17th Century England Index
Introduction : Constitutional Government
James I and the Divine Right of Kings
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
Events leading up to the Civil War
1625 King Charles I married Henrietta Maria, a French Catholic princess.
1626 Parliament tried to discredit the Duke of Buckingham. He was the king's advisor and he was not trusted by Parliament. Charles reacted by sending two MPs to prison.
1628 Parliament was supposed to vote for taxes, but because it wanted the king to agree to certain reforms, it voted against letting him collect a tax called the Customs Duty. Charles went ahead and collected this tax anyway.
1629 Charles dissolved (broke up) Parliament. Since the MPs were causing him so much trouble, he decided to rule without them. The king did not allow Parliament to meet for the next eleven years.
1634 Charles needed money but there was no Parliament to vote new taxes. He looked back for forgotten taxes which had been voted in the past. There existed a Ship Money tax which was paid by counties on the coast in time of war, to be used for ship construction only.
1635 Charles changed the rules about the Ship Money tax. He started to collect it from all counties during peacetime.
1637 Charles tried to force Laud's new Prayer Book, which was influenced by Catholicism, on the people of Scotland. The Scots, who were very much Puritan, refused to accept it, and war broke out.
1640 Charles needed money to pay for the war he had provoked. He was forced to recall Parliament, but Parliament would not vote to help the king unless he agreed to certain reforms.
1641 The House of Commons made a list of demands for reform. These included that the king should only appoint ministers who had been approved by Parliament, and that Bishops should have less power. These and other demands became known as the Grand Remonstrance which was passed in Parliament by a narrow majority.
In the same year, the Irish Catholics rebelled against the English Protestants who were ruling Ireland at the time. In England, it was widely suspected that the king was on the side of the Irish and was trying to make England Catholic.
BRITAIN : ISLAND STATE TO EMPIRE
17th Century England
Towards Civil War
Charles might have succeeded in ruling without Parliament if he had not provoked a war with Scotland. In 1637 he tried to impose his Church of England Prayer Book on the Presbyterian Scots who promptly rejected it. Charles raised an army to fight the Scots but had to recall Parliament to pay for it.
Portrait of Charles I by Anthony van Dyck
Parliament reconvened in November 1640. The leading MPs agreed to help the king in his struggle with the Scots only if the king accepted certain conditions. They insisted again that only Parliament had the right to raise taxes and that Parliament could not be dissolved again as it had been in 1629. The had Archbishop Laud imprisoned and the king's Chief Minister, Strafford, executed.
In January 1642 Charles set off with 400 soldiers to arrest the five most troublesome leaders of the House of Commons. They had already managed to escape down the River Thames, however. To prevent an event like this from recurring, the Parliamentary leaders decided to take control of the army. When the king refused to surrender his control over the army, the country found itself with two armies.
The two groups referred to each other by insulting names. The king's men, or Royalists, called the Parliamentary side the Roundheads from the short-cropped, skin head haircuts that many of them had. The Royalists were called Cavaliers, a Spanish word meaning "showoffs" or "swaggerers" on horseback.
Charles I and Parliament
Portrait of Oliver Cromwell in uniform
by Robert Walker (circa 1650)
In 1642 Charles took 400 soldiers to Parliament to arrest five of the leading MPs. The MPs had been warned that he was coming and had already left the building before the king arrived. "I see the birds have flown," said the King.
Parliament was angry and voted to throw the Bishops out of the House of Lords. The MPs disagreed with the Church reforms which Archbishop Laud had proposed.
Charles still needed an army to fight the Irish. Parliament did not trust the king to be in control of the army. On the other hand, the king refused to let Parliament control it. Charles moved his court to Nottingham and both king and Parliament raised their own armies.
Parliament set out more demands for reform which became known as the Nineteen Propositions. Charles refused to accept them because they gave much of his power to Parliament. Both sides mobilized their armies and the Civil War began.
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