In the late 1630s, the first King Charles of England, approaching 40 years old and in the thirteenth year of his reign, was trying to get himself killed. Or at least, that’s almost what it seems like looking back on it now. So badly did he handle his kingship, I thought I would use this opportunity to talk about some of the best ways one can undermine one’s own authority, using King Charles as our edificational example, and C.V. Wedgwood’s works (The King’s Peace and A Coffin For King Charles) as our guides…
One. Threaten Or Circumvent The Established Power Structure
King Charles expanded the Ship-Money Tax, a war-time tax which assessed coastal towns a special tax– purportedly, or at least originally, in order to fund the navy for defending the coasts. However, Charles extended the tax inland and also began collecting the tax even though England was at peace (at least with foreign powers). Not only did citizens resent the imposition and expansion of the tax, but — and perhaps more importantly– Parliament was enraged at this blatant attempt of the King to increase his revenues without going through it. As Wedgwood tells us, “the King’s ambition was to so organize and develop his resources so that he would never again be under the necessity of calling Parliament in England.” Being money-control was Parliament’s greatest claim to political relevancy, its members naturally greatly resented the King circumventing the purse to which they supposedly held strings.
Two. Establish An Abusive Minority-Rule
The Irish felt themselves existentially threatened as a people and a culture under Charles I. Wedgwood informs us that Calvinist Scots had been pouring into Northern Ireland throughout Charles’ reign. Also, the Puritan party was beginning to dominate the English Parliament back in London, which did not bode well for the Catholic Irish. Facing this level of threat, “nothing and no one,” writes Wedgwood, “in the Autumn of 1641 could have prevented the rising of Ireland.”
Three. Fight The Wrong War
While Charles was allowing Ireland to be overrun, he was also attempting to force the Scots to fall in line with the dogmatic dictates of the Church Of England. Says Wedgwood… “The King’s ideals were clear from the first. He wanted his subjects throughout his dominions to accept his absolute authority with unquestioning obedience and to belong with uniform and regular devotion to the Church established by law.”
England’s Puritans, though they may not have had much concern for the plight of the Catholic people of Ireland, did indeed feel a “general sympathy” for the Calvinist Scots whom the King was trying to subdue, and his policy toward Scotland was not popular.
As if all this wasn’t enough, Charles decides to sue the City Of London over a property dispute, thus alienating “the richest and most influential city in the Three Kingdoms.” At issue were the lands the City of London had been granted in northern Ireland for the establishment of farms, dairies, and fisheries. The City really had probably overstepped the original boundaries set for its new lands; nevertheless, the cost for carrying his point was a politically high one for Charles.
Meanwhile, the Thirty Years’ War was raging on the Continent, and many felt that Royal forces should be coming to the aid of Europe’s fellow Protestants instead of oppressing their own people.
Four. Fail At Your Most Important Job
While the King was preparing a fleet –with the apparent purpose of invading Scotland– the English Channel was becoming insecure. Barbary pirates again became active in the area, with scores of English men and women kidnapped in the vicinity of Penzance. Additionally, the “Dunkirkers” (privateers who operated in an unofficial alliance with Spain) were periodically pillaging Kent and Sussex. Wedgwood writes that Charles had forbidden that the Dunkirkers be attacked by the English Navy “for fear of extinguishing forever the King’s hope of an alliance with Spain.” The English people did not much cotton to this type of foreign policy– especially since its misguided aim was to cozy-up to foreign Papists. As John Bradshaw, chief judge at Charles’ eventual trial, stated: the authority of a ruler is valid only so long as he can offer protection in return.
Five. Make Your People Worse-Off Financially
Besides the Ship-Tax, the King was also selling monopolies to businessmen. This might not have been a big deal to the average person, but the products provided by these monopolies were often terrible. There was also the detail that Parliament had forbidden the granting of monopolies in 1624; Charles got around this annoying fact by calling his monopoly-grants “patents” instead of monopolies. The King even went so far as to grant certain businesses “patents” for the sole right for TRANSPORTING certain goods.
Additionally, the King revived the Knighthood Tax, under which he granted Knighthoods to the wealthy– whether they wanted them or not– and they in turn were forced to pay the fee necessary to exempt them from being conscripted into military service for their sovereign.
And not only was the Knighthood Tax revived, but the old Forest Laws were also brought back. These laws forbid certain lands (claimed by the King), from being enclosed or privately used. Since no one had worried about the Forest Laws for two generations, resentment was great when the King started fining those who were found to using these properties.
Six. Support The Enemy.
In yet another example of Charles’ desperation for funds, he treatied with Spain to transport and mint their silver for them. This was a great service to Spain (a Catholic power!) because England’s ships were officially neutral and so were relatively protected from interception by Protestant navies. In return, the King received a share of the precious metals processed by the Royal Mint. Not surprisingly, the Dutch, says Wedgwood, complained that this was “a very odd kind of neutrality.”
There was also the situation of the King’s domestic situation, which worked against him. His wife was Catholic (her Godfather was actually Pope Urban VIII), and her circle of Catholic friends appeared to be favored at Court. This provided yet another reason for the common man to suspect that the King was secretly working to bring England back into the Catholic camp.