The Parliament of 1628-1629
Available from Cambridge University Press
THE PARLIAMENT OF 1628-1629
Date of writs of election: 31 Jan. 16281
17 Mar. – 4 Apr. 1628 (adjourned)2
7 Apr. – 26 June 1628 (prorogued)3
20 Jan.– 31 Jan. 1629 (adjourned)
3 Feb – 17 Feb. 1629 (adjourned)4
19 Feb.-23 Feb. 1629 (adjourned)5
25 Feb. 1629 (adjourned)
2 Mar. 1629 (adjourned)6
Dissolved by Proclamation 2 Mar. 1629 and by the king in person 10 Mar.16297
Following the dissolution of the 1626 Parliament Charles and Buckingham struggled to find the money to pay for the continuing war with Spain. Indeed, when a second fleet was dispatched to the coast of Spain under Lord Willoughby in October it was so poorly equipped that many vessels had to be left behind, and those that did sail were forced to return home by violent storms. However, the need for money soon became urgent, for in September news reached England that Charles’s uncle, the Danish king Christian IV, had been defeated by imperial forces at Lutter, thereby removing any immediate prospect of restoring the Palatinate to its former rulers. Charles was determined to help prop up the ailing Danish war effort, but the idea of summoning another Parliament was now so distasteful to him – on one occasion, when a Parliament was mentioned, he reportedly told his Council that ‘he did abominate that name’ – that he decided, after consultation with his Council, to levy a Forced Loan. The enthusiasm and alacrity with which the Loan was paid would, he declared in a proclamation issued in October, determine whether or not he summoned further parliaments.8 In strictly financial terms the Forced Loan of 1626-7 was a considerable success, producing over £243,000, equivalent to about four subsidies, rather more than the 1626 Parliament had been prepared to give in exchange for Buckingham’s impeachment. However it was also deeply unpopular, as it breached the principle that all taxation should be with the consent of the subject, given in Parliament. In many counties leading members of the gentry – some of them experienced Parliament-men – simply refused to give or to assist in collecting the Loan, and as a result several were imprisoned. When five of them attempted to bring a test case in November 1627 by suing out writs of habeas corpus, the judges refused to pass judgment, but instead remanded the prisoners to custody after being informed by the Privy Council that they had been arrested on the orders of the king.
Although the Forced Loan had been raised in response to the Danish crisis, most of the money was put to other uses. Over the winter of 1626-7 Anglo-French relations, which had been precarious ever since the fiasco of Count Mansfeld’s expedition of 1624-5, finally collapsed. In an attempt to placate anti-Catholic feeling at home, Charles had expelled Henrietta Maria’s train of attendants, to the annoyance of Louis XIII, and in September 1626 three French ships suspected of carrying prohibited goods from Spain were arrested by English naval warships, sparking off a series of retaliatory actions which resulted in the seizure of the entire English wine fleet at Bordeaux. To make matters worse, the French king was preparing to attack the Huguenot stronghold of La Rochelle, whose inhabitants now appealed to England for assistance. Consequently, by the beginning of 1627 Charles and Buckingham were preparing to wage war not on Spain but on their erstwhile ally France. As a result of the Forced Loan, but also with help of the proceeds arising from the sale of a large number of French prizes, an English expeditionary force under Buckingham’s command set sail for La Rochelle in June. However, despite making a successful landing on the nearby Ile de Ré, the duke’s forces were driven off in October, leaving La Rochelle in a state of siege.
Following the retreat from Ré, Charles and Buckingham were determined to mount a fresh expedition to relieve La Rochelle, but without further funds this prospect was far from realistic. After debating his options with the Council over the winter of 1627-8, a reluctant Charles finally agreed to summon another Parliament. He no longer feared that Parliament would renew its former attempt to impeach Buckingham, for shortly after the dissolution of the 1626 Parliament the duke had been reconciled with his chief adversary on the Council, the earl of Pembroke. However his decision to raise the Forced Loan and to imprison without trial those who actively opposed this levy was bound to lead to criticism in the Commons. So too was the widespread use of martial law to govern the soldiers and seamen raised for various expeditions, and also the practice of compulsory billeting of troops on ordinary householders. As a gesture of goodwill, and in the hope of defusing some of the expected criticism, Charles ordered the release of those imprisoned for refusing to contribute to the Forced Loan.
Despite the military failures and arbitrary government of the last few years, the 1628 Parliament got off to a surprisingly promising start. Under the guidance of moderate members of the Council, who deplored the resort to prerogative finance, the Commons rapidly agreed in principle to vote five subsidies. Moreover, although it was made clear that this money was dependent on the king agreeing to confirm the rights and liberties of the subject, Charles indicated that he was willing to fall in with the Commons’ wishes. However it soon became apparent that there were profound difficulties in securing a satisfactory confirmation. Were the king to give merely verbal promise it could hardly be regarded as binding, and if he consented to legislation how could the House be sure that he would comply with a new law any more than he had observed former statutes or Magna Carta? For his part, Charles was wary of allowing the Commons to specify in detail the precise nature of the subject’s liberties in case these were extended. Eventually, after much argument and soul-searching, the Commons resolved, on 6 May, to confirm the subject’s rights by means of a petition of right. This device had the advantage over a bill as it did not require the Commons to set down in detail the rights and liberties of the subject; all that was necessary was to explain the meaning of existing law and for the king to indicate his assent. After overcoming the objections of the House of Lords, many of whose members wished to insert a caveat preserving the king’s right in an emergency to dispense with any law that he found to be inconvenient, the Commons, through the lord keeper, presented the Petition of Right to Charles on 28 May. Four days later, on 2 June, Charles gave the Petition his formal response. After pledging to see that right was done ‘according to the laws and customs of the realm’ he declared that he would preserve the rights and liberties of his subjects just as he was bound in conscience to protect his own royal prerogative.9 This was, not, however, what the Commons was expecting to hear, as it looked as though Charles was endeavouring to accord his own prerogative equal status with the rights and liberties of the subject, a recipe for further quarrels between the king and his people. Many in the lower House blamed Buckingham for Charles’s inadequate response to the Petition, and soon the Commons was involved in drawing up yet another Remonstrance against the duke, who was declared to be ‘the cause of all our miseries’. Charles had now to decide whether to dissolve the Parliament, which would mean forgoing supply and abandoning La Rochelle to its fate, or to give way. After a six-hour long debate in Council he chose to concede, and on 7 June he responded to the Petition in such a way that it was given the effect of law. Shortly thereafter the subsidy bill passed through all its Commons’ stages, and though the House also presented its Remonstrance against Buckingham, Charles refused to dignify it with an answer.
The subsidy bill completed its passage through the Lords on 17 June, but this did not bring the session to an immediate close as might have been expected. Now that supply and the Petition of Right were out of the way, Charles hoped that the Commons would put the customs duties known as Tunnage and Poundage on a statutory footing. These duties were traditionally granted to the king at the beginning of his reign, but the 1625 Parliament had conspicuously failed to do this. (The Commons, concerned to draft a bill that would finally ensure that impositions were made illegal, had passed a measure for one year only, whereupon the Lords, angry at this departure from precedent, threw out the bill, leaving Charles to collect Tunnage and Poundage on his own authority). Although many in the Commons agreed that the legal status of Tunnage and Poundage needed to be resolved, they also thought there was not enough time to do so before Parliament rose for the summer. Consequently, the House resolved to postpone the matter until Parliament reconvened. In the meantime, Charles was to be asked to refrain from levying these duties on the grounds that ‘the receiving of Tunnage and Poundage and other impositions not granted by Parliament is a breach of the fundamental liberties of this kingdom and contrary to Your Majesty’s royal answer to the said Petition of Right’. Charles was also to be required ‘not to take it in ill part’ if his subjects should ‘refuse to make payment of any such charges without the warrant of law demanded’.10 Charles was appalled, as Tunnage and Poundage was ‘one of the chief maintenances of the Crown’ and the Commons was clearly intending to incite non-payment among the merchant community.11 On 26 June, before the intended Remonstrance could be presented to him, he brought the session to a close.
Before the Parliament could meet again the political and military situation altered dramatically. Over the summer a large fleet was assembled at Portsmouth for the purpose of relieving La Rochelle, but before it could sail its intended commander, Buckingham, was murdered by a former army officer named John Felton, who was angry at being passed over for promotion. Having read the Commons’ recent Remonstrance against Buckingham, Felton also assumed that ‘by ... killing the duke he should do his country great service’, and indeed he was subsequently hailed in the country at large as a Protestant hero. A shaken Charles ordered the fleet to sail under a new commander, but the ensuing attempt to breach the enemy defences at La Rochelle was so half-hearted that it ended in failure, and peace talks with France began shortly thereafter.
The murder of Buckingham appeared to hold out the prospect of improved relations with Parliament when it reassembled in January 1629, as the duke had frequently been blamed by the Commons for the country’s misfortunes. However the events of the short-lived second session demonstrated that this was a false hope. Angered that Charles had not suspended the collection of Tunnage and Poundage, the Commons took up the case of five merchants, one of whom was the MP John Rolle, whose goods had been seized by customs officials for non-payment. In November 1628 the Court of Exchequer had refused to order the merchants’ goods to be released, despite the fact that Rolle and his associates justified their refusal to pay by reference to the Petition of Right. The Commons was incensed at this judgment, as it looked as though the judiciary had chosen to set aside the Petition. However, on being required to account for their ruling, the Exchequer barons explained that they been concerned not with the legal status of Tunnage and Poundage but merely with the validity of the legal process by which Rolle and his associates sought to recover their property, which they regarded as being not appropriate for claims against the king.
The anger felt by many Members against the king’s continued levying of Tunnage and Poundage coincided with widespread discontent in the Commons at the continued favour shown by Charles towards Arminian clergy. By 1629 leading Members of the House, among them Sir John Eliot, were convinced that the Arminian bishops were actively undermining the doctrines of the Church of England, and wished to ensure that Calvinist articles of faith were given statutory recognition. However the Commons’ leaders were divided among themselves and proved unable to reach agreement, either over the precise nature of their faith or the causes of the danger to their religion.
Unable to proceed any further in the matter of religion, the Commons turned its attention once again to the question of Tunnage and Poundage. It was now claimed that the customs officials responsible for seizing the merchants’ goods had acted on their own authority for their own profit. Had Charles been prepared to go along with this fiction, it might have paved the way for a statutory grant of Tunnage and Poundage and allowed the Commons to confer on the king retrospective permission for the money already levied. However Charles was unwilling to sacrifice his officials and, on 23 February, declared that they had acted on his express command. The Commons was so irritated by this response that it refused to sit the following day, and the next day, the 25th, the king retaliated by adjourning the session for a further five days. By the time the House reassembled on 2 March Charles had learned that, despite some frantic behind-the scenes negotiations, several leading Members were still determined to press home their attack. Consequently he instructed the Speaker, Sir John Finch, to order a further adjournment, this time to 10 March. However Eliot and his associates were unwilling to leave until they had read out a declaration condemning ‘innovation in religion’ and the continued levying of Tunnage and Poundage. When Finch tried to prevent the reading of this declaration by leaving the chamber he was held down in the chair by Denzil Holles and Benjamin Valentine. While Holles read aloud the declaration, the king’s messenger, Black Rod, came down from the Lords and hammered on the now locked doors of the Commons. Not until the Members present had finished voting on the three resolutions contained in the declaration did the House vote to adjourn.
In the aftermath of these unprecedented scenes, the king denounced the Commons for its ‘undutiful and seditious carriage’.12 It was now clear that there was no longer any prospect of securing a statutory grant of Tunnage and Poundage, and shortly thereafter Charles not only dissolved the Parliament by proclamation but also had nine of the ringleaders of the affray arrested, one of whom – Eliot – would die in the Tower three years later. Thereafter Charles, now thoroughly disenchanted with parliaments, embarked on a period of personal rule that lasted until the military defeat of the English by the Scots in 1640.