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LECTURE 3: On The Road to civil War: James I (1603-25) and Charles I (1625-49)

I – The Stuart Monarchy in Tension Against Parliament

A - The philosophy of the divine right of kings

The main difficulty of James’s and Charles’ reigns was that both men believed in the Divine Right of Kings and expressed their beliefs in terms which alienated the people with whom they most needed tohave a harmonious relationship: the Members of Parliament, and particularly the Commons. Many princes upheld this ideal of the Divine Right of Kings since the Middle Ages and argued that monarchs were appointed directly by God and had supernatural powers which were above those of normal human beings. Therefore, any subject who dared to question or challenge a monarch was implicitly questioning orchallenging God himself; doubting the authority of the king amounted to blasphemy since, no matter how incapable or unscrupulous a king was, he derived his powers from God and could only be judged by God.

B - The new nature of Parliament

During James I's reign, the nature of Parliament changed; the Houses had worked in close co-operation with the Tudors but by the end of Elizabeth’sreign, they had begun to discover their own strength. They knew that they were not simple puppets meant to obey the monarch’s wishes and pass the laws the monarch wanted; they realised that their function was not simply to wait quietly to be summoned and consulted on certain matters when it suited the crown. They became aware that without them, the ruler could not rule, and this new sense ofself-importance, power and importance led MPs to be more active, to propose new laws (rather than wait to be consulted) or to contradict the crown at times. Through his transformation of its self-perception, Parliament had come of age.

C - Issues of control

During James I’s and his son Charles I’s reigns, Parliament became so independent, influential and self-confident that it cared tocontradict the king more and more often, a situation which led Charles into a conflict which finished in Civil War and his execution. The thorny issue of the management of Parliament had arisen sharply under James I, and his failure to secure a reliable team of privy councillors to manage to House of Commons may be at the source of later tragic developments. The English Parliament did not sit allthe time. Although its powers were well established, it was the king’s prerogative to call it or dissolve it as he wished. He could also appoint or dismiss his judges, his Justices of the Peace and his councillors, and he was in charge of settling all policies in foreign and domestic politics. However, without Parliament, new legislation could not be passed and new taxation could not be levied.There were therefore times when even the most independent of English monarchs would need to call upon his Parliament. Yet James I was not at ease with his MPs and his views on absolute monarchy were once again at the forefront of his philosophy of government: in 1614, he expressed his surprise that his ancestors "should have permitted such an institution to come into existence....It is seditionin subjects to dispute what a king may do in the height of his power".

II - Some long-term causes of the Civil Wars:

A - Incomprehension between monarch and Parliament

The relationship between king and Parliament was becoming increasingly tense. In fact, both protagonists in this conflict were convinced they were in the right and their opponent was in the wrong, and either of theirviewpoints could easily be deemed fair. One of the long-term causes of the Civil War was undeniably the growing incomprehension between the ruler and the MPs.

- The Petition of Right, 1628:

Charles I inherited his father's tumultuous relationship with Parliament; there were disputes over the right to levy taxes and the MPs issued a Petition of Right which was an explicit assertion...
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