Course Content
Environmental Studies
English Language and Linguistics
Private: BA English
About Lesson

Learning Outcomes

After the completion of the unit, the learners will be able to:

  •  understand the political developments under the Stuart rule in England.
  • identify the role of the Church in the power structure of British statecraft.
  • analyse the political and social causes for the outbreak of civil war in England.

6.1.1 James I (1566- 1625)
Medieval English rulers used to administer the country with the help of the feudal lords. Barons were one of the classes of tenants who held their rights and titles by military or another honourable service directly from a feudal superior (such as a king). With the coming of new thoughts and ideas, their power weakened, which in turn crippled the influence of the monarchs. With the death of Queen Elizabeth I in 1603, the Tudor dynasty came to an end. James VI of Scotland became the ruler of England, accepting the title James I, and England and Scotland became united under a single monarch. Thus, the period of the Stuart dynasty started. James was the son of Mary, Queen of Scots, and her second husband, Henry Stewart, Lord Darnley. His mother, Mary, was the granddaughter of the sister of Henry VIII. Thus, he was the closest male relative of the late Elizabeth I, who died without marrying.

Fig 6.1.1 James I
King James I was an ardent propagator of the doctrine of the Divine Right theory of kingship, which is a political doctrine generally concerned with European history. It defended monarchical absolutism, which asserted that kings derived their authority from God and no earthly authority, such as parliament, could hold them responsible for their actions. He had explained the concept himself through his work Basilikon Doron published in 1599. It often brought the king in conflict with the parliament, which believed that the law of the land binds everyone alike and that no one is above it. Such differences often brought the king into conflict with the parliament. However, the question of power was not the only issue over which disagreements developed between the two. A variety of complex issues on matters such as religion, finance and foreign policy aggravated the hostilities.
The King James I, who styled himself as the King of Great Britain, alienated the support of the Puritans in England, who were the religious reformers in the late 16th and 17th centuries that sought to “purify” the Church of England, influenced by the Calvinists. Since they formed the majority in the House of Commons, the issue assumed a religious dimension as the king was the son of a Catholic lady.

Fig 6.1.2 Title page of Basilikon Doron
The conflict between the king and the parliament resulted in the dissolution of the parliament in 1911. The parliament was again summoned in 1921 to raise the taxes, which was not to the liking of the parliament. The Parliament also had other reasons to be unhappy with the king as he proceeded with a marriage proposal between his son Charles I and a Catholic princess from Spain. The parliament was greatly annoyed because it did not want a Catholic as the successor of James I. James I passed away in 1625, leaving his throne to Charles I, who was also not pleased with the Parliament.
6.1.2 Charles I (1600-1649; reign 1625-49)
Charles I was born in Scotland in 1600 AD. As a child, he was sick, silent and reserved. He had an excellent temper and courteous manners and had fewer vices. But he travelled less and never mixed up with common people. In 1625, when Charles I became the ruler of England, neither Charles nor the Parliament was happy. Like his father, Charles I also was a strong believer in the Divine Right theory. Further, the King favoured a section called the High Church Party against the Puritans who were in control of the Parliament. The already existing differences between Charles and the Parliament were sharpened by the issue over tonnage and poundage, which was the custom duties granted to the crown by the parliament since medieval times in England.

Fig 6.1.3 Charles I of England
Moreover, the Commons did not favour the king over the question of customs duties. In the parliament session of 1626, there was an attempt to impeach Charles I for his failure in the naval battle against Spain. Charles dissolved the parliament in June 1626 at the height of differences. In 1628, when the Parliament was again summoned, the House of Commons passed the famous Petition of Rights against the high-handed actions of the king. The parliament passed three resolutions against the king before he adjourned the parliament in 1629. For the next eleven years, he ruled without the parliament, known in history as Eleven Years Tyranny. 

Petiton of Rights 1628
A petition send by the English Parliament to King Charles 1 against a number of breaches of law. It mainly sort to recognise for resolutions:
1. No Taxation without the consent of the Parliament
2. No imprisonment without cause
3. No quartering of soldiers on citizens 4. No martial law during peace times.

During the years without parliament, Charles I raised money by exacting Ship Money levied on ports. However, his attempt to bring about certain alterations in the liturgy was met with vehement opposition from the Scottish people. The king decided to impose his reforms on revolting Scotland, which created an atmosphere of war with Scotland. To raise funds for the war, he was forced to summon the Parliament again in 1640, later known as Short Parliament. However, the Parliament argued that the money could be sanctioned only if the unpopular taxes were abolished. The Parliament, which was summoned in April, was suspended in May. Due to the rising pressure, he had to summon the Parliament again in November1640, which came to be known as Long Parliament.
Long Parliament:
The king faced severe criticism from influential leaders of parliament such as John Pym and John Hampden. The Parliament passed the Triennial Act or the Dissolution Act in 1641, which included the following clauses:

  • If the King did not summon the Parliament, it could meet on its own.
  •  The Parliament could not be dis-
    solved without its consent.

The king assured that the Parliament would meet at least once in three years. He had to yield to the provisions forwarded by the Parliament and suspended ship money and other unjust exactions introduced during the eleven years of tyranny.
6.1.3 Civil War in Britain (1642- 1651 AD)
The civil war in Britain was fought in two phases. The first civil war was fought between 1642-1646, and the second and third civil wars were fought between 1848 and 1651. The peace concluded between the king, and the Parliament was short-lived. However, the attempt of the king to raise an army against the Irish revolt was looked upon with suspicion by the Parliament.
The Civil war in Britain also was called the Great Rebellion. It is considered to have started in 1642 when the King ordered his army to arrest five troublesome members of the Parliament who managed to escape the arrest. Foreseeing a civil war, some of the peacemakers tried to restore relations with the King in 1643. Since the attempt failed,the Parliamentarians joined hands with the Scottish Presbyterians. By 1645, the country was plunged into a civil war with the Royal Army, the city dwellers supporting the Parliament and the rural population backing the king. The Parliament army was the well- trained New Model Army formed in 1645, commanded by Sir Thomas Fairfax and Oliver Cromwell.

Fig 6.1.4 Cromwell at Dunbar, 1886
The supporters of the Parliament were called the Roundheads, also known as Parliamentarians and the supporters of the king were called Cavaliers or Royalists. There was a long row of defeats for the king’s army by the end of the 1640s. Though the King tried to escape, he was placed under close guard and was tried in 1649 for treason. He was sentenced to death and was executed on January 30, 1949. The death of Charles I had a galvanising effect on Irish and Scottish supporters. They extended their support to Charles II. However, the Scottish army, who supported Charles II, was defeated at the Battle of Dunbar in 1650. Another attempt made by the Scottish army in 1651 to capture London was defeated by Oliver Cromwell. Charles II thereupon fled to France. It ended the civil war between the three kingdoms of Ireland, Scotland and England, leaving control to Oliver Cromwell, the Protector. The civil war in England also caused heavy casualties in the economy and population.