Biography

            King Charles I of England was an infamous leader widely known for his application of the ideas of absolute monarchy and divine right to the way he governed.  Born on 19th November 1600, Charles’ early life was complicated due to several physical and mental handicaps.  At an early age, Charles developed incredibly weak ankle joints due to rickets, along with several other disabilities.  Eventually he overcame these difficulties, but Charles suffered from a stammer for most of his life.  As soon as he came of proper age, Charles was taught by Thomas Murray.  He progressed as a very serious and successful student, but his achievements were overshadowed by his brilliant older brother Prince Henry’s.  Charles did not become jealous of his older brother’s attention; he was devoted to his brother.  When Henry died at the age of 12, Charles was devastated.  It took him a while to overcome his grief, but once he did he assumed his new position as heir to the throne.

          

            Charles worked very hard to further develop his skills.  He continued to be instructed by Thomas Murray, but he was also taught by King James on how to “properly” rule as a leader.  Charles was crowned in 1625.  At this time, England was at war with both France and Spain.  Charles inherited these wars and he appointed the unpopular Duke of Buckingham to campaign excessively on both fronts during the infancy of his regime, which meant he was in constant need of money.  His opponents in Parliament demanded Charles agreed to the Petition of Right, which limited his powers as ruler.  Charles agreed to his opponent’s terms, but he eventually violated the contracts limitations.  After failures in both wars, Charles made peace with France and Spain.  This peace began the first part of Charles I rein, which was successful to a degree.  The first few years saw growth in trade and commerce, and stable finances.  Charles cumulating of wealth during these years allowed the commissioning of many artworks by artists such as Van Dyck and Peter Paul Rubens, and Charles spend a considerable amount of money building up his royal navy.

          Eventually, this period of success ended when Charles I ran out of money.  He resorted to Parliament in hopes of raising taxes, but he was unsuccessful.   Rather than acquiring money in popular, legal ways, Charles resorted to using unethical and unpopular ways to make money such as forced loans, sales of commercial monopolies, and ship money.  Ship money is when naval towns are taxed for the purpose of paying for a navy.   These policies alienated most of the people from the government and created tension in society.  Charles also used the court of Star Chamber to prosecute any of his opponents who posed a threat.  He tried them without juries, witnesses, indictments, and in secret.  Charles began his unfortunate downfall, and he would never recover.

 

         King Charles I had a very unpopular approach to religion.  In 1633, Charles appointed William Laud as the archbishop in Canterbury.  Laud subjugated the English people to very strict rules.  These rules were meant to keep the people in compliance with the already existing traditions and customs of the high Anglican Church, and to support King Charles’ divine right.    Many times, Laud took advantage of King Charles’ use of the court of Star Chamber to lock up puritans in order to suppress opposition to Charles’ rule.  This created a cultural rift between puritans and Anglicans.  This rift would grow exponentially when Charles and Loud insisted on total religious conformity.  When Charles pushed this policy on the Scottish, they rebelled and the Bishops wars began in 1637.  Eventually, parliament itself revolted in 1640 and impeached Archbishop Laud once Charles summoned them for the first time in 11 years. 

          When Scottish uprisings began in 1641, King Charles was quick to react.  A battle soon began; surprisingly, it was between King Charles and Parliament.  Both were trying to gain power over the military in order to quell the growing resistance.  This resistance continually grew at a quickened pace until there were widespread revolts across Charles’ England.  These revolts became much more severe when Charles attempted to incarcerate a large group of his opponents in parliament in early 1642. Charles and his family were forced to evacuate London due to the overpowering resistance.  Charles sought refuge at Nottingham castle as the civil war began.  He seized a small opportunity and took immediate control of the army.  As Charles coordinated military efforts against the Scottish rebels, his strategic skills grew.  But, Charles’ efforts were hampered by growing arguments and jealousy amongst the officers and higher ranking officials in his army.

          Charles military strategy soon became indecisive, unreliable, and very unpredictable.  His opponents were growing stronger while his army became weaker.  Parliament joined forces with the Scottish rebels, and they began a propaganda campaign against Charles.  Public approval of the royalist army became so widespread that Charles’ army stood no chance of ever regaining support.  The royalist army was defeated between 1645-1646.  Charles fled from his enemies, but as they were about to catch him in April 1646 he surrendered to the Scottish.  While in custody of the Scottish, Charles attempted to ingeniously exploit any divisions or tension between the Scots and the Parliament.  He tried to make Monarchy appear much more desirable than the parliament through these schemes in hopes of raising his popularity, but this ended in predictable failure.  Charles even tried to create a “relationship” with the exiled Henrietta Maria to try to gain military assistance from France and Ireland.  But this, along with his other futile attempts to gain support, failed.

          In November 1647, Charles escaped from the Hampton Court and attempted to evade capture.  Instead of following advice to go north to Berwick, which was one of the last towns that supported Charles’ cause, Charles traveled to the Isle of Wight to seek protection from its governor Colonel Hammond.   Charles was planning on traveling to France once he arrived, but instead he was imprisoned by Colonel Hammond.  While he was jailed, Charles managed to converse with the Scottish leadership in hopes of exchanging a religious settlement for military support.  Instead, a new alliance was created called the Engagement.  The officers and leaders in Charles’ army denounced him as their leader after realizing he attempted to start another war, which rendered Charles totally powerless.  Parliament was ridden of any sympathizers, and a high court of justice was appointed in early January 1649.

          Charles’ trial began on the 20th of January 1649 when he was charged with high treason.  On the 27th of January, Charles was convicted and publicly beheaded 3 days later.  Though he is known for his dictatorial style of leadership, Charles was canonized as King Charles the Martyr in 1660.