In January 1629, Charles opened the second session of the English Parliament, which had been prorogued in June 1628, with a moderate speech on the tonnage and poundage issue. Members of the House of Commons began to voice opposition to Charles’s policies in light of the case of John Rolle, a Member of Parliament whose goods had been confiscated for failing to pay tonnage and poundage. Many MPs viewed the imposition of the tax as a breach of the Petition of Right.
When Charles ordered a parliamentary adjournment on March 2, 1629 members held the Speaker, Sir John Finch, down in his chair so that the ending of the session could be delayed long enough for resolutions against Catholicism, Arminianism and tonnage and poundage to be read out and acclaimed by the chamber. The provocation was too much for Charles, who dissolved Parliament on March 10, 1629 and had nine parliamentary leaders, including Sir John Eliot, imprisoned over the matter, thereby turning the men into martyrs, and giving popular cause to their protest.
Personal rule necessitated peace. Without the means in the foreseeable future to raise funds from Parliament for a European war, or the help of Buckingham, Charles made peace with France and Spain. The following eleven years, during which Charles ruled England without a Parliament, are referred to as the personal rule or the “eleven years’ tyranny”. Ruling without Parliament was not exceptional, and was supported by precedent. For example, during the reign of Henry VII Parliament met only on seven occasions between 1485 and 1509, and five of these were between 1485 and 1495. When Henry VII felt more secure, he no longer felt the need to call Parliament.
It was during the reign of Henry VIII and the Reformation Parliament, which sat from 1529 to 1536, which fundamentally changed the nature of Parliament and English government. The Reformation Parliament is where Parliament gained more power as the king began to depend on this legislative body to accomplish his agenda. The King had summoned it in order to settle what was called his ‘great matter’, his divorce from Catherine of Aragon, which the Papacy in Rome was blocking.
Parliament had the power of the purse and only Parliament, however, could legally raise taxes, and without it Charles’s capacity to acquire funds for his treasury was limited to his customary rights and prerogatives. It was the abuse of these rights and prerogatives that lead to his downfall.
A large fiscal deficit had arisen in the reigns of Elizabeth I and James I-VI. Notwithstanding the Earl of Buckingham’s short-lived campaigns against both Spain and France, there was little financial capacity for Charles to wage wars overseas. Unable to raise revenue without Parliament and unwilling to convene it, Charles resorted to other means. One was to revive conventions, often outdated.
The King also tried to raise revenue through ship money, demanding in 1634–1636 that the inland English counties pay a tax for the Royal Navy to counter the threat of privateers and pirates in the English Channel. Established law supported the policy of coastal counties and inland ports such as London paying ship money in times of need, but it had not been applied to inland counties before.
Many saw this as yet another extra-Parliamentary, illegal tax, which prompted some prominent men to refuse to pay it. Charles issued a writ against John Hampden for his failure to pay, and although five judges including Sir George Croke supported Hampden, seven judges found in favour of the King in 1638. The fines imposed on people who refused to pay ship money and standing out against its illegality aroused widespread indignation.
The end of Charles’s independent governance came when he attempted to apply the same religious policies in Scotland. The Church of Scotland, reluctantly episcopal in structure, had independent traditions. Charles wanted one uniform Church throughout Britain and introduced a new, High Anglican version of the English Book of Common Prayer to Scotland in the middle of 1637. This was violently resisted and riots broke out in Edinburgh.
Charles needed to suppress the rebellion in Scotland, but had insufficient funds to do so. He convened Parliament in 1640 because he needed to seek money from a newly elected English Parliament. Its majority faction, led by John Pym, used this appeal for money as a chance to discuss grievances against the Crown and oppose the idea of an English invasion of Scotland. Charles took exception to this lèse-majesté (offense against the ruler) and dissolved the Parliament after only a few weeks; hence its name, “the Short Parliament”.
Without Parliament’s support, Charles attacked Scotland again, breaking the truce at Berwick, and suffered comprehensive defeat. In 1639, Charles had recalled Thomas Wentworth to England and in 1640 made him Earl of Strafford, attempting to have him achieve similar results in Scotland. This time he proved less successful and the English forces fled the field at their second encounter with the Scots in 1640. Almost the whole of Northern England was occupied and Charles forced to pay £850 per day to keep the Scots from advancing. Had he not done so they would have pillaged and burnt the cities and towns of Northern England.
All this put Charles in a desperate financial state. As King of Scots, he had to find money to pay the Scottish army in England; as King of England, he had to find money to pay and equip an English army to defend England. His means of raising English revenue without an English Parliament fell critically short of achieving this. Against this backdrop, and according to advice from the Magnum Concilium (the House of Lords, but without the Commons, so not a Parliament), Charles finally bowed to pressure and summoned another English Parliament in November 1640.
Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford
The new Parliament proved even more hostile to Charles than its predecessor. It immediately began to discuss grievances against him and his government, with Pym and Hampden (of ship money fame) in the lead. Early in the Parliamentary sessions, known as the Long Parliament, the house overwhelmingly accused Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford of high treason and other crimes and misdemeanors. Charles sacrificed his friend and reluctantly signed the Bill of Attainer submitted by Parliament for Stanford’s execution. This Parliament would be the body that greatly opposed the king eventually leading to Civil War.