Was it an ‘Eleven years tyranny’ or ‘Halcyon Days’ that followed 1629? Either way, foreign ambassadors were not hopeful of England’s future. But Charles first priority was to reduce the Vipers of parliament to submission.
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Anglo Saxon England Podcast
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Well then parliament dissolved – again. Now I know there are a lot of theories about who was at fault here – a parsimonious bunch of well-off gentry obsessing about their constituents, egged on by picky troublemaking lawyers in parliament; or a king with ideas above his station – not that he or indeed many people would have recognised any king + positions, but you know what I mean. But look – over the last few years parliament has come to be more soluble than a brace of lightly boiled Asprin, I mean really ever since Jimmy I’s day. Can we at least agree that while there’s no questioning Charles’ right to dissolve parliament – well, unless you read Edward III’s statutes – it isn’t normal is it? And in 1629 there were plenty of other people feeling that things were not normal; more than dodgy politics stalked the land, there was also economic recession and dearth, with food riots in Maldon, Colchester, London and the West Country; some of this was politically motivated; John Eliot’s constituents made trouble in sympathy with his parliamentary plight. We’ll come on to Eliot’s plight in just a mo.
There were libels appearing right under the Privy Council’s nose; one at St Paul’s Cross roundly informed Charles that since he had lost the hearts of his people, he was no longer king ‘so there’; Libels accused William Laud of being the ‘fountain of all wickedness’ which must at least be considered impolite. The Privy Council were rattled, and guilty on occasion of overreaction; at a food riot in Essex, Ann Carter and her sister earned the proud distinction of being the only food rioters to be executed in the 17th century. Now that, my friends, is the pub quiz question to end all pub quiz questions. Possibly a little obscure. The point is there’s a bit of panic going on, and it’s worth noting that in most of these areas part of the fuel was provided by the force of radical Protestantism. And as we know, Charles is not at home to Mr & Mrs Puritan, or indeed any of the little puritans.
It was not helped by the fact that Charles’ Vipers, 9 members who had led resistance to the adjournment of parliament, had been lobbed gently through the basket ball hoop that was prison. Prison is a funny sort of beast on Early Modern times if you are relatively upper crust you really have quite a lot of freedom and access, and there was a steady stream of high profile people visiting him in his cell. Plus, Seldon & Eliot’s resolution number three – the one about being a traitor if you paid up customs dues – struck a cord with some merchants, who took it as a green light to be good citizens and adopt tax avoidance strategies. The world turned upside down, as ‘twere.
So good people, you and I now, did you but know it, are drawing aside the curtains that divide us from a famous period in English History – although I’m clearly guilty of making too hard and fast a definition of when the period starts – but accepting my fault, a period which goes by the name of the Personal Rule of Charles I. Or at least that’s what it is called now. It didn’t used to be called that, it used to be described with a phrase said in ringing tones while knocking back a couple of pints of sack or good claret wine and weeping bitter tears, along with peons to English liberty followed by a severe headache the following day and two more lightly boiled asprin. The Eleven Years Tyranny, sah, the eleven years tyranny, sink me! Or, alternatively, you might become misty eyed and talk dreamily of 11 years where God was in his heaven and a noble king led us into 11 halcyon years of unrivalled peace and prosperity; or as Clarendon would put it
‘The greatest calm and the fullest measure of felicity that any people in any age had been blessed with, to the wonder and envy of all parts of Christendom’
Well we’ll talk about how the rest of Christendom viewed it in a wee while, and they were more than a little disparaging it has to be said – your average 17th century noble didn’t see it as the job of kings to stay safely at home admiring the artwork when you should be out kicking bottom, breaking heads and making your kingdom feared and your enemies grovel in the dust. But of course many would with some justice compare those years both to the civil war to follow, but mainly to the horror that was being played out in Germany in homage to the glory of kings. Looking at that horror the Earl of Dorset breathed with smug wonder in 1634
When were our days more halcyon when did the people of this land sing a more secure quietus
It does indeed seem that some sort of Rubicon had been crossed and Charles was not hiding it; in a proclamation on 27th March he made it quite clear
We shall account it presumptuous for any to prescribe at any time unto us for parliaments
That seems clear enough. Even without that, the post mortem was going on and the verdict was mixed as to who was at fault. Simmonds D’ewes, a puritan who would fight for parliament, but was not considered radical enough to escape Pride’s Purge, kept a journal. His reflection was firstly just sad really; he called the dissolution
The most sad, gloomy and dismal day for England that happened in 500 years last past
That takes us back to 1132, so you know – worse than the Anarchy when Christ and his saints slept, worse than the Wars of the Roses. So – definitely poor then. But although he would fight for parliament, D’Ewes did not hold Charles responsible for this one; he blamed
Diverse fiery spirits in the House of Commons were very faulty and cannot be excused
So, it was time to move, then to the New Counsels to which Charles had referred in the past with possibly a sinister twitch of the eye. While firmly putting the idea of any more parliaments behind him, Charles recognised that he needed to explain himself. And in that proclamation of 27th March he went into it in some depth, laying the blame for everything on a group of malignants in parliament, just like Simmonds’ fiery spirits. This group, who for entirely malicious reasons sought to, in his words, ‘deprave our government’. While Buckingham still lived the Duke had been the focus of their malice, but the veil had been ripped away when he died and their secret desires laid bare
To cast our affairs into a desperate condition, to abate the powers of our crown and bring our government into obloquie.
I had to look obloquie up. Abuse basically, but you probably knew that or guessed from the sense.
He didn’t stop there, dismissing Eliot’s remonstrance of three points by denying that it had been approved by the whole house, and threatening to punish anyone who claimed it had been. He emphasised the point again about parliament, that he would only
Be more inclinable to meet in Parliament again when our People shall see more clearly into our intents and actions, when such as have bred this interruption shall have received their condigne punishment. When those who are misled by them shall come to a better understanding of themselves.
This has something of the ring of the I’m not angry, just disappointed line. Either way, as far as he was concerned, from now on kings would be doing it for themselves.
It’s very difficult to know how to take these proclamations. Were they just propaganda, there to justify his actions, and pass any blame elsewhere onto any small group? Or was this Charles’ real view of the way this parliament had gone and why it had ended as it did? I must admit that I have to agree with D’Ewes that the failure of the 1629 parliament cannot be laid entirely at Charles door; although Charles’ attempt at compromise was pretty limited, parliament surely also showed itself as very intransigent; though fair do’s they had been let down once with the royal backsliding on the Petition of Right, it is unsurprising they wanted a clear precedent to embed the practice in law and custom.
So, we can draw back the curtains and see for certain what I thought I knew about the new stage of history, the next wooden O as Billy the Bard would have it, and declare the start of the personal Rule, or Eleven years tyranny. The first wooden O of his reign has given us a few things to reflect on I think – so let us reflect together, just for a moment shall we?
Between March 1625 and March 1629, he had tried to rule in partnership with parliament; very much on his terms and many themes had already been established; he faced in the English parliament pressures that were difficult to manage in terms of religion, foreign policy, parliament’s attitude to what level of public funding was reasonable, and what level of consultation was commensurate with the constitution. He had demonstrated a genuine desire to work with parliament; but to work with a parlement a sa mode, as the French Ambassador remarked, a parliament that adopted and followed his thinking and policies without question. He had proved that he had some inclination to compromise, but very much on his terms and pretty limited. Charles had demonstrated that he had an unfortunate habit of confusion a difference of opinion with disloyalty and even potential rebellion. He had reached a pretty pass by 1629; he firmly believed that it was time to stop talking, and that a period of peace and quiet was needed to let normality be regained and leave proper government to him and his grand nobility.
These first years also, in quite short order, had laid out the direction of his religious settlement. Charles’ head would have exploded if it was suggested he was introducing innovation into the church of England, and had denied it until he was blue in the face, and clearly deeply believed in his commitment to the church. But his view can only be accepted if you also accept his view on a church of England which closely followed the style espoused by Arminian clerics; and it’s surely possible to be a little cynical that his conscience would be eased by the fortunate coincidence that said clerics enthusiastically supported order, form and royal authority. Why had Charles established a religious settlement that so clearly overturned the pre-existing Calvinist consensus?
One explanation seems to be that he took on his father’s distrust of puritans – and multiplied it tenfold; Conrad Russell described him as
a man with a real allergy to puritanism in all its forms
At the same time, he appeared to find it very difficult to distinguish between the moderate Calvinist and the radical puritan; and so Calvinists all became tarred with the same brush. He saw them as a populist sect bent on undermining the proper order of things, unity, and his royal authority. On the other hand, he tended to treat Catholics he knew personally rather leniently.
Now it would be foolish to extrapolate from all of this that the die was cast, and I have to tell you that we are hardly going into a spiral of inevitable conflict, far from it. But we have learned some things which will generate friction. As to the Eleven Years Tyranny vs Halcyon days face off; well I have some reflections. Just as I desperately want to be talking about the English Revolution, or the Dark Ages or Anglo Saxon England but in so doing have to run the gauntlet of disapproval from proper historians, so I am also desperate to bang the table, knock back the Claret and drink to the damnation of the 11 Years Tyranny and sing of the Good Old Cause – it’s the way my basic political and dramatic instincts work, so sorry Anjin-san.
But there is a problem. Now I don’t want to spoil the next few episodes but look, if I am building up to a story of a great fight for liberty by the ordinary men and women of old England against the boot of monarchical tyranny, there are a few things we might expect – as in the way of violent rebellions and revolutions, You might expect vast numbers of deaths at the hand of a blood soaked tyrant; the introduction of a police state with basic rights stripped away, relentless tides of financial exactions that reduce the common people to hopeless penury, their souls crushed by the brutality of their vicious rulers until they can stand it now more and RISE UP! RISE UP to freedom! Cry Harry – and all that.
Well – sorry to disappoint you but it’s not going to happen that way. I mean yes, there will be reasons why the killing starts but it has always struck me that the British Civil Wars are remarkably, and indeed distressingly, free of villains. I mean that’s not to say people don’t do villainous things; Prince Rupert massacres the people of Birmingham, the Earl of Derby kills 1,500 at Bolton; Cromwell is notoriously brutal in Ireland, Montrose sacks Aberdeen, the Catholic Irish slaughter thousands in 1641 – so yes, terrible things happen and people do terrible things. But Charles is no Joseph Stalin, there are no Pol Pots around; there’s not even the relentless Absolutism, economic and social misery that led to the French Revolution.
And the reason why the Eleven Year’s Tyranny has been banned is because it’s quite possible to paint Charles as a bit of a poppet frankly. A loving husband, very much the family man, resolute in his defence of the church of England. Eager to be a father to his people, who tries to raise money, but never strays into the kind of absolutist innovation of the French or Spaniards. Who spends his time collecting art, and who has an extraordinary talent for it too. It’s not that there aren’t causes for what happens, but extreme violence and repression really aren’t among them; the Irish might disagree possibly, but until 1641 it’s nothing like the horrors visited on Elizabethan Ireland.
Anyway, that’s just me busking and meandering, in the words of Mr Gradgrind, let us get back to the facts, and nothing but the facts. Let us advance together, hand in hand into the personal rule. Come with me.
Having said that the facts can be arranged on Mr Gradgrind’s mantelpiece so as to present Charles as a bit of a poppet, we are going to start with a rather relentless search for personal vengeance, which honestly is not normally Charles’ jam, but is on occasion. To make the 9 Vipers of Parliament pay for their defiance, and, in his view, there willful destruction of the parliament, Charles would have to play around with the law in a way that does indeed rather smack of the tyrant, even if on a relatively small scale. Principal among said vipers were John Eliot, Denzil Holles, and Benjamin Valentine. It transpires that they had all met together at the Three Cranes Inn and planned the event – so Holles and Valentine arrived early and sat close to the Speakers Chair so they could hold Finchie down at the right moment; Miles Hobart was primed and ready to rush to the door to lock Black Rod out. John Selden was also incarcerated as was a man called William Strode, who will play a role later in our story. Strode was noted for saying what he thought, and not for sitting on the fence; Clarendon called him ‘one of the fiercest men of the party’, and ‘one of those Ephori who most avowed the curbing and suppressing of majesty’; Ephors were apparently elected leaders in Ancient Sparta. It’s so hard to follow 17th century quotes without a proper classical and biblical education. D’Ewes described Strode as a ‘firebrand’, a ‘notable profaner of the scriptures’, and one with ‘too hot a tongue’.
Charles wanted people like Strode to suffer – though again this is small scale punishment, he didn’t take them outside have them tortured and killed or anything. What he wanted was for them to be fined and submit to his will, to be publicly humiliated for their defiance. He had a few legal problems though, against which all of this played out.
The prisoners were all held in the King’s Bench prison awaiting a trial through which Charles planned to bring his fury and fire down on their unbowed heads. The first legal niggle came to light immediately they were hauled up in front of the Privy Council; many of them Eliot, Selden and Valentine among them simply refused to answer the questions thrown at them. Because, they claimed all of these events had happened in parliament – where as everyone surely knew, they were protected by parliamentary privilege. Oh – and by the way, according to the Petition of Right you have to give us due cause as to why you have imprisoned us. If you wouldn’t mind. Sire.
Hmm. Back to the drawing board, Charles had charges made in Star Chamber instead and summoned the judges. Distressingly, rather than being nicely compliant, they were all rather inclined to agree with the prisoners. This was inconvenient. Keeping them in prison none the less, Charles thought again, only to be faced with a writ of habeas corpus from the prisoners – under that darned petition of right he was required to say why he’d thrown them all in the Marshalsea. So Charles obliged – and brought charges against them to the King’s Bench under common law for
notable contempt committed by them against ourself and our government, and for stirring up sedition against us
That didn’t get him any further – this is the trouble with left lawyers you see, they can be sticklers for the law; well, your Madge, they said trouble is there’s no such thing as sedition so…that’s not sufficient reason to hold them. Despite pouring enormous pressure on the judges, it became clear to Charles that his glorious public show trial would go nowhere – and that, against his wishes, they would grant the prisoners bail. So Charles cheated – he took them out of the Marshalsea, and put them into the Tower, out of the jurisdiction of the king’s bench.
What to do? Charles tried to deal with his vipers. He must have their submission – but OK, if you give a bond of £1000 for good behaviour I’ll let you out on bail. The point of that is that the bond essentially admitted that they had done wrong, and at this point several, including Denzil Holles, bailed as it were, gave the bond and ran for home, running fast, as they can. Selden, Eliot, Valentine and Strode all stuck it out, and demanded to be given bail as of right, not in return for submission.
Charles returned to the King’s Bench, and made the most dodgy move of all – he essentially told the judges what the prisoners’ offences were and demanded that they sentence them without a trialor else…refusal would clearly be very and immediately career limiting; just to make the point he fired one of the judges, John Walter. This time the Judges broke – and in February 1630, almost a year since they’d been jailed, all the prisoners were sentenced to large fines and imprisonment at the king’s pleasure. Charles could now keep them under lock and key until they publicly submitted. In 1631 Miles Hobart gave the required sureties and declarations; in 1634 Selden did the same.
Eliot though refused to submit. He continued to write – including a political tract which was really very much compatible with James I’s philosophy; both king and law were ordained by God and therefore both due reverence. They are really not revolutionary tracts at all, and as John Morrill says they therefore gave the later whig historians a bit of a problem – doesn’t look very revolutionary. It transpires Eliot’s aim in parliament really was simply to re-establish what he saw as the existing rights of the people not launch a crusade for new liberties, or reduce the royal authority. Meanwhile Charles described Eliot to the French Ambassador as a ‘republican’, once more demonstrating his inability to understand the minds of those who disagreed with him, and to understand that his political opponents might well be sincere.
Eliot developed a wasting sickness during his long imprisonment in jail; Charles moved him to a room without a fire which really was mean minded and petty. Also borderline murderous; Eliot died in 1632 and when his family asked for his body so they could bury him, Charles nastily insisted he be buried in the parish where he died – in London therefore, and his family went home empty handed. Benjamin Valentine and William Strode continued to hold out, and would not be released until 1640 for their pains.
So, a couple of things about this. If you are looking to build a case against Charles I as a tyrant in search of absolutism. It’s not just his nastiness in pursing these folks; it shows that as far as he was concerned, the law must bend before the will of the king, if the king sees cause it.
Secondly, when parliament returned in 1641, it would remember all of this. Strode in particular would align himself with John Pym and speak bitterly against the royal prerogative. Those that survived were voted compensation in 1641, and the judgements would be reversed in 1667. The issues inherent in the case explain two of the classes in the Bill of Rights under Mary II in 1689; that judges should not question any proceedings in parliament, and that no judge can be dismissed save by an address passed by a two-thirds majority in both houses.
Now then I think we should talk about the prospects for this government; because it appears that people were aware at the time of something significant having happened, though I fear I am being a little black and white; it’s by no means clear how wide and deep the view went that we were in for a long stint without parliament. And given that the king had no absolute obligation to call a parliament anyway, the vast majority of people were probably not sitting around all the time asking ‘where’s parliament then?’ Nonetheless, in contemplating a world without parliament Charles would have to assess his options.
Broadly speaking he would find at court and on his Privy council people aligning around two policy axes. Before I go on a health warning is required; hard and fast rules don’t exist, most involved in the political nation would hold a range of views, and might align with one group of one issue, and with the others elsewise, and there’s no single programme here. However, the idea of broad alignments is helpful. And central to alignments was foreign policy; and before I launch into that, bear in mind that for many years the major objective of English diplomacy had been to reunite the husband of Charles’ sister, Elizabeth Stuart, Frederick, with his position as Elector of the Palatinate. There were three reasons for that; wounded family pride; the need to support a Protestant ruler ousted by a Catholic Emperor; and because Elizabeth and her children were at this point Charles’ heirs; because he and Henrietta Maria had yet to produce issue. I mean their marriage had been full of issues, but no issue, if you understand, they remain as yet without sprog.
Ok, so, over the last five years, it has been a moderate grouping on the Privy Council which tended to come out ahead. We have spoken frequently under James and Charles of the patriot party – a grouping generally oriented towards supporting protestants abroad to the point of military intervention; the sort of people like Pembroke who supported expeditions to liberate La Rochelle. By and large that often went hand in hand with a moderate policy as regards parliament to try to work with them. Partly that’s because to fight international wars you need lots of money, for which parliament had generally been the source; but also probably because often they were protestant in orientation, and more particularly Calvinist or puritan. However, over time this grouping is now losing influence; the argument has gone against it after all as far as calling parliament is concerned, and their most influential members Pembroke died in 1630, Viscount Dorchester in 1632, and Archbishop Abbot in 1633. The faction are not out of it yet – they’ll get a bit of a boost from Gustavus Adolphus. When it comes to foreign friends, they align with the Dutch – but also often with the French now that the La Rochelle business is done; because the French appeared to be the only people with the grunt to take on the evil empires, Spain and Imperial Hapsburgs.
The other orientation lay around peace and friendship with Spain. Why take them on, why not be friends with them? After all, if you really want to put Elizabeth back into the Palatinate, it’s the Hapsburgs who own the key. The main figure in this grouping was Richard Weston, who’d been made Lord Treasurer in 1628. Weston had been close to Buckingham, and was close to Laud. He carried out a personal correspondence with the Count Olivares, first Minister in Spain for many years. Not only did he favour a foreign policy aligned with Spain, but he was strongly opposed to accommodation with Parliament, and had not been shy of saying so during the last parliament; he was an architect of the ‘new counsels’ and his financial and administrative skills would prove an absolute Godsend to the personal rule.
He also tended towards Catholicism and would convert before his death; and so did many of his supporters and proteges. He was a great friend of Thomas Howard, Earl of Arundel, a protestant but from a famous Catholic family, and Charles’ art collector friend; Francis Cottington, the Chancellor of the Exchequer had spent years in Spain and was almost a naturalised Spaniard; he was witty, flamboyant and cosmopolitan, and a serious politician; he would also die a Catholic.
So, to stress again, many would combine these different views in different combinations – there is no black and white here, no rage of parties. But at one extreme, orientation around Spain, personal rule and Arminianism or Catholicism; and at the other end, orientation towards Protestantism, parliament, the Dutch and France.
The France vs Spain thing, which gets even more acute once France enters the 30 years War, puts me in mind of a quick anecdote I came across. It concerns one of the English diplomats floating around. John, Viscount Scudamore was for many years Charles’ ambassador in Paris. Now there were many noblemen who specialised in working and representing England abroad, and had all the skills, but by and large we are very much still in the amateur land; any man with the right social chops might be sent abroad to lie for their country. One of these rather inexperienced figures was John, Viscount Scudamore, Charles’ ambassador to Paris. I get the very strong impression that ambitious though he was, this was not Scudamore’s natural game; and actually we was an odd appointment since he favoured alliance with Spain rather than France. Anyway, in 1635 the much more dynamic Robert Sidney Earl of Leicester arrived on a special embassy to France; Robert Sidney incidentally was father to Algernon Sidney, philosopher and darling of the Good Old Cause. Anyway, he was not impressed with Scudamore.
He speaks French as if he had learned it in Herefordshire and thinks he never has respect enough, and yet endeavours not at all to deserve any
This is a rather brutal take down, and did make me laugh. Scudamore did in fact of course come from Herefordshire, so why not speak French in his local idiom? I suspect he found all the vagaries of diplomacy a bit much for him however and again really not this natural game and did his head in; he once sighed mournfully to Francis Windebanke, the Secretary of State,
‘Oh that the affairs of the Palatinate were settled, that we might have nothing to do with these Dons or Monsieurs!’
That made me laugh too – not a man designed for the world of diplomacy. Anyway, Sidney didn’t have too great a time in France either, because his king refused to countenance actually going to war to re-install Elizabeth, and decided to agree purely on negotiation. Sidney fumed at the impotence of this policy which had failed to deliver any tangible results for over 10 years, and gave his opinion that
The diseases of Christendom are not to be cured like the King’s Evil with touching – but with striking.
It’s an interesting quote, and points to a fundamental problem; without money why would anyone take any notice of the English? And while Charles seems to have viewed the new world of personal rule with happy eyes, foreign Ambassadors saw the situation rather differently, when they understood how English finances worked. The Venetian Resident in London, Alvise Contarini whose journals are regularly harvested for good quotes remarked that the 1629 dissolution meant that
England may be considered as no longer existing in the world, for she will be impotent for good or harm, and will have to attend to domestic affairs, and the means to raising money
His successor that same year, Soranzo, rather acidly watched his French rival, Louis’ ambassador Charles de l’Aubespine strutting his stuff and belittling English impotence; for Sorzano, he was enjoying it all a little too much and strongly suspected
Some secret satisfaction in him, as if this comparison with France only made the glories of France more resplendent
None the less, Sorzano would probably have agreed with L’Aubespine’s description of the English as
Poor folk who can do neither good nor harm
This was England and Charles’ new position in the world order. But first, Charles was to put his own house in order, his court.