Charles I and Finance

Charles I and Finance

Charles I had inherited a very precarious financial situation from his father James I. Unlike James, Charles did not benefit from the traditional vote of tunnage and poundage duties from Parliament. This tradition was usually upheld so that any new monarch had a stable financial start to their reign. Such was the gulf that had developed between the Crown and Parliament that this source of revenue was denied to Charles. Charles, egged on by the Duke of Buckingham, also embarked on a number of financially draining foreign ventures that had no positive impact but left him in a position whereby he introduced forced loans for the gentry and imprisoned those who did not pay. The political consequences of this policy were huge. The billeting of the army on civilians and ports having to pay for the modernisation of the navy also caused much resentment.


If the 1620’s presented Charles with financial issues, the 1630’s were worse. Europe as a whole experienced an economic depression. The Dutch were becoming a much greater threat with regards to what trade there was. The Lord Treasurer, Portland, attempted to enforce the king’s feudal rights. Such a policy had been unpopular in the days of Robert Cecil, Earl of Salisbury. There was no reason to think it would be any different in the 1630’s. The Law of the Forest was strictly enforced in an attempt to bring in more royal revenue and even included redrawing the boundaries of church land. In 1637, the circumference of the Forest of Rockingham was extended from six to sixty miles. Neighbouring gentry were fined £51,000 for violating what was effectively a medieval law. Portland also enforced a medieval law that stated that anybody with freehold land worth £40 or more who had not applied for a knighthood at the coronation of Charles would be fined.


Offices were also sold. This had occurred in bygone reigns, but Charles was putting himself in a position whereby anything that he did would create anger among a suitably large group of influential people. Offices, as usual, went to the highest bidder and this frequently meant that they stayed within a certain family that had raised sufficient revenue to afford to keep that office. Sir Julius Caesar held the Mastership of the Rolls from 1614 to 1636. In 1639, his son Charles bought the office for £15,000. If few could break into the monopoly of offices, it was bound to create resentment as many office holders made a great deal of money from their positions and it was obvious that a son would have sufficient resources to buy that office at auction when it next came up. Equally, keeping the office within a family did not necessarily guarantee that the next incumbent had the qualities required to do the work effectively.


As no Parliament sat from 1629 to 1640, Charles saw no reason for rural gentry and nobility to come to London. He issued a proclamation stating this on June 20th, 1632, and any rural noble or gentry found in London could be fined up to £1,000. Many gentry came to the conclusion that Charles was targeting them. In 1635, a Commission on Depopulation was appointed to detect and fine landlords involved in enclosure. A Commission on Clothing ensured that wages in the depressed cloth industry were kept artificially high. Charles should have been able to count on the support of those he was trying to help (not that the gentry saw it this way) but many of those who joined the New Model Army and were vociferous opponents of the king were from the lower classes.


Losing the support of the rural gentry came at a time when he lost the support of the most influential merchants in the City of London. In an effort to assert his authority, Charles, in 1636, ordered the prosecution of the Common Council in Star Chamber on a minor technical issue, which members in the Common Council had infringed. This led to a £70,000 fine. In 1639 this fine was reduced to £12,000. This was paid and Charles swiftly handed the money over to Henrietta Maria, his wife, as a birthday present. Such behaviour was only going to lose the king the support of some very influential and powerful men. When Charles asked the City of London for a loan in 1640, they refused. Such was the king’s inability to understand why his actions provoked anger, that he was bemused as to why they had refused his request.


The king’s precarious financial position was highlighted during the Bishops’ Wars against the Scots. The promise by Wentworth to get an army from Ireland and to quickly assemble one in England so as to avoid recalling Parliament came to nothing and the Scots not only defeated the English but following their victory encamped in the area around the lucrative coal mines near Newcastle. The only way they would leave was to be bought off. Charles did not have the necessary money to do this and had to recall Parliament. Parliament had a vested interest in seeing the Scots return north but their finances came at a price – for Wentworth and Laud. Parliament took advantage of the king’s financial weakness. They were willing to support the King but wanted the heads of his two most influential advisors. Both Laud and Wentworth survived their trials but Parliament resorted to a Bill of Attainder for both men who were subsequently beheaded.

MLA Citation/Reference

"Charles I and Finance". 2014. Web.

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