James, the King of Scotland, assumes power in England and presumes royal power beyond the restriction of parliament. The struggle intensifies when his son becomes King and ends with Civil Wars in which Parliament and its New Model Army triumphs. Oliver Cromwell becomes Lord Protector and all nations in the British Isles are declared a short-lived Commonwealth under his rule.
At the age of 36 James VI of Scotland came to London in May 1603. He was crowned James I of England in July. He had become King of Scotland when he was one year old, but he only returned to his home country once in the remaining 22 years of his life. Although they shared the same monarch, the two countries remained independent sovereign states with their own parliaments. James was also King of Ireland, which in effect was a vassal of the English crown. His ambition, never realised, was to unite Scotland and England as one political entity.
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James was brought up a Protestant with a love of literature and learning: he considered himself an intellectual. During his childhood, four different regents ruled Scotland in his stead. Three died violent deaths, including the last, who was executed for complicity in the murder of James’ father Lord Darnley. James took up his regnal duties at a young age and he was only fifteen when he was taken into custody by Calvinist nobles, who suspected he was involved in a carnal relationship with his friend and favourite Esmé Stewart Earl of Lennox. They released James after banishing Lennox and he proved to be an effective ruler. With the Black Acts of 1584, he tried to impose bishops on the Calvinist Kirk and thus keep it under his personal supervision, but he met stern resistance from the Kirk elders. He worked to overcome the semi-independence of the Western Isles and Highlands and tried to suppress their Catholic belief and Gaelic language. He entertained strong views on the divine right of kings to govern without impediment from other men and institutions and wrote books on the subject. The summation of his view was “it follows of necessity that kings were the authors and makers of the laws, and not the laws of the kings,” which goes a long way to explain his future difficulties with the English Parliament.
James VI worked consistently to build support for his right to inherit the English throne. The Treaty of Berwick was a defensive pact agreed between Scotland and England in 1586 and it remained in place when his mother was executed the following year. Her death left James with an unchallenged claim to be Queen Elizabeth’s heir presumptive. During the Armada crisis of 1588 he assured Elizabeth of his support “as her natural son”. By 1601 he was in secret correspondence with Robert Cecil about achieving a smooth succession to the English throne. He was impressed by the wealth of the great men who entertained him as he progressed south to his coronation in London, but soon became aware that the English crown was beset by debts incurred to pay for the war with Spain and the pacification of Ireland.
James I intended to end the war and relax the anti-Catholic laws of England, but two Catholic-inspired plots unfolded immediately after he came to the throne. One apparently sought not much more than a relaxation of the laws against recusants, both Puritan and Catholic; the other, known as the Main plot, aimed to remove James and replace him on the throne with Lady Arbella Stewart, whose father was brother to James’ father Lord Darnley. Her maternal grandmother was Bess of Hardwick, wife of Mary Queen of Scots’ gaoler during her long captivity in England. Sir Walter Raleigh was implicated in a plan to fund the scheme with Spanish money brought into Jersey, where he was governor. The evidence was sketchy, but presented with much rhetoric and personal abuse by Sir Edward Coke, the Attorney General. Raleigh was found guilty and was sentenced to death, but he was kept in the Tower for several years during which time he composed his incomplete History of the World.
In 1605 the Gunpowder Plot, a real and serious conspiracy, was uncovered and foiled. A group of Catholic gentry planned to blow up the King and the entire ruling class at the state opening of Parliament on 5th. November. The plot was revealed by an anonymous letter which warned the Catholic peer Lord Monteagle to stay away from Parliament that day. A search of the premises was made and Guy Fawkes, who had been a veteran soldier with the Spanish army, was discovered guarding 36 barrels of gunpowder in an undercroft beneath the House of Lords. The plotters either died trying to escape or were put to death in the usual horrific ways; Fawkes jumped off the gallows and broke his neck thus escaping a living experience of the worst parts of his sentence.
There is some suggestion that Robert Cecil knew of the plot at an early stage, but kept his counsel until he could spread the net to trap leading Jesuits. Nevertheless the peace treaty, which he had negotiated with Spain on behalf of the king in 1604, remained in place. Cecil was promoted to the Earldom of Salisbury and was made a Garter knight; he remained James’ closest advisor until his death. He was also the Lord Treasurer and managed to improve the royal finances with a variety of measures to raise fresh money or by cutting down some of the Court’s excessive expenditure. In 1610 he presented the Great Contract to Parliament which he hoped would bring the royal finances into balance and pay off the king’s debts. The House of Commons, encouraged by the rising star Sir Francis Bacon, was not convinced by the scheme and the king himself was lukewarm about its merits. Parliament was dissolved without a resolution and Salisbury’s health broke down in 1611. He died of cancer the following year, having rendered great service to two monarchs despite their cruel jokes about his small, hump-backed frame. King James even took possession of Theobalds, his Hertfordshire home, in exchange for the old-fashioned royal residence at Hatfield which Salisbury pulled down and rebuilt as a Jacobean masterpiece.
The king’s relationship with Parliament did not improve. In 1614 James summoned a new Parliament, but it only survived for two months; the Commons suspected he had packed it with his own supporters and would not agree to the king’s financial demands, alleging that extravagance was at the root of his problems. Nothing was achieved before the king dissolved Parliament and sent 4 MPs to the Tower for sedition. It is remembered as the Addled Parliament.
James was determined to seek other means of ruling without parliamentary interference, even though his view of absolute royal power (or prerogative) was challenged by Sir Edward Coke in The Case of Proclamations, which denied that monarchs had the right to make laws by executive powers. He sought to raise money by non-parliamentary avenues, and entered into negotiations to secure a Spanish wife for his son and heir Charles (his eldest son Henry Frederick having died in 1612), despite Protestant opposition. James expected the marriage to yield a large dowry which would wipe out most of his debt. Meanwhile he tapped his wealthiest subjects for a ‘benevolence’, raised money by selling honours and sold off two Dutch towns which had been entrusted to Queen Elizabeth in recognition of her help during the Dutch Revolt. In 1616 he even released Sir Walter Raleigh from the Tower, where he had been imprisoned for twelve years, with a commission to lead an expedition to bring back treasure from El Dorado, the fabled city of gold in South America. Unfortunately, no treasure was found and a patrol, led by Raleigh’s subordinate, attacked a Spanish outpost, thus contravening the king’s express command to keep peace with the Spaniards. On his return, Raleigh was executed for the offence, which grieved many who remembered him as one of the pantheon of Elizabethan heroes. By 1620 no Spanish marriage was agreed and the royal debts were mounting.
James was compelled to summon Parliament in 1621 when Imperial and Spanish troops invaded the lands of Frederick V the Elector Palatine, husband of James’ daughter Elizabeth. The quarrel soon developed into the disastrous Thirty Years War between Catholics and Protestants in Central Europe. The Commons was not prepared to grant adequate funds to fight a continental campaign, but was willing to fund a naval war against Spain. In addition, the MPs requested that Prince Charles should marry a Protestant and demanded rigorous enforcement of the anti-Catholic laws. James told the House it risked punishment for interfering in matters concerning the royal prerogative. The House replied with the Commons Protestation - a defence of its rights, including freedom of speech, framed by Sir Edward Coke. The king ripped the pages from the record book and dissolved Parliament. Coke was sent to the Tower for nine months.
Before they departed, the House of Lords impeached Lord Chancellor Francis Bacon, now raised to the peerage as Viscount Verulam, for corruption. He was declared incapable of holding office or sitting in parliament in future and narrowly escaped being stripped of his titles of nobility. Bacon had been the king’s most astute advisor in recent times, but he ran up debts of his own and admitted taking bribes. He is now best remembered as a philosopher who promoted careful observation and empirical reasoning as a basis for the scientific method. His influence extended into the golden age of scientific progress in the following century.
Other aspects of the intellectual, artistic and literary scene which had begun to blossom in Elizabeth’s time were now in full flower. Shakespeare produced some of his weightiest work during James’ reign. The authorised version of the Bible commissioned by James is a Jacobean literary masterpiece and, quite apart from its religious merits, ranks alongside the Book of Common Prayer as an enduring work of English literature. John Donne and the Metaphysical poets developed a more complex form of poetry, whilst Raleigh and others wrote poetry and prose in a less florid style. Chapman’s translation of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey was a monument in its time, immortalised in poetry by Keats two centuries later. Inigo Jones designed the Whitehall Banqueting House, the first classical style building in England based on the work of Palladio, the Renaissance Italian architect. Hundreds of English country houses built in the following centuries reflect his influence.
The royal marriage to the Spanish Infanta remained a prime objective and in 1623 Prince Charles went off to Spain to woo the princess in person. He was accompanied by George Villiers the Duke of Buckingham, recently raised from lowly stock by the king, who was ‘charmed’ by his good looks and dancing prowess. The visit was a disaster; the Infanta was not impressed by Charles and Buckingham quarrelled with the Spanish chief minister. The people of London were delighted with the outcome, but the Spanish ambassador demanded that Buckingham be executed for his behaviour in Madrid. Angered by the failure of their mission, Buckingham and Charles persuaded James I to declare war with Spain. An under-funded army was sent overseas but was unable to proceed beyond the Dutch coast. James was now in poor health and power was wielded by Charles and Buckingham in the months leading to the king’s death in March 1625 at Theobalds.
Historians remain divided about the achievements and character of James I and VI. Widely discredited as ‘the greatest fool in Christendom’, James was a complex character, faced with far-reaching political, religious and social issues. He took over the sovereign rule of Scotland at a young age and successfully reined in the unruly aristocracy and instilled a measure of religious equilibrium in that difficult country. He fought off a Catholic revolt in 1588, but at times he was willing to promote a degree of religious tolerance. James’ life was not completely dominated by affairs of state; he would frequently neglect the business of government whilst he pursued leisure pastimes such as the hunt, or spent time on entertainments alongside his current favourite.
However, he aimed to become King of England as well and worked assiduously to achieve his purpose. He published books which made it clear that he expected absolute obedience from his people, but he soon discovered those views were out of kilter with English practises and tradition. Throughout his reign, he continued to demand that Parliament comply with his wishes. James saw England as a rich country which should provide him with the wealth to pursue the extravagant life which was never available to him in Scotland. As usual, money supply was Parliament’s means of countering those demands. The House of Commons, guided by the lawyer Sir Edward Coke, constantly challenged James’ royal prerogative. Wise councillors, such as Robert Cecil, were able to steer a path through those difficulties, but eventually James, who had always been susceptible to the attractions of handsome males, took Robert Villiers to his heart. To most of England’s established political class, Villiers must have appeared like a new version of Edward II’s Piers Gaveston - a grasping, charismatic rogue in an unsavoury relationship with the king. The king made him Duke of Buckingham, the only non-royal duke in England, and Lord High Admiral - an office far beyond his abilities. Villiers was probably the worst legacy James left to his successor Charles, who would not learn from the Spanish fiasco and was soon led into the first errors of his reign by his untrustworthy companion.
Men of affairs were undoubtedly concerned, if not upset, by the raffish ways of the Jacobean Court, but the major problem causing friction among people was the ever-present religious divide. The discovery of the Gunpowder Plot in 1605 resulted in the passing of the Popish Recusants Act, which made life markedly more difficult for English Catholics, who were not allowed to practice Medicine or the Law and were required to swear an oath of allegiance denying the Pope’s supremacy. Catholic priests were regarded as spies and, if discovered, they were often put to death. Their fellow-Catholics mostly took care to abide by the law and occasionally attended a Church of England service of Holy Communion, whilst keeping quiet about their true beliefs. Some high born people like the Howards, close kin to the Duke of Norfolk who was executed for conspiring to marry Mary Queen of Scots, were suspected of Catholic sympathies. Nevertheless, for a time they rose to high positions in the Privy Council until they lost favour when George Villiers took the king’s fancy.
The Church of England had its own problems as it became subject to attacks from Protestants seeking to purify the Church of remaining Roman practices and dogma. They became known as Puritans, who were divided between those intent on converting the Church to their views and extremists who wished to form a separate congregation. There were many differing groups and there never was a unified Puritan party, but during the reign of James I the Puritan cause gained many adherents and counted influential people among its supporters. Nevertheless, the last people to be burnt at the stake for heresy in England were the extreme Puritans Edward Wightman at Litchfield and Bartholomew Legate at Smithfield in 1612. As time went by. James became less critical of Puritan sentiments, but continued to argue Scotland’s Kirk should conform more closely to Anglican liturgy and organisation.
One group of ‘Separatists’ from Scrooby and Gainsborough in Nottinghamshire /Lincolnshire determined to seek religious freedom in the Netherlands and settled in Leyden in 1608. The Dutch way of life was not to their tastes however and they negotiated with investors in London to fund their voyage to North America, where they would found a colony and live in freedom. Eventually they embarked on a small ship called the Mayflower and founded a settlement at Plymouth in what is now Massachusetts late in 1620. Conditions that first winter were hard: nearly half of the 102 settlers died of scurvy and other diseases. The Plymouth settlement struggled for several years, until a well-funded expedition led by John Winthrop founded a second New England colony at Boston in 1630 and English folk finally learned how to cope with the New England natives, climate and topography.
The hardships of the Plymouth colonists mirrored the difficult early days of the Virginia colony which was established further south in 1607. It only became a viable enterprise when the settlers learned how to grow tobacco and established it as a valuable commodity back in England. The native inhabitants soon began to succumb to European diseases such as smallpox and they resisted the intrusion of the newcomers. The gentlemen stockholders imported indentured labour from England and Ireland to do the hard graft, but the climate encouraged fever and life expectancy among the labouring class was short. Like Spanish-American colonists, Virginians eventually began importing black Africans to do their hard work. Their colour prevented them escaping and mingling amongst the white colonists, hence they were regarded as nothing more than a tradable commodity. Slavery became established in an English culture and it became an integral part of the British-American colonial experience in the years ahead.
During the reign of James I and VI, colonisation also went ahead in the Ulster province of Ireland, although it is traditionally called plantation. The province was almost wholly Gaelic, Catholic and rural and the king had in mind that the Ulster plantations should help weaken Irish links with the Gaelic and Catholic Western Isles. The Flight of the Earls in 1607 cleared the way for an official plantation policy, whereby the native Irish population was removed from half a million acres of land; other extensive areas of land in Ulster were already given over to settlement by private undertakers. Nearly all the new settlers were Calvinist Presbyterians from Scotland or Anglicans from the north of England. They were only allowed to hire workers from Scotland and England and were barred from selling their land to Irishmen. The scheme was part funded by the wealthy London Livery companies which is why Derry became Londonderry. Most Ulster townships were founded in this period. James hoped that the plantations would lead to the conversion of the native Irish to the Protestant religion, but it never happened and a religious divide has split the province ever since.
Throughout the three countries, religious observance was still undercut by widespread superstition. People were ever-ready to blame misfortune and disaster on neighbours possessed by malevolent spirits. James himself was fascinated by the occult and wrote a book Daemonologie about it. He persuaded Parliament to pass the Witchcraft Act of 1604 which ruled witches could be put to death. This was an age of superstition as well as grand constitutional, philosophical and religious ideas. In the next reign everything was up in the air: brother turned on brother and communities became riven with suspicion and fear. All happened under the rule or misrule of one of Britain’s most cultured but headstrong kings.
Charles I was the second son of James, but he inherited the crowns of England and Scotland due to the death of his older brother. He was such a sickly child that he was left behind in Scotland for more than a year when his parents moved to London in 1603. A speech impediment remained with him throughout his life, but he became an adept horseman and a good shot. He was aged twenty three when he took the thrones and was very much influenced by his father’s favourite, George Villiers Duke of Buckingham, who counselled him during his embarrassing mission to win the hand of the Infanta of Spain. Following that failure, England declared war on Spain. Charles and Buckingham, ignoring the advice of the dying King James, had supported the impeachment of the Lord Treasurer who opposed war on account of the cost.
Seeking a continental ally, within weeks of his father’s death in 1625 Charles married Henrietta Maria, daughter of the late Henry IV of France and sister of King Louis XIII. She refused to be crowned queen in an Anglican ceremony and the marriage was not popular in England because of her Catholic faith.
Buttressed by hopes of a French alliance, Charles was persuaded by Buckingham, who sought to repeat the naval triumphs of earlier admirals, to send a fleet to Spain in 1625. The mission was a complete fiasco, failing to attack the Spanish treasure fleet or sack Cadiz, where the English soldiery found liberal supplies of wine and got drunk. Many were left to be killed where they lay as the fleet withdrew with nothing accomplished. When the French king’s counsellor Cardinal Richelieu concluded a peace pact with Spain the following year, war broke out between Britain and France. In 1627 Buckingham was sent to aid the Huguenots who were in revolt against the French king at the important city of La Rochelle, but he withdrew with heavy losses, leaving the Huguenots to their fate. Charles chose to dissolve Parliament rather than risk impeachment proceedings against Buckingham.
England was now at war with France and Spain and Charles tried to raise money by a forced loan, without Parliamentary consent. Five knights refused to pay, were imprisoned and appealed for a writ of Habeas Corpus which was refused. The matter came under consideration in Parliament, which was summoned in 1628. The king insisted that he possessed sovereign power to rule the country and argued there was no alternative to the loan since Parliament had not granted money to pursue a war it had promoted.
Sir Edward Coke presented the Petition of Right, which sought to guarantee the subjects' rights with respect to the monarchy, including protection against arbitrary imprisonment, freedom from taxation without parliamentary representation and due process of Law. Coke reminded members of the importance of Magna Carta, which protected the nobility, Parliament, and, to a certain degree, the common people from arbitrary royal decrees: “Magna Carta is such a fellow that he will have no sovereign”. Charles assented to the Petition but then prorogued Parliament and continued to collect tonnage and poundage custom duties without Parliamentary approval.
Later that year Buckingham was attacked and murdered in Portsmouth. Charles was deeply distressed, whilst the country rejoiced. From this time the king and queen began to enjoy a closer relationship; the queen became pregnant and the royal couple set a welcome example of virtue and family life, in comparison with the louche example of James’ later years.
Parliament reassembled in January 1629 and the king once more tried to get approval for his right to levy tonnage and poundage duties, but again met further opposition from the Commons. He ordered the House to adjourn, but the Speaker was held in his seat whilst three resolutions against tonnage and poundage, Catholicism and the Arminian doctrine, with its emphasis on a clerical elite which the king favoured, were presented by Sir John Eliot and approved by members. Charles lost patience, dissolved Parliament and imprisoned Eliot and eight other members. Eliot died three years later in the Tower.
The king was determined to manage his affairs without further parliamentary interference. He was now aware he could not conduct a war without parliament’s help and so in 1630 he negotiated peace treaties with France and Spain, to the dismay of European Protestants who looked upon England as their essential support in the religious wars which were gripping the continent.
That same year John Winthrop led a well-equipped party to found another colony at Massachusetts Bay in New England. The enterprise was planned and funded by powerful puritan supporters and the company’s HQ was established in America, giving the settlement some freedom from royal authority and Anglican interference. Thousands left England in the next ten years to find a new life in New England, many for religious and political reasons, but many were also attracted by the economic possibilities or wished to escape other problems at home.
Charles adopted a string of unusual and sometimes archaic measures to raise money. He resurrected the Distraint of Knighthood, a statute which had not been used for a hundred years. Any man who earned £40 or more a year from land was required to present himself at the king's coronation to be knighted. Relying on this old statute, Charles fined considerable numbers of middling income men who had not attended his coronation in 1626. He also re-introduced and extended Ship Money. This ancient levy was previously only authorised during wars and only on coastal regions. Charles argued there was nothing to stop him collecting the tax for defence during peacetime and throughout the whole of the kingdom. Ship money was paid directly to the Treasury of the Navy and provided £150,000 to £200,000 annually between 1634 and 1638. John Hampden, rose to fame when he was arrested for refusing to pay Ship Money. By a narrow margin of 7 - 5 the Exchequer judges found him guilty; it was a public relations disaster for the Crown and less than 20% of the 1639 assessment was collected. Other money-making measures included disafforestation and sale of Royal Forest land and the grant of monopolies for merchandise such as soap. Despite these measures, the royal treasury was close to bankruptcy in 1640. The royal credit was worthless. In desperation, the Lord Treasurer seized the East India Company’s stock of pepper and spices and sold them off for much less than their market value.
Many of Charles’ difficulties arose from his stance on religious matters. During the period of direct rule, he was beset by disputes with Puritans in England and Scotland. They objected to his support for Arminian ideology which they saw as a gateway to Catholicism. With the appointment of William Laud to the Archbishopric of Canterbury in 1633, a series of measures were introduced to promote religious uniformity; church ministers were instructed not to deviate from the Book of Common Prayer liturgy, the altar was restored to its place of eminence in church and measures were taken to discourage the appointment of Puritans to church benefices. Laud took his campaign against his opponents to the extra-judicial courts of Star Chamber and of High Commission, which became unpopular among the propertied classes for inflicting degrading punishments on men such as William Prynne, whose ears were cropped for libelling the queen.
In 1633 Charles also met with religious objections from the Kirk in Scotland when he insisted his Scottish coronation ceremony should be conducted according to Anglican rites. In 1637 a riot erupted in Edinburgh when a new Prayer Book, almost identical to the Anglican Book of Common Prayer was introduced. A National Covenant, based on the earlier covenant of 1581 together with a solemn oath, was then composed in defence of the reformed religion of Scotland. People across Scotland, except in the Gaelic-speaking Highlands and Isles, subscribed to the Covenant and the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland approved it. Bishops were abolished and the Presbyterian form of Church management by elders and deacons was adopted. The Covenant was approved by the Scottish parliament and an army was formed to defend it and oppose the king’s religious reforms. The king responded by raising an army in England without parliamentary aid and marched to Berwick-upon-Tweed, but he dare not cross the border to engage the larger Covenanters’ army. In return for regaining control of his Scottish royal fortresses, he agreed to summon the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Church’s General Assembly. Both sides saw the Berwick Treaty of 1639 as a mere temporary truce.
This episode was called the First Bishops’ War and his failure to impose his will on Scotland brought Charles I to a financial crisis. He continued to seek money from Spain (and was giving naval assistance to Spain in her ongoing war with the Dutch Republic), whilst at the same time giving diplomatic support to his sister’s Protestant husband in his struggle against the Habsburgs. He was obliged to summon the English and Irish Parliaments. The Irish parliament was compliant, but Charles met the usual resistance from the House of Commons in England and he dismissed the Short Parliament less than a month after its recall.
In addition to Laud, the king was relying heavily on his new chief advisor Thomas Wentworth the Earl of Strafford. He was appointed Lord Deputy of Ireland in 1632 and proved to be an able but authoritarian ruler. His methods aroused considerable fear and dislike among natives and the new colonists alike. He was recalled in 1640 to strengthen the shaky royal administration. Strafford advocated resumption of the Bishops’ war with an army raised in Ireland. It was to be funded by debasing the currency, a forced loan from the City of London Liveries and seizing the foreign silver lodged in the Tower for safekeeping by foreign merchants. A Second Bishops’ War started when the Scottish Parliament threw off the king’s authority and sent an army into England which, faced with weak opposition, won the battle of Newburn and took Newcastle upon Tyne. Strafford was ill and the king was forced to make peace with the humiliating Treaty of Ripon in October 1640, by which the Scots continued to occupy Northumberland and Durham and were to be paid £850 per day until the English Parliament was recalled to authorise the taxes necessary to pay off them off.
That disaster forced the king to summons the Long Parliament which assembled in November 1640 and immediately began the process of impeaching Strafford for ‘high misdemeanours’. The king had promised to protect him and, as the prosecution was unable to prove any treasonable offence the impeachment failed. However, urged on by John Pym, the Commons passed a bill of attainder which simply declared that Strafford was guilty. The king considered several schemes to secure his freedom, but Pym’s party was determined he should die. The death sentence was pronounced but it needed the signature of the king whose conscience would not permit it. Threatening mobs assembled outside the royal palace. Strafford, from his cell at the Tower, wrote to the king absolving him from his promised protection. The death warrant was signed and Strafford met his end at Tower Hill in May 1641 after being blessed by Archbishop Laud. His execution was soon followed by a Catholic uprising in Ireland which developed into a long-running ethnic conflict known as the Irish Confederate Wars. The Scottish Parliament sent a Covenant army to protect the Scottish settlers in Ulster.
The Commons had already imposed the Triennial Act which required Parliament to be summoned at least once every three years. The Act was coupled with a bill granting subsidies to the king, and so Charles grudgingly granted his assent. However, Parliament also amended the several ancient extra-parliamentary means by which he had financed himself in the past 11 years. The subsidy enabled the king to sign a peace accord with the Covenanters which entailed the abolition of the episcopacy in Scotland and he regained a fair measure of popularity.
Pym, Hampden and others reacted by composing the Grand Remonstrance, a detailed list of various complaints about Charles’ foreign, financial, legal and religious policies. They demanded the expulsion of bishops from Parliament, a purge of officials, Parliamentary veto over Crown appointments and an end to sale of land confiscated from Irish rebels. It represented the anti-Catholic, pro-Puritan view and eventually was approved by the narrow margin of 11 votes. There was little support in the House of Lords; Parliament was becoming divided between Royalist and Parliamentary factions. The king’s reply was not welcomed by the Commons. He said that his own view of the state of England was very different from Parliament's view regarding religious affairs: in addition to affirming opposition to Roman Catholicism, it was also necessary to protect the Church from 'many schismatics and separatists' - clearly a reference to the Puritan sympathies of many members.
A fevered atmosphere spread from London into the countryside and encouraged the spread of rumours of papist conspiracy and Irish atrocities against the plantation colonists. Charles in turn suspected leading MPs had given tacit support to the Scottish Covenanters’ invasion of England. When he heard rumours that there were plans to impeach the queen for involvement in the suspected papist plots, he stood in the House of Lords and accused five MPs of treason; the Commons replied he had breached their privilege. On 4th January 1642 the king entered the Commons chamber, leaving the door open so that members had a view of his armed escort. No monarch had ever entered the Commons before. The five members had already left the premises by barge and were rowed down the river to seek refuge in the City of London. The king asked Speaker Lenthall about their whereabouts and was informed that “I have neither eyes to see nor tongue to speak in this place but as this House is pleased to direct me, whose servant I am here”. The House was outraged that its privileges had been breached by his presence. The City officers and the Inns of Court declared their support for the Commons and barricades were erected and cannon prepared for a possible attack by royal forces. The five members returned to Westminster, buoyed up by widespread demonstrations of public acclamation. Shortly after, the royal household left Whitehall. Charles set up court in York where royalist supporters from both houses of Parliament joined him.
Pym and his colleagues, suspecting the king of planning military action against Parliament, pushed the Militia Ordinance through the Commons in March 1642 which enabled Parliament to approve military commanders without the king’s approval. That was a denial of the royal prerogative. Both sides began to enrol military support. England was now on course for civil war.
King Charles I raised his standard at Nottingham in August 1642 and committed himself to overcoming the representative body of the people by force. He was supported by many who felt Parliament had exceeded it powers and intruded into the royal prerogative. Parliamentary forces controlled London, the South East, East Anglia and the navy. The rest of the country was in Charles’ hands and the royal Court moved to Oxford. The first military engagement took place at Edgehill in October. Prince Rupert of the Rhine, son of Charles’ sister Elizabeth and her husband Frederick V King of the Palatinate, was the impetuous commander of the royalist cavalry. Robert Devereux Earl of Essex, son of Elizabeth’s disloyal favourite, commanded the parliamentary force. Troops on both sides were inexperienced and Edgehill was inconclusive, peace talks broke down and both sides prepared for a bitter war.
In an effort to improve the quality of their forces, Parliamentarians established the Eastern Association, drawn from supporters in the rich farmlands of Eastern England from Essex to Lincolnshire. The Eastern forces were commanded by Edward Montagu the Earl of Manchester, with Oliver Cromwell MP, a relatively poor gentleman from Huntingdon and cousin of John Hampden, as his cavalry commander. His fellow commanders had a poor opinion of Cromwell’s choice of officers who were often yeomen below the rank of gentry. Nevertheless he won engagements against the Royalists in the important county of Lincolnshire in 1643. In May 1644 the Association forces besieged and captured Lincoln itself and joined up with the new Parliamentary commander Lord Fairfax and the Scottish Covenanters’ Army who were besieging York.
Many in the Scots army, led by Alexander Leslie Earl of Leven, who was also in overall command of both armies, had served on the battlefields of Europe. Prince Rupert arrived to relieve the siege and chose to engage the allied army at Marston Moor. He soon put Fairfax’s army and some of the Scots to flight. However, the Association force held its positions and Cromwell’s cavalry, aided by Covenanter regiments, retrieved the situation and then routed the Royalists.
The Association troops then moved south, where Cromwell began to express annoyance with his superiors who favoured a peaceful settlement. In November the Eastern Association, which was providing nearly half the manpower of the Parliamentary army, declared it could not continue to shoulder the expense. In response, Parliament decreed the formation of the New Model Army, which absorbed four cavalry and four infantry regiments from the Association force. The other units adopted the Association’s organisational pattern. Some thousands of foot soldiers were forcibly conscripted into the army to bring it up to strength.
Cromwell had been openly scornful of the army leaders who were, to a man, members of the Lords. Cromwell’s response was the Self-Denying Ordnance, whereby nobody serving in either House of Parliament could serve as an officer in the army, but the Ordinance, which was approved by Parliament in 1645, did not forbid the re-appointment of officers. Leaders from the Presbyterian faction in Parliament resigned their military positions to retain their political powers; Lords Manchester and Essex forfeited their army positions and Lord Warwick gave up command of the navy. Sir Thomas Fairfax, son of Lord Fairfax, took over control of the army and Cromwell was appointed his cavalry commander, but was allowed to continue as a Member of Parliament for Cambridge.
Shortly afterwards, in June 1645, the New Model Army under its new commanders crushed the Royalists at the battle of Naseby. Through the summer a series of victories brought the entire West Country into Parliamentary control. Charles briefly returned to Oxford in 1646, but was at a loss about how to turn around his dire situation. He decided to seek an accommodation with the Scots army which was besieging Newark. He was taken into custody and Oxford surrendered a short time later. It seemed the armed struggle was over and it was time for a political settlement.
In Scotland, meanwhile, the royalist cause had prospered. A combined force of Catholic Irish confederates and Highland clans, led by James Graham Marquess of Montrose, had won a series of victories against superior Covenanter forces on forays from their stronghold in the Highlands, culminating with the battle of Rosyth in August 1645. However the Royalist cause was already in ruins following the battle of Naseby. Nevertheless, Montrose resolved to go south to the king’s aid, but many of his highlanders drifted away, unwilling to leave their homelands to the tender mercy of Archibald Campbell Marquess of Argyll, the leader of the Presbyterian Covenant party in Scotland. Alexander Leslie, hearing that Montrose was heading south, sent a powerful cavalry force to intercept him near Selkirk and destroyed Montrose’s dwindling force at the battle of Philiphaugh in September 1645. The surviving Irish soldiers and the camp-followers were massacred after the battle. Montrose attempted to continue the fight but, following his surrender, King Charles ordered him to lay down his arms. The Covenanters refused to pardon him and he went into exile. Montrose returned to Scotland on a forlorn hope mission on behalf of Charles’ son in 1650. He was captured and barbarously put to death by hanging, beheading and quartering.
After the king surrendered, Leslie’s Scottish army withdrew to Newcastle upon Tyne, taking Charles with them. He entered into negotiations with his captors but would not agree to impose Presbyterianism in England. He made an attempt to escape and, after nine months, the Covenanters delivered Charles into the hands of Parliamentary Commissioners in exchange for a £100,000 initial down payment. They then withdrew to their own country and Covenanter units were sent to assist their fellow-religionists and countrymen in Ireland. They became annoyed when Parliament made no move to establish Presbyterianism in England and many Scots began to fear that Scotland was in danger of becoming a mere province of England. A Royalist faction, known as the Engagers, began to grow among the Covenanters.
Parliament held Charles under house arrest in Northamptonshire until Cornet George Joyce, a low-ranking officer in the New Model Army seized him in June 1647 and delivered him to Sir Thomas Fairfax’s HQ near Cambridge. The lower ranks of the army were growing restive over Parliament’s failure to pay their wages and threats to prosecute soldiers for criminal acts which they might have committed during the war. Many soldiers were also discontented that a parliamentary majority was in favour of restoring the king without securing religious freedoms and democratic reforms; they said they had not risked their lives for a return to the status quo. The army cadre of mainly Congregationalist and Independent officers was by this time also intensely suspicious of the Parliamentary leaders, who were Presbyterian in outlook and favoured the restoration of the king and the replacement of bishops with the Scottish system of Church leadership by elders. Many Parliamentarians feared the evident politicisation of the army and wanted to disband it or send it to fight in Ireland.
The army leaders ordered that two representatives, called agitators, were to be elected from each regiment; among those elected were members of a radical movement called the Levellers. They, together with two regimental officers, met with the generals at Newmarket, where they formed the Army Council. The Council formulated A Solemn Engagement of the Army in June which was designed to inform Parliament of the widespread discontent among army personnel of all ranks.
Following on the declaration of the Solemn Engagement, Cromwell’s son-in-law Henry Ireton and Major General John Lambert were commissioned to draw up the Heads of Proposals, a proto-constitution, on behalf of the army leaders. The five main proposals, which were reformist rather than revolutionary in character, were: no Royalist could hold a state office for five years, the Book of Common Prayer was permitted but was not mandatory, biennial parliaments were to be called and constituencies were to be reorganised, bishops would remain but with reduced powers, Parliament would control appointments of state officials, military and naval officers for ten years.
The army had now entered the political arena. Parliament, instead of taking up the Heads of Proposals as the basis for a settlement, sent the King a revised edition of the Covenanters’ Newcastle propositions, differing mainly in that it proposed a limited toleration for all Puritans, whilst forbidding use of the Prayer Book. On 14th September the king responded that he preferred the Proposals of the army as more conducive "to the satisfaction of all interests and a fitter foundation for a lasting peace". At this stage, it appears that the King expected the leaders of the army to stand by him in procuring a better offer from parliament.
The army leisurely marched south, culminating with a grand parade through the streets of London on August 7th which finally demonstrated to the City authorities and Parliament where real power ultimately lay. The lower ranks, influenced by the Levellers, issued a demand for their own version of a constitution called The Agreement of the People, which demanded religious freedom and rule by Parliament, with power invested in the House of Commons elected from reorganised constituencies every two years by universal male suffrage.
In late October the Army General Council staged the Putney Debates which argued the relative merits of the Agreement and Ireton’s Proposals. Cromwell took the chair as Fairfax was unwell. He refused to accept any proposition which involved the overthrow of the king. Ireton considered the Leveller argument for universal male suffrage would result in the end of the notion of personal property and mean nothing less than the ruin of England. The debates concluded with the understanding that a version of the Agreement approved by a committee of army officers would form the basis for any future constitutional settlement and that it would be presented to the Army itself at a mass meeting. However, the radical agitators wanted to continue with a discussion about the king’s future. The army grandees, fearing a breakdown of discipline, proposed that the agitators return at once to their regiments, thereby suspending the meetings. The debates had lasted 14 days when the king escaped from confinement at Hampton Court on 11th November. That same day the Army General Council drafted a new manifesto which contained a clause in which all members of the army would sign a declaration of loyalty to Sir Thomas Fairfax and the General Council (thus making further agitation when ordered to desist a mutinous offence).
Charles I viewed the increasingly bitter disputes between Parliament and army, English and Scots as an opportunity to win back his authority. He fled south, hoping that the Governor of the Isle of Wight would assist him, but was disappointed when he was confined in Carisbrooke Castle. However, he was able to hold further negotiations with representatives from Scotland, where the vast majority of Covenanters were now willing to support the monarchy. In December 1647 Charles promised the Scots that Presbyterianism would be imposed in England for three years and the Independents would be squashed, but he refused to sign the Covenant himself. In return the Scots would send an army into England to help restore him to the throne. The agreement was called ‘The Engagement’.
The Scottish delegation returned and began to organise for a war. However, the Kirk Party did not trust Charles and refused to support the war effort. In June 1648 a poorly trained ‘Engager’ army was sent into England under an inexperienced general, the Duke of Hamilton. He was expecting to provide support for a series of royalist uprisings throughout England and Wales at the beginning of a second English Civil War, but by the time his army reached Lancashire the scattered revolts had been put down. Cromwell went north and destroyed the Scots army at the battle of Preston in August. Hamilton was taken prisoner; he was beheaded in Westminster and Scotland fell under the control of the Kirk Party and the Marquess of Argyll.
Parliament was still willing to negotiate a settlement with Charles, but the army had lost patience with him. He was taken from Parliamentary custody and was moved to the mainland by the army. Fairfax had army units occupy key points in London and Westminster and, on 6th and 7th December, under orders from Ireton, Colonel Thomas Pride commanded a troop of soldiers who forcibly excluded from Parliament 140 MPs considered to be opponents of the army, forty five of whom were arrested. About 156 MPs remained free in London with another 40 or so elsewhere in the country. Thus of 470 eligible members of the Long Parliament only about 200 were left to serve in the Rump Parliament. Many of them were horrified by Pride's action, and more than 80 of those remaining in London refused to attend. The vote to end negotiations with Charles was taken by only 83 MPs. Following the coup d’etat, Parliament was now in the firm grip of the Independent leaders of the New Model Army, headed by Cromwell.
On 1 January 1649, the Commons passed an Ordinance to try the king for treason; the Chief Justices of the three common law courts of England all opposed the indictment and it was rejected by the House of Lords. The Rump Commons then declared themselves the supreme power in the state and proceeded to create a new High Court of Justice consisting of 135 Commissioners, only 68 of whom attended the king’s trial for high treason and other crimes; Fairfax, the army commander, was appointed head of the tribunal, but did not appear at the trial as he was fully aware that the outcome was going to be a sentence of death. The trial began on 20th January 1649 in Westminster Hall. King Charles refused to plead asking “By what power am I called hither, by what lawful authority?” He claimed his authority to rule was given to him by God and by the traditional laws of England, and that the power wielded by those trying him was only that of force of arms. On 26th January the king was condemned to death. 59 of the commissioners signed the death warrant; Cromwell’s was the third signature on the page; Fairfax’s was not one of them.
On 29th January the king said farewell to Elizabeth and Henry, two of his children held in custody by the Parliamentarians. The following day he was beheaded on a scaffold erected in front of the Banqueting House in Whitehall and separated from a great crowd by ranks of New Model soldiers. His body was buried at Windsor. The execution shocked Europe, appalled many in England and outraged Scotland where the king was Charles Stewart King of Scots. The Confederate Catholics of Ireland went on full alert and Charles was soon treated as a martyr in the Anglican Church.
England became a Commonwealth or Republic and the House of Lords was abolished by the Rump. Executive power was taken by a Council of State which was dominated by members of the army, including Cromwell. The on-going war in Ireland was at the top of their agenda and in May 1649 Cromwell was sent across the Irish Sea with a powerful invasion force. He held the Irish Catholics , both Gaels and the Anglo-Irish, in low esteem for religious reasons and they could expect little mercy from the New Model Army which shared much of his religious fervour. At Drogheda and Wexford, massacres of Royalist and Irish soldiers, civilians and priests took place. He was on the way to forcing peace on Ireland when news came that Prince Charles had agreed to abide by the Covenant and, in return, the controlling Covenant party recognised his claim to the Scottish crown. Cromwell returned to England to deal with the matter, leaving Ireton to finish mopping up Ireland, which took another two years. The Parliamentary Settlement of Ireland included the confiscation of all Catholic-owned land, public celebration of Mass was forbidden and Catholic priests were to be killed when captured. 50,000 men, women and children were deported to work as indentured servants on the plantations of Bermuda and Barbados to help pay the cost of the war.
Cromwell took over command of the army from Fairfax, who was not willing to make war against his recent Scots allies. He won an overwhelming victory against the odds at Dunbar in September 1650 and went on to capture Edinburgh. Cromwell declared it was “one of the most signal mercies God hath done for England and His people”. The Scottish Royalists and Covenanters buried their differences in the national interest and Prince Charles was crowned King Charles II of Scotland at Scone 1st January 1651. A new, ill-assorted army was levied, partly by conscription, and Charles marched into England at its head, hoping to seize London whilst Cromwell was still engaged in Scotland. However Cromwell left General George Monck to conclude matters there and caught them at Worcester where they were destroyed in September 1651. Charles II barely escaped with his life, and famously hid in an oak tree whilst ‘roundheads’ scoured the countryside looking for him. He eventually reached France and spent the next nine years in exile, wandering from capital to capital in search of support from various European rulers. Thousands of Scottish prisoners were again sold as indentured servants in the colonies. Scotland was declared a joint member of a new Commonwealth with England and Ireland by the Tender of Union and George Monck was appointed its military governor.
Back in England, Cromwell and the Council of State became increasingly irritated by the Rump Parliament, which was nominally the nation’s supreme authority. It was the moribund remains of the Long Parliament which had been elected in 1640, purged in 1649 and now had no claim to genuine representation of the people. The Rump developed into a fairly conservative body which resented interference by the army. Ireton and others wanted a radical reform of the legal system; little was achieved, although the use of English rather than Latin in legal proceedings was authorised. However, many members were more concerned with religious matters and the Rump struggled to define the nature of a new national religious arrangement.
In 1652 the Commonwealth’s protective trade policy expressed in the Navigation Act led to war with the Netherlands. Faced with this and other problems, Parliament’s attention was distracted away from preparations for the new elections which the Army Council was seeking. Cromwell considered they were employing delaying tactics and on 20th April 1653 he led a squad of musketeers to Parliament and forced the MPs to leave the premises.
The army was now at a loss about how to replace the Commons. They feared fresh elections might return a majority of Royalist and Presbyterian opponents. In June a total of 140 delegates were appointed to a new national assembly, comprising 129 for England, five for Scotland and six for Ireland (the Scottish and Irish delegates were English soldiers who were serving in those countries). A further five members, including Cromwell, were quickly co-opted onto the Assembly. Sir Thomas Fairfax was nominated but declined to take part. Although the Nominated Assembly was unelected, it assumed the title of the Parliament of the Commonwealth and was soon given the derisory name of the Barebones Parliament, but it lasted less than six months. Nevertheless, 26 ordinances were passed during its brief life, but tensions grew between moderates and radicals until the former organised an early-morning revolt and abdicated the assembly’s powers to Cromwell in December 1653. Once again soldiers were sent to clear dissident members out of the house.
The leader of the moderates Major General John Lambert then drafted The Instrument of Government, by which executive power was given to Cromwell who was nominated Lord Protector for life. Triennial Parliaments were to be called and were to remain in session for at least five months. Constituencies were re-organised to lessen the influence of the gentry in favour of the emerging urban middle classes. Leveller ideas were expressly rejected by the county franchise being restricted to persons with land or personal property valued at £200 or more. Roman Catholics and known Royalists were declared ineligible to vote or seek election. Liberty of worship was granted to all except Roman Catholics and ‘extreme sectarians’. The Instrument of Government was England's first written constitution. Cromwell was installed as Lord Protector on 16 December 1653.
A new Parliament was summoned in September 1654 and Cromwell presented 84 bills for ratification. Many members wished to discuss other matters and would not agree a smooth passage for Cromwell’s constitutional measures. He dismissed Parliament as soon as he was able in January 1655.
Cromwell then divided England into military districts ruled by army Major-Generals who were only answerable to him. Cromwell called the fifteen Major Generals and deputy major generals his "godly governors" and they were central to his moral crusade. They supervised militia forces, collected taxes and put down any opposition. Cromwell’s second Parliament was called in September 1656 at the request of the Major Generals, who needed money to pay for upkeep of the army and navy. The Council of State stopped 100 from taking their seats as the Council thought they were not God-fearing men. Another fifty withdrew in protest. Even so, the remaining members brought down the Major Generals by refusing to raise taxes to pay their militias.
The members then presented Cromwell with the Humble Petition and Advice, which amounted to a new constitution to replace Lambert’s Instrument of Government. The Petition offered to make Cromwell a hereditary monarch aided by an independent advisory council and a Triennial Parliament having control over new taxation. In addition, the size of the standing army was to be reduced in order to save money. The effect of the proposals would limit, not increase, Cromwell's power. Cromwell refused to accept the crown and the petition was amended to withdraw that offer. It was also modified to suggest a second Parliamentary chamber. In May 1657, an ailing Cromwell ratified the Humble Petition and said he would name his successor as Lord Protector. He fell ill and died 3rd September 1658. His son Richard succeeded him, but had little experience and no power base in Parliament or the army. The whole Cromwellian experiment in constitutional reform proved to be built on sand.
Over the centuries, opinion remains sharply divided about the events and personalities of those years of conflict and religious dispute. Charles I and Cromwell were both convinced they had God’s support for their cause. Little good came from Charles’ stubborn resistance to the demands of his Parliaments. He was a brave and cultured man, but inflexible, and had no understanding of the mighty forces ranged against him. Cromwell showed great prowess as a soldier, but failed to produce a successful system of governing the three nations; ultimately he nearly always resorted to military force to clear a way to his goals.
Cromwell’s Commonwealth was most likely regarded as something of a peculiar nuisance by its neighbours in Europe, who were immersed in their own religious and territorial struggles. However, they all had a respect for its military power and most of the time they wanted to remain on friendly terms. The Commonwealth and the preceding kingdom had built up new resources, although the state remained desperately short of assured income to pay for its powerful armed services. It now possessed a scattering of colonies in North America and the Caribbean which were beginning to bring profitable returns to businessmen in Bristol, the City of London and elsewhere. Traders were established in India, in the islands of Indonesia and had a foothold in China. The British Empire was on its way to becoming a recognisable entity.
In 1649 Parliamentary leaders had realised the Commonwealth needed a strong navy to fight off foreign support for the Royalists and protect English trade; funds were raised to build twenty new warships. The fleet was put under command of General at Sea Robert Blake, whose previous experience of warfare was engagement in several West Country sieges, during which he worked his way up to the rank of colonel. Blake was the driving force who created the largest navy England had ever known up to that time. He developed successful new tactics and the first ever navy regulations. He overcame the troublesome Royalist navy commanded by Prince Rupert and secured control of the colonies in America and the Caribbean which had supported the royalist cause.
In 1652 the Commonwealth went to war with the Netherlands, which had become a powerful maritime nation with the largest merchant fleet in the world. The Dutch had taken over most of the Portuguese trade in the East Indies and Brazil and had also displaced English merchants in European markets. They operated a free trade policy, which enabled them to compete successfully in the English colonies. The Navigation Act of 1651 was designed to keep them out by restricting trade between the homeland and the colonies to English ships. Cromwell favoured a political union with the fellow-republic, but the Dutch rejected his idea and a naval war broke out. Blake’s experience in that war caused him to introduce radical changes to naval warfare. He eventually established English superiority in the Channel and North Sea and a peace agreement was made in 1654, but the commercial rivalry between the two nations was not resolved and the cost of the naval effort had caused further damage to the Commonwealth economy.
Blake continued to win laurels at sea. He commanded a fleet sent to attack Tunisian pirates in the Mediterranean and, for the first time ever, destroyed shore batteries from the sea without sending a landing party ashore. He had further opportunities for glory when Cromwell sent an expedition to take Hispaniola in 1655. The enterprise was an expensive failure, although it managed to take the smaller island of Santiago which was renamed Jamaica. Spain might well have recaptured the island, but in 1657 buccaneers were invited to base themselves at Port Royal and provided a stout defence for the new English colony. Meanwhile, Blake blockaded Cadiz throughout the winter of 56/57 (the first time a fleet was maintained at sea through the winter season); a Spanish treasure fleet was all but destroyed and a galleon loaded with treasure was captured. He then proceeded to Tenerife where, with the loss of only one ship, he destroyed a Spanish armed convoy at Vera Cruz, which was thought to be impregnable. Blake died within sight of Plymouth on his return voyage. He received a State funeral and was buried in Westminster Abbey, thirteen months before Cromwell was also laid to rest there. Three years later his body was exhumed and buried in a common grave on orders of the new king. He is now regarded as ‘the Father of the Royal Navy’.
The Commonwealth never got to grips with its financial problems; the expense of military campaigns in Ireland and Scotland and the maintenance of a large army and navy ensured that it remained short of money. Taxation remained at high levels and was deeply resented. Cromwell’s foreign wars were intended partly to protect British markets against foreign competition and partly to gain new markets and opportunities by conquest.
In 1656 he invited the Jews to return to England after 364 years, having noticed their contribution to the economic success of the Netherlands. He was also hopeful that he might hasten the Second Coming of Jesus Christ by persuading them to convert to Christianity, which perhaps demonstrates how deeply he was influenced by his millenarian religious convictions.
His son and successor Richard Cromwell had no hope of renewing the exhausted, divided and worn out three nations, which sheltered or cowered behind his father’s main creation, the strong military and naval forces. The second coming which Oliver had longed for came two years later - but in the form of a tall, shrewd, essentially cynical and worldly Stuart king. After all the tragedy and turmoil of the previous two decades, England reaffirmed the Stuart monarchy in 1660.
1603 The accession of James VI, son of Mary Queen of Scots, to the English throne as James I. He is a Protestant but has strong views about the absolute rights of monarchy.
~ The first extant version of Hamlet by William Shakespeare, his longest and possibly most powerful drama.
~ Sir Walter Raleigh is sentenced to death for his involvement in the Main plot and is confined in the Tower.
1604 The king and Robert Cecil negotiate an end to the war with Spain.
~ Jesuits and other Catholic priests are ordered to leave the country.
~ The Witchcraft Act rules witches may be liable to sentence of death.
1605 Discovery of the Catholic Gunpowder Plot to blow up king and parliament. Guy Fawkes (1570-1606) is arrested and executed with the other plotters including their leader Robert Catesby (1572-1605).
~ The plot results in the passing of the Popish Recusants Act. All Catholics are required to swear an Oath of Allegiance causing friction within the Catholic community.
1606 The first Union Flag amalgamates the flag of St George of England and the Scottish St Andrew’s saltire.
1607 John Smith (1580-1631) founds a colonial settlement at Jamestown in America on behalf of the Virginia Company.
~ The Flight of the Earls. Hugh O’Neill the Gaelic Earl of Tyrone and Rory O’Donnell (1575-1608) the Earl of Tyrconnell and their families flee Ireland. The end of the old Irish rulers.
1608 William Brewster (1568-1644) of Scrooby leads a small congregation of Brownist Puritans seeking separation from the Church of England to the Netherlands.
1609 The Plantation of Gaelic Ulster begins. English and Scots Protestants are settled on the forfeited estates of the rebel Irish earls.
~ The Virginia Company begins the permanent settlement of Bermuda.
~ The Hudson River in modern New York State is named for Henry Hudson (c 1570-1611) who explores it in search of a North West passage to Cathay (China).
~ The first edition of Shakespeare’s sonnets are published, dedicated to ‘Mr. W. H.’.
1610 Robert Cecil promotes the Great Contract whereby Parliament would increase the King’s income and eventually pay off his debts and in return he would agree to give up some of his feudal rights. Neither party could agree the terms.
~ Sir Edward Coke (1552-1634), Chief Justice of the Court of Common Pleas, declares limits to royal power in the Case of Proclamations and rules that the King has no prerogative but that which the law of the land allows.
~ The Scottish Parliament re-establishes episcopacy in the Church.
~ A short-lived colony is established at Cuper’s Cove, Newfoundland by John Guy (1568-1529) for the Bristol Society of Merchant Venturers.
1611 The Authorised version of The Bible, supervised by Bishop Lancelot Andrewes (1555-1626) is published – a monumental work of English Literature and a Protestant icon.
~ Lady Arbella Stuart (1575-1615), a descendant of Margaret Tudor and fourth in line to the English throne, is confined for marrying William Seymour (1588-1660) Lord Beauchamp (who is himself sixth in line) without the King’s permission. She escapes but is recaptured and spends the rest of her life in the Tower of London.
~ Henry Hudson explores Hudson Bay, Canada. The crew of his ship mutiny and set him, his son and seven others adrift, never to be seen again.
1612 Robert Cecil Lord Salisbury, Secretary of State, dies.
~ Henry Frederick (born 1594), Prince of Wales dies of typhoid and is succeeded by his brother Charles (1600-1649).
~ Thomas Helwys (c1575-c1616) establishes a Separatist Baptist congregation in London based on the doctrines of John Smyth (c1570-1612), who preached the adult baptism message in Amsterdam. He is imprisoned (and probably) dies in Newgate.
~ Edward Wightman (born c 1580), an Anabaptist, is the last person to be burnt at the stake for heresy in England.
1613 Shakespeare’s original Globe theatre burns down.
~ County Londonderry is created out of Tyrone territory in Ulster.
~ Elizabeth Cary Viscountess Falkland, nee Tanfield, (1585-1639) Britain’s first known woman dramatist publishes Miriam the Fair Queen of Jewry.
1614 The Addled Parliament. James I &VI asks for a large grant which parliament refuses, as it considers the deficit is due to royal extravagance. The King dissolves Parliament and states he is amazed that his ancestors should have allowed such an institution to come into existence.
1616 The death of William Shakespeare, Britain’s greatest dramatist.
~ George Chapman (c1559-1634) completes the first translation of Homer into modern English.
~ Sir Walter Raleigh is released from the Tower after 13 years to search for
gold in Guiana.
~ Sir Edward Coke Chief Justice of Kings Bench is dismissed for resisting the royal prerogative.
1617 Pocahontas (born c 1596), the native American wife of Virginian tobacco planter John Rolfe (1585-1622) is introduced to English Society and dies at Gravesend.
~ James I & VI visits Scotland and tries to persuade the Scots to accept church rituals similar to the Anglican Church.
1618 The Five Articles of Perth are reluctantly accepted by the Scottish Church General Assembly.
~ Sir Walter Raleigh is executed for ignoring royal instructions by ransacking a Spanish outpost in South America, whilst leading an expedition in search of the mythical city of El Dorado.
~ The Guinea Company begins trading with Gambia and the Gold Coast. Gold, ivory and redwood are its main interests, with trade in African slaves becoming an additional profit earner later.
1619 William Harvey (1578-1657), an English physician educated at Cambridge but trained in Padua, Italy, proposes the theory of the circulation of the blood.
~ The East India Company founds a trading post at Surat on the West coast of India.
~ African slaves arrive aboard a Dutch ship and are the first to be sold in Jamestown Virginia.
1620 A Separatist group of Puritans led by William Brewster in Leiden, Netherlands, later known as the Pilgrim Fathers, are funded by a group of London merchants to establish a colony in New England. They sail from England aboard the Mayflower and establish the Plymouth colony.
1621 James I & VI, in need of funds, summons his third Parliament.
~ The Commons Protestation defending Parliamentary privilege and free speech is presented to the King who rejects it, imprisons Sir Edward Coke in the Tower and dissolves Parliament.
~ Two traders are impeached for profiteering from monopolies. The first time the process is used since 1449.
~ Lord Chancellor Francis Bacon (1561-1626) Lord St Alban, a celebrated scientist and philosopher in addition to being a lawyer and politician, is dismissed after being found guilty of bribery and corruption by the House of Commons.
1622 The Whitehall Banqueting House, designed by Inigo Jones in the Palladian style, is completed.
~ The Jamestown Massacre in Virginia decimates the colonists and leads to Virginia becoming a Crown Colony in 1624.
1623 The First Folio of Shakespeare’s plays is published seven years after his death.
~ Ignoring English public opinion, Prince Charles (1600-1649) and the king’s favourite George Villiers (1592-1628) Duke of Buckingham, go to Madrid to negotiate a marriage between the prince and the Spanish Infanta which ends in humiliating failure.
~ English and French settlers gain a toehold in the Caribbean when they form separate settlements at St Kitts.
~ English traders and settlers are massacred by the Dutch in the Moluccas, Indonesia.
1625 James I and VI dies, succeeded by his son Charles I who now opposes Spain and espouses a French alliance. He marries Princess Henrietta Maria (1609-1669) of France, a Catholic.
~ The King’s Court and Parliament temporarily move to Oxford due to an outbreak of plague.
~ Parliament withholds the customary life-time grant of Tunnage and Poundage excise levies, which are the Crown’s main source of income, but the King continues to collect them to avoid bankruptcy and dissolves Parliament.
~ An attempt, planned by the Duke of Buckingham, to capture Cadiz and intercept a Spanish treasure fleet arriving from South America is an embarrassing failure.
~ The island of Barbados is claimed as the first English Caribbean colony.
~ Death of Orlando Gibbons (born 1583), the leading English composer of the Jacobean period and almost the last of the English Madrigal School.
1626 The King contemplates war with France as well as Spain. Parliament is recalled and the House of Commons, guided by Sir John Eliot (1592-1632), attempt to impeach the Duke of Buckingham for high treason. Charles I dissolves Parliament again. Eliot is sent to the Tower.
1627 The Duke of Buckingham leads an expedition to help the Huguenots of La Rochelle which is another failure.
1628 A new Parliament is concerned about being at war with both France and Spain. The King’s use of forced loans and other quasi-legal taxes and the imposition of martial law in some peaceful communities has also upset MPs.
~ The Petition of Right, drafted by a committee led by Sir Edward Coke, curtails the royal prerogative and recognises rights and privileges of the people which the king is not permitted to infringe.
~ George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham and close advisor to the king and his father before him is assassinated.
~ Sir Edward Coke’s first edition of Institutes of the Laws of England is published. The Institutes is a fundamental document of UK and United States Common Law.
1629 Charles I orders the adjournment of the House of Commons but the Speaker is restrained whilst the House debates the Three Resolutions, issued by Sir John Eliot, which condemn royal policies and apparent religious doctrine.
~ The King dismisses Parliament and arrests Eliot and eight other MPs. He commences an eleven year period of personal rule assisted by Thomas Wentworth (1593-1641), later Earl of Strafford, during which he raises revenue without Parliamentary consent.
1630 Governor John Winthrop (1588-1649), a Puritan, takes a fleet with 700 colonists to found the Massachusetts Bay colony in New England.
~ Peace treaties with France and Spain signal England’s disengagement from European affairs to the dismay of European Protestants.
1631 John Donne (born 1572), Dean of St Paul’s London and a leading English metaphysical poet dies. His love poetry is considered some of the finest in the language.
1632 Sir Christopher Codrington (dates unknown), a planter from St Kitts, establishes an English settlement on Antigua in the Caribbean.
~ Lord Baltimore (1580-1632), a Catholic, gains a royal charter to establish an American colony and names it Maryland in honour of Queen Henrietta Maria. It is noted for practicing religious toleration.
~ Sir John Eliot dies in the Tower of London.
~ Sir Anthony Van Dyck (1599-1641) becomes court painter to Charles I, who owns an outstanding collection of Fine Art.
1633 Thomas Wentworth (1593-1641) becomes Lord Deputy in Ireland and, though he affects useful reforms, he earns the hostility of powerful enemies.
~ Charles I appoints William Laud (1573-1643) Archbishop of Canterbury and is crowned in Scotland with Anglican rites.
1634 Ship Money, a medieval non-parliamentary tax for maintaining wartime naval defence is levied by Charles on coastal towns and London. It is later extended to inland towns.
~ The Newmarket Gold Cup horse race is instituted.
1635 Peter Paul Rubens paints memorial ceiling panels to James I & VI in the Whitehall Banqueting Hall.
~ The English High and Latin School is founded at Boston New England, the first colonial secondary school, shortly afterwards established at Cambridge and re-named Harvard.
1636 John Hampden (1594-1643) refuses to pay the Ship Money levy for this year. He narrowly loses the resulting court case, but his trial encourages widespread resistance to the levy.
1637 Charles I, encouraged by the anti-Puritan William Laud Archbishop of Canterbury, tries to impose the Book of Common Prayer on the church in Scotland and a riot takes place in St Giles Cathedral, Edinburgh.
~ Death of Ben Jonson (born 1572), poet and second only to Shakespeare as a writer of plays in the Jacobean era.
~ Hyde Park, a royal deer park next to Westminster, is opened to the public.
~ English traders establish an outpost at Canton, China.
1638 The National Covenant in support of Presbyterianism circulates in Scotland. Covenanters take up arms against the King.
1639 English forces are raised to quell the Covenanters’ revolt in Scotland - the Bishops’ Wars begin. The Treaty of Berwick brings a temporary truce.
~ Harvard College, Cambridge, New England is named for John Harvard who left a large legacy to the college.
1640 The English Parliament is recalled to enable the King to raise money for the war. The Short Parliament is dismissed because it demands grievances against king be discussed.
~ The Scottish parliament approves the Covenant. Covenanters defeat royal forces at Newburn and take Newcastle on Tyne. The Treaty of Ripon ends the Second Bishops’ War.
~ The Long Parliament (1640-1660) is summoned but refuses to fund the Bishops’ Wars and exacts major concessions regarding fiscal measures. An Act is passed stipulating Parliament can only be dissolved with its own approval.
~ The King visits Scotland hoping to enlist anti-parliamentary support.
~ The Habeas Corpus Act declares prisoners can apply for a writ certifying the true cause of imprisonment and abolishes the Star Chamber and High Commission courts renowned for arbitrary and abusive procedures. The act is amplified in 1679.
~ The East India Company establishes an agency at Fort St George, Madras, on the East coast of India.
1641 Led by John Pym (1584-1643), the House of Commons impeaches Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford, and Charles I reluctantly signs the death warrant of his close advisor.
~ The Triennial Act is passed which stipulates Parliament must be called every three years.
~ The Grand Remonstrance, a list of grievances prepared by Pym, John Hampden and others is presented to the king by Parliament. The king’s response is regarded as inadequate.
~ A rebellion of Gaelic and Anglo-Irish Catholics against the plantations of English and Scottish Protestants in Ulster begins the Confederate Wars, during which they take control of much of Ireland.
1642 The King, accompanied by soldiers, enters the House of Commons but fails to arrest the Five Members he seeks to apprehend, who include Pym and Hampden.
~ The Militia Ordinance gives Parliament powers to appoint army commanders.
~ Parliament presents the King with an ultimatum called the Nineteen Propositions, requiring that Parliament must approve the appointment of all ministers, take control of the army and decide the future of the Church.
~ Charles I raises his standard at Nottingham. The English Civil War begins.
~ A Scottish Covenanters’ force is sent to Ulster to protect Scottish Protestant plantations against the Irish Catholic Confederation.
~ A Parliamentary ordinance closes all theatres.
~ Sir Cornelius Vermuyden (1595-1667), a Dutch engineer, presents A Discourse Touching the Draining of the Great Fennes, the first of numerous schemes for reclamation of the Fenland.
1643 The Solemn League and Covenant is accepted by Parliament, which agrees to establish Presbyterianism as the national church in England and Ireland and ally with the Scottish Covenanters’ Army against the king.
~ Eastern Association forces with Colonel Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658) commanding the cavalry, secure East Anglia for Parliament.
~ Natural death of John Pym. John Hampden is killed at the battle of Chalgrove Field.
1644 Battle of Marston Moor. Scottish Covenanters and Oliver Cromwell’s ‘Roundheads’ rout the Royal army commanded by Prince Rupert (1619-1682) of the Rhine.
~ Civil War breaks out in Scotland between Covenanters and Scottish Catholic or Episcopalian Royalists backed by some Irish supporters.
~ Parliament forbids Christmas celebrations.
~ Archbishop Laud is attainted and beheaded (Jan 1645).
~ Cromwell becomes leader of the Puritan Independents, who are opposed to the majority Presbyterians in the Commons and all semblance of state-ordered religion.
1645 The full-time, professional Parliamentary New Model army, modelled on the Eastern Association force, is formed.
~ The Self-denying Ordnance is approved, but Cromwell is confirmed as lieutenant general of Cavalry known as ‘Ironsides’.
~The battle of Naseby. The highly-disciplined Parliamentary army, commanded by Sir Thomas Fairfax (1612-1671) and Oliver Cromwell destroys the Royalist army.
~ The Covenanters’ army beats the Scottish Royalist army led by the Marquess of Montrose (1612-1650) at the battle of Philiphaugh near Selkirk.
~ Prince Rupert surrenders Bristol.
1646 Charles, Prince of Wales escapes to Jersey.
~ Charles I surrenders to the Scots Covenanters’ army at Southwell, Nottinghamshire with assurances that his personal safety and conscience will be respected.
~ Oxford surrenders to Parliamentarians.
~ Parliamentary delegation makes proposals: the abolition of the episcopacy and other church reforms and the king gives up control of the army to Parliament for 20 years.
~ Charles equivocates and tries to escape but is restrained by his Scots guards.
1647 Charles refuses to accept the Covenant and the Scots army deliver him up to the English Parliamentarians before returning to Scotland.
~ The Presbyterian party in Parliament, seeking a compromise with the King, tries to disband the army whose leaders are mostly Independents, and provokes a mutiny over back pay and other issues. The Army seizes the king and marches into London.
~ The Putney Debates. The New Model Army considers proposals for a new constitution for England. Opinion is divided between radicals represented by the Levellers who seek equality and democracy and army grandees, including Cromwell, who resist ideas of extensions to political influence.
~ The debates end when the king flees to the Isle of Wight, where he tries to do deals with the Parliamentarians, the New Model Army and the Scots, eventually agreeing with the Scots to accept Presbyterianism in Scotland and, for a three year term, in England.
~ George Fox, founder of the Society of Friends or Quakers, begins his preaching career.
~ Matthew Hopkins (born c 1620), ‘the witch-finder general’, retires after his methods are questioned and dies soon after. He was responsible for the deaths of about 300 ‘witches’ in East Anglia.
~ Peter Lely (1618-1680), a German-born artist, paints portraits of the King and the Duke of York.
1648 A second Civil War briefly flares as Royalists and Scots sympathisers in favour of the monarchy join forces against Independents and the New Model Army.
~ Cromwell defeats the Scots and Royalist army at the battle of Preston.
~ Parliament initially rejects the army’s Remonstrance which proclaims the Sovereignty of the People and enters into negotiation with the King.
~ Exasperated by Parliament, Cromwell’s son in law Henry Ireton (1611-1651) orders Colonel Pride’s purge of MPs, leaving the Rump Parliament under the army’s supervision.
~ Rhode Island separates from Massachusetts Bay in New England.
1649 Charles I is charged with high treason and brought before a Parliamentary court which he refuses to recognise. Found guilty, the king is beheaded outside the Whitehall Banqueting House.
~ The monarchy and the House of Lords are abolished. England is proclaimed to be a Commonwealth ruled by a Council of State.
~ The Scottish parliament proclaims Charles II (1630-1685) King.
~ Cromwell commences to put down the long-running Catholic Confederation and Royalist rebellion in Ireland and massacres the defenders and inhabitants of Drogheda.
~ Robert Blake (1598-1657), after sterling service in the New Model Army, is promoted General at Sea (Admiral). He writes The Laws of War and Ordinances of the Sea.
~ Levellers are shot for mutiny in Burford Churchyard.
1650 The Battle of Dunbar. Cromwell is recalled from Ireland, defeats a Scottish Covenanters’ army loyal to Charles II and occupies Edinburgh.
~ The re-conquest of Ireland is completed by Protestant settlers and the New Model Army commanded by Henry Ireton. A large quantity of Irish Catholics’ land is confiscated and thousands are sold as labour to the colonies to pay back parliamentary war loans. A new wave of British plantations is started in Ireland.
1651 Charles II takes the Covenant oath, agrees terms in the Treaty of Breda and is crowned King of Scots at Scone.
~ A Scottish Royalist army enters England intending to take London but is defeated at the battle of Worcester. Charles II escapes capture by hiding in an oak tree.
~ A section of the New Model Army remains in Scotland throughout the Commonwealth period under the command of George Monck (1608-1670).
~ The Navigation Act. Goods coming into English ports or the ports of English colonies from anywhere in the world must be carried in English ships.
~ Thomas Hobbes publishes Leviathan which expounds Social Contract Theory.
1652 Disputes over trade escalate into the First Dutch War. The much improved Commonwealth navy fights a series of engagements with the Dutch Republic in the Channel and North Sea.
~ Latin is replaced by English in legal proceedings.
1653 Cromwell, backed by armed soldiers, dismisses the Rump Parliament.
~ The Barebones Parliament, consisting of 140 MPs appointed by Cromwell and the army - 129 from England, 5 from Scotland and 6 from Ireland - meets but is dissolved later in the year.
~ The Tender of Union declares England, Scotland and Ireland are unified in one Commonwealth.
~ The Instrument of Government is adopted as a constitution for the three Commonwealth countries.
~ Robert Blake composes Sailing instructions and Fighting Instructions, the foundation of English naval fighting tactics in the age of sail, and the Commonwealth navy commanded by General at Sea George Monck beats the Dutch offshore at Scheveningen.
~ Izaak Walton (c1593-1683) publishes The Compleat Angler, a celebration of the art of fresh water fishing with rod and line.
1654 Cromwell becomes Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland.
~ George Monk returns to become Governor of Scotland where he purges the army of extremist elements.
~ The First Dutch War ends but commercial rivalry between the two nations continues and the Dutch Republic actually increases its economic advantage.
~ A State of war exists with Spain.
~ The First Parliament of the Commonwealth is called but will not accept the Instrument of Government and the parliament is dissolved.
1655 Cromwell appoints army Major Generals to administer 12 regions within the Commonwealth. The intention is to: provide a safeguard against royalist conspiracy, to exact taxes from royalists to help pay for local militias and to ensure the moral regeneration of the nation.
~ A Treaty with France agrees the exclusion of Charles II and approves joint action against Spain.
~ An expedition is despatched to attack Spanish colonies in the Caribbean. It is generally a failure but Santiago is taken from Spain and renamed Jamaica. The governor’s tacit support for buccaneers or privateers preying on Spanish trade contributes to the ‘Golden Age of Piracy’ in the Caribbean.
~ The Mosquito or Miskito Coast region of Central America provides safe haven for anti-Spanish privateers and becomes an early form of English Protectorate.
~ The Jews are allowed back into England.
1656 The second Protectorate Parliament rejects a bill to renew the reign of the Major Generals and the system is abandoned.
~ Blake keeps his fleet at sea all winter on blockade outside Cadiz and destroys the Spanish treasure convoy.
1657 Robert Blake destroys a Spanish convoy in harbour at Santa Cruz, the heavily defended capital of Tenerife. He dies on his homeward voyage and is buried with a state funeral at Westminster Abbey.
~ The Humble Petition and Advice is ratified by Cromwell in place of the Instruments of Government.
1658 Oliver Cromwell dies and is buried in Westminster Abbey. His son Richard Cromwell (1626-1712) succeeds as Lord Protector but resigns the following year.
~ Anglo-French force victory at Battle of the Dunes v Spain. England takes Dunkirk, previously a Spanish source of privateers preying on English shipping.
~ The first known reference to tea in England.
1659 Richard Cromwell resigns causing conflict between the army and survivors of Charles I’s Long Parliament.
~ St Helena, an island in the South Atlantic, is occupied as a staging post en route to India by the East India Company.
1660 Mounting anarchy persuades General George Monck, governor-general of Scotland, to move south with his army. He presides over the Restoration of the Monarchy and the dissolution of the New Model Army.