GREAT BRITAIN, 1642â1650
n the summer of 1642 the king and the parliament began preparing for war, each raising an army of its own. The crisis had been coming for some time now. The parliament wanted Charles Stuart to consult with them in his choice of government ministers and other official appointments. They wanted complete control of the army put into their hands. They wanted to reform the English church, abolish all bishops, and allow the final authority in church affairs to rest with them. They wanted a say in the raising of the king's children. They quoted from the Bible extensively in order to justify their demands, but like most politicians they forgot one of Christ's strongest directives to “render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's; and unto God that which is God's.” A very clear warning to the human race to keep church and state separate, but parliament, believing they alone spoke for God, wasn't listening.
The king, however, firmly believed that his authority came directly from the celestial actuary. He held fast to the Divine Right of his Stuart and Tudor ancestors. Unfortunately the parliament also believed God was on their side. But, had the king given in to parliament's wishes, they would have become the sole governing power of England. With all civil, military, and religious authority firmly in their hands, and backed by the landed wealth of certain of the nobility in the House of Lords, they sought to rule England. Had Charles Stuart yielded to the parliament, he would have found himself rendered little more than a figurehead. It was an intolerable position for the king to accept, but neither side was willing to compromise.
The first English civil war was fought. When it was over in 1647, the queen and her children had fled England for France. The king found himself a prisoner, first of parliament, and then of the Roundheads of Oliver Cromwell. He managed to escape, fleeing to the Isle of Wight, where he attempted to bargain with the parliament and, at the same time, with his possible allies in Scotland. The king, who loved intrigue, also loved to barter. From the relative security of Carisbrooke Castle, he sat like a spider in the center of his web attempting to wheel and deal while his royal agents brought him the encouraging news of the people's discontent with parliament's army, which had grown overpowerful and abusive.
Pleased with what appeared to be a growing discord among his enemies, the king played his usual game of delay, behaving as if all of England were still firmly in his royal grasp and under his personal control. Winter came. The Scots sent envoys to Carisbrooke. Their army would rise in support of Charles Stuart if he would but guarantee the safety of their Presbyterian church and take some of the Scots nobility into his government. Parliament, suddenly realizing that the king was not bargaining fairly with them, feared a Scots alliance would renew the civil war. So the moderates in parliament appealed to the Scots Presbyterians to form an alliance with them. The king thereupon signed an ill-advised treaty with the Scots.
Parliament angrily voted to disenfranchise the king, refusing to offer him any more terms for compromise. Throughout England, however, the anger grew, and directed itself not toward the king, but toward parliament and its military, both of whom were ruling with too heavy an iron fist. Now it became parliament against the people. Many of the gentry who had originally supported reform grew hostile.
In April there was a revolt in Wales. The king, in the meantime, had managed to stitch together an alliance between his English supporters and the Scots, both of whom objected strenuously to the military's involvement in the civil government. A second civil war began. It consisted of small local uprisings as in Wales and an invasion of the Scots into England.
The king and his adherents, however, had underestimated their opponents. In Scotland a separate confederation had to be worked out between royalists, Presbyterians, and the Convenanters, those Scots who supported the national covenant, which had been signed in 1643 with the English. By the time it had all been settled it was July. The Welsh uprising had been brutally quelled. Had the Scots moved faster, they could have obtained a great victory, for their forces outnumbered the English three to one. But disorganized and poorly provisioned, they gave the English time to regroup. A battle was finally fought at Preston in Lancashire, on August 17, 1648. The well-trained English troops decimated both the Scots foot soldiers and their cavalry. In a driving rain they doggedly chased after them until the Scots could run no farther. On that day General Oliver Cromwell took ten thousand prisoners, and many were killed.
Outraged by King Charles I's behavior, the fanatics in the English government and the army now took total control of the parliament. They immediately removed those men believed to be moderate in their thoughts. They ousted the entire House of Lords. Then they boldly brought the king to trial for his alleged crimes against the English people. Charles Stuart was quickly found guilty on all charges. He was beheaded on the thirtieth day of January in the year 1649. The heir to England's throne learned of his father's execution several days later while at his sister's court in Holland, when his chaplain came forward to address him as
The second Charles Stuart promptly burst into tears and could not be consoled for several days. The new king was just eighteen years of age.
Charles II was, however, almost immediately pronounced king of Scotland by the Scots parliament. While in sympathy with the English, the Scots Covenanters didn't like the idea that a Scots king of England had been executed without their permission. They would take back their own Stuart king under certain conditions, none of which could be acceptable to the royalists. Almost eighteen months of haggling ensued. Charles II landed in Scotland on June 23, 1650, barely escaping the English fleet sent to capture him and bring him home to face his own execution.
The delay in his arrival had been caused by his reluctance to sign the National Covenant, a thing his father would not do. The Covenant called for, among other things, the imposition of the Presbyterian form of worship on all the king's subjects in England, Ireland, and Scotland. It denied any other religious faiths, the Anglican and the Roman Catholic faiths in particular, legitimacy. It prohibited a church hierarchy, and enjoined the creation of all bishops, present or future. The king, an Anglican, signed with reluctance, having absolutely no intention of following through, something many suspected, but he needed a power base if he was to retake England.
Charles II needed firm control of an army. He would do what he had to in order to obtain his goals. The members of the Scots parliament were extremely obdurate, and very short-sighted, but they were not stupid. They kept a tight rein on the young Stuart king. They went so far as to banish his personal chaplains and his personal friends. They kept four ministers of the kirk sermonizing at him almost round the clock. Only when Oliver Cromwell was foolish enough to attempt an invasion of Scotland that autumn in an effort to regain control over that land and custody of its king; only then did the Scots parliament act to raise an army of defense. Only then did Charles Stuart, the second of that name, see a tiny ray of hope. He was, unfortunately, to be doomed to disappointment.