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The Role of Charles I on a Civil War

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How far was the personal rule of Charles I responsible for the outbreak of the civil war?

Charles I’s personal rule had a key role to play in the outbreak of civil war. During this eleven year period there was a rise in tension not only because of religious reform but also financial pressure. However, the events between 1640 and 1642 provided the most compelling reasons for the outbreak of civil war, such as, the execution of Wentworth and the reversal of Laudian reforms.

The Personal rule of Charles I led to a rise in tension across all three kingdoms which eventually manifested itself in the civil war. A very significant factor to the outbreak of civil war was Wentworth’s financially crippling policy in Ireland. By alienating the two main groups in Ireland (Old English and New English) he introduced the New Book of Rates which helped increase income from £40,000 in 1633 to £80,000 in 1640. This created dangerous resentment (combined with religious resentment) which ultimately led to the 1641 rising in Ulster. Although the causes of the rising in Ireland were the events in the personal rule, the turning point that ensured the civil war were the events from 1640-1642. The Irish rising was very important in an English context because Parliament and Charles had a huge debate on who should raise an army. John Pym argued “mischievous councillors” influenced the King in the Grand Remonstrance of 1641. This listed two hundred and four instances and calling for the removal of all advisors. In 1641 Wentworth himself was executed and was named “the most hated person in England,” which angered Charles (he never forgave himself for his death). The Grand Remonstrance and the execution of Wentworth were extremely important because it showed the break down in the relationship between King and Parliament between 1640 and 1641. For example, In 1642 Charles sent 200 soldiers into parliament to arrest five strong critics of him. This showed parliament that Charles was willing to arrest MP’s (who represent the people) and confirmed the outbreak of the civil war because Charles subsequently left London for Oxford to raise an army. It is clear to say that Charles’s policy in his personal rule caused the Irish uprising and was a long term factor, but the more significant short term factor in actually causing the civil war were the events that followed to a strong extent, such as, the Grand Remonstrance.

Finance in Charles’s personal rule was a very significant factor in causing the outbreak of the civil war. Charles had a lack of money and the ways in which he obtained his money caused huge resentment, “eleven years of tyranny.” Only parliament could legally raise tax, which meant Charles used his royal prerogative to raise money. This is shown in his Knighthood fees on landowners worth £40 or more a year; monopolies sold to merchants (which is forbidden by parliamentary stature); forest fines levied. In 1635 the King demanded ship money from all counties (including counties not on the coast). This was hugely significant in causing resentment and is shown by John Hampden (MP) who stood up against this tax. Charles was a strong believer of diving right and he believed that these actions were his legal right which became extremely unpopular in Parliament. These actions were followed by parliament’s retaliation (refusal to give any money unless Charles agreed to the reform of the list of grievances) in 1640 after Charles lost the first bishop and after the second bishop’s war when he was desperate for money in the aftermath of the personal rule. Conrad Russell believes that without the influence of the bishops’ wars then division would never have had led to civil war. In contrast to the previous paragraph the actions of the personal rule (in terms of finance) were the sole reason for the break down in relations. It was inevitable that parliament would refuse to give money to Charles without getting something in return. This shows that Charles’s long term factor of finance in his personal rule was the most important factor in in causing the outbreak of civil war (in terms of finance).

Religion during the 17th century was a hugely contested issue all around Europe and it was no different in England as religious divide was a very significant factor in causing the civil war. During the personal rule Charles appointed Laud (associated with the rise of Arminiansm) who introduced a reformed version of the Book of Common Prayer which called for making church beautiful again. Charles did this without consultation of the Scottish parliament or the assembly of Kirk which caused outrage. However, more significantly in England parliamentarians saw this as an attempt to make the Church Roman Catholic- Popish plot. This created a polarized religious opinion which is emphasised by Henrietta Maria and her strong Catholic beliefs. Like Charles, when he arrested 5 MP’s, Laud pursued critics, for example, in 1637 William Prynne and Henry Burton were convicted in the star chamber for criticising Lauds policies in a pamphlet. Nicholas Tyacke believed that Laud had a ‘readiness of Arminians to attack Calvinist opponents.’ Although this medium term factors were important in causing resentment among the religious spectrum, the actions taken between 1640 and 1642 were more important. There was a huge majority for the abolition of Laudian reforms (passed September 1st 1641) by the Puritan members of Parliament and Laud was impeached for high treason in 1640. Moreover, in the Grand Remonstrance there was a proposal that a general synod should be appointed to supervise this reform towards the separatist view of the church. These events are hugely significant because they go directly against Charles actions in his personal rule which ensures the outbreak of the civil war. It is clear to say that the short term factors between 1640 and 1642 are the most important in the outbreak of civil war to a strong extent.

To conclude, religion, finance, and the tension between the three kingdoms are all very important factors which caused division. However, it is the actions between 1640 and 1642 which were the most significant to a strong extent for causing the outbreak of the civil war, as you can see with religion and in the tensions across the kingdom. Charles’s personal rule played an important role although to a less extent in causing the civil war, especially in terms of finance. Overall the short term factors between 1640 and 1642 were the reason for civil war but the personal rule certainly caused tension among the kingdom. However, as Wharton argued you could say that the most compelling reason was ‘a sudden fit of lunacy.’

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