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Parliament against the Crown



The first signs of trouble between Crown and Parliament came in 1601, when the Commons were angry over Elizabeth's policy of selling monopolies. But Parliament did not demand any changes. It did not wish to upset the queen whom it feared and respected.

 

Like Elizabeth, James I tried to rule without Parliament as much as possible. He was afraid it would interfere, and he preferred to rule with a small council.

 

James was clever and well educated. As a child in Scotland he had been kidnapped by groups of nobles. Because of these experiences he had developed strong beliefs and opinions. The most important of these was his belief in the divine right of kings. He believed that the king was chosen by God and therefore only God could judge him.

 

He expressed these opinions openly, however, and this led to trouble with Parliament. James had an unfortunate habit of saying something true or clever at the wrong moment. The French king described James as "the wisest fool in Christendom".

When Elizabeth died she left James with a huge debt, larger than the total yearly income of the Crown. James had to ask Parliament to raise a tax to pay the debt. Parliament agreed, but in return insisted on the right to discuss James's home and foreign policy. James, however, insisted that he alone had the "divine right" to make these decisions. Parliament disagreed, and it was supported by the law.

 

James was successful in ruling without Parliament between 1611 and 1621, but it was only possible because Britain remained at peace. James could not afford the cost of an


 


army. In 1618, at the beginning of the Thirty Years War in Europe, Parliament wished to go to war against the Catholics. James would not agree. Until his death in 1625. James was always quarrelling with Parliament over money and over its desire to play a part in his foreign policy.

 

Charles I found himself quarrelling even more bitterly with the Commons than his father had done, mainly over money. Charles dissolved Parliament.

Charles's need for money, however, forced him to recall Parliament, but each time he did so, he quarrelled with it. When he tried raising money without Parliament, by borrowing from merchants bankers and landowning gentry, Parliament decided to make Charles agree to certain "parliamentary rights". It hoped Charles could not raise enough money without its help, and in 1628 this happened. In return for the money he badly needed, Charles promised that he would only raise money by Act of Parliament, and that he would not imprison anyone without lawful reason.



 

Charles surprised everyone by being able to rule successfully without Parliament. He got rid of much dishonesty that had begun in the Tudor period and continued during his father's reign. He was able to balance his budgets and make administration efficient. Charles saw no reason to explain his policy or method of government to anyone. By 1637 he was at the height of his power. His authority seemed to be more completely accepted than the authority of an English king had been for centuries.

 

Religious disagreement

 

In 1637, however, Charles began to make serious mistakes. These resulted from the religious situation in Britain. His father, James, had been pleased that the Anglican Church had bishops. They willingly supported him as head of the English Church. And he disliked the Presbyterian Kirk in Scotland because it had no bishops.

 

Charles shared his father's dislike of Puritans. He had married a French Catholic, and the marriage was unpopular in Protestant Britain. Many MPs were either Puritans or sympathised with them, and many of the wealth-creating classes were Puritan. But Charles took no notice of popular feeling, and he appointed an enemy of the Puritans, William Laud, as Archbishop of Canterbury.

 

Archbishop Laud tried to make the Scottish Kirk accept the same organisation as the Church in England. James I would have realised how dangerous this was, but his son, Charles, did not because he had only lived in Scotland as an infant. When Laud tried to introduce the new prayer book in Scotland in 1637 the result was national resistance to the introduction of bishops and what Scots thought of as Catholicism.



 

In spring 1638 Charles faced a rebel Scottish army. Without the help of Parliament he was only able to put together an inexperienced army. It marched north and found that the Scots had crossed the border. Charles knew his army was unlikely to win against the Scots. So he agreed to respect all Scottish political and religious freedoms, and also to pay a large sum of money to persuade the Scots to return home.

 

It was impossible for Charles to find this money except through Parliament. This gave it the chance to end eleven years of absolute rule by Charles, and to force him to rule under parliamentary control. In return for its help, Parliament made Charles accept


 


a new law which stated that Parliament had to meet at least once every three years. However, as the months went by, it became increasingly clear that Charles was not willing to keep his agreements with Parliament. Ruling by "divine right", Charles felt no need to accept its decisions.

 

Civil war

 

Events in Scotland made Charles depend on Parliament, but events in Ireland resulted in civil war. James I had continued Elizabeth's policy and had colonised Ulster, the northern part of Ireland, mainly with farmers from the Scottish Lowlands.

In 1641 as many as 3,000 people, men, women and children, were killed, most of them in Ulster. In

 

London, Charles and Parliament quarrelled over who should control an army to defeat the rebels.

 

 

The areas controlled by Parliament and the king halfway through the Civil War, 1642-1645.

 

Parliament met at Westminster in 1640, determined to limit Charles I's freedom and to ensure that Parliament would meet regularly in future. Because of rebellions in Scotland and in Ireland, Charles had to give in to Parliament's wish to oversee government


 

 


In 1642 Charles tried to arrest five MPs in Parliament. Although he was unsuccessful, it convinced Parliament and its supporters all over England that they had good reason to fear.

 

London locked its gates against the king, and Charles moved to Nottingham, where he gathered an army to defeat those MPs who opposed him. The Civil War had started. Most people, both in the country and in the towns, did not wish to be on one side or the other. In fact, no more than 10 per cent of the population became involved. But most of the House of Lords and a few from the Commons supported Charles. The Royalists, known as "Cavaliers", controlled most of the north and west. But Parliament controlled East Anglia and the southeast, including London. Its army at first consisted of armed groups of London apprentices. Their short hair gave the Parliamentarian soldiers their popular name of "Roundheads".

Parliament was supported by the navy, by most of the merchants and by the population of London. It therefore controlled the most important national and international sources of wealth. The Royalists, on the other hand, had no way of raising money. In 1645 the Royalist army was finally defeated.

 

Most people were happy that the war had ended. Trade had been interrupted, and Parliament had introduced new taxes to pay for the war. In many places people had told both armies to stay away from their areas. They had had enough of uncontrolled soldiers and of paying the cost of the war.

 

Chapter 14

 


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