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The period 1603-1629 is perhaps better divided into two distinct sections – 1603-1625 (reign of James I) and 1625-1629 (reign of Charles I) – since these two monarchs had fairly different approaches to foreign policy, which in turn determined how Parliament responded to them. James I brought a peaceable approach to foreign policy, hoping to establish a reputation for himself as a mediator within Europe. One of his first actions as monarch was to negotiate peace with Spain in the Treaty of London in 1604.
This was unpopular with Parliament for several reasons, the main one being that as Protestants many members of parliament were opposed to peace with Catholic Spain for religious reasons. However, with regards parliament, peace did have the benefit of saving a great deal of money which would have had to be raised by Parliament, and relations between parliament and James remained fairly constant over the next few years. James’ next major action with regards foreign policy was to support a Protestant successor to the Duke of Cleves-Julich in 1609, even to the extent of committing several thousand troops to the cause.
This action undoubtedly gained Parliament’s support, as did the marriage in 1613 of James’ daughter Elizabeth to the Protestant Frederick V of the Palatinate. Throughout these early years of James’ reign, his foreign policy did not seem to have a detrimental effect on his relations with Parliament – indeed, his later actions in this period even served to improve his relations with Parliament. And although there were some disagreements between James and Parliament during this time, they were due to finance issues and not foreign policy.
After this time, however, relations between monarch and Parliament began to sour, and one of the key factors in this breakdown of relations was the foreign policy pursued by James from 1614 onwards. From this time, James attempted to negotiate marriage – first for his eldest son and then, after his death, for his heir and second son Charles – with the Catholic Spanish infanta. This was deeply unpopular with most MPs, as they feared the influence a Catholic Queen of England would have on the continuing reformation of the Protestant church, and desired a foreign policy more hostile to Spain than any previous policy of James’.
The situation worsened as James first had the very popular Sir Walter Raleigh executed after he clashed with Spain on a trip to South America, and then as he distanced himself from the conflict between Catholics and Protestants over the Palatinate. At this point in time it appeared that relations between monarch and Parliament were very bad indeed, since James had been governing without Parliament since 1614, although this was more over disagreements about finance than anything to do with religious policy.
However, when James finally did call Parliament after a seven-year gap, foreign policy became the main issue. James called Parliament in order to raise money to go to war to recover the Palatinate, an action which was widely supported. As time progressed, though, without any sign of James actually preparing for war – since he was still pursuing negotiations – Parliament began to demand a naval war and an end to the marriage negotiations with Spain.
This angered James enough to lead him to reply that “none [in the House of Commons] shall presume to meddle with anything concerning our government or deep matters of State”, referring, in the main, to Parliament’s rights (or not) to discuss foreign policy. This led to the Commons producing a ‘Protestation’, which claimed the right of Parliament to free speech, regardless of royal prerogative. James then dissolved Parliament and arrested several prominent MPs. Certainly, this rift had arisen mainly due to James’ foreign policy (although there still were other contributing factors, namely finance but also other domestic policies).
However, it was not permanent as James called a final Parliament in 1624, in which he seemed to accept that he would have to go to war with Spain, especially since both his son Charles and his favourite, Buckingham, were now joining Parliament in asking for war, due to the breakdown of marriage negotiations. Parliament voted subsidies – although they were insufficient for James to wage a land war – and left satisfied with the situation, although no war was waged in the remainder of James’ lifetime (he died ten months after dissolving Parliament).
So, when James died in 1625, it seemed that towards the end of his reign his foreign policies had been responsible for souring relations with Parliament, although it is worth noting that the resolutions of the final Parliament (if not fulfilled) had gone some way to repairing the relationship between monarch and Parliament. It also seemed as though, with the ascension of Charles I, who had openly supported war during the last years of his father’s reign, relations with Parliament would be improved.
However, although Charles came to the throne full of plans for a war with Spain, Parliament only voted i?? 250,000 for a sea war and were unsure about the other plans made by Charles and Buckingham costing around i?? 2 million. These plans – Mansfeld, the Cadiz expedition and the Isle de Rhe expedition – became a series of failures, mainly due to poor training, and led to the unpopularity of both Charles and Buckingham. By 1626, relations with Parliament were very bad, and the main (although not only, since e. g. tonnage and poundage caused disputes), cause of this was foreign policy.
The reluctance of Parliament to vote sufficient subsidies for war, the attacks in the House of Commons of Buckingham and the disillusion with the war caused by the failed expeditions, led to Charles dissolving Parliament in 1625. When Parliament met again the following year, Charles had married the French, Catholic, Princess, Henrietta Maria. Because of Charles’ need for parliamentary subsidies, he tried to reduce the MPs’ suspicions about pro-Catholic policies and therefore failed to carry out part of the marriage treaty.
This eventually led to war with France at the same time as England was at war with Spain, a disastrous policy which caused real damage to the monarch’s relationship with Parliament. Charles’ relations with Parliament only continued to deteriorate after this time, eventually leading to Charles pursuing ‘Personal Rule’ from 1629, and the reasons for this deterioration stemmed from Charles’ foreign policy, mainly because of the money needed to fund the wars, for which Charles resorted to more and more desperate measures – for example the forced loan, which led to greater discussion of the monarch’s financial and religious policy.
There is no doubt that foreign policy played a major part in the souring of relations between monarch and Parliament in the period 1603-1629. However, its influence can be seen to have increased later on in this period – after Charles came to power. With James I, foreign policy did play a part in affecting his relationship with Parliament – especially towards the end of his reign. However, it was his foreign policy combined with other issues – particularly finance – which led to a breakdown in relations in 1621.
Perhaps if foreign policy had been the only issue things would not have reached such a crisis point. And, even after the breakdown occurred, the fact that James called another Parliament in 1624 showed that it was by no means permanent. In contrast, all of Charles’ problems and disagreements with Parliament appear to have stemmed from issues surrounding his foreign policy – and the breakdown in 1629 was far more threatening to the continued existence of Parliament than any with James as monarch.