The King who killed God

The English Civil War is a widely disputed event, conflicting opinions regarding who and why it occurred often bounce between Parliamentary blame, Charles’ “Evil Counsellors” and Charles himself. Due to the complexity of the preamble leading up to the war and a limited wordcount, I am going to focus on Charles tyrannical behaviour which forced his subjects into reactionary action. This essay is going to hold Charles to account for the causation of the Civil War, focusing on the abuse dealt to the country under the guise of divine right. Through the rejection of divine right, from the people it uncoupled Christian morality from English values, allowing for the unprecedented actions of the Civil War to unfold.

In order to dissect the causation of the English Civil War, it is necessary to contextualise the argument and to consider what is happening within England and across Europe during the lead up to 1642. It was a period of great religious tension, that perhaps had not settled since the reformation. Between 1618-1648 there was great conflict spreading across Europe, which resulted in eight million casualties all fought under religious banners. Even though England was not fighting, there was still an overwhelming fear of a Catholic victory, a victory that would no doubt affect England and English values[1]. Religious fear and paranoia were not contained overseas, as many feared a spread of Catholicism that was rising from the core of the English Church and the Monarchy itself. This for many was due to Archbishop William Laud and Charles I’s chosen Queen; Henrietta Maria. England was a Protestant state, that upheld puritan values; such as simplified and regulated forms of worship, so the more eccentric style of preaching imposed by Laud was not best received[2]. Public relations with the church was high, it was a primary source of information for most and the church body made up a large portion of the governing body for the country. ‘Before 1640, every English man and woman was legally a member of the state church with a legal obligation to go to church every Sunday, and was theoretically open to punishment if he didn’t.’[3] Paranoia was unavoidable with so much invested into the state religion. The blood being shed across Europe, was a reminder of what was at risk if the religious disputes spread into England.

Throughout this period of religious fear, no other than Charles was at the helm of the country, arguably the most instable monarch England has ever experienced. With his suspicious Catholic behaviours and his questionable advisors, he was not a settling or comforting notion for the country. Charles was an appointed monarch, a divine king, an extension of God’s will; and he used this power. Sitting above the law, it did not take long until he injected his power of absolute monarchic rule. 11 years of tyranny, the country was left as the play things of a despotic ruler.Charles I

Divine right stems from the doctrine of the Great Chain of Being. This theory set out a hierarchy of the universe starting from God. It would descend through angelic beings, the sun and the planets, until reaching the King and leading through the political hierarchy[4]. Through this framework the King was ruling as an extension of God. In theory, it should limit the King’s power as he has a duty to maintain peace and a balance throughout the hierarchy.

‘The conceptual framework of the Great Chain of Being was an ambiguous one. It gave the King an unquestionable position of superiority, but at the same time it confined him within a framework which he must not seek to undermine and implied that his authority was limited by the obligation to preserve harmony.’[5]

Throughout Charles reign, he did not seek to preserve harmony. Within the first three years of rule, he called and dispersed Parliament a multitude of times. Each time an attempt to levy taxes to finance wars, each time unsuccessful. As Parliamentary aid was not an option for him, Charles turned to medieval modes of taxation. He would skew each form of taxation, to procure the greatest amount of revenue[6]. There was a variety of taxation imposed including; land taxation and the ‘Distraint of Knighthood’[7]. Yet what caused the greatest anger was the levying of Ship-money, a medieval taxation that dealt with the upkeep of the navy, originally only enforced on coastal towns, yet Charles expanded the taxation nationally. Concerns with the Kings lack of care to his people were being raised.

Its not that our persons have been imprisoned, for not payments of Ship-money, but that our persons, and as it is conceived, our lives too, are upon the same grounds of Law delivered up to bare will and pleasure’[8]

As Mr S-John is highlighting, it is not just the taxation which is the issue, the King is showing his power to deny the autonomous control of the individual citizen. If Charles can implement outrageous taxation, what’s to stop him acting in the same manor towards their lives. In fact, he was; throughout his tyrannical reign, arrests and illicit acts were going unchecked. He had absolute control.

Charles duty to his people was highlighted by Parliament as early as 1628, with the publication of the Petition of Rights. This document was a declaration of established rights, and contained four demands; no taxation without Parliamentary consent, no imprisonment without just cause, no billeting of soldiers and no martial law for ordinary offences against soldiers or the navy. Charles complies with none of these requests from Parliament. Within the petition, there is an emphasis that Charles is acting against his own people; ‘Charges have been laid and levied upon Your People in several counties’[9]. Already in 1628 it was put to the King that he was defying his duty as monarch, and divine ruler towards his subjects. A further 11 years of this treatment only amplified the anger towards him and more questioning of the legitimacy of divine monarchic ruling.

There was of course many who still supported the King and the divine right. With religion and politics being so closely entwined, to defy the King was an attack on the church. This was reinforced by Archbishop Laud damning those refuting the monarch as bad Christians[10]. Robert Filmer was another supporter of the divine right, and wrote the Patriarchal[11];

‘My desire and hope is that the people of England may and do enjoy as ample privileges as any nation under heaven: the greatest liberty in the world (if it be duly considered) is for a people to live under a monarch. It is the Magna Carta of this Kingdom; all other shows or pretexts of liberty are but several degrees of slavery, and a liberty only to destroy liberty.’[12]

Strong claims addressing religion and liberty, both of which were ideals that would have shaped the identity of the people of England. Regardless these defenders had come too late, Charles’ actions had already raised religious uncertainty and had already put the individual’s sense of liberty in jeopardy by exerting audacious taxation. The hypocrisy of a religious attack from a Catholicised Archbishop, who preaches from beautifully ornate protestant church, was noticed.

With the abuse felt from Charles’ divine right, alongside the religious paranoia running strife through the country, an intervention was required. It was in 1640 where an opportunity arose as Charles had to recall Parliament, ending his tyrannical reign. Before discussing the importance of the call to Parliament, the state of the country needs to be addressed. It was at this point that English values changed. A rejection of the King was occurring, and thus a rejection of God[13] and Christian morality. It was not possible to reject the King without also questioning the values that were imposed upon the country. As the English values had been rejected, it allowed for the uprising and actions of the civil war to occur. Without denying these values, it would have been a morally wrong issue, yet the country was no longer bound by Christian morality and were at a point where a creation of their own morality was occurring. It was a responsive action against a tyrannical King, Charles had already ‘killed God’[14], and by calling Parliament he had allowed for a reactionary attack to occur. By going against divine right, society would have to and did, under-go great turmoil and change. It was a catalyst for outrageous and unprecedented behaviour that continued throughout and beyond the Civil War[15].English book of prayer

The opportunity of intervention in 1640 arose due to Charles calling upon Parliament in an attempt to levy taxes for a war against Scotland. 1637 saw the rallying of Scottish Covenanters, a response to the imposition of ‘the book of common prayer…of the Church of England’[16]. The Covenanters were outraged with this English book of prayer and saw the canonical document as a ‘thunderbolt forged in Canterburies own fire’[17], it was felt as an attack on the Scottish Protestant church. Charles believed he was witnessing the onset of a rebellion; a rebellion that needed to be suppressed[18]. In 1639, Charles marched to Scotland to engage in the “first Bishop War”. It was a bloodless affair and ended with the treaty of Berwick. Charles wanted to march again. In order to rally an army, he had to call upon Parliament, but Parliament was not going to support Charles until he answered for the last 11 years. It was during the long Parliament, summoned on 3rd November 1640, that John Pym presented a list of grievances towards to the King[19]. This list was the Grand Remonstrance. Within the document it described how Parliament planned to deal with each issue and campaigned to transfer control of the armed forces to Parliament. So, when Charles marched to Scotland for the second time, it was unsupported by Parliament.

Charles marched back to Scotland in 1640 where he was dealt a bloody defeat. England and Parliament, were not just witnessing weak military ruling from Charles, they were aware of his deceitful tactics. His credibility was rapidly diminishing.[20] Many Parliamentary members had close relations to the Scottish Covenanters and referred to them as their ‘brethren’s’[21]. Many members of the long Parliament were describing the conflict as the “Bishops’ War”: ‘a war fought on behalf of episcopacy, with its echoes of popery, against the Scottish Church to which most Puritan Parliamentarians looked as the model reformed church.’[22] It furthered the divide between King and country. Parliament were identifying that the King’s issues with the Scottish, were very similar to his issues with England. An attack on England from the King did not look to distant.

Further distrust for the King were occurring with the revolts in Ireland; a brutal catholic force on a war path. It is not surprising that popish fear was running throughout England. Propaganda print was streaming through the country depicting; ‘men, woman and children roasted alive, drowned, eviscerated, hanged, stabbed and tortured.’[23] All of which, was for the most part inventive and exaggerated[24]. Alongside the monstrosities depicted, there was also strong rumours spreading of the Kings affiliation and liaisons with the Irish. It was not long until ‘every town near the Irish Sea enormous and largely mythical reinforcements of savage Irish Catholics were reported, hurrying to join the King.’[25] After the Grand Remonstrance was passed, the King could not hold an army. Therefore, Parliament levied one to suppress the Irish. Out of fear Charles built his own, yet an Irish one. This only furthered the cause for the outbreak of the Civil War as he had levied a foreign army. So now both Parliament and the Crown are both holding an army. Civil War has become inevitable.

As highlighted, Charles has proven to be an incompetent ruler and abused his monarchic power. Through this abuse he uncoupled Christian morality from the English society, allowing room for uprising to occur. With a lack of English values, to revolt against the King was no longer necessarily a “wrong” action. Therefore, it was Charles who caused the Civil War as he had removed Englishness and English values from the country.

[1] Within Christopher Hill’s Intellectual origins of the English revolution revisited he highlights the entwined features of country and religion and the identity that this created. Referencing Sir Louis Namier, he claims ‘religion was (amongst other things) a sixteenth-century word for nationalism.’ p287

[2] It was not only Laud who was dangerously close to Catholic, yet the Churches themselves were beautifully refurbished, and incense was re-introduced. For Puritan England, this could be conceived as workings of the devil. Sourced: Civil War Part 1: Crisis, Channel 4, 23rd April 1991

[3] Ibid (6.00-6.21)

[4] David Wootton, Divine Right and Democracy an anthology of Political Writing in Stuart England (London: Penguin Books 1986) 28

[5] Ibid 29

[6] For instance, the value of the tax would not respect inflation, therefore subjects were charged for original (13th Century) amounts, yet the current value (17th Century) amount imposed on them.

[7] 13th Century legislation where a freeholder earning more than £40 a year (no change to incorporate inflation) would present themselves to the king for a re-knighting to place alongside further taxation.

[8] Mr S-John, The speech or declaration of Mr S – John concerning Ship money (England:1640)<>

[9] Sir Edward Coke, The Petition of Rights (England: 1628)

[10] Winston Churchill, The Island Race (Liverpool: Outlet Publishing 1987) 155

[11] It is likely that circulation occurred between 1628 and 1631, regardless of the publication date 1680.

[12] Robert Filmer, Patriarchal (England 1680) p2

[13] To quote Nietzsche, ‘God is dead’. What Nietzsche is expressing is not the actual death of God, yet the rejection of imposing Christian morals and not having to live to values imposed upon the society by an external entity and the ability to create value from within the world we live in.

[14] Frederick Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra (England: Penguin Classics)

[15] Which continued until the reinstatement of a monarchy 29th May 1660 that Christian morals were restored.

[16] John Bull, The book of common prayer: and administration of the sacraments: and other rites and ceremonies of the Church of England (London: 1635)

[17] Unknown, The charge of the Scottish commissioners against Canterbury and the Lieutenant of Ireland (London:1641) 6

[18] Michael Braddick, God’s fury, England’s fire: A new history of the English Civil Wars (London: Penguin 2009) 83

[19] It was presented to the King on December 1st 1641

[20] John Morrill, Revolt in the Provinces; the People of England and the Tragedies of War 1630 – 1648 (Essex: Longman Limited 1999) p48

[21] D.E. Kennedy, The English Revolution 1642-1649 (New York: Palgrave Macmillan 2000) 10

[22] Ibid

[23] John Gibney, ‘Protestant interests? The 1641 rebellion and state formation in early modern Ireland*’ Historical Research (February 1, 2011 pages 67 -86) 70

[24] Ibid

[25] Robin Clifton, ‘Fear of Popery’ The Origins of the English Civil War edited by Conrad Russell (London: Macmillan Press 1973) 144

The King who killed God

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