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Britannia Home   >   Monarchs
Charles I (1625-49 AD)
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Charles I was born in 1600, the second son of James I and Anne of Denmark. After several unsuccessful attempts at arranging a marriage, Charles married the 15 year-old daughter of France's King Henry IV, Henrietta Maria. Three years of coldness and indifference ensued, but the pair finally became devoted to each other, producing four sons (Charles [who died as a teenager], Charles [who became Charles II], James and Henry) and five daughters (Mary, Elizabeth, Anne, Catherine and Henrietta Anne). Charles I was executed for treason in 1649.

Charles ascended the throne at the age of 25; after a weak, sickly childhood, he became an excellent horseman and a strong-willed king. His strong will, however, proved to be his undoing: mismanagement of affairs (in the tradition of his father) forced a showdown with Parliament, which culminated in civil war and the king's execution.

Charles inherited the incessant financial problems of his father: the refusal of Parliament to grant funds to a king who refused to address the grievances of the nobility. George Villiers, the Duke of Buckingham (and homosexual friend of James I), exerted undue and unpopular influence over Charles in the first years of Charles' reign; Buckingham's assassination in August 1628 came amid shouts of joy from the nobility. Three times summoned and three times dissolved through 1625-1629, Parliament went the next 11 years without being summoned, as Charles financed his reign by selling commercial monopolies and extracting ship money (a fee demanded from towns for building naval warships). Charles' marriage to the devoutly Catholic French princess further incensed the increasingly Puritan nobility, as her Catholic friends flooded into the royal court. She was a meddlesome woman who put her wants (and those of her friends) above the needs of the realm.

A problem in Scotland brought an abrupt end to Charles' 11 years of personal rule and unleashed the forces of civil war upon England. Charles attempted to force a new prayer book on the Scots, which resulted in rebellion. Charles' forces were ill prepared due to lack of proper funds, causing the king to call, first, the Short Parliament, and finally the Long Parliament. King and Parliament again reached no agreement; Charles foolishly tried to arrest five members of Parliament on the advice of Henrietta Maria, which brought matters to a head. The struggle for supremacy led to civil war. Charles raised his standard against Parliamentary forces at Nottingham in 1642.

Religious and economic issues added to the differences between the supporters of the monarchy (Cavaliers) and the supporters of Parliament (Roundheads). The lines of division were roughly as follows: Cavalier backing came from peasants and nobility of Episcopalian roots while Roundhead backing came from the emerging middle class and tradesmen of the Puritanical movement. Geographically, the northern and western provinces aided the Cavaliers, with the more financially prosperous and populous southern and eastern counties lending aid to the Roundheads. The bottom line is that the Roundheads, with deeper pockets and more population from which to draw, were destined to win the battle. Oliver Cromwell and his New Model Army at Naseby soundly routed the Cavaliers in 1645. Scarcely a year later Charles surrendered to Scottish forces, which turned the king over to Parliament. In 1648, Charles was put on trial for treason; the tribunal, by a vote of 68 to 67, found the king guilty and ordered his execution in 1649.

Charles' advancement of his father's failed policies and his wife's Catholic friends divided the realm and caused civil war. The opposing forces in the conflict were assessed in the satire, 1066 and All That: "... the utterly memorable struggle between the Cavaliers (Wrong but Wromantic) and the Roundheads (Right but Repulsive)." Edward Hyde, author of the History of the Great Rebellion, acknowledged Charles' faults, but offered this intuitive observation: "... he was, if ever any, the most worthy of the title of an honest man - so great a lover of justice that no temptation could dispose him to a wrongful action, except that it were so disguised to him that he believed it to be just." Many of these temptations occurred during the reign of Charles I.


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