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The Breakdown - Early years of Charles I

Updated Sunday, 7th January 2001

Not having been born to the throne, there were many mistakes in the early reign of Charles I

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Map of Britain and Ireland Copyrighted  image Icon Copyright: Wark Clements

The personal profile of Charles I is central to understanding the dynamics of the 1640s. Although not personally responsible for provoking the great unrest, Charles' personal style strongly influenced political events. The younger son of James VI/I, Charles was never meant to be king, and his devotion to divine right principles made him unwilling to bend or compromise as his father had done before him.

The court of Charles I was exceedingly prim and proper. Charles was a great patron of the arts and a keen supporter of knowledge. Charles and his wife Henrietta Maria were keen attenders at masques.

Although married for diplomatic reasons, Charles's relationship with Henrietta Maria was deeply warm and personal. Henrietta Maria's circle quickly became a focus for Catholic sentiment, diplomats and nobility, a tendency which ultimately worked to her husband's disadvantage. Henrietta Maria also encouraged Charles' tendency towards inflexibility.

William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury, was another key member of the King's inner circle. Theological conflict between Laudians and Puritans during the 1630s helped precipitate the political unrest of the 1640s.

This religious conflict had a European dimension. Since the middle of the sixteenth century, Europe had been divided into two armed and mutually hostile camps, and conflict between Catholics and Protestants was endemic. The Thirty Years War was merely the latest episode in this ongoing battle for supremacy, and Charles' determination to stay out of the conflict reinforced the notion that he was a secret Catholic sympathiser.

Charles I and ship

Like Henry VIII before him, Charles I was never meant to be King and only became heir to the throne on the death of his older brother. The image on the right may be interpreted as an allegory of the political storms and travails that would assail the Stuart monarchy after 1637

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