- Mark A. Kishlansky
- and John Morrill
Charles I (1600–1649)
Charles I (1600–1649), king of England, Scotland, and Ireland, was born in Dunfermline Castle, Scotland, on 19 November 1600 and baptized at the palace of Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh, on 23 December. He was the third child of James VI of Scotland (subsequently James I of England; 1566–1625) and his Danish wife, Anne (1574–1619), having been preceded by Henry (1594–1612) and Elizabeth (1596–1662). He was created duke of Albany at his baptism and duke of York in 1605.
Childhood and youth
Charles had the conventional upbringing of a younger son, tempered by his early physical disabilities. In Scotland he was placed in the care of Lord and Lady Fyvie, who brought him up until the age of four; he then moved to England and the household of Sir Robert and Lady Carey. His powers of speech and of ambulation were both delayed, the first by a lingual deformity, the second by weak ankle joints probably caused by rickets. Thomas Murray, a Scottish presbyterian who later became provost of Eton, oversaw his education. Like most princes, Charles was reputed to have been a serious student who excelled at languages, rhetoric, and divinity. Contemporaries repeated the story that Prince Henry promised to make him archbishop of Canterbury as reward for his intellectual efforts, and King James himself believed his son a competent judge of theological disputes, asserting 'that Charles should manage a point in controversy with the best studied Divine of them all' (Basilike, 2–3). At the age of nine Charles chose for himself the motto, 'If you would conquer all things, submit yourself to reason' (Green, Elizabeth, 24). He conquered his physical disabilities by sheer determination and excelled at tournament sports, hunting, and riding. Though his delayed speech resulted in a lifelong stutter, he learned to express himself with style and vigour.
The defining event of Charles's childhood was the loss of his siblings in 1612–13. In rapid succession his brother Henry died and his sister Elizabeth married and departed from England, not to return until 1661. Charles was strongly attached to them both and acted as chief mourner at Henry's funeral and brides-man at Elizabeth's wedding to Frederick, elector palatine. Charles and Elizabeth mourned Henry together and the weeks they spent in constant company created a devotion that had political repercussions for the next thirty years. Prince Henry's death made Charles heir to the kingdoms of Britain and Ireland (he became duke of Cornwall and duke of Rothesay) and transformed his daily life. As the sole male heir, his activities were sheltered and his person carefully guarded. Charles attempted to emulate his brother's tastes, improving the collections of armour and artwork that he inherited, retaining the same French riding master, welcoming literary dedications and participating in the elegant masques of Ben Jonson and Inigo Jones. He inherited a number of Henry's household officials and, most importantly, several of his chaplains who fed Charles a steady diet of Calvinist divinity. For his confirmation in 1613 he was examined by Archbishop George Abbot and James Montagu, bishop of Bath and Wells, who had been singularly influential in placing advanced Calvinists in Prince Henry's court.
From the age of twelve Charles was brought up to be a king and he was gradually instructed in every aspect of rule by his father, whom Francis Bacon described as 'the best tutor in Europe' (Works of Francis Bacon, 13.239). The prince accompanied the king on progresses and visits to the universities, and was present at all important state occasions. On 3 November 1616 he was created prince of Wales in a lavish ceremony at Whitehall. When James returned to Scotland in 1617 Charles was part of the council that governed in his absence. He was made a member of the privy council and sat on the naval commission, where he developed his lifelong interest in maritime issues. Along with his ceremonial role, the prince took an active part in parliament, attending over seventy per cent of the sessions of the House of Lords in 1621, and acting as its de facto leader in 1624.
Charles's tutelage coincided with the rise to power of George Villiers, duke of Buckingham, who became one of the most influential figures in his life. In 1615 Villiers was knighted with Charles's sword and the two were soon drawn together, Charles signing his letters as 'your, constant loving friend' (Halliwell, 123, 149). James I used his favourites as a buffer between himself and his heirs and as Charles succeeded Henry, so Buckingham succeeded the earl of Somerset. Buckingham mediated quarrels between king and prince, particularly the delicate issue of Queen Anne's bequest of her estate to her son rather than to her husband, and acted as unofficial equerry to the teenager, though he had little effect upon Charles's natural shyness and prudery. Anne's death in 1619 was a personal blow to the prince, for the two had a genuine bond of affection, 'she having always been to him a tender and indulgent mother' (Works of King Charles I, 17). Once again Charles served as chief mourner in a royal funeral.
The Spanish match
When war broke out in Europe in 1618 Charles eagerly took the side of his ambitious brother-in-law Frederick, who had accepted the crown of Bohemia and was opposed by the power of the Austrian and Spanish Habsburgs. Charles followed events in Germany closely, received ambassadorial reports, studied troop movements, and even volunteered to lead an English force into battle. Prodded by his sister, he pressed his father to aid Frederick and his protestant allies, though James rebuffed every suggestion of military intervention. After Frederick's decisive defeat in 1620 and the subsequent loss of his lands and electoral dignity, Charles promised Elizabeth that he would do everything in his power to protect her family and restore her husband. He pledged £5000 out of his own revenues for the benevolence to defend the Palatinate and he interested himself in the complex diplomatic manoeuvres that James undertook to re-establish the status quo ante bellum.
These manoeuvres soon devolved upon a marital alliance between England and Spain, which served as a prelude to the withdrawal of Habsburg forces from the Palatinate and the settlement of the European conflict. A prestigious Spanish marriage had been broached as early as 1614, but it gained momentum after the war began and became the centrepiece of Jacobean diplomacy once Spanish and imperial forces occupied the Rhenish Palatinate. Despite his martial inclinations, his Calvinist training, and his identification with European protestantism, Charles came to support the match as a sacrifice for the benefit of his sister and brother-in-law: 'at bottom this concerns my sister', he informed Count Gondomar, the Spanish ambassador to England (CSP Venice, 1619–21, 433). Charles did not recoil from the prospect of marrying out of his faith, having the example of his mother's shrouded Catholicism as a model of how private devotion could be compatible with public responsibilities.
Negotiations for the Spanish match reopened in 1619 but quickly stalled over issues of religion and politics. Initially, Philip III of Spain desired the match to prevent an Anglo-Dutch alliance which would interfere with his efforts to regain control of the Netherlands after the conclusion of the twelve years' truce in 1621. Indeed, at one stage of the negotiations it was proposed that Charles lead a force to annex the Netherlands to England. But the events in central Europe changed Spanish priorities. Prevention of an Anglo-Dutch alliance was still a central objective, but it took second place to impeding an escalation of war in Germany that posed the danger of an Anglo-French alliance as well. Diplomatic incentives were counterbalanced by the obstacles of an inter-faith marriage which, even after a century of protestantism in Europe, had not yet taken place between major states. Within Spain, opposition to marriage with 'a heretic' came from the church, the Inquisition, and the proposed bride, the Infanta Maria, who feared for her soul. These opponents insisted that the English would have to grant concessions to ensure that the Spanish infanta could practise her faith, bring up her children as Catholics, and consort with her English co-religionists, who would be relieved from the penalties of the recusancy laws. It was argued that such conditions would also be insisted upon by the papacy, which would have to grant a dispensation for the marriage to take place.
For James the marriage represented an opportunity to act as peacemaker in Europe, bringing protestant and Catholic together and ending the escalating war. Alone among members of the protestant union, James refused to recognize his son-in-law as king of Bohemia, a move calculated to appease Spanish sensitivities. Despite rising domestic anti-Catholic sentiment, James rebuffed every overture for English support from his son-in-law and his allies. Even-handedly, he allowed both sides to raise regiments of English volunteers. But the decision of the Spanish Habsburgs to aid their Austrian relatives with troops and money, the invasion of the Palatinate by Spanish and imperial troops, and the defeat of Frederick at the battle of White Mountain forced James to reconsider his reliance upon diplomacy. In 1621 he manipulated popular sentiment in parliament to apply pressure on Spain to conclude the marriage negotiations and withdraw from the Palatinate. Charles received his first taste of factional politics in the House of Lords, where he attempted unsuccessfully to oppose the impeachment of Lord Chancellor Bacon, and of popular politics in the House of Commons, where his prospective marriage and the king's diplomacy were roundly condemned. He complained to his father that his 'marriage was continually prostituted in the lower House' and recommended to Buckingham that 'such seditious fellows might be made an example to others' (Russell, Parliaments and English Politics, 137; Halliwell, 2.157).
Despite James's public sabre-rattling, he desired nothing more than peace with Spain and the occupation of the Palatinate made him more dependent upon the completion of the marriage alliance, for it was clear that he had neither the manpower nor the money to reconquer it. He launched a series of diplomatic missions to the capitals of Habsburg Europe, all of which began in hope and ended in tears. In summer 1621 John, Lord Digby, extracted the promise of a cease-fire in the Palatinate from Habsburg representatives in Brussels and Vienna, but in September the upper Palatinate was seized by Maximilian of Bavaria with the approval of Emperor Ferdinand. In the following year James's plan for an all-party peace conference reached fruition at Brussels, though the meetings did not prevent the Austrians from capturing the Palatine capital of Heidelberg in September 1622. This was the gravest crisis yet, and Charles took charge of a privy council planning group to raise an army of 23,000 that he would lead for its recovery.
But James's final diplomatic gambit seemed to bear fruit. In June 1622 he sent Digby to Spain with instructions to make the religious concessions necessary to conclude the marriage treaty in order to secure a commitment from Philip IV (who had succeeded his father in 1621) that he would evacuate his own troops from the Palatinate and pressurize the Emperor Ferdinand to remove his. Digby found a surprisingly warm welcome in Madrid, where the escalating war was badly straining Spanish resources. Now earl of Bristol, he worked tirelessly to conclude the treaty, though he could never get a firm commitment from Philip for the full restoration of the Palatinate. But Bristol put a positive gloss on the deliberately ambiguous responses of the Spaniards and by the end of December 1622 he reported to James that the match was effectively made.
Charles had followed the tortuous negotiations with fluctuating emotions. Advances made his heart soar, retreats caused visible depression. In October he was ready to go to war, in November he was being tutored in Spanish and learning the latest continental dance steps. Bristol's dispatches and the first-hand account of Endymion Porter, a practised Hispanophile, led the prince to believe that his personal intervention could bring the treaties to a close and the marriage to fruition. He prevailed upon James to allow him to make a secret journey to Madrid and end delay. In company with Buckingham and a small number of servants, Charles left England in mid-February 1623, travelling by way of Paris where he caught sight of the infanta's sister, the queen of France, as well as the French princess, Henrietta Maria. The weary travellers arrived in Madrid on 7 March, astonishing the earl of Bristol, the Conde-Duc Olivares, the chief minister, and Philip IV by their presence.
Charles's decision to undertake a personal courtship as a way of breaking through the diplomatic deadlock was an indication of his growing self-confidence. He was now commonly acting as a political agent, meeting with privy councillors, foreign ambassadors, and the duke of Buckingham, sometimes under his father's instructions, sometimes independently. The decision to travel to Spain and conduct face-to-face negotiations to conclude his marriage was a further step in his maturation. Though he travelled with Buckingham and the duke served as amanuensis, plenipotentiary, and boon companion, there can be no doubt that Charles regarded his marriage as a personal, family matter under his direction and control. Both Spanish and English diplomats, however, were more concerned with the attitude of England towards its Catholics and Spain's goodwill towards the elector palatine, and the marriage project was inseparable from this context.
Charles was deeply impressed by his stay in Spain. The sixteen-year-old Philip IV displayed his lavish court to great effect, and Charles witnessed a formality much in contrast to his father's unrestrained lifestyle. Even tournaments and entertainments were highly structured, and Charles viewed one of the mock battles that the Spaniards were fond of staging. Charles frequently studied what was then the greatest picture collection in Europe and received two Titians and Giambologna's sculpture of Samson as gifts from the Spanish monarch. He also pursued his own artistic interests, being sketched by Velázquez and concluding the purchase of a set of Raphael cartoons which were used as designs for tapestries produced at the new Mortlake workshop.
But the object of his journey eluded Charles. He caught only fleeting glimpses of the Infanta Maria, enough to inflame his already hyperactive emotions, and the marriage negotiations immediately stalled. Olivares, who mistakenly believed that Charles might convert to Catholicism, persuaded Philip IV to hold out for more stringent religious concessions. In May 1623 the Spaniards demanded that James agree to full toleration of Catholics and obtain a parliamentary confirmation. Charles held firm to his religious convictions and was ready to break off negotiations over the new demands, but Buckingham and Bristol persuaded him otherwise. Nevertheless, a combination of factors—the long delays, conflict between Buckingham and Olivares, and the papal instruction that would have allowed the marriage but kept the infanta in Spain until Catholic toleration had been achieved—served to cool the prince's ardour. By June he believed he was a virtual prisoner and the concessions that he made thereafter were all in the context of securing his safe departure. In August the formal marriage treaty was completed and Charles left his proxy with Bristol so that the ceremony could take place once the final papal dispensation arrived. But he also left secret instructions with Sir Walter Aston not to allow the proxy to be used without further orders. On 7 October 1623 Charles and Buckingham arrived safely in England to wild popular celebration.
Once home Charles lost no time in extricating himself from a bargain he had already repudiated. On a personal level he suffered deeply, having developed a strong emotional attachment to the infanta and a psychological readiness for marriage. 'Baby Charles is himself so touched at the heart … and swears that if he want her there shall be blows', Buckingham had written to James at the early stages of the negotiations (P. Yorke, earl of Hardwicke, Miscellaneous State Papers from 1501 to 1726, 2 vols., 1778, 1.410). Indeed, months later he was still wounded when the infanta returned his gifts and tokens. Nevertheless, Charles saw the futility of relying upon promises rather than contracts. He persuaded his father to demand a written guarantee of Spanish commitment to the return of the Palatinate including pledges that they would use force to dislodge imperial troops. Philip repeated his deft evasions, but the Stuarts now insisted upon an unambiguous declaration. This effectively ended negotiation, although diplomatic exchanges dragged on for months.
The trip to Spain was an important milestone in Charles's development. Not only did he broaden his horizons in the six months he spent at the court of the most powerful king in Europe; he gained self-confidence by being constantly at the centre of political affairs. He could no longer depend upon his father to make all the important decisions, and he revelled in his freedom, ultimately asking James to give him carte blanche to conclude the treaties. The portrait painted by Daniel Mytens at this time showed a young man exuding confidence and poise. His round face with the hair swept back from a high forehead was relaxed; the shining, heavily lidded eyes, pursed lips, and well-proportioned body were nearly sensuous. The time in Madrid also bound the prince and duke together in an enduring friendship. They were constantly in each other's company, isolated by language, custom, and religion from those around them. If their trip began as 'the voyage of the knights of adventure' it ended in battlefield camaraderie, a mutual dependence sealed by shared experience (TNA: PRO, SP 14/139/26). Once again Buckingham had managed to blur the boundaries between public and private in his service to the Stuarts.
This change in Charles's personality was apparent upon his return. Basking in his new-found popularity, he began building momentum for war. Deftly, he and Buckingham manipulated James into calling another parliament and both lobbied among anticipated parliamentary leaders to construct a 'Patriot coalition' against Spain. The parliament of 1624 heard a highly coloured account of the perfidy of the Spanish negotiators and an appeal for the money necessary to enter the European conflict with force. Reversing his insistence that discussion of foreign affairs was a king's prerogative, James invited parliament to advise him on whether negotiations with Spain should be continued or broken off. There could be no question about popular sentiment, for the match 'was cross-grained generally unto the inclination of the people of England', but a parliamentary resolution could be construed as a financial commitment and the houses proceeded with caution (Warwick, 3).
Throughout the parliament Charles took the leading role, and he was generally effective in navigating the tricky shoals of parliamentary procedure. But his intensity of purpose and the single-mindedness with which he pursued his goal caused him to overestimate the commitment of his allies and underestimate their reservations. Those who supported a war against Spain did so from motives not entirely compatible with his own. There were the hard core anti-Catholics who clamoured for a war of religion and the Hispanophobes who wished to punish an evil empire. There were also merchants and privateers who anticipated increased trade and plunder and pro-Dutch members who wished to prevent another Spanish invasion of the Netherlands. Indeed there were very few who supported the war as a means to recover the Palatinate or who thought of it as diplomacy by other means, the twin touchstones of royal policy. Thus Charles did not hear the caution signals implied by the demand that parliamentary treasurers keep accounts of the money voted for war, that religion be named a cause of the conflict, and that the military objectives be limited to dominating the seas and aiding the Dutch. All he did hear was that parliament had committed itself to supporting an intervention 'to assist with our persons and abilities' (JHC, 1547–1628, 733).
Charles also miscalculated the difficulties of persuading his father to abandon the habits of a lifetime and declare war. In autumn 1624 James introduced one obstacle after another while desperately attempting to revive his stalled diplomacy. Spanish agents insinuated that an alliance could still be achieved, especially if Buckingham were removed from power. For the first time in his career, the duke was uncertain of his hold over his royal patron. Fearing that the broken Spanish treaties might still be mended, Buckingham urged James to pursue an alliance with the French, who would provide a dowry large enough to repay royal debts and an army strong enough to threaten the Spanish. Negotiations in Paris under the aegis of the earls of Carlisle and Holland were already under way, but they soon snagged on the same obstructions as had the Spanish treaties. Louis XIII and his new minister, Cardinal Richelieu, demanded the religious concessions the Spanish had achieved, plausibly claiming that this was a condition for papal approval. While James and Charles had reluctantly accepted these terms in 1623, Charles in April 1624 had vowed in parliament that if he took a Catholic wife he would grant her only personal dispensations. Moreover, France refused to promise that the marriage would be accompanied by an open declaration of war against Spain—only that the recovery of the Palatinate was a key French objective.
Even with these impediments the French marriage treaty progressed as the only viable alternative to the match with Spain. In August Charles had opposed concessions for English Catholics, advising Carlisle to 'break off the treaty of marriage' if they were insisted upon, but by September, under pressure from Buckingham, he had acquiesced (Lockyer, 203). Nevertheless, it was several months before final terms could be agreed, and James postponed a second session of the 1624 parliament in order to prevent dissension, especially on religious grounds. This lost him the additional three subsidies parliament might have voted for the war with Spain, and placed intense scrutiny upon the use of the funds already collected.
These went in large part to fund an Anglo-French expeditionary force led by the soldier of fortune Count Ernst von Mansfeld, and in smaller measure to begin preparations for a naval expedition to be launched in the spring. But James could not take the final step of an open breach with Spain. Despite English demands for a French declaration of war, when Mansfeld embarked for the continent it was on James's strict orders that he must not land on Spanish territory nor attack Spanish troops. This overturned the French plan to send Mansfeld to reinforce the Dutch garrison at Breda, and was the cause of mutual suspicion between James and Louis XIII. Louis soon withdrew permission for Mansfeld to land in France and only the personal intervention of Buckingham, and the loan of several English ships ostensibly to defend the French coast, kept the military alliance alive. Even the combined ministrations of Charles and Buckingham failed to persuade James that war was imperative and an uneasy stalemate resulted when Charles informed his father, in anticipation of another Spanish diplomatic mission, that he would never marry the infanta.
The split between James on one side and the prince and duke on the other not only compromised the conclusion of the French marriage, it also forced Charles and Buckingham to isolate themselves from those advisers whom they had so assiduously cultivated in the spring. Their secrecy begat damaging rumours, not only about concessions for Catholics, but also about their commitment to war. The prince could hardly defend himself by blaming his father, but, without explanation, Buckingham's military policy appeared incompetent, especially as sickness and desertion depleted Mansfeld's forces while they awaited their marching orders. Indeed, James's dithering had the ultimate effect of discrediting Charles's foreign policy.
King Charles at war, 1625–1630
James died on 27 March 1625. On his deathbed he implored Charles to defend the church, protect his sister, and remain loyal to the duke. Charles regarded each promise as a sacred oath. He mourned his father's loss deeply and followed the hearse himself at the costly ceremony he ordered for James's interment. Charles saw his own reign in terms of continuity with his father's, rather than as marking the opening of a new era. Though he might easily have repudiated the more extravagant of the old king's debts or jettisoned his least reliable servants, Charles demonstrated a strong dynastic loyalty. He thought no reason more compelling than that it had been his father's wish and no argument more persuasive than that it had been James's policy. He commissioned busts of his father from leading sculptors, planned a dominating statue to adorn the west portico of a rebuilt St Paul's Cathedral, and oversaw the construction of Rubens's ceiling panels for the new Banqueting House that depicted the blessings of James's reign and the heavenly reward he had earned for them. Throughout his life he was hypersensitive to criticism of James, especially from members of parliament. Charles was profoundly shocked by open allegations that Buckingham had poisoned his father and insinuations that he had colluded in the deed. For Charles I no ties were stronger than those of blood.
James's death occurred just weeks before the conclusion of Charles's marriage, curtailing Buckingham's lavish expedition to Paris to receive Charles's intended bride, Henrietta Maria (1609–1669), and postponing his equally important diplomatic mission. Throughout the winter tortuous negotiations had taken place to create an international coalition for a war with Spain. Despite the threat that increasing Spanish power posed for France, Louis XIII and Richelieu were reluctant to participate in a protestant coalition or to lead an anti-Habsburg one. Indeed, while they concluded one set of treaties with England, they were secretly beginning another set with Spain. Nevertheless, they continued to fund Mansfeld and to encourage Buckingham to believe that once the war began they would contribute their share. In the meantime, Buckingham was building a coalition with the Dutch republic, Denmark, and a number of independent Italian and German states which committed England to large monthly subventions of its allies' armies. Charles was eager to fulfil his promises to his sister 'that he would never abandon us, but rather will aid in recovering our rights' and to launch his first invasion (Marchegay, 165–6). He was so certain of public support that he sought to reconvene the parliament of 1624 only to be informed that its existence had ended with his father's death. A new parliament was summoned immediately as Charles set off for Dover to meet his bride.
From the start Charles's plans were upset by circumstances beyond his control. Contrary winds kept Henrietta Maria, who was married to Charles by proxy at the church door of Notre Dame on 1 May ns, in France, making it necessary for the king to delay the opening of his first parliament from May to June. Buckingham's diplomacy was ruined by an unanticipated Huguenot rising which not only eliminated any hope of French military assistance, but which also made it necessary for Richelieu to use the English ships loaned to him against the French protestants. Finally, the worst outbreak of plague in living memory began just as members gathered in London for the parliament of 1625. Buckingham brought not only ill tidings from France, but also a frightened, fifteen-year-old bride under the intrusive control of a carefully chosen entourage. Henrietta Maria was small-boned and petite, 'being for her age somewhat little' (Skrine MSS, 22). She was still sick from her maiden sea voyage when Charles arrived on 13 June to claim his marital rights. Henrietta Maria endured the experience with obvious discomfort; the next morning her servants found her morose and the king jocund. After that Charles lost no time: the royal couple arrived in London on 16 June in a driving rain, and he opened parliament two days later.
Despite the diplomatic setbacks and murmurs of discontent about his French marriage with its still secret concessions to English Catholics, Charles thought he had every reason to expect a fruitful parliament. He considered himself 'bred up in Parliament', as one member described him, and finally able to begin the war for which the patriot coalition had clamoured (Bidwell and Jansson, Proceedings in Parliament, 1625, 219). With the anxiety about plague deepening daily, Charles set a simple agenda, suggesting that a grant by parliament of supply to the government be followed by a prorogation until the autumn, when another session could be devoted to grievances. Fearing that the free gift given to a new monarch by his first parliament might be conflated with the needs of the military expedition, the king did not specify the number of subsidies he desired, but it was well known that had the parliament of 1624 reconvened it would have been to supply three full subsidies for the Spanish invasion. Charles had no reason to anticipate less and some hope of receiving more. This was dashed immediately in the hyper-tense atmosphere of a plague-infested capital. Some members wished to adjourn immediately, others demanded that grievances be considered along with supply, though the king could not understand what grievances could have accumulated in a two-month-old reign.
Charles appealed directly to the members to honour their promise to his father and accepted without demur a provocative petition on religion. He redressed the grievances that had been presented to James in 1624 with only a few technical reservations. He even sent his secretary of state, Sir John Coke, to explain his needs in unprecedented detail, all but revealing his military plans to the world. But the more obvious was his willingness to propitiate parliament, the more obdurate did members become. After an initial motion for an immediate adjournment was defeated, parliament settled into its time-consuming routines. Criticisms were levelled against the use of the subsidies voted in 1624, against the preparations for the expedition against Spain, and against the 'young and inexperienced' commander to whom Charles had entrusted it, the Lord Admiral Buckingham (Gardiner, Debates, 157). Parliamentary reluctance to vote a substantial sum for a military engagement against Spain arose from the conventional opposition to taxation combined with distrust of the new king's intentions and abilities. The patriot coalition dissolved in mutual suspicion, Commons leaders like Sir John Eliot and Sir Robert Phelips believing they should have been rewarded for their efforts in 1624, Charles and Buckingham believing they had made a pact that should be honoured in 1625.
Parliament voted two subsidies without fifteenths as a 'free gift' without reference to the war, and requested a hasty adjournment in the face of mounting deaths from the plague (Bidwell and Jansson, Proceedings in Parliament, 1625, 276). Charles accepted the wholly inadequate supply and summoned parliament to reconvene at Oxford on 1 August to consider further war funding. The resummons was unpopular, especially when the plague preceded the members to the university, and Buckingham bore the brunt of criticism for a decision that Charles had made on his own. Charles was desperate to honour the pledges he had made to his sister and to his uncle, Christian IV of Denmark, whose army was already in the field. The Oxford session of the parliament of 1625 was catastrophic. Members dug in their heels against further supply and widened their criticisms of Buckingham and the management of foreign policy. Suspicions of the secret clauses of Charles's marriage treaty were whispered openly, though the king had violated nearly every promise he had made to the French in order to please his most anti-Catholic subjects. After two weeks of parliamentary intransigence, Charles dissolved the session in despair.
The resulting naval expedition was a predictable failure. Sensitive to criticism of his inexperience and anxious to create an international coalition, Buckingham did not lead the English forces but recommended Sir Edward Cecil (created Viscount Wimbledon), a career military commander, as its admiral. Charles understood from the beginning that even with the addition of Dutch ships, the venture would be underfunded, poorly manned, and badly supplied. Still, he believed it necessary to demonstrate his resolve and give backbone to his diplomacy. 'Better far it were … that with hazard of half the fleet it were set forth than with assured loss of so much provision it were stayed home' (Bidwell and Jansson, Proceedings in Parliament, 1625, 133). The orders given to Cecil were to capture or sink Spanish shipping and attempt to intercept the South American plate fleet. The king's caution was explicit in his written instructions that defined the mission: 'that which we have least in contemplation is the taking or spoiling of a town' (Rymer, Foedera, 8, pt 1, 129–30). The fleet did capture several Spanish vessels and narrowly missed intercepting the treasure ships. A landing was made at Fort Puntal, but the onset of winter made an extended incursion impossible. On the homeward voyage the seas were so rough that vessels were scattered as far north as Scotland. Despite its limited aspirations and modest achievements, the expedition was defined by its inability to lay waste to Cadiz, where a Spanish flotilla was safely moored. Buckingham was roundly criticized for everything, from the dilapidated state of the ships to the disagreements among the commanders at councils of war. But his real failure was his inability to conclude the diplomatic alliance with the French that would have expanded the war against Spain.
Charles summoned the parliament of 1626 in order to fortify his war effort. Another fleet was in preparation, and Buckingham's diplomacy had at least succeeded in building a partial coalition with the Dutch and the Danes on condition that England subsidize their ventures. As he had promised in 1625, Charles allowed parliament to present its grievances, and he made no request for subsidies during the first month of the session. The question of war finance was not broached until 10 March, when a delegation from the House of Lords reported their approval of the king's strategy and stressed the importance of a prompt grant. But the mood in the House of Commons was hostile, despite Charles's having prevented several outspoken critics from sitting by selecting them sheriffs. The month spent in discussing grievances touched every aspect of royal government from religion to administration. The royal chaplain Richard Mountague was denounced for his claim that there were few differences between the beliefs of Canterbury and Rome. The commissioners of war appointed in 1624 were investigated for the way in which subsidies had been spent; members of the council of war were interrogated concerning their advice for the Spanish expedition. There were complaints about the economy, about pirate raids, about the retaliatory seizure of English vessels by the French. But the centre of controversy was the duke of Buckingham's role in Charles's government, and on 11 March he was declared the general cause of all of the evils of the kingdom.
Charles immediately defended his chief minister and favourite, demanding that the Commons punish those members whose speeches had traduced himself and the duke. When the lower house continued to attack Buckingham and to refuse to turn their vote of three subsidies into a bill, Charles lashed out in bitter recrimination: 'Remember that parliaments are altogether in my power for the calling, sitting, and continuance of them. Therefore as I find the fruits either good or evil they are for to continue or not to be' (Bidwell and Jansson, Proceedings in Parliament, 1626, 2.395). Although Charles was strongly inclined to dissolve parliament at the end of March, Buckingham retrieved the situation by persuading the king that he would defeat any attempted impeachment. Charles reluctantly agreed to allow the impeachment to proceed and the Commons reluctantly agreed to add one additional subsidy to finance the war. Two more precious months passed without war finance and the king's impatience turned to cold anger. He offered the Commons a series of compromises designed to speed their proceedings, but all were rejected in preference for a full-blown trial before the House of Lords. Nevertheless, when Buckingham's prediction proved true and he appeared to have parried not only the Commons' charges of impeachment, but also those levelled against his conduct in Spain in 1623 by the earl of Bristol, the lower house demanded that Charles sequester the duke without his formal conviction. This was the final straw for a king who believed he had made every reasonable concession to his parliament. Without waiting to receive this remonstrance, Charles dissolved parliament on 15 June forfeiting the subsidies so desperately needed for the European war.
The supply that Charles lost with the dissolution of parliament would not have been sufficient to meet his military obligations, and members of his privy council had been exploring fiscal precedents to raise additional funds. These ultimately included heavy borrowing from court officers, the sale of royal lands, and the pawning of the crown jewels. None of these expedients, nor the administrative belt-tightening that Charles ordered and practised, could generate the substantial sums necessary, and in September 1626 the council advised the king to proceed by way of a loan to recoup the value of the subsidies parliament had proposed to provide. The loan was all the more necessary as protestant fortunes in Europe were deteriorating badly. Charles's uncle, Christian of Denmark, pleaded in vain for the money promised him, and in August his undermanned army was crushed at the battle of Lutter and his crown threatened. Charles issued a proclamation explaining the terms of the loan in October and all of the conventional forms used over the past 150 years for gathering loans were followed. The leading nobility and gentry of every shire were conscripted to serve as commissioners, privy councillors were sent to support collection, and rates were calculated on traditional lines. Fiscally, the loan proved successful as more than £250,000 was ultimately raised in less than a year. But the loan was profoundly unpopular and seventy-six prominent gentlemen were arrested and imprisoned for refusing to lend and for obstructing the work of local collectors. At the end of 1627 a habeas corpus case was heard in London on the narrow issue of whether bail might be granted to those refusers whom the crown imprisoned by special command of the king (though it was popularly believed that the judges had decided that the king could imprison those who refused to lend it money). The judges denied the petitioners' plea. Even after Charles released the loan resisters in January 1628 there was widespread complaint about the loan, the imprisonment of resisters, and the decision of the court.
The fiscal expedients of 1626–7 allowed Charles to meet some of his pressing commitments to the anti-Habsburg coalition, but his foreign policy veered in an unexpected direction when relations broke down with his brother-in-law, Louis XIII of France. These had soured rapidly after Henrietta Maria's arrival in England in 1625. Charles believed not only that members of the queen's entourage were spies and provocateurs, but that they were deliberately creating discord in his marriage. At first withdrawn, Henrietta Maria became petulant and then hostile toward her husband, refusing invitations to his bedchamber and behaving provocatively in public. Foreign ambassadors noted Charles's explosions of anger, and Louis XIII sent a special envoy to London in an attempt to smooth over the worst of the problems. This proved difficult, for Charles viewed the larger issues of politics and diplomacy through the prism of his own personal life.
Both sides had strong cases against the other. Charles had manifestly failed to fulfil the terms of his marriage contract, and the orders to suspend prosecution of English recusants lay gathering dust in the royal printing house. Then in August 1626 he unceremoniously deported most of Henrietta Maria's French retinue and substituted English women, many of them relatives of the duke of Buckingham. On the other hand, Richelieu had duplicitously used the English loan ships against French Huguenots and Louis had refused to lift the blockade of La Rochelle as had been promised by treaty in 1625, a treaty in which Charles had pledged that England would aid the Rochellois in the event of war. Moreover, the English prohibition against contraband trade with Spain caught many French ships in its net. Throughout the spring of 1626 French prizes were being towed into English ports, one of which, the St Peter of Newhaven, became a cause célèbre in the impeachment of Buckingham. In retaliation, and in contravention of international law, the English and Scottish wine fleet was detained in French harbours. Throughout the early months of 1627 a full-scale trade war was under way and in April English and French ships clashed on the high seas. More importantly, Charles was importuned to aid the starving Huguenots of La Rochelle and to help his godfather, the duc de Soubise, break the French blockade. Charles turned his personal attention to organizing a relief expedition that was to be commanded by Buckingham. In the spring he travelled to Portsmouth to oversee preparations and his presence was far from ceremonial. He described his quarrel with Louis XIII forthrightly: 'he is determined to destroy La Rochelle, and I am no less resolved to support it, as otherwise my word and my promises would be void, and that I will never allow' (CSP Venice, 1626–8, 542). On 27 June 1627 the largest English offensive naval venture in its history, over 100 ships and nearly 7000 soldiers, sailed into the channel and two weeks later made land at the Île de Ré where they occupied St Martin, the French stronghold. Broken promises and ill fortune dogged this venture, like so much of Charles's foreign policy. Despite pledges made in England by the Huguenot exiles, there was no rising to support the English landing and the Rochellois provided Buckingham with none of the aid he anticipated. Neither did the dukes of Savoy and Lorraine fulfil their commitments to join the attack on France. Buckingham's forces were left to their own devices, and as summer turned to autumn depended entirely on relief from England. Supply and reinforcement were slow and inadequate despite Charles's considerable efforts. His treasury was bankrupt, his good will exhausted, and his credit severely overextended. Nevertheless, Buckingham's expedition came within hours of victory. As the French garrison made ready to surrender, shifting winds finally allowed French boats to break the English blockade and resupply the fort. Now the tables were turned, and it was the English forces that faced starvation. When Buckingham was forced to raise the siege, the French routed their retreat, killing at least a thousand men in a single day. The defeat was of historic proportions.
In 1626 Charles had promised his moderate councillors that if the loan were successful he would summon parliament to obtain any further war finance. This he did in 1628 to fund another expedition, under the command of William Feilding, earl of Denbigh, to relieve La Rochelle. Charles made clear that he would brook no attack upon Buckingham and that he was prepared to proceed without parliamentary subsidies if necessary. Prospective leaders of the House of Commons accepted these realities, and there was no discussion of Buckingham or the disaster in France when the session began in March. Instead, the Commons focused on the rights and liberties of subjects under the law. This involved attacks upon martial law, attacks upon the loan as taxation without the consent of parliament, and attacks upon the crown and the judges for imprisoning and refusing to bail loan resisters. To sweeten their constitutional assaults, the Commons agreed to grant five full subsidies, but withheld them until a bill to reassert traditional freedom from arbitrary taxation and arrest had been finished, influenced by the claim of John Selden, Edward Coke, and others that the royal prerogative was limited.
Charles placed no impediment in their way, urging only that they hurry and that they not violate his prerogatives. Characteristically, the Commons could do neither. Their bill became bogged down in disputes among the lawyers in the lower house and in conferences between the two houses. Though the Commons insisted that they were only reconfirming traditional liberties, their proposals contained two important innovations, an assertion that the court of king's bench must grant writs of habeas corpus and that the crown had no power to imprison without showing just cause. Charles sought every possible compromise. At first he offered to reconfirm Magna Carta and six other statutes that the common lawyers believed had been violated during the collection of the loan. Then he promised not to resort to loans in the future or to use his power to imprison without cause shown except in cases of national security. All were summarily rejected. When Lords and Commons could not settle on a bill, Coke proposed a compromise, a petition of right. Charles agreed to accept it if only parliament could hurry and produce it. 'You desire a preservation of the liberties: it is good, but for God's sake do not spend so much time that a foreign enemy may hazard both liberties and prerogatives' (Johnson and others, 2.456). Denbigh's fleet had set sail without waiting for the subsidies bill and Charles needed the money to resupply and reinforce it.
The petition of right stalled over the same issues as had the bill, with the Lords insisting on a saving clause to protect the royal prerogative and the Commons insisting that the prerogative was not being cut. Finally, the Lords collapsed. Charles, on the advice of all of his judges, accepted the interpretation that his power to imprison in special cases remained intact, and accepted the petition of right. By now the king was sullen and resigned. Three months had been wasted while concession after concession had been extracted from him, with the subsidy bill held hostage. Moreover, having passed a petition, the Commons now demanded that the king receive it as if it were a bill. Not only was his initial answer to the petition of right rejected, but an attack was also launched against Buckingham. This time Charles would not forgo war supply. On 7 June he timidly provided the Commons with the answer they demanded, received the subsidies in exchange, and prorogued the session. When the petition was printed by the government, Charles's first rather than his second answer was appended, and in a proclamation he explicitly rejected the view that the ban on the levying of taxation not granted by parliament extended to the taking of tonnage and poundage, a levy granted each monarch for life since the reign of Henry VII, but so far denied to Charles I. Tonnage and poundage was Charles's rationale for summoning the session of parliament in 1629. The king had been collecting the levy since the beginning of his reign, but without the clear constitutional authority of a parliamentary grant.
The session might never have been held but for the assassination of the duke of Buckingham in August. In public the king kept his composure but in private he was bereft. This, like the death of his mother Queen Anne, marked a turning point in Charles's life. Never again did he allow a minister to become a favourite or to dominate his private and public lives. After Buckingham's death, Charles retreated into his marriage for personal comfort and into a detached public persona as ruler. With Buckingham gone, the likeliest source of conflict between king and parliament had been removed, and Charles demonstrated his belief in parliamentary government by reconvening the houses. But when the Commons continued to attack Charles's religious policy, Charles did not hesitate to bring the session to a close. The House of Commons dissolved in pandemonium, with members forcibly preventing the speaker from rising while resolutions against taking tonnage and poundage and the spread of Arminianism in the church won shouted approval. Charles issued a proclamation placing blame for the dissolution on the 'seditious carriage' of individual members of the house and had nine of them arrested for their conduct. He also declared that he would call no future parliaments 'until our people shall see more clearly our intents and actions … [and] shall come to a better understanding of us and themselves' (Larkin, 2.223, 228).
The end of parliaments was also the end of wars. During the first four years of his reign, Charles had learned that he did not have the means to pursue an active foreign policy or to aid his sister in any substantial way. Even without large parliamentary grants he had made remarkable efforts and had launched a fleet each season since he had become king. But he had come to the end of his ability to make war on a shoestring. His expeditions had suffered the extremities of want and had failed for shortages of everything. His inability to succour Buckingham at Ré was still a source of personal shame. Already overtures were being made to end hostilities with Spain and there was nothing more that could be done for La Rochelle. Peace was signed with France in April 1629 and Spain in November 1630. The era of the warrior king was over.
Peace and prosperity, 1630–1638
The 1630s were a period of calm between the storms of foreign and civil wars. Charles's personal life was transformed by the birth of two male heirs in rapid succession (Charles in 1630, James in 1633) and by the deepening love between him and his wife, who now replaced Buckingham as confidant and companion. After five years of political turmoil and personal distress, Charles turned inward and became an uxorious husband and doting father. Though Van Dyck portrayed him in many poses—as faux Roman emperor, commanding horseman, and relaxed hunter—the image most representative of his life in the 1630s was 'the great peece', the portrait of Charles with his wife and two young children, a painting that he hung at the entrance to his personal quarters. Here he is portrayed as confident and mature, his narrow face with its aquiline nose and pointed beard is serene, his arm affectionately draped behind the future Charles II. The survival of his heirs not only fulfilled his primary obligation as monarch but fundamentally transformed his dynastic problem. His sister and brother-in-law were no longer his immediate successors and the recovery of the Palatinate was no longer a problem of the British crown. Although Charles continued to promise and provide support for Elizabeth after Frederick's death in 1632, he was now concerned more for her comfort than her safety.
The ordered private life into which Charles settled in the 1630s was matched by an ordered public image. From the beginning of the reign the king had worked to establish a formality at his court, creating a secure set of private rooms to which access was strictly limited and a structured set of public rooms whose functions were well defined. Arcane court rituals were introduced and Charles expected that his servants, both high and low, would serve him. He took special pleasure in creating an elaborate ceremony for the knights of the Order of the Garter who were the flower of the English nobility. The event began on St George's eve with a procession from London to Windsor and included competitions and feasts. Charles was never without his George, the emblem of the order, and it was the only adornment he wore at his trial in January 1649.
Charles hunted frequently and left London for a provincial progress each summer. Though he was not as peripatetic as he had been in the first years of his reign, when he was constantly travelling to the west country to oversee preparations for military expeditions, the king was by no means insulated from his people. He travelled frequently in the south-eastern counties, hunted in East Anglia, and even conducted an old-fashioned Elizabethan-style progress in summer 1634—descending upon Hinchingbrooke, Althorp, Belvoir, and Castle Ashby. His return journey to Scotland in 1633 took him twice through the midlands and the north. His entries into London included celebrations at St Paul's after the births of his sons.
Charles's recreations were not only physical. He continued to enjoy the court masques that were staged annually and in which his wife sometimes played a role. Though the masques celebrated themes of peace and prosperity, and the well-ordered government that Charles wished to establish, they were designed primarily as entertainment rather than as political statements. The staging, costumes, and special effects became increasingly elaborate as Inigo Jones and his collaborators mastered their craft, while the integration of text, music, and dance made each a veritable spectacle. The king had refined tastes, and nowhere were they more in evidence than in his collection of artworks. This was an interest he had held since his youth, but his expertise developed with experience. Rubens considered him a true connoisseur, and Charles personally helped to invent the technique of painting enamelled miniatures on gold. He collected widely and intelligently, preferring Italian painting above all and owning over a dozen works by Titian and several highly prized works of Raphael. Ultimately, Charles amassed the greatest collection of art of any British monarch, capped by the purchase of the holdings of the duke of Mantua in 1628. At Whitehall he constructed a privy gallery, which contained portraits of English kings from Edward III as well as of their numerous European royal relatives, and a cabinet room to hold his rare books, sculptures, curiosities, and a large collection of antique medals.
Charles made England a welcome home for artists, contracting with Rubens for the ceiling panels in the Banqueting House at Whitehall, and establishing Sir Anthony Van Dyck as his court painter. He also patronized the greatest sculptors of the day, including Hubert Le Sueur; it was he who executed the large equestrian monument that now stands in Trafalgar Square, as well as busts of himself and his father. Charles commissioned a bust from Bernini for which Van Dyck provided a portrait of the king in triple view. Charles contributed to the rebuilding of St Paul's Cathedral, approving the design of the new west portico and financing it. He also proposed to rebuild his palace at Whitehall on a grand scale, as the drawings made by Inigo Jones's pupil and collaborator John Webb testify. Charles's collecting and patronage were an important part of his self-image as a monarch. He bid for great works of art against his peers, especially Philip IV of Spain, and the culture of his court was often on display to foreign ambassadors and dignitaries. The reception room in the Banqueting House was carefully designed to impress visitors.
King Charles settled into a routine of government as well, shuttling between Windsor and Whitehall (both working palaces), regularly attending meetings of his privy council, and taking reports from its committees. Charles's privy council was not much bigger than his father's, but he found that it worked more efficiently when divided into smaller groups which met to a regular schedule. Charles frequently attended meetings of both committees and the full board, but more importantly, he employed the council as a genuine instrument for the creation of policy. He was attentive to its deliberations and its conclusions, and all the key decisions of governance in the 1630s were propounded, debated, and agreed upon by the privy council. As his attendance at council meetings demonstrates, Charles was an attentive monarch, and his own correspondence demonstrates familiarity with complex details of policy. He commonly corrected draft reports and diplomatic dispatches, commenting wryly that he 'found it better to be a cobbler than a shoemaker' (Warwick, 70). He took special care to appear magnanimous in answering personal petitions and vetting appointments, on one occasion instructing the earl of Strafford 'that if there be any thing to be denied, you may do it, and not I' (Earl of Strafford's Letters and Despatches, 1.140).
After Buckingham's death, Charles never again had a chief minister but rather divided responsibilities and balanced interests, especially among the Hispanophiles and Francophiles at his court. In the early 1630s his key officer was the lord treasurer, Richard Weston, Lord Weston (later earl of Portland), who was charged with repairing the damaged royal finances. Weston was a veteran royal servant, privy councillor since 1621, and a successful chancellor of the exchequer. Though pro-Spanish and secretly Catholic, he had constantly advocated peace as the only means to fiscal solvency and was thus well placed to oversee the rebuilding of the king's credit in the 1630s. Along with Sir Francis Cottington, who replaced him at the exchequer, Weston introduced stringent economies in royal expenditure that earned him enmity in court and country. Under Weston the crown's prerogative rights over the royal forests were reasserted, though it was his opponents at court, especially the Francophile Rich brothers, Henry, earl of Holland, and Robert, earl of Warwick, who actually carried out the forest inquisitions. More importantly, the ancient fine for refusal to accept knighthood was revived and this yielded the crown nearly £175,000 in a five-year period. Charles relied upon Weston exclusively for fiscal advice, treated him well, and mourned his death in 1635. His senior secretary, Sir John Coke, who drafted the bulk of the royal correspondence, was tirelessly devoted to governmental service. In contrast to Weston, Coke was strongly Calvinist, pro-Dutch, a specialist in naval affairs and supported an activist foreign policy.
The two councillors who emerged as most important by the end of the decade were Sir Thomas Wentworth (later earl of Strafford) and William Laud, archbishop of Canterbury from 1633. Wentworth began his career as a critic of royal government, had been excluded from the parliament of 1626, and was a framer of the petition of right. But he hungered for a place in royal service, in Yorkshire as president of the council of the north, which he achieved in 1628, thanks in part to a good relationship with Weston, and finally in 1632 as lord deputy of Ireland. Wentworth's government in Ireland quickly became a model of all that Charles had hoped to achieve in England. He successfully managed the Irish parliament, established a dignified administration in the court of castle chamber, and ran his government at a profit, returning tens of thousands of pounds to London after decades in which Ireland was a drain on the Stuart treasury. Wentworth did not simply rule in the interest of the protestant planter aristocracy which had risen to power by the ruthless exploitation of military might and the legal disabilities placed upon Irish Catholics. He attempted to forge an alliance with leading Old English families who had intermarried with the Gaelic Irish and had remained Roman Catholic. This was a policy that Charles had initiated at the beginning of his reign when he offered certain legal securities known as the graces to the Old English in return for their contribution to raising and maintaining forces to protect Ireland from foreign invasion. The graces were bitterly opposed by the protestant New English and the end of active war against France and Spain led to their abandonment until Wentworth revived them. In general, Wentworth's policy in Ireland was to strengthen royal rights against whatever interests threatened them. He was active in recovering lands of the Church of Ireland, in weakening the independence of the corporation of Dublin, and bringing to heel great magnates such as the earl of Cork.
William Laud had risen in royal service slowly until he successfully counselled Buckingham's mother against converting to Roman Catholicism during James's reign. After that he moved into Charles's circle and, following the death of Lancelot Andrewes in 1626, succeeded as dean of the Chapel Royal and became the king's most important cleric. Laud, who was made bishop of London in 1628 and archbishop of Canterbury in 1633, shared with Charles several key principles: the desire to quell disputes within the English church, to increase respect for its established liturgy and doctrine, and to improve its infrastructure from training and funding clergy to rebuilding decayed churches. Central to their vision was the restoration of much of the wealth the laity had taken from the church during the previous century, and much of the jurisdiction of the church courts the common lawyers had taken from them. Thus Charles looked with sorrow on the way his predecessors had forced the bishops to exchange valuable land for poor land, reducing episcopal incomes to one quarter of their previous value; and both he and Laud were dismayed at the way in which local agreements commuting tithe payments into fixed cash payments, which lost their value as prices soared, made clergy too dependent on preaching stipends paid by laymen and corporations. They blamed much of the false preaching of which they received notice on this development; it had hampered the evangelism of the church in bringing men and women to an obedience to the word of God. Furthermore, the common law courts had increasingly used writs of prohibition to transfer cases that had hitherto belonged to the church courts to civil courts. King and archbishop set out to reverse these abuses, as they saw them. But in the process they ran up against very powerful vested interests. The more anxious of the gentry even began to mutter that the king and archbishop had long-term ambitions to reclaim the lands that had been confiscated from the monasteries at the time of the dissolution in the 1530s and 1540s. Yet to the archbishop their programme seemed a conservative one, though he and other Caroline bishops adopted radical measures to achieve it.
Through these counsellors Charles hoped to reform government that had grown lax during the years of war. He took a personal interest in appointing local office-holders, particularly justices of the peace and sheriffs who were the crown's agents in the counties. These were tied more tightly to the centre by the reporting requirements of innovations like the Book of Orders that regulated control of the poor in the localities. Efforts to form a more 'exact militia' also came directly from the king who had been appalled at the condition of military preparedness in the 1620s. Regulations for local musters, the provision and repair of military equipment, and the training of militiamen were issued to lord lieutenants and deputy lieutenants throughout the 1630s and local militia rates rose accordingly. Charles devoted considerable attention to the navy during these years of peace. In 1631 he made a personal tour of royal ships and dockyards during which he 'went aboard every ship and into almost every room … and into the holds of most of them' (CSP dom., 1631–3, 90). By 1634 four new men-of-war had been launched (three of which were, characteristically, named for his wife and sons) and the largest ship yet built in England, the three-decked 1500-ton Sovereign of the Seas, was under construction. Charles's emphasis on naval expansion was fuelled in the first instance by the increase in French and Spanish ship-building which threatened English control of the shipping lanes in the channel. But as a greater proportion of the crown's annual revenue came to be generated by taxes on trade, solvency as well as sovereignty was at stake.
This was why the privy council sought special revenues to fund both the expansion of the navy and its expeditions against those who preyed upon English shipping. Although the king continued to collect tonnage and poundage throughout the 1630s, these taxes failed to keep pace with the increased costs of maritime security and the burden fell on ordinary revenue. After the disastrous experience of the late 1620s, Charles intended to reduce the use of private merchantmen in naval expeditions and the eleven ships he built during the 1630s were all financed out of his own income. It was Attorney-General William Noye who proposed the revival of ship money as a means of supporting the fleet in its expeditions to sweep the channel and protect English merchantmen. Though a traditional means of naval finance, ship money was not well suited to Charles's needs. It was, in the first instance, an order for the production of a ship fitted and supplied for war. Communities could either convert a merchantman into a warship or compound by paying an agreed levy to the treasurers of the navy for the same purpose. For this reason ship money fell only on ports where ships might be found. Moreover, it was traditionally raised only during times of emergencies, for in the past the revenue generated by tonnage and poundage had been sufficient to guard English ports and coastal areas.
Thus the initial writs for ship money in 1634 were sent only to port towns and maritime places, the result of a compromise between those who wished to maintain the absolute precedence of earlier writs and those on the council who believed that 'the charge of defence that concerneth all men ought to be supported by all' (Rushworth, 2.257). In a shrewd and deliberate move, the writs were directed to the sheriffs rather than to bodies of local commissioners, and the sheriff was responsible for collecting and paying in the ship money, an important centralization that resulted in rapid and efficient administration. Though his ministers debated the complex details of ship money, it was the king who chose between the alternatives offered and who approved, in the following year, the expansion of the levy to all of the inhabitants of the nation.
The first fleet paid for out of ship money receipts saw service in 1635, just as Charles was becoming angered by the conduct of Dutch ships in English waters which caused him to seek an alliance with Spain against the Netherlands; but there can be no doubt that the central goal of the ship money fleets was to protect English waters. Dunkirk and North African pirates raided England with impunity, destroying ships and taking hostages who were sold into slavery. During five years ship money raised more than £800,000 for the navy, dramatically reducing expenditure from ordinary revenues and making the seas safe for English commerce. Concomitantly, royal revenue from customs and impositions rose.
Administrative undertakings as massive and complicated as ship money were bound to attract criticism and opposition. By far the most common difficulties concerned local rating practices and disputes over assessments. While ship money was based in most cases on customary local rates, the fact that the sheriffs returned the money raised to the central government permitted appeals to the centre by all who had new, or even long-standing, grievances arising from the rating systems. For example, many city corporations took the opportunity to challenge exemptions long claimed by cathedral closes.
This left ample room for complaints and appeals based on principles of equity, and allowed those who opposed ship money on constitutional grounds to find indirect means of expressing their opposition. Once the levy was expanded to include the entire nation, a legal challenge had constitutional merit, and John Hampden of the land-locked county of Buckinghamshire launched one in 1637. Hampden's counsel asserted that ship money violated protection against non-parliamentary taxation and could not, after two years, be justified as emergency finance. They also argued that the new writs did not follow the precedents of previous ship-money levies. Charles's attorneys justified the levy by reference to the king's responsibility for providing protection for his subjects, to the unanticipated levels of piratical activity in the channel which demanded immediate response, and to the threat posed by the expansion of the French navy. Charles's emergency powers clearly encompassed the activities for which ship money was collected. The judges found for the crown, but split over both the broad and the narrow issues raised by the case. Most supported Charles's emergency powers and thought his interpretation of them appropriate, but fewer believed that these writs had legal precedent. Seven of the twelve judges found for the king on both issues, providing Charles with constitutional warrant for continuing the levy. Though collection fell off slightly after the Hampden case, it was not until the addition of other military levies in 1639 that ship money fell significantly into arrears.
Charles had greater difficulty in enforcing unity and uniformity in religion. His own beliefs remain shrouded in obscurity. Unlike his father, he had no taste for religious disputation and no inclination for theological pronouncement. He was personally devout, attending worship each day and praying privately. Service in the royal chapels was decorous and all the forms of the liturgy were strictly followed. Charles was present throughout rather than hearing only the sermons as had been his father's practice. He chose his chaplains from among the most learned and able university graduates and weighed nominations from a variety of his courtiers. Charles was jealous of his ecclesiastical patronage and those he elevated to bishoprics had first served as royal chaplains and preached before him.
Charles I believed that the church was an essential pillar of royal government and viewed religious heterodoxy as potentially subverting kingly power. 'Take it as an infallible maxim from me', he instructed his eldest son, 'that, as the church can never flourish without the protection of the Crown, so the dependency of the crown upon the church is the chiefest support of regal authority' (Halliwell, 2.418). Nevertheless, his ideals were compromised by divisions among English Christians. Outside the Church of England were the Roman Catholics on the one hand and those extreme protestants who had rejected the national church on the other. The English Catholic community was split between those who privately practised the faith of their fathers and those who publicly sought a re-conversion to Rome. Following James's example, Charles was lenient toward the former and persecuted the latter. Throughout the 1630s fines levied against recusants rose steadily. Although he was frequently unsuccessful, Charles made every effort to prevent Catholic conversions at his court; the fact that Henrietta Maria's chapel at Somerset House became increasingly a refuge for a strong minority of Catholic royal officials and courtiers drew more public notice. Charles was equally eager to stop the spread of radical protestant ideas. He especially deplored overconfident preaching of the socially destructive doctrine of double predestination, with its stress on God's freely willed decision to restore to eternal life with him only a remnant of mankind, the rest being left to endure their fully merited damnation. Charles and Laud vigorously prosecuted those vocal puritans who demanded the abolition of episcopacy at least in the form laid down in the church settlement of 1559, and who preached up the system of church government developed at Geneva or the one experimentally established in Massachusetts.
In addition to these outside threats to the unity of his church, Charles was also confronted by the growing rift between those who favoured allowing much freedom for local congregations to develop their own style of worship, as practised under James I, and those who wanted to ensure full obedience to every word and rubric in the prayer book and to prohibit any additions to or omissions from it. Though contention between the groups often turned on obscure doctrinal positions, they were manifested in a fierce struggle for power which saw the succession of the Calvinist Archbishop George Abbot by the Arminian Laud in 1633. Other promotions to key positions demonstrated that Charles favoured what he considered to be the orthodox positions adopted by Laud and his followers, though appointments like that of William Juxon as bishop of London demonstrated that the struggle between the two groups was not all-encompassing. Calvinist bishops continued to serve the king and the competing viewpoints always had more in common than the flashpoints of difference would suggest. But attacks by radical Calvinists attempted to polarize the church. Rabidly anti-Catholic, they equated Arminians with papists and even questioned Charles's and Laud's commitment to protestantism.
In 1628 Charles reissued a declaration of his father's prohibiting discussion of the doctrine of predestination and enforced it publicly by disciplining the Calvinist bishop John Davenant for a sermon preached at court while prohibiting the publication of Arminian works on the same topic. Protests against the ban came from both sides of the theological divide, evidence that it was intended to prevent dissension in the church over doctrine rather than to favour the Arminians who now rose to power in the church hierarchy. While Abbot was alive Calvinist tracts continued to have an outlet despite the prohibition, but after 1633 Laud made a vigorous attempt to rein in theological dispute. He also showed himself willing to make an example of those who published seditious works or who attacked the episcopal structure of the church. The writings of William Prynne, Henry Burton, and John Bastwick—who were pilloried, mutilated, and imprisoned at the king's pleasure in 1637—were so extreme in their contemptuous language about bishops who were servants of both God and the king that they posed a fundamental challenge to ecclesiastical government which could not go unpunished. The king and all of his privy council were unanimous in seeking to make a public example of them.
Charles required uniformity in doctrine and decorum in service. Through a vigorous campaign of visitations, Archbishop Laud attempted to establish the parameters of conformity by strict adherence to the church's articles and canons. This made it necessary to alter unauthorized practices of long duration. When Laud insisted that the parish of St Gregory's, London, remove its communion table from the centre aisle to the east end of the church, the king heard the case himself, upheld the archbishop, and declared 'his dislike of all innovations' (CSP dom., 1633–4, 273). Ministers were disciplined for omitting portions of the prescribed services, and injunctions were issued to ensure that lecturers catechized as well as preached. The reissue of the Book of Sports in 1633 attempted to settle the dispute over lawful Sunday recreation; it enumerated social activities permitted on Sunday afternoons and rejected the stricter puritan sabbatarianism, but failed to stifle debate. In all these ways Charles and Laud attempted to bind together their vision of a national church.
The king was also intent upon restoring the fabric of the English church. He personally took the lead in a campaign for the rebuilding of St Paul's Cathedral whose dilapidated shell was a painful reminder of the distressed condition of the church itself. Charles pledged £500 a year from his own revenues and then agreed to fund the entire new west portico, the design of which he entrusted to Inigo Jones. A restored St Paul's was to be a symbol for the king's care of his church, which included efforts to raise ministerial salaries, provide more fellowships at the universities for clerical training, and improve the provision of services in the localities. Charles issued orders for his bishops to reside in their dioceses and to oversee personally the work of their subordinates. Metropolitical visitations aimed to rectify abuses in the dioceses and were conducted in what Laud considered to be a spirit of conciliation; most nonconforming ministers were encouraged rather than punished.
Charles's campaign for religious reform was not limited to England. In 1633 he finally travelled to Scotland for his formal coronation, an event long delayed by the international crisis and Scottish impecunity. Though born in the northern kingdom, Charles had taken scant interest in the details of its government. His Scottish advisers in England, mostly inherited from his father, had abandoned their native land for greener pastures and were frequently out of touch with developments in Edinburgh. Charles himself was resented as an absentee king, and his few attempts at reform were harshly criticized and regarded suspiciously. His act of revocation, as required by law at the end of a royal minority, reclaimed all land alienated from the crown to private individuals in times past. It was issued only months after his accession in 1625 and was based almost entirely on the model of his predecessors. It made broad claims for crown ownership of land that had long passed into private hands, but the commission appointed to hear surrender cases made clear that it was fines rather than estates that the crown was after. The king's settlement of the vexing question of rights to church lands and emoluments, which was also initially resented, proved so judicious that it remained in effect until the twentieth century. Charles had reason to see some of his other innovations, like the abolition of hereditary office-holding and the separation of the lords of the sessions from the king's council, as long overdue, and there is reason to suspect that they were recommendations made by James rather than reforms initiated by Charles.
Charles's Scottish crisis, 1637–1639
Church reform was also a theme in Charles's dealings with his kingdom of Scotland. His father had been intent on reining in the independently minded kirk, and took the crucial steps of reintroducing bishops and controlling meetings of the general assemblies. His introduction of the five articles of Perth, ceremonial edicts that brought Scottish practice closer to English, was bitterly contested and passed the Scottish parliament in the face of protest. Less controversially, the general assembly of 1616 had appointed a committee to prepare a standard prayer book to be used throughout the church. This project, like so many relating to Scotland, had languished during the last decade of James's life and lain dormant while the new king's focus was on war and diplomacy. Though Charles managed to issue an act of revocation in conformity with Scottish law and attempted to use the occasion of a new reign to bring in reforms that had been bruited by his father, it was not until after his actual coronation in Edinburgh in 1633 that Scottish church matters gained his attention.
Charles was the first permanently absent king to rule Scotland and this fact coloured both his administration and the subsequent rebellion against it. He necessarily relied upon Scots resident in England for information and advice, though he probably had his father's counsel during their several deathbed conversations. Logically, he followed the lead of his Scottish privy councillors in state affairs and of his bishops in religion, but he was not sufficiently sensitive to the fissures within Scottish aristocratic society. This made him less effective when he attempted to fulfil his father's plan for new canons and a uniform liturgy for the church. Although the prayer book had been drafted by a committee of Scottish bishops and only then vetted by the king and his English ecclesiastical leaders, it was regarded from the first as an English imposition. Charles and his advisers were dumbstruck by the depth of resistance to what its creators steadfastly insisted was a conservatively modified prayer book. Its introduction in 1637 led to street riots, attacks upon bishops and privy councillors, and threats against the king's ecclesiastical authority.
Charles's inability to suppress what ultimately became a full-scale rebellion in Scotland derived from two different sources. The first was the misfortune of time and distance. At several crucial moments in autumn 1637 he made conciliatory gestures in response to the last crisis but one, further fanning the flames to which his opponents were busily adding fuel. Thus, an offer of amnesty in October that included a warning against future illegal assemblies was received by another illegal assembly. When he agreed to withdraw the prayer book until it could be fully examined, the kirk leaders were already insisting on the abolition of the court of high commission and the suspension of the powers of the bishops. When he proved willing to go that far, the stakes had already changed, for the Scots had initiated a covenant by which they banded together to regain control of an independent church. By the time the king could digest the implications of these developments, the covenanters had moved on to positions that undermined royal prerogatives, demanding the abolition of episcopacy and the independence of general assemblies and ultimately of the Scottish parliament. The covenanters rapidly came to demand things which Charles's conscience could not permit him to concede. It is sometimes argued that he should have surrendered in the short term that which he intended later to reclaim. This may well have been the case in the more extreme circumstances prevailing in the last five years of his life; but in 1637, 1638, and 1639 he was convinced that he could not solemnly promise to concede that which in his coronation oath he had solemnly sworn to protect. As he instructed James Hamilton, marquess of Hamilton, in summer 1639: 'take heed how you engage yourself; I would not have you promise to mediate for any thing that is against my grounds' (Burnet, 61).
Charles's second incapacity was that he was not strong enough to persuade his opponents that he could suppress their rebellion by force. Despite his efforts in the 1630s to improve military training and his considerable achievements in fortifying the navy, his projects had not gone far enough to ensure that the crown could raise a sufficiently large force of trained men and armaments in a crisis. Charles did not seek a war with his Scottish subjects: 'It is … my own people, which by this means will be for a time ruined', he confessed to Hamilton whom he had sent as extraordinary commissioner to Scotland in 1638 in hope of finding a compromise solution (Burnet, 55). But the covenanters, now led by Archibald Campbell, earl of Argyll, rejected every olive branch proffered by the king. His promises not to enforce the use of the prayer book, to limit the power of high commission, and reduce the role of the bishops fell on stony ground. His agreement to hold a general assembly on condition that the institution of episcopacy would not be attacked fell on deaf ears. Not only were the covenanters prepared to summon a general assembly on their own (they had ordered elections of members by rules which excluded bishops and royal supporters), they were also prepared to override the king's authority to direct its proceedings. When Hamilton attempted to dissolve the Glasgow assembly to save episcopacy, he was simply ignored and the session continued without him.
To Charles there could be no doubt that his Scottish subjects were engaged in rebellion. They had disobeyed his proclamations, banded together in a covenant against him, summoned and dissolved a general assembly, and finally seized strongholds and raised forces. Scottish emissaries were sent to foreign capitals as if they had plenipotentiary powers and, more ominously, were sent into England to garner support among their presbyterian co-religionists. All this was known to the king by the time he raised an army and led it north.
Charles's plans were bold and straightforward: he set up a clear command structure, and ordered the lord lieutenants to draw 30,000 men from the militia and assemble them as a single force; merchant ships were commandeered and the well-fitted-out ship-money fleets were redeployed to blockade the Firth of Forth. Both these objectives were achieved. But the attempt to fund the war by recourse to 'coat and conduct' money, although not an abject failure, was insufficient. A swift campaign could well have succeeded. But the Scots, relying on the experience of veteran mercenaries from northern Europe, also organized well, raised 30,000 men, and secured all the strongpoints in the lowlands that historically had slowed down English advances. Charles's generals got cold feet about a long campaign and, having tested the Scottish defences, advised the king against becoming bogged down. Little did they know how unconfident the Scots were. They too were short of cash and supplies and they remembered how often the Scots had gone down to the English. Bannockburn was less on their minds than Flodden and Solway Moss. If Charles's nerve had held, Scottish nerve might well have cracked. But the king, having been reminded that this was the first occasion since 1323 when a monarch had gone to war without calling a parliament in advance, decided he would bite the bullet and see if there were still fiery spirits who would resist his legitimate demand for taxation to fight rebels against his crown and dignity. They had not hidden their distaste for all things Scottish in the past. How would they react now?
Charles I was under no obligation to call a parliament in spring 1640. It was open to him to accept the consequence of his failed expedition against the Scots. He could hope that in due time the unity of the covenanting leaders would crumble, and that a faction among them, perhaps in alliance with the non-covenanting lords, would look to him to give them control of Scottish government. The alternative to this continuation of the personal rule by making painful concessions in Scotland was for Charles to make painful concessions to an English parliament in return for the financial resources necessary for an effective military campaign in Scotland. Charles expected that an English parliament, driven by English pride, long-established antipathy towards the Scots, and realization of the reforms they might hope to obtain in return, would fund a new campaign. He discovered that it was not so. The Lords responded positively to the king's personal plea on 24 April for taxation for a war with the Scots and they endorsed his plea in a message to the Commons the following day. Many of its members reckoned they had grievances arising from promises made by the king to parliaments of the 1620s and subsequently broken or from what they saw as extension of the royal prerogative during the personal rule. Yet the mood of the Commons was sullen rather than blazing with anger, very different from the mood of the Long Parliament when it met in the autumn. Indeed what is striking about the members of the Short Parliament is that they were conscious not of their strength but of their weakness. They knew full well that if they failed to make him a generous settlement, and demanded too much in return for their generosity, the king would retain the option of dissolving parliament. There were muted trumpets of defiance in the days that followed: no ministers were impeached, and there was no headlong assault on the religious policies of Laud or on royal policies in general. The opening speech by John Pym was indeed a litany of specific complaints, but it hardly constituted an agenda paper for the Commons as a whole. They were not so much demanding as deferring decisions, such as over the legality of ship money, debated on 30 April. A week went by in which the Commons ducked the issue of supply and grumbled. Then there were feelers from within both court and house for a deal based on the grant of twelve subsidies in return for a promise from the king permanently to surrender ship money. This represented a massive concession on Charles's part: the abandonment of a source of revenue that had been yielding over £150,000 a year in return for a one-off grant that would probably realize no more than £600,000. Charles authorized Sir Henry Vane, his secretary of state, to formalize the offer on 4 May. After a day of heated debate the offer had been neither accepted nor rejected, and many different objections to it were raised. Charles, rightly or wrongly, was convinced that his offer was not going to be accepted. He decided on an immediate dissolution.
Charles may have been right; he may also have genuinely believed the (true) stories that he was hearing of secret collusion between parliamentary leaders and the covenanting leadership. But he was most likely beguiled into a third option which would avoid making concessions to either the Scots or the English—a substantial subvention from the pope and from the king of Spain. Of course, this would involve English support for the movement of men and supplies from Spain to the Low Countries, as well as prerogative action to ease the lot of the Catholics throughout Charles's dominions, but soundings suggested that these might prove less painful than the concessions made to the Scots and being demanded by the English parliament. Indeed Charles thought he had secured an agreement with Spain that would bring in 1,200,000 crowns (£300,000)—enough to get a campaign started.
So Charles broke the parliament on 5 May 1640, privately placing the whole blame on 'some few cunning and some ill-affected men' (Smith, Stuart Parliaments, 121). Against Laud's advice, he ordered Convocation to continue its deliberations on proposed new canons, which in this context looked provocative. Whatever his intention, this was interpreted as a confrontational step, and rioting apprentices broke into Lambeth Palace. At Charles's personal instigation, one of the rioters was put to the torture in the hope that he would reveal that prominent gentlemen, even MPs, were behind the riot, and he encouraged the attorney-general to prosecute one of the rioters for treason in trying to open the gates at Lambeth with a crowbar. But this tough stand was unavailing. Within days it became clear that Spanish funding was not going to be available after all. The escalation of revolt within the Spanish empire—in Catalonia and in Portugal—made it less and less practicable for the Spanish to underwrite an English army in Scotland; and Charles found that once he limited his own freedom of action by the dissolution, the price of Spanish gold went shooting up.
Having failed to raise parliamentary grants and Spanish subsidies, Charles could still have lived with his defeat in Scotland and resumed his personal rule. But now he made the single greatest miscalculation of his career. He decided to invade Scotland without the necessary money. He used a grant of clerical taxation from Convocation, and such small sums as he could still squeeze out of the City of London to hire the men who would raise a new army; but he had virtually no resources to sustain it. Payments from the localities completely dried up, and of the men sent by the constables to the musters senior royal officials used despairing language very different from the cautious optimism of 1639: 'they are more fit for Bedlem or Bridewell than for the King's service' (Carlton, 213). Charles placed his faith in a co-ordinated series of attacks on the covenanters: by an uprising of highlanders, led by the Catholic George Gordon, marquess of Huntly (who reasonably enough preferred benign neglect from Whitehall to malign presbyterian intervention from Edinburgh), by the deployment of Strafford's 9000-strong army from Ireland, by a naval blockade of the Forth, as well as a show of military strength from the south. It looked good on paper, and Charles thought that, faced by the prospect of overwhelming force, the covenanting leaders would capitulate. Instead they held their nerve as one by one the building bricks of Charles's strategy collapsed; and then, having been more purposeful and determined in raising an army, they decided not to await Charles in Scotland but to cross the border and live off the land in England. As the king celebrated the birth of his latest son—Prince Henry—and (at the queen's behest) granted an indemnity to imprisoned Catholics, the Scots occupied Newcastle.
As Charles travelled north, the inadequacies of the troops he was to lead dawned on him and he realized he was in danger of another military humiliation. Initially reluctant to call a parliament, he resorted to an expedient common enough in the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, but dormant for a century, and summoned all the peerage to a great council at York. But as the military situation deteriorated, with the leaders of the highland, Irish, and naval components of his strategy letting him down, he realized that all he could do with the great council was to tell it he would call a parliament on 3 November and entrust to the council the task of extricating him from the mess he was now in.
The members of the Long Parliament were as conscious of their strength as the (largely the same) members of the Short Parliament had been conscious of their weakness. The Scots had made it clear that they would not return home, but would live in and off Newcastle and the north-east until such time as their war-costs (£850 a day, or £26,000 a month) had been met by the English parliament and until both parliaments had approved a treaty guaranteeing Scottish liberties and a new confederal relationship between the kingdoms. Thus the parliament that met in November 1640 was the first for centuries that the king could not dissolve at will. It was full of men angry and resentful of his decision to fight without supply and suspicious of his moves against their fellow protestants in Scotland. They had persuaded themselves that the king was a dupe of the papists (a charge without any foundation whatsoever). These men misinterpreted the king's attempts to enforce the letter of the church settlements of 1559 and 1604 as attacks on protestantism and on the rights of the laity to play a full and active part in the governance of their local churches; and they misunderstood his attempts to provide effective government as tyrannical subversions of their property rights and protection under the rule of law. Hysterical as was much of the resentment, it was real; and the unique circumstances in which the Long Parliament of 1640–53 met led to a series of escalating provocations, resulting first in the calamity of a civil war that not one of them anticipated, let alone planned for, and eventually to a regicide that was unthinkable in 1640 and even in 1642.
The Long Parliament quickly moved (February 1641) to pass a bill that took away Charles's right to dissolve it without its own consent; and it passed a bill that provided for parliaments to assemble every three years whether or not Charles and his successors issued writs. Charles gave his consent to the bills, but sulkily.
None the less, Charles fully recognized that he was faced by a hurricane and could not prevent a great deal of damage to his constitutional ‘property’. He made no effort to protect those ministers whom the houses were determined to drive from office; and he showed a ready willingness to take many of his leading critics into office, if not into his confidence. He made no protest when Strafford and Laud were sent to the Tower. He issued a proclamation banishing all papists from court and from London in the same terms as those of 1626, 1627, and 1628, and he instructed JPs to disarm all papists. Although, at the queen's begging, he tried to spare the Jesuit John Goodman from being hanged, drawn, and quartered, he gave in to the Commons' pressure and withdrew his pardon. He had clearly recognized the need for concessions; but he determined to draw the line on two issues. He would not allow those personally loyal to him to suffer for their service and loyalty; and he would not (as he saw it could not, without violating his coronation oath) agree to the abolition of episcopacy. He bitterly resented having had to abandon the Scottish episcopate (and did so only with the strongest mental reservation that he would restore it as soon as he could), and he was determined not to surrender the English episcopate. Yet these were the very demands at the heart of the vitriolic campaign, waged in pamphlet and from the pulpit, by the Scottish commissioners invited to London to seal the treaty between the two kingdoms.
In the years that followed, his willingness to bend before what he saw as the paranoia of over-confident pulpit orators and the calumnies of barrack-room lawyers seemed to Charles to have been his biggest mistake. He blamed himself less for the alleged errors of overmightiness in the 1630s than for the abject surrenders of the first twelve months of the Long Parliament, when he allowed the men he trusted to be driven from him and the powers with which he had been endowed by God to be stripped from him, and during which he had even disowned much in the worship of and witness to God that he most dearly believed in. He became convinced that the horrors of civil war and the miseries of its outcome were attributable to his own weakness and to God's judgment on him for his weakness. And the greatest single moment of such weakness came when he delivered Thomas Wentworth, earl of Strafford, over to the axeman (12 May 1641). Following Strafford's confounding of the charges of which he stood impeached, the Commons voted his attainder. Charles wrote in his own hand to Strafford, promising, 'on the word of a King, you shall not suffer in life, honour and fortune' (Earl of Strafford's Letters and Despatches, 2.416). He made strenuous efforts to make good his solemn kingly promise, appearing in person in the Lords on 30 April to make clear that it was impossible for him in conscience to condemn Strafford for treason. He plotted with a group of disaffected army officers to seize the Tower and secure Strafford's release (although he was probably innocent of another plot, which seems to have had the queen's backing, for a military coup led by other officers from the remnants of the army that had marched so ingloriously north in 1640). Finally, he pleaded with the Lords to substitute a lesser sentence for the sentence of death in the bill sent up from the Commons (this itself a weakening of the promise of his letter of 21 April). But with large crowds of angry and menacing demonstrators penetrating deep into the palace of Whitehall, fearful for the safety of his family, and yet knowing it to be wrong, he signed Strafford's death warrant. He never forgave himself, and he was never persuaded that God had forgiven him in this world. As early as December 1642 Charles was writing that 'I will either be a glorious King or a patient martyr' (Ollard, 46). Strafford's execution was the nadir in Charles's life. His death eight years later was a form of atonement.
After this Charles rallied. The death of the politique Francis Russell, fourth earl of Bedford, in the week of Strafford's death reduced the prospects of reconstituting the privy council on the basis of a measure of mutual trust, and made it more likely that the king's critics would place impossible demands on him. He remained willing to give control of his government to those who commanded parliamentary favour; he made no effort to prevent the dismantling between June and August 1641 of the conciliar courts and of the fiscal instruments which had provided the stable government of the 1630s; and he signalled a willingness to abandon almost all the distinctive ecclesiastical policies of the 1630s in favour of a return to the latitudinarian policies of his father, thereby repudiating Laud. He appointed as bishops Calvinist conformists, self-conscious heirs to the godly protestantism of late Elizabethan and Jacobean England. In doing so, he had first asked his secretary for a list of names which he had agreed with William Juxon, bishop of London, but he had then (he privately noted in the margins of a letter he received from Edward Nicholas) altered the list, 'to satisfye the times' (Diary of John Evelyn, 4.99). Charles's mantra was that he would defend the true reformed protestant religion by law established, without any connivance at popery or innovation. Henceforth, Charles aimed to defend the church as his father had left it, not as he had hitherto wished to adapt it. It gave him a cause, and it gave him a party ready to fight and to die.
The coming of the war of the three kingdoms, 1641–1642
On 13 August 1641 Charles set out on a fifteen-week visit to Scotland, during which (25 August) he personally ratified a treaty under which he was reduced to a cipher. In it he accepted the outright abolition of episcopacy and the establishment of a full-blown theocratic presbyterianism. But he also took time to establish that cracks in the unity of the covenanters gave him some prospect of dividing and ruling. Once the Campbells had set themselves up with control over all aspects of Scottish government there were many others who keenly felt their exclusion. Some of them, probably with Charles's tacit consent, attempted to seize their enemies in the face of the Scottish parliament, but were forestalled. Although the king strenuously denied all foreknowledge of the ‘incident’ (11–12 October 1641), those who already doubted his good faith were further alienated.
More disastrous for Charles was the outbreak in 1641 of rebellion in Ireland—or more properly a series of rebellions. The leaders of the bloodiest such rebellion, in Ulster—a rebellion which led to the massacre and mutilation of many hundreds of protestant settlers and the flight of many thousand refugees—(falsely) claimed to be acting on a warrant issued under Charles I's Scottish great seal; this was immensely costly to the king. All those who already believed him to be the dupe of papists and the agent of a conspiracy against the church of Christ all too readily believed in the validity of this warrant; many who had not known what to think now thought there was truth in the charge. Those who fundamentally trusted him accepted his denials. But the Irish rising did see thousands slaughtered and driven from their homes, and urgent military action was needed to deal with the crisis. Was the king to be allowed to control the army to be sent to Ireland? And indeed, as fear spread of popish violence crossing to England, the wider issue of control of the English militia came to dominate English politics.
Charles left Edinburgh to return to England in mid-November—a fortnight after news of the Irish rising reached London—and arrived back in his English capital on 25 November. He found the crowds everywhere enthusiastic and that wherever he presented himself as the champion of the established church he secured special approbation. He missed an important trick in not ordering parliament after its recess to reconvene away from London and thus away from the menace of the London crowds; marginal notes on a suggestion he received from Edward Nicholas that 'there is a whispering here, as if yor Parliamt (when it meetes) would adjourne for some months, or to some other place' record in the king's hand the comment 'I would not have that intention hindered, Cambridge would be best' (Diary of John Evelyn, 4.104). But in general the tide of opinion was clearly swinging in his favour. His willingness to change his policies and his ministers, and to allow parliamentary restrictions on his exercise of prerogative powers, had reassured very many of his subjects.
The month after Charles's return to London saw extreme tension and division in the capital, with the houses bitterly divided as they had not been hitherto—over the content of the grand remonstrance (8–23 November) and the decision to publish it, and with the spread of separatist congregations, some of which were now being violently broken up by loyalist mobs. The reliance of his parliamentary critics on playing on popular fears and their willingness to condone the views of religious radicals who preached social revolution were intolerable to Charles. He was convinced that most MPs and most of his subjects agreed. The time had come for decisive action. And so on 3 January 1642 Charles instructed the attorney-general, Sir Edward Herbert, to make a statement to the House of Commons, accusing five members of the Commons and one member of the Lords of high treason. He had arranged for George Digby to follow up immediately on Herbert's speech with a demand for their immediate imprisonment. But Digby panicked and sat mute. This forced Charles into a much riskier manoeuvre the following day—an attempt to arrest the accused men as they sat in parliament. But his intentions became apparent and the intended victims were forewarned: the MPs slipped away as the king, attended by about 100 troopers, entered the palace of Westminster. It was a major blunder, and it caused the king to lose his nerve completely. It also halted the drift of moderate opinion back to the king; and it absolutely confirmed the worst fears of Charles's critics. In the days that followed Charles could not move out of the inner sanctums of Whitehall without hearing jeering, angry crowds. When he addressed the City fathers at the Guildhall on 5 January he asked—and there is no reason to doubt his honesty—'who says I do not take the advice of my parliament? I do take their advice, and will, but I must distinguish between the parliament and some traitors to it.' He was heckled. 'I have and will observe all the privileges of parliament, but no privilege will protect a traitor from a legal trial,' he went on, but the heckling continued (Carlton, 233–4).
Charles had every right to feel misunderstood and to wish to escape from an atmosphere of increasing anarchy that put his family at risk. He withdrew to Windsor to allow time for the temperature to fall. As he set out on 10 January 1642 he had no idea that it would be seven years almost to the day before his return; and there was not a person in England who imagined that the next time the king reached his capital it would be to undergo trial and execution.
But as he moved out, thoughts that he might need to engage in a war against men he now saw as rebels certainly did occur to Charles. Within a month he was escorting the queen to Dover (where he arrived on 7 February) ostensibly to accompany his daughter the Princess Mary to join her future husband William of Orange, but actually to make preparations for raising aid and supplies for a war, should it come to that. Charles then made a slow progress through East Anglia, joining the Great North Road at Huntingdon on 9 March and moving up to York which he reached on 19 March. He was determined that he would make no further concessions to a parliament led by traitors; hence he began to veto bills sent to him by the houses, beginning with the Militia Bill (1 March). He had also decided to explain much more openly to his subjects why what was now demanded could not be justified by law, by custom, or by prudence. He would explain how, by defending the ancient constitution and his coronation oath, he was also defending the civil and religious liberties of his people. Before the war of swords would be a war of words. In 1642, 464 separate proclamations, declarations, and other broadsheets and pamphlets appeared as authored by the king, more than in the previous seventeen years of his reign combined and more too than the total for the remaining six years of his reign. He almost certainly won the argument, and persuaded more people than did his opponents that they and not he represented the greater threat of tyranny and a greater hazard of unleashing anarchy. In reality the pamphlets were written principally by men whom he would have numbered among his critics in the 1630s, opponents of the personal rule who now feared that parliament would overturn the constitution: Lucius Cary, Viscount Falkland; Sir John Colepeper; and Edward Hyde. They represent one side of a strong argument among those travelling with the king over the choice between war and peace, between living with the concessions of the previous eighteen months and planning to reverse them, between acknowledging the mistakes of the 1630s and regretting the concessions of 1641.
The refusal on 23 April of the governor of Hull, Sir John Hotham, to admit King Charles to the town (where the arsenal left over from the Scottish campaign of 1640 was stored) was the most important of a sequence of events that turned into a reality a recognition that the country might dissolve into civil war. It was an endless sequence of small escalations, as each side sought to secure control of local militias, arsenals, and magazines.
Charles then began a purposeful tour around the north and west midlands. Everywhere he went he wrote dozens of personal letters to local peers, to leading gentry, and to the mayors and leading citizens of county towns, summoning them to attend him at his next rendezvous. Everywhere he was warmly and encouragingly received. At each of these gatherings he read out a prepared speech and had printed copies ready for circulation. These speeches always portrayed him as the defender of the law, of the liberties (ancient, legally protected rights) of his subjects, and of the established church, and his enemies as striving for legislative tyranny and condoning religious and social anarchy. Sometimes his ad lib comments undermined the careful case prepared for him—as at Wellington in Shropshire on 20 September where he added a sentence to say that if in order to win the war he had to suspend the liberties of the people, he hoped they would recognize that it was the fault of his enemies.
At a critical moment in this series of rallies, Charles decided that the time had come to call his people to arms in defence of his honour and authority, and in defence of the established church. As far back as 7 February the queen had been urging him to take up arms ('to settle affairs it was necessary to unsettle them first': Carlton, 242). By 7 June he had privately decided to set up his standard and make war; but he did not in fact do so until ten weeks later. The choice of date—22 August—may have been determined as much by the time of the harvest as by any special provocation. Parliament's formal demands on him—that he return to London and agree to rule with and through those whom parliament thought fit—were neither negotiable nor acceptable. Charles had good reason to believe that most of his subjects agreed that those demands were unreasonable. But, with harvest gathered in, he now had the prospect of getting most of his gentry supporters to turn their minds and the arms of their tenants and labourers to voluntary enlistment. He was not disappointed. Within a month he had an army of 20,000 men trained by non-commissioned officers who were veterans of the European wars, carrying arms that the queen had arranged to be shipped over and led by a combination of British veteran officers from the European wars and men of noble rank.
Civil wars, 1641–1646
The first phase of the war of the three kingdoms, a war in which there were separate civil wars in England, Scotland, and Ireland, and wars in which armies from each kingdom joined in the conflicts within the other kingdoms, lasted from the outbreak of the rising in Ireland in October 1641 to May 1646. That the wars became so intertwined owed much to Charles I himself. He constantly worked to develop a strategy that would co-ordinate the efforts of those fighting by his warrant across the whole archipelago. Because he cared more about maintaining his power and his honour in England than in Scotland and Ireland, he was more willing to strike deals with groups in Scotland that diminished his sovereignty there; and he was willing to devolve upon his Irish Catholic subjects many of the rights to self-determination that he had been constrained to concede to the presbyterian Scots. He did not lack strategic vision, and indeed he made good use of foreign ambassadors (French and Dutch especially) to assist him both in keeping open communication with wavering groups in Scotland and Ireland and in securing arms, ammunition, and mercenaries (especially in specialist military departments such as the artillery).
Charles never left England during the war. After his initial recruitment progress around the north and west midlands (June to September 1642) and after the campaign that culminated in the inconclusive battle of Edgehill (23 October) and thwarted march on London in November, he established his headquarters at Oxford. He spent more than half of his time there in the years 1643, 1644, and 1645, living in Christ Church. Almost all the departments of state and all sections of the royal household were reconstituted in Oxford. The king became, if anything, even more a creature of habit: Sir Henry Slingsby recorded that:
he kept his hours most exactly, both for his exercises and for his despatches, as also his hours for admitting all sorts to come and speak with him. You might know where he would be at any hour from his rising, which was very early, to his walk he took in the garden, and so to chapel and dinner.Diary of Sir Henry Slingsby, 45
When business was over, he devoted himself to chess or tennis and so to bed. Military affairs were conducted by a council of war which comprised both generals and civilians, but Charles was determined not to abandon established forms of governance. It is striking that all the innovations—monthly and weekly assessments, excise, sequestration of estates, conscription, martial law—were introduced first by parliament and then imitated, in most cases harnessed to more traditional methods, by the king. For example, when the king introduced a land tax, he insisted that it be approved in each county by a grand jury at the assizes or quarter sessions; and when he imitated parliament's decision to confiscate the estates of those in arms on the other side, he insisted that this should happen only after an indictment had been brought in by a grand jury. He was persuaded—it does not seem to have been his idea—to assemble in Oxford all those members of the Long Parliament who were openly loyal to him. The numbers were sufficiently impressive to dent the Westminster parliament's claim to be the true representative of the people, but Charles was wary about allowing them any real advisory role, sensing, accurately enough, that they would lobby him to make more concessions than he was willing to make to facilitate a peace process. It met in two sessions, from 22 January to 16 April 1644 and from 8 October 1644 to 10 March 1645. If Charles now distrusted all parliaments, it is not surprising.
Charles left Oxford for part of each year, principally to escort his main marching army. He did not command in battle, leaving that to experienced generals, but he did preside over councils of war, with an unfortunate tendency to temporize when opinions were sharply divided. He was present at eight of the fifteen battles with the largest number of combatants during the war in England and he showed conspicuous personal courage. He pursued both war and peace with vigour. He attempted to get negotiations started on more occasions than did his opponents, even before the war turned decisively against him. A great majority on both sides would have seen the war as decisively moving against him only from the summer of 1645, although modern analysts would say that the real turning-points were late in 1643 or certainly by the summer of 1644. So the offers of peace were certainly not driven by a gloomy anticipation of defeat, and probably not by a cynical attempt to appear more peaceable than he was, but by a genuine horror at the sufferings of his people. There was a squeamishness about him that precluded ruthless carnage, most obviously in not ordering the massacre of the earl of Essex's army when he had it surrounded in Lostwithiel in Cornwall in August 1644, but allowing it to surrender and then march away to reform and fight another day.
The face of battle, 1642–1646
Throughout the civil war Charles fought strenuous campaigns, but he constantly tested out the possibilities of peace. He was as sincere as his opponents in wanting to end the conflict and no more unyielding in looking for ways to bring that about. For the sake of clarity, it is best to examine Charles's pursuit of war and then his search for peace across the years 1643–6. In 1643 he stayed in Oxford except during the autumn campaign that took him to Gloucester, whose capture would have given him the great advantages of controlling the whole of the Severn valley and the main routes between Wales and the midlands. Gloucester held out for the full month (6 August to 4 September) it took Essex to come to its relief. Charles and his nephew Prince Rupert then determined to outmarch Essex on the road to London. The two armies clashed at Newbury (20 September) and although the battle was drawn on the day, it was Essex who got to London first. In 1644 the king saw rather more campaigning. His presence was undoubtedly inspirational in securing the greatest single royalist victory of the war when his army overwhelmed the then darling of the parliamentary radicals, Sir William Waller, at Cropredy Bridge (near Banbury) on 29 June, three days before the catastrophic defeat of the main royalist armies at Marston Moor outside York. But, nothing daunted, he set off to the south-west and, well advised, he outmanoeuvred Essex, resulting in the humiliating surrender of all the latter's infantry at Lostwithiel (2 September). As he returned to Oxford, Charles fought another drawn battle at Newbury (27 October), but this time a draw from which he derived—by retrieving his artillery train from Donnington Castle—more than his adversaries. Despite the loss of the north, the year had not been a complete disaster, and his victories sowed such deep dissension and mutual recrimination within his opponents that there seemed every prospect that the parliamentarian movement would fall apart.
Both sides took stock during the bleak midwinter of 1644–5. They held desultory and grudging peace talks at Uxbridge, simultaneously reorganizing the armies for a renewed war. And it was parliament that reorganized more efficiently. They created the New Model Army out of their three principal armies and placed it under a strong and better-unified high command. Charles, faced by deep personal antipathies among his commanders and advisers, divided his strength between Oxford (where he remained) and Bristol, whither he sent the prince of Wales and the more difficult of his councillors. Both reforms eased internal tensions, but parliament's reforms bred a new military energy and effectiveness. Charles's failure to concentrate the armies of the midlands and the west (despite express orders) led to catastrophe for his main army at Naseby (14 June 1645). The months that followed were traumatic indeed. Sir Thomas Fairfax, Oliver Cromwell, and the New Model Army eliminated the king's army in the west at Langport (10 July) and captured his remaining strongholds there (most crucially Bristol on 10 September), and Michael Jones scattered what was left of Charles's marching army at Rowton Heath outside the walls of Chester on 24 September, while the brilliant campaign waged in the king's name in Scotland by James Graham, marquess of Montrose, came to a shuddering halt with the defeat and massacre of his men at Philiphaugh (13 September). Charles did not flinch under these blows. In the four months after Naseby he covered 1200 miles in a desperate attempt to rally his supporters, and he redoubled his efforts to secure armies in Scotland and Ireland in return for concessions that he would not have considered earlier. By the time he returned to Oxford in October he knew the war was lost unless there was some external deliverance. He considered exile, and although he rejected the option for himself, he did think it the prudent course for his son and heir. With some of his most trusted councillors in attendance, Prince Charles withdrew first to the Channel Islands and then to the continent. (Henrietta Maria had returned to the continent on 14 July 1644, after which Charles never saw her again, although they exchanged letters at least once a week for the rest of his life.)
Charles tried to open negotiations, but a majority in both houses was now determined on his surrender. Hope flickered of an Irish Catholic army and (through the good offices of the French ambassador Montereul) of the Scots changing sides. The queen was promising 10,000 men under the duke of Lorraine. These candles of hope guttered out during spring 1646. Charles, having lost the war, now had to see if he could win the peace.
Charles had not had a bad war. He tasted defeat at first hand only as he refused (until the commander of his bodyguard physically took the bridle of his horse and turned it away) to retreat from the knoll at Naseby from which he had viewed that battle, and then as he stood on the walls of Chester and saw his men routed by Michael Jones, the son of a man he had made a bishop in Ireland. All six of his previous battles had been won or drawn. It is quite possible that his personal presence had been worth thousands of men in raising morale. He certainly failed to prevent feuding among his generals and councillors, and at times he proved unable to choose decisively between sharply distinctive strategies. Above all, he did not punish those who disobeyed direct orders with dire results—the gravest example of this being George Goring's failure to obey an instruction to join the king and Rupert in the days before the battle of Naseby. Just occasionally he would go the other way and over-react, as when he dismissed Rupert (only to reinstate him a few weeks later) for having surrendered Bristol before it was absolutely necessary in autumn 1645.
Glimpsing and resisting peace, 1642–1646
Charles I was the first king since 1258 to face a rebellion openly supported by many of his tenants-in-chief and nobility who were fighting not under the banner of a pretender to his throne but in the name of their own liberties and the desire to change those who advised the king and the type of advice he was given. It was not a happy precedent. But Charles's problem was one of conceptualization. Either the parliamentarians were rebels with a cause, in which case he should never have opposed them, or they were rebels without a cause other than their advancement and wilfulness, in which case they needed to be defeated or Charles was betraying a sacred trust handed down to him by his ancestors, by his oath, by his God. Although prudence and an aching desire to see no more bloodshed drove him to talk and seek peace, the need to be vindicated in the eyes of God and posterity drove him to plot and to dream of ultimate revenge on those who had abused him.
Throughout the time of war, then, Charles plotted how to broaden the conflict by securing support for himself from Scotland and Ireland, and testing the water to see if his opponents were ready to make peace on his terms. He continuously made clear his willingness to negotiate on the basis of the constitutional settlement of 1641 and a non-Laudian church. A majority of MPs were willing to make peace, but only on the basis of the nineteen propositions drawn up in June 1642 (which would have stripped him of all control over the appointment of his ministers and would make those appointed accountable to parliament and not to him) and a radical reform of the church, with the outright abolition of diocesan episcopacy, the Book of Common Prayer, and the Thirty-Nine Articles. None the less, offers of peace were regularly made. In addition to the formal negotiations at Oxford (January–March 1643) and Uxbridge (January–March 1645) there were many more informal, secretive, even furtive discussions between clusters of MPs and their agents and men around the king. Three days after he raised his standard at Nottingham, Charles rather reluctantly agreed to send four commissioners to Westminster to see whether a settlement was possible (although the inclusion of Sir William Uvedale, whose affair with Lady Essex, wife of parliament's captain-general, had been one of the scandals of the 1630s, was at best careless and at worst a deliberate guarantee of failure). On several occasions during the years 1643–5 Charles sent formal and informal appeals to Essex to broker a peace, although the latter always refused to treat without direct orders to do so from the houses. The most promising of these informal overtures came in the second half of 1643 through the initiative of Sir Thomas Ogle and following the defection of three leading parliamentarian peers (the earls of Bedford, Clare, and Holland) with the prospect of the defection of the earl of Northumberland. It was unfortunate that these events coincided with the presence of the queen at Oxford (July 1643–April 1644) for she dissuaded her husband from taking advantage of these openings.
Throughout 1643 and 1644, none the less, Charles looked more accommodating than did the houses. However reluctantly he allowed the ‘constitutional royalists’ (headed by James Stuart, duke of Richmond, Edward Sackville, earl of Dorset, Edward Seymour, earl of Hertford, and Sir Edward Hyde) to talk him into conciliatory gestures, the fact is that he made them. And the result of such accommodation was a steady haemorrhage of defections from Westminster to Oxford, and less movement the other way (although many leading royalists retired, disillusioned, to the country or withdrew to the continent).
Yet the fact is that Charles blew hot and cold. Those closest to him knew how much he resented the concessions he felt he had been forced to make in 1640–42; how bitterly he reproached himself for his own weakness, above all for his betrayal of Strafford; how much he thought the failure of his armies was a sign of God's anger with him for his cravenness in 1641. They also knew how far he was willing to go to arm the Catholics in England, and to empower the Catholics in Scotland and Ireland if that is what it took to bring the war in Ireland to an end and in order to assist him in the war in England. As many as twenty per cent of all the officers in Charles's marching armies were Catholics. The army fighting by his warrant in Scotland consisted mainly of Catholics; and although his lord lieutenant in Ireland, James Butler, marquess of Ormond, was resolutely protestant, a majority of Irish protestants supported the parliamentarian cause, and many of those who followed Ormond were Catholic. Furthermore, Charles was always ready to investigate the terms on which the confederation of Kilkenny, solidly and determinedly Catholic, would support him. In summer 1643 Charles was willing to make a truce with the confederation which left the latter in possession of most of Ireland, a truce that allowed him to bring the English army in Ireland back to assist him in England.
As he began to lose ground in England, his willingness to make concessions in Ireland increased. On 27 February 1645 he told Ormond that the 'English rebels' aimed at 'total subversion of religion and regal power' and that he should make such concessions 'as in a less pressing condition might reasonably be stuck at by me' and that 'I do therefore command you to conclude a peace with the Irish, whatever it cost, so that my Protestant subjects may there be secured, and my regal authority preserved' (Carte, 6.13). He gradually came round to conceding to the Catholics the sort of control over Ireland that he had given to the presbyterians in Scotland: a parliament dominated by Catholics, a restored and recognized Catholic hierarchy, a Catholic university, and an administration drawn from and answerable to the majority Catholic community. His refusal to contemplate a reversal of the land transfers and plantation was to split the confederation, but by the end of 1645 a deal seemed to have been struck: Irish Catholic control of Ireland once Charles was back in Whitehall with Irish troops at his back. Going behind Ormond's back, Charles entrusted the negotiation of this agreement to Edward Somerset, earl of Glamorgan, heir to the Catholic earl of Worcester. Twice secret documents detailing the negotiations were captured and published: on the first occasion after the battle of Naseby (when the letters were published in an inflammatory tract entitled The King's Cabinet Opened); the second was after the ambush and assassination of the archbishop of Tuam. On both occasions Charles disowned Glamorgan, and on the second occasion had him arrested for treason. But the truth is that even if Glamorgan conceded a little more than he had been briefed to allow, the thrust of Charles's commission was to get an Irish army into England on terms which conceded more to the Irish than all but a handful of his friends thought defensible.
None of this put Charles's throne at risk (yet). But it lost him support: 'One wonders whether [the publication of his letters] did Charles more harm among his enemies or his would-be friends' (Woolrych, Battles, 136). On the other hand, most of those who had sided with him in 1642 could see a beam in parliament's eye even more clearly than this mote in the king's eye. For he was always ready to talk peace. He was willing to compromise over the militia, suggesting that half those who controlled it would be named by parliament and half by himself; he was willing to allow some of those close to him to be named as traitors, so long as they were not attainted but tried at common law; he was willing to live within the framework of a triennial bill. But he was not willing to surrender episcopacy or the prayer book in England. Later, he considered their suspension, but not their abolition. He was clear, he told the prince of Wales on 26 August 1646,
that the cheefest particular duty of a King is to maintaine the true religion (without which he can never expect to have God's blessing), so I asseur you, that this duty can never be right performed without the Church be rightly governed, not only in relation to conscience but lykewaies for the necessary subsistence of the Crowne.Bodl. Oxf., MS Clarendon 91, fol. 30
He was terrified that an interim concession on church government would prove irreversible, whatever his own intention. 'I must confess (to my shame and grief)', he wrote to the queen in February 1646, 'that heretofore I have for public respects … yielded unto those things which were no less against my conscience than this, for which I have been so deservedly punished [by God]' (Charles I in 1646, 19).
With parliament never giving an inch, and Charles's concessions being far short of what a majority of MPs were committed to, the question of Charles's sincerity or insincerity makes little difference. The brute fact is that while drawn to seek peace he took no pride or joy in it. He craved victory and revenge over his enemies, and had a compromise peace been achieved, it is hard to believe that he would have honoured it. He probably revealed his own mind most accurately and chillingly in a private instruction to Sir Edward Nicholas, dated 6 February 1645, during negotiations at Uxbridge. Telling them that
in your privat discourses (I no-waies meane in your publique meetings) with the London Commissioners, you must put them in mynde that they were arrant Rebelles and that their end must be damnation, ruine and infamy. Except they repented.Diary of John Evelyn, 4.149
Under house arrest, May 1646 to November 1647
On 27 April 1646 Charles left Oxford for the last time. It was typical of the remaining thirty-three months of his life that he was in two minds about what to do for the best. He told the French ambassador, Montereul, that he intended to make the English and Scottish parliaments 'irreconcilable enemies' (Fotheringham, 1.152); but he also told his wife that the Scottish church was as bad as the Roman church (she begged to differ) and he made a solemn vow to the warden of All Souls that once he had his 'just kingly rights' back, he would return to the Church of England all the impropriations held by the crown (indeed he generally feared that consenting to the sale of church lands would implicate him in sacrilege; Carlton, 300). But how best to divide and rule his enemies without betraying his coronation oath to protect the Church of England by law established? After leaving Oxford with a few companions he headed for London, apparently planning to spring a surprise on his opponents there. He got to within 10 miles, then decided to take the by-ways to King's Lynn whence he would sail to the continent to rally his supporters from there. He spent four days in Downham Market (again, just 10 miles from his destination), burning his papers and wracked by indecision. And then he opted for plan C. Slipping across the Great North Road, he journeyed up through the back-lanes of Northamptonshire and Rutland to Nottinghamshire, before surrendering himself to the Scots at Newark.
Charles was now a prisoner, and except for a week in November 1647, after he fled from one gaoler and before he delivered himself to another, a prisoner he remained: first of the Scots at Newcastle (13 May 1646–3 February 1647); then of the English parliament at Holdenby House in Northamptonshire (7 February–4 June 1647); then of the New Model Army and its civilian allies at a series of great houses in East Anglia and Hertfordshire (4 June–24 August 1647); then at Hampton Court (24 August–11 November 1647); then on the Isle of Wight at Carisbrooke Castle and then Hurst Castle (16 November 1647–12 December 1648); and finally under strict guard in his palaces in and around London (15 December 1648–30 January 1649). His confinement was rarely a close one. He was effectively under house arrest and free to move around. For example, while he was at Holdenby House, he was allowed to go hunting, and as he developed a passion for bowls, he made frequent visits to Lord Sunderland's house at Althorp, a good hour's ride away; and (at least from January 1647) he was allowed books of his own choice from the royal library. Those he read included Laud's edition of the sermons of Lancelot Andrewes, the first four books of Richard Hooker's Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, Shakespeare, Edmund Spenser, George Herbert, and the poems of Tasso and Ariosto.
Charles was also allowed to have his own domestic servants and political advisers with him, and to receive visitors. He was, for example, allowed both at Hampton Court and at Carisbrooke to entertain commissioners from the parliament of Scotland, with whom he negotiated and signed the settlement and military alliance with the Scots known as the engagement (26 December 1647) under the noses of his English captors. But for the whole of his time at Newcastle and Holdenby (May 1646–June 1647) he was refused his own choice of chaplains and offered only rigid presbyterians, whose services he spurned. He attended no act of worship and denied himself the sacrament of holy communion throughout that time. As Sir Philip Warwick put it, while Charles was at Newcastle,
there passed that conference between him and [Alexander] Henderson about the order of episcopacy, and what obligations his coronation oath laid upon him. Which papers being printed, shew his great ability and knowledge, when he was destitute of all aids.Warwick, 324
Towards the end of his time with the Scots, having failed to escape, he did begin to contemplate the possible suspension of episcopacy in return for a Scottish army, but he quickly found that that cut no ice with his frosty hosts. Again once back in English hands, and confronted by commissioners from a parliament still dominated by the ‘presbyterians’, he also offered a three-year suspension of episcopacy in return for the right to nominate twenty divines to join the 120 on the Westminster assembly and for a guarantee that he and his household could use the prayer book. So even on religion there was some flexibility. But the mental reservation that suspension was only a means to achieve the long-term restitution of episcopacy was telegraphed to all those who talked with him.
At the end of May relations between the officers and men of the New Model Army and a majority in both houses reached a nadir. The former resisted the attempts of the latter to disband a bulk of the army without satisfying their material grievances (the rest being sent under new generals to Ireland). Within days (on 3 June 1647), probably acting with Oliver Cromwell's knowledge but not consent, Cornet George Joyce arrived at Holdenby House with a party of horse to secure the king's person. Charles was at Althorp playing bowls, but on his return he agreed to accompany Joyce to army headquarters. The generals treated him well, and fairly soon (once he had reached Hatfield House, home of the earl of Salisbury, on 25 June) he was allowed his own chaplains and use of the prayer book. Over the next few weeks a committee of senior officers, in consultation with their allies in both houses, drew up a settlement plan that reduced significantly the number of the king's advisers to be exempted from pardon, and eased the terms and length of time during which the king would lose control of the armed forces and of the appointment of his own advisers. It would also have permitted the survival of bishops shorn of all coercive power, the continued use of the prayer book for those who wanted it, and the right of assembly outside the national church for all who wished to be so freed. This draft settlement—The Heads of Proposals—was as concerned to prevent legislative tyranny as executive tyranny.
Charles has been much criticized for failing to take these terms seriously, and he quickly exasperated Henry Ireton and Oliver Cromwell who led the army's negotiating team. He neither rejected The Heads, nor engaged seriously with them, but watched as the army rammed them through parliament as a series of bills. Perhaps he hoped that stand-offishness would further dilute the terms. Perhaps he hoped that the offer of noble titles would go to the heads of the army grandees. But most probably he was tempted by his long-term hope that a three-kingdom alliance could be brought off. The hard-line covenanters had lost control of the Scottish parliament, and it was men who had opposed the intervention into England in 1644–6 (headed by the duke of Hamilton) who now had control of the Scottish executive. And the heavy-handedness of Philip Sidney, Viscount Lisle, sent over to impose the English parliament's will on Ireland, was producing a new coalition of groups around Ormond that might well allow a substantial army to come over from there. Charles was right to believe that the unpopularity of the army and of the taxation to sustain it was such that he could count on renewed support in England. This was the coalition of interests that was to be put together in and after December 1647. Given the choice between the revised Heads of Proposals, more palatable than previous English terms but still not palatable enough, and the risks of a new war, Charles took the riskier course.
As Charles's plans matured, he became aware of the disintegration of army unity. The people at large were kept in the dark about the debates in and around Putney church at the end of October and into November 1647, but royalists in the Tower were discussing them with John Lilburne (also a prisoner there) and getting messages down to Hampton Court. So Charles knew that at least two members of the council of the army (Captain Bishop and Major Thomas Harrison) had called for his trial as a 'man of blood'; and that many more had called for a settlement, in the making of which he was not to be involved and under which he would be simply offered a role which he might take or leave.
In these circumstances flight seemed the prudent course. It was planned for Thursday 11 November, for on Mondays and Thursdays it was Charles's custom to retire very early and spend several hours writing letters. He would thus have fifteen hours' start on his pursuers. How it came about that there was an unguarded rear door has never been explained, but once free he made his way through the November gloom to a waiting boat which took him across the River Thames and to three gentlemen-servants on the other bank. They rode purposefully away but then argued furiously over where to go next. William Legge favoured a boat to Jersey, Sir John Berkeley a boat to France, and Jack Ashburnham had two plans—a daring ride into London and a direct appeal to the people of the capital; and sounding out Colonel Robert Hammond, an officer so disaffected with recent events that he had asked to be transferred to the Isle of Wight so as to avoid being involved in the internal debates of the army. He now found himself at the eye of the storm. Ashburnham and Berkeley misjudged him, and instead of assisting the king to get away, he quickly became the king's new gaoler, incarcerating him in Carisbrooke Castle on the Isle of Wight.
Last throws of the dice, December 1647 to January 1649
For thirteen months Charles remained on the Isle of Wight, and a large number of his own servants came to join him (the fact that at one point Hammond limited him to thirty is evidence that more than that number had arrived). Once he realized that Hammond would not assist his onward journey, he planned to escape, but all the attempts were thwarted. So he spent much of the year a hopeless spectator as the coalition he had put together dashed itself to pieces against the might of the New Model Army.
For much of the time Charles was free to roam around—in December 1647 his coach was shipped over for ease of transport—and to receive visitors, like the three Scottish commissioners with whom he completed and signed the engagement on 26 December. He read voraciously (his library arriving with his coach), especially works of devotional theology, the poetry of Spenser, and the plays of Shakespeare, which he heavily annotated. He continued to write letters to those closest to him—probably more than 1000 during his time on the island—including ever more frequent letters to his wife. He formed a strong bond of affection, trust, and (platonic) intimacy with Jane Whorwood, the daughter of a minor official in the royal stables and estranged wife of a cavalier gentleman. To 'sweet Jane', 'my dear friend', whose letters gave him 'great contentment', he poured out his soul (Carlton, 328–9). She was never mentioned in his letters to his wife and no suggestion of scandal crossed the lips of his companions or of his gaolers. But she was balm to his troubled soul.
The engagement with the Scots committed Charles to suppress episcopacy and establish presbyterianism in England for three years after which a permanent settlement of religion would be worked out. A confederal union of the British monarchies would be established. In return, the Scots would send 20,000 men to assist him to regain his English throne, and a substantial army drawn from all sections in Ireland but under protestant officers would assist. It was anticipated that there would be popular royalist risings around England and Wales. Charles could issue pleas and encouragements, but otherwise he was helpless. One by one, groups organized themselves and were suppressed by Fairfax and Cromwell. As usual, the Irish agreements fell apart, and the Scots delayed their intervention too long and were routed by Cromwell at Preston (20 August 1648). In the aftermath of this second civil war, Charles finally faced deposition, trial, and execution.
Charles's last hope was a settlement with parliament. The army grandees, indeed the whole army, wanted nothing more to do with him. He was a man who had caused the innocent blood of Englishmen to be shed. For this God required retribution. He was a man who had sought to overturn the judgment of God in giving victory to his opponents in the first civil war. In that first war the king had been put to trial by battle and lost; the second war was an act of sacrilege. And so, in The Remonstrance of the Army (November 1648), the army called for 'exemplary justice … in capital punishment' upon him as 'the principal author' of the wars (pp. 43, 47). It presumed, however, that an elective form of monarchy would survive—'no king should be admitted except upon the election of the people's representative in parliament'. And behind the scenes there are shards of evidence, mainly in the reports of foreign ambassadors and observers, and in the activities of Oliver Cromwell, that he at least favoured not regicide but enforced abdication. There is evidence that a plan was pursued in January and February 1648 to persuade Charles to abdicate in favour of the prince of Wales. In the autumn, the chosen substitute king was Henry, duke of Gloucester, Charles's third son, who was in parliamentarian care.
Endgame and atonement: December 1648 and January 1649
So Charles had three choices in November 1648. He could agree terms with a Long Parliament which was desperate to prevent a military take-over; he could abdicate and secure the throne for his family; or he could call the army's bluff and defy its stated intention to attempt regicide in the face of overwhelming domestic and international revulsion and outrage. A fourth option—to hope that even now foreign help, most probably from the Netherlands, might come to his aid—troubled his enemies more than it convinced him, but he may well have calculated that the spectre of foreign intervention made it likelier that he could afford to call the army's bluff. As so often, he gambled on reasonable odds, and lost. He made some minor concessions to the team of negotiators who had come down to offer him the terms he had so often spurned before, and found that they were accepted. He waited to hear whether the houses would accept them, which, on 3 December, they did. For twenty-four hours he thought he was returning to London to mount his tarnished throne. Then he heard of Pride's Purge, of the army coup, and he knew that his options had narrowed. Now it was abdication or the threat of death.
Hammond, who was extremely unhappy with the drift of events, was arrested on 21 November 1648. Charles was moved first to Hurst Castle (1 December) and then to Windsor, arriving there on 23 December. By then—but after a significant delay—the council of officers had resolved (15 December) that Charles should be brought speedily to justice, and appointed a committee to consider how this might be done. It took almost three weeks to report.
Fresh attempts were now made to induce Charles to abdicate in favour of his son; and he was threatened that if he refused he faced trial and execution and the exclusion of his family from the throne. He chose defiance. For another three weeks, the army and the rump of the Long Parliament struggled to find ways of increasing the pressure on him and also of setting up a trial procedure that would expose his wickedness and be sure of resulting in a conviction. The delays and the obvious divisions fed his hopes that calling their bluff would succeed.
But the nerve of the generals held, and on 6 January 1649 the Rump established the high court of justice and named 159 commissioners to the court. Still King Charles languished at Windsor, as the prosecutors wrestled with the form of the charge. Only on 19 January did he re-enter his capital, to spend the last eleven nights of his life at St James's. On the following day he was brought to Westminster Hall to hear the charges, which were that, having been entrusted with a limited power to govern in accordance with the laws of the land and to protect the people and preserve their liberties, he had in fact governed by will and not by law (tyranny), and had 'traiterously' levied war 'against the present parliament and the people there represented' (Gardiner, Constitutional Documents, 372).
Charles then had his finest hour. He mocked his judges; he defied them to say by what authority they sought to try their lawful king; he scorned the claims of the Commons to be a judicature or to have the authority to establish a judicature; he made the manifest injustice to him an emblem of the injustice all his subjects could expect from this 'fraction of a parliament' (Letters, ed. Petrie, 259). For three days running he scorned the court and refused to enter a plea. John Bradshaw, the obscure provincial judge who was the highest-ranking judicial officer the Commons could persuade to preside over the trial, could do little but bluster in response, and many of the commissioners skulked away. Despite the lack of a plea, the trial continued and witnesses were heard, a judgment was reached and attested to by fifty-nine commissioners (barely one in three of those appointed to serve), and sentence was passed. The Rump and the army had wanted a trial process that was open and that vindicated their actions. It turned into a nightmare, and Bradshaw's refusal to allow the king to speak after his conviction was the final suggestion of a show trial.
Charles spent his last days writing to those he loved and cared for. In particular he wrote imploring letters to James, duke of York, and Henry, duke of Gloucester, begging them not to allow themselves to be so used by his enemies as to agree to take the throne ahead of their brother Charles; and to Charles, prince of Wales, he wrote a last political will and testament. It was a passionate 5000-word plea to stand by the church and to withstand that 'devil of Reformation [that] doth commonly turn himself into an angel of reformation': 'Above all I would have you, as I hope you are already, well-grounded and settled in your religion, the best profession of which I have ever esteemed that of the Church of England … as coming nearest to God's word for doctrine and to the primitive examples for government.' He confessed that he had failed in time to recognize the sedition that lay behind the seeming compliance of the presbyterians, and the schismatic venom of the 'lesser factions' who were at first 'officious servants to Presbytery, their great master, till time and military success, discovering to each their peculiar advantages invited them to part stakes'. Second to religion, but very much second, came the doing of justice: 'when you have done justice by God, your own soul and His Church in the profession and preservation of truth and unity in religion, the next main hinge on which your prosperity will depend and move, is civil justice.' He called on the prince to uphold the 'settled laws' and to 'show and exercise' the prerogative 'rather in remitting than in exacting the rigour of the law, there being nothing worse than a legal tyranny'. He ascribed his own downfall not to any abuse of power but to his weakness in failing to protect the church and the rule of law from 'the rough hours of men's covetous and ambitious designs … which were at first hidden under the soft and smooth pretensions of religion, reformation and liberty'. He had, he said explicitly, failed to spot 'the wolves in sheeps' clothing' (Letters, ed. Petrie, 261ff.).
There can be no doubt that Charles wrote from the heart. There was no self-conscious self-representation here. And if it distilled what Charles had learnt from the past ten years, it is not that the scales had just fallen from his eyes. He was, with aching sincerity, telling his son what too late he had realized, some time around the autumn of 1641, too late to prevent the wolves from tearing and rending their way around the sheepfold of which he was shepherd. And then at the end, the weariness sets in, the resignation, the acceptance that 'if God will have disloyalty perfected by my destruction' then he, Charles, will embrace death:
At worst, I trust I shall go before you to a better kingdom, which God hath prepared for me, and me for it, through my Saviour Jesus Christ, to whose mercy I commend you, and all mine. Farewell, till we meet, if not on earth, yet in Heaven.Letters, ed. Petrie, 272–3
This letter, with its self-pity and its self-righteousness, is Charles's true epitaph.
The time of execution was set for early on the morning of 30 January 1649, but it had to be delayed while an ordinance was rushed through making it treason for anyone to proclaim a successor. Charles prayed calmly through the morning and was then brought to the scaffold, famously wearing two shirts so that he would not shiver in the bitter cold and give an appearance of fear. The execution took place on a platform set against the wall of the Banqueting House in Whitehall, and chains and manacles had been attached to it in case the king physically resisted execution. But with all the self-control of which he was capable, and with a tongue unfettered from the time of his trial, he found himself able to speak of himself as 'the martyr of the people', as one who died to preserve the liberties of his people by upholding a God-given form of government from the tyrannical usurpations of self-interested men who had forgotten that 'a subject and a sovereign are clear different things' (Herbert, 129–30). He then forgave his executioner, said his prayers, and gave the signal. His head was then severed from his body.
Those who wished Charles dead recognized the hazard of creating a martyr. They therefore forbade his burial in Westminster and—having arranged for the head to be sewn back onto the body—sent the corpse by water to Windsor, to be buried on 8 February 1649 in St George's Chapel, home of the Order of the Garter, but within the closed walls of the castle where no one could come to pray by it.
But if his body was not available to fuel a devotional cult, Charles's words and his image were. Within days of his death, his alleged final thoughts and self-assessment, contained in the Eikon basilike, were published. It was to be one of the biggest sellers of the seventeenth century: forty English-language impressions and issues in the year 1649 and twenty more in Latin, Dutch, French, German, and Danish; five more English impressions in the next decade and twenty-four more from the Restoration down to the early eighteenth century. Its famous frontispiece, with Charles in a Christlike apotheosis with purple robe and crown of thorns, kneeling and facing east before a Laudian altar at the top of a trinity of steps and looking intensely up to a crown of glory, is, alongside Van Dyck's magnificent equestrian portraits, the most memorable image of a king who, despite the untying of his tongue in his final weeks, is memorable not for what he said but for how he looked. The text, ghosted by John Gauden and replete with prayers and meditations, won him more friends in death than he had ever enjoyed in life. But they remain the words not of the king himself, but of those who sought to distil their grief for a good cause lost, for the triumph of might over right.
It remains one of the ironies of Charles's reign that he who above all kings sought to promote the unity and uniformity of his subjects should become the inspirer of a sect. The Eikon basilike remained a book to inspire the cult of Charles, king and martyr. The tradition of sermons in his memory every 30 January, encouraged by the Restoration government, became the property of the high Anglicans who renewed and reconfigured the Laudian ideals, and in due course became the defiant rallying cries of high tory clerics and nonjurors. Several hundred such sermons were published across the centuries, the largest concentration coming from the eighteenth century, and providing a vehicle for attacking theological liberalism and ecclesiological Erastianism.
In 1660 parliament declared Charles a martyr, added him to the calendar of Anglican saints, and ordered prayers to be said in his memory and honour on the anniversary of his death, a practice that quickly became a duty cheerfully taken up by some and ignored by others. Although Charles's judges were dug up and evicted from Westminster Abbey at the Restoration, Charles did not take their place. He remains at Windsor. Sir Christopher Wren designed a great mausoleum for him in the 1670s that was intended for Hyde Park, but Charles II's government lacked the funds to erect it, and so it was adapted to become a church for the churchless and allegedly godless Tunbridge Wells, subscription money having been raised for a more sober place of worship. This church was to be one of the six dedicated to Charles, king and martyr, around England and Wales in the final third of the seventeenth century (the others are in Falmouth; Newton-in-Wem, Shropshire; Peak Forest; Plymouth; and Shelland, Suffolk). There was a further surge in the late nineteenth century and first half of the twentieth: there are now at least eighteen churches and chapels in the United Kingdom, two in Ireland, one in Scotland, four in the old Commonwealth, and ten in the USA (the most prominent being in Huntsville, Alabama). In 1894 the Church of England decided to omit the feast day of Charles, king and martyr, from its calendar. In response a Society of King Charles the Martyr was founded by the formidable Mrs Ermengarda Greville-Nugent, 'at the height of neo-Jacobitism, a Romantic-Decadent movement that reacted against cynical and self-interested influences on contemporary politics of the time' as its 2002 website put it.
Charles is not the most commemorated of kings, although there are statues of him at Westminster and in Oxford, his is the ‘head’ in the name of many King's Head public houses, and many works of fiction retell the story of his clash with the puritans. He has been memorably represented on film by Alec Guinness, but in a film called Cromwell. Although the Society of King Charles the Martyr erected a bust of Charles I over the east door of St Margaret's, Westminster, overlooking the statue of Cromwell on the green beside the Houses of Parliament, it is very much the case now, as it was in the seventeenth century, that it is Cromwell who draws the crowds and divides opinion. Those who do not revere Charles I tend to ignore him.
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- BL, letters, Add. MSS 35029, 46412
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- Bodl. Oxf., letters and papers
- Bodl. Oxf., papers relating to his negotiations with parliament
- CKS, papers
- CUL, corresp. and papers
- Duchy of Cornwall office, London, household accounts
- LPL, corresp. and papers
- NA Scot., letters
- NA Scot., letters and warrants
- NRA, priv. coll., corresp.
- NYPL, letters, speeches, papers, etc. [some copies]
- Royal Arch., letters written at Carisbrooke
- V&A NAL, inventories of his clothing, personal estate, art collection, etc., as sold by parliament in 1640; clothings accounts 1630–1631
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- BL, letters to Prince Rupert, Add. MS 62083
- BL, letters to Captain Titus, Egerton MS 1533
- Bodl. Oxf., corresp. with Henrietta Maria
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- LPL, corresp. with duke of York, princess of Orange, etc.
- Mount Stuart Trust Archive, Rothesay, Isle of Bute, letters to Loudoun
- NA Scot., letters, mainly to seventh earl of Menteith
- NA Scot., letters and commissions to first marquess of Montrose
- NL Scot., letters to earl of Morton
- S. Antiquaries, Lond., corresp. with Sir Thomas Lyttelton
- Sheff. Arch., letters to Lord Strafford
- U. Hull, Brynmor Jones L., corresp. with earl of Withsdale and letters
- V&A NAL, letters to Prince Rupert
- Worcester Cathedral Library, letters to John Prideaux and others
- Worcs. RO, letters to Prince Rupert
- bronze statue, 1610–1651 (after H. Le Sueur), Royal Collection
- studio of I. Oliver, miniature, 1612, NPG
- oils, 1612, NPG
- attrib. A. van Blyenberch, oils, 1617–1620, NPG
- P. van Somer, oils, 1617–1620, Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen
- P. Oliver, miniature, 1621, Royal Collection
- silver medal, 1625 (to commemorate marriage), Scot. NPG; on loan from NG Scot.
- G. van Honthorst, oils, 1628, NPG
- D. Mytens, oils, 1628, Royal Collection
- D. Mytens, double portrait, oils, 1630–1632 (with Henrietta Maria), Royal Collection
- D. Mytens, oils, 1631, NPG
- A. Van Dyck, group portrait, oils, 1632 (with his wife and two eldest children), Royal Collection
- N. Briot, two silver medals, 1633, Scot. NPG
- A. Van Dyck, oils, 1633, Royal Collection
- A. Van Dyck, oils, 1635, Royal Collection [see illus.]
- A. Van Dyck, oils, 1635–1636, National Gallery, London
- A. Van Dyck, two portraits, 1636, Royal Collection
- J. Hoskins, miniature, 1645, Royal Collection
- oils, 1645, NPG
- P. Lely, double portrait, oils, 1647 (with his son James, duke of York), Syon House, Brentford, Middlesex
- E. Bower, oils, 1648, Royal Collection
- J. Roettier, copper memorial medal, 1649, Scot. NPG
- C. Turner, group portrait, mezzotint, pubd 1814 (James I and family; after continental school, 1620), NG Ire.
- by or after E. Bower, oils, Scot. NPG
- D. Des Granges, miniature (after J. Hoskins), NPG
- English school, watercolour miniature on ivory, NG Ire.
- E. Lutterell, pastel drawing (after A. Van Dyck), NG Ire.
- J. Mahoney, watercolour on paper, NG Ire.
- D. Mytens, oils, Scot. NPG; on loan from the earl of Mar and Kellie
- by or after R. Peake senior, oils, Scot. NPG
- J. Roettier, memorial medal, AM Oxf.
- J. Simon, mezzotint (after A. Van Dyck, 1636), NG Ire.
- H. Stone, double portrait, oils (with James, duke of York; after P. Lely, 1647), Scot. NPG
- H. Stone, oils, NG Ire.
- R. Strange, pencil drawing (after A. Van Dyck), Scot. NPG
- A. Van Dyck, oils, Louvre, Paris, France
- studio of A. Van Dyck, oils, Scot. NPG
- bronze bust (after H. Le Sueur?), NPG; version, c.1635, Stourhead, Wiltshire
- double portrait, oils (with his son, Charles; after A. Van Dyck), Marble Hill House and Gardens, London
- oils (after A. Van Dyck), Chiswick House, London
- oils (after A. Van Dyck), Ranger's House, London
- oils, Audley End House and Gardens, Essex
- oils (after A. Van Dyck), Audley End House and Gardens, Essex
- oils (after A. Bower), Carisbrooke Castle, Isle of Wight
- oils, Scot. NPG
- oils (The execution of Charles I), Scot. NPG; on loan from the earl of Rosebery
- oils, Bodl. Oxf.
- oils, Merton Oxf.
- wash drawing (after D. Mytens), Scot. NPG
- watercolour on ivory, Scot. NPG; on loan from NG Scot.
- Anne [Anna, Anne of Denmark] (1574–1619), queen of England, Scotland, and Ireland, consort of James VI and I
- Charles II (1630–1685), king of England, Scotland, and Ireland
- Elizabeth, Princess [Elizabeth Stuart] (1596–1662), queen of Bohemia and electress palatine, consort of Frederick V
- Henrietta Maria [Princess Henrietta Maria of France] (1609–1669), queen of England, Scotland, and Ireland, consort of Charles I
- Henry Frederick, prince of Wales (1594–1612)
- Henry, Prince, duke of Gloucester (1640–1660)
- James II and VII (1633–1701), king of England, Scotland, and Ireland
- James VI and I (1566–1625), king of Scotland, England, and Ireland
- Mary, princess royal (1631–1660), princess of Orange, consort of William II
- Rupert, prince and count palatine of the Rhine and duke of Cumberland (1619–1682), royalist army and naval officer