Charles I Biography
CHARLES I (1600–49). King of England, Scotland, and Ireland from 1625 to 1649. The second son of James I of England and VI of Scotland, he was born at Dunfermline, Nov. 19, 1600, and created Duke of Albany at his baptism, December 23. He was a delicate child, tongue-tied, and troubled with weak joints and ankles. In 1605 he was created Duke of York and on the death of his brother Henry, Nov. 6, 1612, became heir apparent, but was not created Prince of Wales until Nov. 3, 1616. He outgrew his physical defects, with the exception of a slight stutter; became a diligent theological student, an accomplished scholar, and skillful in the sports of tilting, tennis, and marksmanship. At 22 years of age he had developed artistic and musical tastes and was distinguished for modesty of conduct and morals. Negotiations for his marriage were made, first with Princess Christian, sister of Louis XIII of France, in 1613, and then with the Infanta Maria of Spain, daughter of Philip III in 1614. In February, 1623, occurred his journey to Spain, at the suggestion of his favorite companion, Buckingham, who accompanied him. Unannounced, he arrived in Madrid, to the consternation of the Spanish statesmen, who had already decided against the marriage. After much duplicity on both sides Charles returned to England in October, being received with popular acclamation. Negotiations were broken off on religious pretexts, although the unwillingness of Philip to help in the restoration of Charles's brother-in-law, Frederick, to the Palatinate was the real cause. Charles aroused national enthusiasm by advocating war and expressed his readiness to conquer Spain; but his father wished for a military expedition to the Palatinate. On March 27, 1625, James died, and Charles succeeded to the throne. To gain France as an ally, on May 1 he married, by proxy, Princess Henriette Marie, of France (1609–69), receiving his bride at Canterbury on June 13. The national admiration was quenched by this marriage, with its accompanying violations of parliamentary anti-Roman pledges; and before a year had elapsed Charles, finding the Queen's Roman Catholic retinue of 440 persons too troublesome, deported them to France. His marriage subsequently proved particularly happy. His reign, however, was doomed to failure. He was a puppet in the hands of his favorite, Buckingham, whom he had appointed Prime Minister in defiance of public wishes and whose warlike schemes ended ignominiously. Three parliaments, convoked in four years, were dissolved in royal exasperation at their refusal to comply with his arbitrary measures, and public feeling became embittered. The third Parliament presented the Petition of Right (q.v.) in 1628. The King temporized and conceded, then—although Buckingham's assassination had removed one cause of the contention—dissolved Parliament and caused some of the leading members to be imprisoned, one of whom, Sir John Eliot, was allowed to sicken and die in the Tower, although he presented several petitions for a temporary release. Influenced by the Queen, and with Laud and Wentworth as chief advisers, Charles governed without a Parliament for 11 years, the despotic Star Chamber and High Commission courts giving semblance of legal sanction to forced loans, poundage, tonnage, ship money, and other extraordinary measures to meet governmental expenses. Republican principles developed and expanded, towards which Charles opposed a policy of severe repression. His attempt to impose episcopacy provoked the Scotch to restore Presbyterianism and to adopt the Solemn League and Covenant, Feb. 28, 1638. In 1639 Charles assembled an army to enforce his will; the Covenanters retaliated and advanced to the border. Unable to proceed without supplies, in 1640 Charles summoned the "Short Parliament," which he dissolved in three weeks, as the members refused to listen to his demands, but drew up a statement of public grievances, demanded an inquiry into Eliot's death, and insisted on peace with Scotland. Obtaining money by irregular means, Charles advanced against the Scots, who crossed the border and defeated his army at Newburn-upon-Tyne, and soon afterward occupied Newcastle and Durham, everywhere receiving popular sympathy and support. His money exhausted, the King was compelled to call the "Long Parliament" which met Nov. 3, 1640. Led by the ripe, sagacious, and dauntless Pym, it proceeded to redress grievances and showed its resolution by impeaching and imprisoning the instigators of royal despotism, Laud, and Wentworth, who had been created Earl of Strafford. The peers, before whom Strafford was tried, refused to condemn him, but a luckless plot, of which Charles probably knew almost nothing, to overcome Parliament by military force sealed the fate of the ministers. A bill of attainder was passed, and Charles, in trepidation for the life of his Queen, which he considered in danger from mob violence, signed Strafford's death warrant and confirmed a bill by which Parliament was not to be dissolved without its own consent. The King was now pledged to constitutional rules, but unhappily was imbued with extreme notions of kingly prerogative. He visited Scotland, hoping by concessions to win favor and armed support; but while there the Irish Rebellion and Ulster Massacre occurred, and, suspecting that Charles had intrigued for the military assistance of the Irish Catholic lords, Parliament enlarged its demands. The Commons accepted a petition against the royally appointed bishops who disputed their authority, and who were mobbed on their way to the House of Lords.
On his return from Scotland the King had yielded to the provisions of "The Grand Remonstrance"; but now, learning of the impending impeachment of his Queen, who had sought assistance from Rome, he appeared in the Commons with an armed force and, accusing Pym, Hampden, Hollis, Haselrig, and Strode of treason, demanded their arrest and delivery to him.
Intense excitement ensued; shouts of "Privilege of Parliament" were raised; the indicted members, forewarned, had taken refuge in the city, and the King retired with undignified threats. The country was aroused, Parliament and the nation were declared in peril, and London prepared to defend itself. Met with his own weapons, the alarmed King fled with his family to Hampton Court. Seven months later he raised the royal standard at Nottingham, Aug. 22, 1642, and civil war commenced and proceeded, although arbitration was vainly attempted from time to time. The Royalists at first were the victors; but after several reverses the parliamentary forces acquired experience and discipline, and Cromwell and Fairfax annihilated the royal army at Naseby, June 14, 1645. Guerrilla warfare continued until Charles gave himself up to the Scottish army at Newark, on May 5, 1646. Negotiations were fruitlessly renewed, and he was delivered to the English Parliament, who assigned him a residence at Holmby House, near Northampton. After four months his qualified reply to a parliamentary proposal resulted in his conveyance by Cornet Joyce to Hampton Court. He continued his intrigues and opposition to all constitutional propositions, and after three months escaped to the Isle of Wight, where he hoped to receive aid from the governor of Carisbrooke Castle, but was imprisoned. Cromwell and the Independents lost patience and compelled Parliament to pass an act of treason against further negotiation with the King, who was removed to Hurst Castle. The Scots and English Presbyterians, deeming the regal person sacred and inviolable, thought to rescue him, but were defeated, and their representatives expelled from Parliament, which appointed a court to judge the King. He was removed from Hurst Castle to Windsor on Dec. 23, 1648, and on Jan. 20, 1649, was taken to Westminster Hall, where the court was opened with great solemnity. Charles repudiated its legality and refused to plead. On the 27th he was sentenced to death as a tyrant, murderer, and enemy of the nation, by 67 out of the original 135 judges. Scotland protested, the royal family entreated, France and the Netherlands interceded, in vain. After a pathetic parting from two of his children he calmly prepared for death and bore himself with dignity. He was beheaded at Whitehall, Jan. 30, 1649. His last words were: "I must tell you that liberty and freedom consist in having of government those laws by which the lives and the goods of the people may be most their own. It is not having share in the government, sirs; that is nothing pertaining to them," a sentiment that was plagiarized by the opponents of Chartism as late as 1848.
In private character Charles was a man of culture, kind, of irreproachable life, and of great physical courage; but in political affairs he was unscrupulous and blindly obstinate in his belief in the "divine right of kings." In religious affairs he was loyally attached to the national church of England and steadfastly refused to assent to the abrogation of episcopacy, which he held an essential in church government. By Charles II's personal edict at the Restoration, until its cancellation by Parliament in 1859, January 30 received special observances in the Anglican church as "the day of the martyrdom of the Blessed King Charles I."
The New International Encyclopaedia, Vol. V (New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1920) 61-63.