King of England, Scotland and Ireland whose refusal to compromise over complex religious and political situations led to civil war, his own execution and the abolition of the Monarchy.
Portrait of King Charles the FirstThe second son of James VI of Scotland and Anne of Denmark, Charles Stuart was born at Fife in Scotland on 19 November 1600. His father succeeded Queen Elizabeth I and came to the throne of England as King James I in 1603.
Charles was created Duke of Albany at his baptism (December 1600) and Duke of York in 1605. He was placed in the care of Lord and Lady Fyvie until the age of four, then moved to England where he was brought up in the household of Sir Robert and Lady Carey.
As a child, Charles suffered from weak ankle joints that slowed his physical development. Attempts were made to strengthen his physique by making him wear heavy boots reinforced with iron. Charles was also slow in learning to speak and never completely overcame a slight stammer. His education was overseen by Thomas Murray, a Scottish Presbyterian who later became Provost of Eton. Despite his physical disabilities, Charles was a serious-minded student who excelled at languages, rhetoric and theology.
Charles was overshadowed by his brilliant elder brother Prince Henry, to whom he was devoted, but Henry died of typhoid when Charles was eleven years old. With Henry's death, Charles became heir to the throne of the Three Kingdoms: England, Scotland and Ireland.
The death of Prince Henry prompted a succession crisis. King James and Queen Anne were too old to have more children and the sickly Charles was not expected to survive to adulthood. A proposal was made that in the event of Charles' death, the succession would pass to James' daughter Princess Elizabeth and her husband the Elector Palatine Frederick V, which would mean the Wittelsbach dynasty acceding to the throne of the Three Kingdoms. However, by strength of will, Charles worked to overcome his physical weaknesses. He followed a self-imposed regimen of hard physical exercises that led to rapid improvements in his health and physique. Charles became a good horseman, excelling at tournament sports and hunting. He developed sophisticated tastes in the arts and earnestly applied himself to his religious devotions.
Created Prince of Wales in 1616, Charles was instructed by King James in every aspect of ruling a kingdom. With a profound belief that kings are appointed by God to rule by divine right, Charles succeeded as the second king of the Stuart dynasty in 1625.
Charles came to the throne amid pressure from English Protestants for intervention against Spain and the Catholic powers in the religious wars raging in Europe (the Thirty Years War, 1618-48). He allowed England's foreign policy to be directed by the unpopular Duke of Buckingham, who masterminded a series of disastrous military expeditions against Spain and France intended indirectly to assist the Palatinate. Charles dissolved his first two parliaments when they tried to impeach Buckingham but he was forced to call a third because he needed funds to pursue his warlike policies. In 1628, Charles' opponents formulated the Petition of Right as a defence against the King's arbitrary use of his powers. Charles grudgingly accepted the Petition in the hope that Parliament would grant him subsidies, but in practice he ignored its provisions.
Badge of the Stuart dynastyEmblem of the Stuart dynasty
After the assassination of Buckingham in 1628, critics in Parliament turned their attention to Charles' religious policy. Resentful of parliamentary interference in matters which he believed were his concern alone, Charles angrily dismissed his third Parliament in 1629. Furthermore, he imprisoned several of his leading opponents, and declared his intention of ruling alone. The eleven-year period of the King's Personal Rule was also described as the "Eleven Year Tyranny". It was initially successful and during the turmoil of the civil wars, many people looked back upon it as a golden age of peace and prosperity.
Charles had made peace with Spain and France by 1630. Trade and commerce grew; the King's finances were stable by 1635. This enabled him to commission great works of art by Rubens and Van Dyck, and also to build up the Royal Navy for England's defence. But without Parliament to grant legal taxes, Charles was obliged to raise income by obscure and highly unpopular means including forced loans, the sale of commercial monopolies and, most notoriously of all, ship-money. Along with Charles' controversial religious policies, these measures alienated many natural supporters of the Crown, including powerful noblemen like Lord Saye-and-Sele, and wealthy landowners like John Hampden.
Charles and his advisers made extensive use of the Court of Star Chamber to prosecute opponents. Dating back to the 15th century, Star Chamber had originally been a court of appeal. Under the early Stuarts, it came to be used to examine cases of sedition, which in practice meant that the court could be used to suppress opposition to royal policies. Star Chamber sessions were held in secret, with no indictments, no right of appeal, no juries, and no witnesses. It became synonymous with the King's misuse of his power during the Personal Rule.
In religion, Charles favoured the elaborate and ritualistic High Anglican form of worship. He appointed William Laud Archbishop of Canterbury in 1633. Laud insisted upon strict compliance to the established tenets of the Church and vigorously supported the King's claim to divine right. Laud also made extensive use of Star Chamber and the ecclesiastical court of High Commisson to suppress opposition from Puritans who regarded his high church liturgy as dangerously close to Roman Catholicism.
The King's marriage to the French Catholic princess Henrietta Maria also caused consternation amongst English Protestants, particularly as she was allowed to practise her religion openly and freely. In some quarters, Henrietta Maria's influence over the King and the royal children was regarded as part of an international Papist conspiracy against the Protestant faith.
Although Charles himself was high-minded and devout, his religious policies were deeply divisive. In collaboration with Archbishop Laud, he insisted upon religious conformity across the Three Kingdoms. This went disastrously wrong when the Anglican liturgy and Laudian Prayer Book were forced upon the Scottish Kirk in 1637, resulting in the creation of the Scottish National Covenant against interference in religion, and the Bishops' Wars between the two nations.
In order to finance war against the Scots, Charles was obliged to recall Parliament in 1640, bringing his eleven-year personal rule to an end.