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ENGLAND from JAMES to WILLIAM & MARY (3 of 10)

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King Charles and Civil War

From 1623 to 1625 came the last of the bad harvests that were to cause widespread starvation in England. Also in 1625 James died and was succeeded by his son, Charles, who took the title of Charles I. Charles inherited monetary inflation and a parliament that had been annoyed at seeing money wasted by the royal government. Parliament contained many Puritans who disliked Charles as they had his father. As head of the Anglican Church, Charles pursued anti-Calvinist policies in favor of the Catholic traditions: ritual at the altar and sacraments more than preaching predestination from the pulpit. The king's income was not adequate to pay for the operations of his bureaucracy, and the House of Commons refused to vote Charles the money he needed to keep his government operating unless he redressed grievances they had with some of his administrative and religious policies.

The Parliaments of Queen Elizabeth had been rarely summoned, and when Parliament was summoned its respect for her was aided by her frugality. James' frugality had also been appreciated by Parliament, as had his reduction in corruption and his balanced budget. Charles believed that his rule was not as absolute as it should be, and in 1629 he closed Parliament. A test was in the making as to how much power he really had.

King Charles I

King Charles will lose his head

Charles jailed people who objected to his ending Parliament. He scared property owners with his attempts to raise money. Charles raised customs duties. He persecuted Puritans, and he attempted to impose the Anglican Church's prayer book upon the Scottish Calvinists called Presbyterians. In 1638 the Presbyterians rebelled. Charles needed the cooperation of the bourgeoisie and gentry – who had the money that he needed to combat the Scots' rebellion. In 1640, Charles reconvened Parliament. Parliament refused to vote for the money that Charles wanted. He dismissed Parliament again, and the Scots invaded northern England, stopping only when a desperate Charles reconvened Parliament again.

To get the money he needed, Charles promised not to attempt to tax without the consent of Parliament's House of Commons, to convene Parliament at least once every three years, to refrain from arbitrary imprisonment, to refrain from quartering troops in people's homes and not to impose martial law when there was peace. Special courts that Charles had created were abolished. Parliament voted for the execution of Charles' minister, the Earl of Strafford, whom Parliament's members held responsible for what they saw as illegal acts between 1629 and 1640. Parliament also voted for money for the Scots occupying part of northern England, and the Scots returned home.

Then another crisis erupted – in Ireland. Catholics rose up and slaughtered thousands of Protestants. In London, Parliament voted against collecting the money necessary for Charles to organize an army to move against Ireland's Catholics, Parliament fearing that with such an army Charles would also try to re-establish his absolute powers. Charles saw that Parliament was divided – as politicians usually are on various issues – and he moved against those members of Parliament he disliked most. He tried having five members of the House of Commons arrested.

Supporting Parliament, Presbyterians ministers urged rebellion from their pulpits. In London, where Presbyterians were numerous, people rose up against Charles. Those supporting Charles tended to be aristocrats, called Cavaliers. Many in Parliament, especially in the House of Lords, went over to the side of the king. With the London revolutionaries were what was left of Parliament, including its Puritan members – called the Roundheads because of their short hair. The king and the Cavaliers had their own army, and Parliament had its army.

England's civil war had begun. The year was 1642. Cities and towns declared their sympathies for one side or the other while much of the country remained neutral. Throughout the summer, tensions rose. There were brawls in places, with the first death taking place in the city of Manchester. The first military skirmish of the war occurred on September 23 near Worcester (middle England near Wales). A cavalry troop of about 1,000 Royalists defeated a Parliamentary cavalry detachment at what is called the Battle of Powick Bridge.

Most of those in Parliament's army carried Bibles, and they were led by a devout Puritan member of Parliament named Oliver Cromwell. He was a good organizer and military commander. His army was aided by the strict discipline that was characteristic of the Calvinists, a discipline that helped in maintaining military formation in the heat of battle. Cromwell and his army defeated the Cavaliers at Marston Moor in northern England in 1644, and the following year, 1645, at Naseby in central England. King Charles was taken prisoner and put on trial for treason.

Parliament passed a bill for Charles to be tried for high treason in the name of the people of England. It began in January 1648. Sixty-eight commissioners sat in judgment of Charles. There a lot of talk about God erupted, Charles defending himself and claiming he had a trust committed to him by God and that those trying him would be called to account by God. And those trying Charles proclaimed themselves the instruments of God's justice. The prosecutors called on God for guidance, and they spoke of God's will being done. The trial was not popular.

On January 30,1649, Charles went to the executioner's block. He made a speech in which he expressed his innocence and his wish that God forgive his executioner's. The executioners block was so low that Charles had to endure the indignity of lying prone rather than kneeling. As soon as he signaled with his hand, one blow severed his head, which was displayed to the huge crowd in attendance, and from the crowd came a great groan.

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