Charles I - His Contentions with the House of Commons

KING James died in March 1625, in the fifty-ninth year of his age, and was succeeded by his son CHARLES, now twenty five years of age. One of the first acts of the young king was to marry the Princess Henrietta Maria, daughter of Henry IV of France, and a Catholic. This was an unfortunate step for the House of Stuart, for the two eldest sons of the king and queen, though educated as Protestants, were influenced in some measure by the religious creed of their mother, so that they ultimately became Catholics; and this, in the case of the second son, James II, led to the family being expelled from the British throne.

After breaking off the proposed match with the Princess Mary of Spain, Britain eagerly threw itself into a war with that country, which was still continued. To supply the expenses of that contest, and of a still more unnecessary one into which he was driven with France, the king applied to Parliament, but was met there with so many complaints as to his government, and such a keen spirit of popular liberty, that he deemed it necessary to revive a practice followed by other sovereigns, and particularly Elizabeth, of compelling his subjects to grant him gifts, or, as they were called, benevolences, and also to furnish ships at their own charge, for carrying on the war. Such expedients, barely tolerated under the happy reign of Elizabeth, could not be endured in this age, when the people and the Parliament were so much more alive to their rights. A general discontent spread over the nation. The Commons, seeing that if the king could support the state by self-raised taxes, he would soon become independent of all control from his Parliaments, resolved to take every measure in their power to check his proceedings. They also assailed him respecting a right which he assumed to imprison his subjects upon his own warrant, and to detain them as long as he pleased. Having made an inquiry into the ancient powers of the crown, before these powers had been vitiated by the tyrannical Tudors, they embodied the result in what was called a PETITION OF RIGHT, which they presented to him as an ordinary bill, or rather as a second Magna Charta, for replacing the privileges of the people, and particularly their exemption from arbitrary taxes and imprisonment, upon a fixed basis. With great difficulty Charles was prevailed upon to give his sanction to this bill (1628); but his disputes with Parliament soon after ran to such a height, that he dissolved it in a fit of indignation, resolving never more to call it together. About the same time his favorite minister, the Duke of Buckingham, was assassinated at Portsmouth, and Charles resolved thenceforward to be in a great measure his own minister, and to trust chiefly for the support of his government to the English hierarchy, to whose faith he was a devoted adherent, and who were, in turn, the most loyal of his subjects. His chief counselor was Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury, a man of narrow and bigoted spirit, and who made it his duty rather to increase than to diminish the ceremonies of the English church, although the tendency of the age was decidedly favorable to their diminution. For some years Charles governed the country entirely as an irresponsible despot, levying taxes by his own orders, and imprisoning such persons as were obnoxious to him, in utter defiance of the Petition of Right. The Puritans, or church reformers, suffered most severely under this system of things. They were dragged in great numbers before an arbitrary court called the Star-Chamber, which professed to take cognizance of offenses against the king's prerogative, and against religion; and sometimes men venerable for piety, learning, and worth, were scourged through the streets of London, and had their ears cut off, and their noses slit, for merely differing in opinion, on the most speculative of all subjects, with the king and his clergy. The great body of the people beheld these proceedings with horror, and only a fitting occasion was wanted for giving expression and affect to the public feeling.