Sunday, October 16, 2011

Power and The Parliament

In Search of the Republic--12

The English Parliament made its greatest assertions of authority in the 17th century against the Stuart dynasty. It resulted ultimately in the overthrow and execution of the king.

The conditions that gave rise to the English Civil War and the establishment of a republic can be traced to the earlier Tudor dynasty. During the last decades of the Tudor dynasty an unprecedented turnover in noble families occurred. Large numbers of noble families declined in their fortunes while new families ascended. The decline of many of these aristocratic families severed their social connection with the lesser gentry in their counties.  In addition, wealth gravitated to the middle class lesser gentry at the expense of both the aristocrats and the poor. The decline in financial status of the aristocracy was accompanied by a decline in their social status. They could not maintain the same influence that they once had enjoyed. Part of this influence included their role as a link between the Court, where some of the aristocratic political activities occurred, and the "country," where the lesser gentry leadership gained their political experience.

In addition, the Tudors unintentionally weakened the ecclesiastical support for the English monarchy. When Henry VIII assumed control over the state church and rechristened it the Church of England,  he seized and sold the lands of the Catholic Church and established in its place an impoverished state church, the Church of England,  with not enough ministers to service the parishes. The action left many aristocrats secretly loyal to the Catholic Church and disaffected with the Tudor monarchy. Many of the lesser gentry, too, found little appeal in the new Church of England. Increasing numbers of these lesser gentry affiliated with more reformed or Puritan  bodies, such as the Presbyterian Church or independent Congregationalists. Although traditionally influential only in their local counties or shires, increasing numbers of these gentry began representing their shires in the House of Commons. And many no longer enjoyed a positive connection with the Royal Court. When the Stuarts assumed the throne and began to vigorously push for a strengthened monarchy and Anglican establishment, these members of the lesser gentry coalesced into a "country party" that opposed the Court.

James I, Elizabeth's relative and sitting king of Scotland,  ascended the thrown upon her death and began the Stuart dynasty. Because of the real achievements of Elizabeth and the personality cult that formed around her, James could never attract the level of affection from the English people that Elizabeth commanded. Among courtiers, he had a reputation as unattractive man with bad manners who surrounded himself with boys.

Although he had written a treatise asserting the divine right of kings, James promised in his coronation to rule according to "the laws and customs of the realm." He also failed to accomplish his most ambitious plan: a formal union of the kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland accompanied with a reunion of the Church of England with the Presbyterian Church of Scotland.

The aggressive pursuit of these aims by his son and heir, Charles I led to civil war. The two main obstacles to his aims included an independent parliament and the puritan movement. As Charles pursued his policies,  these two obstacles came to be supported by that widespread but loosely organized "country party." This "party" manifested a division that was both geographical and cultural. Its proponents emerged from the local politics of the English shires with little connection with the "court" politics surrounding the monarchy. Moreover, they defined themselves cultural as distinctive from the court. The "court party," and all that is symbolized, became a negative reference group for this "country party." As historian Lawrence Stone summarized it,

"The Country was virtuous, the Court wicked; the Country was thrifty, the Court extravagant; the Country was honest, the Court corrupt; the Country was chaste and heterosexual, the Court was promiscuous and homosexual' the Country was sober, the Court drunken; the Country was nationalist, the Court xenophile;  the Country was healthy, the Court diseased . . .  the Country was the defender of old ways and old liberties, the Court the promoter of administrative novelties and new tyrannical practices; the Country was solidly Protestant, even Puritan, the Court was deeply tainted by Popish leanings."

The first obstacle arose because of the efforts of Charles to fund foreign wars.

When Charles called together his first two Parliaments in 1925 and 1626, he ended up dissolving them.  He needed money to fund war with Spain. Parliament provided only limited funds tried to reduce the king's prerogatives. He began collecting forced loans through arrests. Seventy six prominent men were arrested, including including 27 members of the House of Commons. He also raised so called ship money, taxes on seaport towns to upgrade coastal defenses and the navy.

Revenue problems finally forced Charles I to call a Parliament in 1628, He asked for five subsidies.

Parliament replied with its “Petition of Right.” Parliament asked him to wave his prerogatives and to accede to the normal functions of law on the issue of taxation, imprisonment, and martial law. The subsidies were provided in exchange for the king's agreement on prerogatives. Charles intended, however, to disregard the provisions contained in the provisions.

These issue arose again the following year when his third Parliament began its second session.

In March 10 1629, the King again dissolved Parliament. He ruled without Parliament for the next seven years through loans from the greater nobles. Charles received some financial relief, too,when he signed peace treaties with France and Spain. This reduced his expenses. And with the resumption of overseas trade, the treasury began to grow through customs duties.

The second main obstacle arose because of the religious policy of Charles.

Church of England Archbishop William Laud attempted to reduce the nonconformity of Puritans  and to institute a  more formal, more Catholic form of worship. Laud's efforts only served to radicalize Puritan dissenters. The pressure on Puritans drove ten of thousands to migrate to the recently established colonies in the wilderness of North America.

Moreover, Charles and Laud planned to  force a modified version of the Book of Common Prayer on Scotland and bring that nation's Presbyterian Church as close as possible to uniformity with the Church of  England.

The Scots organized for armed resistance.

In need of funds to put down the Scottish rebellion, he assembled Parliament for the first time in over ten years. Instead of discussing war, however, Parliament wanted to discuss Laud's religious reforms and Charles' continued disregard for the Petition of Right to which he agreed. Parliament began forming committees to investigate the administration's conduct during the eleven years of personal rule.

Parliament again dissolved. Meeting for only three weeks, it became known as the short parliament.

He called together Parliament after six months in 1640.

When it resumed, Parliament aggressively asserted its rights: bills passed abolishing certain courts such as the star chamber, requiring Parliamentary meetings every three years, prohibiting the king from dissolving the Parliament without its own consent,  eliminating virtually all of the king's prerogative courts, and declaring any taxes illegal that were levied without the approval of Parliament

Parliament issued what is known as The Grand Remonstrance in 1641. It listed grievances of Parliament and called for the King to relinquish many of his prerogatives, especially those regarding military appointments.  Parliament was attempting to bring control of the military under Parliament.

This provoked a reaction from the King. Charles attempted to arrest some leading members of Parliament, but they escaped. Charles then gathered loyalists in the town of York, where he planned to raise an army to assert his rights.

In June 1641, Parliament sent the Nineteen Propositions which in fact was an ultimatum demanding that the kind surrender his remaining prerogatives. It demanded that privy councilors, ministers, and military officers all be placed under the authority of Parliament.

Charles replied:

We call God to witnesse, that as for Our Subjects sake these rights are vested in Us, so for their sakes, as well as for Our own, We are resolved not to quit them, nor to subvert (though in a Parliamentary way) the ancient, equall, happy, well-poised and never-enough commended Constitution of the Government of this Kingdom ... There being three kindesinconveniencies. The experience and wisdom of your Ancestors hath so moulded this out of a mixture of these, a s to give to this Kingdom (as far as humane Prudence can provide) the conveniencies of all three, without the inconveniencies of any one, as long as the Balance hangs even between the three Estates, and they run jointly on in their proper Chanell... The ill of absolute Monarchy is Tyranny, the ill of Aristocracy is Faction and Division, the ills of Democracy are Tumults, Violence and Licentiousnesse. The good of Monarchy is the uniting of a Nation under one Head to resist Invasion from abroad, and Insurrection at home: The good of Aristocracy is the Conjunction of Counsell in the ablest Persons of a State for the publike benefit: The good of Democracy is Liberty, and the Courage and Industry which Liberty begetts.

In these disputes, both Parliament and the King appealed to its rights from England's "ancient constitution" in support of their respective positions. And ultimately, in the king"s answer to the Nineteen Proposition,  Charles appealed to the idea of the balanced constitution between Crown, Lords, and Commons derived from Aristotle's philosophy on correct constitutions.

In order to preserve such a balance, Charles rejected the Nineteen Propositions. Parliament began to plans for an army to support its view. The King raised his standard and the war was on. The war would determine who had the supremacy in the English constitution and what kind of Protestant politics would the government support.

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