James lived extravagantly and had to ask Parliament for funds to finance his lavish court.
More than once, when members wanted to discuss foreign policy before voting funds, James dissolved Parliament and raised money without their consent. These actions poisoned relations between the king and Parliament.
James also found himself embroiled in religious disputes. He clashed with dissenters, Protestants who differed with the Church of England. One group were called Puritans because they sought to “purify” the English church of Catholic practices. Puritans called for simpler services and a more democratic church without bishops. James rejected their demands, vowing to “harry them out of this land or else do worse.”
In 1625, Charles I inherited the throne. Like his father, Charles behaved like an absolute monarch. He imprisoned his foes without trial and squeezed the nation for money. By 1628, however, his need to raise taxes forced Charles to summon Parliament. Before voting any funds, Parliament insisted that Charles sign the Petition of Right.
This document prohibited the king from raising taxes without Parliament's consent or from jailing anyone without legal justification.
Charles I and his troops stormed into the House of Commons to arrest radicals.
Charles did sign the Petition, but he then dissolved Parliament in 1629. For 11 years, he ignored the Petition and ruled without Parliament. During that time, he created bitter enemies, especially among Puritans. His Archbishop of Canterbury, William Laud, tried to force all clergy to follow strict Anglican rules, dismissing or imprisoning dissenters. Many people felt that the archbishop was trying to revive Catholic practices.
In 1637, Charles and Laud tried to impose the Anglican prayer book on Scotland. The Calvinist Scots revolted. To get funds to suppress the Scottish rebellion, Charles once again had to summon Parliament in 1640. When it met, however, Parliament launched its own revolt.
The 1640 Parliament became known as the Long Parliament because it lasted on and off until 1653.
Its actions triggered the greatest political revolution in English history. In a mounting struggle with Charles I, Parliament tried and executed his chief ministers, including Archbishop Laud. It called for the abolition of bishops and declared that the Parliament could not be dissolved without its own consent.
Charles lashed back. In 1642, he led troops into the House of Commons to arrest its most radical leaders. They escaped through a back door and soon raised their own army. The clash now moved to the battlefield.
What was the Petition of Right?
The civil war that followed lasted from 1642 to 1651. Like the Fronde that occurred about the same time in France, the English Civil War posed a major challenge to absolutism. But while the forces of royal power won in France, in England the forces of revolution triumphed.
At first, the odds seemed to favor the supporters of Charles I, called Cavaliers. Many Cavaliers were wealthy nobles, proud of their plumed hats and fashionably long hair. Well trained in dueling and warfare, the Cavaliers expected a quick victory. But their foes proved to be tough fighters with the courage of their convictions.
The forces of Parliament were composed of country gentry, town-dwelling manufacturers, and Puritan clergy. They were called Roundheads because their hair was cut close around their heads. The Roundheads found a leader of genius in Oliver Cromwell. A Puritan member of the lesser gentry, Cromwell proved himself to be a skilled general.