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Parliament against the Crown

The first signs of trouble between Crown and Parliament came in 1601, when the Commons were angry over Elizabeth's policy of selling monopolies. But Parliament did not demand any changes. It did not wish to upset the ageing queen whom it feared and respected.

Like Elizabeth, James I tried to rule without Parliament as much as possible. He was afraid it would interfere, and he preferred to rule with a small council.

James was clever and well educated. As a child in Scotland he had been kidnapped by groups of nobles, and had been forced to give in to the Kirk. Because of these experiences he had developed strong beliefs and opinions. The most important of these was his belief in the divine right of kings. He believed that the king was chosen by God and therefore only God could judge him. James's ideas were not different from those of earlier monarchs, or other monarchs in Europe.

He expressed these opinions openly, however, and this led to trouble with Parliament. James had an unfortunate habit of saying something true or clever at the wrong moment. The French king described James as "the wisest fool in Christendom". It was unkind, but true. James, for all his cleverness, seemed to have lost the commonsense which had helped him in Scotland.

When Elizabeth died she left James with a huge debt, larger than the total yearly income of the Crown. James had to ask Parliament to raise a tax to pay the debt. Parliament agreed, but in return insisted on the right to discuss James's home and foreign policy. James, however, insisted that he alone had the "divine right" to make these decisions. Parliament disagreed, and it was supported by the law.

James had made the mistake of appointing Elizabeth's minister, Sir Edward Coke, as Chief Justice. Coke made decisions based on the law which limited the king's power. He judged that the king was not above the law, and even more important, that the king and his council could not make new laws. Laws could only be made by Act of Parliament. James removed Coke from the position of Chief Justice, but as an MP Coke continued to make trouble. He reminded Parliament of Magna Carta, interpreting it as the great charter of English freedom. Although this was not really true, his claim was politically useful to Parliament. This was the first quarrel between James and Parliament, and it started the bad feeling which lasted during his entire reign, and that of his son Charles.

James was successful in ruling without Parliament between 1611 and 1621, but it was only possible because Britain remained at peace. James could not afford the cost of an army. In 1618, at the beginning of the Thirty Years War in Europe, Parliament wished to go to war against the Catholics. James would not agree. Until his death in 1625 James was always quarrelling with Parliament over money and over its desire to play a part in his foreign policy.

Charles I found himself quarrelling even more bitterly with the Commons than his father had done mainly over money. Finally he said, "Parliaments are altogether in my power ... As I find the fruits of them good or evil, they are to continue or not to be." Charles dissolved Parliament.

Charles's need for money, however, forced him to recall Parliament, but each time he did so, he quarrelled with it. When he tried raising money without Parliament, by borrowing from merchants, bankers and landowning gentry, Parliament decided to make Charles agree to certain "parliamentary rights". It hoped Charles could not raise enough money without its help, and in 1628 this happened. In return for the money he badly needed, Charles promised that he would only raise money by Act of Parliament, and that he would not imprison anyone without lawful reason.

These rights, known as the Petition of Right, established an important rule of government by Parliament, because the king had now agreed that Parliament controlled both state money, the "national budget", and the law. Charles realised that the Petition made nonsense of a king's "divine right". He decided to prevent it being used by dissolving Parliament the following year.

Charles surprised everyone by being able to rule successfully without Parliament. He got rid of much dishonesty that had begun in the Tudor period and continued during his father's reign. He was able to balance his budgets and make administration efficient. Charles saw no reason to explain his policy or method of government to anyone. By 1637 he was at the height of his power. His authority seemed to be more completely accepted than the authority of an English king had been for centuries. It also seemed that Parliament might never meet again.


Date: 2015-01-02; view: 2729

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