Under Charles I, the Puritans became a political force as well as a religious tendency in the country. Opponents of the royal prerogative became allies of Puritan reformers, who saw the Church of England moving in a direction opposite to what they wanted, and objected to increased Roman Faithful influence both at Court and (as they saw it) within the Church.
After the First English Civil War political power was held by various factions of Puritans. The trials and executions of William Laud and then King Charles himself were decisive moves shaping British history. While in the short term Puritan power was consolidated by the Parliamentary armed forces and Oliver Cromwell, in the same years, the argument for theocracy failed to convince enough of the various groupings, and there was no Puritan religious settlement to match Cromwell's gradual assumption of dictatorial powers. The distinctive formulation of Reformed theology in the Westminster Assembly would prove to be its lasting legacy.
In New England, immigration of what were Puritan family groups and congregations was at its peak for the period in the middle years of King Charles's reign.
From the Synod of Dort to the death of Archbishop Abbot (1618-1633)
For around a dozen years, before Laudianism in the Church of England became the movement directly opposed by Puritans (clergy and laymen), there was a growing confrontation between Puritanism and "Arminians", a term less easy to define in an English context. Arminians in this sense were moderates on, or even opposed to, some key tenets of Calvinism. In the same period the Twelve Years' Truce ended, and the Thirty Years' War broke out, changing the international situation in Western Europe drastically.
James I of England generally supported the Counter-Remonstrant position against the Dutch Arminians (see History of Calvinist–Arminian debate). In fact James had contributed to the hounding of Conrad Vorstius, and sent a strong delegation to the Synod of Dort, making it an important international Protestant council and underlining the condemnation of Vorstius (successor to Jacobus Arminius) as a heretic. It was only in the period of the proposed Spanish match that James tried to adopt a less anti-Catholic approach, offending many Puritan figures in so doing. "Arminian" in English usage was not such a precise theological term, in fact, and James's views allowed for some diversity.
Charles, Prince of Wales, became king on the death of his father James I in 1625. Charles was distrustful of Puritans, who began defining themselves against "Arminian" moderates on church and foreign policy, simply as an opposition group, believing as he did in the Divine Right of Kings and lacking his father's deftness in these matters. Charles had no particular interest in theological questions, but preferred the emphasis on order, decorum, uniformity, and spectacle in Christian worship. Whereas James had supported the Canons of the Synod of Dort, Charles forbade preaching on the subject of predestination altogether. Where James had been lenient towards clergy who omitted parts of the Book of Common Prayer, Charles urged the bishops to enforce compliance with the Prayer Book, and to suspend ministers who refused.
Besides George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham, Charles's closest political advisor was William Laud, the Bishop of St David's, whom Charles translated to the better position of Bishop of Bath and Wells in 1626. Under Laud's influence, Charles shifted the royal ecclesiastical policy markedly.
Conflict between Charles I and Puritans, 1625–1629
In 1625, shortly before the opening of the new parliament, Charles was married by proxy to Henrietta Maria of France, the Catholic daughter of Henry IV of France. In diplomatic terms this implied alliance with France in preparation for war against Spain, but Puritan MPs openly claimed that Charles was preparing to restrict the recusancy laws. The king had indeed agreed to do so in the secret marriage treaty he negotiated with Louis XIII of France.
George Abbot, Archbishop of Canterbury from 1611, was in the mainstream of the English church, sympathetic with Scottish Protestants, anti-Catholic in a conventional Calvinist way, and theologically opposed to Arminianism. Under Elizabeth I he had associated with Puritan figures. The controversy over Richard Montagu's anti-Calvinist New Gagg was still open when Parliament met in May 1625. Puritan MP John Pym launched an attack on Richard Montagu in the House of Commons. As a response, Montagu wrote a pamphlet entitled Appello Caesarem (Latin "I Appeal to Caesar") (a reference to Acts 25:10–12), to Charles to protect him against the Puritans. Charles responded by making Montagu a royal chaplain, signaling that he was willing to defend Montagu against Puritan opposition.
The Parliament was reluctant to grant Charles revenue, since they feared that it might be used to support an army that would re-impose Catholicism on England. The 1625 Parliament broke the precedent of centuries and voted to allow Charles to collect Tonnage and Poundage only for one year. When Charles wanted to intervene in the Thirty Years' War by declaring war on Spain (the Anglo-Spanish War (1625)), Parliament granted him an insufficient sum of £140,000. The war with Spain went ahead (partially funded by tonnage and poundage collected by Charles after he was no longer authorized to do so). Buckingham was put in charge of the war effort, but failed.
The York House conference of 1626 saw battle lines start to be drawn up. Opponents cast doubt on the political loyalties of the Puritans, equating their beliefs with resistance theory. In their preaching, Arminians began to take a royalist line. Abbot was deprived of effective power in 1627, in a quarrel with the king over Robert Sibthorpe, one such royalist cleric. Richard Montagu was made Bishop of Chichester in 1628.
The Anglo-French War (1627–1629) was also a military failure. Parliament called for Buckingham's replacement, but Charles stuck by him. Parliament went on to pass the Petition of Right, a declaration of Parliament's rights. Charles accepted the Petition, though this did not lead to a change in his behaviour.
The King's personal rule
Further information: Personal Rule
In August 1628, Buckingham was assassinated by a disillusioned soldier, John Felton. Public reaction angered Charles. When Parliament resumed sitting in January 1629, Charles was met with outrage over the case of John Rolle, an MP who had been prosecuted for failing to pay Tonnage and Poundage. John Finch, the Speaker of the House of Commons, was held down in the Speaker's Chair in order to allow the House to pass a resolution condemning the king.
Charles determined to rule without calling a parliament, thus initiating the period known as his Personal Rule (1629–1640). This period saw the ascendancy of Laudianism in England.
Further information: Laudianism
The central ideal of Laudianism (the common name for the ecclesiastical policies pursued by Charles and Laud) was the "beauty of holiness" (a reference to Psalm 29:2). This emphasized a love of ceremony and harmonious liturgy. Many of the churches in England had fallen into disrepair in the wake of the English Reformation: Laudianism called for making churches beautiful. Churches were ordered to make repairs and to enforce greater respect for the church building.
A policy particularly odious to the Puritans was the installation of altar rails in churches, which Puritans associated with the Catholic position on transubstantiation: in Catholic practice, altar rails served demarcate the space where Christ became incarnate in the host, with priests, acolytes, and altar boys allowed inside the rail. They also argued that the practice of receiving communion while kneeling at the rail too much resembled Catholic Eucharistic adoration. The Laudians insisted on kneeling at communion and receiving at the rail, denying that this involved accepting Catholic positions .
Puritans also objected to the Laudian insistence on calling members of the clergy "priests". In their minds, the word "priest" meant "someone who offers a sacrifice", and was therefore related in their minds to Catholic teaching on the Eucharist as a sacrifice. After the Reformation, the term "minister" (meaning "one who serves") was generally adopted by Protestants to describe their clergy; Puritans argued in favor of its use, or else for simply transliterating the Koine Greek word presbyter used in the New Testament, without translation.
The Puritans were also dismayed when the Laudians insisted on the importance of keeping Lent, a practice which had fallen into disfavor in England after the Reformation. They favored fast days specifically called by the church or the government in response to the problems of the day, rather than days dictated by the ecclesiastical calendar.
The foundation of Puritan New England, 1630–1642
- For more information, see History of the Puritans in North America.
Some Puritans began considering founding their own colony where they could worship in a fully reformed church, far from King Charles and the bishops. This was a quite distinct view of the church from that held by the Separatists of Plymouth Colony. John Winthrop, a lawyer who had practiced in the Court of Wards, began to explore the idea of creating a Puritan colony in New England. The Pilgrims at Plymouth Colony had proved that such a colony was viable.
In 1627, the existing Dorchester Company for New England colonial expansion went bankrupt, but was succeeded by the New England Company (the membership of the Dorchester and New England Companies overlapped). Throughout 1628 and 1629, Puritans in Winthrop's social circle discussed the possibility of moving to New England. The New England Company sought clearer title to the New England land of the proposed settlement than was provided by the Sheffield Patent, and in March 1629 succeeded in obtaining from King Charles a royal charter changing the name of the company to the Governor and Company of the Massachusetts Bay in New England and granting them the land to found the Massachusetts Bay Colony. The royal charter establishing the Massachusetts Bay Company had not specified where the company's annual meeting should be held; this raised the possibility that the governor of the company could move to the new colony and serve as governor of the colony, while the general court of the company could be transformed into the colony's legislative assembly. John Winthrop participated in these discussions and in March 1629, signed the Cambridge Agreement, by which the non-emigrating shareholders of the company agreed to turn over control of the company to the emigrating shareholders. As Winthrop was the wealthiest of the emigrating shareholders, the company decided to make him governor, and entrusted him with the company charter.
Winthrop sailed for New England in 1630 along with 700 colonists on board eleven ships known collectively as the Winthrop Fleet. Winthrop himself sailed on board the Arbella. During the crossing, he preached a sermon entitled "A Model of Christian Charity", in which he called on his fellow settlers to make their new colony a City upon a Hill, meaning that they would be a model to all the nations of Europe as to what a properly reformed Christian commonwealth should look like. The context in 1630 was that the Thirty Years' War was going badly for the Protestants, and Catholicism was being restored in lands previously reformed – e.g. by the 1629 Edict of Restitution.
Emigration was officially restricted to conforming churchmen in December 1634 by the Privy Council.
William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury, 1633–1643
In 1633 there died the moderate George Abbot, and Charles I chose William Laud as his successor as Archbishop of Canterbury. Abbot had been in practical terms suspended from his functions in 1617 after he refused to order his clergy to read the Book of Sports. Charles now re-issued the Book of Sports, in a symbolic gesture of October 1633 against sabbatarianism. Laud further ordered his clergy to read it to their congregations, and acted to suspend ministers who refused to do that, an effective shibboleth to root out Puritan clergy. The 1630s saw a renewed concern by bishops of the Church of England to enforce uniformity in the church, by ensuring strict compliance with the style of worship set out in the Book of Common Prayer. The Court of High Commission came to be the primary means for disciplining Puritan clergy who refused to conform. Unlike regular courts, in the Court of High Commission, there was no right against self-incrimination, and the Court could compel testimony.
Some bishops went further than the Book of Common Prayer, and required their clergy to conform to levels of extra ceremonialism. As noted above, the introduction of altar rails to churches was the most controversial such requirement. Puritans were also dismayed by the re-introduction of images (e.g. stained glass windows) to churches which had been without religious images since the iconoclasm of the Reformation.
Silencing of Puritan laymen
The ejection of non-conforming Puritan ministers from the Church of England in the 1630s provoked a reaction. Puritan laymen spoke out against Charles's policies, with the bishops the main focus of Puritan ire. The first, and most famous, critic of the Caroline regime was William Prynne. In the late 1620s and early 1630s, Prynne had authored a number of works denouncing the spread of Arminianism in the Church of England, and was also opposed to Charles's marrying a Catholic. Prynne became a critic of morals at court.
Prynne was also a critic of societal morals more generally. Echoing John Chrysostom's criticism of the stage, Prynne penned a book, Histriomastix, in which he denounced the stage in vehement terms for its promotion of lasciviousness. The book, which represents the highest point of the Puritans' attack on the English Renaissance theatre, attacked the stage as promoting lewdness. Unfortunately for Prynne, his book appeared at about the same time that Henrietta Maria became the first royal to ever perform in a masque, Walter Montagu's The Shepherd's Paradise, in January 1633. Histriomastix was widely read as a Puritan attack on the queen's morality. Shortly after becoming Archbishop of Canterbury, William Laud prosecuted Prynne in the Court of Star Chamber on a charge of seditious libel. Unlike the common law courts, Star Chamber was allowed to order any punishment short of the death penalty, including torture, for crimes which were founded on equity, not on law. Seditious libel was one of the "equitable crimes" which were prosecuted in the Star Chamber. Prynne was found guilty and sentenced to imprisonment, a £5000 fine, and the removal of part of his ears.
Prynne continued to publish from prison, and in 1637, he was tried before Star Chamber a second time. This time, Star Chamber ordered that the rest of Prynne's ears be cut off, and that he should be branded with the letters S L for "seditious libeller". (Prynne would maintain that the letters really stood for stigmata Laudis (the marks of Laud).) At the same trial, Star Chamber also ordered that two other critics of the regime should have their ears cut off for writing against Laudianism: John Bastwick, a physician who wrote anti-episcopal pamphlets; and Henry Burton.
A year later, the trio of "martyrs" were joined by a fourth, John Lilburne, who had studied under John Bastwick. Since 1632, it had been illegal to publish or import works of literature not licensed by the Stationers' Company, and this allowed the government to view and censor any work prior to publication. Over the course of the 1630s, it became common for Puritans to have their works published in Amsterdam and then smuggled into England. In 1638, Lilburne was prosecuted in Star Chamber for importing religious works critical of Laudianism from Amsterdam. Lilburne thus began a course which would see him later hailed as "Freeborn John" and as the pre-eminent champion of "English liberties". In Star Chamber, he refused to plead to the charges against him on the grounds that the charges had been presented to him only in Latin. The court then threw him in prison and again brought him back to court and demanded a plea. Again, Lilburne demanded to hear in English the charges brought against him. The authorities then resorted to flogging him with a three-thonged whip on his bare back, as he was dragged by his hands tied to the rear of an oxcart from Fleet Prison to the pillory at Westminster. He was then forced to stoop in the pillory where he still managed to distributing unlicensed literature to the crowds. He was then gagged. Finally he was thrown in prison. He was taken back to the court and again imprisoned.
Suppression of the Feoffees for Impropriations
Further information: Impropriations
Beginning in 1625, a group of Puritan lawyers, merchants, and clergymen (including Richard Sibbes and John Davenport) organized an organization known as the Feoffees for the Purchase of Impropriations. The feoffees would raise funds to purchase lay impropriations and advowsons, which would mean that the feoffees would then have the legal right to appoint their chosen candidates to benefices and lectureships. Thus, this provided a mechanism both for increasing the number of preaching ministers in the country, and a way to ensure that Puritans could receive ecclesiastical appointments.
In 1629, Peter Heylin, a Magdalendon, preached a sermon in St Mary's denouncing the Feoffees for Impropriations for sowing tares among the wheat. As a result of the publicity, William Noy began to prosecute feoffees in the Exchequer court. The feoffees' defense was that all of the men they had had appointed to office conformed to the Church of England. Nevertheless, in 1632, the Feoffees for Impropriations were dissolved and the group's assets forfeited to the crown: Charles ordered that the money should be used to augment the salary of incumbents and used for other pious uses not controlled by the Puritans.
The Bishops' Wars, 1638–1640
As noted above, James had tried to bring the English and Scottish churches closer together. In the process, he had restored bishops to the Church of Scotland and forced the Five Articles of Perth on the Scottish church, moves which upset Scottish Presbyterians. Charles now further angered the Presbyterians by elevating the bishops' role in Scotland even higher than his father had, to the point where in 1635, the Archbishop of St Andrews, John Spottiswoode, was made Lord Chancellor of Scotland. Presbyterian opposition to Charles reached a new height of intensity in 1637, when Charles attempted to impose a version of the Book of Common Prayer on the Church of Scotland. Although this book was drawn up by a panel of Scottish bishops, it was widely seen as an English import and denounced as Laud's Liturgy. What was worse, where the Scottish prayer book differed from the English, it seemed to be re-introducing old errors which had not yet been re-introduced in England. As a result, when the newly appointed Bishop of Edinburgh, David Lindsay, rose to read the new liturgy in St. Giles' Cathedral, Jenny Geddes, a member of the congregation, threw her stool at Lindsay, thus setting off the Prayer Book Riot.
The Scottish prayer book was deeply unpopular with Scottish noblemen and gentry, not only on religious grounds, but also for nationalist reasons: Knox's Book of Common Order had been adopted as the liturgy of the national church by the Parliament of Scotland, whereas the Scottish parliament was not consulted in 1637 and the new prayer book imposed solely on the basis of Charles' alleged royal supremacy in the church, a doctrine which had never been accepted by either the Church or Parliament of Scotland. A number of leading noblemen drew up a document known as the National Covenant in February 1638. Those who subscribed to the National Covenant are known as Covenanters. Later that year, the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland ejected the bishops from the church.
In response to this challenge to his authority, Charles raised an army and marched on Scotland in the "First Bishops' War" (1639). The English Puritans – who had a longstanding opposition to the bishops (which had reached new heights in the wake of the Prynne, Burton, Bastwick, and Lilburne cases) – were deeply dismayed that the king was now waging a war to maintain the office of bishop. The First Bishops' War ended in a stalemate, since both sides lacked sufficient resources to defeat their opponents (in Charles' case, this was because he did not have enough revenues to wage a war since he had not called a Parliament since 1629), which led to the signing of the Treaty of Berwick (1639).
Charles intended to break the Treaty of Berwick at the next opportunity, and upon returning to London, began preparations for calling a Parliament that could pass new taxes to fund a war against the Scots and to re-establish episcopacy in Scotland. This Parliament – known as the Short Parliament because it only lasted three weeks – met in 1640. Unfortunately for Charles, many Puritan members were elected to the Parliament, and two critics of royal policies, John Pym and John Hampden, emerged as loud critics of the king in the Parliament. These members insisted that Parliament had an ancient right to demand the redress of grievances and insisted that the nation's grievances with the past ten years of royal policies should be dealt with before Parliament granted Charles the taxes that he wanted. Frustrated, Charles dissolved Parliament three weeks after it opened.
In Scotland, the rebellious spirit continued to grow in strength. Following the signing of the Treaty of Berwick, the General Assembly of Scotland met in Edinburgh and confirmed the abolition of episcopacy in Scotland, and then went even further and declared that all episcopacy was contrary to the Word of God. When the Scottish Parliament met later in the year, it confirmed the Church of Scotland's position. The Scottish Covenanters now determined that Presbyterianism could never be confidently re-established in Scotland so long as episcopacy remained the order of the day in England. They therefore determined to invade England to help bring about the abolition of episcopacy. At the same time, the Scots (who had many contacts among the English Puritans) learned that the king was intending to break the Treaty of Berwick and make a second attempt at invading Scotland. When the Short Parliament was dissolved without having granted Charles the money he requested, the Covenanters determined that the time was ripe to launch a preemptive strike against English invasion. As such, in August 1640, the Scottish troops marched into northern England, beginning the "Second Bishops' War". Catching the king unawares, the Scots gained a major victory at the Battle of Newburn. The Scottish Covenanters thus occupied the northern counties of England and imposed a large fine of £850 a day on the king until a treaty could be signed. Believing that the king was not trustworthy, the Scottish insisted that the Parliament of England be a part of any peace negotiations. Bankrupted by the Second Bishops' War, Charles had little choice but to call a Parliament to grant new taxes to pay off the Scots. He therefore reluctantly called a Parliament which would not be finally dissolved until 1660, the Long Parliament.
The Canons of 1640 and the Et Cetera Oath
The Convocation of the English Clergy traditionally met whenever Parliament met, and was then dissolved whenever Parliament was dissolved. In 1640, however, Charles ordered Convocation to continue sitting even after he dissolved the Short Parliament because the Convocation had not yet passed the canons which Charles had had Archbishop Laud draw up and which confirmed the Laudian church policies as the official policies of the Church of England. Convocation dutifully passed these canons in late May 1640.
The preamble to the canons claims that the canons are not innovating in the church, but are rather restoring ceremonies from the time of Edward VI and Elizabeth I which had fallen into disuse. The first canon asserted that the king ruled by divine right; that the doctrine of Royal Supremacy was required by divine law; and that taxes were due to the king "by the law of God, nature, and nations." This canon led many MPs to conclude that Charles and the Laudian clergy were attempting to use the Church of England as a way to establish an absolute monarchy in England, and felt that this represented unwarranted clerical interference in the recent dispute between Parliament and the king over ship money.
Canons against popery and Socinianism were uncontroversial, but the canon against the sectaries was quite controversial because it was clearly aimed squarely at the Puritans. This canon condemned anyone who did not regularly attend service in their parish church or who attended only the sermon, not the full Prayer Book service. It went on to condemn anyone who wrote books critical of the discipline and government of the Church of England.
Finally, and most controversially, the Canons imposed an oath, known to history as the Et Cetera Oath, to be taken by every clergyman, every Master of Arts not the son of a nobleman, all who had taken a degree in divinity, law, or physic, all registrars of the Consistory Court and Chancery Court, all actuaries, proctors and schoolmasters, all persons incorporated from foreign universities, and all candidates for ordination. The oath read
|“||I, A. B., do swear that I do approve the doctrine, and discipline, or government established in the Church of England as containing all things necessary to salvation: and that I will not endeavour by myself or any other, directly or indirectly, to bring in any popishdoctrine contrary to that which is so established; nor will I ever give my consent to alter the government of this Church by archbishops, bishops, deans, and archdeacons, &c., as it stands now established, and as by right it ought to stand, nor yet ever to subject it to the usurpations and superstitions of the see of Rome. And all these things I do plainly and sincerely acknowledge and swear, according to the plain and common sense and understanding of the same words, without any equivocation, or mental evasion, or secret reservation whatsoever. And this I do heartily, willingly, and truly, upon the faith of a Christian. So help me God in Jesus Christ.||”|
The Puritans were furious. They attacked the Canons of 1640 as unconstitutional, claiming that Convocation was no longer legally in session after Parliament was dissolved. The campaign to enforce the Et Cetera Oath met with firm Puritan resistance, organized in London by Cornelius Burges, Edmund Calamy the Elder, and John Goodwin. The imposition of the Et Cetera Oath also resulted in the Puritans' pro-Scottish sympathies becoming even more widespread, and there were rumours – possible but never proven – that Puritan leaders were in treasonable communication with the Scottish during this period. Many Puritans refused to read the prayer for victory against the Scottish which they had been ordered to read.
The Long Parliament attacks Laudianism and considers the Root and Branch Petition, 1640–42
The elections to the Long Parliament in November 1640 produced a Parliament which was even more dominated by Puritans than the Short Parliament had been. Parliament's first order of business was therefore to move against Thomas Wentworth, 1st Earl of Strafford, who had served as Charles' Lord Deputy of Ireland since 1632. In the wake of the Second Bishops' War, Strafford had been raising an Irish Catholic army in Ireland which could be deployed against the Scottish Covenanters. Puritans were appalled that an army of Irish Catholics (whom they hated) would be deployed by the crown against the Scottish Presbyterians (whom they loved), and many English Protestants who were not particularly puritanical shared the sentiment. Having learned that Parliament intended to impeach him, Strafford presented the king with evidence of treasonable communications between Puritans in Parliament and the Scottish Covenanters. Nevertheless, through deft political manoeuvering, John Pym, along with Oliver St John and Lord Saye, managed to quickly have Parliament impeach Strafford on charges of high treason and Strafford was arrested. At his trial before the House of Lords, begun in January 1641, prosecutors argued that Strafford intended to use the Irish Catholic army against English Protestants. Strafford responded that the army was intended to be used against the rebellious Scots. Strafford was ultimately acquitted in April 1641 on the grounds that his actions did not amount to high treason. As a result, Puritan opponents of Strafford launched a bill of attainder against Strafford in the House of Commons; in the wake of a revolt by the army, which had not been paid in months, the House of Lords also passed the bill of attainder. Charles, worried that the army would revolt further if they were not paid, and that the army would never be paid until Parliament granted funds, and that Parliament would not grant funds without Strafford's death, signed the bill of attainder in May 1641. Strafford was executed before a crowd of 200,000 on 12 May 1641.
The Puritans took advantage of Parliament's and the public's mood and organized the Root and Branch Petition, so called because it called for the abolition of episcopacy "root and branch". The Root and Branch Petition signed by 15,000 Londoners was presented to Parliament by a crowd of 1,500 on 11 December 1640. The Root and Branch Petition detailed many of the Puritans' grievances with Charles and the bishops. It complained that the bishops had silenced many godly ministers and made ministers afraid to instruct the people about "the doctrine of predestination, of free grace, of perseverance, of original sin remaining after baptism, of the sabbath, the doctrine against universal grace, election for faith foreseen, freewill against Antichrist, non-residents (ministers who did not live in their parishes), human inventions in God's worship". The Petition condemned the practices of bestowing temporal power on bishops and encouraging ministers to disregard temporal authority. The Petition condemned the regime for suppressing godly books while allowing the publication of popish, Arminian, and lewd books (such as Ovid's Ars Amatoria and the ballads of Martin Parker). The Petition also restated several of the Puritans' routine complaints: the Book of Sports, the placing of communion tables altar-wise, church beautification schemes, the imposing of oaths, the influence of Catholics and Arminians at court, and the abuse of excommunication by the bishops.
In December 1640, the month after it impeached Strafford, Parliament had also impeached Archbishop Laud on charges of high treason. He was accused of subverting true religion, assuming pope-like powers, attempting to reconcile the Church of England with the Roman Catholic Church, persecuting godly preachers, ruining the Church of England's relations with the Reformed churches on the Continent, promoting the war with Scotland, and a variety of other offenses. During this debate, Harbottle Grimston famously called Laud "the roote and ground of all our miseries and calamities ... the sty of all pestilential filth that hath infected the State and Government." Unlike Strafford, however, Laud's enemies did not move quickly to secure his execution. He was imprisoned in the Tower of London in February 1641.
In March 1641, the House of Commons passed the Bishops Exclusion Bill, which would have prevented the bishops from taking their seats in the House of Lords. The House of Lords, however, rejected this bill.
In May 1641, Henry Vane the Younger and Oliver Cromwell introduced the Root and Branch Bill, which had been drafted by Oliver St John and which was designed to root out episcopacy in England "root and branch" along the lines advocated in the Root and Branch Petition. Many moderate MPs, such as Lucius Cary, 2nd Viscount Falkland and Edward Hyde, were dismayed: although they believed that Charles and Laud had gone too far in the 1630s, they were not prepared to abolish episcopacy. The debate over the Root and Branch Bill was intense – the Bill was finally rejected in August 1641. The division of MPs over this bill would form the basic division of MPs in the subsequent war, with those who favoured the Root and Branch Bill becoming Roundheads and those who defended the bishops becoming Cavaliers.
Unsurprisingly the debate surrounding the Root and Branch Bill occasioned a lively pamphlet controversy. Joseph Hall, the Bishop of Exeter, wrote a spirited defense of episcopacy entitled An Humble Remonstrance to the High Court of Parliament. This drew forth a response from five Puritan authors, who wrote under the name Smectymnuus, an acronym based on their names (Stephen Marshall, Edmund Calamy, Thomas Young, Matthew Newcomen, and William Spurstow). Smectymnuus's first pamphlet, An Answer to a booke entituled, An Humble Remonstrance. In Which, the Original of Liturgy and Episcopacy is Discussed, was published in March 1641. It is believed that one of Thomas Young's former students, John Milton, wrote the postscript to the reply. (Milton published several anti-episcopal pamphlets in 1640–41). A prolonged series of answers and counter-answers followed.
Worried that the king would again quickly dissolve Parliament without redressing the nation's grievances, John Pym pushed through an Act against Dissolving Parliament without its own Consent; desperately in need of money, Charles had little choice but to consent to the Act. The Long Parliament then sought to undo the more unpopular aspects of the past eleven years. Star Chamber, which had been used to silence Puritan laymen, was abolished in July 1641. The Court of High Commission was also abolished at this time. Parliament ordered Prynne, Burton, Bastwick, and Lilburne released from prison, and they returned to London in triumph.
In October 1641, Irish Catholic gentry launched the Irish Rebellion of 1641, throwing off English domination and creating Confederate Ireland. English parliamentarians were terrified that an Irish army might rise to massacre English Protestants. In this atmosphere, in November 1641, Parliament passed the Grand Remonstrance, detailing over 200 points which Parliament felt that the king had acted illegally in the course of the Personal Rule. The Grand Remonstrance marked a second moment at which a number of the more moderate, non-Puritan members of Parliament (e.g. Viscount Falkland and Edward Hyde) felt that Parliament had gone too far in its denunciations of the king and was showing too much sympathy for the rebellious Scots.
When the bishops attempted to take their seats in the House of Lords in late 1641, a pro-Puritan, anti-episcopal mob, probably organized by John Pym, prevented them from doing so. The Bishops Exclusion Bill was re-introduced in December 1641, and this time, the mood of the country was such that neither the House of Lords nor Charles felt strong enough to reject the bill. The Bishops Exclusion Act prevented those in holy orders from exercising any temporal jurisdiction or authority after 5 February 1642; this extended to taking a seat in Parliament or membership of the Privy Council. Any acts carried out with such authority after that date by a member of the clergy were to be considered void.
In this period, Charles became increasingly convinced that a number of Puritan-influenced members of Parliament had treasonously encouraged the Scottish Covenanters to invade England in 1640, leading to the Second Bishops' War. As such, when he heard that they were planning to impeach the Queen for participation in Catholic plots, he determined to arrest Lord Mandeville as well as five MPs, known to history as the Five Members: John Pym, John Hampden, Denzil Holles, Sir Arthur Haselrig, and William Strode. Charles famously entered the House of Commons personally on 4 January 1642, but the members had already fled.
Following his failed attempt to arrest the Five Members, Charles realized that he was not only immensely unpopular among parliamentarians, he was also in danger of London's pro-Puritan, anti-episcopal, and increasingly anti-royal mob. As such, he and his family retreated to Oxford
Charles's personality as a politician was shaped by a difficult childhood. He was born on 19 November 1600, the third child of James VI of Scotland and his wife Anne of Denmark. During his early years he suffered from a combination of poor health and lack of parental affection. When he moved to England after James's accession in 1603 it was difficult to find a noble family to look after him because of fears that he might die on their hands; and he grew up very much in the shadow of his glamorous elder brother Prince Henry and his sister Elizabeth. It was not until Henry's death in 1612 that people began to take notice of him. What they found was a shy and extremely gauche adolescent, with a pronounced stammer which he never got rid of and a tendency to fits of rage and jealousy, directed particularly towards the young men who dominated his father's affections. An incident in 1616 when, in the presence of the court he turned a water fountain full in the face of George Villiers and soaked him to the skin was indicative of his early frustrations.
Charles as a young man was certainly not the stuff of which seventeenth century rulers were supposed to be made. Yet within a few years of his accession to the throne in 1625 he had transformed himself into a dignified, kingly figure every bit as impressive as his counterparts on the continent. This transformation came about partly through an effort of will power and self-control. Although lacking in confidence, Charles was acutely aware of the responsibilities of his office and made himself play to the full what he regarded as the proper role of a king. In spite of his stammer he regularly delivered public speeches on occasions such as the opening of parliament and earned considerable respect for doing so. He also exercised close control over the processes of royal government. The extent of this has been underestimated by some historians because they have tended to be taken in by claims that he was dominated by favourites such as the duke of Buckingham, or by his wife, Queen Henrietta Maria.
In fact, a close examination of administration and decision making suggests that Charles was very much in charge. He diligently attended to the paperwork of government, to the extent that one historian has described him as 'a royal swot'. He kept close control of senior appointments and was personally responsible for such crucial decisions as the appointment of Bishop Juxon as lord treasurer in 1636, seen by some as heralding a take over of government by the clergy He was also in charge of decisions about going to war, making peace and summoning parliament which were the most important a contemporary monarch had to make. The one area where his control was less than complete was in the church, where he relied on Laud to translate his high-church, anti-puritan vision into a reality; but even here his influence remained paramount because Laud was always conscious of the need to fulfil his master's wishes in order to retain favour.
Charles dominated the business of government in the way an early modern monarch was supposed to, and, thanks to Anthony Van Dyck, he came to look the part. Van Dyck came to England in 1632, at Charles's invitation, and in the years which followed completely transformed the king's image. He made up for his lack of stature and immature appearance by various artistic devices which included painting him on horseback, ageing him by about five years and giving his face a distant, melancholy expression which was seen as a sign of wisdom. He also incorporated into his portraits a whole series of references which reflected Charles's own views on kingship. In Charles I with Henrietta Maria and Prince Charles and Princess Mary, 1632, the king is presented as the supreme patriarch, a father figure who commands and protects his people as he does his own family. The great equestrian portrait, Charles I on horseback, 1638, depicts him as conquering hero and emperor of Great Britain at a time when he was preparing to go to war with his rebellious Scots subjects. A third aspect of kingship was captured in Charles a la Chasse, 1635, which shows him as the ultimate courtier, elegant, poised and relaxed, commanding his surroundings with an air of serene self-possession and inner confidence which was regarded as the essence of true nobility.
In spite of appearances, however, Charles lacked many of the personal qualities needed by an early modern ruler. He had little skill in the art of man-management which was crucial when so much depended on the king's relations with leading politicians and noblemen. Perhaps because of his difficult early upbringing, he was never a confident judge of human character and tended either to go overboard in his affection for those he felt were serving him loyally, like Buckingham, or to form strong dislikes which made it very hard for him to work with certain politicians. He also lacked confidence in the loyalty of his people and from the start of his reign turned grants of taxation into tests of whether they loved him and trusted him. This pushed opponents of policies such as the forced loan into having to confront the crown much more directly than was appropriate, with damaging consequences for political stability.
Another shortcoming which can again be traced back to his lack of self-assurance, was his unwillingness to bargain and negotiate. He tended to try to bludgeon his way through difficulties by invoking his personal authority, assuming that once his wishes were known his subjects would stop squabbling and obey him. This ignored the contemporary expectation that there should be a good deal of give and take in the execution of royal policy and that where policies were unpopular these should be blamed on royal counsellors. Charles's refusal to acknowledge this created considerable difficulties, for example in Scotland in 1637-8 when his unwillingness to make concessions over the use of an English-style prayer book, or to allow the bishops to bear the blame for its introduction, turned a limited protest into full scale rebellion.
The royal masquerade
The clashes between Charles and his subjects were not just a consequence of his political style; they also owed much to his political beliefs. Historians have found these hard to fathom because Charles was a man of few words and rarely wrote down what he thought; however, some interesting insights can be gleaned from the masques performed at court during the 1630s. Charles invested a good deal of time and energy in these productions and he and the queen generally appeared on stage as the principal characters.
The masques also illustrate some of Charles's more divisive beliefs. He was deeply suspicious of Calvinism and Puritanism which he saw as encouraging a dangerous spontaneity and egalitarianism in both church and state. He was also fundamentally hostile to parliaments, resenting their insistence on bargaining for redress of grievances in return for taxation and suspecting them of pandering to the destructive impulses of a 'popular multitude'. However, in each case his efforts to change things met with bitter opposition. Calvinism was the basis for the religious beliefs of most English protestants in this period and any attempt to replace it with high-church Arminianism was regarded as tantamount to a restoration of popery. Similarly his efforts to govern without parliaments during 'the Personal Rule' (1629-40) were deeply unpopular because the assembly was seen as 'the representative of the people' and the best guarantee of the public welfare.
The purpose of the masque, in political terms, was to proclaim the authority of the king and celebrate his achievements through representing his role in a constant struggle between virtue and vice. Charles took on roles that displayed his wisdom and justice, whilst the queen was presented as the embodiment of pure love and beauty. Between them they would create order and harmony by subduing the disruptive forces of the anti-masque, such as puritanism and popular rebellion. The final masque, the Salmacida Spolia of 1640, was typical, with a closing scene which showed king and queen dancing with their attendants before a backdrop of ideally proportioned classical buildings linked together by a bridge, whilst the chorus sang of their unifying influence.
Some historians have regarded these masques as a form of escapism by which Charles sought to avoid the unpalatable realities of contemporary politics. But this is to misunderstand their purpose. If they are interpreted within a context of contemporary beliefs about the civilising power of images they can be seen not as substitutes for reality, but guides to statesmanship. They represented the world of politics in terms which Charles himself appears to have recognised, as a drama of conflicting forces in which an enlightened, virtuous, noble elite, with the king at its head, sought to subdue the disordered impulses of a plebeian and puritan multitude.
Find out more
The Causes of the English Civil War by CSR Russell (chapter 8, 'the man Charles Stuart', 1990)
Charles I 1625-40 by B Quintrell (Longmans, 1993)
For more detailed discussions of his political role, see , The Forced Loan and English Politics 1626-1628 by RP Cust (Oxford, 1987)
The Personal Rule of Charles I by K Sharpe (Yale, 1992)
The Fall of the British Monarchies 1637-1642 by CSR Russell (Oxford, 1991)
The ecclesiastical policies of James I and Charles I by K Fincham and P Lake
The early Stuart Church 1603-1642 by K Fincham (MacMillan, 1993)
Court Culture and the Origins of a Royalist Tradition in early Stuart England by RM Smuts (University of Pennsylvania, 1987)