In 1625 after the death of his father Charles I became king.But how save was his power? How stable was the situation he faced?It were difficult times when Charles I came to the throne and inherited not only the kingdom of England but also a quite newborn empire consisting of three kingdoms including England, Ireland and since the Jacobean reign also Scotland.And there was the first issue, although James I managed certain Anglo-Scottish unification there were still ancient hostility and suspicion on both sides. Whereas the English feared a Scottish invasion, the Scots were anxious to loose their independence.This anxieties opened big potential of a war within the British Empire.
In addition there was the religious division within Britain.Since 1534 when Henry VIII had rejected the authority of the pope and made himself “Head of the church” the kingdom suffered religious confusion.By rejecting the Pope Henry had made himself a Protestant and introduced reformation in England without really believing in either Luther’s or Calvin’s ideas. Henry VIII’s split from the Catholic Church was ruled by personal interest and not by religious spirit and did not bring any change in Church services. These changes were carried out by his son Edward who strengthened Protestant ideas within the English Church during his short reign 1547-53 whereas Henry VIII’s Catholic daughter Mary on the other hand re-introduced Catholicism violently.
She came to the throne in 1553 made the pope head of church again and persecuted Protestantism, during her reign 300 Protestants were executed.Her successor and half-sister Elizabeth I tried to find a middle-way between Protestants and Catholics. She wanted to satisfy both sides with the “Elizabethan Settlement” of 1559 consisting of two Acts. First the “Act of Supremacy” which made the king “Governor of the Church”, as the Catholics would not accept anyone but the pope as “Head of the Church”. Secondly the “Act of Uniformity” that created a universal “Church of England” including as many people as possible within it.
Elizabeth persecuted radical groups on both Catholic and Protestant sides.But her attempt to please everyone did not work as Elizabeth probably planned.It created Blasphemy, since the people were to confused with the steady change, on the other hand it encouraged the growth of extreme groups. The most important was a steadily growing extreme Protestant minority. They were called Puritans as they wanted to “purify” the Church by getting rid of iconoclasm and everything else associated with Catholicism.
Besides the “Gunpowder plot” of 1605 (Catholic attempt to kill the king and his family and most of the Protestant parliament) showed clearly the Catholics, who were discriminated against at least since the violent reign of Mary Stuart, were anything but pleases with the “Elizabethan Settlement”. They had hoped that James I would bring back Catholicism.But James I continued Elizabeth religious policy and so disappointed the Catholics, although he and Elizabeth both managed to keep religious trouble to an minimum and stabilize the situation to avoid a religious civil war like in France.
But a perfect stabilisation was not achieved yet.The society and economy of Charles I’s predecessors were mainly based on agriculture, though some industry existed.On top of the society were the Gentry who also carried out local government, the second social group were the yeomen, independent farmer, followed by the husbandry and at the bottom of society labourers and cottagers.Within this hierarchal system the wealth polarisation grew, because of the high inflation and the increasing food prices. This led to poverty of the lower social groups (husbandmen and labourers) and some disturbances. But the economy increased, strengthened by the domestic system, agricultural improvements (e.g.
floating of farm land) but mainly by the growing importance of trade and created non-landed elite (e.g. merchants) that on one hand narrowed the gap between poor and rich and so calmed conditions. However they also undermined also subversive social order as they did not fit into the hierarchical system and heightened the fear of lacking control and order cause by the mobility of the population and the growth of migrant floods into the suburbs of big towns. This destabilized local and urban government.Overall the stability of the Stuart society decreased compared to the society during the Tudorian period despite its organized local government consisting of powers, common law and royal prerogative.
The increasing economy created both stability and disabilityHowever the growing economy could not fill the hole in royal finances.Ever since the 16th century the government was in dept and this got even worse during the Jacobean reign since James I’s finance policy was quite extravagant.He summoned parliament just to ask for money and as the MPs steadily refused to give him the demanded cash, James I tried to raise money without parliament but through impositions or sale of monopolies.Of course his finance policy led to quarrels with parliament as royal income did not keep up with its outcome. The quarrels were increased by the fact that James I strongly believed in the “Divine Right of Kings” and even claimed kings were not just God’s lieutenants but were even called gods by God himself whereas parliament insisted on the rule of law and that the king has to act within it.
Another controversial point was the impeachment policy of the parliament trough which the MPs could bring the king’s ministers to court. But the king saw the choice of his ministers as part of the royal prerogative.On top of parliament’s “black list” was George Villiers, Earl of Buckingham and the king’s first favourite on whom the whole royal patronage was concentrated.Buckingham was the highest ranking person outside the royal family and parliament was very anxious that the king is influenced by just a single man.
The parliament was very dissatisfied about James I’s reign besides the fact that he kept dissolving the parliament in case they disagreed with him.Therefore the relation between crown and parliament was about to explode.Altogether the kingdom Charles I inherited was not as stable as he probably would have wished.His father’s legacy was an only partly unified kingdom, but a stabilized religious division, a society less stable than after the Tudorian reign, weak financial conditions and an upset parliament.So nothing can been seen as really stable. But the question is:How successful can Charles I handle these issues?