Why did monarchy and Parliament become estranged in the 1620s? Did it matter?

The English monarchy and Parliament became estranged in the 1620s because of differing beliefs on the role of monarchy and Parliament, religious disputes, financing the nation’s war with Spain, and most of all because of a lack of trust between Charles I and Parliament that ultimately led to autocratic rule the following decade and Charles’ deposition two decades later. James I did not leave Charles a harmonious or even solvent government. To make matters worse, when his father died, Charles inherited a nation at war. The favoritism the king showed the Duke of Buckingham and the Duke’s military failures brought war strategy and financing to the fore of parliamentary debates. Charles’ lack of political skills only exasperated these and other problems with Parliament, such as doctrinal debates, Catholic influence, royal taxation, and martial law. The continued friction between Crown and Parliament eroded trust between the two institutions that led to a deteriorating political situation in England that ultimately led to a lapse of parliamentary rule and Charles’ execution.
            Despite James’ relatively peaceful rule, his high-handed doctrine in the divine right of kings had not always made for a smooth relationship with Parliament. Members of Parliament were especially annoyed at his insistence that his son Charles marry the Spanish Infanta in order to uphold the English sense of prestige that no Protestant princess could supply. This tension turned so heated that James dissolved Parliament in late 1620.[1] When Charles and James’ favorite, Buckingham failed to secure this marriage alliance, both advocated war with Spain who had overrun Charles’ sister Elizabeth and brother-in-law’s Bohemia at the start of the Thirty Years War.
            Before taking the throne, Charles had sat in the Parliament session of 1620 and seemed to quell opposition to Buckingham who had already gained the jealousy of many MPs.[2] However, when he became king in 1625, the Duke’s popularity had only steadily declined. As Lord High Admiral, his war policies had been a complete disaster. The naval expedition to take Cadiz had failed, ships loaned to the French had been used against the Protestant Huguenots, and the heavy subsidies to the Protestant allies on the continent had failed to produce favorable results. The favoritism that Charles continued toward Buckingham and the offices that the Duke was entrusted with also did not sit well with MP’s.[3], [4] Charles did not oppose Parliament’s existence and even admonished his son not to “entertain any aversion or dislike of parliaments, which in their right constitution will … never injure or diminish your greatness.” [5] But, he lacked vital interpersonal skills and often came across as more insensitive than James I.[6] His strong sense of honor played a major role in his decisions and personalized many of the disputes with Parliament. This showed itself particularly when war broke out with Spain in 1627.[7]
The first step toward estrangement and one that proved itself the most divisive throughout the 1620s was war funding. Parliament, in 1624 granted funding for national defense in case Spain broke the treaty with England. Spain did break the treaty, but the anticipated war did not come. Charles asked for additional funds in 1625, but the MP’s were reluctant to grant funding to a war that had not been declared against an unknown enemy. Furthermore, MP’s expected a limited sea war against Spain, not a land war against the Holy Roman Empire to recover the Palatinate as Charles expected.[8] Furthermore, there was disagreement in 1625 over where money should be spent. Charles gave his uncle in Denmark 30,000 pounds to wage war and supported a policy of foreign aid to the European Protestants while most members of Parliament wanted the money to stay in England. They considered disrupting Spain’s wealth flow from the New World a better strategy and as Sir Thomas Fairfax claimed, the kingdom should “seek the Palatinate in America.”[9] The diverting of funds away from the West Indies was later brought up at number three in 1640 in the Grand Remonstrance’s 204 complaints against the Caroline regime.[10]
Conrad Russell argues that Charles and Buckingham misjudged the will of the nation. They did not really want war with Spain and when the time came to pay for it they were not in the mood. He blames the gridlock between Parliament and Crown of the late 1620s on the failure of Charles and Buckingham to recognize that the House of Commons was most interested in local matters and a redress of grievances rather than foreign policy.[11] Thomas Cogswell argues that the lack of debate in the House of Commons showed instead a desire to avoid controversy rather than war and points to the fact that they gave James 300,000 pounds with the expectation that it would be used to wage war.[12] This fits with Richard Cust’s theory that disconnect between monarch and Parliament was due to the scale of war that Parliament was willing to wage compared with Charles’s desire to avenge his sister and brother-in-law.[13]  
The early military failures under Buckingham did much to dissuade Parliament from giving them any more money unless the Duke was replaced. When the Parliament in 1625 offered two subsidies to Charles without demanding he address their grievances, he accepted them, but suddenly realized they were not enough. He then asked for a third subsidy, which they refused. Sir Francis Seymour remarked that after five subsidies in the previous four years, “nothing hath been done” other than setting upon and consuming their own people.[14] During the session of 1626, Mr. Newberry maintained “when we engaged the king in this war it was not the intention of this house that we should send away our treasure and ships unto … I know not who beyond the sea, but for a war as should be for our good and the weakening of our enemies.” Sir John Savile argued that “no man will be willing to give his money into a bottomless gulf.”[15]
Many Parliamentarians were of the view that disputes should either be worked out in Parliament or MPs should live their lives quietly in the country in which case the king would not be able to wage war without the funds that only a Parliament could provide.[16] Moderates close to Charles argued that a united government was needed to show strength against the Hapsburgs and that once the king won the hearts and minds of his subjects, he would have no problem winning over their purse as well.[17] Meanwhile, hardliners like the Earl of Dorset and Bishop William Laud advised the king to raise revenue without Parliament and the king began looking at how other European countries’ monarchs either disposed of or ignored their parliaments.[18] This led to the unpopular forced loan of 1626-28 and ignited the debate in the Parliament of 1628 over whether the king could only levy taxes with the former’s consent verses the view of Charles and his Privy Council on the divine right of kings.[19] Laud and other divines argued that royal power was something which originated almost exclusively from God and that the king therefore had the right to tax his subjects without their consent.[20]
Religion played another major role in driving a wedge between king and Parliament in the 1620s. Charles, unlike his two predecessors favored the doctrine of Arminianism which in opposition to Calvinism taught that an individual had free will and emphasized works in keeping one’s salvation. Many Calvinists saw this doctrine as dangerously close to Roman Catholicism. As on most issues, Charles showed incredible inflexibility on this and his elevation of Arminians drew the ire of many a Calvinist MP who had grown accustomed to a complete doctrinal monopoly within the English Church.[21]  Furthermore, after having narrowly dodged a Spanish queen, MP’s were disappointed with Charles’ marriage to Catholic Henrietta Maria of France. With her arrival, he also promised religious liberty to Catholics and followed through by ceasing all persecution.[22]
Charles began a trend, concerning even to members of his own council throughout the 1620s of not meeting regularly with his Parliament during the war with Spain and instead relying mainly on his advisors. This followed the pattern of many European monarchs in whose countries Parliaments had practically ceased to exist.[23] In 1626, he had suspected a small number of rabble rousers as the culprits of the defiant parliament that he dissolved. After two years of continued attacks on Buckingham and tax resistance, the king came to suspect a more sinister side of parliament that gave him reluctance to convene Parliament.[24] The Privy Council, over winter 1627-28 waged this debate between hardliners led by Buckingham moderates on whether or not this was even necessary. Charles reluctantly agreed with the moderates because he believed only Parliament could raise the large sums necessary for conducting a war.[25] He nevertheless left a veiled threat with the new Parliament that if they failed to do their duty, he would continue to find other means of raising revenue.
In the Parliament of 1628, Secretary Edward Coke complained that the king’s forced loan, compulsory billeting, and use of martial law were “confessed to be unlegal.” Charles further demanded that Parliament confirm their grant of subsidies and grant him the ability to imprison based on his word that he would never violate the Magna Carta.[26] Parliament demanded it in writing nonetheless. He agreed to their Petition of Right in exchange of five subsidies.[27] This document, while only a political solution at the time, laid the foundation for what would become known as due process of law.[28]
The fundamental reason behind the lack of cooperation between Charles and Parliament in the 1620s was a lack of trust by either party. Parliament already had reason to distrust the monarch as James I had bragged of breaking “the Neck of three Parliaments, one right after another.”[29] The king did believe kings should meet with parliaments regularly and do their best to work with them, but his belief on the relationship of that cooperation is best laid out in his speech before the House of Commons in 1626 in which he declared, “Remember that parliaments are altogether in my power for the calling, sitting and continuance of them. Therefore as I find the fruits either good or evil, they are to continue or not to be.” This was no idle threat the eighteen months following his dissolution of Parliament that year are known as ‘the Personal rule.’[30] This arrogance was not limited to Charles. Sir Dudley Digges bragged of Parliament’s “glorious and fundamental right whereby we have the power to give.”[31]
The relationship between monarch and Parliament had not been ideal under James I, but it had not disintegrated because James had a more cooperative personality than Charles I. Furthermore, the funding and execution of the war against Spain that began under James did not fully materialize until Charles’ reign. Early battle failures and disputes over fund allocation heightened tensions that were already brewing over Charles’ Arminianism and his marrying a Catholic. Charles’ authoritarianism and perceived lack of trustworthiness also contributed to Parliament’s reluctance to grant the funds that he demanded. The day that the Petition of Right was set to be distributed to the people, Charles ordered the printer to destroy it and issue in its place his original answer to Parliament’s demands that they had found unsatisfactory. According to Michael Young, promises by Charles were nothing more than “temporary concessions made to gain an advantage, easily made and easily forgotten.”[32] The consequences of this breakdown of trust led to a decade of personal rule and when Parliament finally was convened again, civil war.




Bibliography

Coast, David. “Rumor and Common Fame: The Impeachment of the Duke of Buckingham and    Public Opinion in Early Stuart England,” Journal of British Studies 55.2 (April 2016): 1- 27.

Cogswell, Thomas. “A Low Road to Extinction? Supply and Redress of Grievances in the            Parliaments of the 1620s.” The Historical Journal 33.2 (June 1990): 283-303.


Cogswell, Thomas. “The Warre of the Commons for the honour of King Charles’: the       parliament-men and the reformation of the lord admiral in 1626.” Institute of Historical             Research. 2011.

Cust, Richard. Charles I: A Political Life. Harlow England: Longman Pearson, 2005.

Cust, Richard. “Charles I, the Privy Council and the Parliament of 1628,” Transactions of the      Royal             Historical Society 2 (1992): 25-50.

“Magna Carta: The Most Enduring Symbol of the Rule of Law.” Utah Bar Journal 28.1 (2015): 54-57.

Young, Michael B. “Charles I and the Erosion of Trust, 1625-1628.” Albion: A Quarterly             Journal Concerned with British Studies 2.2 (1990): 217-235.







[1] Richard Cust, Charles I: A Political Life. (Harlow England: Longman Pearson, 2005), Kindle ed., loc 326.
[2] Charles I, Kindle ed., loc 310.
[3] Young, “Charles I and the Erosion of Trust,” 224.
[4] David Coast, “Rumor and Common Fame: The Impeachment of the Duke of Buckingham and Public Opinion in Early Stuart England,” Journal of British Studies, 55.2 (April 2016), 1.
[5] Charles I, Kindle ed., loc 534.
[6] Charles I, Kindle ed, loc 647.
[7] Kindle ed., loc 1743.
[8] Young, “Charles I and the Erosion of Trust,” 219-220.
[9] Thomas Cogswell, “The Warre of the Commons for the honour of King Charles’: the parliament-men and the reformation of the lord admiral in 1626,” Institute of Historical Research. 2011.
[10] Cogswell, 633.
[11] Charles I, Kindle ed., loc 1394.
[12] Charles I, Kindle ed., loc 1073.
[13] Charles I, Kindle ed., loc 1091.

[14] Thomas Cogswell, “A Low Road to Extinction? Supply and Redress of Grievances in the Parliaments of the 1620s,” The Historical Journal 33.2 (June 1990), 293.

[15] Coast, “Rumor and Common Fame,” 295.
[16] Cogswell, “A Low Road to Extinction?” 301.
[17] Cust, Charles I and the Parliament of 1628, 28.
[18] Charles I, Kindle ed., loc 1542.
[19] Kindle ed., loc 1507.
[20] Cust, Charles I and the Parliament of 1628, 28.
[21] Kindle ed., loc 2157.
[22] Young, “Charles I and the Erosion of Trust,” 224.
[23] Cust, “Charles I and the Parliament of 1628,” 26.
[24] Cust, Charles I and the Parliament of 1628, 49.
[25] Cust, Charles I and the Parliament of 1628, 27.
[26] Kindle ed., loc 1617.

[27]Richard Cust, Charles I, the Privy Council and the Parliament of 1628, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 2 (1992), 30. 

[28] “Magna Carta: The Most Enduring Symbol of the Rule of Law,” Utah Bar Journal, 28.1 (2015), 55.
[29] Young, “Charles I and the Erosion of Trust,” 219.
[30] Charles I, Kindle ed., loc 1311.
[31] Cogswell, “A Low Road to Extinction?” 300.
[32] Young, “Charles I and the Erosion of Trust,” 232.

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