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HIST 251: Early Modern England: Politics, Religion, and Society under the Tudors and Stuarts
- Crown and Political Nation, 1604-1640
Professor Wrightson reviews the events leading up to the outbreak of the English civil wars and assesses the various historiographical interpretations that have been advanced to explain the war. He notes that while it is essential to appreciate the various long-term causes of the conflict, we must also recognize the role of contingency in the period leading up to the war. He then describes tensions between the crown and the political nation under James I and Charles I with particular attention to the role of the Duke of Buckingham, growing dissatisfaction with royal policy and the increasingly acrimonious tone of parliaments in the 1620s. The fresh start represented by the period of “personal rule” 1629-40 is then considered, with an emphasis on the anxiety aroused by royal financial expedients (notably Ship Money) and religious policy. He ends with the violent response to the attempt by Charles I and Laud to impose prayer book worship on the Scottish church, which triggered the collapse of Charles attempt to rule without calling parliament.
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Early Modern England: Politics, Religion, and Society under the Tudors and Stuarts
HIST 251 - Lecture 19 - Crown and Political Nation, 1604-1640
Chapter 1. A High Road to Civil War? [00:00:00]
Professor Keith Wrightson: Right. Well, I want to attend today to some of the political developments of the early seventeenth century.
In reading about and discussing the Tudor monarchy, we looked at the development of a political system which was in many ways highly centralized but at the same time increasingly participatory and consultative. In certain matters of state the royal will was supreme and the prerogative power of the monarch was paramount and yet, as Mark Kishlansky says, “the constitutional position was that monarchical power was limited by the evolution of its practice.”
The prerogative power of the prince could not override the liberties of the subject enshrined in law and the monarch was also expected to have an eye to the views and the interests of the broader political nation, those who governed the localities and who acted, in a sense, as brokers between the royal administration and the nation at large. Well, to that important extent the effectiveness of government and the maintenance of political stability depended on the relationships between the crown and the ‘political nation’. As we move in to the seventeenth century the essential point to grasp perhaps is that these relationships were never fixed. They contained certain gray areas, there were certain tensions, certain ambiguities, and there was nothing new about that. From time to time they’d surfaced under Elizabeth and they’d been on the whole handled and resolved. In the final analysis the interests of the crown and the political nation were expected to run together, and there was also a strong emphasis in the political culture of the time on trying to achieve harmony and consensus. Open conflict was regarded as a sign of failure in the political process.
And yet, despite all of that, in the mid-seventeenth century that system collapsed. In 1642, civil war broke out between the crown and the parliament. In 1649, King Charles I was put on trial by a High Court of Justice formed from parliament and executed and a republic was declared which lasted for over a decade.
Now these were political events of quite extraordinary radicalism for the seventeenth century. Kings had been deposed and replaced in the past; kings had been killed in battle; kings had sometimes been murdered by rival claimants; but never before had a reigning monarch been formally put on trial and called to account and then executed. As Oliver Cromwell, one of the movers of that act, put it, “we cut off the king’s head with the crown on it.” “We cut off the king’s head with the crown on it,” by which he meant that they had tried and executed not just a man but an institution, the institution of monarchy.
Well, such momentous events perhaps imply very profound causes, and as a result the political history of the early seventeenth century has traditionally been viewed as in many respects ‘a high road to civil war’; that’s a phrase which is often used. In looking at the development of the situation, traditionally the so-called ‘Whig’ variant of the story tells a tale of an assertive parliament increasingly anxious to defend its privileges and worried about the liberties of the subject coming into conflict with monarchs who were trying to extend the sphere of royal prerogative power, and as a result parliament fought back by demanding greater influence on policy. That’s the essentials of the traditional story. There’s a Marxist variant on that too, which argues that behind these political developments, behind the assertiveness of parliament, was a growth in the social and economic power of the gentry and of the urban elites of the country, people who had done well out of economic change and were seeking a greater place in the sun, expressing their aspirations in a developing rhetoric of the liberties of the subject.
In the 1970s and 1980s, however, a more conservative, so-called ‘revisionist’ school of historians rejected these interpretations of the high road to civil war and began arguing that they were essentially the product of hindsight. In the view of this school there was no deep-rooted malaise in the English body politic, no great clash of fundamental constitutional principles, no high road to civil war. Rather, as they tell the story, the catastrophe of the 1640s was the result of short-term misjudgments and unforeseen contingent circumstances, almost a tragic accident, though one which came to have very profound consequences.
Well, there’s no need to rehearse all the details of these debates at length. If they interest you, then the introduction to Cust and Hughes’ book, Conflict in Early Stuart England, is an excellent overview of the way the historiography has developed. But these debates continue and they continue in a sense because the English civil wars are still being fought on paper because the seventeenth century was a defining moment in British political history. Nevertheless, at the moment we seem to be in a phase of what’s sometimes described as post-revisionism in which historians of the period are increasingly willing to recognize the merits of different arguments. First of all that the traditional interpretation was perhaps a little too teleological and that the role of short-term contingency was neglected in that story, but on the other hand, recognizing that in its more extreme manifestations revisionism is almost willfully shortsighted as an interpretation. Above all, it fails to take account of the larger context of political life in the nation and of the changing social and cultural context within which politics took place. As a result, it’s been said by some critics that the revisionist approach tends to explain why the English civil wars shouldn’t have happened [laughter]. But they did happen. They can’t explain why people felt so passionately that they were willing to draw sword against their fellow countrymen.
So we mustn’t assume a particular preordained direction of events; we mustn’t imply an inevitability about the process. We have to be alive to the importance in politics of contingent circumstances and the interventions of specific individuals. But at the same time we have to remain aware of the fact that short-term conflicts can have a cumulative effect and politics was not conducted in a social or ideological vacuum.
Chapter 2. Buckingham [00:08:01]
Well, to stand back from that for a moment and bring the story through from the accession of James I, one thing one can say with certainty and that’s that in 1603 when King James came down from Scotland and was crowned King of England no one anticipated the trouble that was to come. On the contrary, the mood of the political nation in 1603 was by and large one of celebration. They had an adult monarch, an experienced king who’d ruled well in Scotland; he was a firm Protestant, and he had two sons. Everything looked great. Given the nature of the political system, the tone of James’ reign depended very much upon the personality of the monarch, and James on the whole was capable of negotiating the ambiguities of the constitutional situation pretty well. There were certainly some tensions in his relationships with parliament when it was called. The English parliament, very aware of James’ unfamiliarity with its system, was jealous of its privileges, anxious that the new monarch should be brought to understand them correctly as it saw them. It was rather critical of the King’s use of his prerogative power to raise customs revenues by so-called ‘impositions’ on trade, and at the same time it was deeply suspicious of any financial innovation which might make the crown more independent of parliament. In 1610, for example, parliament rejected plans for what was called the Great Contract, which would have granted to the king a regular annual taxation income in return for abolishing certain antiquated and archaic feudal revenues. It failed. They were too anxious to maintain control of the purse for it to go through.
On the King’s part, James had a very high conception of his royal prerogative. He regarded the privileges of parliament as having been granted by his ancestors in the past for particular purposes, rather than being fundamental features of a mythical ‘ancient constitution’ as some members of parliament believed. He was certainly not used to having such an independent-minded body as the English parliament. Scotland had a parliament but it was very much under the control of the king. He was prone at times to lecturing the members of parliament when he believed them to have encroached upon his sovereignty, but of course Elizabeth had done that in her time. James was also ready to use his power to dissolve parliament when he became exasperated with it. And certainly he didn’t call it very often. But, nevertheless, if James had any pretensions to absolute power they were strictly theoretical. He is once recorded as having told the Spanish ambassador in a conversation that he marveled that his ancestors had created such a body as the English parliament, but he had found it in being when he came to the throne and he was obliged to put up with what he couldn’t get rid of. And so he did, like the shrewd and canny monarch that he was.
More broadly, if there were those amongst the political nation who were a little disappointed with King James after the early years once the honeymoon was over, who came to dislike the sometimes rather sleazy tone of his court, who disliked his fondness for favorites, or his notorious financial extravagance; nonetheless there’s no reason to believe that the consensual political system was under any unusual strain during James’ reign. But if that was the case it didn’t survive the 1620s.
The 1620s turned out to be a decade of mounting crisis and acute political polarization, a polarization which was vividly reflected in the relations between crown and parliament, and this situation arose from a combination of factors. It partly involved foreign policy difficulties. It partly involved religion. It partly involved engagement in war; and taxation; perceived threats to the common law. And it all came to a focus on the person of one man; George Villiers, the Duke of Buckingham. Now Buckingham was a handsome young man, rather charismatic by all accounts, who had come to court and attracted James I’s attention in the late 1610s. Becoming favorite of the king, he had been rapidly advanced to titles and to fortune. Well, had he just been James’ toy boy, this would not have mattered very much, but the trouble was Buckingham was anxious to exercise power. By the early 1620s, he not only held high office but he was also using his position to become increasingly dominant in the control of royal patronage, with all that that meant. Moreover, his ascendancy well established in the later years of King James survived the old king’s death. Buckingham also dazzled Prince Charles and retained his position as royal favorite when Charles came to the throne in 1625. By 1628, he appears to have had virtually a monopoly over influence on policy. Together with that, his manifest incompetence rendered him odious in the eyes of the political nation. Sir Edward Coke, the lord chief justice, described Buckingham as “the grievance of grievances.” He was beginning to be seen in the eyes of some of the political nation as the quintessential bad councilor.
So Buckingham came to provide something of a focus for deteriorating relations between the crown and the political nation. But the broad context for that deterioration was provided by other events, notably events in Europe. The outbreak in 1618 of the Thirty Years War, the expulsion from his lands of James I’s son-in-law, the Protestant elector of the Palatinate, and the triumphant advance in the 1620s of the Catholic forces of the Hapsburg monarchs of Austria and Spain; events which were very anxiously followed by many English gentlemen, as we’ve seen.
It was essentially the question of England’s potential involvement or actual involvement in this European crisis which led to the summoning of so many parliaments in the 1620s, and it was the conduct of affairs under Buckingham which led members of parliament increasingly to try to exert greater influence over matters which were, strictly speaking, matters for the royal prerogative. And that was the situation which began the slide into confrontation.
Chapter 3. Five Parliaments [00:15:40]
To sum it all up briefly, there were five parliaments between 1621 and 1629. Three of them were dissolved acrimoniously after quarrels between the King and parliament. On three occasions the King acrimoniously dissolved parliament and sent them home. The cause of all this was parliament’s attempts to exert influence on policy in prerogative matters of state as the King saw them: matters of foreign policy; matters concerning the marriage of Prince Charles; matters concerning the choice of royal ministers to conduct policy; and matters concerning religion. This developing atmosphere of conflict was made worse when, after 1626, King Charles resorted to measures of questionable legality in order to sustain his policies. And such conflict was fought out in parliament after parliament through assertions of parliamentary privilege and constitutional principle which were met by the use of the royal prerogative to dissolve parliament and silence critics of royal policy.
That’s the essence of it all, but let’s run through some of the sort of ‘edited highlights’ of what happened in these parliaments. The essence of it all is on your handout. In 1621, parliament was called to grant money for some form of action to support the Protestant Elector Palatine, King James’ son-in-law. Parliament voted a modest subsidy to support armies for the Palatinate but also petitioned James to declare war on Spain and to abandon the plans which he had formed to marry Prince Charles to a Spanish princess and to assure a Protestant marriage instead. King James was furious. His plan for a marriage with Spain was part of a larger scheme to try to end the polarization within Europe. It was part of his scheme for securing good relations with Spain which might help forward a negotiated settlement and the withdrawal of Spanish troops, and he forbade the commons to meddle in this grand design. The commons responded by declaring that the King was interfering with — I’m quoting — “the ancient liberty of parliament for freedom of speech… the same being our ancient and undoubted right and an inheritance received from our ancestors.” James replied that their liberty of free speech was derived from “the grace and permission of our ancestors and us” and should not be abused by the parliament in matters of state. There was uproar. The House of Commons composed a protest, the so-called Protestation, saying that their privileges were ‘the ancient and undoubted birthright and inheritance of the subjects of England.” James responded by dissolving Parliament and he personally ripped the Protestation from the journal of the House of Commons.
Well, James did not go to war with Spain as parliament desired and he persisted with his plans for a Spanish marriage. In 1623, Prince Charles accompanied by Buckingham went to Spain in order to woo the Spanish princess, the Infanta. This occasioned massive anxiety in England followed by widespread public rejoicing when the marriage negotiations eventually fell through. Humiliated by their failure, Charles and Buckingham now began to exert their influence to back the idea of war with Spain. In 1624, parliament was called again. It voted money to the crown but withheld the finance bill until war was reluctantly declared by King James. And England entered the war in alliance with France, an alliance which involved the marriage of Prince Charles to the French princess, Henrietta Maria, sister of the King of France, a Catholic who arrived in England with a Catholic entourage including priests and confessors.
In 1625, Charles came to the throne. He was now aged twenty-five. Parliament met at the beginning of the reign as was customary and voted money for the continuation of the war, but it failed to grant the King the usual grant of customs revenue for life. This was because parliament was unhappy about recent customs impositions which didn’t have parliamentary sanction. In September of that year, September of 1625, the Duke of Buckingham led an English naval expedition to attack the Spanish port of Cadiz, attempting to emulate the great feat of Francis Drake when he had attacked Cadiz in the 1580s, but Buckingham was not Francis Drake. His expedition was an utter failure, demonstrating gross military incompetence on the part of the Duke.
Following that humiliation, in 1626 parliament met again to provide money for the war. It proved willing to vote supply to the crown but it demanded that its grievances should be rectified before the finance bill was finally passed. And the grievances were above all a torrent of hostility towards Buckingham and other new councilors influencing the King, notably the Arminian bishops who were being brought in to the privy council. The Commons proceeded to try to draw up articles of impeachment against Buckingham for his incompetence. Charles attempted to halt them by illegally imprisoning several members of the House of Commons, and when that failed he again dissolved parliament in order to save the Duke from impeachment proceedings. No money was granted.
In need of money to finance the war, Charles and Buckingham now decided to levy a massive forced loan. They simply levied what was officially a loan, in fact an illegal tax, on the taxpaying section of the political nation, claiming the King’s right to do this by prerogative power in conditions of national emergency. Over seventy members of the gentry refused to pay and were imprisoned by the King’s special commandment; again a use of prerogative power, imprisoned without trial. To make matters worse, Buckingham now secured a declaration of war not only against Spain but against France also and squandered the forced loan money by leading another disastrous naval expedition, this time to aid French Protestants who were rebelling against Louis XIII of France in the city of La Rochelle on the coast of southwest France; another military disaster.
This deteriorating situation finally came to a head in 1628 to ‘9. Parliament was called again, again to raise money, and it met in an ominous mood. Sir Benjamin Rudyard, one of the members, declared, “this is the crisis of parliaments: we shall know by this whether [correction: if] parliaments shall live or die.”
The House of Commons started by promising to vote the King a large sum of money but again insisted that their grievance issue be heard before the finance bill was finalized. Again there was a torrent of complaint concerning grievances arising from the forced loan and the conduct of the war under Buckingham, and finally all of this was encapsulated in the so-called Petition of Right, the Petition of Right, which was presented to the King requesting that he confirm the liberties of the subject threatened by the recent conduct of his government.
Specifically, there should be no taxation without parliamentary consent; there should be no arbitrary arrest of subjects; there should be no billeting of troops upon subjects without their consent; there should be no government of the localities by martial law, which is something which had occurred in the areas of the kingdom where troops were billeted prior to Buckingham’s expedition. In order to get the necessary money, Charles reluctantly agreed to the Petition of Right, though insisting that in doing so he was not surrendering any of his prerogative powers. That was in June 1628. Parliament then adjourned and went into recess, and before it met again the Duke of Buckingham was assassinated in August 1628 by one of his former officers, an event which was greeted by almost universal public rejoicing throughout England. One of the few exceptions to that rejoicing being King Charles himself, who was profoundly grieved by the loss of his friend and deeply bitter about the way Buckingham’s murder had been greeted with virtual dancing in the streets throughout the kingdom.
In January 1629, parliament reconvened and attempted to press its advantage. There was a vigorous attack upon the recently promoted Arminian bishops in the church who were accused of introducing popish innovations, as we heard last time. There was the use of the Petition of Right to attack the illegality of Charles’ collection of customs, which he had continued to collect despite the fact that parliament had not confirmed its grant of customs revenue. Charles decided to halt parliament’s sitting in this situation, but when the Speaker of the House of Commons was told to announce the dissolution of parliament to the Commons he was held down in his chair by several of the members. They refused to allow him to announce the dissolution. The door of the House of Commons was shut against the King’s messenger and barred until the Commons, led by Sir John Eliot, put forward three resolutions to the House.
First of all the resolution that anyone furthering “popery or Arminianism” was to be considered “a capital enemy to this kingdom”; secondly that whoever advised the King to collect customs revenue without parliamentary consent would also be considered a capital enemy to the kingdom; thirdly that anyone paying these duties was “an enemy to the liberties of England.” These three resolutions were passed by acclamation in the House of Commons and Charles responded by dissolving parliament. It didn’t meet again for eleven years.
Chapter 4. Dissolution of 1629 [00:27:48]
Now, it’s been suggested in recent years that we shouldn’t really make too much of all of this: that the conflict that scarred political life in the 1620s was sporadic rather than continuous; that it was a product of particular circumstances, in the conduct of the wars in particular, rather than a reflection of growing ideological division; that consensual values still held their power, that the leaders of parliament did not constitute an organized and coherent opposition to the crown. These arguments need to be taken seriously, but for myself I can say I don’t really find them convincing. Certainly, the conflicts did arise from the contingent circumstances surrounding particular meetings of parliament, and certainly the members of the political nation would have preferred a consensual relationship with the royal government — they repeatedly showed their willingness to grant the taxes necessary for the war on certain conditions; they would have liked to establish a new consensus.
But the 1620s had also witnessed the enmeshing of a variety of sources of discontent with Charles’ government. The political nation was becoming seriously divided over a number of fundamental issues which recur repeatedly and an ideological fissure was emerging over certain key questions, such as: the extent to which the King’s prerogative powers were or were not limited by law; the scope of parliament’s legitimate role in advising the crown and representing the views of the political nation; the question of whether the principle of taxation by consent would be maintained or not; the question of whether the ecclesiastical policy being pursued by the crown, with the appointment of Arminian bishops, was or was not undermining English Protestantism. Now all of those issues, which do recur, add up to a pretty heady mixture. It’s a formidable cocktail of anxieties. And, as you know, these anxieties were widely shared well outside the confines of the houses of parliament, widely shared by a broad and growing political public which was informed by novel means of political news reporting which emphasized not consensus but danger and conflict. The emergence of a broad public opinion which expected parliament to act to remedy its concerns was surely something which was part and parcel of the deterioration of relationships between the crown and the political nation at large — and the fact that not all of those who learned of what was happening at the center were necessarily sympathetic to parliament deepened the emerging political division in the country.
No one who took a serious interest in political affairs at this time could really fail to be aware that there was something of a functional breakdown in the consensual political system by the later 1620s, and of course they had to explain to themselves what was going on. Two influential interpretations of that, by Peter Lake and Jonathan Scott, have argued that people explained the situation to themselves with reference to what have been described as two “similar but mutually exclusive conspiracy theories.” To those who sympathized with parliament and particular to the leaders of the House of Commons like Sir John Eliot or John Pym, the erosion of consensus was attributable to what they described as a popish plot amongst evil councilors of the crown who were hostile to English Protestantism and to the liberties of the subject and who were favorable to absolutism or arbitrary power in both church and state. They associated together popery and arbitrary power, which was to prove a dominant theme in seventeenth-century English oppositional politics that association of affairs in church and state, popery and arbitrary power, was already being made. That was one conspiracy theory. On the other hand, amongst people who recoiled from what they had begun to see as parliament’s excesses, especially the scenes in 1629, the fault lay not with crypto-papists around the king but with what they described as “popular spirits”: popular spirits, populists, radicals who failed to respect the proper legitimate rights of the crown and who were making constitutional encroachments upon them and whose attempts to achieve greater ‘popularity’ in government were linked to a preference for ‘popularity’ in religion also. Which is to say they saw them as crypto-Presbyterians, Puritans, popular spirits. That was the view of those who swung increasingly to the King’s side in these quarrels.1
But with the dissolution of parliament in 1629 the forum for the public expression of the first of these sets of anxieties had been removed. Parliament was no longer there, and the conduct of government lay with people like Archbishop Laud or Thomas Wentworth, the Earl of Strafford, who shared the second view. Wentworth in particular was a man who had been vehemently opposed as a member of parliament to the Duke of Buckingham, but who recoiled in 1629 from what he took to be the excesses of parliament threatening the breakdown of order. Laud and Wentworth proved strong allies of the King who himself of course took the view that popular spirits were at work and was determined not to call another parliament in which they could express their voice if he could possibly avoid it.
So, with the dissolution of 1629, to Charles and his advisers the 1630s represented something of a fresh start. Peace was made first of all with France in 1629 and then with Spain in 1630. In Europe the situation was becoming less threatening. In 1629, the Protestant King of Sweden intervened in Germany, and then in 1635 France under Cardinal Richelieu intervened, and together that greatly lessened the threat of Hapsburg domination and a triumphant counter-reformation. At home Charles was determined to close down the consultative and participatory dimensions of the political process. He believed that it had led only to obstruction, disruption, and conflict and he would have no more of it if possible.
But he was also determined to rule well according to his own lights. In 1631, following a harvest crisis he issued a Book of Orders which tightened up the administration of local government with particular attention to the efficient enforcement of the poor laws and a great deal was achieved in that respect. Steps were also taken by the royal government to remedy some of the deficiencies which had emerged in the course of Buckingham’s unsuccessful military campaigns in the 1620s. Steps were taken to reform the militia, to institute the training to a higher level of military preparedness of part of the militia, and steps were also instituted to rebuild and strengthen the navy. All of these things were very much to the King’s credit, and yet in other respects he can be said to have confirmed some of the worst fears of his opponents in 1629.
As you know, Arminianism continued to be ruthlessly promoted in the church under Archbishop Laud, who became Archbishop of Canterbury of course in 1633. In the absence of parliamentary grants of taxation, the King also resorted to a variety of financial expedients which were of questionable legality. There were many of these. One for example was so-called “distraint of knighthood.” By this the King revived an ancient feudal law under which landholders of a certain level of wealth were fined if they didn’t present themselves before the king to be made knights. He was digging up a medieval precedent in order to squeeze money out of certain members of the landed gentry. It was deeply resented. New customs impositions were introduced, of course without parliamentary sanction. Efforts were made to search for and revive any royal rights over land which could be sources of income by obliging landholders to meet ‘compositions’ with the King in order to have royal rights relaxed, again digging in to the medieval past for precedents which could be exploited fiscally.
Above all, the King levied from 1634 the tax Ship Money. Just to explain, Ship Money was a tax which could be levied on coastal counties and on ports in lieu of their provision of ships for the royal navy in time of need. It was well established. It had been used by Elizabeth in the war against Spain without any complaint. Charles, however, took things further. He charged Ship Money on the ports initially, extended it to coastal counties in time of peace, and then in 1635 extended it to the entire country. Thereafter Ship Money was levied every year. It had become an annual un-parliamentary tax. The legality of Ship Money was challenged in 1637 by a number of gentlemen who refused to pay, led by John Hampden — after whom our suburb is named — and Ship Money was only narrowly validated in the court judgment which resulted in the Ship Money case where the judges found for the King, but only by a majority of seven to five. Only narrowly did they recognize the legality of this tax. Five of the principal justices thought it was illegal.
Well, to revisionist historians, the 1630s can be seen as a period of relatively successful royal government. Mark Kishlansky has remarked that “there was no groundswell of opposition” to Charles’ government in the 1630s, and indeed there was little public protest for the simple reason that there was no longer a forum for that protest to be expressed since parliament was not meeting. But if the 1630s were a period of apparent stability I’d suggest that it was the stability of resignation, or the stability of anxious waiting on events, rather than active consent to these measures by the royal government. Down in the counties local rulers usually obeyed royal commands when they received them. It was their duty to do so, but they could also entertain their private thoughts. They could discuss them cautiously and anxiously with their neighbors. They could record them privately in their diaries. They could watch what happened in things like the Ship Money case. In 1633, Sir Robert Harley entered in his diary his prayers for a new parliament as well as his prayers for Protestant success in Europe and for the religious exiles in New England. In the county of Suffolk, John Rous is revealed by his diary to have been deeply worried, deeply reluctant to think badly of the King, sometimes defending the King’s actions against more critical neighbors. But by the end of the 1630s he too had become convinced that there existed around the King what he described as a “malignant party” who “hate reformation and would bring in tyranny.” Amongst many of the political nation, then, Charles’ rule was breeding a profound anxiety, a profound alienation, and deep suspicion regarding what his ultimate intentions might be.
The extent of that alienation would only be fully revealed when parliament met again in 1640 when the King was at last obliged to call another parliament, but that he did so at all was the consequence of his own folly. The folly of Charles and Archbishop Laud in 1637 when they decided to impose upon the Presbyterian church of Scotland both an extension of Episcopal government and an English style prayer book. It was an act of utter folly, the product of their dogmatism, their arrogance, their insistence upon uniformity, and the blow-back was catastrophic.
When the Archbishop of St. Andrew’s attempted to read from the new prayer book in St. Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh, an Edinburgh housewife threw her stool at him. To the Scots, such innovations in their church, a separate church from the Church of England, seemed to be, as they described them, “popish, atheistical, and English.” [Laughter] Which of the three was worst I leave to your judgment. They met together in 1638 to form a National Covenant to resist these innovations, and in the face of the King’s refusal to back down they rebelled and by doing so began to cause the whole house of cards to fall. And I’ll take the story up from there next week.
[end of transcript]
1. See P. Lake, “Anti-popery: the structure of a prejudice,” in Cust and Hughes eds., The English Civil War (1997) and J. Scott, England’s Troubles. Seventeenth-century Political Instability in European Context (2000).Back to Top