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Charles I

(1600—1649) king of England, Scotland, and Ireland


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(1600–49),

king of England, Scotland, and Ireland (1625–49). Charles was the second son of James VI. Born in Scotland, he moved to England in 1604 after his father ascended the English throne. He developed into a somewhat reserved, scholarly boy, who hero‐worshipped his elder brother Prince Henry. Only after Henry was struck down in 1612 did Charles, as heir apparent, move centre stage. In 1621 he attended the House of Lords as Parliament considered whether England should intervene on the protestant side in the Thirty Years War. James, a leading protestant ruler, hoped to heal religious divisions by concluding a marriage between Charles and the Infanta Maria, sister of ‘the most catholic king’ of Spain.

Charles persuaded his father to let him make an incognito romantic journey to Spain, setting off in February 1623, accompanied by the royal favourite, Buckingham. Two weeks' hard riding through France brought them to Madrid, where Charles received a royal welcome. The growing realization that the infanta was merely a pawn in a power game opened the eyes of Charles to the fact that the expansion of Spanish power threatened England. When he returned home in September, without the infanta, he began constructing an anti‐Spanish coalition. The adhesion of France was essential, 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 with its leading members in preparing the ground for war, but only became free to act in March 1625, when the death of James brought Charles to the throne. The new king promptly summoned Parliament, but suspicion of Buckingham led the Commons to make only a token grant of money. When the 1626 Parliament impeached Buckingham, following the failure of an expedition against 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 assassination 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. 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. 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 dèbâcle of the Bishops' wars 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, conservative opinion began rallying round him when Parliament broke with convention by trying to deprive him of control over the army.

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Subjects: British History.


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