The Personal Rule of Charles I


bullet From the dissolution of Parliament in March 1629, until the Short Parliament assembled in April 1640, Charles I ruled alone.
bulletCharles was still chronically short of money, and the first step towards repairing his finances was to stop hemorrhaging money in unsuccessful warfare.

"There are in this Court several factions. The first, which is headed by [James Hay] the Earl of Carlisle, wants peace with Spain and war with France; the second is much larger and wants peace with all. To tell the truth, I believe that the Lord Treasurer [Sir Richard Weston] is of this opinion, and [Henry Rich] the Earl of Holland also. The third is the worst:  it wants war with Spain and an offensive league with France against her"

(Peter Paul Rubens, June 1629)

The Blessings of peace


bullet Weston and his allies triumphed - peace was concluded with France in 1629 and with Spain in 1630.


bullet One of Charles' first money-making schemes was to enforce an - effectively obsolete - law that all men owning property worth more than 40 per annum should receive knighthoods at the royal coronation. From January 1630, Charles began fining everyone who had failed to observe this legal technicality. Fines in distraint of knighthood brought in over 100,000 by the end of the following year.

The New Forest
- one of the Royal Forests that remained under crown control from 1079 until today

Charles also revived antiquated forest laws so as to obtain new revenue from fines. During  Norman times (and possibly before), the crown possessed special rights over large areas designated as royal forests, but since the 14th Century these rights had fallen into desuetude in most of England. Charles reasserted these rights and levied fines on property owners whose families had for generations regarded the "forest land" as their own .

Charles I continued to collect tonnage and poundage, and also extended monopolies and impositions.


By far the most important new source of finance was Ship Money. English kings had customary rights to call on coastal communities to provide ships to defend the realm. If no ships were available, a payment of "ship money" could be made in lieu.

Medal struck 1630 to assert Charles I's dominion of the seas


In 1635, Charles issued a writ demanding ship money not only from coastal counties but - in an unprecedented move - from all English counties.

Ship Money was levied heavily in Midland counties that had no tradition at all of supporting maritime defense. Many gentlemen perceived ship money as an arbitrary, non-parliamentary tax.

One Buckinghamshire gentleman, Sir John Hampden, categorically refused to pay. The King brought a case against him in the Court of Exchequer in 1637/8.

bullet Hampden's lawyer, Oliver St John, insisted that parliament was the proper body to vote taxation, but a majority of the Judges found against Hampden.

"In this it must be granted in the first place, that the law ties no man, and much less the King, to impossibilities. And secondly, that the kingdom must be defended. As therefore the law hath put this great trust upon His Majesty; so when the supplies, which by the ways before mentioned it hath put into his hands, are spent, therein it hath provided other ways for a new supply, which is the first thing that I shall present to your Lordships, and this is the aids and subsidies in Parliament."

(St John, Speech in the Ship Money Case)


bullet  Despite the Judges' confirmation of Charles I's legal right to levy ship money, there was widespread dissatisfaction and some open opposition.

Laud and the Church


Finance was not the only area where Charles adopted unpopular measures. The Church of England was also increasingly divided.


George Abbot died in August 1633, and Charles gave his place as Archbishop of Canterbury to William Laud.



One of Laud's first moves was to issue a Declaration of Sports establishing the lawfulness of pursuing various forms of relaxation and recreation on Sundays. The Declaration was deeply offensive to puritans and Sabbatarians who regarded the Lord's Day set apart for worship, not fun.


Laud also pressed on with moves to rail in altars at the east end of churches (in place of communion tables placed in the center). Unlike abstract debates over the theology of grace, newly railed-in altars signaled change in religious policy visible to everyone.


Laud enforced his policies by a savage repression of puritans previously unseen in England. For his Histriomastix (an intemperate attack on stage plays), the lawyer William Prynne was sentenced in 1634 to imprisonment and the loss of his ears.

The title-page of one of Henry Burton's anti-Laudian tracts

In 1637, Star Chamber condemned Henry Burton and John Bastwick - two outspoken opponents of episcopacy - to lose their ears and suffer life imprisonment. Joining them was William Prynne - whose ears were cropped still closer than on the first occasion, and whose cheek was branded with the letters SL (for seditious libeller).


Laud wanted to humiliate his opponents, but instead Prynne, Bastwick and Burton became popular heroes. Crowds flocked to cheer them on their way to prison, and strewed flowers in their path.


Strafford and Ireland

bullet Charles I's first Lord Deputy in Ireland was Henry Cary, 1st Viscount Falkland (1575-1633). He had been appointed in 1622, and pursued policies that created hopes of toleration for Ireland's largely Catholic population that were never satisfied. Evidence of corruption led to his removal in 1631.
bullet The new Lord Deputy - Thomas Wentworth - arrived in Ireland in July 1633; he was determined to enforce royal rights, regardless of who was offended.

Wentworth set about reforming Irish finance, extracting significant subsidies from a pliable parliament. He also tried to reorganize the poor and exploited Irish Church.

Richard Boyle, Earl of Cork (1566-1643)

Wentworth's policies soon created considerable friction with one of the wealthiest English colonists -  Richard Boyle, Earl of Cork. His scheme to "reclaim" royal land in Connaught and Galway created resentment amongst the old Irish nobility. Finally, Wentworth alienated many English noblemen, for he adamantly blocked courtiers' hopes of being rewarded with Irish estates, whilst himself using his office to obtain land (on highly favorable terms) and a monopoly of Irish tobacco.
bullet Wentworth's tough policies created a undercurrent of ill-feeling in Ireland that was later to explode in the Irish Rebellion of 1641.

Charles I and Scotland

bullet Although Charles acceded to the throne of Scotland in 1625 on the death of James, it was not until June 1633 that he returned to Scotland to be crowned in Holyrood. Charles was welcomed enthusiastically, but he was already contemplating policies to bring the Scottish Church into conformity with the English that would spell disaster.

James Hamilton
Ist Duke of Hamilton (1606-49)

Charles I's main advisors on Scottish policy were James Hamilton, Marquis of Hamilton, and John Stewart, 1st Earl of Traquair.
Hamilton was indecisive and eager to please everyone, while Traquair was a pedantic bully. Neither was well-equipped to reconcile the Scottish nation to Charles' policies.

John Stewart
Ist Earl of Traquair

bullet Charles wanted to introduce a new liturgy in the Church of Scotland that would conform as closely as possible to that used in England. When the new Prayer Book was used in a service in Edinburgh in July 1637, a riot broke out.
bullet Resistance spread rapidly throughout Scotland and refusal to accept Charles religious innovation was expressed in the National Covenant of 1638.
bullet A General Assembly of the Scottish Church refused to disband on royal instructions and issued a edict unilaterally abolishing episcopacy.

The Parliament House, Edinburgh


bullet Charles hurriedly assembled an army to try and quash Scottish resistance. The English army's morale was so poor and its equipment so inadequate, that Charles quickly agreed in the Pacification of Dunse/Berwick (June 1639) to settle the dispute by compromise with the Scottish Assembly and Parliament. The First Bishop's War therefore ended with barely a blow struck.
bullet In fact, Charles still wanted to compel Scottish obedience, but war required money, and in the hope of obtaining some, Charles summoned the Short Parliament, 13 April 1640.

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