Charles I Pennies (1625 - 1649 AD)
Charles was the second son of James I and, like his father, he enjoyed an autocratic authority. He asserted the theory of the divine right of kings, by which kings were appointed by God and could not be deposed. Charles used his royal powers to levy taxes without the consent of Parliament, married the Catholic Princess Henrietta Maria of France and interfered in the appointment of ecclesiastical officials. His proposed reform of the church in Scotland, which would dilute its Calvinist traditions, caused such opposition that English control was weakened.
Charles’s many early supporters were gradually alienated by his arrogant attitudes and inventive use of ancient duties to extract ever more money from his subjects, against the opposition of the English and Scottish Parliaments. In 1641 the English House of Commons published a list of formal complaints against the king (the ‘grand remonstrance’) in which his alleged abuses of power were set out; shortly afterwards, the Irish staged a rebellion which many believed to have been abetted by the king. When Parliament moved to restrict the authority of the queen, Charles took direct action to track down the five leaders whom he believed to be responsible; the Speaker’s refusal to cooperate with Charles demonstrated that the king had lost authority, and no English king has entered the House of Commons since that day in 1642.
Public opinion soon began to polarize around two factions: those who were for Parliament (Parliamentarians) and those who supported the king (Royalists) and both groups began to arm themselves. Hostilities began in October 1642 at Edgehill and continued for two years without any decisive engagements. Parliamentarian military superiority was demonstrated at Naseby in 1644 and for the next two years the Royalist cause suffered a series of indecisive defeats until the siege of Oxford, from which he barely escaped alive. He surrendered to a Scottish Presbyterian regiment at Newark who held him prisoner in Northamptonshire.
Meanwhile there was growing suspicion within Parliament of the army’s leadership, and Charles hoped to exploit the widening division by endless fruitless negotiation. He escaped to the Isle of Wight but was held prisoner in Carisbrooke Castle in 1647, and the following year a resurgent Royalist movement took up arms supported by a fresh Scottish army; its destruction at the battle of Preston ended the Royalists’ hopes for a military victory. In 1649 the legal framework was put in place for the trial of the king; having shown himself untrustworthy and devious, Parliament no longer felt able to negotiate with Charles in good faith. The king refused to recognise the right of the court to try him, and his high-handed manner during the trial made a conviction unavoidable. He was taken for execution and his head was struck off on 30 January 1649.
Following Charles I’s reign an eleven year period of Parliamentary rule without a monarch ensued, overseen by Oliver Cromwell and latterly his son Richard as Lord Protector.