Charles didn’t expect to ascend the throne. He thought that his elder brother would be king, but Prince Henry died young and Charles was unexpectedly thrown into the limelight. He is an extraordinarily complex figure. He was a courageous man (he showed great courage in the course of the Civil War) and he’s capable of kindness, honour, and consideration. Although he can never be trusted, (he breaks his word regularly,) there’s also this insecurity in Charles, who needs to be obeyed. His sense of his own identity and his sense of his kingly office are very closely related to each other. If he’s not king, if he’s not obeyed, who is he?
What is has he left? Charles ruled by divine right. He was answerable to God, not to his subjects, not to parliaments. When parliaments were called – solely at the king’s discretion – their job was to give advice to help the king to pass laws and, above all, to give money – and then to go home again. After the murder of Buckingham in 1628, Parliament began to criticise Charles’ religious policy. He angrily dismissed his fourth Parliament in 1629 and declared his intention of ruling alone. This eleven-year period of the King’s “Personal Rule” was known as the “Eleven Years Tyranny” to his opponents.
Charles thought it was time the nation was brought to order. The 1620s had been a time of tremendous turbulence – conflict in Parliament, great religious controversy – and Charles looked to his fellow monarchs in France and Spain who were able to deal with this kind of trouble more effectively than he did. In a way, Charles was a reformer, an administrative reformer. He tightened up his government. He wanted to make his government financially independent of Parliament. He wanted to build up the authority of the government, and the Church is one way through which he can do this.
The Church has something of a monopoly of power and influence in shaping the values and the conduct of society in this period of history. It was initially successful however and, during the turmoil of the Civil Wars, many people looked back upon it as a golden age of peace and prosperity. Charles had made peace with Spain and France by 1630, which stabilised the kings’ financial situation, as parliament was his main source of income he needed to save and find alternative methods of collecting money. Trade and commerce grew; and the King’s finances were stable by 1635.
This enabled him to commission great works of art by Rubens and Van Dyck, and also to build up the Royal Navy for England’s defence. But without Parliament to grant legal taxes, Charles was obliged to raise income by obscure and highly unpopular means including forced loans, the sale of commercial monopolies and, most notoriously of all, ship money. Along with Charles’ controversial religious policies, these measures alienated many natural supporters of the Crown, including powerful noblemen like Lord Saye and Sele, and wealthy landowners like John Hampden.
It is important to note that in the 17th century, people thought that their souls were at stake, and the Puritans thought that if you believed the wrong things, you went to Hell. If you worshipped in the wrong way, this would take you away from God; it would take you towards the Devil. So it is about the organisation of society, about social and political relationships, but it’s also about the afterlife. Patriotism comes into this, too. Protestants think of themselves as the ‘English religion’. Catholicism is a foreign, alien force.
The papacy had been booted out, the monarchy had taken over and it was the job of the monarchy to stand up to popery abroad, to crush popery at home. In religion, Charles favoured the elaborate and ritualistic High Anglican (Arminian) form of worship. He appointed William Laud Archbishop of Canterbury in 1633. Laud was unpopular from the start as he came from a working class background and was seen as common and popish. Puritans especially resented his rapid rise, and his new found authority. Laud insisted upon strict compliance with the established tenets of the Church and vigorously supported the King’s Divine Right.
Puritans interpreted much of the Laudian liturgy as being dangerously close to Roman Catholic practices. Previous rulers had understood that you had to have some flexibility in religious policy if you were to preserve harmony. There were bound to be tensions within Protestantism, between the desire to cling to the old and the desire to create anew. But Charles was not a man for compromise or flexibility. He felt that the government is to be obeyed. He made up his mind on his religious and political policies, and he demanded obedience to them. His subjects had to be brought to obedience.
It had to be built up and opposition to it had to be broken. Because religion and politics are so closely intertwined, he wanted to make the Church uniform, as well as the state. The King’s marriage to the French Catholic princess Henrietta Maria in 1625 had also caused consternation amongst English Protestants, particularly as she was allowed to practise her religion openly and freely. In some quarters, Henrietta Maria’s influence over the King and the royal children was regarded as part of an international papist conspiracy against the Protestant faith.
After Buckingham’s death the Queen had a considerable influence on Charles, yet not an absolute one, for example she disliked both Laud and Strafford, the kings principle ministers, and disagreed over all religious matters as she regarded the Church of England as a heretic church. Whereas the gentry saw James’ court as immoral it was however an open one (in stark contrast with that of Charles), and James made regular hunting trips around the country, and was in public view frequently. He even visited the country houses of the gentry and aristocracy, and invited them to court.
Again, Charles in complete contrast rarely made public appearances and never visited the homes of his subjects. Indeed after Buckingham’s death the court became a closed off ‘inner circle’ of advisers, bishops, generals, the Queen and who ever else Charles thought should attend. This made people fearful that popish plotters, catholic conspirators, evil counsellors and absolutists were monopolising the king’s time, and adversely affecting the way the government worked and its policies.
To an extent their suspicions were justified, for certainly at least 4 of the kings leading councillors were catholic (including, of course, the Queen) and many were absolutists, such as Wentworth. They were not however unified and were constantly conflicting with one and other, indeed there was intense rivalry rife among most of the court. The sensual, ceremonial aspects of Laudianism attracted Charles. He couldn’t understand Puritanism. He thought Puritans were hypocrites. These were people who wanted to weaken the state and they were using the Church as a cloak for their political ambitions.
So he never trusted them and he wanted to break them and that’s what Laud would do for him. He sees his religious policies as a way of bringing the country together or promoting harmony. Until Archbishop Laud comes along, not many people want to overthrow the structure of the Church. Bishops – which you might think were a remnant of popery – had survived. They hadn’t in other Protestant countries, but they had in England, when you expect Puritans to have wanted to overthrow episcopacy. But they didn’t in large numbers until Archbishop Laud made the institution so hateful in their eyes.
They felt that, as long as the king can appoint people like Laud to power, there’s a danger. They supported lectureships, preaching, and the spreading of the Word, the means by which God’s grace would be imparted to people. Charles and Laud were seen as preventing this. It seemed the most extraordinary affront. And they thought, like many people, that there was a popish conspiracy to exterminate Protestantism. For although Charles himself was high-minded and devout, his religious policies were intensely divisive and eventually turned Puritans like Pym and Cromwell against him.
In collaboration with Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford (in all but name Charles’ second in command) and Archbishop Laud, he insisted upon religious conformity across England, Scotland and Ireland. This went disastrously wrong when the Anglican liturgy and Laudian Prayer Book were forced upon the Scottish in 1637, resulting in the creation of the Scottish National Covenant against interference in religion and the Bishops Wars between the two nations. In 1632 a decree from the Star Chamber banned the sale of newssheets. There are however still printing presses.
Books are published, there are a few pamphlets on current affairs, lots of sermons, but there’s fairly tight control through censorship. There’s a strict limit to the sorts of opinions that can be expressed, and Archbishop Laud is very firm on cracking down on any kind of printing that goes against the party line. In 1637 for example he imposed an extremely harsh punishment on 3 respected gentlemen, a lawyer, a clergyman and a physician, the most famous being William Prynne, who had already received harsh punishment at the hands of Laud in 1633.
These men lost their ears, were fined i?? 5000, sentenced to life imprisonment and Prynne was branded SL for seditious libeller. Many people thought these gentlemen were unjustly and harshly treated, especially as Laud was the perpetrator of the punishment and the punished were Protestants. This also alienated many liberals who believed in freedom of press and freedom of belief. In order to finance war against the Scots, Charles was obliged to recall Parliament in 1640, bringing his eleven-year personal rule to an end.
Although Charles was acting tyrannically in the eyes of his subjects at the time, and his personal rule could easily be described as tyrannical, due to strict religious policies, harsh punishments, strong censorship, the use of ancient forgotten forms of taxation (seen by many as illegal, by many more as unreasonable) and the simple fact that he was ruling without parliament but with many unpopular advisers, it is also important to note that Charles was acting as he thought best, in a time of tremendous religious upheaval, and had only good intentions of unifying his country and ruling effectively.
His personal rule was tyrannical fundamentally because he was an absolutist autocratic monarch believing himself accountable only to God, not to his subjects. This therefore caused tremendous problems, as he was not answerable to the people he was ruling. He was however ruling the only way he thought it possible, but almost certainly putting too much faith and responsibility in unpopular and tyrannical advisers who were only accountable to him and appointed by him without reference to his subjects.
This therefore made the advisers unpopular, many of whom were certainly tyrannical, many were rivals (i. e. Wentworth and Laud), most were power hungry, and worst of all of course, some were suspected catholic converts! (Treasurer Weston, Secretary of State Windebanke and Court of Wards Master Cottington) The Queen was also a principle adviser, and being Catholic this was feared and resented. This led many to believe Charles was attempting to re-institute Catholicism ‘through the back door. His reliance, dependence and the responsibility he placed on his ministers were in my opinion the main reason for the tyrant label. Charles should have been less ignorant to the wishes of his people. Although the intention was good, the execution of his ideas, beliefs and schemes was not. Charles does not conform to the popular definition (stereotype) of a tyrant, as he did not rule through military force, rather through the will of the nation as a whole, making him different from this definition.
He was not a tyrant in quite the same vein as the dictators of the last century, for he did not advocate the use of secret police or other tyrannical military forces (used by most ‘typical’ tyrants) to rule through fear, oppression and murder. However, Charles Stuart’s tyranny obviously seems rather insignificant in comparison to that most infamous tyrant of not so long ago. This does not however mean that he wasn’t a tyrant, just a much less tyrannical one than Mr Hitler! On the contrary, he was negligent in his position, as his rule for these 11 years was autocratic it is to an extent appropriate to give him the tyrant tag.
For even if not directly responsible for the tyranny of this period many of his tyrannical policies were the result of his appointment of ‘bad’ advisers (such as William Laud and Thomas Wentworth), for whom he was ultimately responsible. I would therefore say, to a lesser extent than the modern tyrants, although there are some interesting parallels with Russia under Nicholas II (Both were unwilling monarchs who ended up dead at the hands of revolutionaries), Yes Charles was tyrannical.
He did create an effective government which in earlier years would have been adequate, however his divine right ideas were antiquated and outmoded. Metaphorically, Charles was past his expiration date, and as a result turned rotten the whole structure of government and religion in Britain at this time. In conclusion, Charles was ruling in the past, and he had not evolved or attempted to evolve the office of king according to the changing beliefs and needs of his people, this made him a tyrant as he was ruling without regard for the people he claimed sovereignty over.