King Charles

Born the third child of James VI of Scotland and Anne of Denmark, Charles moved to England after James's accession in 1603. With delicate health, it became difficult to find a noble family to look after him due to fears he might die on their hands. He grew up very much in the shadow of his glamorous elder brother Prince Henry and his beautiful sister Elizabeth.

Then in 1612 Prince Henry died and made Charles the heir to the throne.

A shy and extremely gauche adolescent, with a pronounced stammer, he had a tendency to fits of rage and jealousy, directed particularly towards the young men who dominated his father's affections. When he was 16, he turned a water fountain full in the face of George Villiers and soaked him to the skin.

After his accession to the throne in 1625, he transformed himself into a dignified, kingly figure, acutely aware of the responsibilities of his office. Many believe he was dominated by favourites such as the duke of Buckingham, or his wife, Queen Henrietta Maria. However, Charles was very much in charge and kept close control of senior appointments, and personally appointed Bishop Juxon as lord treasurer in 1636. An unpopular move with some, though he relied on Archbishop Laud to promote his anti-Puritan views..


At Charles's invitation, Van Dyck came to England in 1632, completely transforming the king's image. He painted him on horseback  and aged him by several years, giving his face a distant expression which was seen as a sign of wisdom.

Never a confident judge of human character, he tended either to go overboard in his affection for those he felt were serving him loyally, like Buckingham, or to form strong dislikes which made him hard to work with. He also lacked confidence in the loyalty of his people used his policies as tests of that trust, like taxation and the forced loan. He also refused to bargain and negotiate, but tried to bludgeon his way through difficulties by invoking his personal authority, assuming once his wishes were known, his subjects would stop squabbling and obey him.


Deeply suspicious of Calvinism and Puritanism, he was hostile to parliaments, resenting their insistence on bargaining for redress of grievances in return for taxation. As Calvinism was the basis for the religious beliefs of most English protestants, the king's attempts to replace it with high-church Anglicanisn was seen as tantamount to popery and his efforts to govern without parliaments during 'the Personal Rule' (1629-40) was deeply unpopular.


Steeped in the ideology of divine right kingship, where power was confined to the king, and in the 1630's, he became involved in discussions with the papal envoy about reuniting the English church with Rome. The fact that he could contemplate this suggests a king who was profoundly out of touch.

After defeat by the Scots in The Bishops Wars(1639-40) Charles felt bitter over his defeat and lack of support from his subjects was compounded by the guilt he experienced when he was forced to agree to the execution of his chief minister, the earl of Strafford, in May 1641. He blamed his difficulties on a deliberate campaign by puritans and parliamentarians to subvert royal authority; and his personal dislike of opposition politicians, such as John Pym, made it very hard to build bridges.

After a promising start at the beginning of 1641, efforts at settlement fell apart and increasingly Charles slipped into the role of a party leader, determined to destroy his enemies by whatever means came to hand. From the spring onwards he sponsored a series of army plots and abortive coups, culminating in the attempted arrest of the five members in January 1642. Once this had failed civil war became unavoidable.