King_Charles_I_by_Gerrit_van_Honthorst_sm

Portrait of King Charles I of England, Scotland and Ireland by Gerard van Honthorst. (1628)

Parliamentary powers had steadily grown in the centuries leading up to the 17th century. Although Royal Assent to Parliamentary bills was still technically required, by the reign of James I (1567–1625) Parliament had begun using finances as a means to exert pressure on the monarch. Because cooperation with Parliament generally increased popular perception of the monarch’s actions, however, monarchs were not quick to defy the legislature.

When King Charles I came to power in 1625, he embroiled Britain in an expensive war with Spain. Parliament responded by restricting Charles’ ability to fund the war through collecting customs duties. Over the following months, Parliament criticised many of Charles’ policies, criticism that Charles readily ignored. In time, he even resorted to levying taxes without Parliamentary consent. Though Charles assented to the Petition of Right in June 1628, he was quick to backtrack on his concessions and maintained that only his ‘grace’ had been the basis for the assent, Parliament had no right to control the king. The Duke of Buckingham–close friend of Charles I–had also been criticised heavily for mismanagement, and his assassination in August 1628 did little to assuage Charles’ tenuous relationship with Parliament.

Portrait of John Finch, 1st Baron Finch by Anthony van Dyck. (circa 1640)

Portrait of John Finch, 1st Baron Finch by Anthony van Dyck. (circa 1640)

In March 1629, Charles recalled Parliament, the body that he had already dissolved on two previous occasions. Tensions again came to a head on 10 March 1629 when the House Speaker, Sir John Finch, attempted to adjourn the House on orders from King Charles. Three members of the House, in a show of defiance, forcibly held Finch in his chair to delay the closing of the session. As he was restrained, Parliament passed multiple measures to withhold taxation powers from Charles and curb his authority. Charles, in a fury, prorogued Parliament and had nine of its members imprisoned.

Charles’ dissolution of Parliament on 10 March 1629 began a period known as the ‘Personal Rule.’ Lacking Parliament’s power to raise taxes, Charles was quickly confronted with a lack of funding for his war. He was forced to make peace, and for the next eleven years he ruled without calling another Parliament. He resorted to reinstituting feudal taxes on a royal prerogative, but his attempts to circumvent Parliament served to make him unpopular and planted the seeds for future conflict.