Charles succeeded the throne from James I in 1625 and his early years of reign were hampered by numerous conflicts with Parliament over the raising of taxation. He was uncommunicative, uncompromising. When in 1629 Parliament objected to Charles’ collection of ‘tonnage and poundage’ taxes without their authorisation he took the arrogant step of dissolving Parliament and decided to rule without it. He did this because he believed that he was God’s representative on earth and demanded that his word simply be taken as law. Unsurprisingly this absolutist approach to government met with increasing opposition from those who sought to limit Charles’ powers by requiring him to obtain the consent of Parliament as the elected representatives of the people.
Charles’ position worsened when in 1635 he decided to make ‘ship money’, which had previously been levied on only coastal counties to fund the upkeep of the navy, something everyone in the country should pay. The payment of this tax was fiercely resisted, and in 1637 John Hampden argued that any tax levied without the approval of Parliament was illegal. This is when Charles lost a lot of money as people refused to pay the tax. Although Hampden lost in court he won the battle for public opinion and collection levels for ship money collapsed further.
By 1640 Charles was running out of money and in April he was forced to recall Parliament for the first time in eleven years to approve the raising of necessary finances. The Parliament refused to grant Charles the unconditional support which he demanded and Charles promptly dissolved it. Later Charles quarrelled with the Scots over introducing a new prayer book which led to a rebellion. This was rash and ill-advised because when a Scottish army occupied the north of England he was again forced to recall Parliament in November 1640 to levy the taxes required to suppress the rebellion.
Parliament realised that Charles’ authority and power had been weakened and took the opportunity to try and take power away from him. Still feeling unable to criticise a monarch directly, Pym, the leader of the Parliament, led the assault on his ‘evil counsellors’. The obvious target was the Earl of Strafford, who was the most feared and loathed of Charles’ allies. Strafford had vigorously collected ship money for the King during the 1630s and was rewarded by being made Lord in Ireland, where his tactics were equally successful. In a royal circle generously endowed with weakness, Strafford stood out as an efficient and intelligent enforcer. In a bold move the Commons impeached Strafford on charges of high treason in December 1640, as well as declaring ship money illegal and passing an Act for three yearly parliaments to end the king’s personal rule. This was what they demanded in return for the money needed to fight the Scots.
In March 1641 the trial of Strafford began. He was accused by Pym of urging the King to use Irish troops to invade England and launch a military coup against Parliament. Strafford was successful in refuting this charge but the mob wanted his blood. Faced with a petition of 20,000 demanding execution, Charles weakly abandoned Strafford, granting the Royal Assent necessary to execute him. This was…