James’ reign immediately followed that of Elizabeth I, and this timeline follows it to the beginning of the Civil War. There were continual struggles between Parliament and the King over power and money; not helped by the Crown’s lavish spending on masques, parties, and the court in general. Over the period of James and Charles’ reigns, parliament began to resist and question the absolute rule of monarchs which had persisted previously; particularly through Charles’ reign, this opposition grew, culminating in the outbreak of the Civil War.
The ongoing struggles between Catholicism and Protestantism, which had begun with the break from Rome under Henry VIII, continued to develop, especially following Charles’ marriage to the Catholic Henrietta Maria, whose religion is reflected in her commissions of masques. The King James Bible, of 1611, was introduced to attempt to stem a tide of religious discontent.
The masques of Stuart Court reflected the political events and religious sentiments of the time, as well as being pieces of art and entertainment.
James VI of Scotland was crowned James I of England
The coronation of James I was celebrated with a pageant rather than a masque. Although he was crowned on July 25th, 1603, his ceremonial procession through the city of London was postponed until March 15, 1604 due to an outbreak of plague. Gilbert Dugdale carefully describes the events in a pamphlet published in 1604 called “The Time Triumphant”.
The Perfect Union
James I was very keen to unify England and Scotland under one government. He had unified the crowns, and he styled himself as King of Great Britain; although this option was discussed by successive parliaments, it did not come to fruition in his lifetime. There was much opposition to the idea, with the English worried that a union would allow the more absolutist structure in Scotland to be used by James, and the Scots concerned about being subsumed under English rule. The last Jacobean masque was “The Fortunate Isles and their Union”, which reflected James I’s ambitions for a unified nation. Unfortunately for James, the union was only achieved in 1707.
Book of Rates
This was the attempt by Robert Cecil to improve the financial position of James I who was struggling with debt (not helped by his lavish entertainments, such as court masques). It set down the value of various imported commodities which attracted duties, which could then be collected for James I; this had not been edited since the reign of Mary Tudor, 1553-1558.
The Hampton Court Conference
Nine Bishops meet at Hampton Court, on the 14th-18th of January. Five Puritans were also present and they suggest getting rid of the Bishops, which angers James I. He reportedly said “No Bishops, no King!” To please the Puritans James prevaricated and claimed that he would make changes to the Church in the future – he did produce the King James Bible in 1611, a Bible written in English, which was something which the Puritans had requested.
James ended war with Spain
In 1604 James I ended the long Anglo-Spanish War which had begun during Elizabeth I’s reign. This was the war in which the Spanish Armada was defeated in 1588. It was a feat of diplomacy and set the tone for James I’s foreign policy in the future, which was essentially to keep the peace as far as possible. It also meant that he could avoid the huge levels of expenditure which had to be put into wars. In the 1605 masque “The Masque of Beauty“, the Spanish Ambassador was given precedence over the French due to the peaceful relations between England and Spain.
Richard Bancroft was Archbishop of Canterbury 1604-1610, and believed that Puritans had the potential to destabilise the country. James I entrusted him with religious issues. The Canons effectively marginalised Puritans which helped the King to avoid a religious schism – religion remained an issue throughout the Stuart period. The Canons stated that in order to be a minister one “must accept the King as Head of the Church”, thereby forcing a Church hierarchy. It also stated that everyone must attend regular Church of England services, whatever their religion.
The Gunpowder Plot
In 1604, a group of English Catholics, who were angered by James I’s continuation of penal laws against their religion, hatched a plot to blow up the King and parliament. The plot was discovered before it could be carried out. The attempt to blow up parliament is infamous, however it also had serious political impact, including the introduction of anti-Catholic laws (in 1606) meaning that no Catholic could hold a public office and every subject had to swear an Oath of Allegiance to the King. 19 Catholic Priests were executed and after this James had little Catholic opposition. This was a generally popular move, and parliament granted James a £250,000 subsidy as thanks.
The Great Contract
This was an attempt by Robert Cecil to rid the Crown of its debt. James and Anne spent lavishly on their court – gifting their favourites with large sums of money, and holding great feasts and entertainments, such as masques. It suggested that James I give up his feudal rights over Purveyance and Wardship, and in return parliament would subsidise him with £200,000 per year. Both James and parliament eventually rejected the plan – to the devastation of Cecil. James had felt he would lose some of his control, particularly over more powerful members of the gentry; parliament feared that the Crown would have too much independence from parliament if it did not have to call on them for more funds.
The King James Bible
A result of the Hampton Court Conference (January, 1604), this was the third authorised translation of the Bible into English. The two previous versions (commissioned under Henry VIII and then Elizabeth I), were perceived to have problems according to those who believed in a more Puritan form of the Church. It is recognised as one of the most important books in the English language and of English culture; the unchallenged English translation until the early twentieth century, and one of the most widely printed books worldwide.
The Marriage of Princess Elizabeth, daughter of James I
P rincess Elizabeth’s courtship of Frederick, Elector of Palatine culminated with their marriage in February 1613. It aligned England, religiously, with the German Calvinist religion; it caused problems for James in his attempt to avoid conflict after the start of the Thirty Years War (1618-1648). It was a spectacular wedding, with lavish court entertainments and several mesmerising masques; almost bankrupting James I. More royalty attended the wedding than had ever been seen at the court of England. This was the first royal wedding celebrated in England since that of Mary I and Phillip of Spain in July 1554.
Read more about these wedding masques here!
The Addled Parliament
James I’s second parliament became very confused because of factional rivalry at James’ courts. On one side there were the Howards, lead by Thomas Howard, 1st Earl of Suffolk. On the other side there were the Pembrokes, lead by Sir Francis Bacon and Henry Wriothesly, 3rd Earl of Southampton. James had to recall parliament to get money, as he was overspending by £50,000 per annum. The King had been using impositions to subsidise his income (these were import duties), however parliament did not like this and it was to be a point of tension. Both factions agreed to rig the elections to ensure there was a compliant parliament. However, the Howard faction deliberately caused problems, leaking that the elections were rigged and ensuring impositions were brought up in parliament. Parliament was dissolved in a matter of weeks, with no loan or subsidy for the King.
The Cockayne Scheme
In 1614, while serving as governor of the Eastland Company of English merchants, Cockayne devised a plan to dye and dress English cloth. Cloth was England’s main export at the time, and this would mean that England was selling a finished product. Cockayne convinced James I to grant him a monopoly on cloth exports as a part of this plan, intended to increase the profits of English merchants (Cockayne’s in particular), whilst boosting royal customs duties and bypassing those of the Dutch merchants. Unfortunately, the scheme failed as the Dutch refused to purchase finished cloth and instead engaged in a trade war with England. As a result, the English cloth trade was depressed for decades.
The Book of Sports
This was initially issued to resolve a dispute between the gentry and Puritans in Lancashire, although it was issued nationwide in 1618. In one sense, it was anti-Puritan, rebuking them for trying to enforce a strict Sabbath day, and allowing “sports” to be permitted following church. However, it also admonished Catholics, stating clearly that these recreations could only be enjoyed after going to an Anglican service. Dancing was specifically mentioned as a permissible sport. Charles I re-released the Book of Sports in 1633. Very soon after this was released, Ben Jonson’s masque, “Pleasure Reconciled to Virtue“, was performed which is thought to have been influenced by the Book of Sports.
The Bohemian Crisis
James’ son in law, Frederick Elector of Palatine, accepted the crown of Bohemia which was offered to him by the nobles of Bohemia. This aggravated the Habsburg candidate, Ferdinand II Holy Roman Emperor, who was a staunch Catholic (in comparison to the fiercely Protestant Frederick). Ferdinand II had sent representatives to Prague to rule in his absence, but the Protestant nobles threw them out of a window – this is known as the Second Defenestration of Prague. A religious conflict spread throughout the country. However, Frederick was forced off the throne, having been defeated in 1620. Frederick was outlawed and lost all of his titles. James I had not provided support for his son-in-law during his time of need, despite the fact that they were allied on a religious front and parliament and courtiers pressured him to intervene.
The Thirty Years War
The Bohemian Crisis sparked ensuing religious conflict, which raged for thirty years across Europe. There were 8 million casualties and it was very brutal. Sweden took the side of the Protestant cause, whilst the Spanish and Austrian Habsburgs united in the cause of the Catholics. Initially, the Swedish troops swung the war in favour of the Protestants, however they were defeated in 1635. The French were originally against the Spanish, despite being religiously on their side – although they made peace in 1626. The war continued to rage until the signing of the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, which effectively ended the conflict. As early as 1620, Prince Charles staged a masque, “The World Tossed at Tennis“, to persuade his father out of his neutral foreign policy, and to support his sister and Frederick in the brutal war.
The Third Parliament
Another parliament called because James needed money; this time to fund a War with Spain. He wanted to support the Protestant League in the Thirty Years War. Due to the economic depression, parliament only granted James I £140,000. James also allowed parliament to impeach 2 monopolists, which was a very popular decision. However, parliament felt emboldened and also impeached Lord Chancellor Bacon on the grounds of corruption, as well as attempting to impeach the Duke of Buckingham. After a discussion about royal marriages in parliament (these were a royal prerogative which parliament were not supposed to discuss) James I was so angered that he cut parliament short.
The Spanish Match
This was the proposed marriage of Prince Charles and the Spanish Infanta Anna Maria, for which negotiations began in 1618. “The Masque of Augurs“, performed before they left, praised the union. However, it was a very unpopular match with the protestant parliament. Charles I and the Duke of Buckingham led the embassy to Madrid; this is known as the Trip to Madrid. However, on their arrival, they were refused a visit to see the Spanish Infanta. Both of them took this as a personal insult. In response they both pressured James to wage war against the Spanish – this undermined his policy to try and retain the peace, however it was a popular opinion in parliament.
The Fourth Parliament
The country was in an anti-Spanish mood, with Prince Charles and the Duke of Buckingham pressuring James I into war (following their disastrous trip to Madrid). Parliament challenged the King’s prerogative again – they impeached the Earl of Middlesex (organised by Buckingham), and passed a Subsidy Act (James could be given subsidies if he used them in the way that parliament dictated). James I saw parliament to be taking too much power, however they were largely cooperative and he received £300,000 to start a naval war with Spain.
James I Died
James died at his favourite hunting lodge in Essex. He had spent a the last year of his life suffering from a variety of illnesses. The Duke of Buckingham was at his bedside when he died. The funeral was described as both magnificent and disorderly. He was buried at Westminster Abbey, although the location of his tomb was unknown until the nineteenth century, when it was discovered in the Henry VII vault. Prince Charles now took over from his father, becoming Charles I.
Marriage to Henrietta Maria
After the disastrous Trip to Madrid, Charles turned his sights to France to find a bride. He had already met Henrietta Maria briefly on his way to Madrid. They were married when she was 15, by proxy, and so she only met Charles as her husband when she arrived in England. She was allowed to bring 20 priests and a Bishop to England with her. There were complications with her being crowned, as she was not Anglican and therefore could not be crowned in an Anglican service. Her failure to be crowned did not sit well with the crowds; yet, it did not take long for the pro-French policy to crumble in the face of attacks on the French Huguenots. Her religion meant that people feared that Catholicism might creep back to England; her later staging of the masque “Luminalia”, in 1638, only furthered this, with it’s seemingly pro-Catholic sentiments.
Charles I’s first parliament was called in order to raise more money for a war with Spain, but to allow parliament to take the Oath of Loyalty to Charles and grant him tonnage and poundage (always granted to the Crown by parliament for life). It was called following the Mansfeld Expedition which had been a disastrous on-foot expedition as part of the Thirty Years War. Therefore, parliament granted him £140,000 for a naval war, but Charles wanted more. On top of this, they only granted him tonnage and poundage for one year, not for life, and they criticised the Duke of Buckingham, Charles’ closest friend.
Commanded by Sir Edward Cecil, this was a fleet intended for the port of Cadiz to try and replicate the naval power of Elizabeth I. However, it was poorly commanded and they failed to prevent Spanish ships from leaving the port. Furthermore, once they had landed, troops were allowed to get very drunk on local wine, leaving them incapable of mounting a successful attack. In fact Spanish ships managed to get back into the port, laden with gold, with little effort. As disease spread through the English ships, they were forced to return home, having wasted £250,000. Following this escapade, a peace treaty was negotiated and signed in 1630.
Following the failure of parliament to provide him with funds, Charles asked his subjects to freely give him their money – this was was an undisputed failure, and very few people offered him anything. Thus, he introduced the forced loan. Any non-payers, would answer to the Privy Council and, thus, around £250,000 was raised. It was an incredibly unpopular decision. 77 people who did not pay were imprisoned; five of these, known as the five knights, applied for a writ of Habeus Corpus (meaning they would be put on trial, and proof would have to be brought against them for a crime). The court did not free them, however, before the next parliament, Charles did release them.
Due to the failure of the Cadiz expedition, Charles expected parliament to be awkward. France also went behind England’s back, attacking our allies at La Rochelle and making peace with Spain. Charles I requested a subsidy of £1- million, but was only granted £320,000 with the proviso that he got rid of Buckingham as an advisor. This angered Charles and he arrested and imprisoned some MP’s; one MP, Eliot, had attempted to impeach Buckingham and he was also arrested. Charles I dissolved parliament.
War with France
This was a part of the Thirty Years War. The English attacked in protest over the attacks on French Huguenots, and the French secret peace treaty with Spain. Charles I sent the Duke of Buckingham, with a fleet of ships on the Ile de Rhe Expedition. However, although the town was Protestant, it would not openly go against the French King, and English attempts to take the fort were a failure – this became another source of resentment against Buckingham, who had led several failed campaigns abroad. The La Rochelle Expedition was also a failure. A Peace Treaty was negotiated and signed in 1629.
Laud becomes Bishop of London
William Laud was a highly controversial figure, who believed in the “Beauty of Holiness” and wanted to restore the decoration of Churches and the ritual and ceremony (all associated with Catholicism). He believed in the hierarchy of the Church of England (King at the top, then Archbishops, then Bishops, then Vicars). He was strongly anti-Calvinist and both he and Charles I promoted Arminians (closer to Catholicism than Anglicans, but they were still Protestant) within the Church . His sentiments being Catholic meant that people began to fear that Catholicism was creeping back in to England. In 1633, this was made worse as he became Archbishop of Canterbury (although in 1634 he turned down a Cardinalate from the Catholic Church, showing that he was not Catholic).
First Session of the Third Parliament
Charles I’s 3rd parliament was shambolic, despite the fact that both sides seemed to be amenable to trying to come to an agreement. Parliament handed Charles the Petition of Right which said that he could not raise taxes without the consent of parliament, could not imprison people without proving a cause, could not billet soldiers against the will of the householder and could not enforce martial law. Charles only signed it in order to get a £280,000 subsidy from parliament. Again, parliament criticised Buckingham’s foreign policy.
Death of the Duke of Buckingham
G eorge Villiers was stabbed outside the Greyhound Pub in Portsmouth, by John Felton, an army officer who believed that Buckingham had prevented his promotion. At the time he was considered to be one of the most unpopular men in England, perhaps the most unpopular, and his death was very applauded by the people. Felton insisted he had acted alone, and was hung at Tyburn in November. Charles I was deeply upset by Buckingham’s death, and grieved alone in his room for two days. Villiers had not only been a patron of masques, and the arts more generally, but had also been considered a fantastic dancer and performed regularly in masques.
Second Session of the 3rd Parliament
This was a complete disaster. Parliament introduced the Three Resolutions; denouncing Arminianism, encouraging people to refuse to pay tonnage and poundage (the King had continued to collect this despite only being given rights to this for a year) and branding those who did pay as traitors. Charles told the speaker to suspend parliament, but members held the speaker down until the act was passed, and then voted their own adjournment. Charles denounced and imprisoned his opponents, defending his rights.
The Eleven Years Tyranny
Also known as the “Personal Rule”, this was the period of time where Charles I ruled without a parliament. Although not breaking the law, it did break convention, deepening the mistrust between parliament and the King. In this time Charles used his prerogative to raise money through levies and fines which were very unpopular; the most notorious of these being Ship Money, a tax traditionally imposed on port towns to provide them with protection from foreign invasion. Charles applied this tax to the whole country.
Prynne, Burton and Bastwick
The lawyer William Prynne, the clergymen Henry Burton and the physician John Bastwick were prosecuted for publishing pamphlets which attacked Laud’s Church. They appeared at the Star Chamber (a court of law in the Palace of Westminster) for criticising the introduction of doctrines such as bowing towards the east and setting up crucifixes. All three were charged and sentenced to be put in the pillory, branded on their cheeks, and to have their ears cropped. They also received life imprisonment. They became popular martyrs and inspired demonstrations against the tyranny of Laud’s Church.
Hampden was a Parliamentary leader and critic of the Crown, known for being a close ally of John Pym (an MP who became central tot he parliamentary cause in the Civil War). Hampden refused to pay ship money, believing that Charles had no right to levy taxes. He went before Judges of the Exchequer; seven votes went in favour of Charles I’s case, whilst five voted in favour of Hampden. Despite Charles’ win in a court of law, many people, on principle, sided with Hampden.
The National Covenant
In 1637 a new prayer book was introduced across James’ realms by Royal Proclamation. When introduced at St Giles’ Cathedral, it induced a riot, with with one woman shouting “the mass is upon us”, in the belief that Catholicism was creeping into Anglicanism. Charles wouldn’t back down, insisting that everyone refusing to use it was a traitor. In 1638, 10,000 Scots signed the National Covenant, in which they swore to resist “innovations in religion”, choosing loyalty to their Church over loyalty to their King.
The Short Parliament
The Short Parliament lasted for less than a month and was the first to be called following eleven years of “Personal Rule”. It was called because Charles wanted money to wage war against the Scottish dissenters. Parliament was not keen to help, especially considering the influence of men like John Pym, who spoke passionately of the wrongs done to parliament and the country because of Charles’ personal rule. Charles chose to dissolve the parliament.
Death of Strafford
During the Long Parliament (1640-1660) MPs impeached Strafford on the grounds that he was trying to introduce an absolute rule, and had created tension between King and country. The trial collapsed due to a lack of evidence; Pym realised that he was in danger of being impeached as he brought the charges against Stafford. He presented parliament with a Bill of Attainder, which if passed by a majority, would allow them to execute Strafford with the King’s signature. Pym stirred up a mob against Strafford, who sacrificed himself and persuaded the King to sign. This created huge divisions between King and parliament.
The Triennial Act
This was a very important act, passed during the Long Parliament. This stated that parliament had to meet at least once every three years, for fifty days. This meant that a King would not be able to rule without calling parliament.
The Irish Rebellion
Tired of British oppression, and motivated by Strafford’s death, the Irish began a rebellion. They attacked British Protestants and the English became scared of more Catholics joining. Pym encouraged rumours which over-emphasised the threat. Charles I came to parliament for a subsidy to raise an army against the rebels, but Pym’s faction were unwilling to acquiesce as they believed that there was a chance that Charles would turn the army against them to create a Catholic realm.
The Grand Remonstrance
This was a list of grievances against parliament since the start of Charles I’s rule. It blamed the King’s ministers for the discord and called for parliament to control the appointment of the King’s ministers, for Bishops and Catholics to be excluded from the House of Lords, and for Presbyterian reform of the Church of England. It was passed by 159 votes to 148, and 200 MPs abstained. This was the point were two clear sides were formed: Royalist and Parliamentarian.
The Attempt on the 5 MP’s
Charles ordered the impeachment of 5 MPs, including Pym; however, parliament ignored the request. This angered Charles I, who entered parliament with 300 soldiers and an arrest warrant; breaching parliamentary prerogative. All 5 of them escaped, meaning that parliament had successfully rebelled against Charles’ authority. Royalist MPs were dismayed, and on the 10th January the King was forced to leave London because of an angry mob.
The Militia Ordinance
This was the first ordinance which was ever passed without the signature of the King. It gave parliament control of the army. They raised £400,000 from taxes. It created huge levels of confusion around the country, as people did not know whether they ought to obey the King or parliament. They also demanded that Charles agree to 19 Propositions; that they control the army, reform the Church of England, take an anti-Catholic approach, and clear the names of the 5MPs whom he had tried to impeach.
Charles Raises the Royal Standard
This moment was symbolic as the start of the Civil War; one of the most tumultuous and divisive periods of British history. The subsequent years divided families and friends to either the Parliamentary or Royalist cause. With many battles fought, the parliamentary forces eventually won, with the strong leadership of Oliver Cromwell. Charles I was beheaded outside the Banqueting House, the site of many of his extravagant masques, on the 30th January 1649.
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Parties at the Stuart Court
Weddings, theatre and entertainment at the Court of Cromwell!