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King Charles I

King Charles I

Charles Stuart was born in Dunfirmline Castle on the 19th November 1600, the younger son of James 6th of Scotland who succeeded to the English throne and became James 1st of England in 1603.

Unlike his elder brother Henry, Charles was a sickly child, suffering from weak joints in his legs and a speech impediment, which was possibly the cause for his shyness and reserve. He was determined to overcome these difficulties and eventually became a skilful horseman and accomplished in many sports such as tennis, although this determination may have led to his stubbornness in later life.

He remained in Scotland until August 1604, when he was brought to England to be cared for by Sir Robert and Lady Cary until he was eleven years old. It was customary for children of noble birth to spend their early years with families other than their own. He was treated very much as the baby of the Royal family and appears to have been his mother’s favourite, but nonetheless he received a good education and was deeply religious. He also developed a love of the arts and music.

Charles became heir to the throne on the death of his brother Henry, probably of typhoid fever, in November 1612. He was therefore groomed for kingship and succeeded to the Throne on the death of his father in March 1625.

He was married later in this same year to the fourteen-year-old French Catholic princess, Henrietta Maria, and although they were not happy at first, they later became devoted to one another. They had eight children, three of whom died young.

Charles was not a good politician, and was greatly influenced in the beginning of his reign by his friend, George Villiers, the Duke of Buckingham, whose disastrous advice regarding foreign policy, and Charles’ demands for money to fight unwise wars, caused the initial rift between the King and his Parliament. Buckingham was assassinated in August 1628, but by then much damage had been done and in 1629 Parliament was dissolved and was not called again for the following eleven years, the King choosing to rule without their advice.

During his years of rule without Parliament, Charles seems to have lost touch with the opinions and concerns of his subjects in both political and religious matters. Opposition to him grew, particularly among the Puritans and he showed little skill in diplomacy as he tried to regain his authority, for he still treated Parliament with contempt.

 

Militia Men with firearms

The Civil War

Discontent continued to grow throughout the country until August 22nd 1642 when Charles made a formal call to arms against Parliament, and raised his standard at Nottingham. A blustery wind blew it down again and many saw this as a bad omen for the future. The first pitched battle of the Civil War was fought at Edgehill, but proved to be indecisive. As London was held by Parliament, Charles set up his Court at Oxford.

Neither was the King a good military tactician. Many battles and skirmishes were fought but in the main they were inconclusive until July 1644 when the battle of Marston Moor proved decisive with the defeat of the kings army. Although his forces were greatly weakened and funds were short, the King chose to fight on even though the Parliamentary side offered conciliation. In June 1645, at Naseby, Charles’ real hopes were finally destroyed, his army being completely routed and divided. Documents were found showing that he was willing to seek help from the French and Irish, making concessions to the Catholics that he had refused to the Presbyterians, thus showing that he could not be trusted. Even then, his stubborn nature would not allow him to yield.

He made for Wales and the West, in hopes of gathering forces again. It was at this time that he came to Llancaiach Fawr and had discussions with Edward Prichard, but these were plainly unsuccessful because soon afterward Prichard, like many other members of the Welsh gentry, declared for Parliament.

Eventually, Charles made for Scotland in hope that he could come to some agreement that would preserve the Monarchy but his duplicity proved to be too much. He was handed over to the Parliamentarian side and taken prisoner. Although he was treated with respect, he had lost much of his power as King. In his attempts to regain this power he still proved to be entirely untrustworthy in the eyes of many.

He had been imprisoned in Hampton Court, but escaped to the Isle of Wight, only to be taken prisoner once more, this time more closely guarded. All this time the opposition tried to come to terms with him but as there was now discord between the Parliament and the army, Charles tried to play one side off against the other, once more proving his untrustworthy nature. Skirmishes and revolts continued in support of the King, but they were quickly dealt with. This “Second Civil War” proved to be his downfall. Oliver Cromwell and his son-in-law Henry Ireton were to be instrumental in the demand for Charles to be brought to trial.

Charles was brought to London and tried for Treason. Although he made a brave and eloquent defence of his actions, he was nonetheless found guilty and his Death Warrant, signed by fifty-nine men, stated that the King “be put to death by the severing of his head from his body.” He was executed on the scaffold that had been built for the purpose outside Whitehall Palace, on January 30th 1649.