This weekend I listened to the first season of the Revolutions podcast covering the English Revolution of the mid-1600s.
Here is a summary of that time period followed by my takeaways!
In 1625, King Charles I inherited the throne after his father and brother passed away. England’s finances were in bad shape and he was not prepared for these challenges.
The King needed to work with Parliament in order to raise taxes to fund the state and military but the King and Parliament basically hated each other. So the King tried to raise money without Parliament, with little success.
This is all happening while Europe is processing the Protestant reformation. England’s Anglican Church split from Catholicism in the late 1500s. Scotland is developing a Protestant Presbyterianism while Ireland remains Catholic.
King Charles I has some fervent religious beliefs (and arrogance) which make him enemies with nearly everyone. He tries to impose the Anglican book of prayers on Scotland which leads to the First English Civil War. Parliament takes side against both of them so the war is fought King vs Scots vs Parliament.
The King loses this first war and becomes prisoner of the Scots then Parliament. Incredibly, while a prisoner, King Charles I manages to infuriate everyone and spark a Second Civil War which he again loses.
At the end of this second war, each party wants Charles to remain King but with some concessions to their side. He manages to reject all deals and ends up beheaded at Whitehall.
Now England is without a king and needs to figure out how to govern itself. They attempt numerous forms of parliamentary governments but infighting and greed lead to failure after failure.
Eventually the newly powerful army general Oliver Cromwell becomes military dictator for life. Parliament attempts to make him king but he declines the honor, although he reigns essentially as a king.
Once Oliver dies, England’s experiment without a monarch falls apart. Oliver’s ineffectual son takes over and is bullied by a corrupt Parliament. This opens the door to Charles I’s son, Charles II, who has been waiting around in Continental Europe to ride back to London and re-establish the monarchy.
Every Government has a Balance of Power
In school, I learned that a King or Queen was an absolute ruler. Their word was law and they could order everyone around.
In reality, it’s always more complex than that. Every ruler, whether King or President, maintains their power with a mix of charisma, cult of personality, religious authority, codified laws, and factional alliances.
King Charles I inherited the throne as a leader who needed Parliament to approve any new taxes. When he attempted to end run them this started a series of bad decisions which ended in his beheading.
Many People Want a Divine Ruler
Growing up in America, the monarchy has always seemed like a weird absurdity. Of course I wouldn’t want a monarch.
But people in monarchies seem to really like the monarchy! In 1600s England, they believed the monarch was ordained by God and during their Civil Wars almost everyone wanted to keep Charles as king.
This holds true today with a large majority of England supporting the royalty.