Charles I, Duke of Buckingham, Earl of Strafford, Ulster, William Laud, Grand Remonstrance, English Civil War, Oliver Cromwell & Charles II

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 2nd, 2012

Politics 101

Like Father Like Son, Charles I Dissolves Parliament after not Getting the Money he wanted for his Misadventures

At the start of the 17th century England was a lot like other monarchies in Europe.  Powerful.  And used to getting their way.  Sure, sometimes they had to give a little to Parliament.  That body of the people.  But that was more of an irritant than a force to be reckoned with.  By the end of the century that irritant would become the most powerful restraint on a monarch’s power the word had ever seen.

When the Scottish King James VI became King James I of England the Scottish king changed his Scottish name from ‘Stewart’ to the English ‘Stuart’.  Being the king of Scotland was all well and nice but the money and the power was in England.  And for the first time an English king ruled over Scotland (being Scottish to begin with, of course, helped).  And Wales.  And Ireland.  These were heady times to be king.  But, alas, his subjects didn’t much care for him.  Especially that body of the people.  Parliament.  Which refused to fund his errant ways.  Which took all the fun out of being king. 

Eventually James I did what all kings do.  Died.  And the crown went to Charles I.  Who annoyed his subjects even more than his dad did.  Because, like Dad, he believed in the Divine Right of Kings.  And he dissolved Parliament, too.  Just like Dad.  After Parliament was complaining about his spending habits.  And all those military misadventures.  Headed by a guy Parliament hated.  George Villiers.  The Duke of Buckingham.  Who tried to liberate Protestant Netherlands from Catholic Spain.  And failed.  Who tried to capture the Spanish treasure fleet ala Sir Francis Drake.  And failed.  Who tried to liberate Huguenot (Protestant) France.  And failed.  Buckingham was so hated that someone eventually assassinated him.

The Scottish Commit Treason to Save the Kirk from Catholicism, Charles calls Parliament to Raise an Army

Charles and the Duke were burning through a lot of Parliament’s money.  And had nothing to show for it.  In the process the king was walking all over English Common Law.  Worse, he was meddling with the Church of England.  Making the Protestant church look more and more Catholic.  It was all too much.  To borrow a lyric from the late George Harrison.  So Parliament hit the king where it hurt.  Sir John Eliot led Parliament in restricting customs duties to pay for Charles’ errant ways.  Infuriated, Charles sent his messenger, Black Rod, to dissolve Parliament.  He did.  But not before they passed Three Resolutions.  Calling Charles’ actions treason.  A bit strong for some in Parliament.  Including one ‘Black Tom’ Wentworth.  Who switched sides.  Charles made him the Earl of Strafford.  His muscle.  And sent him to Ireland.

The English may have conquered Ireland but Ireland never fully accepted being conquered.  There were many uprisings against English rule.  The problem was that Ireland was Catholic.  So not only were the English subjugating them they were attacking their religion.  Elizabeth I tried to solve this.  By having Protestant Scots settle in Ireland.  In Ulster.  In Northern Ireland.  James I followed suit.  And then annexed this land.  So there wasn’t a whole lotta love between the Irish and the English.  To borrow a lyric from Robert Plant.  And the Earl of Strafford did nothing to improve that.  He went there for money.  And got it.  More taxes.  And protection money.  Which made the Irish hate the English even more.  As if that was even possible.

Meanwhile, in Scotland, there was more trouble.  The guy making the English Church Catholic, William Laud, was doing the same thing to the Kirk.  The Scottish church.  Which was Presbyterian.  Very Protestant.  And very un-Catholic.  The Presbyterians were already not happy that their Parliament made Charles’ dad head of their church.  For kings weren’t supposed to head Presbyterian churches.  And now this.  This foul wind of Catholicism.  Well, they didn’t just sit there and take it.  They drew up a National Covenant telling Charles to stop.  Or else.  This was, of course, treason.  You just didn’t tell kings what to do.  Especially if said king believed in the Divine Right of Kings.  So Charles wanted to thump them good.  These Covenanters.  But Charles had a bit of a problem.  To raise an army for a good thumping you needed money.  Which wasn’t easy to come by when you’ve dissolved Parliament.  But he sent up a small army anyway in what we call the first Bishops’ War.  Too small to do anything they turned around and went home without fighting a battle.  Charles called for his Muscle.  Strafford.  Who told him to call Parliament.  He did.  A decade or so had passed since he dissolved the previous one.  So there shouldn’t be any harsh feelings, right?

Oliver Cromwell’s New Model Army ultimately defeated Charles I in the English Civil War 

But there were.  John Pym was the new head of the royal opposition.  And the people weren’t happy.  In England, Scotland or Ireland.  They hated Laud.  Strafford.  Paying ship money (taxes raised from coastal cities to build navies to protect coastal towns which somehow ended up helping Catholics fight Protestants in the Netherlands).  And they especially hated the court set up to encourage those reluctant to pay forced loans and extralegal taxes loan their money and pay their taxes.  So Charles was not greeted warmly.  Didn’t get the money he wanted.  So he dissolved Parliament after three weeks of this nonsense (thereafter known as the Short Parliament) and told Strafford to raise an army and teach the Scottish who their king was.  He did.  With a small army.  And fought the second Bishops’ War.  Which ended worse for Charles than the first Bishops’ War.  He lost a chunk of northern England this time.  He needed an army.  And to get an army he needed money.  Which left him no choice.  He had to call Parliament again.

This Parliament, the Long Parliament, wasn’t any more helpful.  Instead of giving Charles money they gave him a list of demands.  Arrest Laud and Strafford.  And abolish ship money and those courts.  He signed the order to execute Strafford.  “Put not your trust in Princes,” indeed.  And sent Laud to the Tower of London.  To die of age.  Meanwhile, over in Ireland, the Catholics were rising up in Ulster.  Killing Protestants wherever they found them.  Charles needed money to raise an army and fast.  But Parliament was still reluctant.  As they feared he could turn that army on Parliament.  Pym and another Member of Parliament, Hampden, passed a bill transferring power from king to Parliament.  The Grand Remonstrance.  Which led to civil war.  War between Parliament and the king.

Civil wars are the cruelest of wars.  There were no standing armies then.  So both sides assembled volunteers from their communities.  So those killing each other often knew each other.  Old friends.  Neighbors.  And family.  They tore families and communities apart.  When one of your own kills your friends and family it tends to draw some violent and cruel acts of revenge.  This was the English Civil War.  Bloody.  And cruel.  Parliament lost some early battles.  Thanks to Charles’ cousin.  A professional cavalry officer.  Who knew a thing or two about winning battles.  He so impressed Oliver Cromwell that he raised a professional cavalry force like his to fight for Parliament.  He, too, was very successful.  Soon Parliament organized their whole army along the same lines.  It was the birth of a professional, standing army.  The New Model Army.  Under Cromwell.  And Sir Thomas Fairfax.  It was the New Model Army that ultimately defeated Charles. 

Their British Descendants built the New World with a Full Knowledge of their Past

Parliament won.  Thanks to the army.  But there was little unity in Parliament.  Or the army.  They had Charles.  But they couldn’t agree on what to do with him.  Charles wrote to the Scots and asked them to save their king.  The Scots came down and started fighting.  Leading to a second civil war.  That Cromwell won in short order.  And decided that they had to try Charles for treason.  They found him guilty.  Executed him.  Made England a republic.  And ended hereditary rule.  The Scots, meanwhile, where none too pleased that they executed their king.  So they crowned Charles’ son king.  So Cromwell came north and thumped the Scottish.  Parliament made Cromwell Lord Protector.  He wasn’t a king.  But he sure looked like he was.  Then he went to Ireland and thumped them for their past sins in Ulster. 

Cromwell would die in office.  In 1658.  And much like a monarchy, which England wasn’t, Cromwell’s son inherited his office of Lord Protector.  For a while, at least.  He wasn’t like the old man.  He was weak.  And couldn’t control the army.  Charles II, in exile in the Netherlands, offered the English a deal.  Let him be king and he would give them pardons and promises galore.  Even said he would pay the army.  Long story short, England got a king again.  One that would work with Parliament.  He never trusted them.  For they did kill his dad.  But he tolerated them.  And made a deal with French King Louis XIV.  The Sun King.  Who also believed in the Divine Right of Kings.  Charles II married a Catholic.  And his brother was Catholic.  So he had some mutual interests with the French king.  A reason not to attack Catholics.  Which the French were.  Helping to maintain the peace between the two super powers.  And brought some French funds into the Crown.  Which was a lot easier than begging Parliament for it.

Charles granted complete religious freedom for everyone.  Even Catholics.  In the Declaration of Indulgence.  But Parliament was still Protestant.  So if you wanted to serve in the army, serve in Parliament or go to college you had to be a member of the Protestant Church of England.  So the century ended as it started.  With a king.  Only a king with limited powers.  But it had something new.  Religious freedom.  At least, some religious freedom.  Within a century these things would take on even greater meaning on the other side of the Atlantic.  In the New World.  Where their British descendants would build the new with full knowledge of their past.

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