Charles I

(Charles I of England)


charles I.
Charles I was by no means the worst or most oppressive king that had sat on the throne in England, but he came to power at a time when ideas of religious and political liberty were highly unsettled, and the traditional role of the church and the monarchy were all open to new interpretations. Eventually the citizens of England learned to deal with these difficulties through a reasonably peaceful political process, but in Charles' era, the various factions sought to achieve their goals through armed conflict. In other European countries, such as France and Germany the there were similar conflicting ideas, and as a result, much of Europe had been involved in the ruinous Thirty Years War for much of Charles reign. It is hardly possible to think that England could have escaped entirely from these conflicts.

The Protestant reformation had swept through Europe a hundred years ago and England was thoroughly Protestant before Charles came to power. The English Civil Wars was not, therefore, a contest between Catholic and Protestant, but rather, a contest between conflicting views of the role of the church, the role of the monarchy, and the relationship between religious and state power. At the time, many well-intentioned persons held views that bordered on fanaticism and willingly sacrificed their lives to further their beliefs. It was in this context than Charles' conflict with Parliament led to civil war. For a complete survey of the war which dominated Charles reign and ultimately led to his execution, see here.

Charles conflicts with Parliament became apparent soon after he ascended to the throne. Charles advocated the divine right of kings, and saw the members of parliament as mere counsellors. The advocates of Parliament insisted that the Parliament was entitled to certain "rights" that couldn't be abrogated by the king. Because of this, they squabbled about virtually every issue. After a frustrating and fruitless encounter in 1629, he dissolved parliament and ruled independently for 11 years. His main ministers during this period were the Earl of Stafford and Archbishop Laud, both notorious enemies of parliament. In 1639 a war broke out in Scotland, over issues related to church governance. Without funds from Parliament, the king could not carry-on his war, so in 1640 he recalled parliament. They refused however, to transact the business he had in mind, and instead set about trying to pass laws which would guarantee the rights of Parliament. He attempted to dissolve the new parliament but they refused to step down, and instead began raising an army to oppose the king.

Two years later, the conflict broke into open warfare, with families and towns taking sides and atrocious battles throughout England. At long last, parliament forces its members to choose between the army and their position in Parliament. The purpose of this was to allow Parliament to field a standing professional army instead a collection of militias led by incompetent nobles. Soon after these reforms, Parliament gained a permanent upper hand, and after the Battle of Naseby the king was forced to surrender.

Unfortunately, Parliament was far from unanimous regarding their ideas of exactly how the government of England should be revised and after two years of negotiation among various factions, nothing was resolved. After a rebellion in support of the King broke out among former parliamentarians, Cromwell, who had risen to a position of leadership in the "new model army", resolved to remove the king altogether and arranged for him to be tried on charges of treason. In January of 1649 Charles became the first English king ever executed for treason, but even this dramatic event failed to resolve the fundamental differences among contending factions. Wars in Ireland and Scotland continue for two years after the death of the king.

Key events during the life of Charles I of England:

Born to James I in Scotland.
Death of elder brother Henry.
Traveled with the Duke of Buckingham to France and Spain.
Marriage to Henrietta.
Crowned King of England.
Charles calls parliament, but argues with them.
Bishop's War in Scotland.
Charles calls the Long Parliament.
Battle of Edgewood, the opening battle in the English Civil War.
Turning point of the war as the Royalists lose ground at Marston Moor.
King suffers a critical loss at the Battle of Naseby. Surrenders to the Scots.
  Attempts to negotiate a resolution between Charles, Parliament, the Scots, and the army fail.
Second Civil War Breaks out.
Tried by parliament and executed for treason.

Other Resources

Story Links
Book Links
King Charles I and his Children  in  Cambridge Historical Reader—Primary  by  Cambridge Press
Little Romance  in  Stories From English History, Part Second  by  Alfred J. Church
Charles I. and Parliament  in  The Story of England  by  Samuel B. Harding
Gathering Storm  in  Through Great Britain and Ireland With Cromwell  by  Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall
How the King and the Parliament Quarrelled  in  Our Island Story  by  H. E. Marshall
Charles I.—The King and the Covenant  in  Scotland's Story  by  Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall
Love's Knight-Errant  in  Historical Tales: English  by  Charles Morris
Misrule of the Stuarts: Charles I  in  The Tudors and the Stuarts  by  M. B. Synge

Book Links
Charles I  by  Jacob Abbott
With the King at Oxford  by  Alfred J. Church

Image Links

Charles I with his children
 in Cambridge Historical Reader—Primary

Charles I. and Armour Bearer
 in Stories From English History, Part Second

Trial of Charles I. in Westminster Hall
 in Stories From English History, Part Second

Execution of Charles I
 in Stories From English History, Part Second

King Charles the First
 in With the King at Oxford

The Trial of King Charles
 in With the King at Oxford

The Execution of the King
 in With the King at Oxford

Charles I. and Vandyke at Hampton Court
 in  The Story of the English

The Children of Charles I
 in  The Story of the English
Charles I. of England
Charles I. of England
 in Back Matter

Oliver and Charles
 in Through Great Britain and Ireland With Cromwell

King Charles and Cornet Joyce
 in Through Great Britain and Ireland With Cromwell

Funeral of King Charles
 in Through Great Britain and Ireland With Cromwell

Charles the king walked for the last time through the streets of London.
 in Our Island Story

For two days he was torn by indecision, and then signed
 in  Sir Walter Raleigh

Charles I of England
 in Builders of Our Country: Book I

The Stuart Kings and Queens
 in The Tudors and the Stuarts

Vandyke Painting the Portrait of Charles I
 in The Tudors and the Stuarts

Portrait of Charles I
 in The Tudors and the Stuarts

King Charles on his way to the Scots His Master's Papers being examined by a Roundhead Patrol
 in The Tudors and the Stuarts

King Charles on the Scaffold speaking to Bishop Juxon
 in The Tudors and the Stuarts

King Charles's last interview with his children
 in The Tudors and the Stuarts

Short Biography
Prince Rupert Commanded Royalist Cavalry during English Civil War, later an admiral, inventor and trader.
Henrietta Daughter of Henry IV of France, and Queen of Charles I, and mother of Charles II and James II.
Oliver Cromwell Military leader of Parliament who headed the Commonwealth government after death of Charles I.
Earl of Strafford Minister of Charles I and governor of Ireland. Impeached and executed by Parliament.
Archbishop Laud Governed the Church of England during the reign of Charles I. Very unpopular with parliament.
Marquess of Montrose Leader of the Royalist cause in Scotland during the English Civil War. Eventually betrayed by Charles II.
Thomas Fairfax Commander of the Parliamentary forces during the English Civil War. Declined to condemn Charles I to death.