Reign Charles1

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Reign of Charles I & Signing of National Covenant

By the time James VI died in 1625, the union of Scotland and England was probably unstoppable. James had brought the two ancient crowns together, and the idea of a new Great Britain was well and truly formed.

Before the union was to happen, however, his successor as monarch was to unite both countries in a bloody civil war which would divide families and eventually claim the king himself as one of its victims.

James's son Charles I was never originally in the running to be king. He only became the heir to the throne when his older brother, Prince Henry, died of typhoid at the age of 12.

Charles had been born in Scotland, but went to London as a toddler when his father ascended to the English throne in 1603. His rule turned out to be one of the most disastrous and tragic in the history of the monarchy.

Almost from the moment Charles took over the throne, he seemed to offend everyone. Like his father, he was a devout Anglican, and was determined from the beginning to bring the Presbyterian Scots Kirk into line with his own beliefs.

Although this task proved to eventually be his undoing, he set about it with vigour. One of his very first actions was to pass the Act of Revocation, aimed at bringing former church lands under the control of the Crown, As most of that land was by owned by the nobles, this caused immediate hostility among some of the most influential men in Scotland.

However, far worse was to come. Charles infuriated the Scots when he finally got round to being crowned as King of Scots at St Giles in Edinburgh in 1633. He made the mistake of demanding the service be held with full Anglican rites, complete with candles, music, choirs and surplices. The horrified Scots thought it was only a short step away from the return of Popery.

It didn't stop there. Charles, egged on by his religious mentor William Laud, the ritualist Archbishop of Canterbury, demanded that the Scottish clergy wore gowns and surplices. The General Assembly of the Kirk - banned since the days of James - was still not allowed to meet and Charles also abolished Presbyteries, which were the only remaining element of church government.

To add insult to injury, he decided to introduce a Revised Prayer Book for Scotland, based on the English Book of Common Prayer. When the new liturgy was used for the first time in St Giles in July 1637, Scots toleration finally snapped.

As soon as the service began, all hell broke out. A riot started in the church, abuse was shouted and at least one stool was thrown. Armed guards had to be called in to quell the demonstrators as the Dean of the Cathedral fled to the safety of the steeple. The Bishop of Edinburgh was stoned as he raced away. Within a week, the new prayer book was dead.

Unsurprisingly, by this time opposition to Charles among the nobility was starting to galvanise. A committee called The Tables was organised from the ranks of the Estates - the Scottish parliament - led by the sixth earl of Rothes, John Leslie, and the fifth Earl of Montrose, James Graham.

Charles did not have the resources to take the Scots on militarily - after falling out with the English parliament, he had no armed forces to assert his authority north of the border. Instead, he tried to remind the Scots that a refusal to accept the new liturgy amounted to treason.

This further goading led to the signing of the National Covenant at the Greyfriars Kirk in Edinburgh in 1638. The covenant spelled out the fact that the Calvinist faith and the freedom of the Kirk had been enshrined in Scottish acts of parliament. It professed loyalty to Charles but also made it clear that there would be no sellout of the Reformed Protestant faith.

Montrose was the first of more than 150 nobles to sign up on the first day of the Covenant. It was to be the beginning of a fightback which over the next few weeks became a great national movement, uniting the Scots against the antics of their king.

Yet still Charles failed to heed the message. He decided he would have to use force against "this small cloud in the north" and take on "this beggarly nation." However, the King was clever. Without an army to call on, he played for time by finally allowing the General Assembly of the Kirk to meet in Glasgow cathedral.

The Assembly immediately started to flex its muscles. It abolished all the bishops, banned the new prayer book and set up a commission to look at the ecclesiastical abuses under the Stewart Kings. In addition, it also established a committee to ensure there was no deviation from the Reformed faith. It was nothing less than an invitation to war.

The Coventantors knew when it if came to a fight, they would have a good chance of winning. They had tough soldiers, hardened in the battles of the Thirty Years' War, and plenty of money from the pockets of Kirk congregations.

The Royalists, under the loyalist Marquis of Hamilton, fared disastrously. Their first army caught smallpox after sailing to Aberdeen and it was then routed at the Battle of the Brig O'Dee in 1639.

Shortly afterwards, the two sides declared a truce. The Covenantors said they would disband and surrender Edinburgh, Dumbarton and Stirling castles, which they had seized. At the same time, the King agreed that the General Assembly and Estates could meet.

Needless to say, as soon as the two bodies met, they simply ratified the legislation passed at the Glasgow General Assembly. Charles responded by adjourning the Estates again and putting together another army. The Scots then marched into England, taking Newcastle and forcing Charles to yet another truce at Ripon in Yorkshire.

However, the Covenantors had their own troubles. They began to fall out among themselves, with the fiercely Calvinist Archibald Campbell, eighth Earl of Argyll, making it plain that he wanted to use the struggle to expand his own personal power and influence.

Argyll's talk of deposing the king was too much for the more moderate Montrose, who felt all that should be done was to persuade Charles to change his policies. Montrose then decided to act in support of, rather than against, the monarch.

The split between Argyll and Montrose ended up with the latter finding himself in prison. Charles came to Edinburgh and managed to secure Montrose's release, but little else. Nothing had been solved. The Scots remained as staunchly Calvinist, and the king as obdurate, as ever.

But by now, Charles also had his troubles south of the border. His arrogant and high handed treatment of the English parliament and the nobility - many of whom were turning towards Puritanism, which was much more extreme than Calvinism - had caused simmering resentment for years.

In England, as in Scotland, Charles was suspected of being a near-Papist, and the tensions grew. His fights against the Scots had drained him of money, but when he was finally forced to summon parliament to try and raise some taxes, it voted to give assistance to the Scots instead.

Armed conflict between the king and parliament finally broke out in 1642. In early fighting, at battles such as Edgehill and Newbury, the Royalist forces managed to hold their own.

The English parliamentary forces alone were not able to break Charles: that required the involvement of the Scots. Scotland came to the English parliament's aid by sending 20,000 troops in support of its cause.

Of course, the involvement of the Scots soldiers came at a price. In 1643, a Solemn League and Covenant was signed. In return for their expenses, the Scots agreed to strike the royalists from the north. But the deal also involved the English agreeing to bring their own church and worship into line with that of the Kirk.

The Scots' involvement in the civil war appeared to seal Charles's fate: their part in the fighting helped win the decisive Battle of Marston Moor for the parliamentarians in 1644.

In fact, there was still a remarkable twist to come. The Earl of Montrose was about to mount an astonishing defence of the King which would tear Scotland, too, apart in civil war.


Meanwhile...

  • 1633 Public advertising begins in Paris
  • 1633 Samuel Pepys, the English diarist, is born
  • 1637 Harvard College is established in Cambridge, Massachussetts
  • 1638 Torture is abolished in England
  • 1640 Venice opens its first European cafe
  • 1642 Income and property tax are introduced into England
  • 1642 Isaac Newton - mathematician and natural philosopher - is born
  • 1642 Rembrandt paints, "The Night Watch"
  • 1643 Moliere founds Illustre Theatre - later knowns as Theatre de la Comedie Francaise
  • 1643 Coffee drinking becomes popular in Paris

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