Charles I (England)

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King Charles I, portrait by Daniel Mytens (1631)

Charles I ( English Charles I ; born November 19, 1600 in Dunfermline ; † January 30, 1649 in London ) from the House of Stuart was King of England , Scotland and Ireland from 1625 to 1649 . His attempts to introduce a uniform church constitution in England and Scotland and to govern in the sense of absolutism without a parliament sparked the English civil war , which ended with Charles' execution and the temporary abolition of the monarchy .


Origin and early time

Charles was the second son of King James VI. (English: James) of Scotland and his wife Anna of Denmark . On the occasion of his baptism on December 23, 1600 he received the nobility titles Duke of Albany , Marquess of Ormond , Earl of Ross and Lord Ardmannoch . Jakob moved from Edinburgh to London in 1603 as a result of his enthronement as James I, King of England and King of Ireland , so that Charles came to England at the age of three. On November 6, 1612, his older brother Henry Frederick died unexpectedly , and on November 4, 1616, Charles was appointed the eleventh Prince of Wales to be the new heir to the throne.

Jakob concluded an alliance with the German Protestant Union in March 1612 . As a result, a marriage contract was signed between his daughter Elisabeth and the Elector Friedrich V of the Palatinate in May 1612 . In November 1619 Friedrich - against the advice of his father-in-law and many others - accepted the crown of Bohemia , which the Protestant Bohemian estates had offered him after they had deposed the Habsburg Ferdinand II . But after less than a year of reign he was driven into exile by troops of the Catholic League , which sparked the Thirty Years War . Spanish-Habsburg troops occupied the Electoral Palatinate . In order to bring his daughter and son-in-law back to their electorate, to prevent the escalation of the religious war that had broken out in Bohemia and to put himself in an arbitration position, Jakob tried to mediate between the religious parties. He sought rapprochement with Catholic Spain: To this end, he planned the marriage of his heir to the throne, Charles, to Maria Anna of Spain , sister of the Spanish King Philip IV . Such a connection would also have thwarted a Franco-Spanish rapprochement that was disadvantageous for England, upgraded the House of Stuart and restored England's state finances through a large dowry.

Crown Prince Karl (around 1623), painting by Daniel Mytens

Probably with the intention of breaking through the holding back position of the Spaniards and finally being able to show results, Prince Charles and the closest adviser to the King, Lord Buckingham , traveled to Madrid in February 1623. There they demanded the immediate conclusion of a marriage contract and the evacuation of the Palatinate territories. The Spanish government, for its part, demanded the prince's conversion to Catholicism. This was in all respects unacceptable to England and amounted to a rejection. After their return in October 1623, Karl and Buckingham ushered in what their contemporaries called the "Blessed Revolution" - a fundamental change in England's policy, which had previously been friendly to Spain, since 1604. When Philip IV in January 1624 offered to surrender the occupied Palatinate, if the Prince Karl refused to comply. King Jacob now tried to initiate an anti-Habsburg alliance with France, the main point of which should be the marriage of his son to a French princess. He used the money already approved by parliament to equip a mercenary army under Count von Mansfeld , whose aim was to recapture the Palatinate. However, the new policy was expensive and unpopular with the people, and it did not lead to any advantages for England.

Assumption of the throne

Charles succeeded his father on March 27, 1625 as Charles I, King of England, Scotland, and Ireland to the throne. As early as April 9, 1625 he convened a commission under the Duke of Buckingham, which should advise on the country's foreign policy. The main points were the relationship with Spain, an alliance with France and ways to restore the Palatinate, possibly with Dutch help. At least the alliance with France was one big step closer from May 1625. On June 13, 1625, Charles married Henriette Marie de Bourbon , the Catholic daughter of the French King Henry IV and Maria de 'Medici , and Charles I's coronation finally took place on February 2, 1626 in Westminster Abbey .

England's foreign policy now became much more aggressive, and war with Spain broke out. Karl supported the Protestant Union under Christian IV of Denmark against the emperor with £ 30,000 and subordinated the Mansfeld troops to the United Provinces so that they should liberate the Electoral Palatinate in the war against Spain. At the end of April 1625, Charles instructed the Admiralty to issue letters of misappropriation that allowed Spaniard ships to be ambushed. On September 18, 1625, the Treaty of Southampton with the United Provinces could be concluded. In it, both sides committed themselves to a joint expedition against Spain. Finally, in October 1625, England sent an expedition fleet under Sir Edward Cecil to Spain. The English attacked the port city of Cadiz , but withdrew after the arrival of Spanish relief forces on November 14, which led to heavy losses. In 1627 the Duke of Buckingham followed a call for help from the Huguenots in front of La Rochelle and involved English forces in a war against the French crown.

Start of the conflict with parliament

Royal coat of
arms of Charles I.

When Charles took office, the conflicts between the king and parliament that had already developed under his father James I came to light. It is believed that Karl as an advocate of the theory of the divine right of kings was, after the reign right of kings alone by divine right was derived. As a result, he saw Parliament's right to participate as a violation of this right. Therefore, he always believed that he could disregard parliament. However, it is questionable whether Karl really wanted an absolutist regime.

In England, Charles abused the habeas corpus , a powerful legal tool, to issue arrest warrants by extorting payments from wealthy citizens with the threat of having them locked up if they refused to pay. Despite the Petition of Right issued by Parliament against this practice in 1628 , the king soon reverted to it. In 1641 Karl, who was in dire financial straits because of an uprising by the Scots and Irish, had to agree to a new parliamentary decree that only permitted arrests with appropriate justification.

His policies had led to war with Spain, so he needed new funding that only parliament could give him. The members of parliament, including many Puritans who had already disapproved of the king's marriage to a Catholic, had noticed this attitude. In contrast to what was customary after an accession to the throne, in 1625 they granted the king the collection of port tariffs (tonnage and poundage) , one of the most important sources of income for the kingship, for only one year instead of for the entire reign of the king. Karl then dissolved parliament.

Karl had the House of Commons reassemble in 1628 because he needed new funding. In order to protect themselves against arbitrary royal acts in the future, its members passed the Petition of Right with four demands that the king should recognize before the approval of new taxes. The king signed the petition to get the funds he needed but did not obey the demands. He continued to rule in the same style as before and did not convene parliament for 11 years. He withdrew from the military conflict in Europe after the murder of the Duke of Buckingham and made peace with Spain in 1630.

Government without parliament

Charles I (from three sides), portrait by Anthony van Dyck , oil on canvas (1635/36)

From 1629 Charles I ruled without a parliament, supported by his confidants Thomas Wentworth, 1st Earl of Strafford , and William Laud , Archbishop of Canterbury . The Star Chamber was responsible for secular affairs, the High Commission for ecclesiastical affairs. The Bishop of London wanted to abolish the Presbyterian church constitution in Scotland and set up the Anglican Church there. The Scots protested and rose. Scottish troops invaded England . Parliament met on April 13, 1640 because Charles needed the funds to fight the Scots. A few days later, on May 5, 1640, he dissolved parliament again. This session became known as the Short Parliament .

Parliament met again on November 3, 1640. Since it met until 1660, it is known as the Long Parliament . Under the leadership of John Pym there was impeachment in front of the House of Lords against the Earl of Strafford for high treason. The Lords acquitted Strafford, whereupon the House of Commons sentenced him to death by means of a Bill of Attainder without further trial. Karl, seeing his rule threatened, gave in and upheld the death sentence against Strafford. On May 12, 1641, Charles's most important adviser was executed. The King complied with other demands of Parliament. He promised to convene it every three years and not to dissolve it without his consent. The Star Chamber and the High Commission were dissolved.

Start of civil war

The civil war was triggered by another uprising that this time broke out in Ireland. The majority of the Catholic population rose against the Protestant, mostly English settlers. Parliament was immediately ready to approve funds for an army to put down the insurrection. However, since the army was under the orders of the king, there was fear that he might turn it against the House of Representatives.

Therefore, in November 1641 an attempt was made to wrest the supreme command from the king and place it in the hands of confidants of parliament. To this end, a protest note was published, the Great Remonstrance . This comprehensive list of reproaches against the policy of the king was introduced by Pym and for the first time raised the demand for parliamentary control of the government. In the vote on the remonstrance, however, it became apparent that Karl still had numerous supporters in the lower house. A large number of the conservative members, who saw royalty as an office sanctified by God, were not ready to agree to this demand. The remonstrance was therefore only accepted with a narrow majority.

Karl overestimated the strength of his position when, on January 4, 1642, accompanied by armed men, he advanced into the House of Commons to arrest Pym, which failed miserably and also turned the people of London against the king. He fled London and gathered his followers in Oxford. A few weeks later the English Civil War broke out.

First civil war

The royal troops, the "Cavaliers", initially achieved military successes over the parliamentary army, the " Roundheads ", for example in the Battle of Edgehill . However, in the battles of Marston Moor in 1644 and Naseby in 1645, Charles's troops suffered decisive defeats. In both battles, the “ Ironsides ” cavalry force of the Puritans led by Oliver Cromwell contributed decisively to the victory of Parliament's New Model Army . Cromwell thus became a key figure in the civil war and the further fate of Charles.

After all military options had failed, Karl first sought refuge with the Scottish Army. He negotiated secretly with the Scots and the English Parliament and tried to play both sides off against each other. Its advantage was that no constitutional change in the form of government in England was possible without his consent.

Second civil war and execution

The beheading of Karl I in a contemporary German print

The king's wash led to a second civil war in 1648, in which the Scottish army stood on his side. Cromwell took action against their attack on northern England and defeated the former allies. Karl tried to come to an agreement with the parliamentary majority and signed the Newport Treaty , which provided for a law against heresy , in which the Puritans saw an attack on their freedom of belief . Cromwell and the army officers, who were mostly Puritan, had believed they could come to an agreement with the king and had negotiated with him themselves.

After Newport they realized that Karl was not ready to be incorporated into a new constitutional order in their favor. As long as the king was alive he was a constant threat to them and could provoke new civil wars at any time. They therefore took Karl prisoner and forced Parliament to charge him with high treason. A High Court of Justice was set up specifically for this purpose . Of the 135 members of this tribunal, many refused to do their job or did not attend the hearings. Only 68 members participated in the trial which began on January 20, 1649 at Westminster Hall . On January 26, Karl was sentenced to death and 59 members of the High Court signed the verdict.

Charles was beheaded on January 30, 1649 in front of the Banqueting House in London . On February 7, 1649, he was in the St. George's Chapel of Windsor Castle in Berkshire buried. Here he rests next to Henry VIII. A few weeks later the House of Commons declared England a republic . It was ruled by Oliver Cromwell under the title of Lord Protector until his death in 1658. Two years later, under Charles I's son, Charles II, the Stuart kingdom was restored.


The five oldest children of Charles I, from left: Maria , Jakob , Karl , Elisabeth and Anne. Painting by Anthony van Dyck , 1637.

Her marriage to Princess Henrietta Maria of France had nine children, two of whom died on the day she was born.

  • Karl Jakob (* † May 13, 1629)
  • Charles II (born May 29, 1630 in London - † February 6, 1685), King of England, Scotland and Ireland.
  • Maria (1631–1660) ∞ Wilhelm II , Prince of Orange
  • James II (1633–1701)
  • Elisabeth (* December 29, 1635 - † September 13, 1650)
  • Anne (March 17, 1637 - † November 15, 1640)
  • Katharina (* † June 29, 1639)
  • Heinrich, Duke of Gloucester (* July 8, 1640 - † September 8, 1660)
  • Henriette Anne (1644–1670) ∞ Philip I , Duke of Orléans


Matthew Stewart, 4th Earl of Lennox
Margaret Douglas
James V
of Scotland
Marie de Guise
Christian III from Denmark
Dorothea of ​​Saxony-Lauenburg
Ulrich of Mecklenburg
Elisabeth of Denmark
Henry Stuart
Maria Stuart
Frederick II of Denmark
Sophie of Mecklenburg
Jacob VI of Scotland = James I of England
Anna of Denmark
Charles I.

Charles I and the game of chess

Playing chess was Charles I's favorite pastime. On October 8, 1640, a courtier wrote in a letter:

"The King when he is neither in the field (where he is constantly every fair day), nor at the Council, passes most of his time at chess with the Marquis of Winchester"

"Should he not be in the field (which he does every day of the fair), still be on the Privy Council, the king spends most of the time playing chess with the Marquis of Winchester"

When ordering the gentleman of the bedchamber , Charles I also made sure that the chess players were experienced. The book The Royall Game of Chesse-Play , published in 1656, is dedicated to one of them, Montagu Bertie, 2nd Earl of Lindsey , in which explicit reference is made to the chess passion of the king and his court. The historian Thomas Herbert was also one of his play partners. After the death of Charles I, the anecdote circulated that the white king's head fell off during a game of chess , which was interpreted as an omen for his later execution. Occasionally it has also been claimed that the king brought a chessboard to the scaffold in addition to the Bible, but this is probably not the case. A silver and amber chessboard used by Charles I, which came into the possession of the Archbishop of Canterbury, William Juxon , was auctioned at Sotheby’s for 601,250 English pounds in 2012 .


In Anglo-Catholicism , Charles I is venerated as a martyr and saint. St. Charles churches from the time of the British Empire have him as their patron . His feast day in the Anglican calendar is January 30th .

See: Karlskirche

The execution of Charles I caused a sensation in Europe as an attack on a divinely guaranteed order. Andreas Gryphius addressed the incident in his tragedy Murdered Majesty or Carolus Stuardus König von Gross Brittannien (first print 1657, revised 1663) and presented it from the perspective of divine grace: In the play Karl appears as a postfiguration of Christ, as he is emphasized is innocently executed and still forgiving his accusers on the scaffold. The play only loses its tendentious character if one relates the depicted events not only to contemporary politics, but also to the question of the possibility of redemption, which is fundamental for the baroque tragedy.

Marieluise Fleißer wrote a drama Karl Stuart between 1940 and 1945 , which was first performed in 2009.

His son Charles II named the Province of Carolina in his honor.


The story of the arrest and execution of Charles I can also be found in The Three Musketeers # England in The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas the Elder .

See also


  • Ronald G. Asch : The court of Charles I of England. Politics, Province and Patronage. 1625–1640 (= norm and structure. Vol. 3). Böhlau, Cologne et al. 1993, ISBN 3-412-09393-9 (At the same time: Münster, University, habilitation paper, 1991).
  • Richard Cust: Charles I. A Political Life. Longman, Harlow et al. 2005, ISBN 0-582-07034-1 [standard work].
  • Pauline Gregg: King Charles I. University of California Press, Berkeley CA 1984, ISBN 0-520-05146-7 .
  • Heiner Haan, Gottfried Niedhart : History of England from the 16th to the 18th century (= History of England. Vol. 2). Beck, Munich 1993, ISBN 3-406-33005-3 .
  • Mark Kishlansky: Charles I. An Abbreviated Life (= Penguin Monarchs. ). Allen Lane, London 2014, ISBN 978-0-14-197983-0 [current introduction].
  • Peter Wende : Karl I. In: Peter Wende (Hrsg.): English kings and queens of modern times. From Heinrich VII. To Elisabeth II. 1st updated edition. Beck, Munich 2008 (first 1998), ISBN 978-3-406-57375-0 , pp. 111-127, ( preview on Google books).

Web links

Commons : Charles I (England)  - album with pictures, videos and audio files


  1. Jeremy Goldsmith: Charles I and chess. In: Notes and Queries. Vol. 61, No. 3, 2014, pp. 358-362, doi: 10.1093 / notesj / gju088 .
  2. Holy Days ( English ) Archbishops' Council. Archived from the original on April 27, 2016. Retrieved on May 7, 2019.
predecessor Office successor
New title created Duke of Albany
Title merged with the crown
New title created Duke of York
Title merged with the crown
Henry Frederick Stuart Prince of Wales
Duke of Cornwall
Earl of Chester
Title merged with the crown
Jacob I. King of England
Charles II
(from 1660)
Jacob I.
( as Jacob VI.)
King of Scotland
Charles II
(from 1660)
Jacob I. King of Ireland
Charles II
(from 1660)