Back To CourseHistory 101: Western Civilization I
16 chapters | 173 lessons | 8 flashcard sets
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Jessica has taught junior high history and college seminar courses. She has a master's degree in education.
For centuries, England held to the Divine Right of Kings, the belief that kings are given the right to rule by God. Therefore, kings are accountable to God alone. These days, England has definitely softened on this concept. However, when you take into account that two BILLION viewers watched the fairytale wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, you realize people on both sides of the Atlantic think these royals are still something very special.
To put it mildly, the English crown has given us some remarkable characters, not the least of whom would be King Charles I. Although he doesn't currently get as much press as this Charles or the wife-killing Henry VIII, he is a central figure in England's history. Not only did he lead England to its 17th-century civil war, he was executed for doing it! Yes, you heard that right. A king of England was actually executed by his people!
For those of us who grew up playing baseball rather than cricket, the reign of King Charles is probably not familiar. In order to explain how his bad decisions caused the civil war, I thought we'd use the old 'three strikes you're out' metaphor. In this scenario, the English parliament will be our umpires, while King Charles will be our batter. His strikes will come in the areas of religion, money, and politics.
With all this being said, let's play ball!
Charles' first swing and miss came in the form of religion. In the mid-16th century, King Henry VIII split with the Roman Catholic Church and declared himself head of the Church of England. Although there were a few attempts to bring the country back to Catholicism, Protestantism remained the religion of the state. Of course, this was a huge bone of contention with English Catholics, who were marginalized and even persecuted in the name of Protestantism. This strife led to mistrust as each side suspected the other of foul play.
With this background in mind, it's not surprising the Protestant Parliament was outraged when Charles chose a Catholic princess as his bride. Their concerns were obvious. If such a marriage occurred, would the next king or queen be raised as a Catholic? Even worse, his bride was from France. Would the marriage give Catholic France a foothold in England?
Thumbing his nose at these concerns, Charles married his Catholic girl. Adding to this, he began persecuting the fundamental English Protestants known as Puritans. With this drastic move, the Protestants of England called, 'Strike One!'
Strike two occurred when Charles decided to play foul with the treasury of England. First, he used the Star Chamber, or an English court of law in which the upper class was tried, to raise money for his own purse. During his reign, the Star Chamber inflicted heavy fines on those brought before it. Charles also used the court to bribe the wealthy to buy noble titles. If they refused, they too were fined.
Second, he forced all of England to pay Ship Money. Ship money, which was a tax used for the upkeep of the English navy, was historically only paid by coastal towns. However, Charles decided everyone should pay this tax since everyone benefited from the navy. Although he may have had a point, this unilateral decision infuriated the powerful men of the nation. With this, strike two was called!
Strikes one and two were pretty big deals. However, strike three was one for the record books! It occurred in 1629, when Charles actually refused to let Parliament meet. Not only did he refuse them once, Charles kept Parliament from meeting for over a decade! This came to be known as the Eleven Years' Tyranny, or Charles I's Personal Rule. This didn't end until 1640, when Charles got into a tangle with Scotland and needed Parliament's money to fund the war.
Of course, Parliament wasn't just going to hand him his money. They were going to make him grovel! Before agreeing to fork over the dough, Parliament wanted Charles' chief adviser, Sir Thomas Wentworth (the one he listened to instead of them), executed. They also revoked the King's power to dissolve Parliament while also making it illegal for him to impose his own taxes.
With his chief advisor dead and his money dwindling, Charles' hatred for Parliament grew. In 1642, he marched on Parliament with about 300 soldiers. His goal was to arrest a few of his biggest critics. Unfortunately for Charles, he had misread the loyalty of his fan base! Although many didn't agree with Parliament, the people still considered this body to be the representatives of the people. If Charles was free to arrest the powerful men of Parliament for criticizing him, how would the common men of England be safe from his whims? With this, strike three rang out all over London!
Within days of trying to arrest his opponents, King Charles realized his error and fled from London to Oxford. In Oxford, he worked to raise an army large enough to conquer Parliament once and for all. Instead of reviewing or recanting the strike call, Parliament refused to back down. With this, civil war began in 1642.
As the people of England began choosing sides, teams seemed to fall along geographical lines. Those from the north and southwest favored Charles, while those in London and the southeast joined the Parliament's side. With the country so divided, it's surprising to note the war actually saw very few major battles.
In the first years of the war, the Royalist forces, those loyal to the king, had the upper hand. However, the tides turned when the Parliamentary forces made a military alliance with the Scots. Things got even brighter for them when Oliver Cromwell came on the scene. Cromwell, an educated member of the upper class, restructured the Parliamentary forces. Under his leadership, a soldier's placement in the military was based on his ability and not his status in society. In other words, the guys with the most skill made the starting line-up. This became known as the New Model Army. With this restructuring, the Parliamentary forces became a force to be reckoned with.
At the 1645 Battle of Naseby, this New Model Army won the day! Not only did they win, they left the battlefield with most of the king's men either dead or imprisoned. Making this defeat even more of a trouncing, they also captured the king's stock of guns and ammunition.
Without weapons, and with very few men, it became obvious that Charles was captain of the losing team. Being unwilling to officially throw in the towel to Parliament, Charles fled to Scotland. Unfortunately for the bedraggled king, the Scots weren't his biggest fans. Not only did they refuse to help him, they turned him over to the English Parliament.
This is where you'd expect Charles to give up the game. Ironically, he did the exact opposite. Even though he was in the custody of his enemies, he still worked to rally followers to his cause. Since Charles was completely unwilling to relent, a few radical members of Parliament decided peace could never be made while he remained alive. With this, they called in a devastating play!
In a shocking, game-changing move, King Charles I was tried and convicted of high treason against England, the country that had for generations held to the Divine Right of Kings. In the year 1649, King Charles I, of royal blood, was beheaded by his very own subjects.
For generation upon generation, England held to the Divine Right of Kings, which held kings to be chosen by God and therefore accountable to God alone. However, when King Charles I pressed his luck with Parliament, his divine rights as king took a backseat to the English system of law.
Acting as an umpire in game of baseball, the Parliament called three strikes against Charles. The first one came when he married a Catholic princess and began persecuting English Protestants. The second was called when he began abusing the treasury of England. The third and final strike came when Charles dissolved Parliament for over a decade. As Parliament screamed, 'You're out!,' King Charles refused to go quietly. Instead he amassed troops to take on Parliament. With this, the English Civil War began.
For a time, it looked as though Charles just might win the day. However, when Oliver Cromwell took over command of the Parliamentary forces, it became obvious Charles was captain of the losing team. When Charles refused to admit his defeat, radicals within the English Parliament convicted, and then actually executed their king for high treason.
And THIS was the end of the ballgame for King Charles, his civil war, his divine rights as king.
Upon completing this lesson, you should see that Charles the I of England caused his own downfall and eventual execution because he raised taxes and disbanded Parliament in his pursuit of war funding. Use your knowledge to explain how the civil war began in 1642 and describe its outcome.
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Back To CourseHistory 101: Western Civilization I
16 chapters | 173 lessons | 8 flashcard sets