The Personal Rule of King Charles I, 1629-40
After the assassination of the Duke of Buckingham and the dissolution of the 1629 Parliament, King Charles resolved never to call a Parliament again. The eleven-year period of the King's Personal Rule (1629-40) was described by his enemies as the "Eleven Year Tyranny".
The King's advisers
With Buckingham gone, many former opponents made peace with the King and entered his service. The Dukes of Arundel and Bristol, who had been Buckingham's enemies in the House of Lords, decided that Parliament had gone too far in criticising the King and took up positions at Court. Charles himself was deeply affected by Buckingham's death and was determined never again to became so dependent upon one minister.
Sir Richard Weston (1577-1635), later first Earl of Portland, was appointed Lord Treasurer. He was an efficient administrator and helped Charles gain control of his finances. However, Weston was a secret Roman Catholic, as was Sir Francis Cottington (c.1578-1652) another former enemy of Buckingham who was appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1629, and Sir Francis Windebank (1582-1646), Secretary of State from 1632. The Catholic sympathies of the King's ministers were suspected by Puritans and deeply resented, particularly as the Queen practised her religion openly. In December 1634, Charles became the first English monarch since the Reformation to receive an emissary from the Pope.
William Laud was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury in 1633. Laud's Arminian doctrines fitted perfectly with the King's religious policy, but Puritans believed that he was intent on returning the Church of England to Roman Catholicism. Although this was not true, Laud regarded Puritanism as a greater threat to the Church than Catholicism. His persecution of Puritan preachers and pamphleteers fed the suspicions of the Protestants. Laud also gained political influence and promoted the interests of his friends. His protégé Bishop William Juxon (1582-1663) succeeded Sir Richard Weston as Lord Treasurer in 1636.
The relationship between King Charles and Queen Henrietta Maria improved dramatically after Buckingham's death. During the 1630s, he increasingly sought her advice over major policy decisions and appointments.
The most capable of the King's advisers was Sir Thomas Wentworth, later Earl of Strafford, who worked in close cooperation with Archbishop Laud. As a Member of Parliament, Wentworth had been a critic of Buckingham and was prominent in declaring the Petition of Right. He made peace with the King after Buckingham's assassination and was appointed to the Privy Council in 1629, then became Lord Deputy of Ireland in 1632.
King Charles was able to govern without Parliament by reducing his expenses and increasing his income. The greatest drain on resources were the wars against France and Spain. Although it meant abandoning the long-term strategy of regaining the Palatinate, peace treaties were signed with France in April 1629 and with Spain in November 1630. Peace brought an immediate revival of English trade and commerce. This in turn brought increased customs revenue for the Crown because King Charles continued to collect tonnage and poundage dues even though they had not been authorised by Parliament.
Lord Treasurer Weston played an important role in preventing any further increase in the King's expenditure during the Personal Rule. By the time Weston died in 1635, the Crown was solvent. Government expenditure could not be reduced significantly owing to vested interests, but various means were found to increase revenue, often by reviving ancient, long-forgotten taxes and customs.
- "Distraint of Knighthood" was based on a 13th-century custom which required that freeholders with land worth more than £40 per year should present themselves for knighthood at the King's coronation. The custom had been long-abandoned, but in 1630 fines were levied on freeholders for failing to present themselves at Charles' coronation. The freeholders then had to buy their knighthoods and also became liable for extra dues on their land because of their increased social status.
- A declaration was made that the true limits of the Royal forests were those that had been in force during the reign of King Edward I. People with property within these boundaries were fined for having encroached on the King's land.
- The Court of Wards was exploited to a greater degree than previously. The King became guardian of the children of rich parents who died and then profited by selling off the estates that would have been inherited.
The King also gained revenue by granting monopolies and charging for positions at Court. Although unpopular, all these measures were within the King's prerogative.
The most unpopular of Charles' taxes was Ship Money, a medieval custom that required coastal towns to pay for the upkeep of naval defences in times of emergency. In 1634, with Dunkirk pirates in the Channel and Barbary corsairs raiding Ireland, Cornwall and Devon for slaves, King Charles taxed the coastal counties to pay for the building of new warships. In 1635, he extended the tax to include inland counties. Even though ship-money was intended to finance a new fleet for England's defence, there were strong objections because the King had imposed what amounted to a new tax without the consent of Parliament. A concerted campaign of non-payment was led by Viscount Saye and Sele, whose associate John Hampden was prosecuted before the Court of Exchequer in 1637. Advised by the lawyer Oliver St John, Hampden challenged the legality of the tax. Of the twelve judges who heard the case, five found in Hampden's favour while seven supported the King. Although the verdict had gone against Hampden, he was widely regarded as having won a moral victory against the King's tyranny.
When William Laud was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury in August 1633, he initiated a vigorous campaign to restore the wealth of the Church to its pre-Reformation levels and to impose uniformity of worship throughout the kingdom. King Charles supported Laud's efforts, though he was unaware of the hostility and resentment they aroused amongst his subjects — especially Puritans, who regarded Laud's Arminian doctrines as little better than Catholic superstition. In his campaign for uniformity, Laud dismissed nonconformist ministers and suppressed Puritan preachers. He used the prerogative Courts of Star Chamber and High Commission to punish his critics.
In November 1630, the Puritan preacher Alexander Leighton had been arrested and brought before Star Chamber for circulating a petition that demanded the abolition of episcopacy. He was sentenced to be flogged, mutilated and imprisoned for life. Leighton was the first of many Puritans to be similarly punished for their beliefs during the 1630s. In June 1637, the lawyer William Prynne, the clergymen Henry Burton and the physician John Bastwick were prosecuted by Star Chamber for publishing pamphlets that attacked the rule of the bishops and criticised Laudian doctrines such as bowing towards the East, setting up crucifixes, and turning communion tables into altars. All three were sentenced to be stood in the pillory, branded on the cheek and to have their ears cropped before being imprisoned for life. The punishments became the focus for popular demonstrations against the tyranny of the Laudian Church and made Prynne, Burton and Bastwick into Puritan martyrs.
Responding to the King's desire to bring England, Scotland and Ireland closer together, Archbishop Laud attempted to introduce a common liturgy throughout the Three Kingdoms. Scottish Presbyterians reacted violently against the Book of Common Prayer and Arminian liturgy that Laud tried to enforce. Their hostility resulted in the signing of the Scottish National Covenant and the outbreak of the Bishops Wars between Scotland and England.
In order to finance war against Scotland, King Charles was obliged to call the Short Parliament in April 1640, which brought the eleven-year Personal Rule to an end.
Pauline Gregg, King Charles I (Berkeley 1984)
Mark A. Kishlansky and John Morrill, King Charles I, Oxford DNB 2004
C.V. Wedgwood, The King's Peace (London 1955)