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England has always been an island ruled by monarchs. The short period of Oliver Cromwells rule seemed to be almost an aberration of the natural order of England- so much so that after only years a King was back as the head of state. Charles I has long been subject to debate - while some historians, most notably Marxist, saw the war as inevitable, much of the blame lays in the personality of the King. A shy, stuttering and aloof man, Charles possessed a dogmatic, uncompromising belief in his own importance and god given right as King. He expected total obedience, submission and reverence to the king, as he had had to give his own father, James I. A staunch believer in the Divine right of kings, as was James, Charles refused to be questioned and aimed for an authoritarian rule. It could only be so long before his style of rule and autocratic beliefs would clash with his parliament. Although there were other factors leading to the civil war, it was Charles view of compromise as failure and his belief as himself as Gods chosen ruler on earth that would exacerbate the conditions leading to one of the greatest political upheavals in English history.


Marxist historians see the culmination of civil war as inevitable, an event in which the causes lie in society, not individuals . However, it is undeniable that Charles approach to governing only made relations between the monarch and parliament worse. The root cause of his egotistical stance, which meant he could not accept a parliament that was other than body of approval of the king, lay in his youth. Charles was not born to be king - he had an elder brother, Henry, who always overshadowed him. Charles was weak and sickly as a child, a fact that exasperated his father, and his stutter made him shy and reserved. His sheltered childhood meant he had no friends and therefore in later life found it difficult to appeal to his parliament and public through speeches, hindered by his stutter, and could make few supporters or friends at a personal level. His insecurities meant he often latched on to more confident popular men, first his older brother, then George Villiers, the Duke of Buckingham, a favourite of his father. This often meant Charles supported the incredibly unpopular Duke, and took the blame for his mistakes, such as the embarrassing failure at battle against the Spanish at Rhe. By refusing to punish his friend, Charles risked becoming more unpopular with the people and parliament. James I had strongly believed in the divine right of kings - his own turbulent time as King of Scotland had involved him being a pawn of the strong Scots nobility and the Scottish Kirk, so he was determined to be master of his own realm once in England. The same values were instilled in Charles. James was a fierce, autocratic tutor to his sons, writing books for Henry, the future king, and Charles often had had to fight for his attention against Jamess favourites, forcing him to be submissive and obsequious. He therefore expected the same of his subjects, which could only spell conflict if ministers or parliament were to disagree with the King.


There were many events which occurred in the period which led up to the outbreak of civil war, and no one occurrence can be directly blamed for the eruption of violence. Charles’ inept handling often increased the conflict and made situations more volatile. By 18 there was a definite hostility towards Charles and his court. Situations such as Buckingham’s disastrous expedition to Rhe, and Charles’ subsequent defence of the incompetent general, the forced loan, which many felt was a concerted attack on their liberties , left parliament feeling that Charles was attempting to use more power than he was granted, and showing a lack of respect for the authority of parliament. The ensuing arrest of the Five Knights who refused to pay the loan was revealed as an illegal action on the part of the King, and so parliament drew up the Petition of Rights, to legally restrict Charles’ power. The King, however, was angry, as he saw himself as the messenger of God, and felt parliament’s imposition as an invasion of his God given right. Charles did sign the Petition of Right, however, he had no intention of keeping to it. Although he felt this would silence parliament, in the long run it made him untrustworthy to his ministers. By 1 the relations between Charles and parliament were bad � Charles’ uncompromising personality meant he found a parliament that was anything more than a rubberstamp intolerable, and so parliament was dissolved in 1, not to be recalled for eleven years; displaying the intense ill feeling between the two parties that would increase until the eventual outbreak of war in the 140’s. However, despite such obvious conflict between monarch and parliament, it was not clear at this point that civil war would occur � the idea that people could not be loyal to both their country and government had not yet become an issue.


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During Charles’ Personal Rule, or Eleven Years of Tyranny, as it has been known, the King immersed himself in the court, and it became a closed world, cocooning the courtiers and King from the outside world; a dangerous situation for the King. His marriage to the French, Catholic Henrietta Maria was deeply unpopular, and increased fears that the king was trying to allow Catholicism back to England. The sense of detachment from reality that thrived in Charles’ court would also cause problems. He was a great lover of the arts, and spent thousands of pounds collecting rare paintings and other renaissance arts pieces, and money, or the lack of it, would bring Charles to conflict with parliament, as it held the power to grant the King money. The King and Queen were also great lover’s of plays, and the court regularly performed elaborate masques � all of which carried the scent of the distinctly ceremonial Catholicism. ‘Popery, painting and playacting’ all went on at court, and Charles’ catholic wife, love of Italian arts and plays were deeply suspicious to the puritan or protestant public. Charles’s own inflated ego also added to the discourse between himself and parliament - as King he was chosen by God, therefore unquestionable. The insecurity of his personality meant Charles felt any criticism against him or his court was a direct attack against the crown. To gather funds without parliament Charles taxed counties for ship money, traditionally a tax reserved for costal counties, from 165-1640 ha extended it to all. It was a controversial move, that made him unpopular with the people and many MP’s felt it was an abuse of the Royal Prerogative. The period of personal rule was a relatively peaceful time and civil war was not yet an issue any ministers or the King, however it demonstrated Charles’ mistrust of parliament, and any who opposed him, and the growing void between the King’s attitudes and his parliaments.


Historian S.R Gardiner saw religion as one of the major causes of the civil war. England was in a period of intense anti-popish feeling, and there was constant fear of popish plots. Religion was a volatile subject in 17th century England, and there was constant conflict between Catholicism and Protestantism, and even within Protestantism itself. Charles’ position sheltered from reality at court was to have profoundly negative effects regarding the issue of religion. Charles personally advocated Arminianism, a religion deeply unpopular, as many felt it was too close to the ceremonial pomp of Catholicism, and was a direct attack on the Church’s established ideals of religion, which were mostly Calvinist. The appointment of William Laud, another Arminian follower, was met with distaste both in parliament and with the people. He brought changes to the church which were highly controversial, such as relocating the alter to the east of the church, where it was surrounded by rails, which many felt was ‘a plain device to usher in the mass’. Such changes brought with them mistrust and ill feeling towards the King, and began to spark issues that would become fully ablaze in civil war. Whilst religious problems were already present in England, and cannot be attributed to Charles, he showed a tremendous lack of knowledge and judgement in appointing Laud and advocating a new, unpopular form of Protestantism.


Charles’ personality was to have a profound effect from 1640 in bringing the war, especially over the matter of religion. He insisted that Scotland and England should be united under one religion, and set about introducing the new Laudian Prayer Book to Scotland in 167. Charles was deeply out of touch with current affairs, and ignored advice against introducing the book to Scotland, where the strongly Protestant people would not accept it. The result was rioting in churches when the book was introduced, and an abolition of it by the Scottish National Assembly � an open denial of Charles’ authority in Scotland. Thus, Charles recalled a parliament to attempt to raise an army against Scotland. Charles’ stubborn refusal to compromise with Scotland led to the First Bishops War. However, much of the gentry were unwilling to support the cause, which ended at the Treaty of Berwick in humiliating defeat for Charles. Charles, however, was determined to make the Scottish adhere to English supremacy and continued to publish new Laudian reforms in canon’s that were to be obeyed in Scotland. He refused to listen to advice, even from Laud and continued his policy on Scotland. The result was a Scottish occupation of Newcastle, and once again Charles found himself with a weak army, lacking support of the nobility. Whilst the King stood in a poor military position, his position politically was even worse - Charles had to call another parliament in order to get the money needed to organise peace with the Scots. The conditions were to pay the £850 per day of war to the Scots- a humiliating defeat. The conditions of the truce meant the Long Parliament would not be easily dismissed, as it was clear parliament had more power and the King would have to rely and ultimately submit somewhat to its demands. The events in Scotland were crucial in starting the Civil war � unrest began in not only the North, but in Ireland too, which Charles, however, did not cause. It also meant Charles had had to re-meet parliament, triggering the crisis between the two sides.


Charles began to feel parliament was gaining too much power. After all, he felt, it should be the King who surely controlled the country and masses. In 164, Charles made another grave error of judgement. In the King’s typically insecure yet egotistical mind he felt his opposition at Westminster should be got rid of. He ordered five of the most influential Members of Parliament to be arrested- however by the time the Houses of Parliament were stormed with thee hundred soldiers, the five, Pym, Hampden, Holles, Hesilrig and Strode, were gone. Angry mobs lined the streets, and Charles was convinced London was lost. The slide to civil war had begun, and in 14 the Nineteen Proposals began to split parliament into two sides, the sides that would fight out the civil war. Charles rode to Nottingham where he rose his standard, signalling the declaration of war against his parliament.


Marxist and many Whig historians have seen the civil war as an inevitable process that could not be stopped. Christopher Hill claimed the ‘social forces’ that arose due to capitalism could ‘ no longer be contained within the old political framework’ . In other words, Charles was simply unfortunate to have been King in a time of social change, when uncontrollable forces worked towards revolution. However, the role of the individual must also be examined. Charles made many errors, due his own personality and strong beliefs in the divinity of his kingship, such as in his choice of wife, advisors and uncompromising stance with parliament. His stubbornness to continue his policies on religion in Scotland reveal how out of touch he was with current affairs and popular opinion.


Charles was not a good leader. He lacked his father’s philosophical nature that enabled at least some concession to other factions, or Elizabeth I’s ability to work with his ministers. His aloof, stubborn and egotistical view of his own role as King continually damaged his position as Head of State, even in his final days he refused to make any compromise with the Parliamentarians, who did not truly wish to behead a King, and so became the first English King to be executed. Paradoxically, however, his refusal to make a deal at the close of the war was perhaps his inadvertently cleverest move, making himself Charles I, the Martyr King, and ensuring the kind of support and reverence in death he had little received in life.





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