Charles I was born in 1600 in Fife, Scotland. Charles was the second son of James I. His elder brother, Henry, died in 1612. Like Henry VIII, his accession to the throne depended on the death of his elder brother. Charles I became king of England in 1625. He was the second of the Stuart kings.
Charles was a quiet person who tended to stay in the background as he had a stammer. He was also conscious of his height. Figures vary, but Charles may have been just over 5 feet tall. In the paintings of Charles and his family, his children are either sitting while he stands or they are on the floor at his feet. His wife, the catholic Henrietta Maria of France, also sat while the paintings were done making it appear that Charles was taller than everyone else in the picture.
Charles was a good linguist and he developed a great love of art. Van Dyck and Rubens painted in England at his invitation and Charles spent a fortune on paintings by the masters such as Titian and Raphael. His collection of art, though impressive, also helped to put him in a very difficult financial position.
Charles was a very religious man and he preferred church services to be grand and full of ritual and colour. This was to lead to a clash with many in England who preferred plain and simple services.
Charles also angered many by having favourites at court. His most favoured advisor was the Duke of Buckingham who was murdered in 1628. Parliament agreed that Charles could pick his own advisors but only if the person appointed was acceptable to them.
Constant arguments with Parliament over many issues lead Charles to lock out Members of Parliament for 11 years – from 1629 to 1640 (the so-called Eleven Years Tyranny). In fact, Charles as king could do this under what was known as Royal Prerogative. The fact that Parliament was locked out was not a cause of much anger to the people of England. Many Members of Parliament used their position for their own gain usually at the expense of the people.
What did anger them were the methods Charles used to collect money. This he did by himself and without the support of Parliament. His two chief advisors during the Eleven Years Tyranny were William Laud, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the Earl of Stafford (“Black Tom Tyrant”).
In 1637, Charles tried to impose a new prayer book on the Scots – he had been crowned King of Scotland in 1633. The Scots wanted simple and plain prayer services while the new prayer book required more ritual and grandeur. This clash lead to the Scots invading England and occupying Durham and Newcastle.
In November 1640, Charles was forced into recalling Parliament as only they had the money needed to finance a war with the Scots or, as happened, giving the Scots a sum of money to get them to leave England and return to Scotland. Parliament was only willing to assist the king if he agreed on the following:
Laud and Strafford to be removed as advisors and put on trial. Both men were eventually executed.
Ship Money was to be declared illegal
Charles had to agree that Parliament could never be dismissed without Parliament agreeing to this. If, for whatever reason, parliament was dismissed, no more than three years could pass before a new one was called.
Such demands clearly challenged Charles’ belief in the divine right of kings to govern as they saw fit. Both king and Parliament were on a collision course. In 1642, Charles attempted to arrest his 5 leading critics in Parliament. They had fled to the safety of the city of London and it became obvious that conflict was all but inevitable.
Charles raised his royal standard at Nottingham in August 1642 and called on all loyal subjects to support him. He made Oxford his headquarters for the war.
Sir William Waller, a Member of Parliament, called the English Civil War “this war without an enemy.” It was to lead to the execution of Charles in January 1649.
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