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19. Crown and Political Nation, 1604-1640

Prof: Right.
Well, I want to attend today to
some of the political developments of the early
seventeenth century. In reading about and discussing
the Tudor monarchy, we looked at the development of
a political system which was in many ways highly centralized but
at the same time increasingly participatory and consultative.
In certain matters of state the
royal will was supreme and the prerogative power of the monarch
was paramount and yet, as Mark Kishlansky says,
“the constitutional position was that monarchical
power was limited by the evolution of its practice.”
The prerogative power of the
prince could not override the liberties of the subject
enshrined in law and the monarch was also expected to have an eye
to the views and the interests of the broader political nation,
those who governed the localities and who acted,
in a sense, as brokers between the royal administration and the
nation at large. Well, to that important extent
the effectiveness of government and the maintenance of political
stability depended on the relationships between the crown
and the ‘political nation’. As we move in to the
seventeenth century the essential point to grasp perhaps
is that these relationships were never fixed.
They contained certain gray
areas, there were certain tensions, certain ambiguities,
and there was nothing new about that.
From time to time they’d
surfaced under Elizabeth and they’d been on the whole handled
and resolved. In the final analysis the
interests of the crown and the political nation were expected
to run together, and there was also a strong
emphasis in the political culture of the time on trying to
achieve harmony and consensus. Open conflict was regarded as a
sign of failure in the political process.
And yet, despite all of that,
in the mid-seventeenth century that system collapsed.
In 1642, civil war broke out
between the crown and the parliament.
In 1649, King Charles I was put
on trial by a High Court of Justice formed from parliament
and executed and a republic was declared which lasted for over a
decade. Now these were political events
of quite extraordinary radicalism for the seventeenth
century. Kings had been deposed and
replaced in the past; kings had been killed in battle;
kings had sometimes been murdered by rival claimants;
but never before had a reigning monarch been formally put on
trial and called to account and then executed.
As Oliver Cromwell,
one of the movers of that act, put it, “we cut off the
king’s head with the crown on it.”
“We cut off the king’s
head with the crown on it,” by which he meant that they had
tried and executed not just a man but an institution,
the institution of monarchy. Well, such momentous events
perhaps imply very profound causes,
and as a result the political history of the early seventeenth
century has traditionally been viewed as in many respects ‘a
high road to civil war’; that’s a phrase which is often
used. In looking at the development
of the situation, traditionally the so-called
‘Whig’ variant of the story tells a tale of an assertive
parliament increasingly anxious to defend its privileges and
worried about the liberties of the subject coming into conflict
with monarchs who were trying to extend the sphere of royal
prerogative power, and as a result parliament
fought back by demanding greater influence on policy.
That’s the essentials of the
traditional story. There’s a Marxist variant on
that too, which argues that behind these
political developments, behind the assertiveness of
parliament, was a growth in the social and
economic power of the gentry and of the urban elites of the
country, people who had done well out of
economic change and were seeking a greater place in the sun,
expressing their aspirations in a developing rhetoric of the
liberties of the subject. In the 1970s and 1980s,
however, a more conservative, so-called ‘revisionist’ school
of historians rejected these interpretations of the high road
to civil war and began arguing that they were essentially the
product of hindsight. In the view of this school
there was no deep-rooted malaise in the English body politic,
no great clash of fundamental constitutional principles,
no high road to civil war. Rather, as they tell the story,
the catastrophe of the 1640s was the result of short-term
misjudgments and unforeseen contingent circumstances,
almost a tragic accident, though one which came to have
very profound consequences. Well, there’s no need to
rehearse all the details of these debates at length.
If they interest you,
then the introduction to Cust and Hughes’ book,
Conflict in Early Stuart England,
is an excellent overview of the way the historiography has
developed. But these debates continue and
they continue in a sense because the English civil wars are still
being fought on paper because the seventeenth century was a
defining moment in British political history.
at the moment we seem to be in a phase of what’s sometimes
described as post-revisionism in which historians of the period
are increasingly willing to recognize the merits of
different arguments. First of all that the
traditional interpretation was perhaps a little too
teleological and that the role of short-term contingency was
neglected in that story, but on the other hand,
recognizing that in its more extreme manifestations
revisionism is almost willfully shortsighted as an
interpretation. Above all, it fails to take
account of the larger context of political life in the nation and
of the changing social and cultural context within which
politics took place. As a result,
it’s been said by some critics that the revisionist approach
tends to explain why the English civil wars shouldn’t have
But they did happen.
They can’t explain why people
felt so passionately that they were willing to draw sword
against their fellow countrymen. So we mustn’t assume a
particular preordained direction of events;
we mustn’t imply an inevitability about the process.
We have to be alive to the
importance in politics of contingent circumstances and the
interventions of specific individuals.
But at the same time we have to
remain aware of the fact that short-term conflicts can have a
cumulative effect and politics was not conducted in a social or
ideological vacuum. Well, to stand back from that
for a moment and bring the story through from the accession of
James I, one thing one can say with
certainty and that’s that in 1603 when King James came down
from Scotland and was crowned King of England no one
anticipated the trouble that was to come.
On the contrary,
the mood of the political nation in 1603 was by and large
one of celebration. They had an adult monarch,
an experienced king who’d ruled well in Scotland;
he was a firm Protestant, and he had two sons.
Everything looked great.
Given the nature of the
political system, the tone of James’ reign
depended very much upon the personality of the monarch,
and James on the whole was capable of negotiating the
ambiguities of the constitutional situation pretty
well. There were certainly some
tensions in his relationships with parliament when it was
called. The English parliament,
very aware of James’ unfamiliarity with its system,
was jealous of its privileges, anxious that the new monarch
should be brought to understand them correctly as it saw them.
It was rather critical of the
King’s use of his prerogative power to raise customs revenues
by so-called ‘impositions’ on trade,
and at the same time it was deeply suspicious of any
financial innovation which might make the crown more independent
of parliament. In 1610, for example,
parliament rejected plans for what was called the Great
Contract, which would have granted to the
king a regular annual taxation income in return for abolishing
certain antiquated and archaic feudal revenues.
It failed.
They were too anxious to
maintain control of the purse for it to go through.
On the King’s part,
James had a very high conception of his royal
prerogative. He regarded the privileges of
parliament as having been granted by his ancestors in the
past for particular purposes, rather than being fundamental
features of a mythical ‘ancient constitution’ as some members of
parliament believed. He was certainly not used to
having such an independent-minded body as the
English parliament. Scotland had a parliament but
it was very much under the control of the king.
He was prone at times to
lecturing the members of parliament when he believed them
to have encroached upon his sovereignty,
but of course Elizabeth had done that in her time.
James was also ready to use his
power to dissolve parliament when he became exasperated with
it. And certainly he didn’t call it
very often. But, nevertheless,
if James had any pretensions to absolute power they were
strictly theoretical. He is once recorded as having
told the Spanish ambassador in a conversation that he marveled
that his ancestors had created such a body as the English
parliament, but he had found it in being
when he came to the throne and he was obliged to put up with
what he couldn’t get rid of. And so he did,
like the shrewd and canny monarch that he was.
More broadly,
if there were those amongst the political nation who were a
little disappointed with King James after the early years once
the honeymoon was over, who came to dislike the
sometimes rather sleazy tone of his court,
who disliked his fondness for favorites,
or his notorious financial extravagance;
nonetheless there’s no reason to believe that the consensual
political system was under any unusual strain during James’
reign. But if that was the case it
didn’t survive the 1620s. The 1620s turned out to be a
decade of mounting crisis and acute political polarization,
a polarization which was vividly reflected in the
relations between crown and parliament,
and this situation arose from a combination of factors.
It partly involved foreign
policy difficulties. It partly involved religion.
It partly involved engagement
in war; and taxation;
perceived threats to the common law.
And it all came to a focus on
the person of one man; George Villiers,
the Duke of Buckingham. Now Buckingham was a handsome
young man, rather charismatic by all
accounts, who had come to court and
attracted James I’s attention in the late 1610s.
Becoming favorite of the king,
he had been rapidly advanced to titles and to fortune.
Well, had he just been James’
toy boy, this would not have mattered very much,
but the trouble was Buckingham was anxious to exercise power.
By the early 1620s,
he not only held high office but he was also using his
position to become increasingly dominant in the control of royal
patronage, with all that that meant.
Moreover, his ascendancy well
established in the later years of King James survived the old
king’s death. Buckingham also dazzled Prince
Charles and retained his position as royal favorite when
Charles came to the throne in 1625.
By 1628, he appears to have had
virtually a monopoly over influence on policy.
Together with that,
his manifest incompetence rendered him odious in the eyes
of the political nation. Sir Edward Coke,
the lord chief justice, described Buckingham as
“the grievance of grievances.”
He was beginning to be seen in
the eyes of some of the political nation as the
quintessential bad councilor. So Buckingham came to provide
something of a focus for deteriorating relations between
the crown and the political nation.
But the broad context for that
deterioration was provided by other events,
notably events in Europe. The outbreak in 1618 of the
Thirty Years War, the expulsion from his lands of
James I’s son-in-law, the Protestant elector of the
Palatinate, and the triumphant advance in
the 1620s of the Catholic forces of the Hapsburg monarchs of
Austria and Spain; events which were very
anxiously followed by many English gentlemen,
as we’ve seen. It was essentially the question
of England’s potential involvement or actual
involvement in this European crisis which led to the
summoning of so many parliaments in the 1620s,
and it was the conduct of affairs under Buckingham which
led members of parliament increasingly to try to exert
greater influence over matters which were,
strictly speaking, matters for the royal
prerogative. And that was the situation
which began the slide into confrontation.
To sum it all up briefly,
there were five parliaments between 1621 and 1629.
Three of them were dissolved
acrimoniously after quarrels between the King and parliament.
On three occasions the King
acrimoniously dissolved parliament and sent them home.
The cause of all this was
parliament’s attempts to exert influence on policy in
prerogative matters of state as the King saw them:
matters of foreign policy; matters concerning the marriage
of Prince Charles; matters concerning the choice
of royal ministers to conduct policy;
and matters concerning religion. This developing atmosphere of
conflict was made worse when, after 1626, King Charles
resorted to measures of questionable legality in order
to sustain his policies. And such conflict was fought
out in parliament after parliament through assertions of
parliamentary privilege and constitutional principle which
were met by the use of the royal prerogative to dissolve
parliament and silence critics of royal policy.
That’s the essence of it all,
but let’s run through some of the sort of ‘edited highlights’
of what happened in these parliaments.
The essence of it all is on
your handout. In 1621, parliament was called
to grant money for some form of action to support the Protestant
Elector Palatine, King James’ son-in-law.
Parliament voted a modest
subsidy to support armies for the Palatinate but also
petitioned James to declare war on Spain and to abandon the
plans which he had formed to marry Prince Charles to a
Spanish princess and to assure a Protestant marriage instead.
King James was furious.
His plan for a marriage with
Spain was part of a larger scheme to try to end the
polarization within Europe. It was part of his scheme for
securing good relations with Spain which might help forward a
negotiated settlement and the withdrawal of Spanish troops,
and he forbade the commons to meddle in this grand design.
The commons responded by
declaring that the King was interfering with–
I’m quoting–“the ancient liberty of parliament for
freedom of speech… the same being our ancient and
undoubted right and an inheritance received from our
ancestors.” James replied that their
liberty of free speech was derived from “the grace and
permission of our ancestors and us” and should not be
abused by the parliament in matters of state.
There was uproar.
The House of Commons composed a
protest, the so-called Protestation,
saying that their privileges were ‘the ancient and undoubted
birthright and inheritance of the subjects of England.”
James responded by dissolving
Parliament and he personally ripped the Protestation from the
journal of the House of Commons. Well, James did not go to war
with Spain as parliament desired and he persisted with his plans
for a Spanish marriage. In 1623, Prince Charles
accompanied by Buckingham went to Spain in order to woo the
Spanish princess, the Infanta.
This occasioned massive anxiety
in England followed by widespread public rejoicing when
the marriage negotiations eventually fell through.
Humiliated by their failure,
Charles and Buckingham now began to exert their influence
to back the idea of war with Spain.
In 1624, parliament was called
again. It voted money to the crown but
withheld the finance bill until war was reluctantly declared by
King James. And England entered the war in
alliance with France, an alliance which involved the
marriage of Prince Charles to the French princess,
Henrietta Maria, sister of the King of France,
a Catholic who arrived in England with a Catholic
entourage including priests and confessors.
In 1625, Charles came to the
throne. He was now aged twenty-five.
Parliament met at the beginning
of the reign as was customary and voted money for the
continuation of the war, but it failed to grant the King
the usual grant of customs revenue for life.
This was because parliament was
unhappy about recent customs impositions which didn’t have
parliamentary sanction. In September of that year,
September of 1625, the Duke of Buckingham led an
English naval expedition to attack the Spanish port of
Cadiz, attempting to emulate the great
feat of Francis Drake when he had attacked Cadiz in the 1580s,
but Buckingham was not Francis Drake.
His expedition was an utter
failure, demonstrating gross military incompetence on the
part of the Duke. Following that humiliation,
in 1626 parliament met again to provide money for the war.
It proved willing to vote
supply to the crown but it demanded that its grievances
should be rectified before the finance bill was finally passed.
And the grievances were above
all a torrent of hostility towards Buckingham and other new
councilors influencing the King, notably the Arminian bishops
who were being brought in to the privy council.
The Commons proceeded to try to
draw up articles of impeachment against Buckingham for his
incompetence. Charles attempted to halt them
by illegally imprisoning several members of the House of Commons,
and when that failed he again dissolved parliament in order to
save the Duke from impeachment proceedings.
No money was granted.
In need of money to finance the
war, Charles and Buckingham now decided to levy a massive forced
loan. They simply levied what was
officially a loan, in fact an illegal tax,
on the taxpaying section of the political nation,
claiming the King’s right to do this by prerogative power in
conditions of national emergency.
Over seventy members of the
gentry refused to pay and were imprisoned by the King’s special
commandment; again a use of prerogative
power, imprisoned without trial. To make matters worse,
Buckingham now secured a declaration of war not only
against Spain but against France also and squandered the forced
loan money by leading another disastrous naval expedition,
this time to aid French Protestants who were rebelling
against Louis XIII of France in the city of La Rochelle on the
coast of southwest France; another military disaster.
This deteriorating situation
finally came to a head in 1628 to ‘9.
Parliament was called again,
again to raise money, and it met in an ominous mood.
Sir Benjamin Rudyard,
one of the members, declared, “this is the
crisis of parliaments: we shall know by this whether
parliaments shall live or die.”
The House of Commons started by
promising to vote the King a large sum of money but again
insisted that their grievance issue be heard before the
finance bill was finalized. Again there was a torrent of
complaint concerning grievances arising from the forced loan and
the conduct of the war under Buckingham,
and finally all of this was encapsulated in the so-called
Petition of Right, the Petition of Right,
which was presented to the King requesting that he confirm the
liberties of the subject threatened by the recent conduct
of his government. Specifically,
there should be no taxation without parliamentary consent;
there should be no arbitrary arrest of subjects;
there should be no billeting of troops upon subjects without
their consent; there should be no government
of the localities by martial law,
which is something which had occurred in the areas of the
kingdom where troops were billeted prior to Buckingham’s
expedition. In order to get the necessary
money, Charles reluctantly agreed to
the Petition of Right, though insisting that in doing
so he was not surrendering any of his prerogative powers.
That was in June 1628.
Parliament then adjourned and
went into recess, and before it met again the
Duke of Buckingham was assassinated in August 1628 by
one of his former officers, an event which was greeted by
almost universal public rejoicing throughout England.
One of the few exceptions to
that rejoicing being King Charles himself,
who was profoundly grieved by the loss of his friend and
deeply bitter about the way Buckingham’s murder had been
greeted with virtual dancing in the streets throughout the
kingdom. In January 1629,
parliament reconvened and attempted to press its
advantage. There was a vigorous attack
upon the recently promoted Arminian bishops in the church
who were accused of introducing popish innovations,
as we heard last time. There was the use of the
Petition of Right to attack the illegality of Charles’
collection of customs, which he had continued to
collect despite the fact that parliament had not confirmed its
grant of customs revenue. Charles decided to halt
parliament’s sitting in this situation,
but when the Speaker of the House of Commons was told to
announce the dissolution of parliament to the Commons he was
held down in his chair by several of the members.
They refused to allow him to
announce the dissolution. The door of the House of
Commons was shut against the King’s messenger and barred
until the Commons, led by Sir John Eliot,
put forward three resolutions to the House.
First of all the resolution
that anyone furthering “popery or
Arminianism” was to be considered “a
capital enemy to this kingdom”;
secondly that whoever advised the King to collect customs
revenue without parliamentary consent would also be considered
a capital enemy to the kingdom; thirdly that anyone paying
these duties was “an enemy to the liberties of
England.” These three resolutions were
passed by acclamation in the House of Commons and Charles
responded by dissolving parliament.
It didn’t meet again for eleven
years. Now, it’s been suggested in
recent years that we shouldn’t really make too much of all of
this: that the conflict that scarred political life in the
1620s was sporadic rather than continuous;
that it was a product of particular circumstances,
in the conduct of the wars in particular, rather than a
reflection of growing ideological division;
that consensual values still held their power,
that the leaders of parliament did not constitute an organized
and coherent opposition to the crown.
These arguments need to be
taken seriously, but for myself I can say I
don’t really find them convincing.
Certainly, the conflicts did
arise from the contingent circumstances surrounding
particular meetings of parliament,
and certainly the members of the political nation would have
preferred a consensual relationship with the royal
government– they repeatedly showed their
willingness to grant the taxes necessary for the war on certain
conditions; they would have liked to
establish a new consensus. But the 1620s had also
witnessed the enmeshing of a variety of sources of discontent
with Charles’ government. The political nation was
becoming seriously divided over a number of fundamental issues
which recur repeatedly and an ideological fissure was emerging
over certain key questions, such as: the extent to which
the King’s prerogative powers were or were not limited by law;
the scope of parliament’s legitimate role in advising the
crown and representing the views of the political nation;
the question of whether the principle of taxation by consent
would be maintained or not; the question of whether the
ecclesiastical policy being pursued by the crown,
with the appointment of Arminian bishops,
was or was not undermining English Protestantism.
Now all of those issues,
which do recur, add up to a pretty heady
mixture. It’s a formidable cocktail of
anxieties. And, as you know,
these anxieties were widely shared well outside the confines
of the houses of parliament, widely shared by a broad and
growing political public which was informed by novel means of
political news reporting which emphasized not consensus but
danger and conflict. The emergence of a broad public
opinion which expected parliament to act to remedy its
concerns was surely something which was part and parcel of the
deterioration of relationships between the crown and the
political nation at large– and the fact that not all of
those who learned of what was happening at the center were
necessarily sympathetic to parliament deepened the emerging
political division in the country.
No one who took a serious
interest in political affairs at this time could really fail to
be aware that there was something of a functional
breakdown in the consensual political system by the later
1620s, and of course they had to
explain to themselves what was going on.
Two influential interpretations
of that, by Peter Lake and Jonathan
Scott, have argued that people explained the situation to
themselves with reference to what have been described as two
“similar but mutually exclusive conspiracy
theories.” To those who sympathized with
parliament and particular to the leaders of the House of Commons
like Sir John Eliot or John Pym, the erosion of consensus was
attributable to what they described as a popish plot
amongst evil councilors of the crown who were hostile to
English Protestantism and to the liberties of the subject and who
were favorable to absolutism or arbitrary power in both church
and state. They associated together popery
and arbitrary power, which was to prove a dominant
theme in seventeenth-century English oppositional politics
that association of affairs in church and state,
popery and arbitrary power, was already being made.
That was one conspiracy theory.
On the other hand,
amongst people who recoiled from what they had begun to see
as parliament’s excesses, especially the scenes in 1629,
the fault lay not with crypto-papists around the king
but with what they described as “popular spirits”:
popular spirits, populists, radicals who failed
to respect the proper legitimate rights of the crown and who were
making constitutional encroachments upon them and
whose attempts to achieve greater ‘popularity’ in
government were linked to a preference for ‘popularity’ in
religion also. Which is to say they saw them
as crypto-Presbyterians, Puritans, popular spirits.
That was the view of those who
swung increasingly to the King’s side in these quarrels.
But with the dissolution of
parliament in 1629 the forum for the public expression of the
first of these sets of anxieties had been removed.
Parliament was no longer there,
and the conduct of government lay with people like Archbishop
Laud or Thomas Wentworth, the Earl of Strafford,
who shared the second view. Wentworth in particular was a
man who had been vehemently opposed as a member of
parliament to the Duke of Buckingham,
but who recoiled in 1629 from what he took to be the excesses
of parliament threatening the breakdown of order.
Laud and Wentworth proved
strong allies of the King who himself of course took the view
that popular spirits were at work and was determined not to
call another parliament in which they could express their voice
if he could possibly avoid it. So, with the dissolution of
1629, to Charles and his advisers the 1630s represented
something of a fresh start. Peace was made first of all
with France in 1629 and then with Spain in 1630.
In Europe the situation was
becoming less threatening. In 1629, the Protestant King of
Sweden intervened in Germany, and then in 1635 France under
Cardinal Richelieu intervened, and together that greatly
lessened the threat of Hapsburg domination and a triumphant
counter-reformation. At home Charles was determined
to close down the consultative and participatory dimensions of
the political process. He believed that it had led
only to obstruction, disruption, and conflict and he
would have no more of it if possible.
But he was also determined to
rule well according to his own lights.
In 1631, following a harvest
crisis he issued a Book of Orders which tightened up the
administration of local government with particular
attention to the efficient enforcement of the poor laws and
a great deal was achieved in that respect.
Steps were also taken by the
royal government to remedy some of the deficiencies which had
emerged in the course of Buckingham’s unsuccessful
military campaigns in the 1620s. Steps were taken to reform the
militia, to institute the training to a
higher level of military preparedness of part of the
militia, and steps were also instituted
to rebuild and strengthen the navy.
All of these things were very
much to the King’s credit, and yet in other respects he
can be said to have confirmed some of the worst fears of his
opponents in 1629. As you know,
Arminianism continued to be ruthlessly promoted in the
church under Archbishop Laud, who became Archbishop of
Canterbury of course in 1633. In the absence of parliamentary
grants of taxation, the King also resorted to a
variety of financial expedients which were of questionable
legality. There were many of these.
One for example was so-called
“distraint of knighthood.”
By this the King revived an
ancient feudal law under which landholders of a certain level
of wealth were fined if they didn’t present themselves before
the king to be made knights. He was digging up a medieval
precedent in order to squeeze money out of certain members of
the landed gentry. It was deeply resented.
New customs impositions were
introduced, of course without parliamentary sanction.
Efforts were made to search for
and revive any royal rights over land which could be sources of
income by obliging landholders to meet ‘compositions’ with the
King in order to have royal rights relaxed,
again digging in to the medieval past for precedents
which could be exploited fiscally.
Above all, the King levied from
1634 the tax Ship Money. Just to explain,
Ship Money was a tax which could be levied on coastal
counties and on ports in lieu of their provision of ships for the
royal navy in time of need. It was well established.
It had been used by Elizabeth
in the war against Spain without any complaint.
Charles, however,
took things further. He charged Ship Money on the
ports initially, extended it to coastal counties
in time of peace, and then in 1635 extended it to
the entire country. Thereafter Ship Money was
levied every year. It had become an annual
un-parliamentary tax. The legality of Ship Money was
challenged in 1637 by a number of gentlemen who refused to pay,
led by John Hampden–after whom our suburb is named–
and Ship Money was only narrowly validated in the court
judgment which resulted in the Ship Money case where the judges
found for the King, but only by a majority of seven
to five. Only narrowly did they
recognize the legality of this tax.
Five of the principal justices
thought it was illegal. Well, to revisionist
historians, the 1630s can be seen as a period of relatively
successful royal government. Mark Kishlansky has remarked
that “there was no groundswell of opposition”
to Charles’ government in the 1630s,
and indeed there was little public protest for the simple
reason that there was no longer a forum for that protest to be
expressed since parliament was not meeting.
But if the 1630s were a period
of apparent stability I’d suggest that it was the
stability of resignation, or the stability of anxious
waiting on events, rather than active consent to
these measures by the royal government.
Down in the counties local
rulers usually obeyed royal commands when they received
them. It was their duty to do so,
but they could also entertain their private thoughts.
They could discuss them
cautiously and anxiously with their neighbors.
They could record them
privately in their diaries. They could watch what happened
in things like the Ship Money case.
In 1633, Sir Robert Harley
entered in his diary his prayers for a new parliament as well as
his prayers for Protestant success in Europe and for the
religious exiles in New England. In the county of Suffolk,
John Rous is revealed by his diary to have been deeply
worried, deeply reluctant to think badly
of the King, sometimes defending the King’s
actions against more critical neighbors.
But by the end of the 1630s he
too had become convinced that there existed around the King
what he described as a “malignant party”
who “hate reformation and would bring in tyranny.”
Amongst many of the political
nation, then, Charles’ rule was
breeding a profound anxiety, a profound alienation,
and deep suspicion regarding what his ultimate intentions
might be. The extent of that alienation
would only be fully revealed when parliament met again in
1640 when the King was at last obliged to call another
parliament, but that he did so at all was
the consequence of his own folly.
The folly of Charles and
Archbishop Laud in 1637 when they decided to impose upon the
Presbyterian church of Scotland both an extension of Episcopal
government and an English style prayer book.
It was an act of utter folly,
the product of their dogmatism, their arrogance,
their insistence upon uniformity, and the blow-back
was catastrophic. When the Archbishop of St.
Andrew’s attempted to read from
the new prayer book in St. Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh,
an Edinburgh housewife threw her stool at him.
To the Scots,
such innovations in their church,
a separate church from the Church of England,
seemed to be, as they described them,
“popish, atheistical, and English.”
Which of the three was worst I
leave to your judgment. They met together in 1638 to
form a National Covenant to resist these innovations,
and in the face of the King’s refusal to back down they
rebelled and by doing so began to cause the whole house of
cards to fall. And I’ll take the story up from
there next week.

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