CHARLES I, PARLIAMENT, AND THE ENGLISH CIVIL WAR


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In 1625, Charles I became King of England as the next in a long line of rulers who took for granted the absolute power of the king to make and administer laws, to rule without Parliament and to override laws enacted by Parliament. However, times were changing in England: the wealth of the nation had shifted from the nobility to the landed gentry and the bourgeoisie (the professional classes). These latter two groups were determined to make government submissive to the elected Parliament. Now, with the wealth concentrated in their hands, they had the means to achieve this goal. Added to the political mixture was a religious clash between Catholics and Protestants.

In Charles' first Parliament of 1625, there were 100 lords in the Upper House and 500 men, three-quarters of whom were Puritans, in the Commons. The wealth of the men in the Commons was three times that of the lords in the Upper House. The king and Parliament were immediately at odds. Parliament was determined to control finances, the king equally determined that he could raise money on his own power, outside of Parliament. A running battle ensued -- Parliament withholding funds, Charles dissolving Parliament, both determined to rule.

From 1629-1640, Charles I ruled without Parliament, an absolute king. During this period over 20,000 Puritans emigrated to New England. In 1640 there was a short, sharp military encounter which the king lost. As a result of the defeat, King Charles summoned a Parliament, one that has been named the Long Parliament. Oliver Cromwell was a member of this group.

During the next years, the struggle for supremacy continued and, in 1642, war was declared between the two factions -- Civil War between the king's faction, Royalists or Cavaliers, and the Parliamentary faction, the Roundheads.

By January, 1647, King Charles was a prisoner of Parliament. In the midst of factional disagreements within the Parliamentary forces, the king was brought to London in August of 1647. After another altercation between the two warring sides, in which King Charles was captured by first one side and then the other, the remaining members of Parliament declared it treason for a king to make war on Parliament. In January, 1649, the trial began with King Charles steadfastly refusing to bow to Parliament's demands. On January 30, 1649, King Charles I was beheaded, the death warrant signed by 59 men, two of whom, Edward Whalley and William Goffe, made their way eventually to Hadley, Massachusetts, leaving their wives and families behind.

References:

Hill, Christopher. 1970. God's Englishman. The Dial Press, N.Y.

Durant, Will and Ariel. 1961. The Age of Reason Begins, Vol 7 of The Story of Civilization. Simon and Schuster, N.Y.