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History Rewind: Charles I decides to arrest MPs and set the stage for war

In the years leading up to the Civil War, it was not King Charles’s intention to purposely isolate as many parts of the population as possible, but history sure tells a different story.

His absolutist point of view was of concern to Parliament. In 1629, he decided to mimic his father and would not allow Parliament to meet. Upon their arrival at Westminster, they found the doors were bolted with padlocks and chains. For 11 years they would not be permitted to enter during the period known as the ‘Eleven years Tyranny.’

He would not stop there though. Charles ruled using the Court of Star Chamber. In English law, the court made up of judges and privy councillors that developed out of the medieval king’s council as an addition to the regular justice of the common-law courts.

To increase the king’s pocketbook, the Court imposed heavy fine on those who were brought before them. If that was not enough, wealthy chaps were strongly encouraged ( told they needed to) buy titles. If they refused, they were subject to a fine equal to the same amount it would cost for a title.

If that was not enough, in 1635 Charles ordered that everyone in the country should pay Ship Money. This was traditionally a tax paid by coastal towns and villages to pay for the maintenance of the navy. The rationality was that coastal areas profited from the navy’s defense. Charles determined that everyone in the kingdom benefited from the navy’s protection and that everyone should be taxed.

Charles also was at odds with the Scots. He required that they use a new prayer book for their church services. The suggestion of such infuriated the Scots so much that they decided to invade England in 1639.

Charles was surprisingly did not have the funds (one would think he would have with his taxing spree) to fight the Scots. He had to renege on the shutting down of Parliament. In 1640 he recalled everyone back as they had the required money needed to fight a war and the requisite authority to collect additional funds.

As a sort of ‘payment’ for supplying the funds to battle the Scots, Parliament demanded the execution of ‘Black Tom Tyrant’ The Earl of Strafford and one of Charles’s principal advisors. Strafford was executed in 1641 after a trial. Parliament knowing they may be able to play one more hand, required Charles to disband the Court of the Star Chamber.

By 1642, the relationship between Parliament and Charles soured. Parliament felt Charles had to do as they said since they were the coffers supplying the money he needed. However, Charles firmly believed in ‘the divine right of kings’, felt differently and cowering down to Parliament was not appropriate.

In 1642, he went to Parliament with 300 soldiers to apprehend his five leading critics. The men were alerted to Charles’s arrival and fled to the city of London to go into hiding.

A mere six days after attempting to arrest the five Members of Parliament, Charles left London to travel to Oxford to set up an army to fight Parliament for control of England. There was no avoiding a civil war at this juncture.

On 4 January 1642 Charles arrived at Parliament with a sizable force to arrest the five MPs he felt were the instigators of Parliamentary opposition to his royal tyranny. Once again, the men were tipped off and Charles looked rather daft in his second failed attempt.

Charles did not think his plan through. If indeed it worked, and he seized the five MPs, it would have created a united front in the rest of the Commons. Perhaps if he had chosen a different tactic to deal with Parliament, history might have been different from what we know today.

Although the war did not begin until 22 August 1642 when Charles raised his colours in Nottingham, both sides were preparing for this epic battle since 4 January, when Charles made his foolish move to arrest the MP’s.

Featured photo credit: CircaSassy via photopin cc

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