British History,Monarchs of Great Britain,King Arthur

Narrative History of England
Part 6: From Reformation to Restoration (cont'd.)
by Peter N. Williams, Ph. D.




James VI (1603-1625)
Elizabeth's reign finally came to an end. The mighty Queen was laid to rest in March 1603 with James of Scotland declared as rightful heir. James journeyed to London to claim what he had longed for all his life, the throne of England. He greatly favored a union of the two kingdoms and the new national flag, the Union Jack, bore the crosses of St. Andrew and St. George. But though the Estates passed an Act of Union in 1607, it was a hundred years before a treaty was signed. After the glorious successes enjoyed under Elizabeth, marred by the failure to bring Ireland into her fold, there were many in England who had no wish to merge their identity with what they considered to be yet another inferior nation, let alone one that had been allied with Spain and France for such long periods in its history.

Whatever the English thought of their northern neighbors, the Scottish king had taken the throne of England without rancor. James VI was perfectly happy in the seat of power at Whitehall. His troubles with the Scottish Presbyterians, however, were nowhere near at an end. James' attempt to impose the Five Articles on the Scots, dealing with matters of worship and religious observances was met with strong opposition. He went ahead anyway, and pushed through his reforms at a in 1618. Typically, they were systematically ignored throughout Scotland.

It is important to remember that during the reign of James as King of both Scotland and England, the two nations retained their separate parliaments and privy councils. They passed their own laws and enjoyed their own law courts, had their own national church, their own ways of levying taxes and regulating trade and to a certain extent, they could pursue their own foreign policies. Scotland itself was practically two distinct nations. There was a huge division between Highland and Lowland. JamesÍ attempts to persuade the clan chiefs to adopt the Protestant faith was a failure. They clung to the military habits of their ancestors and continued the Gaelic tongue when most of Scotland had abandoned it in favor of English.

Despite such setbacks, James' twenty-year experience as the King of Scotland should have put him in good stead as monarch in London. But England was not Scotland; its government had progressed along different lines. In particular, the concept of the divine right of kings was not a major belief of those who held power at Westminster. There, it was king and Parliament that was the source of all laws, not the king alone. There was also the continuing religious problem, with both Catholic and Protestant factions vying for his support. James called an early conference at Hampton Court to listen to their arguments.

In Scotland, James had insisted that his powers were divinely bestowed as one way of counteracting the demands of both Presbyterians and Catholics. He carried this idea with him when he came south. He did not wish to have the English state made subordinate to any Church, whatever its religious preference. The example of Scottish Presbytery still rankled and the English Puritans' demand for a "reduced episcopacy" made him suspicious of their desires. James stated emphatically, "No bishop, no king."

Accordingly, the convocation of the clergy insisted on excommunicating anyone who impugned the royal authority, the Anglican prayer books, or the Thirty-Nine Articles that had been confirmed by statute in 1571 during Elizabeth's reign. For the age, these were moderate demands indeed. What was more important was the decision to issue a new translation of the Bible, and in 1611 the world received that most magnificent of all its holy books, the so-called King James Bible, the Authorized Version.

Moderate as James considered himself in matters of religion, he still promised to harry the Puritans out of the land. The consequent flight of many so-called Pilgrims to the Netherlands, and in 1630 their voyage from there to the New World, along with many of their compatriots from England, led to the establishment of the New England colonies. But more of this later. In the meanwhile, the Catholics in England were not as accommodating. When James reintroduced the recusancy laws that meted out penalties for not attending Church of England services, a group of Catholics took action. Their failure, in the notorious Gunpowder Plot of 1605, when they tried to blow up king and Parliament did more than merely ensure the commemoration by burning Guy Fawkes in effigy every November 5th, but also led to the demands for an oath of allegiance from Catholic recusants. This was a severe setback to their cause and an increase in the hatred of the Catholic religion in England and those who continued to practice it.

It is to James that we can attribute much of the sorry mess in Ireland that also continues to divide Catholics and Protestants, Nationalists and Loyalists. Anxious to expand Scotland's influence overseas, as well as to try to establish some sense of order in a country not willing to join Wales and Scotland as part of the British nation, the king unwisely encouraged the plantation of Ulster, beginning in 1610. Thousands of Scots settled on lands that rightly belonged to the native Catholic population. Their influence gave Ulster that staunchly Presbyterian character that so strongly resists attempts at Irish reunification today. James also encouraged Scottish emigration to Arcadia, one of the maritime provinces of Canada, part of which became Nova Scotia (New Scotland).

It wasn't only the matter of a religion, nor the vexing problem of what to do with Ireland which James had to deal. It was during his reign that the House of Commons first began to question the rights of the monarchy on matters of privilege. Elizabeth had replied most forcibly to the Common's interference on matters touching her prerogative and yet by the end of James' reign, the situation had changed altogether. The House of Commons now not merely being a legislative body performing this task for the monarch, or giving advice, or granting such taxes as he needed, but possessing remarkable administrative and legislative powers of its own. The change had come about gradually but the writing on the wall was set firmly in place even at the very beginning of James' reign in the matter of "Goodwin v. Fortescue."

Goodwin had been denied his place in the Commons by the Court of Chancery. When the Commons vigorously protested, James had to back down from his position that the whole institution of Parliament was dependent upon the royal powers. Following the Goodwin case and one concerning another Member of the Commons, Sir Thomas Shirley, the Commons were led to state what they considered to be their privileges in "The Form of Apology and Satisfaction." In it, they stated that James, as a foreign king, did not understand their rights which they enjoyed by precedent and not by royal favor. It was a sign of things to come in the long struggle between king and parliament that came to a head in the reign of Charles l.

Most of the troubles that beset James in his fight with Parliament, apart from his sexual preferences for men such as George Villiers, whom he appointed to many high offices, concerned the raising of money. The king's extravagance became legendary and the costs of running the Court and the war with Spain, which James at least had the foresight to end in 1604, led to the levying of additional customs duties. The matter of John Bate, a merchant who had refused to pay an imposition caused a deep split between those who believed that impositions were part or the king's absolute power and those who considered them to be a parliamentary privilege.

In the dispute, Chief Justice Edward Coke thought that the judges should mediate between king and parliament. His insistence on "a higher law background," that is the preference of common law (common right and reason) over an act of Parliament, had an enormous effect on the future direction of law both in England and in the American Colonies, where a supreme court could annul legislation or executive acts as contrary to a constitution. The king could dissolve parliament, or call it "addled," but it had to be recalled when the need arose once more to finance England's entry into the snares of the great European conflict.

James tried hard to keep the peace in Europe. His daughter Princess Elizabeth married Frederick the Elector Palatine of the Rhine. He also wished to marry his surviving son Charles, to the Spanish princess Donna Maria, but the German Catholic League, supported by Spain, drove the Protestant Frederick out of his lands. The Commons wanted a war with Spain, and a new dispute arose as to the exercise of free speech in Parliament when James resisted their efforts to discuss foreign policy.

To avoid war, Prince Charles visited Madrid to court the Infanta but returned humiliated along with Villiers, now Duke of Buckingham, who urged immediate war. James then turned to France to arrange a marriage between Charles and the French Catholic Princess Henrietta Maria (James' oldest son, Prince Henry, had died in 1612). The Thirty Years' War began with England's disastrous attempt to recover the Palatinate for Frederick and Elizabeth. The scholarly and intelligent James, the most learned of all who sat on the throne of England, so full of promise when he came to the throne, and so disappointed by so many failures at the end of his reign, died in 1625. The failures on the Continent, and in the struggle with Parliament continued in the reign of Charles l. The success of The Authorized Version , however, remained a magnificent legacy of the James l, the unfortunate monarch.

Charles I (1625-1649)
At the death of James, the throne passed to Charles l, who had only himself to blame for the troubles that would later befall him. His support of Buckingham, who continued his disastrous attempts at making war against France and Spain, as well as his own marriage to a Catholic princess, did not stand him in good stead with Parliament, who refused to grant him money until he got rid of Buckingham. The king dismissed his Parliament to save his friend, using the Crown's emergency powers to raise his revenues until expenses grew too great and Parliament had to be recalled. Its members promptly drew up a Petition of Right to emphasize the ancient rights of the English people, to assert that no man could be imprisoned without trial and other clauses that later became the foundation of the United States Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the Constitution.

Charles despaired of enforcing his rule on Parliament and from 1629 until 1630, he tried to rule without it. He ended the wars with France and Spain. But as so often in history, politics were dominated by economics, and poor harvests in England, coupled with a serious decline in the cloth trade with the Netherlands, led to Charles's attempts to enforce the collection of Ship Money over the whole country. He won his case against Charles Hampton, who had refused to pay, but alienated many of the country gentry without the support of whom his later fight with Parliament was doomed. Charles also increased the power of the clergy, and when, under Archbishop Laud, they began to renew persecution of the ever-growing Puritan sect, including the torture of William Prynne and other divines, a further exodus to New England took place in the 1630's that became known as the Great Migration.

Attempts to bring the Scottish Presbyterians into line spelled the beginning of the end for Charles, ironically at the height of his powers in 1637 with an efficient administration, more-or-less financially secure and doing quite nicely without Parliament. Although born a Scot, the Stuart Charles had very little understanding of Scottish affairs and even less of prevailing Scottish opinion. Of the Highlands, he knew nothing at all: of the Lowlands, not enough. A devout Episcopalian, he distrusted the Kirk and Presbyterians and greatly mistrusted democratic assemblies, religious or not. He completely failed to try to understand his Scottish subjects; nor did he wish to. As one who ruled by Divine right, he believed he had the sacred duty to bring the Scottish Kirk in line with the Church of England. It was an obligation that eventually was to cost him dearly.

The Act of Revocation, decreed by Charles in 1625, restored the lands and titles to the Church which had been distributed among the Scottish nobles during the upheavals of the Reformation. It did nothing to endure the king to those who could have given him support in Scotland. Neither did his outright, and to the Scots, outrageous demand of 1629 that religious practice in Scotland conform to the English model. It was as if Charles were deliberately setting out to antagonize everyone north of the border. His elaborate coronation as King of Scotland at St. Giles' Cathedral in Edinburgh in 1633 was sufficiently "high church" to smack of popery to the assembled congregation. It was the wrong time to raise the question of the liturgy. Charles and Archbishop Laud went ahead anyway.

In July, 1637, the first reading of the Revised Prayer Book for Scotland was met with nothing more than a riot. Even the Privy Council had to seek refuge from the angry mob in Holyroodhouse. The Bishop of Brechin was able to conduct only with the aid of a pair of loaded pistols aimed at the congregation. Charles' answer was simply to demand punishment for those who refused to obey his orders concerning the use of the new Prayer Book. All petitioners against the Book were to be dispersed, and all the nobles who had resisted its use were to submit to the King's Will. The unwise and ill-advised King of England and Scotland had not reckoned with the strength of his opposition.

In Edinburgh, the National Covenant was drawn up by a committee made up of representatives from the clergy, the nobles, the gentry and the Scottish burghs. It was known as the Tables. Briefly, the document, signed on what was called "the great marriage day of this nation with God," pledged to maintain the True religion." Copies of the Covenant were carried throughout the country; its theological implications often lost. Though it had been signed "with His Majesty's Authority," it served almost as a declaration of independence from English rule, and let it be known that it was not Charles' representative in Scotland who made decisions, but the Lords of the Tables.

In November 1638, Charles met with the General Assembly in Glasgow. He didn't know what he was in for. The Assembly deposed or excommunicated all bishops, abolished the Prayer Book as "heathenish, Popish, Jewish and Armenian." Completely unwilling to compromise his position on the Church, Charles once again showed his naivete by brusquely informing the Assembly that all their decisions were invalid. To enforce his commands, he decided on war. By this further example of rashness, he sealed his fate.

In contrast to the poorly prepared, poorly led and poorly motivated armies of the English king in the early summer of 1639, the Scots had great numbers of experienced soldiers returning from overseas campaigns. And they had a worthy general, Alexander Leslie, who had commanded the army of the Swedes after the death of Gustavus Adolphus. The First Bishop's War, as it was called, was settled, most unwillingly by Charles (who had no other choice), by the Pacification of Berwick, by which the King agreed to refer all disputed questions to the General Assembly or Parliament.

The Scottish Parliament wasted no time in abolishing episcopacy and freeing itself from the King's control. When it took measures to weaken the Committee of Articles by which Charles had tried to control it, the king again foolishly took up arms, and the Second Bishops' War began. Without an effective army, Charles was forced to summon the English Parliament to beg for funds. When it met, it did nothing to please the King: the famous Long Parliament impeached and executed two of his chief supporters, Strafford and Laud. It also guaranteed its own existence against periods of personal rule by the monarch, for it stated that no more than three years could pass between Parliaments. More important, however, it stated that the present Parliament could not be adjourned without its own consent. With this further whittling away of royal prerogative, civil war threatened in England.

Off to Scotland again went Charles to try to gain support against his own Parliament. In the land that he had hitherto so blatantly antagonized, he distributed titles freely and reluctantly agreed to accept the decisions of the General Assembly and the Scottish Parliament. He had no choice. In England, where he had more support from the landed gentry, his obstinacy in resisting the Long Parliament and his stubborn insistence on Divine Right created the conditions for the actual outbreak of war in 1642. The Grand Remonstrance presented by Parliament had contained a long list of political and religious grievances. Charles had the audacity to try to arrest five members of Parliament but his attempts to locate them, and the speaker of the Houses' refusal to disclose their hiding place marked the beginning of the Speaker's independence from the crown, another landmark in the growth of Parliament.

At first, Scotland had no wish to get involved. The desires of the Covenanters were theological, not political. There was also a split developing between the extremists, who viewed practically anything at all of piety as "popery," and the moderates, led by Montrose, who reaffirmed both his belief in the Covenant, but also his loyalty to the King. Meanwhile, Charles had gathered enough supporters to gain many early victories against the forces of Parliament, mainly untrained levies from the shires. Scotland was again seen as a source of aid, but this time, it was the English Parliament, and not the king, who made the request.

Because the Covenanters wanted to establish presbytery in Ireland and England, as well as in Scotland, the offer from the English Parliament was too good to refuse. The agreement known as the Solemn League and Covenant, was signed in the autumn of 1643, the Scottish army was to attack the forces of Charles in England. In return, they would receive not only 30,000 pounds a month, but also the agreement that there would be "a reformation of religion in the Kingdoms of England and Ireland in doctrine, worship, and government." (Wales was considered as part of England). One term of the agreement was that popery and prelacy were to be completely extirpated from the whole realm.

The conditions of the agreement now had to be imposed upon the English Church. Accordingly, the Westminster Assembly was summoned to establish uniformity of worship in Scotland, England (and Wales) and Ireland. The task was much easier in Scotland, where even to this day, the Westminster Confession of Faith continues to serve as the basis for Presbyterian worship. It was not as easy to implement in England and almost impossible in Ireland. A good beginning, however, was the heavy defeat of the Royalist forces at Marston Moor by the Parliamentary army under an up-and-coming cavalry officer named Oliver Cromwell, that had been greatly augmented by a large force of disciplined and well-armed Scotsmen.

Then an about face took place. Montrose had been greatly disturbed by the forces of extremism. The ancient theory of Divine Right of Kings was being severely tested. And in the Highlands of Scotland, Presbytery did not run deep. The powerful Lord accordingly, aided by many in Ireland and a few loyalists from the Lowlands, raised an army of Highlanders to win Scotland for the King. The nationalist spirit was still beating in some Scottish hearts after all, and Montrose's army, without cavalry and with no artillery, managed to completely rout an army of Covenanters led by Lord Elcho at Tippermuir. He then occupied Glasgow.

The Royalists in England were not faring as well. Cromwell's rag-tag armies had now become the well-trained, well-armed New Model Army (nicknamed "the Roundheads). Following their success at Marston Moor, they won a second smashing victory over Charles at Naseby. They then turned towards Scotland and stopped the string of successes of Montrose and his Highlanders at Philiphaugh. Then, in May 1646, news came of the King's surrender to the Scottish forces at Newark. There was little left for Montrose but to take ship for Norway and his followers went back to their homes. The victorious Scots army, after having turned Charles over to the English Parliamentary Commissioners, also returned north of the border. Everything seemed settled.

Despite their military successes, the Covenanters were not happy with the situation. There was little likelihood that Cromwell would establish Presbytery in England. Perhaps Charles would have been their best chance after all. So at the end of 1647, an agreement was made between the Scottish Parliament and the king, whereby he would give Presbyterianism a three-year trial in England in return for an army to help him against the Parliamentarians. Charles' joy at this unexpected help soon turned to grief. The Scots army, led by the Duke of Hamilton duly came south. It was utterly defeated by Cromwell at Preston, its leader executed and its followers dispersed. Cromwell and his officers, even before the battle, had decided that it was their duty to call Charles Stuart to account for the blood he had shed and the mischief he had done against the Lord's cause. There was to be no room for the king in the post-war settlement.

After Preston, the Commons passed the final ordinance establishing Presbyterianism. A purge of the moderates in Parliament, however, left the radical elements in the so-called "Rump Parliament" that created a High Court of Justice to bring Charles to trial for high treason. His execution, held in public before a saddened crowd at Charles' own banqueting hall in Westminster, whose only reaction was a loud and mournful groan, was a foregone conclusion. The Rump then proclaimed a republican form of government. First called the "Commonwealth and Free-State," and later the "Protectorate," it lasted only eleven years.

Resource Information

Part 6: From Reformation to Restoration, continued




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