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17th Century England Index

Introduction : Constitutional Government
Towards Civil War
The First English Civil War
Cromwell and the New Model Army
The Second English Civil War
The Trial and Execution of Charles I
The English Republic (1649 - 1660)
Life in Cromwell's England
Charles II : "The Merry Monarch"
Whigs and Tories
James II and the Monmouth Rebellion (1685)
The "Glorious Revolution" of 1688
The Bill of Rights
John Locke and the "Treatises on Government"

History Chapters Main Index

James I

Portrait of James I of England by John De Critz the Elder
(circa 1606)

The Duke of Buckingham (1592-1628)

The Duke of Buckingham

Portrait of The Duke of Buckingham
attributed to William Larkin (circa 1616)

George Villiers was created the first Duke of Buckingham by Charles I in 1623. He had acted as advisor to Charles' father, James I and continued in that role when Charles succeeded to the throne. The Duke was arrogant and exceedingly unpopular. He was responsible for arranging the marriage between Charles I and the Catholic princess Henrietta-Maria of France, an alliance which did not please the English Protestants.

In 1627 he took 8000 men to La Rochelle to help the French Huguenots (Protestants) who were besieged in the city by French Catholic troops. He failed in his effort and, on his return to England, Parliament tried to force the king to dismiss him. (This was the second time that Parliament had tried to be rid of Buckingham. In 1626 it had attempted to impeach the Duke but Charles had dissolved Parliament to save his friend.) Once again in 1627 Charles refused Parliament's demand.

Later in the same year the Duke went to Portsmouth to organize a second expeditionary force to relieve the Huguenots in La Rochelle. He was stabbed to death a few days after his arrival by a naval lieutenant called John Felton.







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17th Century England

James I and the Divine Right of Kings

"Good Queen Bess" died in 1603 leaving no heirs. The crown of England went to James VI of Scotland, a distant cousin, who became James I of England.

Elizabeth had been a woman of brilliant ability. One of her greatest abilities had been to inspire both love and fear at the same time among her people. It had been the fashion for courtiers and poets to pay her extravagant compliments, to write flattering verses, to sing of the grace and wisdom and beauty and power of "Gloriana, the Virgin Queen".

Her successor, James I (1603-1625), the first of the Stuart family to reign in England, seemed a poor thing compared to Elizabeth. He was neither heroic or attractive. Small and plump, with thin legs, rolling his eyes and an over-large tongue, he seemed older than his thirty six years. Probably this was due to illness, for he suffered from piles and diarrhoea. His personal habits were revolting. He dribbled, picked his nose and often made himself sick through over-eating. He wore extra padding in his clothes in case anyone attacked him. It was hard to believe that his mother, Mary Queen of Scots, had been so beautiful.

However, in other ways James was a suitable successor to Elizabeth. Like the Tudor Queen he was well educated. He was a biblical expert and the author of books on monarchy, witchcraft, sport and smoking. Only his fear of black magic was unworthy of a learned man.

The greatest problem of James' reign (and that of his son, Charles) was that he believed in the Divine Right of Kings. This had been a commonly held view since the Middle Ages. Kings were appointed by God from above and had supernatural powers. If anyone dared to question a king then he was questioning God: This amounted, in fact, to blasphemy. Even if a king behaved badly no one could criticize him; only God, in his own time, could punish him.

James had written his ideas down in "The True Law of Free Monarchies" in 1598 and he liked to quote the book in Parliament to remind the MPs to keep in their place.

"The State of monarchy is the supreme thing on Earth........ As to dispute what God may do is blasphemy, so is it treason in subjects to dispute what a king may do....."

A good king will frame his actions according to the law, yet he is not bound thereto but of his own goodwill."

James I "True Law of Free Monarchies" (quoted in "Early Modern Age" by L.E. Snellgrove)


Charles I rules without Parliament

Charles I of England

Portrait of Charles I of England
(from the studio of Anthony van Dyck, 1636)

Charles I, who became king in 1625, also believed in the Divine Right of Kings. To make matters worse, more and more Puritans were becoming MPs and demanding changes in the Church of England. They suspected the new king to be secretly sympathetic to Catholics, particularly when he married Henrietta Maria, a French Catholic princess. Neither did the MPs like the Duke of Buckingham, James I's favourite courtier and Charles I's chief adviser.

When in 1629, Parliament obstructed the king's right to tax his people, Charles dissolved Parliament. For eleven years (the "Eleven Years Tyranny") he managed to rule alone, reviving old medieval taxes that most people had forgotten about, such as Ship Money, to raise his revenues.

In the 1630's Charles and Archbishop Laud began to make changes to the Church of England, but not in the ways Puritans wanted. On the contrary, the king and Archbishop wanted churches and church services to be more decorated and ornate. To the Puritans this was simply a way of making the Church of England more like the hated Catholic Church.

In Parliament more and more MPs were Puritans; some of them were extremely wealthy and powerful.


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