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The Tudors and the Stuarts by  M. B. Synge


 

 

THE MISRULE OF THE STUARTS—CHARLES I AND THE ELEVEN YEARS' RULE WITHOUT PARLIAMENT (1629—1640)

[199] THE eleven years in which Charles ruled without calling any Parliament was the next stage in the great struggle. It would be wrong to suppose that in this time the king's government was so tyrannical and oppressive that the nation was goaded into insurrection. The rebellion, when it did come, was not a rising against a cruel despot by men who had suffered in person, but a struggle for principles which men believed were necessary, if the greatness and happiness of the whole nation were to be preserved.

In this time, as at all others, Charles showed that he was a poor statesman. He thought that if he only suspended Parliament for some years, the people would be ready to come round to his views and accept his terms. He tried the experiment of governing without a Parliament, before he had taken any sufficient measures for [200] securing a revenue. In his efforts to raise money, he adopted such foolish expedients that the very men most likely to rally round him were irritated and offended.

Under old and obsolete laws he imposed fines on the gentry for not having had themselves made knights. He called upon the ports, the coast shires, and finally upon the inland shires as well, to pay "Ship-money," to raise money with which to improve and strengthen the navy.


[Illustration]

VANDYKE PAINTING THE PORTRAIT OF CHARLES I.

This was the tax that caused most noise. At first, many people paid the tax, considering it either as a customary due or as a sort of voluntary gift. When, however, the County of Buckinghamshire was taxed to the amount of 4,500, one of the richest squires of the county, a gentleman of an ancient family, John Hampden, refused to pay his share, which was a small sum of perhaps thirty or forty shillings. He refused in order that the question of the lawfulness  of the tax might be tried in the law courts. The case would not have been of great importance, but for the extraordinary judgment delivered by the king's judges. One of them, Finch, declared that "Acts of Parliament are void which bind the king not to command his subjects, their persons and goods, and I say their money too, for no Acts of Parliament make any difference."

In spite of all his efforts, Charles found that his income was insufficient to carry on any war, and in the affairs of Europe England ceased for a time to be of any account. Very soon, within his own kingdom, he found himself helpless from the same cause. For whilst entering upon a struggle against Parliament for control over taxation, Charles committed the folly of entering upon another struggle against the same [203] people, and a more dangerous struggle, for it concerned their religion.

For a whole generation the majority of the House of Commons had been Puritan in religion. Charles gave his support to the opposite party, led by Bishop Laud; and at the very time when the nation was angered by his quarrels with Parliament, he gave Laud his whole support and allowed him a free hand to do what he would with the Puritans. Next to Charles himself, it was Laud more than any man who ruined the royal cause, for he stirred up fiercer passions than all Charles's tax-gatherers.


[Illustration]

PORTRAIT OF CHARLES I.

Not only were the idle and worthless clergy punished, but the preachers of Puritan doctrines were silenced by being brought before the Church courts. Some congregations did not like the views of the parish clergyman, so they supported a lecturer who preached more to their taste, and spread Puritan teaching among the humbler classes. Laud promptly suppressed them. Some wealthier Puritans kept private chaplains: he forbade the practice. Others took to holding services in private houses or other buildings, sometimes in the midst of London and the towns, sometimes in the country. Laud rooted out these most strictly.


[Illustration]

PORTRAIT OF HENRIETTA MARIA.

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Puritans who wished to emigrate to New England in America found themselves stopped by Orders in Council but they were Laud's orders. His fiercest wrath was reserved for the writers of books and pamphlets.

In 1633 Charles had gone to Edinburgh to be crowned as King of Scotland. He found the Scottish Church still [204] Presbyterian, in spite of the existence of some bishops whom James had set up. He wished to carry out his father's plan of having a real episcopal church in Scotland, and in this project Laud eagerly supported him. By 1637 the whole scheme was ready. New laws for the government of the Scottish Church were proclaimed, insisting on the strictest observance of the new Prayer Book.

The first attempt to read the new Prayer Book was not made until July. By this time the Scots were prepared for it, but not in the sense Charles and Laud desired.

In no church was the service undisturbed; and it was plainly impossible to make the Scots accept the Prayer Book without a. war. For after months of protests and petitions, the Prayer Book meanwhile not being read, the Scots bound themselves by a renewal of the Covenant, or agreement to defend the Church against all new customs. On the evening of February 28th, 1638, on a tombstone in Greyfriars Churchyard, the people of Edinburgh began to sign their names to the Covenant, and the mass of the Scottish nation followed their example. The Covenant was a protest against Popery, and it was because Laud's religion was regarded by the Puritans, English and Scotch alike, as in reality the same thing as Popery, that it roused such passionate hatred.

The signing of the Covenant was an act of rebellion. A war for the bishops and Prayer Book in Scotland followed. Then Charles called a Parliament—the "Short" Parliament—but its members would not grant him money until he satisfied them. A second "Bishops' War" followed; then the Long Parliament was called.


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