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James VI of Scotland inherited the English throne in 1603, at the age of 37, and became James I of England, and thereby united the crowns of England and Scotland. The son of Elizabeth's cousin, Mary, Queen of Scots, James accession marked the beginning of century of domestic conflict, partly due to the personalities of the Stuart kings, but more to the problems inherited from the previous reign. James believed that Kings ruled by divine right and that the privileges of Parliament were granted by the King, who could summon and dissolve it at will. While this position was arguable, it was also archaic. It threatened a complete break with the Tudor approach of securing their power, and finances, by gaining the consent of nobility and gentry.

In 1605, a group of Roman Catholic's conspired to blow up Parliament in what became known as The Gunpowder Plot. However the major conflict lay between the King, who believed that the King ruled by Divine right, and Parliaments insistence on its own independent rights. This was to lead to the Petition of Right (1628) which forced Charles to admit that there were limitations to his Royal Authority. Charles attempted to rule without Parliament from 1629 to 1640, and his attempt's to raise money by all kinds of levies without the aid of Parliament became notorious. The actions of William Laud, appointed Archbishop of Canterbury in 1633, in seeking to enforce uniformity of worship on every parish in England ran contrary to all Puritan opinions. The more extreme Protestants or Puritans as they were known regarded this love of 'ceremony and harmonious liturgy', which was also shared by King Charles, as being dangerously close to Catholicism. And, with Lauds use of the Court of Star Chamber to restrain the Puritan press and pulpit, and the prosecution of Puritan leaders in 1637, this dissatisfaction was to reach a height.

Charles's attempts in 1637 to impose an English style of worship on Scotland resulted in a rebellion, which in turn forced Charles to summon Parliament in 1640. This Parliament in turn used the crisis to take control of the government. On April 21 1641, the House of Commons passed a bill for the Attainder of the Earl of Stafford, a friend of King Charles. There were rumours in London that the King might use the Army to overawe the Commons, he had already attempted to occupy the Tower of London. On 3rd May John Pym told the house that it should remind the King that he must maintain the law. Consequently, a committee of ten members drew up a Protestation signed by all the present members of the House of Lords. Its main points were to defend the reformed religion and "Maintain and defend his Majestys Royal Person, Honour and Estate, as well as the Powers and Privileges of Parliament and the lawful Rights and Liberties of the subjects and every person that maketh this Protestation". On 6th May, a bill was introduced that obliged all Englishmen to sign the protestation. It released political prisoners, arrested and executed Archbishop Laud and Sir Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford, who they blamed for the king's policies. It also abolished the prerogative courts, limited the king's ability to raise taxes, and established that henceforth Parliament should meet every three years. On other measures, however, Parliament was hopelessly split. This division was further exacerbated by Charles's attempt to arrest some members of Parliament on charges of conspiracy. Failing that, the king withdrew with his supporters, known as Cavaliers. The Puritan remainder of Parliament, called Roundheads then issued a call to arms, and with Charles gathering his own forces, Civil war became inevitable.

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The first Battle was fought at Edgehill in October 1642 resulted in a missed opportunity for Charles, and a drawn battle. The Roundheads eventually won the war, mainly because of the military leadership of Oliver Cromwell, who created the Ironsides cavalry regiment and then the New Model Army. Charles, who had surrendered to the Scots in 1646 was turned over to Cromwell in 1647, but managed to escape to reach a deal with the Scots, and attacked again in 1648. Once again he was defeated, and after being captured, was tried and executed in 1649. The "Rump" Parliament now abolished the monarchy and the House of Lords, and declared England a Commonwealth. The new Council of State was dependent on the force of the army and the scant legitimacy of the Rump Parliament, and was dominated by Cromwell.

In 1649-51 Cromwell subdued Ireland and Scotland and brought them into the Commonwealth. In 1653 he dissolved the Rump Parliament, and in December of the same year he accepted England's only attempt at a written constitution, the 'Instrument of Government'. The resulting protectorate was governed by a House of Commons and Cromwell as Lord Protector. Parliament challenged the restrictions of the Instrument and proposed the so-called Humble Petition and Advice to amend it. Cromwell accepted a second house of Parliament and also the right to name his successor, but refused the title of king. After a Royalist uprising in 1655, England was divided into 11 military districts commanded by major generals. This more than anything, except for the killing of Charles, turned people against Cromwell and the Puritan ways. The Navigation Act of 1651 provoked the Dutch War of 1652-54, from which England gained some success. Jamaica was taken from Spain in 1655. Allied with France, England in 1658 won the Battle of the Dunes, and took Dunkirk in France. Not since Elizabeth's reign had English ships and arms been so successful or so respected. After the death of Cromwell in 1658, the protectorate collapsed and his son and heir, Richard, was unable to gain the respect of the army. In the ensuing confusion, Gen. George Monck, the commander in Scotland, marched to London, recalled the Long Parliament, and set in motion the return of the dead king's eldest son from exile.

Monarchs during this period

James I (1603-25)
Charles I (1625-49)
Abolition of the Monarchy 1649-1660

The Commonwealth

Oliver Cromwell (1649-58)
Richard Cromwell (1658-59)

Restoration of the Monarchy 1660

Charles II (1660-85)
James II (1685-88)
William III, and Mary II (1689-1694)
William 111 alone 1694 - 1702 Anne (1702-14)

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Last Edited 03/07/2006    Copyright © 2000-2006 Witheridge

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