After ruling without Parliament since 1629, Charles was finally forced to call Parliament in April 1640 when his conflict with Scotland culminating in the Bishop’s Wars left him in severe financial difficulty. However, this ‘Short Parliament’ lasted less than a month as Charles refused to listen to the grievances of MPs angered by Personal Rule. This meant that the Parliament was dissolved without any subsidies being voted for war with Scotland and after the Second Bishop’s War in August 1640, Charles called another parliament in November 1640, with no option but to listen to their grievances in return for war subsidies.
The MPs of the ‘Long Parliament’ opening at Westminster on November 3rd 1640 were united in their determination to change recent governing policies of Charles I’s Personal Rule. Their stance became known as the ‘anti-court consensus’, and they had every hope of achieving their aims – the preservation of the old constitution from the King and his advisors, who had temporarily suspended it – through discussion and persuasion.
At first the parliament was productive, their ambitious programme of legislative reform co-ordinated by John Pym, a member of the House of Commons, who avoided potentially divisive issues to unite Parliament against the King and his advisors. Many of Parliament’s main aims were achieved within the first few weeks. Several of Charles’ advisors fled in fear of their lives, while Laud was impeached and imprisoned in the Tower of London, and an Act of Attainder led to the execution of Strafford.
The controversial financial initiatives such as Ship Money and Distraint of Knighthood introduced by Charles to raise extra-parliamentary revenue, and the Prerogative Courts used by Charles and his ministers at their own discretion were all abolished. At this point Parliament-Crown relations appeared fairly satisfactory; Parliament had succeeded in restoring the Constitution, and Charles had persuaded them to vote two subsidies in December 1640. However, it was not long after this that splits began to appear in parliament which led to the deterioration of the relationship between King and Parliament.
The first cause of a division was with the presentation of the ‘Root and Branch Petition’ in December 1640 to Parliament. It called for the abolition of bishops, an issue over which MPs took two distinct viewpoints – either strongly supporting or strongly opposing it. This was then carried forward and presented as a Bill in 1641, when it again caused a division of opinion among MPs. Using the Act of Attainder against Strafford was also controversial – several MPs felt that to condemn Strafford in such a way was equal to the much hated tactics he had used in the 1630s.
At a similar time that these divisions were occurring, the Crown-Parliament relationship was placed under strain as Parliament pursued more revolutionary actions, restricting royal power to a point beyond the old constitution. The Triennial Act of February 1641 removed the possibility of another period of Personal Rule by decreeing that Parliament must be called at least once every three years, while in May 1641 an act was passed to pass the responsibility of dissolving parliament to parliament itself, rather than the King.
These revolutionary acts had the potential for causing great conflict between Charles and the ‘Long Parliament’ but Charles accepted them, perhaps because he later hoped to overturn them or because he was distracted by the execution of Strafford. Pym’s ‘Ten Propositions’, including a request that the King commit ‘his own business and the affairs of the Kingdom to such councillors and officers as the Parliament may have cause to confide in’, were accepted by Parliament in the Summer of 1641, but yet another potential source of conflict was avoided when parliament was adjourned in August to allow Charles to conclude his treaty with the Scots.
However, while in Scotland, a plot to kidnap the leaders of the ‘Covenanteers’, although unknown of by Charles, increased distrust of the King and he was forced to appoint all the leading Covenanteers to all the key positions in Scotland. The English Parliament was left thinking that it would be possible to control Charles in a similar way, whereas before they had only suggested choosing the King’s ministers. By the time Parliament began its Second Session in October 1641, the splits between MPs were far more obvious.
Now the constitutional abuses of Personal Rule had been addressed, some MPs wanted to introduce further revolutionary reforms – with Pym’s ‘Grand Remonstrance’ – while others – ‘Constitutional Royalists’ – believed that the King had to be trusted again for the constitution to succeed. With his support growing, Charles was placed in a stronger position, and had he consistently followed the advice of the ‘Constitutional Royalists’, he could have presented himself as a symbol of order and stability and a trustworthy monarch, which would undoubtedly have undermined Pym and his followers.
However, Charles did not follow this path and it has been suggested that this is one factor which contributed to the further breakdown of his relationship with Parliament. “Charles I was ill suited to cope with his plight… while it would be foolish to conclude that the Civil War occurred simply because Charles was King, it would be equally foolish to underestimate the part played by his personality. “1 His position was further damaged towards the end of 1641 when, searching for new advisors, Charles turned to his Catholic wife Henrietta Maria and her supporters fro advice, thus increasing fears of a move towards absolutism.
In his appointment of Thomas Lunsford as Governor of the Tower of London, Charles showed that he was considering a military coup; the situation became more damaging when he was shown to back down under parliamentary pressure. The rebellion in Ireland in November 1641 damaged Crown-Parliament relations further as the rebels claimed to be acting in Charles’ name and the question arose over who would command the army to quash the rebellion.
Traditionally it was the King’s undoubted right to command the army, but on 8th November Parliament voted to instruct Charles that they would only help him raise an army if he appointed their choice of commander. In undertaking yet another, unprecedented, revolutionary action, Parliament can be seen as responsible for the further breakdown of relations with Charles which led to the ‘Five Members Coup’ of 3rd January 1642 and deteriorated relations even further. “It was in Parliament, and particularly in the House of Commons, that the opposition [to the King] built its … ase. ”
Fearing the impeachment of Henrietta Maria, Charles rashly ordered the impeachment of those he believed were the ringleaders of the plots against him. When this order was ignored, he entered the House of Commons on the 5th January with three hundred troops to arrest the ‘five members’ – Pym, Hampden, Strode, Haselridge and Holles. Although the members had been forewarned and escaped, the effects of this attempted military coup were far reaching. It pushed more support to Pym, and people began to doubt whether the King could ever be trusted.
Fearing civil war the King escaped from London, worsening the situation by creating an impression of two sides negotiating from a distance. In his actions at this time the King can be seen as highly responsible for the severe breakdown in relations with Parliament following the Five Members Coup, and his inconsistent behaviour, alternating between appeasement and preparation for war, was also a contributing factor. However, what must not be forgotten are the events leading to the Five Members Coup, which were the responsibility of Parliament for attempting to introduce acts far beyond the restoration of the constitution.
We sink insensibly into this state of civil war. “3 After the Five Members Coup, there was considerable unrest in the rest of England, including rioting among weavers in the Stour Valley, and the gentry began to arm itself, fearing the country would slide into anarchy. A ‘paper war’ was conducted between Charles and Parliament, each side attempting to recruit the uncommitted to their cause. Parliament again acted against precedent in March 1642 in issuing the Militia Ordinance, which prepared the militia for action, and which could in theory only be issued by the King.
He responded with the Commissions of Array in June, his own call to arms which was based on a very ancient legal device and was not widely accepted, most of the gentry supporting the Militia Ordinance ‘for the defence of King and Parliament’ Pym felt himself to be in a strong permission and effectively started the civil war with an uncompromising list of demands to Charles, the ‘Nineteen Propositions’, which would have served to make the king a constitutional monarch. They were a list of demands which Charles found unacceptable and the king declared war on Parliament on 22nd August 1642.
Within two years the relationship between Parliament and Charles had deteriorated to such an extent that England was at war. Parliament can be seen as wholly responsible for the deterioration because of its insistence in pushing controversial, revolutionary reforms through Parliament. However, I do not believe it can be held entirely responsible as several of Charles’ actions worsened his relations with Parliament, for example his indecisive behaviour. Therefore I would say that responsibility for the breakdown of Crown-Parliament relations between 1640-2 must be apportioned more or less equally between the two factions.