Ward's Book of Days.

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What happened on this day in history.

NOVEMBER 19th  

On this day in history in 1600, was born Charles I.

Charles was a king who believed totally in the ‘Divine Right of Kings’ and engaged in a power struggle with Parliament, which he lost and paid for with his life.  

Charles was born in 1600, the second son of James VI of Scots, at Dunfermline Palace. He was a sickly child and not expected to live, so when his father inherited the throne of England in 1603, Charles was left in the care of nurses when the Royal family left for London. Ironically, in 1612, Charles was still alive when his elder brother died and Charles became heir to the thrones of England and Scotland. Charles father, James I of England, James VI of Scots, never quite got used to the idea of the English House of Commons, where parliamentarians were involved in state business and the king was overlooked. It was from his father that Charles acquired the notion of the ‘Divine Right of Kings’, whereby God appoints a king to rule and that the purpose of parliaments and people’s representatives is to assist and advise the king.  

In 1625, James died and Charles succeeded to the throne. Almost immediately, Charles fell foul of Parliament when he married the French, and Catholic, Princess, Henrietta Maria. Charles then became involved in a war with Spain and was obliged to ask Parliament for money. Parliament granted him a small sum, £140,000, not nearly enough for a costly war. Parliament also refused Charles the lifetime grant of ‘Tonnage and Poundage’; the right to levy taxes on imports and exports, but only granted him this right for one year at a time. It became clear that Parliament was going to ration the king’s supply of cash and keep control over expenditure. Charles then resorted to the expedient of dismissing Parliament and ruling on his own.  

Without a supply of finance, Charles was obliged to make peace with Spain. He financed the upkeep of the Royal Navy by levying an ancient tax known as ‘Ship Money’, which, although had not been approved by a current Parliament, had been granted, as a permanent tax, to previous kings and as such was technically legal.  

In 1639, Charles found himself in trouble in Scotland when he imposed a new Prayer Book on the clergy which the Scots deeply resented as they thought it tantamount to Catholic practice. Charles resolved to subdue rebellion in Scotland with the sword, but found himself outmanoeuvred, in the First Bishops’ War, by a coordinated Scottish army led by dissident nobles. He was obliged to sign an ignominious truce at Berwick.  

Charles was advised to call Parliament and request money for a second war against the Scots. The new Parliament, The Short Parliament, instead of granting money, busied itself with grievances against the king and his collection of Ship Money and the conduct of the war in Scotland. In exasperation, Charles dissolved Parliament.  

This only encouraged the Scots to cross the border and take on the king’s troops at Newburn and now, Charles had to call Parliament again. The Long Parliament was even more uncooperative that the Short Parliament. They passed a Triennial Act, ensuring that Parliament had to meet at least once every three years and could not be dissolved without its own consent and far from granting more money to the king, condemned Ship Money as illegal. They even demanded control of the army.  

In desperation, Charles made peace with the Scots and asked them to support a campaign against the English Parliament. He also pawned the crown jewels to raise funds and, at Nottingham, raised the Royal Standard in a theatrical gesture signifying war on Parliament.  

The country split into two factions and a vicious civil war ensued. Parliament raised a New Model Army, trained to fight as a unified force. Charles had the support of Scottish nobles and English aristocrats. Charles was deeply disturbed by slaughter of his own people on the battlefield. He was too much of a gentleman to engage in full-scale warfare. The New Model Army, on the other hand, pursued the conflict with full vigour, with the result that they emerged victorious and captured the king.  

Charles was put on trial at Westminster Hall. He was charged with high treason and ‘other high crimes’ but refused to accept the authority of the court, and was subsequently convicted and beheaded in public. A Commonwealth (republic) was declared and Oliver Cromwell ruled England as Lord Protector. But Cromwell’s rule was worse than Charles’ had ever been. He put down dissent ruthlessly, raised taxes whenever he wanted money, without any consent, made war against Scotland, tried to create a union of England and Holland and when that failed went to war with Holland. Cromwell reduced Parliament to a ‘Rump’ by dismissing members who opposed him and finally abolished Parliament altogether. He was on the verge of declaring himself King Oliver, when he died in mysterious circumstances. After this, there was no hesitation in inviting Charles’ son, Charles II, to return and rule quietly.  

On 30th January 1661, on the anniversary of the death of Charles I, Cromwell’s body, was disinterred from his grave, and ceremonially hanged at Tyburn. His head was exhibited on a pole outside Westminster Abbey until 1685, when it fell to pieces.  

Recommended reading. 

Carlton, Charles.  Charles I: The Personal Monarch.

Buy it here at Amazon

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