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The Personal Rule of Charles I

The period from March 1629 to April 1640 later became known as the Personal Rule because Charles I did not summon Parliament during this time.

Outwardly, this was a period of peace and prosperity, but Charles I was slowly building up opposition against him among segments of the political elite by his financial and religious policies.

Many people were outraged by what they regarded as his non-parliamentary use of medieval laws to raise money. The most notorious was ship money. This turned an old law, where coastal counties provided ships to the Crown, into a money tax levied on all the counties, including those inland.

There was also anger over Charles I's religious 'innovations' and particularly the introduction in Scotland in 1637 of a new Book of Common Prayer which stressed ceremony instead of the more austere forms of worship which had been dominant in both the English and Scottish Churches.

Those opposed to these changes in Scotland, known as Covenanters, rose up and defeated Charles I's troops in the Bishops' War. The King was weakened in this war because many of his English subjects sympathised with the Scots in their opposition to his religious policies.

In June 1639 an uneasy truce was called. Charles, knowing that he needed money for the inevitable renewal of war, reluctantly summoned a Parliament for April 1640. But as the Commons refused even to discuss supply before its grievances were addressed, the King dissolved it in less than a month. This brief assembly is known as the Short Parliament.

War broke out again, and the Covenanters were again victorious over the half-hearted and badly-paid English army. They invaded England as far as Newcastle. By the terms of the peace in October 1640 Charles I had to pay the Covenanter army £850 a day until they left England.

There was no way Charles I could avoid asking Parliament for money now and he summoned another one for November 1640. This was to become one of the most important in English history - the Long Parliament.

Did you know?

The Covenanters were so called because they had signed or supported the National Covenant, drawn up on 28 February 1638 as an address attacking Charles I's attempt to impose the Prayer Book in Scotland.


You can access a biography of Charles I from the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography for free, online, using your local library card number (includes nine out of ten public libraries in the UK) or from within academic library and other subscribing networks.