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King Charles Betrays His Friend: May 10, 1641

Charles did not abandon his hopes of finally subduing the Covenanters. But to do this, he needed to raise a larger army. The problem was, neither his extraordinary ways of getting money nor the ship money gave him enough funds to do this. Since he could not levy taxes without Parliament’s approval, Charles was forced to summon it for the first time since 1629.

Threefold portrait of King Charles I, by van Dyck

Charles’s enemies, the Puritans, controlled Parliament when it met on April 13, 1640. Headed by the radical country gentleman, John Pym, the Puritans said they would vote the king funds if he first gave Parliament greater powers. This Charles refused to do; and in frustration, he dissolved Parliament on May 5. Because it was in session for less than a month, it became known as the Short Parliament.

But then, in August 1640, the Covenanters crossed the Scottish border and invaded the northern counties of England. The army Charles sent to meet the invaders was defeated. In October Charles had to agree to an armistice, leaving the Scots in control of six counties in England.

John Pym

To drive the Scots from England, Charles needed money to form an army. Once again, he had no choice but to summon Parliament. This Parliament, which assembled on November 3, 1640, continued to meet for the next 13 years—for that reason, it has been called the Long Parliament.

Puritans dominated the Long Parliament as they had the Short Parliament, and John Pym was again their leader. In Parliament, Pym openly declared not only that Parliament was supreme even over the king, but that the House of Commons could ignore the acts of the House of Lords. Claiming the power to impeach even the king’s ministers, the House of Commons sent Archbishop Laud and Thomas Wentworth—earl of Strafford, the king’s most faithful minister—to the Tower of London.

Earl of Strafford

Charles attempted to save his friend Strafford’s life. He appealed to the House of Lords and even tried to seize the Tower of London by force. But on May 10, 1641, with a mob at the doors of his London palace, Charles signed Strafford’s death warrant. “If my own person only were in danger, I would gladly venture it to save my Lord Strafford’s life,” Charles said. “But seeing my wife, children, and all my kingdom are concerned in it, I am forced to give way unto it.” Charles ever after rued his betrayal of Strafford, who shortly afterward was beheaded. Archbishop Laud was executed four years later.

To gain their support, Charles gave in to the Puritans’ demands. He agreed to give up the right to dissolve Parliament without its consent and said he would no longer raise money through such measures as ship money. He even made a show of turning against Catholics by collecting fines for failure to attend Anglican services, and he dismissed Catholic officials. But none of these measures earned the Puritans’ favor. Instead they pushed even harder against the king.

Death of the King’s Lutenist

The year 1641 witnessed the death of Robert Dowland, the lutenist to England’s king (the position his father, John Dowland, had filled before him) and a composer. The following recording is of Robert Dowland’s piece, Passaba Amor su arco dessarmado.

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