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Charles & Parliament

Sir Thomas Wentworth - later Earl of Strafford.  Close advisor and confidante of the King. Executed May 1641

Charles and Parliament —  Charles I, son of James I, was 25 years old when he came to the throne of England in 1625. This was a period of great conflict between the Protestant and Catholic faiths in Europe and at the height of the 30 Years War when the overwhelming might of the Catholic armies pushed back the Protestants until they occupied only about one fifth of the continent. This conflict was to be an important underlying feature of the reign of Charles I.

Charles’s chief counsellor was the Duke of Buckingham who had much influence over him. Because of his power Buckingham was extremely unpopular in some circles and had many enemies.

Charles married 15 year old Henrietta Maria, a French Roman Catholic, on 1st May 1625 but initially continued under Buckingham's influence and saw little of his wife. As a result of his marriage, Charles made many concessions to Roman Catholics, in particular the temporary non-enforcement of the penal laws against them. This aroused suspicions in the first Parliament of his reign. The Protestant communities in England became ever more fearful of an attack on their religion and also of the politics of absolute monarchy which were prevalent in all Catholic countries at that time.

At the start of his reign England was at war with Spain. In 1625 Charles called a Parliament with the intention of raising more revenue to finance this questionable conflict.

Parliament met in June 1625 at a time when enthusiasm for the Spanish war had cooled.

Wishing to enforce a settlement of the dispute about the King’s unjust demands, the Commons withheld the usual grant of taxes and duties to the new King.

The many members of the House of Commons were very much of the followers of the Puritan religion and saw with alarm the rise in influence of the Anglo-Catholics who insisted on the absolute authority of the Crown because they looked to the Crown for protection.

Charles soon dissolved the Parliament.

In the autumn an expedition against the Spanish port of Cadiz failed. The Duke of Buckingham, as Lord High Admiral, was held accountable for this defeat and the defects of the fleet.

Charles was forced to call another Parliament in 1626. Led by the eloquent Sir John Eliot, the Commons impeached Buckingham and Charles dissolved the Parliament to save his friend. Again he had secured no taxes.

Since his accession to the throne Charles imposed various taxes and duties by his own authority. He resorted to other dubious means, especially a forced loan, and punished with imprisonment those who refused to contribute. He obtained a decision of the judges in favour of his right to imprison at his own discretion. Meanwhile, Charles had drifted into direct conflict with France. An expedition led by Buckingham to occupy the Isle of Ré, near the Huguenot stronghold of Rochelle, had failed with heavy loss.

Charles was forced to call a third Parliament. The Commons adopted a petition of right by which they condemned arbitrary taxation and imprisonment, the enforcement of martial law and the billeting of soldiers as contrary to the law of the land.

Charles first gave an evasive answer and then consented. In return the Commons made a grant.

In the course of the following recess Buckingham was murdered by a fanatic, and one of the ablest leaders of the Commons, Sir Thomas Wentworth, defected to the King's side. Wentworth, later Earl of Strafford, was to become an important figure in the politics of the time and a trusted ally of the King.

When Parliament reassembled, the King and the Commons entered on a dispute about the raising of taxes and duties and the Commons spent much time in discussing the affairs of the Church.

Finally the King commanded the House to adjourn. Before it obeyed it passed resolutions declaring all who favoured Arminianism or paid taxes and duties not granted by Parliament to be enemies of their country. 

Arminianism, a form of religious doctrine favoured by Charles I, emphasised free will, denying that anyone was damned in advance. In England, Arminians were known for promoting traditional church ceremonial. Their antagonists, the Puritans, were Calvinists who aimed to strip the Church of ritual and hierarchy. The movement included Presbyterians, who believed that the episcopacy, or the hierarchy of bishops, should be replaced by elected 'presbyters', and Independents, who opposed the establishment of any state church.

Charles replied  by suspending Parliament and sent nine members to prison. Sir John Eliot died in the Tower.


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