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Late Tudor and Early Stuart Parliaments

The sentencing of Strafford in parliament, 1641
The sentencing of the Earl of Strafford in parliament, 1641

Late Tudor and Early Stuart Parliaments

Key facts about late Tudor and early Stuart parliaments

  • Many historians have traced the causes of the Civil War to parliaments behaviour under Elizabeth I and James I
  • Even before Charles I, parliaments could cause problems for their monarchs
  • Particular flash points were taxation and religion
  • Parliament was concerned to protect its liberties, especially its freedom of speech
  • Monarchs were equally concerned to protect their prerogativeA right or privilege exclusive to a particular person or group. : their right to determine law and direct parliament
  • The monarchA king, queen, or emperor needed considerable skill, and good privy councillors - who often sat in parliament - to manage parliament
  • Elizabeth I was much better at managing parliament than her successors
  • James I and Charles I brought a new style of monarchyThe king/queen and royal family of a country, or a form of government with a king/queen at the head. and a belief in the divine right of kings to England
  • James had the skills to adapt his style to that of the English, but Charles refused to go against his beliefs

People you need to know

  • Charles I - second son of James I, who reigned from 1625 until his execution on the orders of the Rump ParliamentThe parliament that remained after the purge of moderate members in 1648. in 1649.
  • Elizabeth I - last of the Tudor dynastyA line of hereditary rulers of a country, business, etc. , who reigned from 1558 until 1603, and who died childless.
  • James I - and VI of Scotland, first of the Stuart dynasty in England, who reigned from 1603 until 1625.
  • William Laud - bishop and later archbishop of Canterbury under Charles I, who favoured the episcopacyThe government of a church by bishops, or the office of a bishop. and 'Popish' ritual elements of religious practice.
  • Richard Montagu - cleric and prelate who was known for his controversial religious writings in the 1620s.
  • John Pym - parliamentarianA supporter of parliament, particularly during the Civil Wars of 1642-1651. and leader of the Long ParliamentFirst called in 1640, it sat until Pride's Purge in 1648. It was then recalled in 1660., prominent in his criticism of Charles I.
  • George Villiers - first duke of Buckingham, favourite of James and Charles, murdered in 1628.
  • Peter Wentworth - outspoken member of parliament during the reign of Elizabeth, who eventually died in prison in 1597.
  • Thomas Wentworth - first earl of Strafford and lord lieutenant of Ireland, who was impeached and executed in 1641, much to Charles' chagrin.Although Peter Wentworth did have a son called Thomas Wentworth, who became a politician, this is not him. 

Early modern political theory held that the king-in-parliament was supreme. The king, through his prerogativeA right or privilege exclusive to a particular person or group. , directed the law and summoned and dissolved parliament, and parliament, protected by its privileges and liberties, gave consent, supply, and advice. But by 1642, king and parliament were at war. The causes of this breakdown have attracted some of the most interesting, and controversial, debates in recent scholarship. Explanations are numerous, but they all must, at some point, consider the role of parliament. That by the early 1640s parliament’s relationship with the king had become so oppositional it was unworkable is obvious: the Grand RemonstranceA list of grievances presented to Charles I by parliament on 1 December 1641. They were exhaustive and encroached significantly on the traditional rights of the monarch. A list of grievances presented to Charles I by parliament on 1 December 1641. They were exhaustive and encroached significantly on the traditional rights of the monarch. provides clear evidence that parliament was no longer willing to work with the king. What is less obvious is how it came to be so: had there been a ‘high road to civil war’,Geoffrey Elton’s phrase evident in the increasingly adversarialInvolving conflict and opposition. Involving conflict and opposition. parliaments of Elizabeth I and James I, and the development of a formal counterweightSomething that balances something else. Something that balances something else. to government? Or were the relationships between the monarchs and their parliaments more amenable; was the collapse of relations the result of a series of unfortunate events and personality clashes?

Parliamentary problems

Every parliament between 1559 and 1629 opposed certain policies or pushed, against the monarchA king, queen, or emperor’s wishes, for certain outcomes. Across the three monarchs, similar themes of contentionHeated disagreement, or an argument. Heated disagreement, or an argument. in religion and finance emerged, but there was also underlying tension between the royal prerogative and the liberties of parliament. Under a knowledgeable, experienced, and emotionally-aware monarch, balance was maintained, but under an inadequate monarch, such as Charles, more serious conflict emerged.

A 'PuritanDescribing a person, group, or ideal, that believed in the need to continue reform of the Church of England and rid it of remaining traces of Catholicism. Choir'?

Anti-puritan pamphlet
An anti-puritanDescribing a person, group, or ideal, that believed in the need to continue reform of the Church of England and rid it of remaining traces of Catholicism. pamphlet by Richard Bancroft, later to become archbishop of Canterbury, attempting to challenge the intellectual appeal of PuritanismThe beliefs of people who thought that the Protestant Reformation was incomplete and more reform was needed..

The WhiggishRelating to Whigs, or a view of history as progression, from bad to good. Relating to Whigs, or a view of history as progression, from bad to good. notion of a ‘puritanDescribing a person, group, or ideal, that believed in the need to continue reform of the Church of England and rid it of remaining traces of Catholicism. revolution’ is, on the surface, convincing. Propounded by the likes of J.E. Neale, the theory holds that parliament, led by a ‘puritan choir’ became more aggressive throughout the reigns of Elizabeth and the early Stuarts, developing an organised programme of reform and pushing the boundaries of its liberties. There is no denying religious conflict existed. In 1566, 1571, 1576, 1581, 1584, 1587, and 1597, elements of the CommonsPeople who weren't members of the clergy nor the nobility, or the House of Commons.People who weren't members of the clergyThe people ordained for religious duties, especially in the Christian Church. nor the nobilityThe highest hereditary stratum of the aristocracy, sitting immediately below the monarch in terms of blood and title; or the quality of being noble (virtuous, honourable, etc.) in character. , or the House of Commons. moved to change church practice, often in direct defiance of Elizabeth’s command. Time and again she commanded parliament to ‘not…so much as once meddle with any such matters or causes of religion’.Cited in J. E. Neale, Elizabeth and Her Parliaments 1584-1601 Vol. II, London: Cape (1957), p. 199. And time and again, parliament challenged her. When William Strickland was sequestered in 1571 for introducing a prayer book bill, the Commons argued ‘that neither in regard of the Country, which was not to be wronged, nor for the Liberty of the House, which was not to be infringed, we should permit him to be detained from us’.Simonds d'Ewes, 'Journal of the House of Commons: April 1571', in The Journals of All the Parliaments During the Reign of Queen Elizabeth (Shannon, Ire, 1682), pp. 155-180. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/no-series/jrnl-parliament-eliz1/pp155-180 accessed 26 October 2017.

Yet under Elizabeth, conflict wasn’t unmanageable. Partially, this was because reforms were ‘a collaborativeProduced by or involving two or more parties working together. Produced by or involving two or more parties working together. exercise between Councillors, bishops and other members of the governing class in Parliament’.Michael Graves, Elizabethan Parliaments, 1559-1601 (2nd ed.) Harlow: Longman (1996), p. 54. Elizabeth was also determined to prevent religious differences turning into organised opposition. She knew when to admit defeat – Strickland was allowed back into the House – and how to turn grievances into positive outcomes. Nor did she allow dispute to become personal, unlike Charles. Christopher Yelverton, a puritan supporter of Strickland, became speaker of the Commons, and the radicalA person who advocates thorough or complete political or social reform, or a description of that change. A person who advocates thorough or complete political or social reform, or a description of that change. Anthony Cope, who’d been arrested in 1587, was knighted. James, too, ‘knew when to yield, and when to stand firm; when to enforce the rules, and when to bend them’. He was so successful that John Pym considered him one of the ‘Fathers of the Church’,J.P. Kenyon (ed.), The Stuart ConstitutionA body of fundamental principles and established precedents by which a state governs itself; or the composition of something.A body of fundamental principles and established precedents by which a state governs itself; or the composition of something.: Documents and Commentary (2nd ed.) Cambridge: CUP (1986), p. 115.and the fact that the annals of parliament don’t contain more reference to religious grievances in his reign proves his skill.David Smith, The Stuart Parliaments 1603-1689 London: Arnold (1999), p. 113.

Although Charles was willing to give ground on minor points, his evident distrust of puritanismThe beliefs of people who thought that the Protestant Reformation was incomplete and more reform was needed.The beliefs of people who thought that the ProtestantSomeone following the western non-Catholic Christian belief systems inspired by the Protestant Reformation. Reformation was incomplete and more reform was needed., and the appointments he made to the episcopacyThe government of a church by bishops, or the office of a bishop. set him against parliament. When the Commons raised concerns over Laud’s ‘ArminianRelating to the doctrines of Jacobus Arminius, who rejected the Calvinist theory of predestination (which says that God has already preordained what will happen, including who will go to Heaven and Hell). Relating to the doctrines of Jacobus Arminius, who rejected the Calvinist theory of predestinationThe doctrine that God has ordained all that will happen, especially with regard to the salvation of some and not others. (which says that God has already preordained what will happen, including who will go to Heaven and Hell). party’ of bishops supporting the controversial cleric Richard Montagu, Charles made Montagu his chaplain, ‘whereat the Commons seemed to be much displeased.’John Rushworth, 'Historical Collections: 1625 (Charles I)', in Historical Collections of Private Passages of State: Volume 1, 1618-29 (London, 1721), pp. 165-219. British History Online <http://www.british-history.ac.uk/rushworth-papers/vol1/pp165-219> (accessed 26 October 2017). In 1628 Charles appointed him bishop of Chichester, and in 1633 made Laud archbishop of Canterbury. The parliamentary push for religious reform between 1559 and 1629 didn’t change. The only thing that changed was the monarch: religious disputes in the reign of Charles were more oppositional because he was more oppositional. Charles’ predecessorsPeople who held a job or office before the current incumbent.&nbsp; People who held a job or office before the current incumbent.&nbsp; kept the reformistSupporting the European Reformation of religion, where Protestants split from Catholic beliefs and practices, or supporting reform in a more general way.Supporting the European Reformation of religion, where Protestants split from Catholic beliefs and practices, or supporting reform in a more general way. zeal in check by their willingness to walk a middle line and their refusal to take sides; Charles failed because he favoured, according to a vocal minority in parliament, the wrong side.

Financial wrangling

Financially, parliamentary opposition focused on two areas: redress before supplyThe idea that grievances must be addressed before any new taxation is granted by parliament. The idea that grievances must be addressed before any new taxation is granted by parliament. , and prerogative finance. According to Michael Graves, at no point in Elizabeth’s reign did the Commons ‘attempt to take political advantage of its initiating role by making a tax grant conditional upon prior redress of grievances.’Graves, Elizabethan Parliaments, p. 72. However, in 1571, Robert Bell stated that ‘if remedy were provided then would the subsidy be paid willingly’,P.W. Hasler ‘Appendix III: The 1571 House of Commons’ The History of Parliament http://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1558-1603/survey/appendix-iii-1571-house-commons (accessed on 29 October 2017) and supply was used to influence policy. In the draft preambleAn introduction. An introduction. to the 1566 subsidy billA parliamentary bill to grant tax. A parliamentary bill to grant tax. , parliament – working with the privy councilA monarch's private advisers.A monarch's private advisers. – held Elizabeth to her promise to marry. Although Elizabeth’s fury was enough to change the preamble, she in turn remitted a portion of the supply. By the 1620s, supply was almost always conditional upon prior redress. In 1626 it was dependent upon the removal of Buckingham, and acceptance of the Petition of RightA parliamentary document setting out the liberties of the subject against the monarch, that was presented to Charles I in June 1628. A parliamentary document setting out the liberties of the subject against the monarch, that was presented to Charles I in June 1628. was a necessary step to obtain supply in 1628.

The Apotheosis of James I by Rubens, photo by the Wub CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=35815508
The Rubens ceiling of Banqueting House not only shows the Stuart notion of the divine right of kings, but also shows how Charles lavished money on show and majesty. This is the central piece, The Apotheosis of James I, with the photo taken by the Wub.

An unwillingness to grant taxation was not a deliberate attempt by parliament to wrest power from the monarch, but reaction to a changing economic climate. By the start of the seventeenth century, with inflationA general increase in prices and fall in the purchasing value of money. A general increase in prices and fall in the purchasing value of money. soaring and income from lands and taxes falling, extraordinary revenues were needed to pay for ordinary expenses. The more economic issues bit, the more the monarch requested, and the more concerned parliament became. On average, Elizabeth petitioned for supply every three years, James (excluding his years of ‘personal ruleGenerally referring to Charles I's rule without parliament between 1629 and 1640, although it can be extended to any considerable length of rule under prerogative and without recourse to parliament. Generally referring to Charles I's rule without parliament between 1629 and 1640, although it can be extended to any considerable length of rule under prerogative and without recourse to parliament. ’) two years, and Charles (again excluding Personal RuleGenerally referring to Charles I's rule without parliament between 1629 and 1640, although it can be extended to any considerable length of rule under prerogative and without recourse to parliament. Generally referring to Charles I's rule without parliament between 1629 and 1640, although it can be extended to any considerable length of rule under prerogative and without recourse to parliament. ) almost every year.In her 45-year reign, Elizabeth made 13 requests, James made seven in 15 years (excluding the period 1615-1620 when he made a determined effort to rule without parliament), and Charles made six in seven years (excluding the years 1630-1639). ‘Parliaments, 1558-1603’, ‘Parliaments, 1604-1629’, ‘Parliaments, 1640-1660’, The History of Parliament <http://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/research/parliaments (accessed on 28 October 2017) Elizabethan parliamentariansPeople supporting parliament in the civil wars;&nbsp;or members of parliament, particularly those who are knowledgeable about politics. People supporting parliament in the civil wars;&nbsp;or members of parliament, particularly those who are knowledgeable about politics. granted supply because the queen lived ‘in most temperate manner, without excess either in building or other superfluous things of pleasure’,Cited in Neale, Elizabeth and Her Parliaments Vol. I, p. 348. whereas parliament asked of James, ‘to what purpose is it for us to draw a silver stream out of the country into the royal cistern, if it shall daily run out thence by private cocks?’Thomas Wentworth, cited in Smith, The Stuart Parliaments, p. 108. Tunnage and poundageParticular import and export duties, traditionally granted to the monarch for life by parliament. Particular import and export duties, traditionally granted to the monarch for life by parliament. , a traditionally-lifetime grant of customs duties, was given to Charles for just a year, disastrously forcing him to collect them on his own authority. Attempts by the Commons to control finance were not malicious attacks on the monarch. They were a reaction against increased expenditure and concern over misuse of funds, particularly by the duke of Buckingham. In 1625 every problem the Commons had with taxation was explained when they ‘fell into high Debates, alleging, that the Treasury was misemployed; that evil Counsels guided the King's Designs; that our Necessities arose through Improvidence; that they had need to Petition the King for a strait hand and better Counsel to manage his affairs’.Rushworth, 'Historical Collections: 1625 (Charles I)'.If there was anything organised about this, it came as much from Buckingham’s enemies as from an organised, ‘modern’ parliamentary opposition.

Limited extraordinary revenue led to greater reliance on prerogative finance such as impositionsAn unfair or unwelcome demand; or duties on trade, separate from customs duties An unfair or unwelcome demand; or duties on trade, separate from customs duties , monopoliesThe exclusive control of a supply or shade. Monopolies used to be granted by the monarch to an individual as a way of rewarding that individual, or for a handsome sum. The exclusive control of a supply or shade. MonopoliesThe exclusive control of a supply or shade. Monopolies used to be granted by the monarch to an individual as a way of rewarding that individual, or for a handsome sum. used to be granted by the monarch to an individual as a way of rewarding that individual, or for a handsome sum. , forced loansIn theory, money that had to be loaned to a monarch, on the monarch's instruction. However, forced loans were often seen as an extra-parliamentary form of taxation. In theory, money that had to be loaned to a monarch, on the monarch's instruction. However, forced loans were often seen as an extra-parliamentary form of taxation. , and ship moneyA tax that was traditionally levied on coastal areas for the building and maintenance of the navy, and for the local's protection from raiding. Charles I extended ship money so that it was due from inland areas as well. A tax that was traditionally levied on coastal areas for the building and maintenance of the navy, and for the local's protection from raiding. Charles I extended ship money so that it was due from inland areas as well. . But this was a breeding ground for conflict with parliament, and its increased use led to increased opposition. In addition to witnessing their raison d’etre diminish, and despite very few elections being contested, members were concerned for those they ‘represented’. MonopoliesThe exclusive control of a supply or shade. Monopolies used to be granted by the monarch to an individual as a way of rewarding that individual, or for a handsome sum. caused contention in the parliaments of 1597, 1601, and 1621. In 1601, William Spicer explained, ‘I speak not…either repining at her Majesty’s prerogative or misliking the reasons of her grants, but out of grief of heart to see the town wherein I serve pestered and continually vexed with the substitutes or viceregents of these monopolitans’.Cited in Neale, Elizabeth and Her Parliaments, Vol. II, pp. 377-8.James side-stepped personal criticism in the 1621 monopolies scandalAn event or action that causes public outrage, or the outrage caused by that event or action. An event or action that causes public outrage, or the outrage caused by that event or action. , but suffered opposition over impositions in almost every parliament of his reign. In 1610, parliamentary concern for ‘the ancient liberty of this kingdom and your subjects’ right of propriety of their lands and goods’, helped to stymiePrevent or hinder.  the Great Contract,Cited in Norah Carlin, The Causes of the English Civil War, Oxford: Blackwell (1999), p. 88.and disputes in 1614 prompted an ultimatumA final, uncompromising demand or set of terms, the rejection of which could lead to a severance of relations or to the use of force.A final, uncompromising demand or set of terms, the rejection of which could lead to a severance of relations or to the use of force. from James: move on, grant supply, or parliament will be dissolved. The answer, in like tone, was ‘Till…it shall please God to ease us of these impositions wherewith the whole kingdom does groan, we cannot without wrong to our country give your Majesty that relief which we desire.’Maija Cole, Proceedings in Parliament 1614: (House of Commons). (volumes i-iv) (England), Temple University, Ann Arbor, (1985) ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global, <https://search.proquest.com/docview/303413520?accountid=13042> [accessed on 25 October 2017] The result was the Addled ParliamentThe 1614 parliament during James I's reign, which was so argumentative that it was dissolved without passing any legislation. and a seven-year ‘personal rule’.

PrerogativeA right or privilege exclusive to a particular person or group. vs privilege

First parliament of James I
The first parliament of James I (1604-10)

Each parliament defended their privileges, and each monarch their prerogatives, but it was the strength of the monarch’s defence that determined how oppositional parliament became. The CommonsPeople who weren't members of the clergy nor the nobility, or the House of Commons.People who weren't members of the clergy nor the nobility, or the House of Commons. noted in their 1604 Apology that prerogative was ‘the chief and almost sole cause of all discontent and troublesome proceedings’.Cited in Kenyon, The Stuart Constitution, p. 29. Although the Apology is a prime piece of evidence for the WhigA member of the reforming and constitutional party that sought the supremacy of Parliament over the monarchy. The party was succeeded by the Liberal Party in the nineteenth century. A member of the reforming and constitutional party that sought the supremacyThe state of being superior to all others in authority, power, or status of Parliament over the monarchy. The party was succeeded by the Liberal Party in the nineteenth century. theory, it is also a ‘neurotically defensive’Ibid., p.25 reaction to Continental trends, where, ‘The prerogatives of princes may easily and do daily grow’.Cited in ibid., p. 32. This document, which was never agreed on by the House, is not the golden thread that proponents of the progression argument wish it to be, but the issues contained within were genuine.

Commandments defending the prerogative inevitably led to a contest over freedom of speech. James and Elizabeth both warned the Commons not to ‘argue and debate publicly of the matters far above their reach and capacity’,Cited in Smith, The Stuart Parliaments, p. 45. creating a backlash in the Commons. The perennial pain to prerogative Peter Wentworth repeatedly spoke in defence of free speech – without which parliament became ‘a very school of flattery and dissimulation’,Cited in Neale, Elizabeth and Her Parliaments, Vol. I, pp. 319-22. – in 1571, 1576, and 1587, before he was sent to the Tower for good in 1593. In 1621 disagreement over Charles’ proposed marriage led to the Commons defending their ‘ancient and undoubted right’. In turn, James argued that, ‘These are unfit things to be handled in Parliament except your king should require it of you’. Parliament’s response angered James so much that he ripped their Protestation out of the Commons JournalThe formal record of House of Commons business. and dissolved parliament shortly after.Smith, The Stuart Parliaments, p. 45.

Charles I by van Dyck, 1635
Van Dyck's portrait of Charles I, during Charles' Personal Rule (1635)

Elizabeth and James, as well as Charles, had members arrested, but their management of those arrests was better. Although James asserted that he was ‘very free and able to punish any man’s misdemeanoursMinor wrongdoings. in Parliament, as well during their sitting as after’, he waited until after parliament’s dissolution in 1622 to arrest the principal authors of the Protestation, and Wentworth’s arrest was based on actions outside parliament.Ibid. But in 1626, Dudley Digges and John Eliot were arrested while parliament was sitting in an attempt to prevent Buckingham’s impeachmentThe process by which a legislative body formally levels charges of treason or significant wrongdoing against a senior government official. . Charles conceded after the Commons went on strike, but his ‘actions represented a practical authoritarianism that went far beyond anything his father had done, and they reflected a much more high-handed attitude towards parliamentary privilege than James had ever displayed.’Ibid., p. 115.

A further tactic, used perhaps once by Elizabeth, more frequently by her successor, and to his absolute detriment by Charles, was the dissolution of parliament in anger. Both Elizabeth and Charles felt compelled to remind parliament they could ‘dissolve the meeting and send them home’,Neale, Elizabeth and Her Parliaments, Vol. II, p. 274 but only Charles threatened to fall ‘out of love with parliaments’ and ‘to use new counsels’.Kenyon, The Stuart Constitution, p. 45. In 1626, while not admitting any wrong-doing, parliament responded loyally to Charles’ threats: ‘They Beseech your most excellent Majesty to believe, that no earthly thing is so dear and precious to them, as that your Majesty should retain them in your grace and good opinion; and it is grief to them…that any misinformation, or misinterpretation, should at any time render their words or proceedings offensive to your Majesty.’Rushworth, 'Historical Collections: 1626, June - 1627 (March)'. The relationship could have been saved, but in dissolving parliament and refusing to deal with issues in a timely manner, Charles postponed the inevitable and allowed grievances to become more serious. The tunnage and poundageParticular import and export duties, traditionally granted to the monarch for life by parliament. Particular import and export duties, traditionally granted to the monarch for life by parliament. saga, which Paul Hunneyball uses as a showcase for the increased assertiveness of parliament, had such serious repercussions, not least in members holding the speaker in his chair until resolutions were read. But the actions of these men weren’t those of an organised opposition; they were the actions of an unheard and deeply frustrated group.

Challenging Charles

The way challenge was handled was, then, essential to maintaining the balance between monarch and parliament. To James, parliament’s privileges ‘were derived from the grace and permission’ of his ancestors, and he acted accordingly.Cited in Smith, The Stuart Parliaments, p. 46. But with experience – and coaxing – his opinion softened in show if not in substance. In 1624 he likened the relationship between king and parliament to that between husband and wife: ‘as it is the husband’s part to cherish his wife, to entreat her kindly, and reconcile himself towards her, and procure her love by all means, so it is my part to do the like to my people’.Cited in Kenyon, The Stuart Constitution, p. 43. Elizabeth understood the need for give-and-take, and knew that a flat-out refusal would only lead to more debate. Unlike Charles, she did not take criticism as a deliberate slur to her honour, and worked to address religious and financial grievances. Any other approach encouraged the Commons to look for precedent and demand their ancient rights. In this way a single issue could escalate into genuine opposition over the nature and role of parliament. This wasn’t parliament changing: it was the nature, understanding, and experience of the reigning monarch that changed.

George Villiers, Rubens, 1625
The pretty favourite of James I and Charles I, George Villiers, duke of Buckingham, painted by Rubens in 1625.

Charles carried forward his father’s bad traits, but seemingly none of his good, and the escalation of opposition from parliament in the 1620s and into the 1640s was a product of this. Parliament had held great hopes for Charles, noting in 1625 ‘that since he began to reign, the Grievances are few or none…Wherefore it will be the wisdom of this House to take a course to sweeten all things between King and People’.Rushworth, 'Historical Collections: 1625 (Charles I)'. That this entirely conciliatoryIntended or likely to placate or pacify. approach degraded so quickly must be about more than institutional change or the assertiveness of parliament. His absolute belief in divine right continued from beginning to end: in 1629 he stated that ‘princes are not bound to give account of their actions, but to God alone’, while just days before his death he wrote ‘that no earthly power can justly call me, who am your king, in question as a delinquent’.Cited in Kenyon, The Stuart Constitution, p. 71, p. 292. His stubbornness prevented him from compromising, and his reliance on favourites kept him secluded from parliament.  In not being heard at a normal volume, parliament was forced to shout.

Although some parliamentary opposition was undoubtedly generated by privy council conflict, there was genuine opposition to Charles’ advisers. Neither Buckingham, with his ‘exorbitant power, and frequent misdoings’Rushworth, 'Historical Collections: 1626, June - 1627 (March)'. nor the earl of Strafford, ‘that grand ApostateA person who renounces a religious or political belief or principle. to the CommonwealthThe countries once part of the British Empire; the interregnum in Britain; or the welfare of the public. ’,Rushworth and John, 'Historical Collections: April 1641'. were trusted. In seeking their removal, parliament was attempting to establish a better relationship with Charles, and usher in a period of ‘stability, wealth, and strength, and honour’.Rushworth, 'Historical Collections: 1626, June - 1627 (March)'. Charles, in acting against those few ‘turbulent and ill-affected spirits’,Cited in Kenyon, The Stuart Constitution, p. 71. likewise hoped for harmony. As Russell says, ‘both sides continued to think…that unity would return automatically if mischief-makers were removed, and so increasingly desperate attempts to restore unity became the cause of further disunity.’Conrad Russell, The Crisis of Parliaments: English History 1509-1660, Oxford: OUP (1971), p. 270.

That it took parliament – and the rump of it at that – until 1649 to execute the king shows there was little ideologyA system of ideas and ideals. involved. This was not a war over the idea of monarchyThe king/queen and royal family of a country, or a form of government with a king/queen at the head., nor over the supremacy of parliament. It was brought about by Charles’ failure to understand the fine balance between monarchy and the estates. In an ever-increasing vicious circle, Charles and parliament reacted against each other, creating further opposition. But at any point up to the dissolution in 1629, the situation could have been saved. Utilising James’ analogyA correspondence or partial similarity. , the relationship between king and parliament was like a, very unequal, marriage. The marriage worked when both sides were willing to communicate and to compromise. As soon as this stopped, the sniping, complaining about ‘friends’, and paranoia set in. Counselling (or Councillors) could have helped the marriage get through the rocky patch of the late 1620s, but Charles’ attempt at a separation put an end to hope. Ultimately, it was the bad kingship of Charles, not an increasingly-defined sense of parliamentary self, that led to an increase in parliamentary opposition. The parliaments of Charles I were significantly more oppositional than his predecessors, but they didn’t intend to be.

Things to think about

  • How far was the Civil War a result of Charles I's incompetence?
  • How had parliament's attitude changed since the accessionThe attainment or acquisition of a position of rank or power, often related to the throne. of Elizabeth I?
  • What external factors contributed to parliament's change of attitude?
  • How much did Charles' use of favourites alienate parliament?
  • Could the needs of prerogative an liberty ever be balanced effectively?
  • Was this period the birth of the modern parliament?
  • Could the Civil War have been avoided?

Things to do

  • A huge collection of parliamentary records, including all of the Commons and Lords journals, the Rushworth Papers and other parliamentary diaries, are available at British History Online. Conduct your own research to decide whether parliament's antagonism to the monarch increased over the period.
  • The Houses of Parliament are open to visitors Monday to Saturday, and offer a range of visiting experiences, from self-guided audio tours to family tours and the chance to watch debates or committees in session. More information about visiting can be found here.
  • Banqueting House is not just the place where Charles I was executed: its artwork also illustrates the Stuart monarchy's self-belief and ideology. You can find out more information about visiting and buy tickets here.

Further reading

Few recent books have been published that consider parliaments over the reigns of Elizabeth, James, and Charles. The last one to do so, and that is still useful and infinitely readable, is Conrad Russell's The Crisis Of Parliaments: English History, 1509-1660. There are many other books which consider the parliaments of the late Tudors and early Stuarts separately. The best of these are Michael Grave's Elizabethan Parliaments 1559-1601 and Robert Lockyer's The Early Stuarts: A Political History of England 1603-1642. Richard Cust provides an excellent political biography of Charles I in Charles I: A Political Life.