1625-1629: the first crisis of Charles I's reign

Charles I combined stupidity with an exalted view of royal power. Naturally shy, his court was far more dignified and formal than his father's had been. Pious and chaste, stubborn and unimaginative, his personality played an important role in  England's descent into Civil War.



1. Charles I - marriage and parliament


The twenty-four-year old Charles married fifteen-year-old Henrietta Maria (by proxy) on 1 May 1625, but initially continued under Buckingham's influence and saw little of his wife.

Buckingham was extremely unpopular in the country at large.
"Who rules the Kingdom? The King.
 Who rules the King? The Duke.
Who the Duke? The Devil."

(an attack on Buckingham, 1628)

As a result of his marriage, Charles made many concessions to Roman Catholics (in particular, temporary non-enforcement of the penal laws against them) and this aroused suspicions in the first Parliament of his reign.
Parliament assembled 18 June 1625 and did vote two subsidies (c. £140,000), but this was not nearly enough for an effective war. Parliament refused to vote any more taxation unless they could supervise its expenditure.
The Commons also voted tonnage and poundage for one year only. (They hoped to use the renewal of tonnage and poundage as a bargaining chip to end the collection of impositions).
Since 1414, Parliament had voted every monarch the right for life to collect duties on every ton (cask) of wine and pound (£ value) of imports.

The House of Lords regarded this limitation to one year as so insulting that they refused to pass the Bill. Charles simply continued to collect the duties without parliamentary authority. This became another grievance in Charles' subsequent parliaments.


2. Cadi


In 1587, Sir Francis Drake had raided the Spanish harbor of Cadiz, burnt many ships there, and boasted to Elizabeth I of having "singed the King of Spain's beard". In 1596, the Earl of Essex and Sir Walter Ralegh had again raided and burnt Cadiz port.
Charles I hoped to repeat these successes and in 1625, sent a fleet to attack Cadiz. But the raid was an expensive failure. The fleet was ill-equipped, the soldiers got drunk, and the Spanish treasure fleet was never found.


4. Parliament of 1626.

Once again in need of money, Charles recalled Parliament; it met 6 February 1626.
Already alienated by the collection of tonnage and poundage and by the humiliation at Cadiz, the Members of Parliament were further annoyed by Charles I's underhand attempt to keep his opponents out of parliament. (He named them as sheriffs, so as legally to oblige them to remain in their counties).
In the House of Lords, Thomas Howard (14th Earl of Arundel), William Herbert (3rd Earl of Pembroke), John Digby (Earl of Bristol) and Bishop George Abbot were all enemies of Buckingham.
In the House of Commons, opposition was led by Sir Dudley Digges and Sir John Eliot. Eliot was a great orator, who had once been a client of Buckingham but had been alienated by Buckingham's collaboration with French suppression of Protestant rebels.
Led by Eliot, Buckingham's foes in the Commons drew up a list of charges for his impeachment before the House of Lords, and refused to vote any taxation until the Lords condemned and sentenced Buckingham.
In order to stop Buckingham's enemies gaining a majority, Charles had been preventing John Digby, Earl of Bristol and Henry Howard, Earl of Arundel, from attending the House of Lords. When forced by the peers' pressure to let them return, Charles announced the dissolution of Parliament (15 June 1626) as the only way to avoid Buckingham's impeachment.


5. The Forced Loan 1626-27

Habeas Corpus

"But the great and efficacious writ in all manner of illegal confinement, is that of habeas corpus ad subjiciendum; directed to the person detaining another, and commanding him to produce the body of the prisoner with the day and cause of his caption and detention, ad faciendum, subjiciendum, et recipiendum, to do, submit to, and receive, whatsoever the judge or court awarding such writ shall consider in that behalf."

William Blackstone, Commentaries (1768).


Charles was still in need of money after the dissolution, and he resorted to collection methods of dubious legality. First he raised a benevolence and then a Forced Loan. (It was called a "loan" but the chances of repayment were almost nonexistent). It netted about £250,000.
Charles also billeted his troops in civilian homes near the South Coast of England. The infrequently-paid troops were unruly and destructive, but it was difficult for local civilians to call them to account as soldiers were under Martial Law, and could only be tried in military courts.

Broughton - Home of the  Saye and Sele family for 600 years

Billeting of troops was so unpopular that Charles used it as a method of subduing and punishing his opponents; (for example, in Banbury, the stronghold of William Fiennes, 1st Viscount Saye and Sele, the troops started a fire that burnt most of the town).

Most of Charles' subjects felt they had no choice but to pay the Forced Loan, but seventy-six gentlemen and the Earl of Lincoln (Theophilus Clinton/Fiennes) refused to pay.
Charles imprisoned them, but did not charge them with any crime, for fear the judges might decide against him. Five of the imprisoned knights, including Sir Thomas Darnell, applied to the Court of King's Bench for a writ of Habeas Corpus.
The Court did not free the knights, thus effectively siding with the King.
Earlier English monarchs  had imprisoned people without bringing charges or showing cause, but only in exceptional cases of state security. Charles' use of the power for political ends was unprecedented.
[More on the Five Knights case].


6. Sibthorpe, Maynwaring and Montagu.

Charles I tried to mobilize the Church in favor of the Forced Loan. Several clergymen preached sermons supporting the King's right to levy the loan, and subjects' duty to pay.
The two most important were those of Roger Maynwaring (1590-1663) and Robert Sibthorpe (d.1662). Both asserted that the King was God's representative, and  that all his commands (except those directly contrary to the word of God) should be obeyed.

"To Kings, therefore ... nothing can be denied (without manifest and sinful violation of law and conscience) that may answer their royal state and excellency; that may further the supply of their urgent necessities; that may be for the security of their royal persons (whose lives are worth millions of others); that may serve for the protection of their kingdoms, territories and dominions:"

Maynwaring, Religion and alegiance.


Charles ordered the publication of Maynwaring's sermons, although even William Laud recognized that they would outrage most people.
Charles told Archbishop George Abbot to license Sibthorpe's sermon; when he refused, Abbot was suspended from power. A commission of Bishops, including William Laud, Richard Neile, and John Buckeridge, licensed the work, and from then on it was these men who held the real power in the Church of England.
William Laud also gave support to another cleric - Richard Montagu, who had been censured by Abbot for a pamphlet entitled A New Gag for an old Goose (1624). In it, Montagu argued that many Calvinist doctrines were no part of the Church of England's teaching This infuriated the puritans and in 1625 Montagu was attacked by the Commons led by John Pym.
Montagu appealed against these attacks to Charles I in a pamphlet called Appello Caesarem ("I appeal to Caesar" - a reference to Acts 25:11, when Saint Paul appealed to the Roman Emperor against Jewish persecution).
Charles rebuffed Parliament's attacks on Montagu, and established a conference at York House to judge his views. Since it was composed entirely of churchmen sympathetic to Montagu's stance, it found in his favor.
Charles I's actions convinced many of his subjects that he wanted to make the Church Roman Catholic and the state absolutist.


7. The expedition to Rhé

Despite his marriage to Henrietta Maria in 1625, Charles' relations with France soon deteriorated. Charles did not live up to his promises to tolerate Roman Catholics, and he sent many of Henrietta Maria's servants back to France.
Although Charles had loaned ships to France for use against the rebellious French Protestants, in 1627, he decided to help defend the Protestant stronghold of La Rochelle.

In the summer of 1627, Buckingham took command of a hundred ships carrying English soldiers and attempted to capture the Ile de Rhé.

Despite some initial success, lack of  supplies and reinforcements meant that Buckingham was forced to withdraw, after losing thousands of soldiers to disease. The French crown captured La Rochelle.
The disaster increased Buckingham's unpopularity.
Unable to continue the war without money, Charles I decided to release the men he had imprisoned for refusing the Forced Loan, and summon another Parliament.


8. The 1628 Parliament and the Petition of Right.

 Charles hoped that Parliament would rally behind his war effort. Instead, it was extremely hostile. It laid aside the subsidy Bill and began discussing grievances.
The Forced Loan and billeting of troops were condemned as grave violations of the fundamental laws of England.
The House of Commons went still further and denied that the King could exercise emergency powers, ever tax without consent, or impose martial law while Common Law courts were still sitting.


The opposition to Charles was led by Sir John Eliot, Sir Edward Coke, Sir Robert Phelips, John Selden and Sir Thomas Wentworth. Unlike some other members of the opposition, Wentworth did accept that the King had some extra-legal emergency powers, he simply insisted that Charles had used them unwisely.
The House of Commons detailed all its objections to Charles' actions in the Petition of Right - so called because it was held not to be an enactment of new law, but a declaration of established rights.
Despite some squabbles between Civil and Common Lawyers, the Petition of Right had an easy passage through the House of Commons, but in the House of Lords it met significant opposition. Many of the Bishops and a number of lay peers believed that the King must have some discretionary powers to deal with emergencies.
The Lords inserted a clause in the Petition "saving the king's sovereignty" - that is stating that (despite the Petition) the King had ultimate power to govern in what he regarded as the public interest.
The House of Commons refused to accept this clause, which they saw as nullifying the whole Petition, but an ambiguous compromise was reached between the two Houses.
Initially, Charles refused to consent to the Petition and give it the force of statute. But he was still in desperate need of money. He consulted prominent judges about what status the Petition would have. When their answers made it clear that they would enforce his emergency powers, such as arbitrary imprisonment, even if he did consent to the Petition, he did so on 7 June 1628.
The leading opponents of Buckingham had agreed in advance of the Parliament not to repeat their attempts to impeach him. But they did impeach Maynwaring for his sermons in support of the Forced Loan. In June 1628, the House of Lords declared Maynwaring incapable of any office in church or state.
The Subsidy Bill was finally passed, but rancorous debates soon followed over voting Charles I tonnage and poundage for life.
The House of Commons began attacking Charles Arminian advisors, William Laud and Richard Neile, and soon began to speak against Buckingham.
26 June 1628, Charles I dissolved Parliament.

9. The death of Buckingham


One of the main grievances in the opening years of Charles I's reign was Buckingham, but in August 1628 his assassination disposed of this problem.
John Felton, a disgruntled, unpaid, unsuccessful soldier took revenge for Buckingham's contemptuous dismissal of his petitions by stabbing him to death, 23 August 1628.
Felton gained himself national popularity and death by hanging.
Buckingham's murder allowed a number of his personal enemies to advance in royal service - especially, Thomas Wentworth and John Digby, whose progress at court was now unimpeded by their personal hostility to Buckingham.
But Buckingham's removal did nothing to improve relations with the House of Commons. Charles continued to use the emergency powers complained of in the Petition of Right. As soon as the 1628 Parliament had dissolve, Charles I pardoned Maynwaring and promoted him; he also appointed Montagu to the Bishopric of Chichester.

"…we will, that all further curious search be laid aside, and these disputes shut up in God's promises, as they be generally set forth to us in the holy scriptures, and the general meaning of the Articles of the Church of England according to them. And that no man hereafter shall either print, or preach, to draw the Article aside any way, but shall submit to it in the plain and full meaning thereof; …"

Charles I on predestination, Declaration prefixed to the Articles of Religion, November 1628.


In 1628, Charles forbad the clergy to discuss the question of predestination. But in practice, Laud ensured that only the printing of Calvinist works was stopped, whilst Arminian books were allowed.
William Laud became Bishop of London, 15 July 1628, and from then on effectively controlled both the English church and the London presses.

10. The Parliamentary session of 1629

"No sooner therefore was the Parliament set down but these ill-affected men began to sow and disperse their jealousies, by casting out some glances and doubtful speeches, as if the subject had not been so clearly and well dealt with, touching the liberties, and touching the Petition answered the last Parliament."

The King's Declaration showing the causes f the late dissolution, 10 March 1629.


After the death of Buckingham, Charles I hoped that the House of Commons would at last co-operate with him, so he recalled Parliament, which assembled 20 January 1629.
Instead, the House of Commons began to complain of the "subtle and pernicious spreading of the Arminian faction", and of Charles' continued collection of tonnage and poundage.
The dispute was aggravated by the case of John Rolle, a Member of Parliament whose goods had been seized by customs officers when he had refused to pay tonnage and poundage. Charles tried in person to stop the House of Commons' attack on these officials as subverting his authority.
Charles briefly adjourned the House until 2 March, hoping to arrange some compromise. When it reassembled, Charles ordered the Speaker, Sir John Finch, to adjourn once more.
To prevent this,  Denzil Holles and Benjamin Valentine held the Speaker in his chair, while Eliot's three resolutions were read out.
In the ensuing chaos, no formal vote was taken, but some Members did shout their approval.
Charles immediately dissolved Parliament.
Denzil Holles, Benjamin Valentine, William Strode, John Selden and John Eliot were all arrested. Strode and Valentine were not freed until 1640. Selden submitted and was released. Holles escaped abroad. Eliot died in the Tower of London in 1632.

March 1629 saw another event - this one more important for the future than for its immediate effect. Charles I granted a Charter to the Massachusetts Bay Company for the settlement of New England. Some of those most discontented with Charles' religious and political policies would move there in the following decade.


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