Charles I (19 November 1600–30 January 1649) was King of England, Scotland and Ireland from 27 March 1625, until his death. He famously engaged in a struggle for power with Parliament; he was an advocate of the divine right of kings, however some in Parliament feared that he was attempting to gain absolute power. There was widespread opposition to many of his actions, especially the levying of taxes without Parliament's consent.
Charles also adopted a religious policy that continued the Anglican "middle path," and was actively hostile to the Reformist tendencies of many of his English and Scottish subjects. His policy was obnoxious to Calvinist theology, and insisted that the Church of England's liturgy be celebrated with all of the ceremony and vestments called for by the Book of Common Prayer. Many of his subjects thought these policies brought the Church of England too close to Roman Catholicism.
The last years of Charles's reign were marked by the English Civil War; he was opposed by the forces of Parliament (which challenged his attempts to augment his own power) and by Puritans (who were hostile to his religious policies). The war ended in defeat for Charles, who was subsequently tried, convicted and executed for high treason. The monarchy was overthrown, and a republic (what some observers would call a military dictatorship) was established. Charles's son, Charles II, would later restore the monarchy in 1660.
Charles, the second son of James VI, King of Scots and Anne of Denmark, was born at Dunfermline Palace on 19 November 1600. He was an underdeveloped child (he is listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the nation's shortest King) who was unable to walk or talk at the age of three. When Elizabeth I died in 1603, and James VI became King of England as James I, Charles was originally left in Scotland in the care of nurses and servants because it was feared that the journey would damage his fragile health. He did make the journey in July 1604 and was subsequently placed under the charge of Lady Carey, who taught him how to walk and talk. As an adult he was 5 feet 4 inches (162 cm) tall.
Charles was not as well-regarded as his elder brother, Henry, Prince of Wales. Charles himself adored Henry and tried to emulate him. In 1605, as was then customary in the case of the Sovereign's second son, he was created Duke of York in England. Two years before, in 1603, he was created Duke of Albany in Scotland. When his elder brother died of typhoid in 1612, Charles became heir apparent and was subsequently created Prince of Wales and Duke of Chester in November 1616. His sister Elizabeth married in 1613, making Charles virtually an only child.
The new Prince of Wales was greatly influenced by his father's favourite courtier, George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham, who took him on an expedition to Spain in 1623 to look for a suitable bride, and settled on the daughter of the Spanish King Philip III, Infanta Maria of Spain. No marriage occurred, however, as the Spanish demanded the Prince of Wales's conversion to Roman Catholicism. Upon their return in October, both the Prince of Wales and the Duke of Buckingham demanded that James I declare war on Spain.
With the encouragement of his Protestant advisors, James summoned Parliament to request subsidies for his war effort. James also requested that Parliament sanction the marriage between the Prince of Wales and Henrietta Maria, whom Charles met in Paris whilst en route to Spain. It was a good match since she was the daughter of the former French King Henry IV and the sister of the then current King Louis XIII. Parliament agreed to the marriage, but was extremely critical of the prior attempt to arrange a marital alliance with Spain. James was growing senile and as a result was finding it extremely difficult to control Parliament—the same problem would later haunt Charles during his reign. During the last year of his reign, actual power was held not by him but by his eldest son and the Duke of Buckingham.
Charles ascended the throne in March 1625 and on 1 May that year he was married to Henrietta Maria, nine years his junior, by proxy. His first Parliament, which he opened in May, was opposed to his marriage to Henrietta Maria, a Roman Catholic, because it feared that Charles would lift restrictions on Roman Catholics and undermine the official establishment of Protestantism. Although he agreed with Parliament that he would not relax restrictions relating to recusants, he promised to do exactly the same thing in a secret marriage treaty with Henrietta Maria's father, the King of France. The couple was married on 13 June 1625, in Canterbury. Charles was crowned on 2 February 1626 at Westminster Abbey, but without his wife at his side due to the controversy. They had nine children with three sons and three daughters surviving infancy.
Distrust of Charles's religious policies was increased by the controversy surrounding the ecclesiastic Richard Montagu . In a pamphlet, Montagu argued against the teachings of John Calvin, immediately bringing himself into disrepute amongst the Puritans. A Puritan member of the House of Commons, John Pym, attacked Montagu's pamphlet during debate, prompting Montagu to request the aid of Charles I in a pamphlet entitled "Appello Caesarem" ("I appeal to Caesar", a reference to an appeal against Jewish persecution made by Saint Paul the Apostle). Charles I offered the cleric his protection, leading many Puritans to take a hostile view towards their monarch.
Charles's primary concern during his early reign was foreign policy. Frederick V, Elector Palatine, his sister Elizabeth's husband, had lost his hereditary lands in the Palatinate to the Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand II, leading to the Thirty Years' War, originally only a war to keep the Catholic Hapsburgs hegemonic as the elected Kings of Bohemia, though which spiralled out of control into a civil and confessional war between Protestants and Catholics in Europe. Charles was committed to help his brother-in-law regain the Palatinate by waging a war with the Catholic Spanish King Philip IV, whom he hoped he could force to intercede with the Emperor on his behalf.
Parliament preferred an inexpensive naval attack on Spanish colonies in the New World, hoping that the capture of the Spanish treasure fleets could finance the war. Charles, however, preferred more aggressive (and more expensive) action on the Continent. Parliament only voted to grant a subsidy of £140,000; an insufficient sum for Charles. Moreover, the House of Commons agreed to allow the King to collect tonnage and poundage (two varieties of customs duties), but only for a period of one year, although previous Sovereigns since 1414 had been granted the right for life. In this manner, the House of Commons hoped to keep a check on Charles's power by forcing him to seek the renewal of the grant each year.
Charles's allies in the House of Lords, led by the Duke of Buckingham, refused to pass the bill. Although no Parliamentary authority for the levy of tonnage and poundage could be obtained, Charles continued to collect the duties anyway.
Charles's first Parliament was dissolved in August 1625 . Charles pressed for war with Spain, but the naval attack on Cadiz was appallingly executed, and discredited Charles. Once again in need of money, Charles summoned his second Parliament in February 1626 . To keep his foes out of Parliament, Charles appointed them sheriffs; as officers of the Crown, they were immediately disqualified from service in the House of Commons. As far as the upper House was concerned, Charles refused to grant a writ of summons—without which no person could be admitted to the House of Lords—to John Digby, 1st Earl of Bristol. He also imprisoned Henry Howard, 25th Earl of Arundel , whom he charged with a misdemeanour. The House of Lords, upon learning of the plight of these two Earls, declared that there was no precedent for denying a peer his writ or for imprisoning a peer for a mere misdemeanour.
The King's attempts to deprive some individuals of their positions in Parliament infuriated many members of that body, as did the collection of taxes without their consent. The Duke of Buckingham, meanwhile, was blamed for the disaster at Cadiz. The House of Commons tried to impeach him for high treason, and threatened to delay all votes on taxation until after the House of Lords found him guilty. The protests of the House of Lords had forced Charles to release Bristol and Arundel, and with these two peers in attendance, a parliamentary majority against the Duke of Buckingham seemed likely. Thus, in June 1626 , Charles ordered the dissolution of Parliament.
In the next year, the Duke of Buckingham led an expedition to aid the Huguenots—French Protestants who were persecuted by their King—at La Rochelle, but failed abysmally, increasing his own unpopularity. Moreover, England came to be at war with France, whilst still continuing its earlier war against Spain. Charles's treasury, meanwhile, continued to dwindle. To reduce expenditure related to the military, Charles ordered several Englishmen to billet, or board and lodge, his soldiers. He also demanded that his subjects grant him "loans," which he had no intention of repaying. Charles's scheme was declared illegal by the courts in 1627; in response, he removed and imprisoned the Lord Chief Justice, Sir Ranulph Crewe , and appointed Sir Nicholas Hyde in his place. He encouraged his clergy to deliver sermons encouraging such loans, and also encouraging obedience to all royal commands. When George Abbot, the Archbishop of Canterbury, refused to officially sanction one such sermon, he was stripped of his powers, although he was not formally removed from office. The Archbishop's functions were instead transferred to a commission of bishops, led by William Laud, the Bishop of Bath and Wells (afterwards Bishop of London).
Those who still refused to contribute to Charles's treasury were imprisoned by the royal command, although not explicitly charged with any crimes. In the celebrated case known as the "Five Knights' Case " or "Darnel's Case," the new Lord Chief Justice, Sir Nicholas Hyde, held that it was permissible for the King to order the detention of individuals without charging them and without offering them the opportunity to post bail.
Charles's wars with France had been crippling to his exchequer. Finding himself in dire need of funds to continue the war, Charles summoned the third Parliament of his reign in March 1628 . Immediately, instead of addressing Charles's financial problems, the House of Commons proceeded to consider the abuse of power in the preceding years. It passed the Petition of Right, in which it sought to redress forced loans, arbitrary arrest, imprisonment without due process of law, billetting and taxation without parliamentary consent. Though initially opposed to the petition, Charles granted his Assent to it in June, after ensuring that his judges would not interpret it in a manner contrary to his wishes. At length, Parliament agreed to grant Charles the subsidies he desired, and was subsequently prorogued.
The Duke of Buckingham, in the meantime, planned another attack on La Rochelle in France, but a naval officer, John Felton, assassinated him on 23 August. Charles and his advisors sought to have Felton tortured to death on the rack, but were foiled by an opinion of an unanimous panel of judges. Instead, Felton was hanged for his crime.
In January 1629, Charles opened the second session of the Parliament which had been prorogued in June 1628. He hoped that, with the Duke of Buckingham gone, Parliament would finally cooperate with him and grant him further subsidies. Instead, members of the House of Commons began to voice their opposition to the levying of tonnage and poundage without parliamentary consent. When he requested a parliamentary adjournment in March, members held the Speaker down in his chair whilst three resolutions against Charles were read aloud. The last of these resolutions declared that anyone who paid tonnage or poundage not authorised by Parliament would "be reputed a betrayer of the liberties of England, and an enemy to the same". Though the resolution was not formally passed, many members declared their approval. Afterwards, when the Commons passed further measures obnoxious to the King, Charles commanded the dissolution of Parliament.
Charles resolved not to be forced to rely on Parliament for further monetary aid. Immediately, he made peace with France and Spain. The following eleven years, during which Charles ruled without a Parliament, were known as the Personal Rule, or, to the King's enemies, the Eleven Years Tyranny. Charles's attempt to rule without Parliament was not unlawful; on the contrary, it constituted a valid exercise of the royal prerogative.
The King still had to acquire funds in order to maintain his treasury. Relying on an all but forgotten feudal statute passed in 1278, requiring anyone who earned £40 or more each year to present himself at the King's coronation so that he may join the royal army as a knight, Charles fined all individuals who failed to attend his coronation in 1626. Even more unpopularly, he reintroduced the obsolete feudal tax known as ship money. A writ issued in 1634 ordered the collection of ship money in peacetime, notwithstanding statutes of Edward I and Edward III that had prohibited the levying of such a tax except during wars. This first writ of 1634, however, did not encourage much opposition on legal grounds, but a second writ of 1635 did. Charles's third writ demanding ship money, issued in 1636, made it clear that the ancient prohibition on collecting ship money during peacetime had been swept away. Many attempted to resist payment, but Charles I's judges declared that the tax was within the King's prerogative.
At the same time, religious reform was conducted under William Laud, who became Archbishop of Canterbury in 1633. Laud attempted to ensure religious uniformity by dismissing non-conformist clergyman and closing Puritan organisations. In order to punish those who refused to conform to the religious norms established by the Church of England he used the two most feared and most arbitrary courts in the land, the Court of High Commission and the Court of Star Chamber. The former could compel individuals to provide self-incriminating testimony, whilst the latter could inflict any punishment whatsoever (including torture), with the sole exception of death.
The first years of the Personal Rule were marked by peace and even prosperity in England. Several individuals opposed Charles's taxes and Laud's policies, but remained under control. When, however, Charles attempted to impose his religious policies in Scotland he faced numerous difficulties. The King ordered the use of a new Prayer Book modeled on the English Book of Common Prayer, which, although supported by the Scottish Bishops, was resisted by many Presbyterian Scots, who saw the new Prayer Book as a vehicle for introducing Anglicanism to Scotland. When the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland abolished Episcopalian government (that is, governance of the Church by Bishops) in 1638, replacing it with Presbyterian government (that is, governance by Elders and Deacons), Charles sought to put down what he saw as a rebellion against his authority.
In 1639, the First Bishops' War broke out. He sought to collect taxes from his subjects, who, however, proved uncooperative. Charles's war ended in an humiliating truce in June of the same year. In the Pacification of Berwick, Charles agreed to grant Scotland parliamentary and ecclesiastical freedoms.
Short and Long Parliaments
Disputes regarding the interpretation of the peace treaty between Charles and the Church of Scotland led to further conflict. To subdue the Scots, Charles needed more money; therefore, he took the fateful step of recalling Parliament in April 1640. Although Charles offered to repeal ship money, the House of Commons proved unmoveable. It demanded the discussion of various abuses of power during the Personal Rule. As Parliament failed to proceed, it was dissolved in May 1640, less than a month after it assembled; thus, the Parliament became known as the "Short Parliament".
Charles still attempted to defeat the Scots, but failed miserably. The humiliating Treaty of Ripon, signed after the end of the Second Bishops' War in October 1640, required the King to pay the expenses of the Scottish army he had just fought. Charles took the unusual step of summoning the magnum concilium , the ancient council of all the Peers of the Realm, who were considered the King's hereditary counsellors. The magnum concilium had not been summoned in centuries, and it has not been summoned since Charles's reign. On the advice of the peers, Charles summoned another Parliament, which, in contrast with its predecessor, became known as the Long Parliament.
The Long Parliament assembled in November 1640 under the leadership of John Pym, and proved just as difficult to negotiate with as the Short Parliament. It took measures which both threatened Charles's political position and caused him deep personal grief. The members of the House of Commons thought of themselves as conservatives defending the King, the Church and parliamentary government against innovations in religion and the tyranny of Charles's evil advisers, but their actions made Charles view many of them as dangerous rebels trying to undermine traditional government. For example, Charles was unable to resist demands for the execution of his advisor Thomas Wentworth, 1st Earl of Strafford.
To prevent the King from dissolving it at will, Parliament passed the Triennial Act, to which the Royal Assent was granted in February 1641. The Act required that Parliament was to be summoned at least once every three years, and that when the King failed to issue proper summons, the members could assemble on their own. In May, he assented to an even more far-reaching Act, which provided that Parliament could not be dissolved without its own consent. Charles was forced into one concession after another. He agreed to bills of attainder authorising the executions of Thomas Wentworth and William Laud. Ship money, fines in destraint of knighthood and forced loans were declared unlawful, and the hated Courts of Star Chamber and High Commission were abolished. Although he made several important concessions, Charles improved his own military position by securing the favour of the Scots. He finally agreed to the official establishment of Presbyterianism; in return, he was able to enlist considerable anti-parliamentary support.
In November 1641, the House of Commons passed the Grand Remonstrance , indicating all the abuses of power Charles had allegedly committed since the beginning of his reign. The tension was heightened when the Irish rebelled against Protestant English rule and unfounded rumours of Charles involvement reached Parliament. An army was required to put down the rebellion but many members of the House of Commons feared that Charles might later use it against Parliament itself. The Militia Bill was intended to wrest control of the army from the King, but Charles refused to give up such an important part of his royal prerogative.
The House of Commons next threatened to impeach Charles's Catholic Queen, Henrietta Maria, finally leading the King to take desperate action. His wife persuaded him to arrest the five members of the House of Commons who led the anti-royal faction on charges of high treason, but, when the King had made his decision, she made the mistake of informing a friend who in turn alerted Parliament. Charles entered the House of Commons with an armed force on 4 January 1642, but found that his opponents had already escaped. By violating Parliament with an armed force, Charles made the breach permanent. Many in Parliament thought Charles's actions outrageous, but others had similar sentiments about the actions of Parliament itself. Several members of the House of Commons left to join the royalist party, leaving the King's opponents with a majority. It was no longer safe for Charles to be in London, and he went north to raise an army against Parliament; the Queen, at the same time, went abroad to raise money to pay for it.
The English Civil War had not yet started, but both sides began to arm. After futile negotiations, Charles raised the royal standard (an anachronistic mediæval gesture) in Nottingham on 22 August 1642. He then set up court at Oxford, whence his government controlled roughly the north and west of England, Parliament remaining in control of London and the south and east. Charles raised an army using the archaic method of the Commission of Array. The Civil War started on 25 October 1642 with the inconclusive Battle of Edgehill and continued indecisively through 1643 and 1644, until the Battle of Naseby tipped the military balance decisively in favor of Parliament. There followed a great number of defeats for the Royalists, and then the Siege of Oxford , from which Charles escaped in April 1646. He put himself into the hands of the Scottish Presbyterian army at Newark, expecting to be well-treated. The Presbyterians, however, arrived at an agreement with Parliament and delivered Charles to them in 1647. He was imprisoned at Holdenby House in Northamptonshire, until cornet George Joyce took him by force to Newmarket in the name of the "New Model Army". At this time, mutual suspicion had developed between the New Model Army and Parliament, and Charles was eager to exploit it.
He was then transferred first to Oatlands and then to Hampton Court, where more involved but fruitless negotiations went on. He was persuaded that it would be in his best interests to escape—perhaps abroad, perhaps to France, or perhaps to the custody of Robert Hammond , Parliamentary Governor of the Isle of Wight. He decided on the last course, believing Hammond to be sympathetic, and fled on 11 November. Hammond, however, was opposed to Charles, whom he confined in Carisbrooke Castle.
From Carisbrooke, Charles continued to try to bargain with the various parties, eventually coming to terms with the Scottish Presbyterians that he would allow the establishment of Presbyterianism in England as well as Scotland for a trial period. The Royalists rose in July 1648, and the Scots invaded, beginning the so-called "Second Civil War". The Scottish armies, however, were defeated within months, their final loss coming in August at the Battle of Preston.
Trial and execution
Charles was moved to Hurst Castle at the end of 1648, and thereafter to Windsor Castle. In January 1649, the House of Commons—without the assent of either the Sovereign or the House of Lords—passed an "Act of Parliament" creating a court for Charles's trial. The idea was a novel one; previous monarchs had been deposed, but had never been brought to trial as monarchs. The High Court of Justice established by the Act consisted of 135 Commissioners (all firm revolutionaries). The King's show trial (on charges of high treason and "other high crimes") began on 2 January, but Charles refused to enter a plea, claiming that no court had jurisdiction over a monarch. Under the Act of Parliament establishing the Court, such a refusal entailed automatic conviction. Fifty-nine of the Commissioners signed Charles's death warrant, others were forced to, on 29 January 1649. After the ruling, he bravely walked from St. James's Palace, where he was confined, to the Palace of Whitehall, where an execution scaffold had been erected in front of the Banqueting House.
When Charles was beheaded on 30 January 1649, a moan was heard from the assembled crowd, some of whom then dipped their handkerchiefs in his blood, thus starting the cult of the Martyr King . There is some historical debate over the identity of the man who beheaded the King, who was masked at the scene. It is known the regicides approached Richard Brandon, the common Hangman of London, but that he refused, and contemporary sources do not generally identify him as the King's headsman. Ellis's Historical Inquiries, however, name him as the executioner, stating that he confessed before dying. It is possible he relented and agreed to do the deed, but there are others who have been identified. William Hewlett was tried for the murder after the Restoration and convicted. In 1661, two people identified as "Dayborne and Bickerstaffe" were arrested but then discharged. Henry Walker, a revolutionary journalist, or his brother William, were suspected but never charged. Various local legends around England name local worthies.
The execution was not greeted with any enthusiasm. It was common practice for the head of a traitor to be held up and exhibited to the crowd with the words "Behold the head of a traitor!"; although Charles' head was exhibited, the words were not used. In an unprecedented gesture, the head of the revolutionaries, Oliver Cromwell, allowed the King's head to be sewn back on his body so the family could pay its respects. Charles was buried on 7 February 1649, in the Henry VIII vault inside St. George's Chapel in Windsor Castle.
Ten days after Charles's execution, a memoir purporting to be from Charles's hand appeared for sale. This book, the Eikon Basilike (Greek: the "Royal Portrait"), contained an apologia for royal policies, and proved an effective piece of royalist propaganda. Parliament commissioned John Milton to write a rejoinder, the Eikonoklastes ("The Iconoclast"), but the response made little headway against the pathos of the royalist book.
With the monarchy overthrown, power was assumed by the military dictator Oliver Cromwell. The Long Parliament (known by then as the Rump Parliament) which had been called by Charles I in 1640 continued to exist until Cromwell forcibly disbanded it in 1653. Cromwell then became a "Lord Protector"—a monarch in all but name: he was even "invested" on the royal coronation chair. Upon his death in 1658, Cromwell was briefly succeeded by his son, Richard Cromwell. Richard Cromwell was an ineffective ruler, and the Long Parliament was reinstated in 1659. The Long Parliament dissolved itself in 1660, and the first elections in twenty years led to the election of a Convention Parliament which restored Charles I's eldest son to the monarchy as Charles II.
Upon the Restoration, Charles II added a commemoration of his father—to be observed on 30 January, the date of the execution—to the Book of Common Prayer. Victoria, however, had the commemoration removed; now, 30 January is only listed as a "Lesser Festival." There are several Anglican/Episcopal churches dedicated to Charles I as "King and Martyr," in England, Canada and the United States. The Society of King Charles the Martyr was established in 1894 by the Honourable Mrs Greville-Negent , assisted by Fr. James Fish , rector of St Margaret Pattens, London. The objectives of the SKCM include prayer for the Church of England and the Anglican Communion, promoting a wider observance of 30 January in commemoration of King Charles' martyrdom, and the reinstatement of his feast day in the Book of Common Prayer.
The colony of Carolina in North America was named for Charles I. Carolina later separated into North Carolina and South Carolina, which eventually became parts of the United States.
The television special "Blackadder: The Cavalier Years" features a surreal version of the events leading to his execution. Charles's life has often been treated seriously in novels and plays as well as on film.
Style and arms
The official style of Charles I was "Charles, by the Grace of God, King of England, Scotland, France and Ireland, Defender of the Faith, etc." (The claim to France was only nominal, and had been asserted by every English King since Edward III, regardless of the amount of French territory actually controlled.) The authors of his death warrant, however, did not wish to use the religious portions of his title. It only referred to him as "Charles Stuart, King of England".
Whilst he was King, Charles I's arms were: Quarterly, I and IV Grandquarterly, Azure three fleurs-de-lis Or (for France) and Gules three lions passant guardant in pale Or (for England); II Or a lion rampant within a tressure flory-counter-flory Gules (for Scotland); III Azure a harp Or stringed Argent (for Ireland).
Painting of Charles I's children
|Charles James, Duke of Cornwall
13 March 1629
13 March 1629
HM King Charles II
29 May 1630
6 February 1685
married 1662, Catherine of Braganza; no issue
HM King James VII and II
14 October 1633
16 September 1701
(1) married 1659, The Lady Anne Hyde; had issue; wife died 1671
(2) married 1673, Mary of Modena; had issue
Henry, Duke of Gloucester
8 July 1640
18 September 1660
Mary, Princess Royal
4 November 1631
24 December 1660
married 1648, William II, Prince of Orange; had issue
29 December 1635
8 September 1650
17 March 1637
8 December 1640
||died of natural causes at age four
29 January 1639
29 January 1639
Henrietta Anne Stuart
16 June 1644
30 June 1670
married 1661, Philip I, Duke of Orléans; had issue
- Ellis's Historical Inquiries
- Gardiner, Samuel Rawson, ed. (1906). The Constitutional Documents of the Puritan Revolution 1625–1660, 3rd revised ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- Williamson, D. (1998). The Kings and Queens of England. New York: National Portrait Gallery.