Happy Birthday Charles I

Today in 1600, a young prince was born to King James I and his wife Anne of Denmark. This prince, the couple’s second son, would go on to become one the most famous monarchs that England had ever known – King Charles I. He would go on to declare war on Parliament in 1642 and would eventually be executed for treason on 30th January 1649. Charles has long fascinated me and during my University days I spent much of my time researching the English Civil War and the role that the Royalist army played, eventually concentrating solely on the Battle of Cheriton in 1644. For my sins I was also a part of the Sealed Knot and “fought” for the Royalist regiment, Henry Tilliers Regiment of Foote.

Charles I is an interesting character in many respects, not only for his role in the English Civil War. He was never supposed to become King in the first place, that was the role meant for his elder brother Henry Stuart. Sadly though, Henry died in 1612 and the young Duke of York became heir to the throne. Poor little Charles wasn’t exactly the most healthy child, he was sickly and had problems walking, and apparently had a speech impediment too. He had spent his childhood in the shadow of his brother Henry, who he loved and tried his best to emulate but unfortunately as a child could never really live up to his brother. In fact, little Charles did not start walking properly until he was at least four years old thanks to the weakness in his legs. At the age of 16 it is recorded that he suffered from “green sickness”, a rather odd illness for an adolescent young man to suffer from as it was normally said to affect young ladies! However by the time he reached his early 20’s he seems to have left most of his physical illnesses behind although he apparently never really had the intellectual capacity of other young men of his age.

Charles also became bosom friends with his fathers supposed paramour George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham. In George, Charles found a surrogate older brother who encouraged Charles to start looking at women (and noticed that Charles was very slow on the uptake with romance!), and even took the young heir incognito to Spain to woo the Spanish Infanta. When James I died in 1625, Charles married Henrietta Maria if France yet held Villiers above her in his affections. It wasn’t until Villiers was assassinated in 1628 that Charles began to take decent notice of his wife and the two of them ended up falling head over heels in love with each other.

Charles never really had a very good relationship with parliament, and ended up taking personal rule of the country from 1629. The next eleven years were known by parliamentarian supporters as the “eleven years tyranny”. In 1640, Charles recalled parliament – he needed money to fight the second bishops war. Less than a month later, this parliament was dissolved by Charles because he wasn’t going to listen to their ideas for reform. In November that year, Charles again called Parliament, again needing more money and this became known as the Long Parliament. In this one, tensions soon rose when Parliament wanted to impeach various members of the court and they also passed an act to prevent the King from dissolving parliament. In March 1641 they impeached Lord Stafford and he was placed on trial for High Treason. Charles however refused to sign the bill of Attainder but in parliament this bill went unopposed and Charles signed the bill in fear for his family’s safety. Stafford was executed. In May of the same year parliament made ship money and various forms of taxation illegal – all of which had proven unpopular when the King had forced these taxes previously.

All of this lead to Charles and Parliament fighting for control – Charles believed that as King of England he should have control, Parliament believed that the King should work with them or not at all. Charles then tried to have five prominent members of parliament arrested on 4th January 1642 when he tried to take parliament by force of arms. The five men had already left. And this was the beginning of the end for Charles Stuart – Parliament seized London and in January 1642, Charles fled London.

Civil War was declared in August 1642 and Charles raised an army. Parliament did the same and it lead to a bitter 7 year period of fighting. The best known part of the civil war lasted until 1646 when Charles was arrested and imprisoned by Parliament. The second civil war was fought in 1648-9, finishing with the execution of King Charles I in January 1649 and the third civil war lasted from 1649-51 and was fought between parliament and supporters of Charles II. Following Charles I’s execution in 1649, the country was run by Oliver Cromwell and the interregnum lasted until the death of Cromwell and the failure of his son Richard – leading to the Restoration of Charles I’s son Charles II as monarch.

If I’m honest, the life of Charles I deserves much much more than this super brief overview. His life was really very interesting and he did so much in his reign – not all of it clever! Though that seems to be a bit of a pattern with Stuart monarchs (maybe that’s why I’m so fascinated with them, really they just seemed to make life difficult for themselves). One of these days I’ll do a series of posts on this most fascinating monarch, but I hope this overview has given you all something to mull over. And to finish off – Happy Birthday Charles I!

Further Reading

Frederick Holmes – The Sickly Stuarts
Dianne Purkiss – The English Civil war: A People’s History
Katie Whitaker – A Royal Passion
C.V Wedgwood – A King Condemned
Tristram Hunt – The English Civil War At First Hand
David Starkey & Christopher Hibbert – Charles I: A Life of Religion, War and Treason

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