Charles I (r. 1625 - 1642) was the second in the lineage of the Stuart dynasty. He was characterized as being uncompromising with Pariliament, and the Puritans. He believed in divine right, the idea that kings got their right to rule from God. He was a patron of the arts, inviting artists such as Van Dyck and Rubens to work in England; this expenditure and his expensive court made him always in need of money, something that became a problem later in his life. No doubt this, and espeically being unfriendly with the Puritans, led eventually to his beheading later in life.

Born in Fife on November 19, 1600, he was James VI of Scotland's (later James I of England) second son. His mother was Anne of Denmark. He was a sickly child, and when Prince Henry, his brother, died in 1612, he became heir apparent to the throne. His manners were impeccable, and this was commented on by everyone who met him; but throughout his whole life he was completely out of touch with commoners.

A deeply religious man, he believed in Anglican christianity. Many Englishmen, however, were Puritan; they wanted an even plainer version of christianity than the toned-down Catholicism that the Anglican church was at the time.

Even though he didn't like to work with Parliament, one of the greatest portions of the unwritten English constitution (common law) was put together under his rule: the Petition of Right, under the Third Parliament in 1628. It included clauses that:

It is interesting to note that these were some of the many quarrels that the American colonies had with England when they declared independence in 1776; these were rights given to English citizens, and they were being deprived of the colonists.

The Petition of Right no doubt ticked Charles off very much, and he dissolved Parliament for the next 11 years. He brought back the old taxes and feudal priveledges to pay for the government, and demanded conformity to the Church of England. During the prosecution of the Puritans that ensued from 1629 to 1640, many left for present-day Holland, and North America, in the "Great Puritan Migration."

In 1640, Charles called the Fourth Parliament, because of the civil war in Scotland which began in 1637, for which Charles needed money (and by the Petition of Right needed Parliament in order to get). They refused to vote on money until their grievances were resolved. Also known as the "Long Parliament" (for it was indeed long), it lasted from 1640 to 1660. By the Triennial Act, Parliament had to be called at least every three years, and Charles gave up his right to dissolve parliament at will.

In 1641, the Parliament abolsihed the Court of Star Chamber and the High Commission, both of which had been used by Charles to remove people (most of whom disagreed with him politically) from this world. In 1642, after Parliament attempted to take control of the army, Charles arrested the leaders of Parliament, including John Pym, and John Hampden.

At the end of the ensuing civil war, in which the Cavaliers were loyal to the king and the Roundheads, part of the New Model Army, led by Oliver Cromwell, were loyal to Parliament, Charles I was put up for trial for treason and executed at Whitehall on January 29, 1649.

The prospect of having a king put up to trial was very frightening to other European monarchs and nobility. There was now a precedent for killing a monarch; Elizabeth I (r. 1558 - 1603) had been hesitant to kill Mary Queen of Scots (eventually she just imprisoned her), who vied with her for the English throne, because she was afraid of this precedent.

After Charles was executed and Cromwell came to power, Cromwell dug up Charles' body, drew and quartered it, and took Charles head and put it on a pole in the middle of London. It was left up there until the Restoration in 1660, but when Charles II came into power during the Restoration, the skull was not to be found.

Sources:

  • http://www.aber.ac.uk/~ednwww/PGCE/ohc94/ecw/people/charles.html
  • http://www.royal.gov.uk./output/Page76.asp
  • My AP European History notes