainly Catholic population with a ruling elite that was itself divided between Protestants and Catholics. And the smallest, the 1 million Scots was almost as divided; large parts of the lowlands were increasingly wedded to Presbyterianism, a kirk without Bishops; but Episcopalianism and Catholicism remained strong in the north East; there was a widespread fear about rule by an absentee king and the danger of becoming a province of England. And meanwhile there were deep long standing differences in culture, language and comprehension between highland Gael and lowland Scot areas.
In religion in particular, the very idea of uniformity across all the British kingdoms was fraught with danger. Still, a careful and sensitive monarch could draw in a deep reserve of loyalty towards the monarchy. Hopefully Charles would turn out to be careful and sensitive. By the way, if you want to hear more detail about Charles, and the kingdoms he inherited you can find it in episodes 350 and 351, and more about Scotland in 355.
One of Charles’ first acts was to make sure the world knew of his absolute confidence in his father’s right hand man, the Duke of Buckingham; he confirmed him in all his offices, and even had a golden key cut for his boon companion, as a symbol that he would always be at home to his advice. Courtiers duly took note – to get your project or preferment approved, it would really help to have support of the grand and proud Duke.
The first concern of state lay very much in foreign affairs, the right focus and task of princes of course. Since 1618, the object of English policy had been to restore the Stuart Winter Queen to her rightful inheritance in the Palatinate, from where Catholic Imperial Hapsburg forces had ejected her and her husband. It was both a dynastic, and increasingly religious, protestant mission, and Charles’ people thoroughly approved.
In his court and Privy Council, Charles and Buckingham in very broad terms had two factions vying for their favour and influencing their strategy. The top dogs, at the moment, tails high noses damp and healthy were the so-called Patriots. They delighted in Charles’ aims now for an aggressive, boots-on-the ground strategy to force the return of the palatinate to its rightful owners, and support the wider protestant cause by alliances and force of arms. They urged the king to get the money he undoubtedly needed by working hand in parliament, and supporting the traditional Elizabethan, Calvinist church of England.
On the other side of the privy council, tails currently between their legs, looking a bit hangdog, were the Pro Spanish courtiers. The disaster of the Spanish Match turning into the Spanish Natch had turned them for the moment into back benchers . But their time might come; they were much more dynastically oriented, inclined to believe the king’s power was absolute, and parliament was simply there to toe the line. They were much less concerned with religion, many of them indeed were Catholics, or heading that way. They thought the best way to restore the palatinate was by alliance with the European power that had the most leverage over the Hapsburg Emperor – the Catholic and Hapsburg Spanish.
OK, so teams aligned; for the moment, Charles was committed to the patriot cause and to succeed he needed Parliament to open the national purse and give him the werewithal to deliver that work – armies and navies did not come cheap. But before his first parliament, Charles had more domestic matters to attend to – he was to be married to his father’s choice of bride – Henrietta Maria, sister of the king of France Louis XIII.
And in June, Henrietta Maria duly arrived, along with a vast household and contingent of Catholic priests and advisers. She hasn’t always had a good press hasn’t HM; many protestants at the time saw her as an evil manipulator of the king, perverting the true cause of Protestantism, and were inclined to accuse her of being the root of many of their disagreements with the king. Alternatively she has been seen as a rather over sentimentalised figure of tragedy. Whatever view you finally form of her, she is not a cypher. It’s true to say that the first few years of her marriage of Charles were stormy; after all she was very young when she arrived, just 15, and fiercely committed to the catholic faith. She was initially petulant and demanding, but the vast household she clung to from home was thinned down, and once the third person in the marriage had gone – namely Buckingham – she and Charles became firmly supportive of each other, soulmates and passionate in their cause; HM would be at very least be brave, assertive, and opinionated, whether right or wrong.
For Charles’ subjects marring a Catholic French princess wasn’t much better than marrying a catholic Spanish princess. But she also brought the mind bending complexity of a French alliance into the nice neat diplomatic situation I have just described; France was a real curve ball. Still in the grips of the fallout from her religious wars, she was at once enemies of the Hapsburgs – so that’s OK at the moment; but Louis XIII’s policy was to emasculate the owner of the Huguenot protestant minority in France and remove the protections Henry IV had granted them to win peace. In particular that meant reducing the Huguenot fortress of La Rochelle. It’ll be a challenging relationship.
On then to parliament, Charles’ expectations were high that Summer and Autumn; he had a debt of £1m to pay off, and a war to wage – a war demanded by parliament and his people let it be noted, so you know he had a right to expect some help, and just running the navy cost £300k a year. He made it clear to his first parliament that he expected the focus to be on a quick vote of loads and loads of cash through taxes, and confirmation of what was surely just a formality – the right to gather customs and dues from trade. I mean – that was the standard. Then With that done, he’d put the disaster of Count Mansfield’s expedition behind him, they’d send a fleet to singe the King of Spain’s beard just like Drake and Hawkins and all, and also he could point to Buckingham’s construction of a grand protestant coalition with Denmark which needed money to visit protestant vengeance on the Imperial Catholic forces, and win back the palatinate. I feel we need to cry Harry at this point.
The parliament of 1625 and 1626 was therefore a deep and enduring disappointment to Charles. The trouble was that the business was not finished from his Dad’s reign, there was unfinished business. The thing about customs dues was that there was that malarky with James and his random impositions on all kinds of good without getting parliamentary approval, and complain as they might, parliament ain’t got no satisfaction over that. There’s more about the 1625 parliament in episodes 352 and 354 by the way.
So understandably, MPs wanted to talk about this stuff as well, clear the air, get things off on the right foot you know the thing. It was July, the military campaigning season was slipping away, and Charles wanted to get that expedition to Cadiz under sail – he couldn’t understand all this messing about. He insisted they vote generous subsidies right away, and then he promise to deal with their grumbles and grievances later it’ll be fine – trust me I’m an absolute monarch. The Commons sort of complied – they voted a subsidy, but it was a bit mean, a paltry £100,000. This was barely enough to pay Buckingham’s pastry chef let alone launch a victorious naval campaign against Spain. In response, to royal objections the Commons reluctantly voted a bit more – but just £40,000, and refused to vote customs for the life of the king as was normal. Charles could have them for one year now, but no more until they’d thought about what best to do about the fact that James had been imposing new customs taxes without consent.
Charles was livid. He had given clear instructions. Parliament had asked for war, and now refused to pay for it. He waved his wand and made the problem go away by dissolving parliament. He would use HM’s dowry to pay for the naval expedition to Cadiz in Spain, and in the wake of a glorious victory, parliament would come to heel. Many on the PC begged him not to do it, begged him to work this out with parliament, because he would have to call parliament again and ‘the next swarm will come out of the same hive’. Charles ignored them.
In point of fact, the military endeavours in 1626 did nothing to repair any fences and restore the peoples’ faith in their king and his judgement. In fact it was a catalogue of disasters. The French alliance resulted in the huge embarrassment of English ships being used against the French protestants in La Rochelle. It was a public relations disaster of exquisite proportions. Meanwhile the expedition to Cadiz was a complete fiasco. Buckingham had been mad keen to lead it, but luckily did not. The English sat impotently on the shore outside Cadiz, poorly supplied, equipped, trained and inadequate for the task. It was reported that
The whole army, except only the commanders, was all drunken and in one common confusion, some of them shooting at one another amongst themselves
So, they ran away. Ragged, desperate and dying seamen arrived home, were discharged and filled the streets of Portsmouth with their begging. Count Mansfield was looking like a military genius by comparison. Oh and one more thing – the French king destroyed the Huguenot navy, and captured the Isle de Rhe, a vital part of the defences of Huguenot La Rochelle, and French protestants stood on the edge of disaster.
Well in December 1626 Charles sat with his PC and debated what to do. It was a hard discussion; the Patriot, parliamentary faction had rather lost ground, because Charles was angry with parliament who had not bowed to the royal prerogative. I mean he’d started collecting the customs dues anyway, but he felt parliament had sought ‘To touch his sovereignty’; but he was persuaded by the Patriots at last to call another parliament because that was the only credible way to raise enough money, and Charles graciously announced that
For the distemper of 5 or 6 men he would not be angry with his people but still endeavour to preserve their love to him.
Phew. Thank you sah, very generous sir. At the same time, the Patriots at court, led by Robert Rich the enormously wealthy Earl of Warwick, turned their attention to religion, They were keen to get this move towards Arminianism James had shown nipped in the bud. Two well known Arminian Bishops had been newly appointed, and would soon be appointed to the PC itself; a worrying display of the new king also moving towards their point of view. Just for the avoidance of doubt, by the way, that is Arminian after Jacob Arminius, not Armenian as in Armenia in the Caucusus. Sounds obvious, but it has come up! Anyway, one of the new appointments was William Laud, who’s name would become a byword for religious repression in the eyes of both traditional and radical Calvinists, and the Godly, or so called Puritans. And Laud also had the ear of Charles’ confidente, the Duke of Buckingham; so Laud’s influence was beginning to grow greater even than the reassuringly Calvinist ABC, George Abbot. So Warwick and his colleagues on the PC persuaded the king to call a conference of Divines to York house. To thrash this out this things, to confirm that the views of Arminius were not commensurate with the doctrine and practice of the Church of England.
A few words on why Arminianism was seen as such a threat. Religious attitudes are very important; at the risk of irritating you, you can find more, much more in episode 353. Theologically, Arminians challenged the idea of predestination, the idea that only God’s grace could win you the kingdom of heaven, not your own actions on earth; a core belief in Calvinism. Arminians proposed that, similar to Catholicism, people could have an impact on the fate of their souls by their actions in life. Much more obviously, though, was their love of what Laud would call the beauty of holiness – ceremony, church vestments, formality, altars at the end of the church separated from the congregation by rails, bowing at the name of Jesus. They emphasised the importance of the role of Bishops. The threat was not just spiritual either. Listen to what some of the Arminian Clerics said, and loudly, about royal authority
The image and representation of God upon earth, for kings be gods upon earth
oo…kay… and specifically and politically, when it comes to the idea that Parliamentary consent was required to levy taxes, well poo to that because
All we had was the king’s. He might command all wives, children, estates and all
You can see why king’s might like that. But in his heart, and almost certainly not cynically, Charles went further; he believed that Bishops themselves were touched with divinity, and he would defend their role – to the death. And he firmly believed that all this had always been part if the Elizabethan settlement.
So, for all those who had both adhered to Calvinist doctrine since the time of Elizabeth, and believed in the vital constitutional role of parliament, maintaining the supremacy of Calvinist doctrine and personnel was critical. Reconfirming this supremacy as the aim for the Earl of Warwick and George Abbots at the York House Conference.
But the outcome was a disaster for Warwick, the patriots and the Calvinist. There was no commitment at the conference or by the king to reaffirm the supremacy of traditional doctrine, above some hand waving by Charles to adhere to the Elizabethan settlement – which he interpreted in a distinctly Arminian light. And from here on Charles increasingly tried to close down any debate, and reserve it to the church and royal prerogative.
The failure at York House to reach agreement is critical; it both heightened the growing concern about the growth of Arminianism and the threat of royal absolutism and tyranny from to code yellow to code red status. And it showed that Calvinists could get no redress to their worries from the king or indeed his court. The only ally now for those worried about both religious change and the king’s worryingly high view of the royal prerogative – was parliament. Put a yellow sticky, post it note on this – really important read later, or underline in virtual highlighter pen. Parliament would be the cockpit where the battle for both England’s political and religious future would be fought.
Because parliament was resolutely peopled by Calvinists; of the whole Commons in the 1620s, just 2 MPs who supported Arminianism have been identified. There’s a rather lovely sort of summary bit of historiography about this, the idea that it was – Clerics Vs Lawyers, which sounds a bit like the film Cowboys and Aliens. Lawyers were an increasingly strong profession, a core part of the education of most gentry and the middling sort in particular – 40%of lawyers came from below the social strata of gentry. Lawyers made up about 20% of MPs in the House of Commons. And many of them – though not all, were not only Calvinist, but had very different views of the royal prerogative. They held that royal authority came not from God, but from the people, and he was subject to law, not above it. And that, in the words of one at the time
It is the highest prerogative of the king that he cannot do against law
Place GAP HERE 27:59
The 1626 parliament was even worse for Charles than 1625 had been. The general tenor was the same; the Commons insisted on discussing grievances, both financial and, critically, religious which was not supposed to be in their area of competence; and this time they went a step further, and refused to vote any new subsidies and taxation at all until the King had addressed their grievances. They objected strenuously to the fact that he was continuing to collect customs dues after his first year, now without consent. But Once more Charles insisted that they vote the taxes he needed to prosecute the war they had asked for, and trust him to deal with grievances later, which he promised faithfully to do. it’s not that Charles was completely unaware of the politics and the need to court the MPs; he did try to court their opinion, he appeared to take them seriously, and was no above pandering to their prejudices, such as reconfirming recusancy fines against Catholics. And in particular, he and the PC instituted a quite explosive new piece of international strategy; England would now go to war with France in defence of the French Protestants of La Rochelle. As a piece of international diplomacy this was wildly optimistic; England is still the smallest of the big nations, and now was at war with the three super powers – Spain, Imperial Germany, and France. Nice one – I know where the clever money’s going. But ff it had an advantage, it was that it played to the desires of Charles subjects to fight the protestant cause.
But in 1626, not only was the Commons being difficult, but they were taking aim at Buckingham himself again; Buckingham became the lightening rod of all the commons’ grievances, the way of attacking the king without attacking the king. Charles defended his friend, Charles was notably loyal towards his servants – and he made it clear that Buckingham was only doing his bidding. So, he made it a personal issue. There’s an attractive part to this – Charles was too honest to hide behind his friend and throw him to the wolves for political expediency, as his father had thrown the Bacon to the wolves.
But it was politically naïve; and it also smacked of arrogance; Charles believed that all he had to do was invoke his word and honour, and his people would bow their heads in loyal acquiescence. Well, they didn’t. Instead they presented a petition to impeach Buckingham. Charles head blew up. Once more, he dissolved parliament in a paddy, and with it any chance of subsidies.
There was an interesting bit of analysis of the problem here with these failed parliaments from a French diplomat at the time. He remarked that Charles appeared committed to Parliament, and to calling parliament, he respected the English constitution as he understood it. But yet, Charles was not prepared to pay the real price required for this happy partnership; instead, he wanted only a ‘parlement a sa mode’, a parliament of his own image, that agreed with him in all respects. If MPs agreed with him, he would love them. If they didn’t he could not believe they held a principled alternative point of view, and he would consider them simply rebels.
Charles and Buckingham now tuned again to other means to raise money for war, and reverted to the traditional idea of a forced loan – i.e. please lend me some money. Oh sorry, wrong word. Lend me some money or else. London was a traditional target for such instruments, and were forced to pony up £20,000; money well spent through history, since London had received many privileges from the crown over the years. I mean don’t get me wrong they whined, they whined like topsey; on the principle as one philosopher said that whatever you do, make it look hard, because you’ll get more kudos for it. I think that might be Conficius is it? Or Chairman Mao? Or maybe James Heriot. Anyway, Charles, Buckingham, and the Privy council then went to the peers, knights and merchants of the realm for their loan. Now there was a cigarette paper between this and taxation without consent of parliament. And to their credit, the Judges of the King’s Bench said so and ruled the Forced Loan illegal. Charles sat them down and told them he had to right to exact money when he judged the situation to be an emergency, and that was that, a monarch he was the only judge of what constituted an emergency. And if they disagreed he would, and I quote ‘sweep clean all their benches’. And that was that.
The moderates on the PC fought back, George Abbot the ABC in particular did so – and Charles would depose him soon after; and there were refusers; but most paid up, and the loan raised £250,000. Charles judged it a success. But he would pay a heavy political price.
The first sign of the bill being presented came in the case of the Five Knights, something of a marker in English constitutional history. These Five men all refused to pay, and foolishly, Charles decided to make an example of them for educational purposes. He threw them in jail, without trial, until they paid.
The Five Knights challenged him in the courts about this high handed action on the basis that there had been no trial. He decided to take that on. He would fight a public court case and demonstrate in law his right to exact money, and to incarcerate delinquents if he deemed it necessary, where reasons of state made it absolutely necessary. And again, only the king could determine whether the matters of state were sufficient to make that necessary.
This very public case became a cause celebre – everyone loves a courtroom drama; and the defence was led by an MP, Lawyer and philosopher called John Seldon. He appealed to Magna Carta, no imprisonment without trial. The outcome of the trial was a clever fudge, which avoided making a legally binding piece of judge made law, but the Five Knights were forced either to submit or stay in jail. Yet again, awareness of the threats Charles presented were heightened.
And meanwhile Charles’ reputation and that of his friend Buckingham was going the way of all flesh. At this point, maybe a glorious foreign victory would have saved all. But what we got instead was Buckingham’s descent on La Rochelle to save the Huguenot City; a massive effort, partly paid by the Forced Loan, also paid for by the fine old Elizabethan technique of letters of marque issued to raiders to prey on French merchant shipping, which raised £100k. A fleet and army was raised; which set sail with high hopes to stick it to the French. The deliciously grand Buckingham, by the way, made sure he’d lack none of the creature comforts on campaign, spending £10,000 on equipping himself and his household, including oxen, milch cows, goats and poultry, a retinue of servants, one of his most sumptuous coaches and richly embroidered clothes for his coachmen, footmen and pages. The sinews of war I think they call them.
I don’t want to give the wrong impression of Buckingham; he was also a hardworking, passionate and dedicated man, who was not lazy dilletante; he fought alongside his men and was deeply committed. But the campaign was a disaster, a complete failure, a remnant of the grand fleet and army limped back home mission not accomplished. Buckingham and Charles’ stock had never been lower – what point voting taxation anyway people said? All the money that had been voted or exacted had resulted in nothing but incompetence and failure.
Charles was desperate to send another expedition to France before La Rochelle fell; he felt his honour was tightly bound up in this, and honour was of utmost importance to Charles. A new forced loan simply carried too many political risks, and Charles was not equipped or prepared to attempt to raise a subsidy without consent, and anyway his need was now towering – remember that debt from James’ reign? Well that hasn’t gone away either. And so the patriots on the Council were able to win the argument one more time, and call persuade Charles to call another parliament in 1628. The parliament would result in another constitutional milestone, called the Petition of Right. If you want to know more about the Five Knights, the La Rochelle campaign, the fate of Buckingham and the 1628-9 parliament, episodes 356 and 357 are a blast.
But the short story is that the House of Commons was no more prepared to compromise, and now had more grievances on the list; imprisonment without cause, taxation without consent now had to be added, together with the feeling that voting money for this lot was like chucking it down the drain along with the rats. The result was the Petition of Right, suggested and crafted by Edward Coke, a lawyer whose belief in the rights of Englishmen was resolute, who believed that Charles was innovating, and removing ancient rights of liberty. The aim of Coke and his supporters like John Pym, who would become a particularly significant figure in Charles’ life in the 1640s, was not to destroy or undermine the monarchy, far from it, they were firm believers in the English constitution of King in parliament, king, Lords and Commons working in unison. But they believed Charles had disturbed this balance, and it must be redressed for the health of the Commonwealth.
The Petition of Right was the medicine that would restore the humours of the Constitution to balance; in return, they would vote Five subsidies for the king, a pretty generous grant of taxation. The Petition of Right had four points:
- That no person be forced to provide a gift, loan or tax without an Act of Parliament
- None should imprisoned without cause
- Soldiers should not be billeted without the free consent of the owner
- That martial law could only be used in war or against direct rebellion.
Charles did not see this process in the same way. What he saw was not an honest attempt to preserve the Commonwealth, but to destroy his rightful prerogative, and enhance the power of the Commons at his expense. Remember James’ view; that though a king was honour bound to consult his subjects, if a kingdom was unlucky enough to draw the tyrant card from the pack, all they could do was bow their heads and wait for it to pass. Charles did not believe Coke and his fellow MPs were men of principle; he saw them as malignants, rebels and traitors, or as he would say
Some few vipers that did cast the mist of undutifulness over most of their eyes
None the less, parliament had him over a barrel. Charles twisted and turned, negotiated, especially furious over number two, his right to imprison without charge if he deemed it a necessity. He tried to cheat by approving the Petition of right with the wrong words, to make it conditional rather than binding, but the Commons held firm. Eventually Charles gave way, approved the petition, and the subsidy bill was passed, and parliament prorogued for another session in the Autumn, the last outstanding issues including those Customs dues.
Well hurrah for that! Presumably truth light and harmony are now restored? hmmm…well you’d think so, but there was more to come. In the middle of this, came a tragedy. In August, Charles and Buckingham were near Portsmouth, where Buckingham was reviewing the fleet before it could sail again to relieve La Rochelle. The day after speaking to the king, Buckingham, strode out from his apartments in Portsmouth into the crowd of well-wishers, sycophants, naval officers petitioners and servants that followed great men around like a cloud of flies. As he leant forward to talk to a Captain, there was a flash of steel, a cry – and Buckingham fell, there was blood, pierced by a blade to the heart, and dead within minutes, at the hands of an unemployed seaman, Tom Felton.
There is no doubt Charles was devastated by his death; after being told, it was reported that he
threw himself upon his bed, lamenting with much passion and with abundance of tears the loss he had of an excellent servant and the horrid manner in which he had been deprived of him
But Charles travails were not over, for when parliament was reconvened, Coke and Pym were not finished. Because Charles had been naughty; appalled at the concessions he had been forced to make, he rescinded the order to have the Petition of Right published, and had them all pulped. That must be put right, and the petition made public demanded parliament. Plus there was still the matter of customs dues, and the fact that dues had been collected for the last two years without parliamentary consent. The people who had illegally collected taxes must be publicly put on trial for their crime. And there was the matter of all the Arminian religious appointments – the balance of the church must be restored and the likes of William Laud removed from their posts.
Lest you think all this these issues, by the way, were simply a matter of debate at the high table of politics, think again. As I think we discussed in James’ reign, England was already making great strides towards what might be described as a public sphere – political debate at many levels of society about the great events of the day, news spreading by newsletter, newsheets, broad sheets, libels and ballads, a network of personal contacts, traders and chapman spreading the news throughout the country; though particularly in the capital, London. What was happening in parliament was a matter for public debate; when the Petition of Right was approved by the king, bells were rung, bonfire were lit, celebrations indulged at the apparent outbreak of peace between king and parliament. As parliament re-assembled in 1629, the issues of religion and the resistance of the king to parliaments demands were the stuff of comment and libels posted publicly; one at St Paul’s Cross roundly informed Charles that since he had lost the hearts of his people, he was no longer king; others accused William Laud of being the ‘fountain of all wickedness’ – which must at least be considered impolite. People are engaged.
Charles’ response to these demands appeared conciliatory and moderate, searching for agreement and peace – but ultimately, it was clear he would not comply. To remove Bishops by parliamentary demand would be a dramatic assault on his rights and of the church; to prosecute customs collectors who, as he again publicly said, had merely been carrying out his orders, he would consider absolutely against his honour – once more, he would not throw them to the wolves, and if he did, as he said to a courtier,
None would ever obey him again
There was a face off, neither King nor parliament would back down. Ominously Charles let it be Understood that if customs dues were not awarded, he would consider what he described as new counsels. What exactly that meant was no one quite knew; but in the background the old pro Spanish faction, were advising Charles that there were ways to rule without this pesky parliament; compromise was not required; that the Patriot faction had led him into humiliation and an assault on his rightful prerogative. Their star was rising.
And on 25th February 1629 as the tension mounted, the rumour went round that Charles was planning to deal with all this by proroguing parliament again, burying the problem and applying these ‘new counsels’. A group of MPs met in the Three Cranes Inn in London, to plan their tactics, agreed the text of a speech they would make in the Commons, and a way to make sure they made a clear statement in defence of the liberties and rights of the people in the public eye before they were closed down.
In the Commons the following day, John Eliot stood to make his speech. But the Speaker of the House intervened. Parliament, he announced, was to be adjourned. The rumours were true. There was uproar, pandemonium – they were to be silenced. But Eliot and his allies were ready. One group locked the door of the Commons and made sure none could leave or enter. Two MPs, Denzil Holles and Benjamin Valentine, rushed to the Speaker’s chair, and held the Speaker down by force as he struggled to rise to signal parliament closed. And Eliot carried on, and read out a declaration. It would be treason, he declared for anyone to introduce Popery or Arminianism; it would be Treason to levy or collect any customs or subsidies not approved by parliament; it would be Treason to pay any such taxes.
Pandemonium or what. This is rebellion isn’t it? This is a new kind of Treason; treason had always been a crime against the king – now here’s a definition of treason against something else – the Commonwealth, the people. A crime, by the looks of it, of which even the king could be convicted.
9 Members of parliament were arrested by the king as the session finally closed down and the MPs had left. Parliament was dissolved by order of the king. Charles would turn the lights out. It would be 11 years before they were turned on again.