Charles I of England

gigatos | June 4, 2022


Charles I of England (19 November 1600 – 30 January 1649) was monarch of the three kingdoms of England, Scotland and Ireland from 27 March 1625 until his execution in 1649.

Charles was the second-born son of James I and became heir after the death of his elder brother in 1612. After an unpopular and unsuccessful attempt to marry a princess of the Habsburgs of Spain, he married Princess Henrietta Marie of France.

After his accession to the throne, Charles came into conflict with the Parliament of England, which was trying to curtail his royal privileges. Charles believed in the “divine right of kings” and thought he could rule according to his own conscience. Many of his subjects opposed his policies, especially the imposition of taxes without parliamentary consent, and considered his actions tyrannical. His religious policies, combined with his marriage to a Roman Catholic, engendered the dislike and distrust of reformist groups such as the Puritans and Scottish Presbyterians, who considered his views too Catholic. He supported High Church ministers such as Richard Montague and William Lod, and failed to successfully aid the Protestant forces during the Thirty Years” War. His attempts to impose Anglican practices on the Church of Scotland led to the Bishops” Wars, which strengthened the position of the English and Scottish parliaments and helped prepare for his own downfall.

From 1642 Charles fought the armies of the English and Scottish parliaments in the English Civil War. After his defeat in 1645, he surrendered to a Scottish force which eventually handed him over to the English Parliament. Charles refused to accept the terms of those who captured him for the creation of a constitutional monarchy, and escaped in November 1647. While again imprisoned on the Isle of Wight, Charles formed an alliance with Scotland, but by the end of 1648 the army formed by Oliver Cromwell (New Model Army) had established its control over England. Charles was tried, convicted and executed for high treason in January 1649. The monarchy was abolished and a republic was proclaimed under the name of the Commonwealth of England, which lasted until 1660 when the monarchy was restored under Charles” son, Charles II.

Second son of James VI of Scotland and Anne of Denmark, Charles was born at Dunfermline Palace, Fife, on 19 November 1600. At a Protestant ceremony in the Royal Chapel of Holyrood Palace, Edinburgh, on 23 December 1600, he was baptized by David Lindsay, Bishop of Ross, and was given the title of Duke of Albany, which was awarded to the second-born of the King of Scotland, as well as the titles of Marquess of Ormond, Earl of Ross and Lord Ardmanoch.

James VI was the nephew of Queen Elizabeth I of England, and when she died childless in March 1603, he became King of England as James I. Charles was a weak and sickly infant, and while his parents and elder brothers left for England in April and early June of that year, he, on account of his frail health, remained in Scotland in the care of his father”s friend, Lord Fifey.

In 1604 Charles was three and a half years old, and as he could walk the length of the long corridor in Dunfermline Palace unaided, it was decided that he was strong enough to make the journey to England and join his family. In mid-July 1604, Charles left Dunfermline for England where he was to spend almost the rest of his life. In England, Charles was placed in the care of Lady Elizabeth Carey, wife of the courtier Sir Robert Carey, who dressed him in boots of Spanish leather and brass to help strengthen his weak knees. His speech development was also slow and he maintained a stammer and halting speech for the rest of his life.

In January 1605, Charles became Duke of York, as was customary for the second son of an English sovereign, and a Knight of the Bath. Thomas Murray, a Presbyterian Scotchman, was appointed his tutor. Charles acquired the standard knowledge of classical studies, languages, mathematics and religion. In 1611, he was knighted as a knight of Pericenimides.

In the end, Charles seemed to have overcome his physical weakness, which may have been caused by rickets. He became an experienced horseman and marksman, and began to practise fencing. Nevertheless, however, his public image remained overshadowed by that of his physically stronger and taller older brother, Henry Frederick, Prince of Wales, whom Charles adored and tried to emulate. But in early November 1612, Henry died at the age of 18, probably of typhoid fever (or perhaps porphyria). Charles, who turned 12 two weeks later, became heir to the throne. As the eldest living son of the sovereign, Charles automatically acquired several titles (including Duke of Cornwall and Duke of Rothsey). Four years later, in November 1616, he became Prince of Wales and Earl of Chester.

In 1613, Charles” sister Elizabeth married Frederick V, elector of the Palatinate, and went to Heidelberg… In 1618 the Bohemians revolted, defying the Catholic rulers. In August 1619, the Bohemian diet deposed the Habsburg emperor Ferdinand II, an ardent Catholic, and elected Frederick V, who was the leader of the Protestant League, as monarch. Frederick”s acceptance of the Bohemian crown was primarily a religious challenge and marked the beginning of the Thirty Years” War. The conflict, initially confined to Bohemia, eventually developed into a wider European war, which the English Parliament and the English public came to regard as a polarizing continental conflict between Catholics and Protestants. In 1620, Charles”s son-in-law, Frederick of Palatinate, was defeated at the Battle of White Mountain near Prague, and Palatinate territory was invaded by Habsburg forces from the Spanish Low Countries. James, however, was aiming for a marriage between Charles and Ferdinand”s niece, the Hapsburg princess of Spain, Infanta Maria, and began to see the Spanish Concordat as a possible diplomatic means of achieving peace in Europe.

Unfortunately for James, the negotiation with Spain proved generally unpopular, both at court and with the people. The English Parliament was actively hostile to Spain and Catholicism, and so, when convened by James in 1621, its members hoped for an implementation of anti-Catholic laws, a naval campaign against Spain, and a Protestant marriage for the Prince of Wales. James”s Lord Chancellor, the famous scholar Francis Bacon, was impeached in the House of Lords for corruption. The impeachment was the first since 1459 without the official approval of the king. This incident established an important precedent as the impeachment process would later be used against Charles and his supporters: the Duke of Buckingham, the Archbishop of London, and the Earl of Strafford. James insisted that the House of Commons deal only with domestic matters, while members protested that they had the privilege of free speech within Parliament, demanding war with Spain and a Protestant princess for Charles. Charles, like his father, considered discussing his marriage in Parliament to be impertinent and a violation of his father”s royal privilege. In January 1622, James dissolved Parliament, outraged at what he saw as the insolence and intransigence of its members.

Charles and the Duke of Buckingham, a favourite of James and a man of great influence with the prince, travelled incognito to Spain in February 1623 to try to complete the long-pending Spanish confederation. The Infanta considered Charles a near infidel, and the Spaniards first demanded that he convert to Roman Catholicism as a condition of the concordat. The Spanish insisted on tolerance of Catholics in England and the revocation of the penal laws, which Charles knew Parliament would never accept, and on Infanta remaining in Spain for a year after the marriage to ensure that England would enforce the terms of the treaty. A personal quarrel broke out between Buckingham and the Count-Duke of Olivares, the leading Spanish minister, and so Charles conducted the ultimately futile negotiations in person. When Charles returned to London in October, sans bride and amid an ecstatic and relieved public welcome, he and Buckingham pressed a reluctant King James to declare war on Spain.

With the encouragement of his Protestant advisers, James called Parliament to ask for funds for a war. Charles and Buckingham supported the impeachment of the Lord Treasurer, Lionel Cranfield, 1st Earl of Middlesex]], who opposed the war because of the exorbitant cost and who soon fell in almost the same way that Bacon had fallen. James told Buckingham that he was a fool, and warned his son beforehand that he would regret the revival of impeachment as a parliamentary tool. An underfunded makeshift army under Ernst von Mansfeld set out to retake the Palatinate, but was so badly supplied that it never advanced beyond the Dutch coast.

From 1624, when James” health began to deteriorate, Charles and Buckingham exercised de facto royal power until James” death (March 1625), when Charles became king.

With the failure of the Spanish conference, Charles and Buckingham turned their attention to France. On 1 May 1625, Charles married by proxy the 15-year-old French princess Henrietta Marie in front of the entrance to Notre Dame de Paris. Charles had seen Henrietta Maria in Paris on his way to Spain. The couple were duly married on 13 June 1625 at Canterbury.

Charles postponed the start of his first Parliament until after the second ceremony to forestall any opposition to the marriage. Many members of the House of Commons opposed the king”s marriage to a Roman Catholic, fearing that Charles would lift restrictions against Catholics and undermine the formally established Reformed Church of England. Although he declared in Parliament that he would not relax religious restrictions, he promised just the opposite in a secret marriage pact he made with Louis XIV of France. In addition, the pact lent the French an English naval force to be used against the Huguenots at La Rochelle. Charles was crowned on 2 February 1626 at Westminster Abbey, but without his wife at his side because she refused to participate in a Protestant religious ceremony.

Distrust of Charles”s religious policy was increased by his support for the controversial anti-Calvinist cleric, Richard Montague, for whom the Puritans had great antipathy. In his pamphlet A New Gag for an Old Goose (1624), which was a response to the Catholic pamphlet A New Gag for the New Gospel, Montague argued against Calvinistic Predestination, the doctrine that salvation and punishment were predetermined by God. Anti-Calvinists – known as Arminians – believed that human beings could influence their own fate by their own free will. The Arminian priests were among the few who supported Charles” Spanish confraternity. With the support of King James, Montague published another pamphlet, entitled Appello Caesarem, in 1625 shortly after the death of the old king and the accession of Charles. To protect Montague from attack by the Puritans in Parliament, Charles made the clergyman a royal chaplain, raising the suspicions of many Puritans that he favored Arminianism as a cunning attempt to restore Catholicism.

Instead of direct involvement in the European land war, the English Parliament preferred a relatively inexpensive naval attack on the Spanish colonies in the New World, seeking to steal the treasures being transported to Spain. Parliament voted funding of £140,000, which was an insufficient amount for Charles” war plans. In addition, the House of Commons limited its authority to collect from the king import and export duties to a single year, although previous sovereigns since Henry VI of England had received this right for life. The bill did not proceed to the House of Lords after its first reading. Although no Act of Parliament was passed to impose import and export duties, Charles continued to collect the taxes.

A carelessly planned and executed naval campaign against Cadiz of Spain under Buckingham”s leadership ended badly and the House of Commons began impeachment proceedings against the Duke. In May 1626 Charles nominated Buckingham for Chancellor of Cambridge University in a show of support, and arrested two members of Parliament who had spoken out against Buckingham – Dudley Diggs and Sir John Elliott – at the entrance to the House. The House of Commons was outraged by the imprisonment of the two members and after a week in police custody, both were released. On 12 June 1626, the Commons launched a direct proclamation against Buckingham which stated,We protest before your Majesty and all the world that until such time as this high person ceases to meddle with the great affairs of state, we have no hope of any success; and fear that whatever money we give, or can give, on account of his mismanagement, will rather be turned into a blow and loss to your kingdom than into anything else, as we have found by painful experience of those great commissions previously and lately given. Notwithstanding the protests of Parliament, however, Charles refused to remove his friend. Instead he dissolved Parliament.

Meanwhile, family feuds between Charles and Henrietta Maria marred the early years of their marriage. They were disputes over what would be due to her in the event of Charles” death, with the people who surrounded her, and with the practice of her worship. These conflicts culminated in the king”s expulsion of most of her French courtiers in August 1626. Despite Charles” agreement to supply the French with English ships to fulfill the marriage terms, in 1627 she mounted an attack on the French coast to defend the Huguenots at La Rochelle. This operation, led by Buckingham, was ultimately unsuccessful. Buckingham”s failure to protect the Huguenots – and his withdrawal from St-Martin-de-Ré – led to the Siege of La Rochelle by Louis XIV and increased the disgust of the people and the English Parliament for the Duke.

Charles caused further turmoil by trying to raise money for the war through a “forced loan”: a tax imposed without parliamentary consent. In November 1627, a supreme court hearing the ”Case of the Five Knights” ruled that the king had a privileged right to imprison without trial those who refused to pay the forced loan. When Parliament convened again in March 1628, it adopted the Memorandum of Law on 26 May, calling on the King to recognise that he could not levy taxes without the consent of Parliament, impose martial law on citizens, imprison them without due process of law, and establish troops in their territories. Charles consented to the memo on June 7, but by the end of the month he had suspended Parliament and reaffirmed his right to collect duties without Parliament”s authorization.

On 23 August 1628 Buckingham was assassinated. Charles was devastated. According to Edward Hyde, Earl of Clarendon, he fell upon his bed, mourning with great passion and with an abundance of tears. He remained mourning in his room for two days. On the contrary, the people rejoiced at Buckingham”s death, which increased the distance between the court and the nation, and between the Crown and the Commons. Although Buckingham”s death effectively ended the war with Spain and made the problems generated by his rule disappear, it did not end the conflicts between Charles and Parliament. It did, however, coincide (if not contribute) to an improvement in relations between Charles and his wife, and by November 1628 their old differences had been resolved. Perhaps Charles”s emotional ties were transferred from Buckingham to Henrietta Maria. She became pregnant for the first time, and the bond between them became even stronger. Together, they embodied an image of virtue and family life, and their court became a model of formality and morality.

The Dotted Parliament

In January 1629 Charles declared the opening of the second session of the English Parliament (whose proceedings had been suspended in June 1628), with a moderate speech on import and export duties. Members of the House of Commons expressed opposition to Charles”s actions in the case of John Roll, a Member of Parliament whose goods had been seized because he had not paid the duties. Many Members of Parliament saw the application of the duty as a violation of the May 1628 Memorandum. When Charles ordered a parliamentary recess on 2 March, members kept the Speaker of the House, Sir John Finch, pinned in his seat until resolutions against Catholicism, Arminianism and the duties were read and passed. The challenge was too much for Charles, who dissolved Parliament and imprisoned nine parliamentary leaders, including Sir John Elliott, turning these men into martyrs,

Shortly after the meetings were adjourned, with no prospect of finding funds for a European war and without Buckingham at his side, Charles made peace with France and Spain. The next eleven years, during which Carlos ruled England without a Parliament, are referred to as the Personal Government or “Tyranny of the Eleven Years”. Government without Parliament was no exception and had precedent. Only Parliament, however, could legally raise taxes, and without it Charles” ability to obtain money for his treasury was limited to his normal rights and privileges.


A large budget deficit had been created in the reigns of Elizabeth I and James I. Although Buckingham conducted brief campaigns against Spain and France, there was little financial capacity for Charles to wage overseas wars. Throughout his reign, Charles was forced to rely primarily on volunteer forces for defense and diplomatic efforts to support his sister Elizabeth”s restoration to the throne of the Palatinate. England was still the least taxed country in Europe, with no official excise tax and no regular direct taxation. To raise revenue without reconvening Parliament, Charles “resurrected” an almost forgotten law called the Distraint of Knighthood, dormant for more than a century, which required any man who earned £40 or more each year from his estates to attend the king”s coronation to be knighted. Based on this legislation, Charles fined individuals who did not attend his coronation in 1626.

The main tax imposed by Charles was a feudal levy known as “ship money” which proved to be more unpopular and more profitable than tariffs. Previously, ship money had been imposed only during wars and only in coastal areas. But Charles argued that there was no legal prohibition on collecting the tax for peacetime defence and from the whole kingdom. Ship money, paid directly to the Navy Treasury, yielded between £150,000 and £200,000 per annum between 1634 and 1638, but later this revenue declined. Opposition to ship money steadily grew, but the twelve supreme judges of England declared that the tax was included in the royal prerogative, although some of them had reservations. John Hamden”s prosecution for non-payment in 1637-38 set the stage for popular protest, and the judges convicted Hamden by a small majority of seven to five.

The king also earned money by granting monopolies, even though a law forbade it. Although ineffective, these monopolies brought in about £100,000 each year in the late 1630s. Charles also raised money from the Scottish nobles through the Act of Revocation, 1625, by which all grants of royal and ecclesiastical land to the nobles after 1540 were revoked, with an obligation to pay rent for their use ever since. In addition, the boundaries of royal forests in England were extended to their ancient locations as part of a scheme to maximise income by exploiting the land and fining its users for trespass.

Throughout Charles” reign, the English Reformation was constantly at the forefront of political debate. Arminian theology emphasized the authority of the clergy and the individual capacity to reject or accept salvation, and was therefore seen as heretical and as a potential vehicle for the re-establishment of Roman Catholicism by its Calvinist opponents. Charles”s sympathy for the teachings of Arminianism, and especially his desire to move the Church of England away from Calvinism in a more traditional and sacramental direction, were perceived by the Puritans as tending towards irreligion. In addition, his subjects were regularly informed of news of the European war and became increasingly dissatisfied with Charles”s diplomatic contacts with Spain and his failure to support the Protestant cause abroad effectively.

In 1633 Charles appointed William Lod as Archbishop of Canterbury. Together they initiated a series of anti-Calvinist reforms in which they attempted to ensure religious uniformity by restricting unconventional preachers, insisting that the liturgy be performed as described in the Book of Common Prayer, organizing the interior architecture of English churches to emphasize the sacrament of the Eucharist, and reissuing King James”s Declaration of Sports, which allowed secular activities on a public holiday. An organization that bought church seats for the Puritans was disbanded. To drive out those who opposed his reforms, Lod used the two most powerful courts in the country, the Court of High Commission and the Court of Star Chamber. These courts censored opposing religious views, and became popular in the ranks of property holders for imposing punitive punishments on aristocrats. In 1637 William Prynne, Henry Burton, and Joe Bastwick were placed in the cypher, flogged, mutilated, and imprisoned indefinitely for publishing libels against the episcopal administration.

When Charles tried to impose his religious policy in Scotland he encountered numerous difficulties. Although born in Scotland, Charles was estranged from his northern kingdom; his first visit there since childhood was due to his Scottish coronation in 1633. To the dismay of the Scots, who had removed many traditional rituals from their liturgical practice, Charles insisted that the coronation take place according to Anglican form. In 1637 the king ordered the use of a new prayer book in Scotland which was almost identical to the English Book of Common Prayer, without consulting the Scottish Parliament or the Church of Scotland. Although it was written, at Charles” suggestion, by Scottish bishops, many Scots opposed it, seeing the new prayer book as a means of introducing Anglicanism into Scotland. On 23 July, riots broke out in Edinburgh on the first Sunday of the prayer book”s use, and unrest spread throughout the Church of Scotland. The people began to rally around a reaffirmation of the Presbyterian Covenant (National Covenant), the signatories of which had pledged to support the Reformed religion of Scotland and to reject any innovations not authorized by the Church and Parliament. When the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland met in November 1638, it condemned the new Prayer Book, abolished episcopal administration of the church, and adopted Presbyterian administration by elders and deacons.

Wars of the Bishops

Charles perceived the unrest in Scotland as a rebellion against his authority and his actions provoked the First Bishops” War in 1639. Charles did not seek funding from Parliament to wage the war, but instead raised an army without parliamentary support and marched to Berwick-upon-Tweed on the Scottish border. Charles” army did not engage with the Scottish Presbyterians as the king considered his forces to be far inferior in numbers to those of the Scots. With the Treaty of Berwick of 1639, Charles regained his Scottish garrisons and succeeded in dissolving the provisional Presbyterian government, but with the important concession that the Scottish Parliament and the General Assembly of the Scottish Church would be convened.

Charles”s military failure in the First Bishops” War cost him a financial and diplomatic crisis which was exacerbated when his efforts to obtain funding from Spain, while continuing to support his relatives in the Palatinate, led to the public humiliation of the Battle of Downs. On 21 October 1639 the Dutch destroyed a Spanish fleet with a cargo of gold off Kent under the gaze of the helpless English fleet, whose twelve transports carried the Spanish army to the Netherlands.

Charles continued peace negotiations with the Scots in an attempt to buy time before launching a new military operation. Due to his financial weakness, he was forced to convene Parliament. The English and Irish Parliaments]] met in the early months of 1640. In March 1640, the Irish Parliament voted a funding of £180,000 with the promise to raise a strong army of 9,000 by the end of May. At the English general election in March, however, the court candidates failed and Charles” relations with Parliament in April quickly reached a stalemate. The Earls of Northumberland and Strafford tried to broker a compromise whereby the king would agree to give up his ship money for £650,000 (although the cost of the coming war was estimated at about £1&nbspmillion). This attempt was not successful. The Parliamentarians” requests for further reforms were ignored by Charles, who still retained the support of the House of Lords. Despite Northumberland”s protests, the Short Parliament (as it came to be known) was dissolved in May 1640, less than a month after it convened.

By this time Strafford, Lord Deputy of Ireland since 1632, had emerged as Charles” right-hand man and, together with Lod, was trying to assert royal authority over local or oppositional interests. Although initially critical of the king, Strafford was converted in 1628 (due in part to Buckingham”s persuasion), and has since emerged, along with Lodd, as the most powerful of Charles” staff.

Disheartened by the failure of the English Short Parliament, the Scottish Parliament declared itself capable of governing without the king”s consent and, in August 1640, the Presbyterian army entered the English county of Northumberland. Following the illness of the Earl of Northumberland, who was the king”s commander-in-chief, Charles and Strafford moved north to command the English forces, although Strafford was himself ill with gout and dysentery. The Scottish army, much of it veterans of the Thirty Years” War, had by far higher morale and training compared to the English, and met virtually no resistance until Newcastle upon Tyne where, at the Battle of Newburn, they defeated the English forces and captured the town, as well as the neighbouring county of Durham.

As the clamour for a parliament grew stronger, Charles took the unusual step of convening the Grand Council of Peers, an institution that had been defunct for over a century. At his meeting at York on 24 September 1640, Charles decided to submit to the universal demand for a Parliament. After informing the nobles that Parliament would convene in November, he asked them to consider how they would finance the war against the Scots. They advised him to make peace. A cessation of hostilities, though not a final agreement, came with the humiliating Treaty of Ripon, signed on 26 October 1640. By this treaty the Scots were to continue to occupy Northumberland and Durham and to be paid £850 daily until peace was restored and the English Parliament reconvened, which was to raise sufficient funds to pay the Scottish forces.

Subsequently, in November, Charles convened what came to be known as the Long Parliament. Once again, Charles” supporters failed in the election. Of the 493 members of the House of Commons, over 350 opposed the king.

Escalation of tensions

The Long Parliament proved as hostile to Charles as the Short Parliament. It met on 3 November 1640 and soon began proceedings to impeach the king”s principal advisers for high treason. Strafford was placed in custody on 10 November; Lod was indicted on 18 December; Lord Stampede Finch was indicted the next day, and subsequently fled to The Hague with Charles”s permission on 21 December. To prevent the king from dissolving it at will, Parliament passed the Triennial Act, which required Parliament to convene at least every three years, and allowed the Lord Privy Seal and 12 peers to convene Parliament if the king failed to do so. The Act was accompanied by a grant bill, and to secure the latter, Charles reluctantly gave royal assent in February 1641.

Strafford had become a prime target of the Parliamentarians, especially John Pym, and was tried for high treason on 22 March 1641. However, Sir Henry Vane”s crucial allegation that Strafford had threatened to use the Irish army to subjugate England was not confirmed, and on 10 April Pym”s case collapsed; Pym and his allies immediately drew up a Bill of attainder, which simply declared Strafford guilty and imposed the death penalty.

Charles assured Strafford that “by the word of a king your life, honour or property will not suffer”, and the prosecution would not succeed if Charles withdrew his approval of the Triennial Act. Moreover, many members and most nobles opposed the prosecution, not wishing, according to one of them, to “commit murder by the sword of justice”. However, rising tensions and an attempted coup by pro-monarchy army officers in support of Strafford and in which Charles had been involved began to tip the balance. The House of Commons passed the Bill of attainder on 20 April by a large margin (204 for, 59 against, and 230 abstentions), and the Lords concurred (by 26 votes to 19, and 79 abstentions) in May. On 3 May, a Protest of Parliament had attacked the “malicious advisers” of Charles”s “arbitrary and tyrannical government”; while those who signed the petition undertook to defend the king”s “person, honour and property”, but also to preserve “the true reformed religion”, the parliament, and the “rights and liberties of the subjects”. Charles, fearing for the safety of his family in the face of unrest, reluctantly consented to Strafford”s conviction on 9 May after consulting his judges and bishops. Strafford was beheaded three days later.

Furthermore, in early May Charles had passed an unprecedented act which forbade the dissolution of the English Parliament without the approval of Parliament. In the following months, ship money, Distraint of Knighthood fines and excise duties without parliamentary consent were declared illegal and the High Courts of Star Chamber and High Commission were abolished. All remaining forms of taxation were legalised and regulated by the Tonnage and Poundage Act. The House of Commons also prepared bills attacking the bishops and the episcopal organisation of the Church, but these were rejected in the House of Lords.

Charles had made significant concessions to England, and temporarily improved his position in Scotland by securing the favour of the Scots in a visit from August to November 1641 during which he accepted the formal establishment of Presbyterianism. However, following an attempted royalist coup in Scotland, known as ”The Incident”, his credibility was greatly diminished.

Irish rebellion

In Ireland the population was divided into three main socio-political groups: the Old Celtic Irish, who were Catholic; the Old English, who were descended from the Normans who invaded Ireland in the Middle Ages and were also mostly Catholic; and the New English, who were Protestant settlers from England and Scotland aligned with the English Parliament and the Presbyterians. Strafford”s administration had improved the Irish economy and dramatically increased tax revenues, but had done so with an iron fist. He had disarmed a large Catholic army in support of the king and had weakened the power of the Irish Parliament, while continuing to confiscate Catholic land for the benefit of Protestant settlers, while promoting Lod”s Anglicanism, which was abhorrent to Presbyterians. The result was to displease all three groups. Strafford”s impeachment created a new starting point in Irish politics where all sides came together to present evidence against him. In a manner similar to that of the English Parliament, the Old English members of the Irish Parliament claimed that although they opposed Strafford, they remained loyal to Charles. They claimed that the king had been seduced by malevolent advisers, and that, furthermore, a viceroy like Strafford could emerge as a despotic figure rather than let the king deal directly with governance. Stafford”s fall reduced Charles”s influence in Ireland. The disbanding of the Irish army was demanded without result three times by the House of Commons during Strafford”s imprisonment, until Charles was finally forced to disband the army due to lack of funds at the end of the trial. Disputes over the transfer of land from native Catholics to Protestant settlers , (particularly over the settlement of Ulster, and resentment over the subordination of the Irish Parliament to the Parliament of England, were the causes of the mutiny. When armed conflict broke out between the Old Irish and the New English in late October 1641, the Old English sided with the Old Irish while declaring their loyalty to the King.

In November 1641, the House of Commons passed the Grand Remonstrance, a long list of grievances against acts committed by Charles”s ministers from the beginning of his reign (which were described as part of a grand Catholic conspiracy with Charles an unwitting member), but it was largely a very advanced Pym step and passed by only 11 votes – 159 to 148. Moreover, Remonstrance had very little support in the House of Lords, which it was even attacked. Tension came to a head with news of the Irish rebellion, coupled with inaccurate rumours of Charles” complicity. Throughout November, inflammatory pamphlets spread stories of atrocities in Ireland and massacres of New English settlers by the Old Irish who could not be controlled by the Old English Lords. Rumors of “papal” conspiracies circulated in England, and anti-Catholic beliefs were reinforced, damaging Charles” reputation and authority.

The English Parliament distrusted Charles”s motives when he asked for money to suppress the Irish rebellion; many members of the Commons suspected that the forces Charles was gathering could later be used against Parliament itself. Pym introduced a bill designed to wrest control of the army from the king, but it did not have the support of the lords, and certainly not of Charles. Instead of these endorsements, the Commons passed the bill as an Ordinance, which – they claimed – did not need royal assent. This Militia Ordinance seems to have induced many lords to side with the king. In an attempt to strengthen his position, Charles created great antipathy in London, which was descending into anarchy, when he placed the Tower of London under the command of Colonel Thomas Lunsford a notorious, but effective, career officer. When rumours reached Charles that Parliament intended to impeach his wife for conspiring with the Irish rebels, the king decided to take drastic action.

Five members

Charles suspected, probably correctly, that some members of the English Parliament had conspired with the invading Scots. On 3 January 1642 he ordered Parliament to surrender five members – Pym, John Hamden, Denzil Halls, William Strode and Sir Arthur Hazelrigg – and one peer – Lord Mandeville – on charges of high treason. The following day, 4 January, Charles himself with 300 soldiers went to Parliament to arrest the five accused. He left the soldiers at the entrance and proceeded into the chamber to find that the accused were not there. Having taken the seat of President William Landall, King asked him where the members had taken refuge. Lendall, on his knees, made the famous reply “May it please your Majesty, I have neither eyes to see nor tongue to speak in this place but as it pleases the House to direct me , a servant of which I am.” Charles was mortified, and declared “all my birds have flown away,” and was forced to leave empty-handed.

The clumsy attempt to arrest him was politically disastrous for Charles. No English sovereign had ever entered the House of Commons, and his unprecedented invasion of the chamber to arrest members was considered a serious breach of parliamentary privilege. In an instant Charles destroyed the efforts of his supporters to portray him as a defence against innovation and disorder.

Parliament quickly dominated London and Charles left the capital for Hampton Court Palace on 10 January 1642, and two days later for Windsor Castle. After sending his wife and eldest daughter abroad for safety in February, he travelled north hoping to seize the armoury at Hull. But he was repulsed in April by the Parliamentary Governor of the town, Sir John Hotham, and was forced to withdraw.

In mid-1642, both sides began to prepare for war. Charles raised an army using feudal methods (i.e. through landowning nobles), and Parliament relied on volunteers for its militia. After fruitless negotiations, Charles raised the royal banner at Nottingham on 22 August 1642. At the beginning of the First English Civil War, Charles”s forces controlled roughly the Midlands, Wales, the West Country and the north of England. He established his court at Oxford. Parliament controlled London, the South East and East Anglia, as well as the English navy.

After a few skirmishes, the opposing forces had their first serious conflict at Edgehill on 23 October 1642. Charles” nephew Prince Ruprecht of Palatinate disagreed with the battle plan of the royal commander Lord Lindsay, and Charles sided with Ruprecht. Lindsay resigned, leaving Charles to take over the general command, assisted by Lord Forth. Ruprecht”s cavalry broke through the Parliamentarian lines, but instead of quickly returning to the battlefield, they moved away to loot the Parliamentarian transports. Lindsay, fighting as a colonel, was wounded and bled to death without medical attention. The battle ended inconclusively as the sun set.

In his own words, the experience of the battle left Charles “extremely and deeply saddened”. He resumed at Oxford, rejecting Ruprecht”s proposal for a direct attack on London. A week later, on 3 November, he set off for the capital, occupying Brentford en route while continuing to negotiate with civic and parliamentary delegations. At Turnham Green on the outskirts of London, the royal army met resistance from the town”s militia, and faced with a numerically superior force, Charles ordered a retreat. He held at Oxford, strengthening the city”s defences and preparing for the coming spring campaign. Peace talks between the two sides ended unsuccessfully in April.

The war continued without a decisive outcome in 1643 and 1644, and Henrietta-Marie returned to Britain for 17 months in February 1643. After Ruprecht”s capture of Bristol in July 1643, Charles laid siege to Gloucester. His plan to undermine the city walls failed due to a heavy rain, and the imminent arrival of a force of Parliamentarians forced him to lift the siege and retreat to Castle Sudley. The Parliamentary army turned back towards London, and Charles began the pursuit. The two armies met at Newbury, Berkshire, on 20 September. As at Edgehill, the battle ceased at sunset. In January 1644, Charles called a Parliament in Oxford, attended by about 40 peers and 118 members of the Commons. Parliament sat until March 1645 supported by a majority of peers and about a third of the members of Parliament. . Charles became frustrated by its inefficiency, calling it a “bastard” in letters to his wife.

In 1644 Charles remained in the southern half of England while Ruprecht advanced north to relieve Newark and York, which were threatened by the Parliamentary and Scottish Presbyterian armies. Charles was victorious at the Battle of Cromprendy Bridge in late June, but the monarchists in the north were defeated at the Battle of Marston Moore just a few days later. The king continued his campaign in the south, surrounding and disarming the Earl of Essex”s Parliamentary army. Returning to his base at Oxford, he fought at Newbury a second time before winter came; and this battle ended without a decisive result. Attempts at compromise during the winter, while both sides were re-equipping and reorganising, were again unsuccessful.

At the Battle of Nazbi on 14 June 1645, Ruprecht”s cavalry again successfully charged the New Model Army of Parliament, but Charles” forces were repulsed at other points in the battle. Charles, in an attempt to restrain his men, galloped forward, but Lord Carnwoth seized the reins and drew him back, fearing for the king”s safety. Carnwoth”s gesture was misinterpreted by the royalists as a signal to retreat, and a collapse ensued. The military scales tipped decisively in favour of Parliament. A series of defeats for the royalists followed, and then the siege of Oxford, from which Charles escaped disguised as a servant in April 1646. He placed himself at the disposal of the Scottish Presbyterian army besieging Newark and moved north to Newcastle from Tyne. After nine months of negotiations, the Scots finally came to an agreement with the English Parliament: for £100,000 and the promise of more money in the future, the Scots withdrew from Newcastle and handed Charles over to the Parliamentarians in January 1647.

The captivity

Parliament placed Charles under house arrest in Holdenby House, Northamptonshire, until Officer George Joyce took him away from Holdenby under threat of violence on 3 June in the name of the New Model Army. Already, mutual suspicion had developed between Parliament, which favoured disbanding the army and Presbyterianism, and the New Model Army, most of whose officers were Independent non-conformists seeking a greater political role. Charles was keen to exploit the widening divisions, and apparently saw Joyce”s actions as an opportunity rather than a threat. He moved first to Newmarket, at his own suggestion, later to the Otlands and subsequently to Hampton Court, while ultimately fruitless negotiations took place. By November, he had decided that the best thing for him would be to escape-perhaps to France, southern England or Berwick-upon-Tweed, near the Scottish border. He escaped from Hampton Court on 11 November, and made contact with Colonel Robert Hammond, Parliamentary Governor of the Isle of Wight, whom he apparently regarded as a friendly interloper. Hammond, however, confined Charles to Castle Carisbrook and informed Parliament that Charles was his prisoner.

From Carisbrook, Charles continued his attempts to take advantage of the differences between the factions. In direct contrast to his earlier conflict with the Scottish Church, on 26 December 1647 he signed a secret pact (called the ”Engagement”) with the Scots. According to this, the Scots undertook to invade England on Charles” side and restore him to the throne on condition that Presbyterianism be established in England for three years.

The royalists revolted in May 1648, starting the Second Civil War, and as agreed with Charles, the Scots invaded England. Rebellions in Kent, Essex and Cumberland, and a rebellion in South Wales, were suppressed by the New Model Army, and with the defeat of the Scots at the Battle of Preston in August 1648, the Royalists lost all hope of winning the war.

The only option for Charles was to return to negotiations, which took place in Newport on the Isle of Wight. On 5 December 1648, Parliament voted 129 to 83 to resume negotiations with the king, but Oliver Cromwell and the army opposed any further talks with someone they considered a bloodthirsty tyrant and were already acting to consolidate their power. Hammond was replaced as governor of the Isle of Wight on 27 November, and was placed under the control of the army the following day. At Pride”s Purge on December 6 and 7, members of Parliament who did not have the favour of the army were arrested or disqualified by Colonel Thomas Pride, while other members chose to abstain. The remaining members formed the Colovo Parliament. It was essentially a military coup.

Charles was transferred to Hurst Castle at the end of 1648, and then to Windsor Castle. In January 1649, the House of Commons charged him with treason, which was dismissed by the House of Lords. The idea of trying a king was unprecedented. The Chief Justices of England”s three common law courts – Henry Roll, Oliver St. John and John Wilde – were all opposed to impeachment, considering it illegal. The Colovo Parliament declared itself capable of legislating on its own, passed a bill creating a separate court for Charles” trial and declared it law without the need for royal approval. The High Court of Justice established by the above Act consisted of 135 members, but many either refused to serve or chose to abstain. Only 68 (all staunch parliamentarians) appeared at Charles”s trial for treason and ”other grievous crimes”, which began on 20 January 1649 at Westminster Palace. John Bradshaw presided over the Court, and the prosecution was represented by the Attorney General John Cook.

During the first three days of the trial, Charles refused to speak on the merits whenever asked, stating his opposition to words: “I would like to know what authority called me here and what jurisdiction…” He claimed that no court had jurisdiction over a monarch, that his power to rule had been given to him by God and by the traditional laws of England, and that the authority exercised by those who tried him was that of the power of arms. Charles insisted that the trial was illegal, explaining that


The court, by contrast, refuted the doctrine that “the king can do no wrong,” and declared that “the King of England was not a person, but an office which each holder was authorized by limited power to rule according to the laws of the land and not otherwise.”

Parliament did not have unqualified popular support. When Charles finished the above speech, the galleries shouted “God save the king”. The priests condemned the trial from the pulpit. Bradshaw was afraid to walk the streets. The king”s son, later Charles II, sent a document to Parliament with only his signature: he would obey what was written there in order to save his father. Four nobles offered, in vain, to die in place of the king.

At the end of the third day, Charles was removed from the court, which then heard more than 30 prosecution witnesses in his absence over the next two days, and on 26 January sentenced him to death. The next day, the king was taken to a public session of the commission, found guilty and heard his sentence. Fifty-nine members of Parliament signed Charles” execution warrant.

Charles” beheading was set for 30 January 1649. Two of his children remained in England under Parliamentary control: Elizabeth and Henry. They were allowed to visit him on 29 January. The next morning he asked for two shirts to keep him from shivering in the cold, which the crowd might have taken as a sign of fear:

He walked under guard from St. James”s Palace, where he was confined, to Whitehall Palace, where a scaffold had been erected in front of the Banketing House. Charles was separated from the spectators by large groups of soldiers, and his last speech was heard only by those who were with him on the scaffold. He blamed himself for failing to prevent the execution of Strafford”s loyal servant: “An unjust sentence for which I suffered when it was inflicted, is now punished by an unjust sentence upon me.” He declared that he had desired the liberty of the people as much as any man, “but I must tell you that their liberty lies in the existence of government … Not by membership in that government; it is a matter of no concern to them. A subject and a sovereign are clearly different things.” He continued, “I shall be transferred from a perishable to an imperishable Crown, where there will be no distress.”

At about 2 p.m. Charles put his head on the wood after saying a prayer and gesturing to the executioner that he was ready by extending his arms; he was soon afterwards beheaded with a single blow. According to the observer Philip Henry, a wail “such as I never heard before and wish never to hear again” rose from the assembled crowd,. Some dipped their handkerchiefs in the king”s blood as a memento.

The shooter was masked and disguised, and his identity is a matter of debate. Commissioners approached Richard Brandon, the hangman of the London hangings, but he refused, at least initially, despite being offered £200. It is likely that he backed down and took the job after being threatened with death, but there are others mentioned as possible candidates, including George Joyce, William Hewlett and Hugh Peters. The skilful beating, confirmed by an examination of the king”s body at Windsor in 1813, suggests that the execution was carried out by an experienced executioner.

It was common practice for the mutilated head of a traitor to be raised and displayed to the crowd with the words “Behold the traitor”s head!” Although Charles” head was displayed to the crowd, the words were not used, probably because the executioner did not want his voice to be recognized. The day after the execution, the king”s head was re-attached to his body, which was then embalmed and placed in a lead coffin.

The committee rejected Charles” burial at Westminster Abbey, so his body was taken to Windsor on the night of 7 February. He was buried in Henry VIII”s vault in St George”s Chapel, Windsor Castle, privately on 9 February 1649. The King”s son, Charles II planned to build an elaborate royal mausoleum in Hyde Park, but this was never built.

The up to the restoration of the Stuarts

Ten days after Charles” execution, on the day of his burial, memoirs purporting to have been written by the king appeared for sale. This book, with the Greek title “Eikon Basilike”, contained an apology of royal policy and proved to be an effective propaganda tool for royalists. John Milton wrote “Eikonoklastes” in response to the Parliamentarians, but this work achieved little against the passion of the royal book. The Anglicans and royalists produced a picture of martyrdom, and Charles was recognized as a martyr king by his followers. The Upper Church held special services on the anniversary of his death, and churches were established in honour of King Charles Martyr in Falmouth, Tunbridge Wells and elsewhere.

With the monarchy abolished, England became a republic or “Commonwealth”. The House of Lords was abolished by the Colonial Parliament and executive power was given to the Privy Council. All resistance in Britain and Ireland was crushed by Oliver Cromwell”s forces in the Third English Civil War and Cromwell”s conquest of Ireland. He violently dissolved the Colovo Parliament in 1653, subsequently establishing the Protectorate with himself as Lord Protector. After his death in 1658 he was temporarily succeeded by his moderate son, Richard Cromwell. Parliament functioned again and the monarchy was restored in the person of Charles I”s eldest son, Charles II, in 1660.

Carolina in North America – later North and South Carolina – was named after Charles I.

Charles and art

Inspired in part by his visit to the Spanish court in 1623, Charles became an avid and experienced art collector, amassing one of the finest art collections ever made. His favoured courtiers such as the Duke of Buckingham and the Earl of Arundel shared this interest and were called the Whitehall Group. In Spain Charles posed for a sketch in Velazquez and acquired works by Titian and Corretto, among others. In England, he commissioned the roof of the Bunkering House, Whitehall to Rubens, and paintings by other Dutch artists such as Herrit van Hodhorst, Daniel Mittens, and Anthony van Dyck. In 1627 and 1628 he bought the entire collection of the Duke of Mantua, which included works by Titian, Correggio, Raphael, Caravaggio, Andrea del Sarto, and Mantegna. His collection was further expanded to include Bernini, Peter Bruegel the Elder, da Vinci, Holbein, Venkeslaus Hollar, Tintoretto and Veronese, as well as self-portraits by Dürer and Rembrandt. By the time of his death, there were about 1,760 paintings, most of which were sold and dispersed from the Parliament.


According to John Phillips Kenyon, “Charles Stewart is a man of contradictions and doubts.” Traditional conservative Tories revered him as a saintly martyr, while Whig historians condemned him, considering him duplicitous and scheming (Samuel Rawson Gardiner). In recent decades, most historians have criticized him, with the notable exception of Kevin Sharpe who has provided a more sympathetic picture of Charles, but one that has not been generally accepted. While Sharpe thought the king was a forceful man of conscience, Professor Barry Coward thought that Charles “was the most incompetent monarch of England since Henry VI”, a view shared by Ronald Hutton, who called him “the worst king we have had since the Middle Ages”.

Archbishop William Lod, who was beheaded by Parliament during the war, described Charles as “a mild and pleasant ruler who did not know how to be, or how to be, great.” Charles was more temperate and refined than his father, but he was intransigent and deliberately pursued unpopular policies that eventually destroyed him. Both James and Charles were adherents of the divine right of kings, but while James” ambitions for autocratic privilege were tempered by compromise and consensus with his subjects, Charles believed that it was not necessary to compromise or even explain his actions. He thought he was accountable only to God. “Princes are not bound to give an account of their actions,” he wrote, “except to God.”

Titles and addresses

Charles I”s official address as king was “Charles, by the Grace of God, King of England, Scotland, France and Ireland, Defender of the Faith, etc.” “Of France” was in name only, used by every English monarch from Edward III to George III regardless of the extent of French territory under English control. The authors of the condemnation used the wording ”Charles Stuart, King of England”.

Coat of arms

Charles had nine children, two of whom became kings and two of whom died on the day of their birth or shortly afterwards.


  1. Κάρολος Α΄ της Αγγλίας
  2. Charles I of England
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