1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Charles I. (King of England)
CHARLES I. (1600–1649), king of Great Britain and Ireland, second son of James I. and Anne of Denmark, was born at Dunfermline on the 19th of November 1600. At his baptism he was created duke of Albany, and on the 16th of January 1605 duke of York. In 1612, by the death of his elder brother Henry, he became heir-apparent, and was created prince of Wales on the 3rd of November 1616. In 1620 he took up warmly the cause of his sister the queen of Bohemia, and in 1621 he defended Bacon, using his influence to prevent the chancellor’s degradation from the peerage. The prince’s marriage with the infanta Maria, daughter of Philip III. of Spain, had been for some time the subject of negotiation, James desiring to obtain through Spanish support the restitution of his son-in-law, Frederick, to the Palatinate; and in 1623 Charles was persuaded by Buckingham, who now obtained a complete ascendancy over him in opposition to wiser advisers and the king’s own wishes, to make a secret expedition himself to Spain, put an end to all formalities, and bring home his mistress himself: “a gallant and brave thing for his Highness.” “Steenie” and “Baby Charles,” as James called them, started on the 17th of February, arriving at Paris on the 21st and at Madrid on the 7th of March, where they assumed the unromantic names of Mr Smith, and Mr Brown. They found the Spanish court by no means enthusiastic for the marriage and the princess herself averse. The prince’s immediate conversion was expected, and a complete religious tolerance for the Roman Catholics in England demanded. James engaged to allow the infanta the right of public worship and to use his influence to modify the law, but Charles himself went much further. He promised the alteration of the penal laws within three years, conceded the education of the children to the mother till the age of twelve, and undertook to listen to the infanta’s priests in matters of religion, signing the marriage contract on the 25th of July 1623. The Spanish, however, did not trust to words, and Charles was informed that his wife could only follow him to England when these promises were executed. Moreover, they had no intention whatever of aiding the Protestant Frederick. Meanwhile Buckingham, incensed at the failure of the expedition, had quarrelled with the grandees, and Charles left Madrid, landing at Portsmouth on the 5th of October, to the joy of the people, to whom the proposed alliance was odious. He now with Buckingham urged James to make war on Spain, and in December 1624 signed a marriage treaty with Henrietta Maria, daughter of Henry IV. of France. In April Charles had declared solemnly to the parliament that in case of his marriage to a Roman Catholic princess no concessions should be granted to recusants, but these were in September 1624 deliberately promised by James and Charles in a secret article, the first instance of the duplicity and deception practised by Charles in dealing with the parliament and the nation. The French on their side promised to assist in Mansfeld’s expedition for the recovery of the Palatinate, but Louis in October refused to allow the men to pass through France; and the army, without pay or provisions, dwindled away in Holland to nothing.
On the 27th of March 1625 Charles I. succeeded to the throne by the death of his father, and on the 1st of May he was married by proxy to Henrietta Maria. He received her at Canterbury on the 13th of June, and on the 18th his first parliament assembled. On the day of his marriage Charles had given directions that the prosecutions of the Roman Catholics should cease, but he now declared his intention of enforcing the laws against them, and demanded subsidies for carrying on the war against Spain. The Commons, however, responded coldly. Charles had lent ships to Louis XIII. to be used against the Protestants at La Rochelle, and the Commons were not aware of the subterfuges and fictitious delays intended to prevent their employment. The Protestant feelings of the Commons were also aroused by the king’s support of the royal chaplain, Richard Montagu, who had repudiated Calvinistic doctrine. They only voted small sums, and sent up a petition on the state of religion and reflecting upon Buckingham, whom they deemed responsible for the failure of Mansfeld’s expedition, at the same time demanding counsellors in whom they could trust. Parliament was accordingly dissolved by Charles on the 12th of August. He hoped that greater success abroad would persuade the Commons to be more generous. On the 8th of September 1625 he made the treaty of Southampton with the Dutch against Spain, and sent an expedition to Cadiz under Sir Edward Cecil, which, however, was a failure. In order to make himself independent of parliament he attempted to raise money on the crown jewels in Holland, and to diminish the opposition in the Commons he excluded the chief leaders by appointing them sheriffs. When the second parliament met, however, on the 6th of February 1626, the opposition, led by Sir John Eliot, was more determined than before, and their attack was concentrated upon Buckingham. On the 29th of March, Charles, calling the Commons into his presence, accused them of leading him into the war and of taking advantage of his difficulties to “make their own game.” “I pray you not to be deceived,” he said, “it is not a parliamentary way, nor ’tis not a way to deal with a king. Remember that parliaments are altogether in my power for their calling, sitting, and dissolution; therefore as I find the fruits of them good or evil, they are to continue or not to be.” Charles, however, was worsted in several collisions with the two houses, with a consequent loss of influence. He was obliged by the peers to set at liberty Thomas Howard, earl of Arundel, whom he had put into the Tower, and to send a summons to the earl of Bristol, whom he had attempted to exclude from parliament, while the Commons compelled him, with a threat of doing no business, to liberate Eliot and Digges, the managers of Buckingham’s impeachment, whom he had imprisoned. Finally in June the Commons answered Charles’s demand for money by a remonstrance asking for Buckingham’s dismissal, which they decided must precede the grant of supply. They claimed responsible ministers, while Charles considered himself the executive and the sole and unfettered judge of the necessities of the state. Accordingly on the 15th Charles dissolved the parliament.
The king was now in great need of money. He was at war with Spain and had promised to pay £30,000 a month to Christian IV. of Denmark in support of the Protestant campaign in Germany. To these necessities was now added a war with France. Charles had never kept his promise concerning the recusants; disputes arose in consequence with his wife, and on the 31st of July 1626 he ordered all her French attendants to be expelled from Whitehall and sent back to France. At the same time several French ships carrying contraband goods to the Spanish Netherlands were seized by English warships. On the 27th of June 1627 Buckingham with a large expedition sailed to the Isle of Ré to relieve La Rochelle, then besieged by the forces of Louis XIII. Though the success of the French Protestants was an object much desired in England, Buckingham’s unpopularity prevented support being given to the expedition, and the duke returned to Plymouth on the 11th of November completely defeated. Meanwhile Charles had endeavoured to get the money refused to him by parliament by means of a forced loan, dismissing Chief Justice Crewe for declining to support its legality, and imprisoning several of the leaders of the opposition for refusing to subscribe to it. These summary measures, however, only brought a small sum into the treasury. On the 2nd of January 1628 Charles ordered the release of all the persons imprisoned, and on the 17th of March summoned his third parliament.
Instead of relieving the king’s necessities the Commons immediately proceeded to discuss the constitutional position and to formulate the Petition of Right, forbidding taxation without consent of parliament, arbitrary and illegal imprisonment, compulsory billeting in private houses, and martial law. Charles, on the 1st of May, first demanded that they should “rest on his royal word and promise.” He obtained an opinion from the judges that the acceptance of the petition would not absolutely preclude in certain cases imprisonments without showing cause, and after a futile endeavour to avoid an acceptance by returning an ambiguous answer which only exasperated the Commons, he gave his consent on the 7th of June in the full and usual form. Charles now obtained his subsidies, but no real settlement was reached, and his relations with the parliament remained as unfriendly as before. They proceeded to remonstrate against his government and against his support of Buckingham, and denied his right to tonnage and poundage. Accordingly, on the 26th of June they were prorogued. New disasters befell Charles, in the assassination of Buckingham and in the failure of the fresh expedition sent to Ré. In January 1629 the parliament reassembled, irritated by the exaction of the duties and seizure of goods during the interval, and suspicious of “innovations in religion,” the king having forbidden the clergy to continue the controversy concerning Calvinistic and Arminian doctrines, the latter of which the parliament desired to suppress. While they were discussing these matters, on the 2nd of March 1629, the king ordered them to adjourn, but amidst a scene of great excitement the speaker, Sir John Finch, was held down in his chair and the doors were locked, whilst resolutions against innovations in religion and declaring those who levied or paid tonnage and poundage enemies to their country were passed. Parliament was immediately dissolved, and Charles imprisoned nine members, leaders of the opposition, Eliot, Holles, Strode, Selden, Valentine, Coryton, Heyman, Hobart and Long, his vengeance being especially shown in the case of Eliot, the most formidable of his opponents, who died in the Tower of consumption after long years of close and unhealthy confinement, and whose corpse even Charles refused to give up to his family.
For eleven years Charles ruled without parliaments and with some success. There seemed no reason to think that “that noise,” to use Laud’s expression concerning parliaments, would ever be heard again by those then living. A revenue of about £618,000 was obtained by enforcing the payment of tonnage and poundage, and while avoiding the taxes, loans, and benevolences forbidden by the petition of right, by monopolies, fines for knighthood, and for pretended encroachments on the royal domains and forests, which enabled the king to meet expenditure at home. In Ireland, Charles, in order to get money, had granted the Graces in 1628, conceding security of titles of more than sixty years’ standing, and a more moderate oath of allegiance for the Roman Catholics, together with the renunciation of the shilling fine for non-attendance at church. He continued, however, to make various attempts to get estates into his possession on the pretext of invalid title, and on the 12th of May 1635 the city of London estates were sequestered. Charles here destroyed one of the most valuable settlements in Ireland founded by James I. in the interests of national defence, and at the same time extinguished the historic loyalty of the city of London, which henceforth steadily favoured the parliamentary cause. In 1633 Wentworth had been sent to Ireland to establish a medieval monarchy and get money, and his success in organization seemed great enough to justify the attempt to extend the system to England. Charles at the same time restricted his foreign policy to scarcely more than a wish for the recovery of the Palatinate, to further which he engaged in a series of numerous and mutually destructive negotiations with Gustavus Adolphus and with Spain, finally making peace with Spain on the 5th of November 1630, an agreement which was followed on the 2nd of January 1631 by a further secret treaty, the two kings binding themselves to make war on the Dutch and partition their territories. A notable feature of this agreement was that while in Charles’s portion Roman Catholicism was to be tolerated, there was no guarantee for the security of Protestantism in the territory to be ceded to Spain.
In 1634 Charles levied ship-money from the seaport towns for the increase of the navy, and in 1635 the tax was extended to the inland counties, which aroused considerable opposition. In February 1637 Charles obtained an opinion in favour of his claims from the judges, and in 1638 the great Hampden case was decided in his favour. The apparent success, however, of Charles was imperilled by the general and growing resentment aroused by his exactions and whole policy, and this again was small compared with the fears excited by the king’s attitude towards religion and Protestantism. He supported zealously Laud’s rigid Anglican orthodoxy, his compulsory introduction of unwelcome ritual, and his narrow, intolerant and despotic policy, which was marked by several savage prosecutions and sentences in the Star Chamber, drove numbers of moderate Protestants out of the Church into Presbyterianism, and created an intense feeling of hostility to the government throughout the country. Charles further increased the popular fears on the subject of religion by his welcome given to Panzani, the pope’s agent, in 1634, who endeavoured unsuccessfully to reconcile the two churches, and afterwards to George Conn, papal agent at the court of Henrietta Maria, while the favour shown by the king to these was contrasted with the severe sentences passed upon the Puritans.
The same imprudent neglect of the national sentiment was pursued in Scotland. Charles had already made powerful enemies there by a declaration announcing the arbitrary revocation of former church estates to the crown. On the 18th of June 1633 he was crowned at Edinburgh with full Anglican ceremonial, which lost him the hearts of numbers of his Scottish subjects and aroused hostility to his government in parliament. After his return to England he gave further offence by ordering the use of the surplice, by his appointment of Archbishop Spotiswood as chancellor of Scotland, and by introducing other bishops into the privy council. In 1636 the new Book of Canons was issued by the king’s authority, ordering the communion table to be placed at the east end, enjoining confession, and declaring excommunicate any who should presume to attack the new prayer-book. The latter was ordered to be used on the 18th of October 1636, but it did not arrive in Scotland till May 1637. It was intensely disliked both as “popish” and as English. A riot followed its first use in St Giles’ cathedral on the 23rd of July, and Charles’s order to enforce it on the 10th of September was met by fresh disturbances and by the establishment of the “Tables,” national committees which now became the real though informal government of Scotland. In 1638 the national covenant was drawn up, binding those that signed it to defend their religion to the death, and was taken by large numbers with enthusiasm all over the country. Charles now drew back, promised to enforce the canons and prayer-book only in a “fair and legal way,” and sent the marquis of Hamilton as a mediator. The latter, however, a weak and incapable man, desirous of popularity with all parties, and unfaithful to the king’s interests, yielded everything, without obtaining the return of Charles’s subjects to their allegiance. The assembly met at Glasgow on the 21st of November, and in spite of Hamilton’s opposition immediately proceeded to judge the bishops. On the 28th Hamilton dissolved it, but it continued to sit, deposed the bishops and re-established Presbyterianism. The rebellion had now begun, and an appeal to arms alone could decide the quarrel between Charles and his subjects. On the 28th of May 1639 he arrived at Berwick with a small and ill-trained force, thus beginning what is known as the first Bishops’ War; but being confronted by the Scottish army at Duns Law, he was compelled to sign the treaty of Berwick on the 18th of June, which provided for the disbandment of both armies and the restitution to the king of the royal castles, referring all questions to a general assembly and a parliament. When the assembly met it abolished episcopacy, but Charles, who on the 3rd of August had returned to Whitehall, refused his consent to this and to other measures proposed by the Scottish parliament. His extreme financial necessities, and the prospect of renewed hostilities with the Scots, now moved Charles, at the instigation of Strafford, who in September had left Ireland to become the king’s chief adviser, to turn again to parliament for assistance as the last resource, and on the 13th of April 1640 the Short Parliament assembled. But on its discussing grievances before granting supplies and finally refusing subsidies till peace was made with the Scots, it was dissolved on the 5th of May. Charles returned once more to measures of repression, and on the 10th imprisoned some of the London aldermen who refused to lend money. He prepared for war, scraping together what money he could and obtaining a grant through Strafford from Ireland. His position, however, was hopeless; his forces were totally undisciplined, and the Scots were supported by the parliamentary opposition in England. On the 20th of August the Scots crossed the Tweed, beginning the so-called second Bishops’ War, defeated the king’s army at Newburn on the 28th, and subsequently occupied Newcastle and Durham. Charles at this juncture, on the 24th of September, summoned a great council of the peers; and on the 21st of October a cessation of arms was agreed to by the treaty of Ripon, the Scots receiving £850 a day for the maintenance of the army, and further negotiations being transferred to London. On the 3rd of November the king summoned the Long Parliament.
Such was the final issue of Charles’s attempt to govern without parliaments—Scotland in triumphant rebellion, Ireland only waiting for a signal to rise, and in England the parliament revived with almost irresistible strength, in spite of the king, by the force of circumstances alone. At this great crisis, which would indeed have taxed the resolution and resource of the most cool-headed and sagacious statesman, Charles failed signally. Two alternative courses were open to him, either of which still offered good chances of success. He might have taken his stand on the ancient and undoubted prerogative of the crown, resisted all encroachments on the executive by the parliament by legal and constitutional means, which were probably ample, and in case of necessity have appealed to the loyalty of the nation to support him in arms; or he might have waived his rights, and, acknowledging the mistakes of his past administration, have united with the parliament and created once more that union of interests and sentiment of the monarchy with the nation which had made England so powerful. Charles, however, pretended to do both simultaneously or by turns, and therefore accomplished neither. The illegally imprisoned members of the last parliament, now smarting with the sense of their wrongs, were set free to stimulate the violence of the opposition to the king in the new assembly. Of Charles’s double statecraft, however, the series of incidents which terminated the career of the great Strafford form the most terrible example. Strafford had come to London in November, having been assured by Charles that he “should not suffer in his person, honour or fortune,” but was impeached and thrown into the Tower almost immediately. Charles took no steps to hinder the progress of the proceedings against him, but entered into schemes for saving him by bringing up an army to London, and this step exasperated Strafford’s enemies and added new zeal to the prosecution. On the 23rd of April, after the passing of the attainder by the Commons, he repeated to Strafford his former assurances of protection. On the 1st of May he appealed to the Lords to spare his life and be satisfied with rendering him incapable of holding office. On the 2nd he made an attempt to seize the Tower by force. On the 10th, yielding to the queen’s fears and to the mob surging round his palace, he signed his death-warrant. “If my own person only were in danger,” he declared to the council, “I would gladly venture it to save my Lord Strafford’s life; but seeing my wife, children, all my kingdom are concerned in it, I am forced to give way unto it.” On the 11th he sent to the peers a petition for Strafford’s life, the force of which was completely annulled by the strange postscript: “If he must die, it were a charity to reprieve him until Saturday.” This tragic surrender of his great and devoted servant left an indelible stain upon the king’s character, and he lived to repent it bitterly. One of his last admonitions to the prince of Wales was “never to give way to the punishment of any for their faithful service to the crown.” It was regarded by Charles as the cause of his own subsequent misfortunes, and on the scaffold the remembrance of it disturbed his own last moments. The surrender of Strafford was followed by another stupendous concession by Charles, the surrender of his right to dissolve the parliament without its own consent, and the parliament immediately proceeded, with Charles’s consent, to sweep away the star-chamber, high commission and other extra-legal courts, and all extra-parliamentary taxation. Charles, however, did not remain long or consistently in the yielding mood. In June 1641 he engaged in a second army plot for bringing up the forces to London, and on the 10th of August he set out for Scotland in order to obtain the Scottish army against the parliament in England; this plan was obviously doomed to failure and was interrupted by another appeal to force, the so-called Incident, at which Charles was suspected (in all probability unjustly) of having connived, consisting in an attempt to kidnap and murder Argyll, Hamilton and Lanark, with whom he was negotiating. Charles had also apparently been intriguing with Irish Roman Catholic lords for military help in return for concessions, and he was suspected of complicity in the Irish rebellion which now broke out. He left Scotland more discredited than ever, having by his concessions made, to use Hyde’s words, “a perfect deed of gift of that kingdom,” and without gaining any advantage.
Charles returned to London on the 25th of November 1641 and was immediately confronted by the Grand Remonstrance (passed on the 22nd), in which, after reciting the chief points of the king’s misgovernment, the parliament demanded the appointment of acceptable ministers and the constitution of an assembly of divines to settle the religious question. On the 2nd of January 1642 Charles gave office to the opposition members Colepeper and Falkland, and at the same time Hyde left the opposition party to serve the king. Charles promised to take no serious step without their advice. Nevertheless, entirely without their knowledge, through the influence of the queen whose impeachment was intended, Charles on the 4th made the rash and fatal attempt to seize with an armed force the five members of the Commons, Pym, Hampden, Holies, Hesilrige and Strode, whom, together with Mandeville (afterwards earl of Manchester) in the Lords, he had impeached of high treason. No English sovereign ever had (or has since that time) penetrated into the House of Commons. So complete and flagrant a violation of parliamentary liberties, and an appeal so crude and glaring to brute force, could only be justified by complete success; but the court plans had been betrayed, and were known to the offending members, who, by order of the House, had taken refuge in the city before the king’s arrival with the soldiers. Charles, on entering the House, found “the birds flown,” and returned baffled, having thrown away the last chance of a peaceful settlement (see Lenthall, William). The next day Charles was equally unsuccessful in obtaining their surrender in the city. “The king had the worst day in London yesterday,” wrote a spectator of the scene, “that ever he had, the people crying ‘privilege of parliament’ by thousands and prayed God to turn the heart of the king, shutting up their shops and standing at their doors with swords and halberds.” On the 10th, amidst general manifestations of hostility, Charles left Whitehall to prepare for war, destined never to return till he was brought back by his victorious enemies to die.
Several months followed spent in manoeuvres to obtain the control of the forces and in a paper war of controversy. On the 23rd of April Charles was refused entry into Hull, and on the 2nd of June the parliament sent to him the “Nineteen Propositions,” claiming the whole sovereignty and government for the parliament, including the choice of the ministers, the judges, and the control of the army, and the execution of the laws against the Roman Catholics. The military events of the war are described in the article Great Rebellion. On the 22nd of August the king set up his standard at Nottingham, and on the 23rd of October he fought the indecisive battle of Edgehill, occupying Oxford and advancing as far as Brentford. It seemed possible that the war might immediately be ended by Charles penetrating to the heart of the enemy’s position and occupying London, but he drew back on the 13th of November before the parliamentary force at Turnham Green, and avoided a decisive contest.
Next year (1643) another campaign, for surrounding instead of penetrating into London, was projected. Newcastle and Hopton were to advance from the north and west, seize the north and south banks of the river below the city, destroy its commerce, and combine with Charles at Oxford. The royalist force, however, in spite of victories at Adwalton Moor (June 30th) and Roundway Down (July 13th), did not succeed in combining with Charles, Newcastle in the north being kept back by the Eastern Association and the presence of the enemy at Hull, and Hopton in the west being detained by their successful holding out at Plymouth. Being too weak to attempt anything alone against London, Charles marched to besiege Gloucester, Essex following him and relieving the place. Subsequently the rival forces fought the indecisive first battle of Newbury, and Charles failed in preventing the return of Essex to London. Meanwhile on the 1st of February the parliament had submitted proposals to Charles at Oxford, but the negotiations came to nothing, and Charles’s unwise attempt at the same time to stir up a rising in his favour in the city, known as Waller’s Plot, injured his cause considerably. He once more turned for help to Ireland, where the cessation of the campaign against the rebels was agreed upon on the 15th of September 1643, and several English regiments became thereby available for employment by the king in England. Charles also accepted the proposal for bringing over 2000 Irish. On the 22nd of January 1644 the king opened the rival parliament at Oxford.
The campaign of 1644 began far less favourably for Charles than the two last, principally owing to the alliance now made between the Scots and the parliament, the parliament taking the Solemn League and Covenant on the 25th of September 1643, and the Scottish army crossing the border on the 19th of January 1644. No attempt was this year made against London, and Rupert was sent to Newcastle’s succour in the north, where the great disaster of Marston Moor on the 2nd of July ruined Charles’s last chances in that quarter. Meanwhile Charles himself had defeated Waller at Cropredy Bridge on the 29th of June, and he subsequently followed Essex to the west, compelling the surrender of Essex’s infantry at Lostwithiel on the 2nd of September. With an ill-timed leniency he allowed the men to go free after giving up their stores and arms, and on his return towards Oxford he was confronted again by Essex’s army at Newbury, combined now with that of Waller and of Manchester. Charles owed his escape here from complete annihilation only to Manchester’s unwillingness to inflict a total defeat, and he was allowed to get away with his artillery to Oxford and to revictual Donnington Castle and Basing House.
The negotiations carried on at Uxbridge during January and February 1645 failed to secure a settlement, and on the 14th of June the crushing defeat of the king’s forces by the new model army at Naseby practically ended the civil war. Charles, however, refused to make peace on Rupert’s advice, and considered it a point of honour “neither to abandon God’s cause, injure my successors, nor forsake my friends.” His chief hope was to join Montrose in Scotland, but his march north was prevented by the parliamentary forces, and on the 24th of September he witnessed from the walls of Chester the rout of his followers at Rowton Heath. He now entered into a series of intrigues, mutually destructive, which, becoming known to the different parties, exasperated all and diminished still further the king’s credit. One proposal was the levy of a foreign force to reduce the kingdom; another, the supply through the marquis of Ormonde of 10,000 Irish. Correspondence relating to these schemes, fatally compromising as they were if Charles hoped ever to rule England again, was discovered by his enemies, including the Glamorgan treaty, which went much further than the instructions to Ormonde, but of which the full responsibility has never been really traced to Charles, who on the 29th of January 1646 disavowed his agent’s proceedings. He simultaneously treated with the parliament, and promised toleration to the Roman Catholics if they and the pope would aid in the restoration of the monarchy and the church. Nor was this all. The parliamentary forces had been closing round Oxford. On the 27th of April the king left the city, and on the 5th of May gave himself up to the Scottish army at Newark, arriving on the 13th with them at Newcastle. On the 13th of July the parliament sent to Charles the “Newcastle Propositions,” which included the extreme demands of Charles’s acceptance of the Covenants, the abolition of episcopacy and establishment of Presbyterianism, severer laws against the Roman Catholics and parliamentary control of the forces, with the withdrawal of the Irish Cessation, and a long list of royalists to be exempted from pardon. Charles returned no definite answer for several months. He imagined that he might now find support in Scottish royalism, encouraged by Montrose’s series of brilliant victories, but these hopes were destroyed by the latter’s defeat at Philiphaugh on the 3rd of September. The Scots insisted on the Covenant and on the permanent establishment of Presbyterianism, while Charles would only consent to a temporary maintenance for three years. Accordingly the Scots, in return for the payment of part of their army arrears by the parliament, marched home on the 30th of January 1647, leaving Charles behind, who under the care of the parliamentary commissioners was conducted to Holmby House. Thence on the 12th of May he sent his answer to the Newcastle Propositions, offering the militia to the parliament for ten years and the establishment of Presbyterianism for three, while a final settlement on religion was to be reached through an assembly of twenty divines at Westminster. But in the midst of the negotiation with the parliament Charles’s person was seized, on the 3rd of June 1647, by Cornet Joyce under instructions of the army, which soon afterwards occupied London and overpowered the parliament, placing Charles at Hampton Court.
If Charles could have remained firm to either one or the other faction, and have made concessions either to Presbyterianism or on the subject of the militia, he might even now have prevailed. But he had learned nothing by experience, and continued at this juncture his characteristic policy of intrigue and double-dealing, “playing his game,” to use his own words, negotiating with both parties at once, not with the object or wish to arrive at a settlement with either, but to augment their disputes, gain time and profit ultimately by their divisions. The “Heads of the Proposals,” submitted to Charles by the army on the 28th of July 1647, were terms conceived on a basis far broader and more statesmanlike than the Newcastle Propositions, and such as Charles might well have accepted. The proposals on religion anticipated the Toleration Act of 1689. There was no mention of episcopacy, and its existence was thereby indirectly admitted, but complete religious freedom for all Protestant denominations was provided, and the power of the church to inflict civil penalties abolished, while it was also suggested that dangers from Roman Catholics and Jesuits might be avoided by means other than enforcing attendance at church. The parliament was to dissolve itself and be succeeded by biennial assemblies elected on a reformed franchise, not to be dissolved without their own consent before 120 days, and not to sit more than 240 days in the two years. A council of state was to conduct the foreign policy of the state and conclude peace and war subject to the approval of parliament, and to control the militia for ten years, the commanders being appointed by parliament, as also the officers of state for ten years. No peer created since May the 21st, 1642, was to sit in parliament without consent of both Houses, and the judicial decisions of the House of Lords were to be ratified by the Commons. Only five persons were excepted from amnesty, but royalists were not to hold office for five years and not to sit in the Commons till the end of the second biennial parliament. Proposals for a series of reforms were also added. Charles, however, was at the same time negotiating with Lauderdale for an invasion of England by the Scots, and imagined he could win over Cromwell and Fairfax by “proffers of advantage to themselves.” The precious opportunity was therefore allowed to slip by. On the 9th of September he rejected the proposals of the parliament for the establishment of Presbyterianism. His hopes of gaining advantages by playing upon the differences of his opponents proved a complete failure. Fresh terms were drawn up by the army and parliament together on the 10th of November, but before these could be presented, Charles, on the 11th, had escaped to Carisbrooke Castle in the Isle of Wight. Thence on the 16th he sent a message offering Presbyterianism for three years and the militia for his lifetime to the parliament, but insisting on the maintenance of episcopacy. On the 28th of December he refused his assent to the Four Bills, which demanded the militia for parliament for twenty years and practically for ever, annulled the honours recently granted by the king and his declarations against the Houses, and gave to parliament the right to adjourn to any place it wished. On the 3rd of January 1648 the Commons agreed to a resolution to address the king no further, in which they were joined by the Lords on the 15th.
Charles had meanwhile taken a further fatal step which brought about his total destruction. On the 26th of December 1647 he had signed at Carisbrooke with the Scottish commissioners the secret treaty called the “Engagement,” whereby the Scots undertook to invade England on his behalf and restore him to the throne on condition of the establishment of Presbyterianism for three years and the suppression of the sectarians. In consequence the second civil war broke out and the Scots invaded England under Hamilton. The royalist risings in England were soon suppressed, and Cromwell gained an easy and decisive victory over the Scots at Preston. Charles was now left alone to face his enemies, with the whole tale of his intrigues and deceptions unmasked and exposed. The last intrigue with the Scots was the most unpardonable in the eyes of his contemporaries, no less wicked and monstrous than his design to conquer England by the Irish soldiers; “a more prodigious treason,” said Cromwell, “than any that had been perfected before; because the former quarrel was that Englishmen might rule over one another; this to vassalize us to a foreign nation.” Cromwell, who up to this point had shown himself foremost in supporting the negotiations with the king, now spoke of the treaty of Newport, which he found the parliament in the act of negotiating on his return from Scotland, as “this ruining hypocritical agreement.” Charles had engaged in these negotiations only to gain time and find opportunity to escape. “The great concession I made this day,” he wrote on the 7th of October, “was made merely in order to my escape.” At the beginning he had stipulated that no concession from him should be valid unless an agreement were reached upon every point. He had now consented to most of the demands of the parliament, including the repudiation of the Irish Cessation, the surrender of the delinquents and the cession of the militia for twenty years, and of the offices of state to parliament, but remained firm in his refusal to abolish episcopacy, consenting only to Presbyterianism for three years. Charles’s devotion to the church is undoubted. In April 1646, before his flight from Oxford, inspired perhaps by superstitious fears as to the origin of his misfortunes, he had delivered to Sheldon, afterwards archbishop of Canterbury, a written vow (now in the library of St Paul’s cathedral) to restore all church lands held by the crown on his restoration to the throne; and almost his last injunction to the prince of Wales was that of fidelity to the national church. His present firmness, however, in its support was caused probably less by his devotion to it than by his desire to secure the failure of the whole treaty, and his attempts to escape naturally weakened the chances of success. Cromwell now supported the petitions of the army against the treaty. On the 16th of November the council of officers demanded the trial of the king, “the capital and grand author of our troubles,” and on the 27th of November the parliamentary commissioners returned from Newport without having secured Charles’s consent. Charles was removed to Hurst Castle on the 1st of December, where he remained till the 19th, thence being taken to Windsor, where he arrived on the 23rd. On the 6th “Pride’s Purge” had removed from the Commons all those who might show any favour to the king. On the 25th a last attempt by the council of officers to come to terms with him was repulsed. On the 1st of January the remnant of the Commons resolved that Charles was guilty of treason by “levying war against the parliament and kingdom of England”; on the 4th they declared their own power to make laws without the lords or the sovereign, and on the 6th established a “high court of justice” to try the king. On the 19th Charles was brought to St James’s Palace, and on the next day his trial began in Westminster Hall, without the assistance of any of the judges, who all refused to take part in the proceedings. He laughed aloud at hearing himself called a traitor, and immediately demanded by what authority he was tried. He had been in treaty with the parliament in the Isle of Wight and taken thence by force; he saw no lords present. He was told by Bradshaw, the president of the court, that he was tried by the authority of the people of England, who had elected him king; Charles making the obvious reply that he was king by inheritance and not by election, that England had been for more than 1000 years an hereditary kingdom, and Bradshaw cutting short the discussion by adjourning the court. On the 22nd Charles repeated his reasoning, adding, “It is not my case alone; it is the freedom and liberty of the people of England, and do you pretend what you will, I stand more for their liberties, for if power without law may make laws ... I do not know what subject he is in England that can be sure of his life or anything that he calls his own.” On the 23rd he again refused to plead. The court was adjourned, and there were several signs that the army in their prosecution of the king had not the nation at their back. While the soldiers had shouted “Justice! justice!” as the king passed through their ranks, the civilian spectators from the end of the hall had cried “God save the king!” There was considerable opposition and reluctance to proceed among the members of the court. On the 26th, however, the court decided unanimously upon his execution, and on the 27th Charles was brought into court for the last time to hear his sentence. His request to be heard before the Lords and Commons was rejected, and his attempts to answer the charges of the president were silenced. Sentence was pronounced, and the king was removed by the soldiers, uttering his last broken protest: “I am not suffered to speak. Expect what justice other people will have.”
In these last hours Charles, who was probably weary of life, showed a remarkable dignity and self-possession, and a firm resignation supported by religious faith and by the absolute conviction of his own innocence, which, says Burnet, “amazed all people and that so much the more because it was not natural to him. It was imputed to a very extraordinary measure of supernatural assistance . . . ; it was owing to something within himself that he went through so many indignities with so much true greatness without disorder or any sort of affectation.” Nothing in his life became Charles like the leaving it. “He nothing common did or mean Upon that memorable scene.” On the morning of the 29th of January he said his last sad farewell to his younger children, Elizabeth and Henry, duke of Gloucester. On the 30th at ten o’clock he walked across from St James’s to Whitehall, calling on his guard “in a pleasant manner” to walk apace, and at two he stepped upon the scaffold from a window, probably the middle one, of the Banqueting House (see Architecture, Plate VI., fig. 75). He was separated from the people by large ranks of soldiers, and his last speech only reached Juxon and those with him on the scaffold. He declared that he had desired the liberty and freedom of the people as much as any; “but I must tell you that their liberty and freedom consists in having government. . . . It is not their having a share in the government; that is nothing appertaining unto them. A subject and a sovereign are clean different things.” These, together with his declaration that he died a member of the Church of England, and the mysterious “Remember,” spoken to Juxon, were Charles’s last words. “It much discontents the citizens,” wrote a spectator; “ye manner of his deportment was very resolutely with some smiling countenances, intimating his willingness to be out of his troubles.” “The blow I saw given,” wrote another, Philip Henry, “and can truly say with a sad heart, at the instant whereof, I remember well, there was such a grone by the Thousands then present as I never heard before and desire I may never hear again. There was according to order one Troop immediately marching fromwards Charing-Cross to Westminster and another fromwards Westminster to Charing-Cross, purposely to masker” (i.e. to overpower) “the people and to disperse and scatter them, so that I had much adoe amongst the rest to escape home without hurt.”
Amidst such scenes of violence was at last effected the destruction of Charles. “It is lawful,” wrote Milton, “and hath been held so through all ages for any one who have the power to call to account a Tyrant or wicked King and after due conviction to depose and put him to death.” But here (it might well be contended) there had been no “due conviction.” The execution had been the act of the king’s personal enemies, of “only some fifty or sixty governing Englishmen with Oliver Cromwell in the midst of them” an act technically illegal, morally unjustifiable because the supposed crimes of Charles had been condoned by the later negotiations with him, and indefensible on the ground of public expediency, for the king’s death proved a far greater obstacle to the re-establishment of settled government than his life could have been. The result was an extraordinary revulsion of feeling in favour of Charles and the monarchy, in which the incidents of his misgovernment were completely forgotten. He soon became in the popular veneration a martyr and a saint. His fate was compared with the Crucifixion, and his trials and sufferings to those of the Saviour. Handkerchiefs dipped in his blood wrought “miracles,” and the Eikon Basilike, published on the day of his funeral, presented to the public a touching if not a genuine portrait of the unfortunate sovereign. At the Restoration the anniversary of his death was ordered to be kept as a day of fasting and humiliation, and the service appointed for use on the occasion was only removed from the prayer-book in 1859. The same conception of Charles as a martyr for religion appeals still to many, and has been stimulated by modern writers. “Had Charles been willing to abandon the church and give up episcopacy,” says Bishop Creighton, “he might have saved his throne and his life. But on this point Charles stood firm, for this he died and by dying saved it for the future.” Gladstone, Keble, Newman write in the same strain. “It was for the Church,” says Gladstone, “that Charles shed his blood upon the scaffold.” “I rest,” says Newman, “on the scenes of past years, from the Upper Room in Acts to the Court of Carisbrooke and Uxbridge.” The injustice and violence of the king’s death, however, the pathetic dignity of his last days, and the many noble traits in his character, cannot blind us to the real causes of his downfall and destruction, and a sober judgment cannot allow that Charles was really a martyr either for the church or for the popular liberties.
The constitutional struggle between the crown and parliament had not been initiated by Charles I. It was in full existence in the reign of James I., and distinct traces appear towards the latter part of that of Elizabeth. Charles, therefore, in some degree inherited a situation for which he was not responsible, nor can he be justly blamed, according to the ideas of kingship which then prevailed, for defending the prerogatives of the crown as precious and sacred personal possessions which it was his duty to hand down intact to his successors. Neither will his persistence in refusing to yield up the control of the executive to the parliament or the army, or his zeal in defending the national church, be altogether censured. In the event the parliament proved quite incapable of governing, an army uncontrolled by the sovereign was shown to constitute a more grievous tyranny than Charles’s most arbitrary rule, and the downfall of the church seen to make room only for a sectarian despotism as intolerable as the Laudian. The natural inference might be that both conceptions of government had much to support them, that they were bound sooner or later to come into collision, and that the actual individuals in the drama, including the king himself, were rather the victims of the greatness of events than real actors in the scene, still less the controllers of their own and the national destiny. A closer insight, however, shows that biographical more than abstract historical elements determined the actual course and issue of the Rebellion. The great constitutional and religious points of dispute between the king and parliament, though doubtless involving principles vital to the national interests, would not alone have sufficed to destroy Charles. Monarchy was too much venerated, was too deeply rooted in the national life, to be hastily and easily extirpated; the perils of removing the foundation of all government, law and order were too obvious not to be shunned at almost all costs. Still less can the crowning tragedy of the king’s death find its real explanation or justification in these disputes and antagonisms. The real cause was the complete discredit into which Charles had brought himself and the monarchy. The ordinary routine of daily life and of business cannot continue without some degree of mutual confidence between the individuals brought into contact, far less could relations be maintained by subjects with a king endowed with the enormous powers then attached to the kingship, and with whom agreements, promises, negotiations were merely subterfuges and prevarications. We have seen the series of unhappy falsehoods and deceptions which constituted Charles’s statecraft, beginning with the fraud concerning the concessions to the Roman Catholics at his marriage, the evasions with which he met the Petition of Right, the abandonment of Strafford, the simultaneous negotiation with, and betrayal of, all parties. Strafford’s reported words on hearing of his desertion by Charles, “Put not your trust in princes,” re-echo through the whole of Charles’s reign. It was the degradation and dishonour of the kingship, and the personal loss of credit which Charles suffered through these transactions—which never appear to have caused him a moment’s regret or uneasiness, but the fatal consequences of which were seen only too clearly by men like Hyde and Falkland—that were the real causes of the rebellion and of the king’s execution. The constitutional and religious grievances were the outward and visible sign of the corroding suspicions which slowly consumed the national loyalty. In themselves there was nothing incapable of settlement either through the spirit of union which existed between Elizabeth and her subjects, or by the principle of compromise which formed the basis of the constitutional settlement in 1688. The bond of union between his people and himself Charles had, however, early broken, and compromise is only possible between parties both of whom can acknowledge to some extent the force of the other’s position, which can trust one another, and which are sincere in their endeavour to reach agreement. Thus on Charles himself chiefly falls the responsibility for the catastrophe.
His character and motives fill a large place in English history, but they have never been fully understood and possibly were largely due to physical causes. His weakness as a child was so extreme that his life was despaired of. He outgrew physical defects, and as a young man excelled in horsemanship and in the sports of the times, but always retained an impediment of speech. At the time of his accession his reserve and reticence were especially noticed. Buckingham was the only person who ever enjoyed his friendship, and after his death Charles placed entire confidence in no man. This isolation was the cause of an ignorance of men and of the world, and of an incapacity to appreciate the ideas, principles and motives of others, while it prepared at the same time a fertile soil for receiving those exalted conceptions of kingship, of divine right and prerogative, which came into vogue at this period, together with those exaggerated ideas of his own personal supremacy and importance to which minds not quite normal are always especially inclined. His character was marked by a weakness which shirked and postponed the settlement of difficulties, by a meanness and ingratitude even when dealing with his most devoted followers, by an obstinacy which only feigned compliance and by an untruthfulness which differed widely from his son’s unblushing deceit, which found always some reservation or excuse, but which while more scrupulous was also more dangerous and insidious because employed continually as a principle of conduct. Yet Charles, in spite of his failings, had many fine qualities. Clarendon, who was fully conscious of them, who does not venture to call him a good king, and allows that “his kingly virtues had some mixture and alloy that hindered them from shining in full lustre,” declares that “he was if ever any, the most worthy of the title of an Honest Man, so great a lover of justice that no temptation could dispose him to a wrongful action except that it was disguised to him that he believed it just,” “the worthiest of gentlemen, the best master, the best friend, the best husband, the best father and the best Christian that the age in which he lived produced.” With all its deplorable mistakes and failings Charles I.’s reign belongs to a sphere infinitely superior to that of his unscrupulous, corrupt, selfish but more successful son. His private life was without a blemish. Immediately on his accession he had suppressed the disorder which had existed in the household of James I., and let it be known that whoever had business with him “must never approach him by backstairs or private doors.” He maintained a strict sobriety in food and dress. He had a fine artistic sense, and Milton reprehends him for having made Shakespeare “the closest companion of his solitudes.” “Monsieur le Prince de Galles,” wrote Rubens in 1625, “est le prince le plus amateur de la peinture qui soit au monde.” He succeeded in bringing together during twenty years an unrivalled collection, of which a great part was dispersed at his death. He showed a noble insensibility to flattery. He was deeply and sincerely religious. He wished to do right, and was conscious of the purity of his motives. Those who came into contact with him, even the most bitter of his opponents, were impressed with his goodness. The great tragedy of his life, to be read in his well-known, dignified, but weak and unhappy features, and to be followed in his inexplicable and mysterious choice of baneful instruments, such as Rupert, Laud, Hamilton, Glamorgan, Henrietta Maria—all in their several ways working out his destruction—seems to have been inspired by a fateful insanity or infirmity of mind or will, recalling the great Greek dramas in which the poets depicted frenzied mortals rushing into their own destruction, impelled by the unseen and superior powers.
The king’s body, after being embalmed, was buried by the few followers who remained with him to the last, hastily and without any funeral service, which was forbidden by the authorities, in the tomb of Henry VIII., in St George’s Chapel, Windsor, where his coffin was identified and opened in 1813. An “account of what appeared” was published by Sir Henry Halford, and a bone abstracted on the occasion was replaced in the vault by the prince of Wales (afterwards Edward VII.) in 1888. Charles I. left, besides three children who died in infancy, Charles (afterwards Charles II.); James (afterwards James II.); Henry, duke of Gloucester (1639–1660); Mary (1631–1660), who married William of Orange; Elizabeth (1635–1650); and Henrietta, duchess of Orleans (1644–1670).
Bibliography.—The leading authority for the life and reign of Charles I. is the History of England (1883) and History of the Great Civil War (1893), by S. R. Gardiner, with the references there given. Among recent works may be mentioned Memoirs of the Martyr King, by A. Fea (1905); Life of Charles I, 1600–1625, by E. B. Chancellor (1886); The Visits of Charles I. to Newcastle, by C. S. Terry (1898); Charles I., by Sir J. Skelton, valuable for its illustrations (1898); The Manner of the Coronation of King Charles I., ed. by C. Wordsworth (Henry Bradshaw Soc., 1892); The Picture Gallery of Charles I., by C. Phillips (1896). See also Calendars of State Papers, Irish and Domestic Series; Hist. MSS. Comm. Series, esp. MSS. of J. Eliot Hodgkin, F. J. Savile Foljambe, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, Duke of Rutland at Belvoir Castle, Marquis of Ormonde, Earl Cowper (Coke MSS.), Earl of Lonsdale (note-books of parliaments of 1626 and 1628), Duke of Buccleuch at Montagu House, Duke of Portland, 11th Rep. app. pt. vi., Duke of Hamilton, pt. i., Salvetti Correspondence, 10th Rep. pt. vi., Lord Braye; Add. MSS. Brit. Mus., 33,596 fols. 21-32 (keys to ciphers), 34,171, 35,297; Notes and Queries, ser. vi., vii., viii., ix. indexes; Eng. Hist. Rev. ii. 687 (“Charles and Glamorgan” by S. R. Gardiner), vii. 176; Cornhill Mag. vol. 75, January 1897, “Execution of Charles,” by C. H. Firth. (P. C. Y.)
- Hist. MSS. Comm. 11 Rep. app. Pt. iv. 21.
- Hist. MSS. Comm.: MSS. of Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, 141.
- Notes and Queries, 7th ser., viii. 326.
- Letters and Diaries of P. Henry (1882), 12.
- Tenure of Kings and Magistrates.
- Lectures on Archbishop Laud (1895), p. 25.
- Remarks on the Royal Supremacy (1850), p. 57.
- Salvetti’s Corresp. in Hist. MSS. Comm. 11th Rep. app. pt. i. p. 6.