The Parliament of 1624
Available from Cambridge University Press
The Parliament of 1624
Date of writs of election: 30 Dec. 16231
12 Feb. 1624 (adjourned)
16 Feb. 1624 (adjourned due to the death of the duke of Richmond and Lennox)2
19 Feb.-25 Mar. 1624 (adjourned for Easter)3
1 Apr.-5 May 1624 (adjourned for Ascension Day)4
7 May-15 May 1624 (adjourned for Whitsun)5
19 May-29 May 1624 (adjourned and prorogued)6
Dissolved by the death of the king 27 Mar. 1625
Although James had sworn never to summon another Parliament, developments on the Continent once again forced him to reconsider his position. During the course of 1622 most of the Palatinate not already in Spanish hands was overrun. In consequence the Spanish Match assumed a new importance, for as well as being seen as a panacea for the royal finances it was now regarded at Court as essential if the Palatinate were to be restored. By early 1623 the negotiations were at an advanced stage, and it was therefore with high hopes that Prince Charles, accompanied by the marquess of Buckingham, arrived unannounced in Madrid in March. Though he refused to convert to Catholicism himself, Charles agreed to bring up his children in the Catholic faith and to cause his father to suspend the penal laws against recusants in England. However the negotiations were dealt a fatal blow in August after the Spanish declared that restoration of the Palatinate would be conditional on the Elector Palatine agreeing to marry his eldest son to the daughter of his enemy the Holy Roman Emperor and sending him to Vienna to be raised in the Catholic faith. Charles was furious, as his sister Elizabeth and her husband the Elector could not be expected to agree to such humiliating terms. When it became apparent that the Emperor himself knew nothing of this plan, Charles realized that the Spanish had no intention of ever returning the Palatinate.7
Soon after returning to England Charles and Buckingham urged James to break off the negotiations and to summon a Parliament, since it was now perfectly obvious that the only way to restore the Palatinate to its rightful owners would be by force. After some initial prevarication James, whose foreign policy now lay in tatters, agreed to a fresh meeting with his subjects, whereupon Buckingham – now a duke – set about building a parliamentary alliance, or ‘patriot coalition’, in favour of war. To this end he not only reached an accommodation with his former enemy the earl of Southampton but also extended the hand of friendship to several of the leading troublemakers in the Commons, many of whom had previously expressed a wish to break off the Spanish Match and wage war on Spain. Meanwhile, Charles effected a reconciliation between Buckingham and the lord chamberlain, the 3rd earl of Pembroke, who controlled a substantial following in the Commons.
Shortly after the Parliament opened in February 1624, Charles and Buckingham laid before both Houses the evidence of Spanish duplicity. Armed with this knowledge, a deputation consisting of representatives of both Houses asked James in early March to break off the Spanish Match. James, however, was unwilling to commit himself to war with Spain for the recovery of the Palatinate without firm assurances of parliamentary support, and demanded six subsidies and twelve fifteenths, equivalent to about half a million pounds. In view of the cost of early seventeenth century warfare this demand was entirely realistic, but many in the Commons were appalled at being required to provide funding on such a scale. As a result of Buckingham’s intervention James was persuaded instead to accept just three subsidies and three fifteenths, plus an assurance that this grant would be the merely the first of many, for once James had entered into a war ‘we, your loyal and loving subjects will never fail to assist Your Majesty in a parliamentary way’.8 In addition, James agreed that the money raised should be paid to special treasurers appointed by the Commons rather than to the Exchequer so as to avoid any suspicion that it would be diverted into the pockets of greedy courtiers.
Although the news that James had agreed to break off the Spanish Match was greeted throughout the kingdom with bonfires and celebrations, the Spanish ambassadors and their allies at Court – particularly Lord Treasurer Middlesex – were thoroughly alarmed. In early April the Spaniards informed James that the duke was intending to mount a coup, while Middlesex, secretly supported by the hispanophile earl of Arundel, tried to supplant Buckingham in the affections of the king by reintroducing to Court his handsome young nephew named Arthur Brett. However, the attempt to topple Buckingham failed, and Middlesex himself was driven from office by Buckingham who, through his clients, used the Parliament to impeach the unpopular lord treasurer on charges of corruption.
Although the subsidy bill was the most significant measure to come out of the Parliament, the session also yielded a great deal of other public legislation, including a bill to curb grants of monopoly and a measure to prevent the hunting for ‘concealed’ lands (meaning lands in private ownership that rightfully belonged to the king). The session closed on 29 May, when James made it clear that he had not yet finished with the Parliament, for although he was grateful to have been voted money for a war to recover the Palatinate his own financial situation still required attention.9 However, the 1624 Parliament never in fact reassembled, for after being prorogued three times it was automatically dissolved on the death of the king in March 1625.