Charles I (England) (1600–1649; Ruled 1625–1649)
CHARLES I (ENGLAND) (1600–1649; ruled 1625–1649)
CHARLES I (ENGLAND) (1600–1649; ruled 1625–1649), king of Great Britain and Ireland. Charles I was born in Dumfirmline Castle on 19 November 1600, the second son of James VI of Scotland (ruled 1567–1625; James I of England, ruled 1603–1625) and Anne of Denmark (1574–1619). Charles's childhood and adolescence were unhappy. He suffered from rickets and a severe stammer that bedeviled him almost until his death. His parents had little to do with him, while his elder brother, Prince Henry, the charismatic heir, teased him mercilessly.
On 6 November 1612, however, Henry died unexpectedly from typhoid fever. The new heir took the bereavement badly, and he was almost as upset when his elder sister Elizabeth married and left England to live in Germany. The death of Charles's mother in March 1619 and the fact that his father, James I, found his son a prudish irritation, much preferring the company of his homosexual lovers, did nothing to enhance the adolescent's self-confidence.
Ironically it was one of those lovers, George Villiers (1592–1628), later duke of Buckingham, who liberated the heir from his insecure youth. Villiers befriended Charles, who responded avidly, accepting him as a substitute elder brother. In the spring of 1623 the pair secretly went to Spain to woo Infanta Donna Maria, the sister of Philip IV (ruled 1621–1665). After the Spanish humiliatingly spurned his terms—notwithstanding major concessions on his part—Charles angrily returned home. The trip to Spain not only exposed Charles to the work of artists such as Titian, Michelangelo, and Raphael but augmented both Villier's influence and the authoritarian side of Charles's character. A year later Charles told William Laud (1573–1645), the future archbishop of Canterbury, "I cannot defend the bad, nor yield in a good cause."
RELATIONSHIP WITH PARLIAMENT
For three years after Charles succeeded to the throne on 27 March 1625, Villiers dominated English politics. He and Charles were involved in a number of military expeditions, first against Spain and then France. All were humiliating and expensive failures. To pay for his expeditions, Charles asked Parliament to vote taxes, which that body refused to do unless Charles dismissed Villiers. To protect his friend, Charles dismissed Parliament and collected taxes anyway. In July 1628 the constitutional crisis reached a climax, when Parliament passed the Petition of Right, a statement of their major grievances. Charles assented to the petition with such ill grace that relations between the king and the Commons continued to deteriorate.
A month later John Felton, a deranged army officer, assassinated Villiers. Charles was devastated; his subjects were jubilant. On 2 March 1629 the House of Commons, defying the king's orders to adjourn, passed three resolutions condemning those who supported Catholicism and all who had paid illegal taxes such as the Forced Loan. Outraged by this open defiance of his authority, Charles determined to rule on his own and dissolved Parliament.
CHARLES'S PERSONAL RULE
For the next eleven years, from 1629 to 1640, Charles retreated from the world of politics to that of his court. He came under the malign influence of his wife, Henrietta Maria (1609–1669), a French Catholic who wanted to restore England to Rome. Charles also created one of the finest art collections ever assembled by a British monarch. He purchased the collection of the Gonzaga dukes of Mantua, who were desperate for money. The collection included some of best works by Raphael, Titian, Corregio (Antonio Allegri), and Andrea Mantegna. By the time of Charles's death, the royal collection totaled 1,760 paintings and nearly as many sculptures.
Charles's artistic taste and judgment were superb. At the age of twenty he knew enough to return a painting to Rubens because it was largely the work of an apprentice. He could also drive a hard bargain, reducing the price of a Van Dyck portrait by half. Nonetheless Charles's art did not come cheap. Parliament sold his collection in 1649 for £59,903. Its modern worth would be staggering.
Charles's art collection not only revealed his connoisseurship but shed light on his personality and policies. An example is the massive set of three paintings Rubens (1577–1640) did on the ceiling of the Banqueting Hall at Whitehall. Designed by Inigo Jones (1573–1652) in the Palladian style, Whitehall was the most significant building erected in England during the first half of the seventeenth century. Intended for the most important state occasions, such as the reception of ambassadors, its main themes were order and harmony. The interior's clean straight lines climaxed where the king sat on his throne. The central ceiling panel, The Apotheosis of James I, shows the old king as a divine right ruler ascending directly into heaven. The second panel praises James for uniting the crowns of England and Scotland, while the third acclaims him as a peacemaker and by implication supports Charles's refusal to get involved with the Thirty Years' War (1618–1648), which was ravaging the Continent.
Perhaps the most important portrait the king commissioned was Van Dyck's (1599–1641) Charles I on Horseback, which hangs in the National Gallery in London. The masterpiece shows the king not just as a divine right monarch but as an absolutist who brooks no limits on his power. He is the knight-errant, whose sword could be unsheathed at any time to right wrongs, punish the evil, and bring law and order. Fully in control of his powerful stallion, this happy warrior is also a philosopher king—the confident master of all he surveys.
THE CIVIL WAR
By 1639 Charles's policies were coming apart in Scotland. While the taxes, such as ship money, which the king had raised without parliamentary approval, were far from popular, they were not oppressive enough to make his subjects rebel, but his religious policies were.
Apart from their king, the English and the Scots had little in common. The former were Episcopalians, the latter were Calvinists. When Charles introduced a new prayer book into Scotland in 1637, the results were explosive. Congregations rioted. In 1638 hundred of thousands of Scots signed a covenant—some with their own blood—vowing to fight to keep their old religion and to resist the imposition of bishops. Convinced that they in fact were determined not merely to abolish bishops but the monarchy itself, Charles vowed, "I will rather die than yield to their impertinent and damnable demands."
Charles fought two wars against the Scots. Although politically inconclusive, the First Bishops' War of 1639 forced the king to call the Short Parliament in April 1640. After impulsively dismissing this Parliament on 5 May, Charles fought the Second Bishops' War, which he lost. He thus had to call the Long Parliament that opened on 3 November 1640. For over a year the king and the Commons tried to compromise. Parliament wanted to control the crown; the king would accept no real limits on his powers. On 5 January 1642 Charles led a company of armed soldiers to the House of Commons to arrest the five ringleaders of parliamentary opposition, but just before he entered the house they escaped. The breach between the king and Parliament was irreparable. Both the king and Parliament collected arms and courted public opinion in a struggle to control the army raised to put down the revolt in Ireland that had broken out the previous October.
Soon after declaring war against his rebellious subjects on 22 August 1642, Charles raised an army that fought the parliamentary forces at Edgehill on 23 October. The two sides continued to spar during 1643. On 21 August 1643 Charles failed to lift the Siege of Gloucester, but he beat the parliamentarians at the First Battle of Newbury on 20 September. In 1644 the royalists were routed at Marston Moor (2 July), while the Roundheads (the Puritans) surrendered at Lostwithiel on 31 August. The year 1645 was decisive, for on 14 June, at the Battle of Naseby, the New Model Army of Oliver Cromwell (1599–1658) decisively beat the king's forces.
The fighting dragged on for over a year, but on 6 May 1646 Charles surrendered to the Scots army, who on 30 January 1647 handed him over to Parliament. On 3 June 1647 the army seized the king, who on 11 November escaped to Carisbrooke Castle on the Isle of Wight. For the next two years Charles, hoping to divide and thus rule, bargained in bad faith with the Scots, the army, and Parliament. Instead of ruling he produced a second civil war, which was far more brutal than the first. As a result, on 19 December 1648 the army arrested the king and took him to London, where he was tried for treason. The result was inevitable. Charles was executed outside the Whitehall Banqueting Hall on 30 January 1649.
In a way the site was sublimely appropriate. The Banqueting Hall's magnificent ceiling painted by Rubens symbolized Charles's exquisite artistic tastes, which in turn were an excellent guide to his personality. The product of an oppressive childhood, Charles I was too much an authoritarian to deal with his subjects in good faith and too insecure to take decisive action. As Archbishop Laud bitterly concluded, he was "a mild and gracious prince, who knew not how to be, or be made great." For Charles, character was indeed fate.
See also Charles II (England) ; Church of England ; Cromwell, Oliver ; English Civil War and Interregnum ; James I and VI (England and Scotland) ; Laud, William ; Scotland ; Stuart Dynasty (England and Scotland) .
Carlton, Charles. Charles I: The Personal Monarch. 2nd ed. London, 1995. Originally published in 1983.
Cogswell, Thomas. The Blessed Revolution: English Politics and the Coming of War, 1621–1624. Cambridge, U.K., 1989.
Reeve, L. J. Charles I and the Road to Personal Rule. Cambridge, U.K., and New York, 1989.
Sharpe, Kevin. The Personal Rule of Charles I. New Haven and London, 1992.
Young, Michael B. Charles I. Basingstoke, U.K., 1997.
Charles I (1600-1649), king of England from 1625 to 1649, was to witness and take part in the English civil war, or Puritan Revolution, which ultimately cost him his life.
The second son of James VI of Scotland (later James I of England) and Anne of Denmark, Charles I was born in Dunfermline, Scotland, on Nov. 19, 1600. He did not become heir apparent to the English throne until the death of his elder brother, Henry, in 1612. Whether it was his early physical infirmities or the stress caused by the antipathy between his parents, the future king showed signs of personality disturbance in childhood. He did not speak as a young child and later always stuttered. He betrayed deep feelings of inadequacy both in his formal silences and in his overdependence on self-confident favorites. From very early life he lied. This was to be the King's ultimate weakness.
Charles received a good education with tutors. His first emergence into public affairs came with the loss of the crown of Bohemia by his brother-in-law, Frederick V, in 1618. That loss and the subsequent occupation of Frederick's inheritance in the Palatinate by Spanish troops deeply shocked Charles. He conceived that if he were to marry the Spanish Infanta, the King of Spain would restore the Palatinate to Frederick. Charles went to Spain in 1623 with the 1st Duke of Buckingham, who abetted the scheme. In Madrid it took Charles 5 months to comprehend that the Spanish would never agree to marriage with a heretic, much less to the restoration of the Palatinate.
When Charles perceived the truth, he and Buckingham went to the opposite extreme and stampeded an unwilling King James and an eager Parliament into war with Spain. At the same time a marriage treaty with Louis XIII of France was arranged for the hand of Louis's sister, Henrietta Maria. Charles became king on March 27, 1625. His marriage occurred by proxy in Paris on May 1. The union was accompanied by an alliance between England and France against Spain. From the first, however, there were misunderstandings. The English believed that the French were not active enough in helping to expel the Spanish from the Palatinate. The French did not believe that Charles had lived up to the religious promises of the marriage contract—to allow freedom to the English Catholics. It is not surprising under these circumstances that Charles found the gawky adolescent princess less than compatible. Relations with the Queen's brother deteriorated until Charles declared war on France as well as Spain in 1627.
These wars necessitated the frequent summonses of Parliament during the first years of Charles's reign. Differences over supplies, religion, and economic policy were frequent and led to the Petition of Right in 1628, in which the Commons condemned the King's policy of arbitrary taxation and imprisonment. But the chief cause of the King's difficulties with Parliament was the resentment of the English aristocracy over the continued ascendancy of the Duke of Buckingham. His ill-managed expedition against Cadiz, Spain, in 1625 and his disastrous attack in 1627 on the French forces besieging La Rochelle completely discredited the King's government in the eyes of the aristocracy.
Buckingham's assassination in 1628, although it was a bitter personal blow to the King, opened up a period of constructive rule, known as the period of personal government. An aftermath of constitutional disputes rocked Parliament in 1629, but many of the peers and their allies in the Commons such as Thomas Wentworth and Dudley Digges had thrown in their lot with the King. The earls of Arundel and Pembroke, Clifford, and Weston divided up administrative patronage. The wars against France and Spain were terminated, and so long as no new foreign crisis arose, royal finances were sufficient to conduct government without calling Parliament and reviving constitutional and religious opposition. After Buckingham's death, too, Charles fell in love with Henrietta Maria, and they were ever after a devoted couple.
Charles spent his time hunting and acquiring perhaps the greatest art collection in Europe. The quintessence of the King's royal policy during these years was the enforcement of order and a decorous service in the English Church by William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury. The attempt to extend this religious order to Scotland in 1637, however, brought down the edifice of personal government. Parliament again had to be summoned in 1640, and to the residue of constitutional resentment from the earlier parliaments was joined the fear that the Earl of Strafford, the King's deputy in Ireland, would be an even more powerful and dangerous minister than the Duke of Buckingham had been. Until Strafford's execution for treason in 1641, the King faced a united aristocracy; and he was forced to relinquish most of his ministers, abolish the Star Chamber (councilors and judges who sat as a court) and High Commission, agree to triennial parliaments, and promise that no customs would be raised in the future without specific parliamentary grant.
Following Strafford's death, the King's untrustworthiness still barred a stable settlement with the leaders of Parliament. His attempt to get evidence against them in Scotland during the autumn of 1641 coincided with the Irish rebellion. The parliamentary leaders could not trust him with an army. Their fears were confirmed when he entered the House of Commons on Jan. 4, 1642, in order to arrest five of their leading members for treason. Parliament then began on their own authority to make military provision to suppress the Irish and to defend themselves. Charles could not allow the heart of his prerogative to be thus torn from him, and so on August 14 the King raised his standard at Nottingham and called upon all his loyal subjects to defend his right. The civil war had begun.
Charles attracted a majority of the peers and many of the gentry to his side, and he commanded the military populace of Wales and the North. Under the generalship of his nephew Prince Rupert, the royal cavalry in particular bore down the parliamentary forces during 1642 and 1643. But Charles again fell victim to incompetent courtiers, as a whole the King's cause was ill-managed. By contrast the few but important peers who remained to command Parliament proved masters at gaining popular support, money, control of the navy, and a sufficient military response. On July 2, 1644, they won a surprise victory over Rupert at Marston Moor; in the following year they professionalized their military force as the New Model Army and decisively defeated Charles and Rupert at Naseby. In 1646 Charles surrendered to the Scots allies of Parliament.
During the succeeding years the King's main effort was to restore his royal authority. The means he chose were contradictory deals with various political groups, now the political Presbyterians in Parliament, now Oliver Cromwell and the Independent army generals, and at all times the Scots. Just as his letter commissioning an Irish army to land in England and requesting French troops during the civil war had discredited him after their discovery on the field of Naseby, so these incompatible negotiations from 1646 to 1648 destroyed his moral position in the eyes of many Englishmen. His negotiations with the Scots led to their intervention in the second civil war, of 1648, and this sealed Charles's fate in the minds of the army generals. On Dec. 6-7, 1648, the generals purged Parliament of all who were negotiating for the King's restoration to power and prepared to bring the "Man of Blood" to trial.
There was in England no legal method to try a king. But Henry Ireton and the other officers devised a High Court of Justice, consisting of members of the purged Commons and other public officials, to try Charles Stuart for high treason. The King refused to recognize their jurisdiction and would not plead. During the trial he gave his finest defense of his kingship: "I do stand more for the liberty of my people, than any here that come to be my pretended judges." "I am sworn to keep the peace, by that duty I owe to God and my country, and I will do it to the last breath of my body; and therefore ye shall do well to satisfy first God, and then the country, by what authority you [try me]." By such words, when the court condemned him to death, he created the myth that he died for liberty under the law. On Jan. 30, 1649, he was led onto a scaffold, where he prayed with Bishop Juxon, and was beheaded. Thereby he also became the sanctified champion of the Anglican Church, despite his many promises to Catholics, Presbyterians, and Independents during the days of his adversity. After a decade under Puritan military dictatorship, the King executed that day became the foundation for restored monarchy, established church, free Parliament, and the conservative rule of law in England.
C. V. Wedgwood, The King's Peace, 1637-1641 (1955), The King's War, 1641-1647 (1958), and A Coffin for King Charles: The Trial and Execution of Charles I (1964), are probably the best studies of Charles I for the years 1637-1649 and also provide excellent background material on other politicians of those years. Esmé C. Wingfield-Stratford's three volumes, Charles: King of England, 1600-1637 (1949), King Charles and King pym, 1637-1643 (1949), and King Charles the Martyr 1643-1649 (1950), are standard treatments, although conservative and very favorable to the King. Good background studies of the period are G. M. Trevelyan, England under the Stuarts (repr. 1957), and Roger Lockyer, Tudor and Stuart Britain, 1471-1714 (1964).
Bowle, John, Charles I: a biography, Boston: Little, Brown, 1975.
Carlton, Charles, Charles I, the personal monarch, London; New York: Routledge, 1995.
Gregg, Pauline, King Charles I, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984.
Higham, Florence May Creir Evans, Charles I: a study, Norwood, Pa.: Norwood Editions, 1978.
Morrah, Patrick, A royal family: Charles I and his family, London: Constable, 1982.
Ollard, Richard Lawrence, The image of the king: Charles I and Charles II, New York: Atheneum, 1979.
Charles, King of England, 1600-1637, Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1975. □
Charles, now 22 and eager to be married, persuaded his father to let him make an incognito romantic journey to Spain. He set off in February 1623, accompanied by the royal favourite, Buckingham, who had become a surrogate brother to him. Two weeks of hard riding through France brought them to Madrid, where Charles, after the Spaniards had recovered from the shock of his arrival, received a royal welcome. However, custom forbade him unchaperoned access to the infanta, and when he demonstrated his love by leaping over a garden wall to greet her, she ran away. Frustration, and the growing realization that the infanta was merely a pawn in a power game to keep James from intervening in the war, opened the eyes of Charles and Buckingham to the fact that the expansion of Spanish power threatened England. When they returned home in September, without the infanta, they began constructing an anti-Spanish coalition. The adhesion of France was essential, since protestant states by themselves could never match Spanish power, and Buckingham therefore arranged a marriage between Charles and Louis XIII's sister Henrietta Maria.
James remained committed to peace, but was persuaded to call Parliament in 1624. Charles and Buckingham co-operated closely with its leading members in preparing the ground for war, but they only became free to act in March 1625, when the death of James brought Charles to the throne. The new king promptly summoned Parliament, assuming that it would complete what its predecessor had begun, but suspicion of Buckingham, who was associated with corruption and the Hispanophile attitude of James, led the Commons to make only a token grant of money. Charles could not comprehend this suspicion, and took attacks on the favourite personally. When the 1626 Parliament impeached Buckingham, following the failure of an expedition to attack Cadiz, Charles dissolved it. He then levied a forced loan to pay for another expedition, this time in support of the French protestants. When this also ended in defeat a further clash with Parliament seemed inevitable. But Charles's acceptance of the petition of right in 1628 defused the situation, and Buckingham, the bone of contention, was removed by an assassin's hand in August of that year.
When Parliament reassembled in 1629 Charles expected harmony, but the religious issue came to the fore. Charles was a high churchman and promoted Arminians, but members of Parliament were predominantly low church, equating Arminianism with ‘popery’, which they abhorred. The Commons drew up a resolution against Arminianism, and when Charles tried to prevent its discussion by dissolving Parliament, Eliot and his associates held the Speaker down in his chair so that debate could continue. Charles responded to this outrage by imprisoning the offending members and dispensing with Parliament altogether. His personal rule was far from an ‘Eleven Years Tyranny’, but Charles's continued patronage of the Arminians—in particular Archbishop Laud—outraged public opinion. So also did his resort to non-parliamentary taxation. Nevertheless, the personal rule was not threatened until the débâcle of the Bishops' wars, which left Charles with no choice but to summon Parliament. So weak was his position by late 1640 that he had to accept Acts severely curtailing his power. He also had to permit the impeachment and subsequent execution of Laud and his chief minister, Strafford. However, by deciding to abandon the Arminians he attracted support from traditional Anglicans, and conservative opinion began rallying round him when Parliament broke with convention by trying to deprive him of control over the army.
Charles had transformed himself into the guardian of the constitution, but in January 1642 he unwisely yielded to pressure from his wife and others who advocated tough measures. After impeaching his principal opponents of treason, he went down to the House of Commons, accompanied by an armed guard, entered the chamber, and demanded their arrest. But, as Charles quickly noted, ‘the birds are flown’. His attempted coup had failed and he decided to leave the capital and appeal for support to the country. In August 1642 he raised the royal standard at Nottingham in the midlands, and shortly afterwards established his headquarters at Oxford. During the civil war that ensued, Charles showed qualities of endurance and decisiveness that had hitherto lain dormant. And although he left strategy in the hands of his nephew Prince Rupert, he proved a successful commander in the field. But royalist resources were sufficient only for a short war, and Parliament had the longer purse. After his defeat at Naseby in June 1645 Charles had no hope of winning, and in May 1646 gave himself up. Yet even in defeat he was still a key figure, for everyone assumed that no blueprint for a post-war constitution could be implemented without his participation. The parliamentary army, which had emerged as a radical political force in its own right, was so concerned that in June 1647 it sent a troop of musketeers to remove the king from parliamentary guardianship and bring him closer to London. He was held captive in his own palace of Hampton Court until November, when fear for his personal safety drove him to escape and seek refuge in Carisbrooke castle on the Isle of Wight.
The political situation was now chaotic, with Parliament, the army, and the Scots all putting proposals to Charles. Confronted by this evidence of disunity among his enemies, Charles took the understandable but risky course of playing them off against each other. All over the country sentiment was flowing, if not in favour of the king, then against those who had overthrown him, and the spring of 1648 saw a series of violent outbreaks called the second civil war. These convinced the army, which ruthlessly suppressed them, that Charles was not to be trusted and that a permanent peace settlement depended on removing him. In December 1648 they ‘purged’ Parliament of its conservative members, leaving the remaining ‘rump’ free to set up a high court to try the king. Charles refused to plead, insisting that he was accountable only to God, but although his dignity and fortitude impressed all those present, the outcome was a foregone conclusion. Charles was sentenced to death and beheaded, in front of the Banqueting House in Whitehall, on 30 January 1649.
Charles had many good qualities. He loved the arts, and assembled a collection of paintings among the best in Europe. He loved his wife and children, but above all he loved God. Religion was central to his life, and was intimately involved with his commitment to order and ceremony. But his exalted view of the kingly office, his autocratic tendencies, and his lack of the common touch opened a chasm between him and his subjects which swallowed up the monarchy he struggled to preserve.
Carlton, G. , Charles the First: The Personal Monarch (1983);
Gregg, P. , King Charles I (1981);
Wedgwood, C. V. , The Trial of Charles I (1964).