Personal rule of Charles I, 1629–1640
The Personal Rule (also known as the Eleven Years' Tyranny) was the period from 1629 to 1640, when King Charles I of England, Scotland and Ireland ruled without recourse to Parliament. The King was entitled to do this under the Royal Prerogative. His actions caused discontent among those who provided the ruling classes, but the effects were more popular with the common people.
Charles had already dissolved three Parliaments by the third year of his reign in 1628. After the murder of George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, who was deemed to have a negative influence on Charles' foreign policy, Parliament began to criticize the king more harshly than before. Charles then realized that, as long as he could avoid war, he could rule without Parliament.
Whig historians sometimes called this period the Eleven Years' Tyranny, a term meant to foreshadow the political ruptures of the English Civil War. More recently, however, scholars have described the eleven years as a period of "Creative Reform", due to the measures taken by Charles to restructure English politics.
In the Medieval period, government in England was very much centred on the King. He ruled personally, usually assisted by his Council, the Curia Regis. The council members were chosen by the King, and its membership varied greatly, but members often included powerful nobility and churchmen, senior civil servants, and sometimes certain members of the King's friends and family.
Early parliaments began to emerge under Edward I, who wished to implement taxation changes and wide-ranging law reforms, and sought to gain the consent of the nation. Nevertheless, calling a parliament was an expensive and time-consuming process, requiring many personal invitations (for the House of Lords) and elections in the shires and chartered cities and boroughs. So parliaments would only be summoned on particularly important occasions. Once a parliament had finished its business, the King would dissolve it, and perhaps not summon another for an extended period; in the meantime, the Curia Regis – that is, the King with his chosen advisers – would make laws ("ordinances"), spend money, and carry on the business of government.
From the 14th to the 16th centuries, the acknowledged powers of Parliament grew. In particular, it was established that Parliament was the only body that could authorise nationwide taxation and excise. There were practical underpinnings to these powers, for those who elected representatives to Parliament at this time were the same people the monarch had to rely on to collect and remit taxes on a large scale: the landed gentry. If a sovereign were to attempt to impose new taxes without consulting the gentry then the gentry could have simply refused to collect the taxes, and the monarch would have had little feasible recourse.
Once summoned, a parliament could take the opportunity to submit policy proposals to the monarch ("bills"), which would be expected to take precedence over ordinances if signed into law by the monarch, although (s)he was under no obligation to grant the Royal Assent to any such proposal. However, monarchs did increasingly use parliaments more widely in lawmaking as a way of gaining popular support for their policies. One example was during the English Reformation, when the Reformation Parliament acting at Henry VIII's instigation passed a succession of laws regulating the church in England.
The first of the Stuart monarchs to rule England, James I, was a peaceable monarch. However, James' personal extravagance caused him to be perennially short of money and he was obliged to summon parliaments often. Successive parliaments thereupon sought to turn the King's financial woes to their advantage, requiring various policy concessions before voting taxes. In 1625, James was succeeded by his son Charles I, who immediately plunged England into an expensive and ultimately unsuccessful war with Spain, in an attempt to force the Catholic Spanish King Philip IV to intercede with the Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand II on behalf of Charles's brother-in-law, Frederick V, Elector Palatine, the husband of Charles's sister Elizabeth, to regain the Electorate of the Palatinate and his hereditary lands, which the Emperor had taken from him.
Parliament's protests about the war's mismanagement by the Duke of Buckingham, and others of Charles' policies, primarily regarding taxation and other methods of acquiring funds, and Charles' refusal to compromise, eventually led to Charles dissolving Parliament in March 1629. He also made peace with Spain and France, largely because the financial burden of waging these wars could not be sustained without funds that Parliament alone could provide. For the next eleven years, Charles governed with only an advisory council of royal appointees.
The greatest problem Charles initially encountered at this stage was a continued lack of funds. The main sources of income for the King were customs duties, feudal dues and income from the King's personal estates. Nationwide taxation was widely understood to be for emergencies and special purposes, such as war, and it was by this time generally accepted that only Parliament could authorise a general tax. But even in peacetime, the traditional sources of the King's revenue were stretched to the limit to fund the business of government. So Charles and his advisers developed various schemes to raise additional revenue without recourse to Parliament. Easily the most famous of these measures was the so-called "Ship Money", a legal but extremely unconventional tax on the inland counties to fund the Royal Navy. Other expedients included fines levied on gentlemen who had failed to attend Charles' coronation to be knighted, the sale of government offices and monopolies, and fines for non-attendance at church. The navy was not at war during this period and ship tax was normally only collected during this time.
On the other side of the ledger, the government tried to reduce expenditure, especially by avoiding war (thus pursuing an isolationist foreign policy) and also avoiding large-scale innovations on the domestic front. Of equal importance, Charles learned to spend less extravagantly compared to his father.
Despite the King's unconventional methods of raising money, the absence of Parliamentary taxation limited the tax burden during the Personal Rule. This combined with the country's avoidance of the Thirty Years' War that was ravaging Europe made the 1630s a time of relative prosperity in England compared to the Continent, which in turn helped to make the Personal Rule popular with the common people, who had no political influence with parliaments in any case. Charles became especially popular with commoners in rural areas, this not coincidentally being the constituency where the King would find his most reliable support in the coming Civil War.
End of the Personal Rule
The Personal Rule began to unravel in 1637, when Charles, along with his advisor Archbishop Laud, attempted to reform the then-episcopal Church of Scotland to bring it into line, especially in its liturgy, with the Church of England. This met with immense Scottish opposition, and when negotiations broke down, a Scottish army invaded England. Charles could not afford to pay English troops to fight the Scots, and was obliged in 1640 to call the Short Parliament. This ended the Personal Rule, though Charles dissolved the Short Parliament after only a few days; by the end of the year, with the Scots still in England and no other routes left to him, he summoned the revolutionary Long Parliament. In the months that followed, the Parliamentary leaders, turning their attention to domestic matters, demanded from Charles ever more sweeping concessions over government policy. In 1642, Charles left London to raise an army and regain control by force, and the English Civil War began.
- John Cooke, the prosecutor in the 1649 trial of Charles I of England
- Oliver Cromwell, King Charles's enemy in the civil war
- Kevin Sharpe (1996), The Personal Rule of Charles I