Charles I came to the throne in 1625 after the death of his father, James I. His reign maintained some similarities with his father’s reign. For instance, both Charles and James had very little money and both of them believed firmly in the Divine Origin of Kingship1. During his reign, many events took place which led to the English Civil War in 1642 and which ended up with the public execution of Charles I. This essay will discuss and deal with the different factors that gave rise to the English Civil War. As was said above, one of the main problems of Charles’ reign was the lack of money and, undoubtedly, this was a good reason for a civil war. Everything started when the Parliament asked Charles to go to war with the Catholics in Spain.
Charles did not have the needed money to face this war and so he asked for taxes, the taxes were not enough and the war was impossible. This outraged the MPs but they knew that Charles would then call them back for help. Parliament did not like Charles because they thought he spent money only on his favourites so the King himself would have to find a way to make money. Charles tried several things such as enforcing taxes known as “ship money”2, selling monopolies and titles; he also created a “Court of Star Chamber” which was composed by
1 The divine origin of kingship: According to this doctrine, since only God can judge an unjust king, the king can do no wrong. (Definition provided by http://www.princeton.edu/~achaney/tmve/wiki100k/docs/Divine_Right_of_Kings.html) 2 Nonparliamentary tax first levied in medieval times by the English crown on coastal cities and counties for naval defense in time of war. (Definition provided by http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/540944/ship-money) officials of the crown and which main purpose was to fine people heavily so as to raise money.
As there was not a jury, this “court” would obviously fulfill his expectations. Parliament was really angry for the illegal situation, so Charles decided to dissolve it. The reign continued for eleven years without a Parliament. He called a Parliament again just because he needed money. The Covenanters expressed their desire to invade England and Charles did not have the sufficient money to fight them.
The Parliament refused to give him money from the taxes and Charles dissolved it again. Eventually, as he was forced to pay a determined sum of money to the Scots, he called a Parliament again. He was destroyed economically. Undoubtedly, Charles’ poor economic manage and his bad decisions were closely related to the outbreak of the civil war. Another crucial cause was religion. These quarrels began when Charles married to Henrietta Maria who was a French Catholic. Having a Catholic as a Queen was not accepted at all by English people, especially by the Puritans.
Things went worse when the King made William Laud the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1633. The Archbishop modified many things in the Church. For instance, beatifying the Church and bringing back robes for priests, statues and stained-glass windows. Laud also attempted to impose the English Prayer Book3 in Scotland. As Scotland was a Puritan (Presbytarian) country, they rioted against this “Too Catholic” Prayer Book and a group of Scots, the Covenanter’s, decided to invade England as it was mentioned in the previous paragraph. After putting Laud on trial, the Parliament found him guilty.
3 A book which stated how services should be run (Definition provided by http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/place-london/A622937) Another major cause which led to the civil war was Charles’ personality. It may seem not a fundamental cause comparing it with the above mentioned ones. Nonetheless, his way of thinking, his bad decisions, his conflicts with the MPs, his wife’s influence and his contradictory and inconsistent reign also contributed to the outbreak of the civil war.
During Charles’ reign, a distinction between a Short Parliament and a Long Parliament can be made. The Short Parliament was called in 1640 by the King because the Scots rebelled and due to his bad financial situation, he needed to levy a tax to deal with them (only with the Parliament’s consent could he do it). This parliament was summoned after eleven years of dissolution. Even though such dissolution was not constitutional, it was one of the King’s prerogatives. The MPs met the gentry and expressed their feeling of indignation to them.
Harbottle Grimston and John Pym led a catalogue of complaints. On May 5th in the same year, Charles dissolved the Parliament again blaming “the malicious cunning of some few seditious affected men”. Finally, Charles came to an agreement with the Scots of paying them £850 a day. On the other hand, the Long Parliament was summoned from November 3rd 1640 for thirteen years. Charles needed funds for the daily payment and for a final settlement with the Scots. In this Parliament, 493MPs were elected; most of them were from the County Faction4. Parliament sent both Strafford and Laud to the Tower accusing them of bad influence on the King.
Charles tried to calm things down signing Strafford’s death warrant, passing a bill that allowed for Parliament not to be dissolved without its own consent, a bill making ‘ship money’ illegal and other bills that taken together demolished the framework of prerogative government. 4 MPs who tried to represent the views of the landowners. (Definition provided by http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/place-london/A622937) The Irish rebelled in 1641 because of their King’s death. Definitely, the execution of Strafford had not been a good choice. John Pym issued the Militia Bill and the Grand Remonstrance5 .
Subsequently, Charles decided to arrest him and his ringleaders, he tried to arrest five MPs but as they had been previously warned, Charles could not find them. As this was considered a breach of Parliamentary privileges by MPs, it just made things worse between them. And it was on 22nd August when the civil war started. To conclude, it cannot be stated that the most important cause of the English Civil War was unfair taxation because, as was described, there were many factors which created a tense relationship between Parliament and the King. Unfair taxation was a really important cause. However, it was not the only possible factor. Religious, financial and management issues played an important role as well.
People who surrounded the King also took an essential part in this big conflict. It also has to be recognized that when Charles came to the throne, things were not in good conditions. Neither his father nor Charles could manage their reigns properly. A civil war could not have been avoided unless Charles would have changed his mind and way of thinking but as he was born with a belief in the Divine Origin of Kingship and did not have much knowledge about kingships, it would have been very difficult to achieve. 5 It listed all the things Charles had done wrong in his reign, suggested less power for bishops, and said that Parliament should have power over the Church and the appointment of Royal ministers. (Definition provided by http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/place-london/A622937)
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