The Parliament of 1625

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1604-1629, ed. Andrew Thrush and John P. Ferris, 2010
Available from Cambridge University Press

THE PARLIAMENT OF 1625

 

Date of writs of election: 2 Apr. 16251

Session dates:

17 May 1625 (prorogued)

31 May 1625 (prorogued)

13 June 1625 (prorogued)2

18 June-11 July 1625 (adjourned)3

1-2 Aug. 1625 (adjourned)4

4-12 Aug. 1625 (dissolved)5

Even before the 1624 Parliament rose for the summer preparations for a war to recover the Palatinate began. In April James secured the services of the experienced German mercenary commander Count Ernst von Mansfeld, and over the summer agreement was reached with Louis XIII of France who, as well as offering his sister as a bride for Prince Charles, promised to provide three thousand cavalry and pay half the expenses of Mansfeld’s army for at least six months. However, it soon became apparent that James and Louis had conflicting war aims. Louis was concerned at the course of events in the Netherlands, where Spain and the Dutch Republic were locked in a bitter struggle, and wished Mansfeld’s forces to be diverted to relieve the strategically-important town of Breda. James, however, insisted that Mansfeld’s operations be restricted to the Palatinate, where Spanish forces were ostensibly acting on the instructions of the Holy Roman Emperor, so as to avoid open conflict with Spain. When James not only declined to allow Mansfeld to become involved in the war in the Netherlands but also refused to permit his forces to march through the Spanish Netherlands, Louis retaliated by withdrawing his permission for Mansfeld’s English troops to land in France, making it virtually impossible for Mansfeld to reach the Palatinate. Eventually, in late January 1625, Mansfeld’s army of raw recruits was set down without supplies in the United Provinces, where it withered away through sickness and starvation without accomplishing anything.

On James’s death in March 1625 the new king, Charles I, resolved to summon a fresh Parliament. Charles entertained none of his late father’s qualms about entering into an open war with Spain, and despite the dismal failure of Mansfeld’s expedition he and Buckingham were anxious to mount a joint military and naval expedition against the Spanish mainland. However such an enterprise required a fresh injection of parliamentary funds, as the money provided by the 1624 assembly had now been largely spent. On opening the new Parliament in June 1625, Charles called on the Commons to honour the promises made to James concerning the financing of the war, which had ‘begun by your advice and entreaty’. No particular sum was demanded, as Charles and Buckingham evidently expected that a majority in the Commons still favoured war with Spain. However many Members, concerned that the money raised in 1624 had been wasted, were now unwilling to vote a further large grant. There was also widespread unease that the penal laws against Catholics had now been relaxed. Taken alongside the arrival in London of Charles’s new queen (Henrietta Maria) with a train of Catholic priests it appeared to suggest that Charles had made significant concessions to English Catholics as part of the French marriage treaty. Consequently, when the question of supply was eventually raised the Commons agreed to vote just two subsidies.

On learning that the Commons proposed to provide such an inadequate level of funding, Buckingham attempted to reopen the subsidy debate on 8 July. By then, however, many Members had fled the capital, which was in the grip of one of the worst plague outbreaks of the century. Far from welcoming the duke’s intervention, several of those Members who remained regarded Buckingham’s appeal for additional supply as little more than a cynical attempt to exploit a thin chamber. Since it was clear that no further progress could be made, Charles adjourned the sitting for three weeks.

When the Parliament resumed in early August it assembled not at Westminster but at Oxford, where the danger from the plague was less acute. However Charles’s expectation that the change of scene would help to loosen the Commons’ purse-strings soon proved to be misguided. Far from voting additional supply, the Commons was now more interested in attacking Buckingham, who was accused of monopolizing power, of refusing to take the advice of a specially appointed council of war, of mismanaging the royal finances and of failing, in his capacity as lord admiral, to defend English merchant shipping from north African pirates. When Charles brushed aside these attacks on the favourite and demanded that the House turn its attention instead to the pressing matter of supply, the Commons responded that it would