The English Wars and Republic, 1637–1660 (Questions and Analysis in History)

The English Wars and Republic, 1637-1660 by Graham E. Seel (Paperback, 1999)
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Open conflict was regarded as a sign of failure in the political process. And yet, despite all of that, in the mid-seventeenth century that system collapsed. In , civil war broke out between the crown and the parliament. In , King Charles I was put on trial by a High Court of Justice formed from parliament and executed and a republic was declared which lasted for over a decade. Now these were political events of quite extraordinary radicalism for the seventeenth century. Kings had been deposed and replaced in the past; kings had been killed in battle; kings had sometimes been murdered by rival claimants; but never before had a reigning monarch been formally put on trial and called to account and then executed.

In the view of this school there was no deep-rooted malaise in the English body politic, no great clash of fundamental constitutional principles, no high road to civil war.

Rather, as they tell the story, the catastrophe of the s was the result of short-term misjudgments and unforeseen contingent circumstances, almost a tragic accident, though one which came to have very profound consequences. But these debates continue and they continue in a sense because the English civil wars are still being fought on paper because the seventeenth century was a defining moment in British political history. First of all that the traditional interpretation was perhaps a little too teleological and that the role of short-term contingency was neglected in that story, but on the other hand, recognizing that in its more extreme manifestations revisionism is almost willfully shortsighted as an interpretation.

Above all, it fails to take account of the larger context of political life in the nation and of the changing social and cultural context within which politics took place. But they did happen. We have to be alive to the importance in politics of contingent circumstances and the interventions of specific individuals.

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But at the same time we have to remain aware of the fact that short-term conflicts can have a cumulative effect and politics was not conducted in a social or ideological vacuum. On the contrary, the mood of the political nation in was by and large one of celebration. Everything looked great. There were certainly some tensions in his relationships with parliament when it was called. In , for example, parliament rejected plans for what was called the Great Contract, which would have granted to the king a regular annual taxation income in return for abolishing certain antiquated and archaic feudal revenues.

It failed. They were too anxious to maintain control of the purse for it to go through. He was certainly not used to having such an independent-minded body as the English parliament. Scotland had a parliament but it was very much under the control of the king. He was prone at times to lecturing the members of parliament when he believed them to have encroached upon his sovereignty, but of course Elizabeth had done that in her time. James was also ready to use his power to dissolve parliament when he became exasperated with it.

English Civil War

But, nevertheless, if James had any pretensions to absolute power they were strictly theoretical. And so he did, like the shrewd and canny monarch that he was. The s turned out to be a decade of mounting crisis and acute political polarization, a polarization which was vividly reflected in the relations between crown and parliament, and this situation arose from a combination of factors.

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Thus the gross and stupid monks have been so carried away by their blindness as to pursue with calumnies those whose learning. Indeed, in contemporary European terms it was insignificant. The Webster-Ashburton Treaty was the leading accomplishment. Labor Movement. Skip to main content.

It partly involved foreign policy difficulties. It partly involved religion. It partly involved engagement in war; and taxation; perceived threats to the common law. And it all came to a focus on the person of one man; George Villiers, the Duke of Buckingham. Becoming favorite of the king, he had been rapidly advanced to titles and to fortune. By the early s, he not only held high office but he was also using his position to become increasingly dominant in the control of royal patronage, with all that that meant.

Buckingham also dazzled Prince Charles and retained his position as royal favorite when Charles came to the throne in By , he appears to have had virtually a monopoly over influence on policy. Together with that, his manifest incompetence rendered him odious in the eyes of the political nation. So Buckingham came to provide something of a focus for deteriorating relations between the crown and the political nation.

But the broad context for that deterioration was provided by other events, notably events in Europe. And that was the situation which began the slide into confrontation. To sum it all up briefly, there were five parliaments between and Three of them were dissolved acrimoniously after quarrels between the King and parliament.

A Trumpet of Sedition: The Civil Wars Martyn Bennett,, Sutton Pocket Histories

On three occasions the King acrimoniously dissolved parliament and sent them home. This developing atmosphere of conflict was made worse when, after , King Charles resorted to measures of questionable legality in order to sustain his policies. And such conflict was fought out in parliament after parliament through assertions of parliamentary privilege and constitutional principle which were met by the use of the royal prerogative to dissolve parliament and silence critics of royal policy. Parliament voted a modest subsidy to support armies for the Palatinate but also petitioned James to declare war on Spain and to abandon the plans which he had formed to marry Prince Charles to a Spanish princess and to assure a Protestant marriage instead.

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King James was furious. His plan for a marriage with Spain was part of a larger scheme to try to end the polarization within Europe. It was part of his scheme for securing good relations with Spain which might help forward a negotiated settlement and the withdrawal of Spanish troops, and he forbade the commons to meddle in this grand design. There was uproar. Well, James did not go to war with Spain as parliament desired and he persisted with his plans for a Spanish marriage. This occasioned massive anxiety in England followed by widespread public rejoicing when the marriage negotiations eventually fell through.

Humiliated by their failure, Charles and Buckingham now began to exert their influence to back the idea of war with Spain.

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In , parliament was called again. It voted money to the crown but withheld the finance bill until war was reluctantly declared by King James. And England entered the war in alliance with France, an alliance which involved the marriage of Prince Charles to the French princess, Henrietta Maria, sister of the King of France, a Catholic who arrived in England with a Catholic entourage including priests and confessors. In , Charles came to the throne. He was now aged twenty-five. Parliament met at the beginning of the reign as was customary and voted money for the continuation of the war, but it failed to grant the King the usual grant of customs revenue for life.

In September of that year, September of , the Duke of Buckingham led an English naval expedition to attack the Spanish port of Cadiz, attempting to emulate the great feat of Francis Drake when he had attacked Cadiz in the s, but Buckingham was not Francis Drake. His expedition was an utter failure, demonstrating gross military incompetence on the part of the Duke. Following that humiliation, in parliament met again to provide money for the war.

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It proved willing to vote supply to the crown but it demanded that its grievances should be rectified before the finance bill was finally passed. And the grievances were above all a torrent of hostility towards Buckingham and other new councilors influencing the King, notably the Arminian bishops who were being brought in to the privy council. The Commons proceeded to try to draw up articles of impeachment against Buckingham for his incompetence.

Charles attempted to halt them by illegally imprisoning several members of the House of Commons, and when that failed he again dissolved parliament in order to save the Duke from impeachment proceedings. No money was granted. In need of money to finance the war, Charles and Buckingham now decided to levy a massive forced loan. To make matters worse, Buckingham now secured a declaration of war not only against Spain but against France also and squandered the forced loan money by leading another disastrous naval expedition, this time to aid French Protestants who were rebelling against Louis XIII of France in the city of La Rochelle on the coast of southwest France; another military disaster.

This deteriorating situation finally came to a head in to Parliament was called again, again to raise money, and it met in an ominous mood. The House of Commons started by promising to vote the King a large sum of money but again insisted that their grievance issue be heard before the finance bill was finalized. Again there was a torrent of complaint concerning grievances arising from the forced loan and the conduct of the war under Buckingham, and finally all of this was encapsulated in the so-called Petition of Right, the Petition of Right, which was presented to the King requesting that he confirm the liberties of the subject threatened by the recent conduct of his government.

In order to get the necessary money, Charles reluctantly agreed to the Petition of Right, though insisting that in doing so he was not surrendering any of his prerogative powers. That was in June Parliament then adjourned and went into recess, and before it met again the Duke of Buckingham was assassinated in August by one of his former officers, an event which was greeted by almost universal public rejoicing throughout England.

In January , parliament reconvened and attempted to press its advantage. There was a vigorous attack upon the recently promoted Arminian bishops in the church who were accused of introducing popish innovations, as we heard last time. They refused to allow him to announce the dissolution.

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Certainly, the conflicts did arise from the contingent circumstances surrounding particular meetings of parliament, and certainly the members of the political nation would have preferred a consensual relationship with the royal government — they repeatedly showed their willingness to grant the taxes necessary for the war on certain conditions; they would have liked to establish a new consensus. Now all of those issues, which do recur, add up to a pretty heady mixture. And, as you know, these anxieties were widely shared well outside the confines of the houses of parliament, widely shared by a broad and growing political public which was informed by novel means of political news reporting which emphasized not consensus but danger and conflict.

The emergence of a broad public opinion which expected parliament to act to remedy its concerns was surely something which was part and parcel of the deterioration of relationships between the crown and the political nation at large — and the fact that not all of those who learned of what was happening at the center were necessarily sympathetic to parliament deepened the emerging political division in the country.

No one who took a serious interest in political affairs at this time could really fail to be aware that there was something of a functional breakdown in the consensual political system by the later s, and of course they had to explain to themselves what was going on. They associated together popery and arbitrary power, which was to prove a dominant theme in seventeenth-century English oppositional politics that association of affairs in church and state, popery and arbitrary power, was already being made.

That was one conspiracy theory. Which is to say they saw them as crypto-Presbyterians, Puritans, popular spirits. But with the dissolution of parliament in the forum for the public expression of the first of these sets of anxieties had been removed. Parliament was no longer there, and the conduct of government lay with people like Archbishop Laud or Thomas Wentworth, the Earl of Strafford, who shared the second view.

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Wentworth in particular was a man who had been vehemently opposed as a member of parliament to the Duke of Buckingham, but who recoiled in from what he took to be the excesses of parliament threatening the breakdown of order. Laud and Wentworth proved strong allies of the King who himself of course took the view that popular spirits were at work and was determined not to call another parliament in which they could express their voice if he could possibly avoid it.

Wars of the Three Kingdoms

So, with the dissolution of , to Charles and his advisers the s represented something of a fresh start. Peace was made first of all with France in and then with Spain in In Europe the situation was becoming less threatening. In , the Protestant King of Sweden intervened in Germany, and then in France under Cardinal Richelieu intervened, and together that greatly lessened the threat of Hapsburg domination and a triumphant counter-reformation.

At home Charles was determined to close down the consultative and participatory dimensions of the political process. He believed that it had led only to obstruction, disruption, and conflict and he would have no more of it if possible. But he was also determined to rule well according to his own lights. In , following a harvest crisis he issued a Book of Orders which tightened up the administration of local government with particular attention to the efficient enforcement of the poor laws and a great deal was achieved in that respect.

Steps were taken to reform the militia, to institute the training to a higher level of military preparedness of part of the militia, and steps were also instituted to rebuild and strengthen the navy. As you know, Arminianism continued to be ruthlessly promoted in the church under Archbishop Laud, who became Archbishop of Canterbury of course in In the absence of parliamentary grants of taxation, the King also resorted to a variety of financial expedients which were of questionable legality.

There were many of these. He was digging up a medieval precedent in order to squeeze money out of certain members of the landed gentry. It was deeply resented.