James VI, King of Scots came to the English throne in 1603 and he had been on the Scottish throne since 1567, a few months after his birth. As stated last week, often a strong monarch was able to gain control of Parliament and even rule without them. However, was the problems James had with Parliament due to him being a weak monarch or was the showdown between Crown and Parliament inevitable? My personal theory is that the two would eventually come into conflict. Society is always in a flux of growth and change and as has happened in all monarchies eventually the people rise up and desire a say in government.
For centuries the Crown held the majority of power and although the Tudor monarchs only used the Parliament to stamp its approval on what the king or queen desires, usually it had to do with raising taxes, Parliament, mostly the Commons, began to realize it had a more important role in the process of governing and this begun to be realized under the Stuarts. James had an attitude toward Parliament where he thought it was a body that held opinions and enacted laws that he did not have to abide by as he saw himself as the ultimate authority on Laws and legislation. Parliament, for its part, saw themselves as having an equal say in the legislative process of enacting and Laws. With such a contrast in views of their respective roles conflict was inevitable.
James died in 1625 never having resolved his differences with Parliament. Things came to a head under the reign of his son, King Charles I (1625-1649). Charles ruled for 11 years without Parliament and often would raise taxes without the consent of Parliament. One example was when he forced inland towns and villages to pay a maritime related tax meant only for coastal towns that were associated with the shipping industry. When Charles needed Parliament once again for a war with Spain and the Bishop’s War over religion in Scotland. All of this eventually to Civil War where the Parliamentary forces fought the forces of the Crown. In the end Charles I lost his head and the monarchy was abolished.
Oliver Cromwell became the head of state and although technically England was Republic between the years 1649-1660, in truth, it was a military dictatorship with Cromwell, as Lord Protector, wielding as much power as any king, if not more. He was followed in that office in 1658 by his son who was ill-suited for the position and soon left that office leaving England under the control of the military. Chaos and almost anarchy ensued until General Monck saw the wisdom in restoring the monarchy under Charles II (1660-1685).
Charles II had as much power as his predecessors therefore the conflict between Crown and Parliament was not resolved during the Civil War. The Parliament that sat at the beginning of Charles’ reign was called the Cavalier Parliament due to the number of loyal royalists sitting in the Parliament. Despite a honeymoon period between the two bodies they eventually clashed over a number of issues. There were times when Charles ruled without Parliament sitting and there were moments when it was thought that Civil War would once again erupt. One prominent issue concerned the succession to the throne. Charles II had a brood of bastards but not one legitimate child to inherit the throne. This left the king’s brother, Prince James, Duke of York, as the heir to the throne. The problem with this was the fact that James was Catholic and the country was staunchly Protestant.
In 1679 Parliament proposed the Exclusion Bill to officially remove the Duke of York from his place in the succession. Charles was angered by this bill and Protestants in Parliament were angered at the king for supporting his brother. Amid rumors of a Catholic plot to place James on the throne the bill was eventually dropped when Charles dismissed Parliament and ruled for the last 4 years of his reign without them. The unpopular James succeeded as King James II-VII of England and Scotland and was acceptable to Parliament as long as his heir was his Protestant daughter Princess Mary who was married to her cousin (who also had a claim to the English throne) the Protestant defender, Prince Willem III of Orange. In 1688 the King had a son, Prince James Francis, who would be raised Catholic and this lead to the kings down fall.
Next week will feature the Glorious Revolution and the transition of power from the Crown to Parliament.