Charles I 1600-1649, king of Great Britain and Ireland, the second son of James VI of Scotland and Anne of Denmark, was born at Dunfermline on 19 Nov. 1600, and at his baptism on 23 Dec. was created Duke of Albany. He was entrusted to the care of Lord and Lady Fyvie. He was brought to England in 1604 and given into the charge of Lady Cary, many ladies having refused the responsibility of bringing him up on account of his physical weakness. He was so weak in his joints, and especially his ankles, insomuch as many feared they were out of joint. It was long, too, before he was able to speak, and Lady Cary had hard work in insisting that the cure of these defects should be left to nature, the king being anxious to place his son's legs in iron boots, and to have the string under his tongue cut. Gradually the child outgrew these defects, though he continued to retain a slight impediment in his speech (Memoirs of R. Cary, Earl of Monmouth, ed. 1759, p. 203).
On 16 Jan. 1605 the boy was created Duke of York. On 6 Nov. 1612 the death of his brother, Prince Henry, made him heir-apparent to his father's crowns, though he was not created Prince of Wales till 3 Nov. 1616. Long before this last date negotiations had been opened in France for marrying him to a sister of Louis XIII, the Princess Christina, and in November 1613 the scheme was in a fair way to a conclusion. In June 1614 James was thrown, by his quarrel with his second parliament, into the arms of Spain, and, without allowing the French proposals entirely to drop, made an offer to marry his son to the Infanta Maria, the daughter of Philip III of Spain. It was not till 1616 that the confidential negotiations which followed promised a sufficiently satisfactory result to induce James finally to break with France, and in 1617 a formal proposal was made to the king of Spain by the English ambassador, Sir John Digby. In 1618 the negotiation was suspended, though articles concerning the household and personal position of the infanta were agreed to, as Philip made demands on behalf of the English catholics which James was unwilling to accept [see James I].
Charles himself was still too young to take much interest in the choice of a wife. His education had not been neglected, and he had acquired a large stock of information, especially of such as bore on the theological and ecclesiastical questions which made so great a part of the learning of his day. In 1618 there was a boyish quarrel between him and his father's favourite, Buckingham, which was promptly made up, and from that time a close friendship united the two young men.
When the troubles in Germany broke out, Charles did not hesitate to declare himself on the side of his sister, the Electress Palatine, whose husband had been elected to the Bohemian throne. In 1620 he rated himself at 5,000l. to the Benevolence which was being raised for the defence of the Palatinate, and on the news of the defeat of his brother-in-law at Prague shut himself up in his room for two days, refusing to speak to any one. In the House of Lords in the session of 1621 he took Bacon's part, and induced the peers to refrain from depriving the fallen chancellor of his titles of nobility.
After the dissolution of James's third parliament the Spanish marriage negotiations were again warmly taken up. Charles was now in his twenty-second year. He was dignified in manner and active in his habits. He rode well, and distinguished himself at tennis and in the tilting-yard. He had a good ear for music and a keen eye for the merits and the special peculiarities of a painter's work. His moral conduct was irreproachable, and he used to blush whenever an immodest word was uttered in his presence (Relazioni Venete, Ingh. p. 261).
Of his possession of powers befitting the future ruler of his country nothing was as yet known. His tendency to take refuge in silence when anything disagreeable to him occurred was indeed openly remarked on, and his increasing familiarity with Buckingham attracted notice; but it was hardly likely that any one would prognosticate so early the future development of a character of which these were the principal signs. Charles was in truth possessed of a mind singularly retentive of impressions once made upon it. Whatever might be the plan of life which he had once adopted as the right one, he would retain it to the end. Honestly anxious to take the right path, he would never for expediency's sake pursue that which he believed to be a wrong one; but there was in him no mental growth, no geniality of temperament, leading him to modify his own opinions through intercourse with his fellowmen. This want of receptivity in his mind was closely connected with a deficiency of imagination. He could learn nothing from others, because he was never able to understand or sympathise with their standpoint. If they differed from him, they were wholly in the wrong, and were probably actuated by the basest motives. The same want of imagination led to that untrustworthiness which is usually noted as the chief defect of his character. Sometimes, no doubt, he exercised, what earlier statesmen had claimed to exercise, the right of baffling by a direct falsehood the inquiries of those who asked questions about a policy which he wished to keep secret. The greater part of the falsehoods with which he is charged were of another description. He spoke of a thing as it appeared at the time to himself, without regard to the effect which his words might produce upon the hearer. He made promises which would be understood to mean one thing, and he neglected to fulfil them, without any sense of shame, because when the time for fulfilment came it was the most natural thing in the world for him to be convinced that they ought to be taken in a sense more convenient to himself.
The same want of imagination which made Charles untrustworthy made him shy and constrained. The words and acts of others came unexpectedly upon him, so that he was either at a loss for a fitting answer, or replied, after the manner of shy men, hastily and without consideration. In early life his diffidence led to an entire devotion to Buckingham, who was some years his senior, who impressed him by his unbounded self-possession and his magnificent animal spirits, and who had no definite religious or political principles to come into collision with his own.
The ascendency acquired by Buckingham over the prince was first manifested to the world in the journey taken by the two young men to Madrid. Charles swallowed eagerly Buckingham's crude notion that a personal visit to Spain would induce Philip IV, who had succeeded his father in 1620, not merely to give his sister's hand on conditions considered at the English court to be reasonable, but actively to support the restitution of the Palatinate to Frederick, the son-in-law of the English king.
The first idea of the visit seems to have been suggested by Gondomar, who before he left England in May 1622 had drawn from Charles a promise to come to Madrid incognito, if the ambassador on his return to Spain thought fit to advise the step. The arrangements for the journey were probably settled by Endymion Porter when he arrived at Madrid in November on a special mission, and it was hastened by the rapid conquest by the imperialists of Frederick's remaining fortresses in the Palatinate, and the evident reluctance of the king of Spain to interfere in his behalf. In February 1623 the plan was disclosed to James, and the old king was half cajoled, half bullied into giving his permission.
On 17 Feb. Buckingham and the prince started. Arriving in Paris on the 21st, they there saw Henrietta Maria, Charles's future wife, though at the time the young man had no eyes for the sprightly child, but gazed at the queen of France, from whose features he hoped to get some idea of the appearance of her sister, the infanta. On 7 March Charles reached Madrid. His arrival caused much consternation among the Spanish statesmen, as Philip had some time previously directed his chief minister, Olivares, to find some polite way of breaking off the marriage on account of his sister's reluctance to become the wife of a heretic. At first they entertained hopes that all difficulties might be removed by Charles's conversion, but when they discovered that this was not to be obtained they fell back upon the necessity of obtaining a dispensation from the pope, and instructed the Duke of Pastrana, who was ostensibly sent to urge the pope to give his consent, to do his best to persuade him to refuse to permit the marriage.
While Pastrana was on his way to Rome, Charles, though he was not allowed to speak to the infanta except once in public, had worked himself up into a feeling of admiration, which was perhaps chiefly based on reluctance to be baffled in his quest.
At last an answer arrived from Rome. It had for some time been understood that some kind of religious liberty was to be granted to the English catholics as a condition of the marriage. That liberty, the Spaniards had always urged, must be complete; but both they and the pope were afraid lest promises made by James and Charles should be broken as soon as the bride arrived in England. The pope now threw the onus of preventing the latter catastrophe upon the king of Spain. He sent the dispensation to his nuncio at Madrid, but it was not to be delivered over till Philip had sworn that unless the promises made by the king and prince were faithfully observed he would go to war with England to compel their maintenance.
Charles, knowing what the law of England was, offered that the penal laws against the catholics should be suspended, and that he and his father would do their best to have them repealed, and about the same time he replied civilly to a letter from the Pope in terms which, when they came to be known, shocked English opinion. Upon this at once a junto of theologians was summoned to consider whether the king of Spain could honestly take the oath required by the pope. Charles was irritated by the delay, and still more by the knowledge that it had been suggested that the marriage might take place, but that the infanta should be kept in Spain till the concessions offered by the English government had been actually carried out. On 20 July James swore to the marriage articles, which included an engagement that the infanta was to have a public church to which all Englishmen might have access. He also formally promised that no special legislation against the catholics should be put in force, and that he would try to obtain the consent of parliament to an alteration in the law. Charles not only confirmed his father's promise, but engaged that the existing law should be altered within three years, that the infanta's children should be left in their mother's hands till they were twelve years old, and that whenever the infanta wished it he would listen to divines employed by her in matters of the Roman catholic religion. The first of these promises was one which he never could perform; the last was one in which he roused hopes which he was not in the least likely to satisfy. Charles's expectation that his mere word would be sufficient to enable him to carry the infanta with him after the marriage was, however, disappointed, and in accordance with the decision of the junto of theologians he was told that, though the wedding might take place in Spain, the infanta could only be allowed to follow her husband to England after the lapse of a sufficient interval to put his promises to the test. As the death of the pope created a further delay, by necessitating a renewal of the dispensation by his successor, Charles, leaving a proxy with the ambassador, the Earl of Bristol, to enable him to conclude the marriage, returned to England, landing at Portsmouth on 5 Oct. As he passed through London he was received with every manifestation of popular joy, of which but little would have been heard if he had brought the infanta with him.
To his personal annoyance Charles added a feeling of vexation at the discovery which he had made at Madrid, that Philip had no intention of reinstating Frederick and Elizabeth in the Palatinate by force of arms. He had therefore, while on his journey, sent instructions to Bristol not to use the proxy left with him without further orders, and his first object after rejoining his father was to urge him to a breach with Spain. I am ready, he said, to conquer Spain if you will allow me to do it. He succeeded in persuading James to make the restitution of the Palatinate a condition of the marriage, a demand which practically put an end to the negotiation.
Under the influence of Buckingham, Charles wanted not merely to break off the marriage treaty, but to embark England in a war with Spain. His father was reluctant to follow him thus far, but James's own policy had so thoroughly broken down that he was compelled to follow his son's lead. Parliament was summoned, and met on 19 Feb. 1624. Both houses condemned the treaty with Spain, and were eager for war. Yet already appeared a note of dissonance. The commons wanted a maritime war with Spain, while James wished for a military expedition to the Palatinate. Charles, who had no policy of his own, joined Buckingham in supporting far-reaching schemes for a war by land and sea. The commons, sympathising with his warlike ardour, but wishing to keep the final conclusion in their own hands, voted a large sum of money for preparations, and placed the disposal of it in the hands of treasurers appointed by parliament. It was understood that a diplomatic attempt to secure allies was to be made in the summer, and that in the autumn or winter parliament was again to meet to vote the money required for the actual prosecution of war, if war was decided on.
It was not improbable that the difference of opinion on the scope of the war between the House of Commons on the one side and Charles and Buckingham on the other would lead to a rupture. The difference was further accentuated by a difference of opinion about Charles's marriage. Before the Spanish treaty was finally broken off overtures had been received from France, and Lord Kensington, created soon afterwards Earl of Holland, was sent to Paris to sound the queen mother and Louis XIII on their willingness to bestow the hand of the king's sister, Henrietta Maria, on the Prince of Wales. Charles readily believed, as he had believed when he set out for Madrid, that political difficulties would give way if a friendly personal relation were once established. France, he hoped, would join England in a war against the house of Austria, and would not put forward any extravagant demands on behalf of the English catholics. Knowing the strong feeling of the commons on the latter point, he made a solemn declaration in their presence on 9 April that whensoever it should please God to bestow on him any lady that were popish, she should have no further liberty but for her own family, and no advantage to the recusants at home. Before parliament was prorogued he urged on the impeachment of Middlesex, who was accused of corruption, but whose real fault was his wish that the king was to remain at peace with Spain. During this affair, as during the earlier proceedings of parliament, Charles appears as the mere tool of Buckingham, bearing down his father's aversion to war, and thoughtlessly weakening the authority of the crown by the want of consideration with which he treated its possessor. He and Buckingham, as James told them, were but preparing a rod for themselves in teaching the commons to impeach a minister [see Villiers, George, Duke of Buckingham].
On 29 May parliament was prorogued. On the 17th the Earl of Carlisle had been sent to Paris to join Kensington in negotiating the marriage treaty. He soon found that the French would only treat if the same solemn engagements on behalf of the English catholics which had been given to the king of Spain were now given to the king of France. Charles as soon as he received the news was for drawing back. He had, as the French ambassador in London reported, little inclination to satisfy France in these essential points. Buckingham, however, whose mind was inflamed with visions of warlike glory, was induced to advise concession, and Charles was like wax in Buckingham's hands. Louis and Richelieu, who was now the chief minister of Louis, professed themselves ready to assist England in sending the German adventurer Mansfeld to recover the Palatinate, if the engagement about the English catholics were given. In September Charles joined Buckingham in forcing upon his father the abandonment of his own engagement to the English parliament, that nothing should be said in the articles of marriage about protection for the English catholics. James gave way, and the marriage treaty was signed by the ambassadors 10 Nov. and ratified by James and his son at Cambridge 12 Dec. All that was conceded to the English government was that the engagement about the catholics might be given in a secret article apart from the public treaty.
This defection of Charles from his promise voluntarily given was the point and origin of that alienation between himself and his parliament which ultimately brought him to the scaffold. Its immediate consequences were disastrous. Parliament could not be summoned in the autumn, for fear of its remonstrances against an engagement, the effects of which would be notorious, even if its terms were kept secret, and the war which Buckingham and Charles were urging James to enter on would be starved for want of the supplies which parliament alone could give. The French government, for which so much had been sacrificed, was not to be depended on. In October Louis had refused to give in writing an engagement, which he had indicated in word, that an English force under Mansfeld should be allowed to pass through France to the recovery of the Palatinate. When in December a body of twelve thousand raw levies assembled under Mansfeld at Dover, all the available money for their pay was exhausted, and for the 20,000l. needed for the current month the prince had to give his personal security. Charles and Buckingham were very angry at the persistent refusal of Louis to allow these men to land in France, and they had finally to consent to send them through the Dutch territory, where, being without pay and provisions, the army soon dwindled away to nothing.
This ill-managed expedition of Mansfeld was only one of Buckingham's brilliant but unreal schemes, and though when, on 27 March 1625, James died and Charles succeeded to the throne, it was not fully known how completely the new king was a mere cipher to give effect to Buckingham's views, suspicions could not but find their way abroad. He is either an extraordinary man, said a shrewd Frenchman of the new sovereign, or his talents are very mean. If his reticence is affected in order not to give jealousy to his father, it is a sign of consummate prudence. If it is natural and unassumed, the contrary inference may be drawn (Mémoires de Brienne, i. 399).
For a moment it seemed as if the weakness of Charles's position would be forgotten. Much that we know clearly was only suspected, and the young king gained credit by restoring order in his father's disorderly household. Charles, heedless of favourable or unfavourable opinions, pushed on his preparations for war, prepared to send a large fleet to sea against Spain, entered into an engagement to send 30,000l. a month to the king of Denmark, who now headed the league against the catholic powers in Germany, and borrowed money to place Mansfeld's army once more on a military footing. He also summoned a new parliament, and was known to be anxious to meet it as soon as possible.
On 1 May Charles was married by proxy to Henrietta Maria, and on 13 June he received his bride at Canterbury. On the 18th his first parliament met. In his speech at the opening of the session he expressed his confidence that the houses would support him in the war in which he had engaged at their instigation, but neither he nor any official speaking in his name explained what his projects were or how much money would be needed to carry them out. The commons, instead of attending to his wishes, sent up a petition on the state of religion, and voted two subsidies, or about 140,000l., a sum quite inadequate to carry on a serious war. Charles, taken aback, directed Sir John Coke to explain to the commons that a far larger sum was needed, and, when this had no effect, adjourned parliament to Oxford, as the plague was raging in London. In order to conciliate his subjects he announced his intention of putting the laws against recusants in execution, thus abandoning his promise to the king of France as he had previously abandoned his promise to his own parliament. He seems to have justified his conduct to himself on the ground that, Louis having broken his engagement to allow Mansfeld to land in France, he was himself no longer bound.
When parliament met again it appeared that the prevailing motive of the commons was distrust of Buckingham. The final breach came on a demand for counsellors in which parliament could confide, or, in other words, for counsellors other than Buckingham. Charles refused to sacrifice his favourite, believing that to allow ministerial responsibility to grow up would end by making the crown subservient to parliaments, and dissolved parliament on 12 Aug.
That the executive government of the crown was not subject to parliamentary control was a maxim which Charles and his father had received from their Tudor predecessors. Even if Charles had been willing to admit that this maxim might be set aside in case of his own misconduct, he would have argued that the misconduct was now all on the side of the commons. He did not see that his own change of front in the matter of the catholics exposed him to suspicion, or that the failure of Mansfeld's expedition was in any way the fault of himself or of his minister.
Two other circumstances concurred to make the commons suspicious. Charles had lent some ships to the French king, which were to be used against the protestants of Rochelle, and it was not known at the time that he had done his best, by means of an elaborate intrigue, to prevent them being used for that purpose [see Pennington, Sir John]. The other cause of the estrangement of the commons was of a more important character. A reaction against the prevalent Calvinism, which was in reality based upon a recurrence to the tone of thought of those of the reformers who had lived under the influence of the renaissance, had made itself felt at the universities, and consequently among the clergy. The laity were slower to feel the impulse, which in itself was in the direction of freer thought, and the House of Commons sent for Richard Montagu, who had written two books which had denied the Calvinistic dogmas to be those of the church of England. Charles, who shared in Montagu's belief, was unwise enough to bid the commons abstain from meddling with Montagu, not on the ground that liberty was good, but on the ground that Montagu was a royal chaplain, a position which was only conferred on him to give Charles an excuse for protecting him [see Montagu, Richard]. The question of ministerial responsibility was thus raised in the church as well as in the state.
In dissolving parliament Charles had no thought of doing without parliaments, but he hoped to be in a position when the next one met to be financially independent of them, and to prove by a great success that he and Buckingham were competent to carry on war. Scraping together a certain sum of money by means of privy seal loans, a means of obtaining temporary assistance which had been used by Elizabeth, he sent out an expedition to Cadiz under Sir Edward Cecil [see Cecil, Sir Edward, Viscount Wimbledon], and despatched Buckingham to Holland to raise money by pawning the crown jewels. The expedition proved a complete failure, and Buckingham returned without being able to obtain more than a very small sum.
Another scheme of Charles was equally unsuccessful. When his second parliament met on 6 Feb. 1626, it appeared that he had made all the chief speakers of the opposition sheriffs in order to make it impossible for them to appear at Westminster. Sir John Eliot [see Eliot, Sir John], however, took the lead of the commons, and after a strict inquiry into Buckingham's conduct, the commons proceeded to the impeachment of the favourite. In the course of the struggle other disputes cropped up. Charles sent the Earl of Arundel to the Tower [see Howard, Thomas, Earl of Arundel] for an offence connected with the marriage of his son, and was obliged to set him at liberty by the insistence of the peers, who claimed the attendance of each member of their own house on his parliamentary duties. In the same way he was compelled to allow the Earl of Bristol, whom he had attempted to exclude from parliament, to take his seat, and as Bristol brought charges against Buckingham, he sent his attorney-general to retaliate by accusing him before the lords of misconduct as ambassador during Charles's visit to Madrid [see Digby, John, Earl of Bristol]. He was also brought into collision with the commons. He was so indignant at language used by Eliot and Digges, as managers of Buckingham's impeachment, that he sent them both to the Tower, only to find himself necessitated to release them, as the commons refused to sit till their members were at liberty, and he was too anxious for subsidies to carry on the war to be content with a cessation of business.
On 9 June Charles told the commons that if they would not grant supply he must ‘use other resolutions.’ The commons replied by a remonstrance calling for the dismissal of Buckingham, and as the lords showed signs of sympathy with the attack on Buckingham, Charles dissolved his second parliament on 15 June. The quarrel was defined even more clearly than in the first parliament. The commons claimed to refuse supply if the executive government were conducted by ministers in whom they had no confidence, while Charles held that he was the sole judge of the fitness of his ministers for their work, and that to refuse supply when the exigencies of the state required it was factious conduct which could not be tolerated.
As soon as the commons had disappeared from the scene, the king ordered that Buckingham's case should be tried in the Star-chamber. The parliamentary managers refusing to prosecute, the affair ended in an acquittal, which convinced no one of its justice. In his straits for money Charles proposed to ask the freeholders to give him the five subsidies which the House of Commons had named in a resolution, though no bill had been passed to give effect to that resolution. Upon the refusal of the freeholders he ordered a levy of ships from the shires along the coast, and in this way got together a fleet which was sent out under Lord Willoughby, and which was so shattered by a storm in the Bay of Biscay that it was unable to accomplish anything [see Bertie, Robert, Earl of Lindsey].
Charles's need of money was the greater as he was drifting into a quarrel with France. His breach of the promise made to the king of France to protect the English catholics had led to quarrels between himself and his wife, and at last Charles lost patience when he heard, perhaps in an exaggerated form, a story that the queen had offered prayers in the neighbourhood of Tyburn to the catholics who had been there executed as traitors. He laid the blame upon the French attendants, whom he accused of perverting his wife from her duty to himself, and on 31 July, after a violent scene with the queen, had them all turned out of Whitehall. On 8 Aug. they were embarked for France [see Henrietta Maria, Queen of England]. Louis XIII complained of this proceeding as being, as indeed it was, an infraction of the marriage treaty. Another ground of quarrel was the seizure by English ships of war of French vessels charged with carrying contraband goods for the use of the Spanish possessions in the Netherlands, which was especially resented by the French, as Charles claimed to intervene in the dispute between Louis and his revolted protestant subjects [see Carleton, Dudley, Viscount Dorchester].
While hostilities with France were impending in addition to the existing war with Spain, fresh calls for money arose in Germany. Charles had engaged to pay 30,000l. a month to his uncle, Christian IV, king of Denmark; and as the payment was stopped soon after the promise was made, Christian, having been defeated at Lutter on 17 Aug., complained bitterly that his defeat was owing to his nephew's failure to carry out his engagement. In September, accordingly, Charles ordered the levy of a forced loan equal to the five subsidies which he had failed to secure as a gift. At first the loan came in slowly, and to fortify his position Charles applied to the judges for an opinion in favour of the legality of the demand. Failing to obtain it he dismissed Chief-justice Crewe. To make the judges dependent, Charles thus deprived them of that moral authority which he would sorely need whenever he wished to quote their judgments on his own side. A considerable part of the loan was ultimately brought in, but not till the leading statesmen of the popular party had been imprisoned for refusing to pay. In this way it became possible to send Sir Charles Morgan with some regiments of foot to assist the king of Denmark.
In the meanwhile the war with France had broken out. Buckingham went at the head of a great expedition to the Isle of Ré to relieve Rochelle, which was being besieged by the army of Louis XIII. A siege of Fort St. Martin proved longer than was expected, and Buckingham cried out for reinforcements. Charles urged on his ministers to gather men and money; but Buckingham's unpopularity was so great that but little could be done. Before the reinforcements could reach Ré, Buckingham had been defeated, and had been obliged to abandon the island. On 11 Nov. he landed at Plymouth.
Charles was resolved to go on with the war. The king of France, he told the Venetian ambassador, ‘is determined to destroy Rochelle, and I am to support it; for I will never allow my word to be forfeited.’ After all kinds of devices for getting money¾including a levy of ship-money and the enforcement of an excise¾had been discussed and abandoned, Charles's third parliament met on 17 March 1628. Charles had previously ordered the enlargement of those who had been prisoners on account of their refusal to pay the loan, after the court of king's bench had declined to liberate on bail five of the number who had applied to it for protection.
The commons found a leader in Sir Thomas Wentworth, and under Wentworth's guidance a bill was brought in to secure the liberties of the subject [see Wentworth, Thomas, Earl of Strafford]. It proposed to abolish Charles's claim to compel householders to receive soldiers billeted on them, to raise loans or taxes without consent of parliament, or to commit a man to prison by his own order without giving an opportunity to the judges to bail him. Into the events of the past year there was to be no inquiry. On the points of billeting and loans Charles was ready to give way; but he stood firm on the point of imprisonment, all the more because he had reason to think that the House of Lords was in his favour.
The question was one on which something at least might be said on Charles's side. From time to time dangers occur which the operation of the law is insufficient to meet. A widespread conspiracy or a foreign invasion threatens the nation at large, and it becomes of more importance to struggle against the enemy than to maintain the existing safeguards of individual liberty. In our own day parliament provides for such cases by refusing to prisoners in certain cases the right of suing out a writ of habeas corpus, or by passing a bill of indemnity in favour of a minister who, when parliament was not sitting, had in some great emergency overstepped the law. The crown had in the Tudor times been tacitly allowed frequently to judge when the law was to be suspended by imprisoning without showing cause, a course which made a writ of habeas corpus inoperative, as no charge could be shown in the gaoler's return, and consequently the court of king's bench was powerless to act.
Wentworth's intervention was therefore thrust aside by Charles. The king was ready to confirm Magna Charta and other old statutes, and to promise to ‘maintain all his subjects in the just freedom of their persons and safety of their estates, according to the laws and estates of the realm,’ but he would not bind himself absolutely by a new law. The result was that Wentworth withdrew from the position which he had taken up, and that, the bill proposed by him having been dropped, the petition of right was brought in, including all the demands of Wentworth's bill, with an additional one relating to the execution of martial law. Its form was far more offensive to Charles than the bill had been, as it declared plainly that that which had been done by his orders had been done in defiance of existing law, and required that the law should be kept, not altered.
Charles argued that cases might occur above the capacity of the judges, involving, in short, questions of policy rather than of law, and he offered never again to imprison any one for refusing to lend him money. His offence had been too recent to dispose the commons to listen to this overture, and all attempts to modify the petition having failed, it passed both houses on 28 May. Charles was the more anxious to find a way of escape, as an expedition sent to the relief of Rochelle had failed to effect anything; and he was bent on following it up by a larger expedition, which it was impossible to despatch without the subsidies which the commons would only pass on his giving assent to the petition. The mode in which he attempted to escape was characteristic. He tried to maintain his prerogative, while leaving the commons under the impression that he had abandoned it. Having obtained from the judges an opinion that, even if he assented to the petition, he could still in some cases imprison without showing cause, he then gave an answer to parliament so studiously vague as to give no satisfaction, and then, finding the commons were violently exasperated, gave his consent on 7 June in the ordinary form, though doubtless with the mental reservation that in the terms of the opinion of the judges he was not precluded, in times of necessity, from doing what, according to the latest meaning of the petition, he had acknowledged to be illegal.
Charles got his subsidies; but the commons proceeded with a remonstrance against his government, and especially against the countenance given by him to Buckingham. A still more serious dispute arose out of his rejection of a proposal by the commons to grant him tonnage and poundage for one year only, probably in order to get them to discuss with him the whole question of his right to levy customs without a parliamentary grant. Upon this the commons asserted that if any such right existed he had abandoned it in the petition of right. To this very questionable argument Charles replied that he could not do without tonnage and poundage, and that the abandonment of those duties was ‘never intended by’ the house ‘to ask, never meant, I am sure, by me to grant.’ On 26 June he prorogued parliament. The assassination of Buckingham and the failure of the new expedition to Ré quickly followed. Charles never again gave his complete confidence to any one.
The king hoped in the next session to obtain a parliamentary settlement of the dispute about tonnage and poundage. Such a settlement was, however, rendered more difficult by the irritation caused by the seizure of goods for non-payment of those duties. When parliament met in 1629, the commons were also irritated by the line which Charles had taken on the church questions of the day. Not only had he favoured the growth of a certain amount of ceremonialism in churches, but he had recently issued a declaration, which was prefixed to a new edition of the articles, in which he directed the clergy to keep silence on the disputes which had arisen between the supporters of Calvinistic or Arminian doctrines. The commons wished Arminian teaching to be absolutely suppressed, and their exasperation with the king's policy in this matter made it more difficult for him to come to terms with them on the subject of tonnage and poundage. Under Eliot's leadership they resolved to question Charles's agents, and, on a message from the king commanding them to adjourn, the speaker was violently held down in his chair, and resolutions were passed declaring that the preachers of Arminian doctrines and those who levied or paid tonnage and poundage were enemies of the country. Charles dissolved parliament, and for eleven years ruled without one.
The quarrel between Charles and the House of Commons was practically a question of sovereignty. There had been at first grave differences of opinion between them on the subject of Buckingham's competence and the management of the war, and subsequently on Charles's opposition to popular Calvinism in the church. The instrument by means of which each side hoped to get power into its own hands was tonnage and poundage. Without it Charles would soon be a bankrupt. With it he might hope to free himself from the necessity of submitting to the commons. The old idea of government resting upon harmony between the king and parliament had broken down, and the constitution must be modified either in the direction of absolutism or in the direction of popular control.
Many members of the house who had shared in the disturbance were imprisoned. Charles's indignation was directed against Eliot, who had led the attack upon Buckingham as well as opposition to the king. Charles personally interfered to settle the mode of proceeding, and when Eliot with Rolles and Valentine were imprisoned in the king's bench, upon their refusal to pay the fine to which they were sentenced, Charles practically hastened Eliot's end by leaving him in an unhealthy cell in the Tower after he was attacked by consumption.
For a long time Charles's main difficulty was financial. In 1629 he made peace with France, and in 1630 with Spain. He enforced the payment of tonnage and poundage, and he raised a considerable sum by demanding money from those who had omitted to apply for knighthood being in possession of 40l. a year, a proceeding which, if liable to many objections, was at least legal. In this way he nearly made both ends meet, his revenue in 1635 being in round numbers 618,000l., while his expenditure was 636,000l. A deficit of 18,000l. might easily be met from temporary sources, but the financial position thus created by Charles would not allow him to play an important part in foreign politics. Yet Charles, with that fatuous belief in his own importance which attended him through life, imagined that he would gain the object which he aimed at, the restoration of the Palatinate first to his brother-in-law Frederick, and after Frederick's death to his nephew, Charles Louis, by offering his worthless alliance sometimes to the emperor and the king of Spain, sometimes to the king of France or to Gustavus Adolphus. From none of these potentates did he ever receive more than verbal assurances of friendship. No one would undergo a sacrifice to help a man who was unable to help himself.
The discredit into which Charles fell with foreign powers might ultimately be injurious to him; but France and Spain were too much occupied with their own quarrels to make it likely that he would be exposed to immediate danger in consequence of anything that they were likely to do. The offence which he was giving by his ecclesiastical policy at home was much more perilous. The church problem of his day was indeed much more complex than either he or his opponents were aware. As a result of the struggle against the papal power, backed by the king of Spain, a Calvinistic creed, combined with a dislike of any ceremonial which bore the slightest resemblance to the forms of worship prevailing in the Roman church, had obtained a strong hold upon religious Englishmen. Then had come a reaction in favour of a broader religious thought, combined with a certain amount of ceremonialism; a reaction which was in the main a return to the old lines of the culture of the renaissance, and which, so far from being really reactionary, was in the way of progress towards the intellectual and scientific achievements which marked the close of the century.
Mediation between the two schools of thought could only be successfully achieved by conciliating that part of the population which is sufficiently intelligent to take interest in matters of the mind, but which is not inclined to admit the absolute predominance of thorough partisans on either side. To do this it would be necessary to sympathise with the better side of the new school, with its dislike of dogmatism and its intellectual reasonableness, while refusing at least to lend it help in establishing a ceremonial uniformity by compulsion. Unhappily Charles's sympathies were in the wrong direction. He was not a man of thought to be attracted by intellectual force. He was a man of cultivated æsthetic perceptions, loving music and painting and the drama, but as a connoisseur not as an artist. He could tell when he saw a picture who the painter was, he could suggest an incident to be the centre of a dramatic plot, but he could not paint a picture or write a play. In his own life he instinctively turned to that which was orderly and decorous. He had never been unfaithful to his wife, even in the days when there had been no love between the married pair, and after Buckingham's death his affection for Henrietta Maria was that of a warm and tender lover. Such a man was certain to share Laud's view of the true way of dealing with church controversies¾so different from that of Bacon¾and, having thought to settle theological disputes by enjoining silence on both parties, to endeavour to reach unity by the enforcement of uniformity in obedience to church law without considering the shock which his action would cause in a generation habituated to its disuse.
For some time his efforts in this direction were crowned only by partial success. In 1633 Laud became archbishop of Canterbury, and by the close of 1637, when Laud's metropolitical visitation came to an end, the ceremonial of the church had been reduced to the ideal which Charles had accepted from Laud, with the result of driving the mass of moderate protestants into the arms of the puritans [see Laud, William].
At the same time that Charles was alienating so many religious men, he was giving offence to thousands who cared for the maintenance of the laws and customs which guarded property from irresponsible taxation. In 1634 he took alarm at the growing strength of the French navy, which, in combination with the Dutch, might easily overwhelm any fleet which he was himself able to send out, and, in pursuance of a suggestion of Attorney-general Noy, he commanded the issue of writs to the port towns, directing them to supply ships for service at sea. The ships, however, were required to be larger than any of the port towns, except London, had at their disposal, and Charles therefore expressed his willingness to commute the obligation for a money payment which was practically a tax. While he gave out that the vessels were wanted for the defence of the realm against pirates and enemies, he was negotiating a secret treaty with Spain, the object of which was the employment of the fleet in a combined war against the Dutch.
In 1635 the ship-money writs were extended to the inland counties. The negotiation with Spain had broken down, and Charles was now eager to use his new fleet to enforce his claim to the sovereignty of the seas, and to force even war vessels of other nations to dip their flags on passing a ship of his navy in the seas round Great Britain. He also attempted, with small success, to levy a tax from the Dutch herring boats for permission to fish in the sea between England and their own coasts.
Gradually resistance to the payment of ship-money spread, and in December 1635 Charles consulted the judges. Ten out of the twelve replied that ‘when the good and safety of the kingdom in general is concerned, and the whole kingdom in danger¾of which his majesty is the only judge¾then the charge of the defence ought to be borne by all the kingdom in general.’ Charles was always apt to rely on the letter rather than on the spirit of the law, and he forgot that after he had dismissed Chief-justice Crewe, &c. in 1626 for disagreeing with him about the forced loan, suspended Chief-baron Walter in 1627 for disagreeing with him about the mode of dealing with the accused members of parliament, and Chief-justice Heath in 1634 for disagreeing with him about the church, he could hardly expect his subjects to believe that the judges were altogether influenced by personal considerations when they decided in favour of the crown.
Ship-money writs continued to be issued every year, and in February 1637 Charles obtained a fresh and more deliberate answer of the judges in support of his claim. Finding that resistance continued, he gladly consented to have the question of his rights discussed before the exchequer chamber in Hampden's case, and when judgment was given in 1638 in his favour he treated the question as settled without regard to the impression made on public opinion by the speeches of Hampden's counsel [see Hampden, John].
In other ways Charles's government had given dissatisfaction. Many monopolies had been granted to companies, by which subterfuge the Monopoly Act of 1624 had been evaded. Inquiry had been made into the rights of persons possessing land which had once formed part of a royal forest, enormous fines inflicted, and though these fines, like the majority of the fines in the Star-chamber, were usually either forgiven or much reduced when payment was demanded, the whole proceeding created an amount of irritation which told heavily against the court.
By this time Laud's metropolitical visitation had increased its growing opposition, and even greater distrust of Charles had been engendered by the welcome accorded by Charles to Panzani, who arrived in 1634 as papal agent at the queen's court, and who was busy with a futile attempt to reconcile the church of England with the see of Rome. Panzani was present when Charles paid a formal visit to Oxford in 1636. Con, who succeeded him, dropped the scheme for the union of the churches, and devoted himself to the conversion of gentlemen, and more successfully of ladies of quality. In 1637 even Charles took alarm, though he loved to chat with Con over points of literature and theology, and proposed to issue a proclamation ordering the enforcement of the law against those who effected conversions. The queen, however, pleaded the cause of her fellow-catholics, and Charles, unable to withstand his wife's entreaties, gave way and issued his proclamation in so modified a form as no longer to cause alarm among the catholics themselves. With more wisdom he gave his patronage to Chillingworth's great work, ‘The Religion of Protestants.’
Unluckily for Charles, the favour accorded to Panzani and Con only served to bring out into stronger light the hard measure which was dealt out to puritans, to which fresh attention had been drawn by the execution of a cruel Star-chamber sentence on 30 June 1637 upon Prynne, Bastwick, and Burton.
Great as was the offence which Charles was giving in England, he was giving greater offence in Scotland. In 1633, when he visited Edinburgh in order to be crowned, he had created distrust among the nobles by an arrangement for the commutation of the tithes which, though just in itself alarmed them as being possibly a precursor of an attempt to resume the confiscated church property which was in their hands. It was all the more necessary for Charles to avoid irritating the religious sentiment of the Scottish people, which had abandoned any active opposition against the episcopacy introduced by James, but had retained an ineradicable aversion to anything like the ceremonial of the English church. Yet Charles chose to be crowned on 18 June by five bishops in ‘white rochets and sleeves, and copes of gold having blue silk to their feet,’ and to deck the communion table ‘after the manner of an altar, having behind it a rich tapestry, wherein the crucifix was curiously wrought.’
From that moment Charles lost the hearts of the Scottish people. The nobles, quick to seize their opportunity, opposed him in the parliament which followed the coronation, and it was only by his personal intervention that he secured a majority for the bills which he was anxious to see passed into law. His first act after returning to England was to order the general use of the surplice by Scottish ministers, and though the order could not be enforced its issue told heavily against Charles. To the nobles he gave fresh offence by making Archbishop Spotiswood chancellor of Scotland, and by giving seats in the privy council to other bishops.
For some time certain Scottish bishops, referring from time to time to Laud and Wren, had by Charles's orders been busily preparing a new prayer-book for Scotland. In 1636 its issue was frustrated by the issue of a ‘Book of Canons,’ and in October 1636 Charles commanded the use of the prayer-book. It was not till May 1637 that it reached Scotland, and it was to be first used on 23 July at St. Giles's in Edinburgh. The Scots had had time to make up their minds that the book was probably popish and certainly English, and the nobles, for their own reasons, stirred the flame of popular discontent. A riot in St. Giles's, followed by an almost complete unanimity of feeling in Scotland against the new book, rendered its adoption impossible.
Charles did not know, as Elizabeth had known, how to withdraw from an untenable position, and the position in which he had now arrived was one from which even Elizabeth could hardly have withdrawn with dignity. If Charles were to give way in Scotland, he could hardly avoid giving way in England. His government in both countries was supported by the prestige of ancient rights in defiance of popular feeling, and if popular feeling was to have its way in one country it would soon have its way in the other. On 10 Sept. he directed the enforcement of his order for the use of the prayer-book. Fresh riots broke out at Edinburgh. The opponents of the prayer-book formed four committees, usually known as the ‘tables,’ to represent their case, and the ‘tables’ practically became the informal government of Scotland.
Charles did his best to explain his intentions, but Scotland wanted the absolute withdrawal of the obnoxious book, and at the end of February 1638 the national covenant, binding all who adopted it to resist any attack on their religion to the death, was produced in Edinburgh and eagerly signed. For some months copies of the covenant were scattered over the country and accepted with enthusiasm.
Charles knew that the movement was directed against himself. In May he offered not to press the canons and the service book except in ‘a fair and legal way;’ but at the same time he asked for the absolute abandonment of the covenant. He sent the Marquis of Hamilton to Scotland to mediate, and by his advice he drew back step after step till he at last agreed to let the prayer-book drop, and to summon an assembly to meet to settle matters of religion.
The assembly met at Glasgow on 21 Nov. and proceeded to summon the bishops before it for judgment. On 28 Nov. Hamilton dissolved the assembly. In spite of the dissolution it continued to sit, deposed the bishops, and re-established presbyterianism. Charles maintained that he had a right to dissolve assemblies and parliaments, and to refuse his assent to their acts. The constitutional rights of the crown thus came into collision with the determinate will of the nation.
Only an army could enforce obedience in Scotland, and Charles had no money to pay an English army for any length of time. Yet he hoped by calling out trained bands, especially in the northern counties, which were most hostile to the Scots, and by asking for a voluntary contribution to support them, to have force on his side long enough to beat down a resistance which he underestimated. On 27 Feb. 1639 he issued a proclamation declaring the religion of Scotland to be safe in his hands, and asserting that the Scots were aiming at the destruction of monarchical government.
On 30 March Charles arrived at York to appeal to arms, believing that he had to deal with the nobility alone, and that if he could reach the Scottish people he would find them loyally responsive. He issued a proclamation offering a reduction of 50 per cent. to all tenants who took his side against rebels. He could not even get his proclamation read in Scotland, except at Dunse, where he sent the Earl of Arundel with an armed force to read it. On 28 May he arrived at Berwick, and on 5 June the Scottish army occupied Dunse Law. His own troops were undisciplined, and money began to run short. On 18 June he signed the treaty of Berwick, knowing that if he persisted in war his army would break up for want of pay. A general assembly was to meet to settle ecclesiastical affairs, and a parliament to settle political affairs.
Before long the king and the Scots were as much estranged as ever; differences of opinion arose as to the intention of the treaty. The assembly abolished episcopacy, and when the parliament wished to confirm this resolution, as well as to revolutionise its own internal constitution, Charles fell back on his right to refuse consent to bills. He was now under the influence of Wentworth, whom he created Earl of Strafford, and he resolved to call an English parliament, and to ask for means to enable him to make war effectually upon Scotland. The discovery of an attempt made by the Scottish leaders to open negotiations with the king of France led him to hope that the national English feeling would be touched. In the meanwhile the English privy councillors offered him a loan which would enable him at least to gather an army without parliamentary aid.
On 13 April 1640 the Short parliament, as it has been called, was opened. Under Pym's leadership it showed itself disposed to ask for redress of grievances as a condition of a grant of supply, and it subsequently refused to give money unless peace were made with the Scots [see Pym, John]. On 5 May Charles dissolved parliament, and, getting money by irregular means, proceeded to push on the war. That Strafford had obtained a grant from the Irish parliament, and had levied an Irish army, terrified and exasperated Englishmen, who believed that this army would be used in England to crush their liberties. The army gathered in England was mutinous and unwarlike. The Scots knew that the opinion in England was in their favour, and they had already entered into communication with the parliamentary leaders. On 20 Aug. they crossed the Tweed, defeated part of the royal army at Newburn on the 28th, and soon afterwards occupied Newcastle and Durham. Charles's money was by this time almost exhausted, and he was obliged to summon the English peers to meet him in a great council at York, as there was no time to get together a full parliament.
The great council met on 24 Sept. It at once insisted on opening negotiations with the Scots, and sent some of its members to London to obtain a loan to support the army during the progress of the treaty. Charles had now agreed to summon another parliament, and the negotiations opened at Ripon were adjourned to London.
On 3 Nov. the Long parliament met, full of a strong belief that both the ecclesiastical and the political system of Charles needed to be entirely changed. They began by inquiring into Strafford's conduct in Ireland, and Charles, listening to Strafford, thought of anticipating the blow by accusing the parliamentary leaders of treasonable relations with the Scots. The secret was betrayed, and Strafford impeached and thrown into the Tower. Laud quickly followed, and other officials only saved themselves by flight. Deprived of his ablest advisers, Charles was left to his own vacillating counsels, except so far as he was from time to time spurred on to action by the unwise impetuosity of his wife. She had already in November applied to Rome for money to bribe the parliamentary leaders. Later on a further application was made for money to enable Charles to recover his authority. Charles was probably informed of these schemes. He saw chaos before him in the impending dissolution of the only system which he understood, and he was at least willing to open his ears to any chance of escape, however hazardous. As he never understood that it was destructive to seek for the support of mutually irreconcilable forces, he began, while playing with the idea of accepting aid from the pope, to play with the idea of accepting aid from the Prince of Orange, to be bought by a marriage between his own eldest daughter Mary and the prince's eldest son.
On 23 Jan. 1641 Charles offered to the parliament his concurrence in removing innovations in the church, but he refused to deprive the bishops of their seats in the House of Lords, or to assent to a triennial bill making the meeting of parliament every three years compulsory. On 15 Feb. he gave his assent to the Triennial Bill, and on the 19th he admitted a number of the opposition lords to the council, hoping thereby to win votes in Strafford's trial. At that trial, which began on 22 March, Charles was present. His best policy was to seek the support of the peers, who were naturally disinclined to enlarge the doctrines of treason, and to win general favour by a scrupulous abandonment of the merest suggestion of an appeal to force. Charles weakly listened to all kinds of schemes, probably without absolutely adopting any, especially to a scheme for obtaining a petition from the army in the north in favour of his policy, and to another scheme for bringing that army to London. Of some of these projects Pym received intelligence, and Strafford's impeachment, ultimately carried on under the form of a bill of attainder, was pushed on more vigorously than ever. The most telling charge against Strafford was that he had intended to bring an Irish army to England, and that army, which was still on foot, Charles refused to disband. On 1 May he pleaded with the lords to spare Strafford's life, while rendering him incapable of holding office. On the following day, the day of his daughter's marriage to Prince William of Orange, he made an attempt to get military possession of the Tower. An appeal to constitutional propriety and an appeal to force at the same time were irreconcilable with one another. Wilder rumours were abroad, and Pym on the 5th revealed his knowledge of the army plot. All hesitation among the peers ceased, and the Attainder Bill was passed. On 10 May, under the stress of fear lest the mob which was raging round Whitehall should imperil the life of the queen, Charles signed a commission for giving his assent to the bill.
On the same day Charles agreed to a bill taking from him his right to dissolve the actual parliament without its own consent. Parliament at once proceeded to abolish those courts which had formed a special defence of the Tudor monarchy, and completed the Scottish treaty by which the two armies were to be disbanded. As another act made the payment of customs and duties illegal without consent of parliament, Charles was now reduced to rule in accordance with the decisions of the law courts and the will of parliament, unless he had recourse to force. Unhappily for him, he could not take up the position thus offered him, or contentedly become a cipher where he had once ruled authoritatively. On 10 Aug. he set out for Scotland, hoping by conceding everything on which the Scottish nation had set its heart to win its armed support in England.
Charles perhaps felt the more justified in the course which he was taking as new questions were rising above the parliamentary horizon. The House of Commons was more puritan than the nation, and as early as in February 1641 two parties had developed themselves, one of them striving for the abolition of episcopacy, and for a thorough change in the prayer-book, if not for its entire abandonment; the other for church reform which should render a renewal of the Laudian system impossible for the future. The latter was headed by Bishop Williams, and was strongly supported by the House of Lords. Charles's one chance of regaining authority was in placing himself in harmony with this reforming movement. Charles was an intriguer, but he was not a hypocrite, and as he had no sympathy with any plan such as Williams was likely to sketch out, he did not feign to have it. The want of the king's support was fatal to the project, and many who might have ranged themselves with Williams came to the conclusion that, unless the days of Laud were to return, the government of the church must be taken out of the hands of Charles. Hence a bill for the abolition of episcopacy was being pushed on in the House of Commons, the bishops having been, and being likely to be, the nominees of the crown.
Any one but Charles would have recognised the uselessness of attempting to save the English bishops by an appeal to the presbyterian Scots. Charles was indeed welcomed at Edinburgh, where he listened to presbyterian sermons, but he soon discovered that the Scots would neither abate a jot of their own pretensions nor lend him aid to recover his lost ground in England. His dissatisfaction encouraged persons about him, more unscrupulous than himself, to form a plot for seizing, and even, in case of resistance, for murdering, Argyll, Hamilton, and Lanark, the leaders of the opposition; and when this plot, usually known as ‘The Incident,’ was discovered, Charles found himself suspected of contriving a murder.
Shortly after the discovery of the Incident the Ulster massacre took place, and Charles, who appears to have intrigued with the Irish catholic lords for military assistance in return for concessions made to them, was suspected of connivance with the rebellion in the north.
Such suspicions, based as they were on a succession of intrigues, made it difficult for Charles to obtain acceptance for any definite policy. Yet, while he was still in Scotland, he adopted a line of action which gave him a considerable party in England, and which, if he could have inspired trust in his capacity to treat the question of the day in a conciliatory spirit, might have enabled him to rally the nation round him. He announced his resolution to maintain the discipline and doctrine of the church as established by Elizabeth and James, and if he could have added to this, as he soon afterwards added, an expression of a desire to find a mode of satisfying those who wished for some amount of latitude within its pale, he would be in a good position to command a large following. Unhappily for him, the Incident and the Irish rebellion made it unlikely that he would be trusted, and the answer of the parliamentary leaders was the ‘Grand Remonstrance,’ in which he was asked to concede the appointment of ministers acceptable to both houses of parliament, and the gathering of an assembly of divines to be named by parliament that it might recommend a measure of church reform. The former demand was rendered necessary by the fact that an army would soon have to be sent to Ireland, and that the parliamentary majority would not trust the king with its control, lest it should be used against themselves when the war was over. The second might easily lead to a system of ecclesiastical repression as severe as that of Laud, and when Charles, in a declaration published by him soon afterwards (Husband, Collection of Remonstrances, &c., p. 24), announced himself ready, if exception was taken to certain ceremonies, ‘to comply with the advice of’ his ‘parliament, that some law may be made for the exemption of tender consciences from punishment or prosecution for such ceremonies,’ he might, if he had been other than he was, have anticipated the legislation of William and Mary. To the end of his life, however, though he constantly reiterated this offer, he never took the initiative in carrying the proposal into effect.
There can be little doubt that, emboldened by his reception in the city on 25 Nov., when he returned from Scotland, Charles was already contemplating an appeal to law which was hardly distinguishable from an appeal to force. When, at the end of December, a mob appeared at Westminster to terrorise the peers, he seems to have wavered between this plan and an attempt to rest upon the constitutional support of a minority of the commons and a majority of the lords. It was a step in the latter direction that on 2 Jan. 1642 he named to office Culpepper and Falkland, leading members of the episcopalian-royalist party which had for some time been formed in the commons; but on the following day the attorney-general by his orders impeached five members of the lower house and one member of the upper. On the 4th he came in person with a rout of armed followers to the House of Commons to arrest the five who sat in that house. He did not succeed in securing them, but his attempt sharpened all the suspicions abroad and rendered an agreement on the larger questions practically impossible. The city took up the cause of the members, and Charles, finding that force was against him, left Whitehall on 10 Jan. never to return till he came back to die.
The next seven months were occupied by maneuvres between king and parliament to gain possession of the military forces of the kingdom and to place themselves legally in the right before the nation. On 22 Aug. Charles raised his standard at Nottingham, and the civil war began. After an attempt at negotiation the king removed to Shrewsbury, and on 12 Oct. marched upon London, and, after fighting on the 23rd the indecisive battle of Edgehill, occupied Oxford and pushed on as far as Brentford. On 13 Nov. he drew back without combating a parliamentary force drawn up on Turnham Green. He thought that the work of suppressing the enemy should be left to the following summer.
In the campaign of 1643 an attempt was made by Charles, perhaps at the suggestion of his general, the Earl of Forth, to carry out a strategic conception which, if it had been successful, would have put an end to the war. He was himself with his main army to hold Oxford, and if possible Reading, while the Earl of Newcastle was to advance from the north and Hopton from the west, to seize respectively the north and south banks of the Thames below London, so as to destroy the commerce of the great city which formed the main strength of his adversaries. In the summer of 1643, after the victories of Adwalton Moor (30 June) and Roundway Down (13 July), the plan seemed in a fair way to succeed, but the Yorkshiremen who followed Newcastle and the Cornishmen who followed Hopton were drawn back by their desire of checking the governors of Hull and Plymouth, and when Charles was left with an insufficient force to march unsupported upon London, he had perhaps no choice but to undertake the siege of Gloucester. After the relief of Gloucester by Essex, he fought the first battle of Newbury, in which he failed to hinder the return of Essex to London. A later attempt to push Hopton with a fresh army through Sussex and Kent to the south bank of the Thames was frustrated by the defeat of that army at Cheriton on 29 March 1644, while Newcastle was baffled by the arrival of a Scottish army in the north as the allies of the English parliament, in consequence of the acceptance by the latter body of the solemn league and covenant.
During this campaign Charles had divided his attention between military affairs and political intrigue. On 1 Feb. propositions for peace were carried to the king at Oxford, and a negotiation was opened which came to nothing, because neither party would admit of anything but complete surrender on the part of the other. Charles followed up the failure of negotiation by an attempt to provoke an insurrection in London in his favour; but his most cherished scheme was one for procuring the assistance of the English army in Ireland by bringing about a cessation of the war there, and eventually of securing the aid of a body of ten thousand Irish Celts. The cessation was agreed to on 15 Sept. 1643, and several English regiments were shipped from Ireland for service in England. The native Irish were not to be had as yet.
The campaign of 1644 was conducted upon a different plan from that of 1643. This time, instead of converging upon London, the royalist armies were to make full use of their central position at Oxford. Sending Rupert to assist Newcastle to defeat the Scots and their English allies, Charles was to remain on the defensive, unless he was able to throw himself alternatively on the armies of Essex and Waller, which were for the moment combined against him, but which might at any time separate, as their commanders were known not to be on good terms with one another. If Rupert had been a good tactician, the plan might have succeeded, but he suffered himself to be overwhelmed¾principally by the conduct of Cromwell¾at Marston Moor, on 2 July; and though Charles inflicted a check on Waller at Cropredy Bridge on 29 June, and subsequently compelled the surrender of Essex's infantry at Lostwithiel on 2 Sept., his wish to avoid unnecessary bloodshed prevented him from insisting, as he might easily have done, upon more than the delivery of the arms and stores of the force which he had overpowered. He had consequently to meet the army of Essex again in combination with that of Waller and Manchester, at the second battle of Newbury, on 27 Oct. Night came on as he was getting the worst, but he slipped away under cover of the darkness, and succeeded in revictualling Donnington Castle and Basing House, so that when he entered Oxford on 23 Nov. he had baffled all the efforts of his adversaries, so far as his own part of the campaign was concerned.
The negotiations at Uxbridge, which were carried on in January and February 1645, failed from the same causes as those which had produced the failure of the negotiations at Oxford in 1643. Charles's real efforts were thrown into an attempt to check the advance of the Scots by procuring money and arms, and if possible an army from the Duke of Lorraine, and by inducing the Irish to lend him the ten thousand men of whom mention has already been made. The Irish would, however, only grant the soldiers on condition of the concession of the independence of the Irish parliament, and of the Roman catholic church in Ireland, and though Charles was prepared to go a very long way to meet them, he refused to comply with the whole of their demands. All the external aid which he was able to command was that of a small body of Irish and of Scottish highlanders under Montrose, which won astonishing victories in the north of Scotland. In the meanwhile the parliamentary army had been remodelled, and against the new model, filled with religious enthusiasm and submitting to the strictest discipline, Charles dashed himself at Naseby on 14 June, to meet only with a disastrous overthrow.
The defeat at Naseby was decisive. For some months parliamentary victories were won over royalist detachments, and royalist fortresses stormed or reduced by famine. Charles never was in a position to fight a pitched battle again. All sober men on his own side longed for peace. Charles fancied that to submit would be to betray God's cause as well as his own. ‘I confess,’ he wrote to Rupert on 3 Aug., ‘that, speaking either as to mere soldier or statesman, I must say there is no probability but of my ruin; but as a christian, I must tell you that God will not suffer rebels to prosper, or his cause to be overthrown, and whatsoever personal punishment it shall please them to inflict upon me must not make me repine, much less to give over this quarrel, which, by the grace of God, I am resolved against, whatsoever it cost me; for I know my obligations to be both in conscience and honour neither to abandon God's cause, injure my successors, nor forsake my friends.’
There would have been something approaching to the sublime in Charles's refusal to recognise a settlement which he honestly believed to be abhorrent to God, if only he had been content to possess his soul in patience. During that winter and the following summer he plunged from one intrigue into another. No help from whatever quarter came amiss to him, and while the queen was pleading for a foreign army to be levied, with the help of the queen regent of France he was himself negotiating through Ormonde for ten thousand Irish Celts. Whether he actually authorised the notorious Glamorgan treaty or not [see Somerset, Edward, second Marquis of Worcester], the authenticated negotiation carried on by the lord-lieutenant of Ireland was quite sufficient to ruin Charles (Carte MSS. Bodleian Library). Letters, bringing to light his secret negotiations with foreign courts, had come into the possession of the parliamentary army at Naseby, and now a copy of the Glamorgan treaty fell into the hands of his enemies, with the result of shocking the public opinion of the day even more than it had been shocked before. Then, too, he proposed to treat with the parliament at Westminster, not because he expected them to grant his demands, but because he expected presbyterians and independents to fall out, and so to help him to his own. While he was treating with them he informed the queen that he would grant toleration to the catholics ‘if the pope and they will visibly and heartily engage themselves for the re-establishment of the church of England and my crown’ (Charles to the Queen, 12 March 1646, Charles I in 1646, Camd. Soc.), by which means he hoped ‘to suppress the presbyterian and independent factions.’ There was no coherence in these projects, and, like all incoherent aims, they were certain to clash one with the other.
Oxford, however, was soon too hard pressed for Charles to remain there, and though he had resolved never to grant more to the presbyterians than at the utmost a toleration, he at last, having on 13 April recorded and placed in the hands of Gilbert Sheldon a vow to restore to the church all lay impropriations held by the crown if he ever recovered his right (Clarendon MS. 2176), delivered himself on 5 May to the Scottish army at Newark. On 13 May, guarded by the Scottish army, he arrived at Newcastle.
Charles had hoped that his coming would lead to a national Scottish combination in his favour in which Montrose, who had been defeating one presbyterian army after the other, might be included. He found the Scots wanted him to take the covenant. Charles had to do his best by such diplomatic skill as he had at command to spin out time by appearing to be desirous of peace, while resolute not to grant the terms offered to him. Some time was taken up by an epistolary discussion between himself and Alexander Henderson on the respective merits of episcopacy and presbyterianism. In vain the queen and the Scots who were politically loyal to Charles, such as Sir Robert Moray (Hamilton Papers, Camd. Soc.), urged him to abandon episcopacy. He remained constant, though the defeat of Montrose at Philiphaugh on 3 Sept. deprived him of his last chance of armed assistance. On 4 Dec. he went so far as to suggest to his friends that he might accept presbyterianism with toleration for three years, but added that if the Scots would support his claims to temporal power, he would expunge the demand for toleration. His friends told him that the Scots wanted a permanent, not a temporary, establishment of presbyterianism, and on 20 Dec. he dropped the whole proposal, merely asking to come to London to carry on a personal negotiation.
Charles had imagined that he was playing with all parties, while in reality he had provoked all parties to come to an understanding with one another behind his back. The Scottish parliament resolved that as he had not taken the covenant he was not wanted in Scotland, while the English parliament appointed him a residence at Holmby House. On 30 Jan. 1647 the Scottish army marched homewards from Newcastle, receiving shortly afterwards the first instalment due to them by England for their services. Charles was left behind with a party of English commissioners who had been appointed to conduct him to the residence assigned to him.
At Holmby House Charles was well treated. He read much; his favourite books were Andrewes's ‘Sermons,’ Hooker's ‘Ecclesiastical Polity,’ Shakespeare, Spenser, Herbert, and translations of Tasso and Ariosto. Before long he had the satisfaction of hearing that the independent army was falling out with the presbyterian parliament, and just before this quarrel reached its crisis he sent in an answer to the parliamentary proposal sent to him at Newcastle, in which he offered to resign the command of the militia for ten years, and to agree to the establishment of presbyterianism for three years, permission being granted to himself and his household to use the Book of Common Prayer. He was to be allowed to name twenty divines to sit in the Westminster Assembly to take part in the negotiations for a final settlement of church affairs. Nothing was said about toleration for tender consciences, an omission which shows that the frequent offers of Charles during the civil war to make this concession merely proceeded from a sense that it was expedient to make them, and not from any conviction that they were good things in themselves.
On the morning of 3 June, before Charles could receive an answer to his proposal, a certain Cornet Joyce arrived at Holmby House with a party of horse. In the evening he informed the king that he had authority from the army to carry him off. On the 4th, Charles, apparently fully satisfied, rode off with him. For some time he moved about from house to house, taking up his abode at Hampton Court on 24 Aug. In the meanwhile the army had taken military possession of London, and had made itself master of the parliament.
Charles had already been requested to give his consent to a document drawn up by the chief officers of the army and known as ‘Heads of Proposals.’ These proposals, if accepted, would have transformed the old monarchy into a constitutional monarchy, somewhat after the fashion of 1689, and would have put an end to the religious difficulty by abolishing ‘all coercive power, authority, and jurisdiction of bishops, and all other ecclesiastical officers whatsoever, extending to any civil penalties upon any.’ Neither the prayer-book nor the covenant was to be enforced.
It is intelligible that Charles should not have been prepared to accede to so wise a settlement; but at least he might have been expected not to make the overtures of the army counters in intrigue. He had at first rejected them, but on 9 Sept., having been asked by the parliament¾which in spite of the domination of the army retained its presbyterian sentiments¾to accept a presbyterian government, he answered that he preferred to that to adopt the proposals of the army. All that he got by this move was to weaken the hold of the army upon the parliament, and the result was that on 2 Nov. the houses came to an understanding that presbyterianism should be established, with toleration for tender consciences, but with no toleration for those who wished to use the Book of Common Prayer. Charles, if he had been wise, would have closed even now with Cromwell and the army. All he thought of was to try to win over the army leaders by offers of peerages and places. Whether Cromwell actually intercepted a letter from Charles to the queen informing her that he meant to hang him as soon as he had made use of him, may be doubted, but it is quite clear that Cromwell was not the man to be played with. The army and the parliament came to an understanding, and on 10 Nov. drew up new proposals in concert. On the 11th the king escaped from Hampton Court, making his way to the Isle of Wight, where he seems to have expected that Colonel Hammond, the governor of Carisbrooke Castle, would protect him, and perhaps contrive his escape to France if it should prove necessary. Hammond, however, was faithful to his trust, and Charles became a resident, and before long a prisoner in the castle.
Upon this the houses embodied their own proposals in four bills. To these bills, on 28 Dec., Charles refused his assent, and on 3 Jan. 1648 the commons resolved that they would not again address the king, a resolution which on the 15th was accepted by the lords.
At last it seemed likely that Charles would find supporters. The Scots had long been dissatisfied with the behaviour of the English parliament towards them, and on 26 Dec. their commissioners in England signed with Charles a secret treaty in which they engaged to send an army to replace him on the throne on condition that he would establish presbyterianism in England for three years and put down the sects. The result of this treaty, the engagement as it was called, was the second civil war. The invading army of the Scots was backed by the English cavaliers, and in part at least by the English presbyterians. Fairfax and Cromwell, however, disposed of all the enemies of the army, and by the beginning of September Charles was left unaided to face the angry soldiers.
At first, indeed, it seemed as if the second civil war would go for nothing. On 18 Sept. a fresh negotiation with Charles¾the treaty of Newport¾was opened by parliamentary commissioners. Charles would neither close with his adversaries nor break with them. His only object was to spin out time. By the end of October the houses, anxious as they were for a settlement, discovered, what they might have known before, that Charles was resolved not to abandon episcopacy. He had fresh hopes of aid from Ireland and the continent. ‘Though you will hear,’ he had written to Ormonde, ‘that this treaty is near, or at least most likely to be concluded, yet believe it not, but pursue the way you are in with all possible vigour; deliver also that my command to all your friends, but not in public way.’
The army at least was weary of constant talk which led to nothing but uncertainty. In a remonstrance adopted by a council of the officers on 16 Nov. it demanded ‘that the capital and grand author of our troubles, the person of the king, by whose commissions, commands, or procurement, and in whose behalf and for whose interest only, of will and power, all our wars and troubles have been, with all the miseries attending them, may be speedily brought to justice for the treason, blood, and mischief he is therein guilty of.’ The complaint against Charles was true, but it was not the whole truth. Charles, ill-judged and irritating as his mode of action was, did nevertheless in making his stand upon episcopacy represent the religious convictions of a large portion of his subjects. Moreover, the demand of the army shocked all who reverenced law, or, in other words, who wished to see general rules laid down, and any attempt to infringe them punished after they had been openly promulgated, and not before. To depose Charles was one thing; to execute him was another. In hurrying on to the latter action the army only exposed the radical injustice of its proceeding by the self-deception with which it clothed an act of violence with informal forms of law. Charles was removed from Carisbrooke, and on 1 Dec. lodged in Hurst Castle. On the 6th members of the House of Commons too favourable to the king were excluded from parliament by Pride's purge. On 17 Dec. Charles was removed from Hurst Castle and brought to Windsor, where he arrived on 23 Dec. On 1 Jan. the commons who were left behind after Pride's purge resolved that he had committed treason by levying war ‘against the parliament and kingdom of England,’ and on 4 Jan. they resolved that it was unnecessary for the being of a law to have the consent of the king or of the House of Lords. On the 6th they passed a law by their own sole authority for the establishment of a high court of justice for the king's trial. On 19 Jan. Charles was brought to St. James's Palace, and on the 20th he was led to Westminster Hall to be tried. He refused to plead or to acknowledge the legality of the court [see Bradshaw, John, 1602-1659], and on the 27th he was condemned to death (on questions arising out of the death-warrant, see two communications of Mr. Thoms to Notes and Queries of 6 and 13 July 1872, and the letters of Mr. R. Palgrave in the Athenæum of 22 Jan., 5 and 26 Feb. 1881). Not only was the sentence technically illegal, but on the grounds alleged it was substantially unjust. The civil war was neither a levy of arms by the king against the parliament, nor by the parliament against the king. It had been a conflict between one section of the kingdom and the other. Yet those who put Charles to death believed that they were in reality executing justice on a traitor. On 30 Jan. he was executed in front of Whitehall. His own conception of government was expressed in the speech which he delivered on the scaffold: ‘For the people,’ he said; ‘and truly I desire their liberty and freedom as much as anybody whosoever; but I must tell you that their liberty and freedom consists in having of government those laws by which their life and their goods may be most their own. It is not having share in government, sirs; that is nothing pertaining to them.’
On the authorship of the Eikyn Basilikw see Gauden, John. The principal source of information on the reign of Charles I is the series of State Papers in manuscript, Domestic and Foreign, preserved in the Record Office. These, however, become scanty after the outbreak of the civil war, and may be supplemented by the Tanner and Clarendon MSS. in the Bodleian Library, and, as far as Ireland is concerned, from the Carte MSS. in the same library. There is also much manuscript material in the British Museum. The despatches of foreign ambassadors should be consulted, of many of which there are copies either in the Museum Library or in the Record Office. Selections from the Clarendon MSS are printed in the Clarendon State Papers. Extracts from the Tanner MSS. are printed very imperfectly in Cary's Memorials of the Civil War. Portions of the Carte MSS. appear in Carte's Life of Ormonde, in Carte's Original Letters, and in Mr. J. T. Gilbert's editions of the Aphorismical Discovery and of Belling's History of the Irish Confederation. Laud's Works should be consulted for the ecclesiastical and Strafford's Letters for the political government of Charles, whose own Works have also been published. Eliot's speeches and letters are printed in Forster's Life of Eliot, while the Letters and Papers of Robert Baillie give the Scottish side of the struggle, and Miss Hickson, in her Ireland in the Seventeenth Century, prints a large number of the depositions taken in relation to the Ulster massacre. Rushworth's Collection is full of state papers, but the narrative part is chiefly taken from the pamphlets of the day, most of which will be found in the great series of Civil War Tracts in the British Museum. Papers relating to Rupert's campaigns are given in Warburton's Memoirs of Rupert and the Cavaliers; and others connected with Fairfax in Johnson and Bell's Memorial of the Civil War. Among contemporary or nearly contemporary writings are: Clarendon's History of the Great Rebellion; May's History of the Long Parliament; Burnet's Lives of the Dukes of Hamilton; Lord Herbert of Cherbury's Expedition to the Isle of Ré; the Memoirs of Holles; the Memoirs of Ludlow; the Historical Discourses of Sir E. Walker; Sprigge's Anglia Rediviva; Herbert's Memoirs of the Two Last Years of ¼ King Charles I; Heylyn's Cyprianus Anglicanus; and Hacket's Life of Williams. The Life of Colonel Hutchinson and the Lives of the Duke and Duchess of Newcastle may also be studied with advantage. Whitelocke's Memorials contain a certain amount of personal information dispersed among short notes of events of less value. Those who wish to pursue the subject further may consult the references in Masson's Life of Milton; and in Gardiner's History of England, 1603-42, and his History of the Great Civil War.
Contributor: S. R. G. [Samuel Rawson Gardiner]