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How Successful was the Period of Personal Rule Between 1629-1637? Essay

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In 1629, Charles I dissolved parliament and embarked on an eleven year period of personal rule. The aims behind personal rule were to rule without calling parliament, to establish his financial independence, make peace in Europe and to enforce uniformity and order, particularly within the church. The first of these aims was certainly achieved. Charles used the prerogative courts (such as the Court of Star Chamber) as well as the regional courts (such as the Council of the North) to enforce the powers of the royal prerogative and punish offenders.

He also relied on his privy council to investigate aspects of the government and punish offenders. By governing without parliament, Charles faced less grievances and was able to rule single-handedly, which, due to his belief in divine right, suited him perfectly. In 1630-1631 Charles made peace with both France and Spain. Without parliaments funding, there was simply no way he could afford to continue to intervene in the Thirty Years war.

Other advantages from ending the war can be found, such as increased trade which was beneficial to England’s economy. Certainly a success of the period of personal rule between these years is the peace and tranquillity England found with foreign policy. Charles was also successful in managing to become financially independent, without the use of subsidies (previously raised by parliament).

This was done in a number of ways, some of the most successful being ship money (which raised about i??190,000 a year) and the distraint from knighthood taxes (those who had refused knighthoods or failed to present themselves at the coronation were fined heavily) which raised i?? 170,000 by the end of the 1630’s. Although some of the methods were unpopular, they were certainly effective and allowed the King to fund the years between 1629 and 1637 proficiently to the extent that there was some reduction in royal debt.

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Sharp comments that during this period government finance was put on a much firmer footing. More importantly, Charles managed to gain more control over local governments and therefore have a more uniform way of dealing with issues all over the country. He achieved this through methods such as the Books of Orders (1631) which informed governments of the action to be taken for local decisions such as how to deal with vagrants and restrictions about trading.

He also imposed that every Justice of the Peace had to provide a monthly report to the Privy Council outlining decisions that had been made and justifying them by reference to the Books of Orders. This ensured that Charles’ wishes were being carried out effectively. Not only did Charles manage to enforce order in local government, but also in the royal court. Under James the court had earned itself a bad reputation, whereas under James it was a court of formality and decorum. Charles also attempted to improve the state of the militia during personal rule.

After the foreign policy disasters in the previous years, it was obvious that significant improvements needed to be made if England where ever to be successful in another war. Therefore what became known as the “perfect militia” was introduced. This meant that pressure was put on the Lord Left Lieutenants to collect the taxes that would finance the militia and organise meetings of those involved. Perhaps the most successful achievement of personal rule was that Charles managed to impose Laudian control over and the church and achieve stronger uniformity.

Examples of this include moving the altar from the centre of the church towards the East where it was railed off from the congregation, removing the pews used by the gentry which were located at the front of the church and were more luxurious and made the church services more ceremonial. Laud also managed to raise the status of the clergy and prevented sermons being given by lecturers. This meant that what was preached in the church was more directly controlled by the King and Laud, therefore giving them more power to influence the people.

However, there are also many counter-arguments to suggest that personal rule was not effective in achieving its aims. Although peace brought a relaxation in tensions between England and Europe, it also caused resentment within the country. Many people believed that England should have been supporting the Dutch and the fears of Catholicism were only heightened by the Spanish neutrality policy. Also, when ship money was raised as a tax, it angered the public that the money to be spent on the fleet was not being used for the intended purpose.

Although Charles did manage to become financially independent of parliament, many of the methods he used to raise the money were resented. Examples include the distraint of knighthood and the revival of forest laws as these were seen to be outdated laws that were being unfairly raised. The most resented tax was ship money, largely because it became a regular tax (whereas before it was only raised in times of war) and was made payable even in the inland counties (previously just coastal counties).

Sharpe calculates that up until 1638 90% of ship money was collected, therefore showing that it was still being paid, and hence not being overly unpopular. Durston however, suggests that from as early as 1637, the Privy Council were forced to put great pressures on the local officials in order to secure the money. In theory, after 1637 Charles had enough money to continue with financial rule but his freedom of action was limited, for example he would be unable to finance a war which, a fundamental weakness.

Arguably, the controls put in place to impose control over government and improve the militia also failed. The militia did not really improve due to resentment from the local counties as they were already under strain to pay increased taxes (such as ship money which affected a much larger group that parliamentary subsidies would have done previously). Also, Durston suggests that the books of orders were also unsuccessful as they were not really enforced and were resented by the local sheriffs who were used to running their own counties.

The religious reforms that Laud imposed on the church were also hugely resented in England and led to a heightened sense of worry of a lean towards absolutism. Due to the Thirty Years War and previous events (such as Laud being offered a cardinal position by the Pope), many of the puritans in England were becoming unnerved. Decisions taken such as moving the altar and the shift in focus towards ritual and ceremony seemed to suggest a tendency towards Catholic Church traditions.

This, combined with the King’s marriage to Henrietta Maria (who was a practicing catholic), Charles’s firm belief in divine right and Charles’ persisting in surrounding himself with courtiers known to be sympathetic towards Catholicism (such as Gregorio Panzani) lead some people to the conclusion that Popish plots were being created. Durston suggests examples such as parishioners from Nottingham and Somerset being willing to risk serious punishment in order not to rail off their altars to show the resentment that the religious reforms met.

Re-introducing the Book of Sports and the punishment of Burton, Basquick and Prynne were also resented. Overall, although it could be suggested that there was a build up of resentment in England during the period 1629-1637 due to issues such as ship money and the religious reformations, this period of personal rule was largely successful. Evidence for this is to be found in Charles managing to fulfil his aims of ruling without parliament, gaining financial independence and imposing uniform on religion in England.

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