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The House of Stuart and the English Civil War

James, King of Scotland, was crowned King James the First of England in July 1603. The kingdoms of England and Scotland were united, although they maintained separate parliaments and separate governments for another 100 years.

King James was the son of Mary Queen of Scots and was distantly related to King Henry the seventh. He was a staunch protestant and the subject of a number of plots against him by dissidents hoping to restore Catholicism to the country. The most famous of these is the Gunpowder plot of 1605, which came close to blowing up the houses of parliament. The plot was thwarted, and Guy Fawkes and his co-conspirators were executed.

James was strongly committed to peace and encouraged a flourishing of literature and culture. He managed to avoid involvement in foreign wars, and this benefitted the economy. Although firmly protestant, he was conciliatory towards Catholics who supported his reign. He commissioned a new translation of the Bible – the Authorised King James version completed in 1611 and still in widespread use today.

In 1607 the first permanent English colony was established in North America. It was called Jamestown in the colony of Virginia. In November 1620, the Mayflower landed at Cape Cod. Half of the 102 pilgrims died during their first winter in America.

James reigned as King of England for 22 years. He died of illness in March 1625 and was succeeded by his son Charles.

King Charles the First of England, Ireland, and Scotland was crowned in March 1625. Charles believed in the divine right of kings and was determined to govern on his own without reference to parliament. This determination, ultimately, would lead to the English Civil War. He married a Roman Catholic and, although nominally protestant himself, was favoured more Catholic styles of worship than many of his subjects.

In 1628 Parliament petitioned the King to acknowledge that he could not levy taxes without the consent of parliament. Charles dissolved parliament and reasserted his right to collect taxes and duties without parliamentary approval.

Parliament met again in 1629 and again protested at Charles' policies. King Charles again dissolved parliament and ruled England without parliament for the following 11 years.

Charles' taxes and levies were unpopular and resulted in protests. He found it hard to raise loans and, by 1640, faced bankruptcy. He was forced to summon Parliament, and in elections, in March 1640, his candidates fared badly. The new parliament called for reforms; Charles ignored them and dissolved parliament after less than a month. The Scottish Parliament declared itself able to govern without the consent of the King and raised an army, and occupied a large part of northern England in August 1640.

Faced with financial difficulties and the continuing occupation of the North East of England by the Scots, Charles reconvened the English Parliament in November 1640. The Parliament passed a number of Acts that meant it could not be dissolved without its own consent and revoking Acts Charles had imposed alone to raise taxes.

Tensions between Charles and Parliament continued throughout 1641 and soured in January 1642 when Charles entered Parliament with an armed guard in an attempt to arrest 5 members. Both sides began to raise men and arms, and the first significant battle of the English Civil War was the Battle of Edgehill in October 1642. The battle was inconclusive, and, over the next three years, Charles's forces gained control of much of the South West of England while Parliament controlled the north.

Parliament reorganised their army, creating a new professional, well-trained, well-disciplined, and well-equipped force called the New Model Army. This was the first modern army and soon came to be dominated by Oliver Cromwell.

Charles the first's royal army met the New Model Army at the Battle of Naseby in June 1645. The Parliamentary forces won a decisive victory, and King Charles fled north, eventually being captured by the Scottish army in the north of England. King Charles was delivered to the English Parliament in January 1647 in exchange for a large ransom. The Scottish army also agreed to withdraw back to Scotland.

In January 1649, King Charles was charged with treason by Parliament. He refused to recognise the authority of the court but was found guilty and sentenced to death. King Charles the First was beheaded on 30th January 1649.

After Charles' death, Parliament declared England a Commonwealth. A rebellion of Catholics and Royalists broke out in Ireland, and Oliver Cromwell was sent with an army to tackle it. The rebellion was crushed with much brutality, and, in 1652, lands held by Catholic lords were confiscated, and the public practice of Catholicism was banned.

The Commonwealth of England lasted for 11 years, with Oliver Cromwell appointed Lord Protector in 1653. Dominated by strict protestants called Puritans, holidays and celebrations, including Christmas and Easter, were suppressed. Theatres were closed and gambling banned.

But most people want a little enjoyment in their lives, and these restrictions proved immensely unpopular. When Oliver Cromwell died in 1658, there was a period of civil unrest. New parliamentary elections took place. The mood of the nation had changed, and in May 1660, the new parliament invited the son of Charles the First, also called Charles, to return to England and take the throne.

Thank you for listening to this lesson. In our next lesson, we cover the fall of the house of Stewart and the beginning of the Georgian era.

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Written by

Ross Maynard