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To what extent was Charles I personnaly responsabile for the outbreak of the English Civil War in 1642?

Dissertation : To what extent was Charles I personnaly responsabile for the outbreak of the English Civil War in 1642?. Recherche parmi 233 000+ dissertations

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To what extent was Charles I personally responsible for the outbreak of the English Civil War in 1642?

On January 4th 1642 Charles I marched into the House of Commons and declared ‘I see all the birds have flown’. The Five Members was a failed attempt by the king to arrest five prominent members of parliament, prompted by the proposed impeachment of his wife, Henrietta Maria. This incident was the turning point in a long line of events that led up to the outbreak of the English Civil War on the 22nd August that same year. For centuries historians have debated the onset of the English Civil War and the different factors that caused the uprise of the parliamentarians. It has been questioned how Charles’ father King James I and his concept of the ‘divine right of kings’, his approach to foreign policy and his controversial demands with regard to fiscal policy had a long term effect on the fragility of the entente between the monarchy and Parliament. The strong influence of James I’s close confidante, George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham had repercussions on the first Stuart monarch’s reign.  George Villiers was also of great significance during the first years of Charles’ reign and vastly influenced the King’s decisions with regard to politics, the Church, foreign policy and even his personal life. When the 1st Duke of Buckingham was assassinated, Henrietta Maria, the Queen consort, a French Catholic became a close advisor to her husband, creating suspicion among the members of parliament due to her religious convictions.  This essay will explore how religion and politics, but also the prominent figures within the monarchy triggered the outbreak of the English Civil War and the scope of King Charles I’s personal implication.

The accession of James I in 1603 inaugurated the rule of one of the most turbulent dynasties in British history (Kishlansky 1996: 67). The new king pledged to be an active participant in a movement aimed at bringing about a new era of religious peace and concord in Europe (Patterson 1998: p.12). The reign of the Monarch frequently entitled ‘Rex Pacificus’ began fittingly in 1604 with the first international triumph, The Treaty of London (Croft 2006: p.140), signed with Spain and Burgundy, this treaty brought an official end to the war (Wroughton 1997: p.75).  

1604 also saw the Hampton Court Conference, three days of discussions between James and the church leaders regarding different reforms, James accepted the demands of the opposing party, which consequently led to the publication of the King James Bible in 1611. The king also took the opportunity during these debates to impose his authority as monarch on the episcopate and thus set the tone for the rest of his reign. James came from a country that had adopted Roman law, with its emphasis on the authority of the ruler, whereas the English prided themselves on their common law (Lockyer 2005: 253). In a speech addressed to Parliament, James I famously said, ‘The state of Monarchy is the supremest thing upon earth; for kings are not only God’s lieutenants upon earth and sit upon God’s throne, but even by God himself they are called gods’ (Tanner 1961: p.15).

Constitutional conflict was predominant  in 1614 with the dissolution of the Addled Parliament, as a result of a fundamental disagreement between James I and the House of Commons about the legality of impositions (Kyle 2001: p.149). After a seven year suspension and following the outbreak of the Thirty Years War in Europe, James I recalled parliament in 1621 to discuss the obtention of funds required to send military assistance to his allies on the continent. A petition was put forward by the House of Commons to the king asking ‘that your Majesty would propose to yourself to manage this war to the best advantage…and not to rest upon a war in these parts only, which will consume your treasure and discourage your people’ (Russell 1977: p.289). At a time when the royal treasury was in critical need of revenue, James I was counting on the substantial dowry promised by the Spanish court on the marriage of the Spanish Infanta and Prince Charles, arrangements of which had begun in 1614. During the Foreign Policy debate in December 1621, the House of Commons also wrote in their petition ‘our most noble prince may be timely and happily married to one of our own religion’ (Wilson 1653: p.170). James I heard reports of this petition, and his response created a political crisis which led to the dissolution of parliament (Russell 1977: p.289) he said that the House of Commons had discussed matters ‘far above their reach and capacity, tending to our high  dishonour, and breach of Prerogative Royal’ (Coke 1696: p.99).

The foreign policy of James I and indeed Charles I was shaped by two fundamental tensions, the fiscal tension between crown and subject. The second was an ideological one: the impact of the religious division in Europe created by the Reformation (Adams 1983: p.79). Historians have long questioned the extent to which James I was involved in the political crisis in 1642, R. S. Rait and J.S. Parrott wrote: ‘His ideas of kingship and prerogative turned Parliament against him, and began the long duel between king and people which resulted in the execution of Charles the First’ (Rait Parrott 1909). 

James I was witty, liberal, crafty and cunning and had common sense, Charles I had all the faults of character and temperament (Gregg 1981: p.448). James was known as the ‘wisest fool in Christendom’, meaning him wise in small things, but a fool in weighty affairs (Weldon 1650: pp.57-58). Charles I was never entirely sure of himself, he was moralistic and judgemental, he was not a political man and raised as a younger son he had very little political experience. Charles placed great importance on order, peace, domesticity, spirituality and aesthetics, all such things to which the political world was hostile and indifferent (Reeve 1989: pp.173-174). But we have to wonder if Charles’ personality and awkwardness in politics and as a sovereign are the only factors regarding the crisis of 1642. What happened during the reign of James I cannot be ignored when we look for signs leading up to the outbreak of the English Civil War.

Charles grew up in the shadow of an able and popular older brother; he lacked self-confidence as a monarch. Charles’ essential insecurity caused him to be strongly influenced by the ideas of his wife, his father and above all the Duke of Buckingham (Reeve 1989: pp.173-174). George Villiers, the 1st Duke of Buckingham first met James I in 1614 and soon became a cup-bearer at the royal court, he was twenty-two at the time, the son of a declining gentry family (Kishlansky 1996: p.96) . It is said that James was taken with Villiers’ charm and charisma; he was renowned for his extreme good looks and elegance. He must have made an immediate impression upon the king, for a mere four weeks later Lord Fenton, writing to his cousin to give him the news from Court, said 'I think your lordship has heard before this time of a youth, his name is Villiers, a Northamptonshire man; he begins to be favour with His Majesty' (Lockyer 1981: pp.36-37).

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