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Charles I - 1625-1649

Key Facts about Charles I

Charles was James I's second son, and became his father's heir on the death of his much admired elder brother, Henry, Prince of Wales in 1612. His marriage to a French Catholic princess, Henrietta Maria, in 1623, caused some disquiet in the country.

Like his father, Charles believed in the Divine Right of Kings. His reign began badly when he dissolved Parliament for trying to impeach the Duke of Buckingham, his father's adviser.

Buckingham's murder in 1628 saved Charles from further confrontation with Parliament. Charles' quarrels with his Parliaments were a constant source of friction during his reign. He was quite unable to accept the opinions of parliamentarians, and his insistence on tax money to support ill-advised wars against the French and Spanish did not help matters.

The failure of his expeditions, the obvious influence over him of his Catholic wife, a fast-rising and anti-Puritan churchman William Laud, and a favourite, Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford, and the militant mood of Parliament, eventually led to Charles having to agree to a Bill of Rights which stated that Parliament could not be dissolved without its own consent.

A crisis arrived when Charles made Laud Archbishop of Canterbury in 1633, in order to promote the high church party and to anglicize the Scottish church. This created more opposition to him and reduced his parliamentary support. Eventually, both Laud and Strafford were impeached and executed.

Charles did regain some measure of support when his opponents in Parliament tried to deprive him of control of the army - a constitutional issue. The improved relations did not last long. Still influenced by his wife and others, Charles attempted to impeach his enemies in Parliament by entering the House of Commons with armed guards to arrest them, only to find that they had fled.

Alone against Parliament, Charles now withdrew from London and mustered an army with his nephew Prince Rupert. Raising his standard at Nottingham, he set up a headquarters near Oxford, in defiance of Parliament and thus launched the Civil War.

During this long and bitter conflict in which the whole nation became involved, Charles showed courage and military ability, but was outmatched by Cromwell's superior numbers and disciplined Model army.

After losing the war, Charles foolishly made a secret treaty with the Scots, who promised to reinstate him. This led to his trial for treason and inevitably to his execution, which he faced with courage and dignity.

Key Events during the Reign of Charles I

1625 - Charles I succeeds his father James I.

1626 - Parliament attempts to impeach Buckingham and is dissolved by Charles.

1627 - England goes to war with France, but the Duke of Buckingham fails to relieve the besieged Huguenots at La Rochelle.

1628 - The Duke of Buckingham is assassinated. The Petition of Right is presented to the King, who agrees to it under protest.

1629 - Charles dissolves Parliament and rules by himself until 1640.

1632 - Van Dyck settles in England as the Court painter.

1637 - Charles tries to force new prayer book on the Scots, who resist by signing National Covenant.

1640 - Charles summons Short Parliament, which lasts 3 weeks.

1641 - The Star Chamber and Court of High Commission are both abolished.

1642-9 - Civil War.

1649 - Charles is tried and executed by Parliament.

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