Charles I : The Martyr or The Traitor?





Charles I of England was born in 1600 at Dunfermline, Scotland. He reigned as King of England and Ireland from 1625 until his death in 1649. In this essay I will attempt to consider whether Charles I was a martyr or a traitor.


During Charles’ reign he did many things which upset the people and Parliament. His reign commenced badly when in 1625 he married the French princess, Henrietta Maria De-Bourbon which, as she was a Catholic, upset Parliament and the protestant inhabitants of England. In the first four years of his reign, three Parliaments were summoned and dissolved and then for eleven years he ruled without the help of Parliament. Amazingly this may not have been as bad a situation as it sounds, as the source below suggests.


“In this time the kingdom enjoyed the greatest calm and the fullest measure of happiness that any people in any age for so long a time have been blessed with. England was secure. The country was rich and was enjoying the pleasure of its own wealth. The Protestant religion was advanced against Rome by the writings of the late archbishop (Laud) more than it had been since the Reformation.”


This was written by Clarendon about his view of the eleven years without Parliament. Clarendon was a minister of Charles II. This would mean that his view would have veered towards the royalists’ views. He would not say that it was a bad situation, as he was closely linked to the royal family. Clarendon may not be referring to the entire country, but possibly within his own circle of the royals, the lords and gentry.


He went to war with France between 1627 and 1629 and his continuing need for money led to unpopular economic policies as shown in the source below.


“Ship Money was a financial success. But the political cost was immense. Charles offended almost every class in the country – the lords, the gentry and the merchants.”


This source is taken from a recent history book, “Societies in Change”. This source should be fairly reliable, because it is from a textbook used in many schools, but it does not say where this source originally came from. As it was written recently, and not at the time, you cannot judge the truth that the source holds.


He introduced a new prayer book in Scotland, and the Scots rebelled; finally, in 1642, having alienated most of the population of the country, Charles entered into Civil War. There was a second Civil War from 1642 till 1648, after which he came to trial at Westminster. His dignified refusal to plead, was taken as a confession of guilt, and he was beheaded at Whitehall in 1649.


It is widely acknowledged that there were six final causes of the Civil War, the first of which was in November 1641 the Grand Remonstrance. This was a new list of demands made by the House of Commons. The House of Commons was divided on this issue showing that support for Charles was greater than originally thought.


The second trigger, also in November 1641, was the Irish Rebellion. The Catholics in Ireland rebelled against their Protestant rulers and rumours spread that the King was behind the rebellion and it was the first part of a plan to make England Catholic.


The third trigger took place in 1642 when Charles tried to arrest 5 MP’s. The MP’s had been warned, and consequently fled, but the event confirmed Parliaments’ fears that Charles was planning to dissolve Parliament, and rule by himself again. This is an account of events from shorthand notes.


“The House was informed that His Majesty was coming with a guard of soldiers.


When the King was looking about the House he asked the Speaker whether any of the five persons were in the House. To which the Speaker, falling on his knee, answered, ’Your Majesty, I have not eyes to see, nor tongue to speak in this place.”





This source would have been fairly reliable, as it was written by John Rushworth who was a clerk in the House of Commons. He would have no particular reason to lie, and the notes were made at the time of the incident.


The fourth trigger, a month later, in February 1642, was