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Charles I and the Divine Right

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Poor relations between Charles I and Parliament are hugely evident from 1625 to 1629. Charles dissolved three parliament sessions in a 4 year period (between 1625 and 1629) and thereafter ruled by prerogative (without Parliament) for eleven years. Arguably, Charles’s elevated views of Divine right, religious differences and his deep attachment to Buckingham (and his foreign policy) were the most important reasons for poor relations. On the other hand, Parliament is also very much to blame with their obstructive behaviour and need for change.

Charles’s elevated view of Divine Right and refusal to back down on the issue was the most important reason for poor relations. Although it was not the only reason for poor relations- Charles time and time again emphasised this belief. Moreover, it was an early issue which was a precursor for other damaging disagreements such as parliament’s behaviour. Charles saw all of parliaments ‘privileges’, or rights as being subject to the approval of the sovereign. This was a belief also shown by his farther James I and James VI in the Trew Laws of Free Monarchies (1598). However, this was a belief which Charles actually put into motion which, unlike his father, he did not recognise as being extremely threatening to Parliament (as they want to have as much power in their hands as possible). Parliament are a body which are meant to help advise the king but, he saw anyone who disagreed with him as being disloyal (he often even refused argument). MP’s found this, once again, very hard to handle. This very threatening and absolutist behaviour by Charles is a very clear reason why Parliament acted in the way they did in other Parliament sessions. For example, Parliament only allowed Charles one years’ worth of Tonnage and Poundage when normally a King receives it for their entire reign. This example also shows Charles’s divine right attitude as he clashed with them in 1628- resulting in Charles ignoring Parliament and collecting the tax every year. Charles’s elevated view of Divine right was the most fundamental reason for poor relations as it caused tension and distaste for one another from the outset.

Charles elevated view of Divine Right is a hugely influential factor which caused Parliament’s tough stance. This made parliaments obstructive and backhanded behaviour a very important part in their break down in relations as it resulted in parliament giving very little money to Charles when he needed it. Parliament at this time were under threat (even thinking that they will be abolished), so they made an attempt to show their King that their help was needed. This is shown in the 1625 Parliament when they gave Charles subsides worth £140000 pounds (an insult) which is well short of the one million Charles needed to wage war against Spain. This was very backhanded of Parliament as they had pushed hard for war but, when it came they didn’t pay which would inevitably cause a rift between Charles and the MP’s. This very backhanded behaviour was also seen in Charles’s third parliament in March 1628- parliament agreed to pay Charles his five desired subsidies but only if Charles accepted the Petition of right. This act meant that Charles could not gain expenditure from forced loans (which was a hugely successful income for Charles because by July 1627 he had brought in £240000 more than expected) which was a direct link back to going against Divine Right. Parliaments behaviour in providing a lack of money was inevitably going to cause poor relations (a very significant cause) however, this behaviour was because of Charles elevated view of Divine Right.

Charles’s deeply attached relationship with Buckingham (who greatly influenced Charles’s foreign policy) was also significant in causing his poor relations with parliament. Charles had put Buckingham in charge of the 1626 Cadiz expedition and a naval expedition at Ile de Re in 1627 which both ended in disaster. This had hugely embarrassed the kingdom as Sir Edwyn Sandys said “Since England was England it received not so dishonourable a blow”; it meant England was fighting wars with both Spain and France and; very significantly it angered Parliament. To them Buckingham had become the ‘grievance of all grievances’ while trying to impeach him. This is very significant in the poor relations between Parliament and Charles because Buckingham was one of Charles’s favourites- Charles reacted by dissolving Parliament. This also emphasises parliaments very backhanded behaviour because the reason for the disastrous expeditions was because of the lack of funding by parliament- troops had no training, were badly equipped and many starved. If parliament had given more funding the expeditions could had gone differently, so to put full blame on Buckingham was unfair. Charles recognised this which pushed the cap between him and parliament even further apart. In-hindsight if Charles was not heavily influenced by Buckingham then possibly relations would have been better which is significant. However, arguably the most important reason was that if parliament had given the funding required and not put complete blame on Buckingham the relations would also have been much better.

Even though Divine Right was the most important reason for poor relations, it would be true to say that religion also had a part to play. This was a time where issue over belief were highly contentious as seen during James I rein (for example, The Millenary Petition a debate at Hampton court). Charles favoured the Arminian group (which has very strong links with Catholicism) whereas Parliament favoured Puritan beliefs (the other side of the spectrum to Catholicism). This created tension from the outset, especially when leading Armenians were appointed as bishops (for example, William Laud, who had divine right views and was an Arminian, was appointed Bishop of London in 1628), parliament felt threatened (which links to the threat they felt about Divine right views). Armenians’ believed that ceremonies, statues and bowing at the name of Jesus as being vital to services which made parliament believe that there was a ‘popish plot’ and a return to the Roman Catholic Church. MP’s even believed that there was a relaxation on Recusuncy fines (fines against Catholics). Not only did the rise of Armenian’s and a belief that there was a relaxation on Recusancy fines annoy and threaten puritan parliamentarians but, so did the fact that Charles wife, Henrietta Maria, was Catholic. Religious beliefs pushed the cap between Parliament and Charles further apart as can be seen in Parliaments announcement of the Three Resolutions which criticised the “innovation and change of religion.” Religion was certainly a key factor in the breakdown of relations because it contributed to obstructive behaviour of Parliament (which meant they gave a lack of money and also criticised Buckingham) however, it was not as important as Divine Right views.

The break down in relations was down to these main points however, there were other smaller factors which had little significance on their own but built up together they created anger and ultimately poor relations between the King and parliament. Parliament used the acts of The Three Resolutions and Petition of Right to show their backhanded behaviour (making the king agree so that he could get money) but, these acts also very much damaged the relations in their own right as they went against the King in their different ways. They were laws saying that if you give the King what he wanted (such as tonnage and poundage) you are betrayer of the nations, in simple terms; “if my merchant shall pay subsides of Tonnage and Poundage…. He is reputed a betrayer of the liberties of England.” This goes directly against what the king want which will inevitably cause friction. Moreover the Reform of the Militia was influential as the King’s council said there was going to be reform in 1629 (such as regular training and equipping of county bands) which is against parliamentary statue (not allowing the setting up of local militia in 1604). Although the reform did not actually occur until the mid-1630’s this decision passed by the council goes against parliamentary statue causing tension. This shows that there were other smaller issues which had significance on the poor relations.

To conclude, Charles’s elevated view of Dive Right was unquestionably the most important reason for poor relations between him and Parliament between 1625 and 1629. This is because it threatened Parliament and its power which meant that they acted in a very aggressive way (for example, giving a lack of money). This behaviour also resulted in the embarrassment of Buckingham- this is significant because Buckingham was very close to Charles, so Charles would fight for him against Parliament. The least significant reason for poor relations was Religion as the true religious battle occurred later in Charles’s reign however, a contrasting religious belief along with other smaller factors (such as the Petition of Rights) caused rift between one another.

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