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Charles I and the Petition of Right

The crisis of 1629-60 originated in Charles I's belief that by the royal prerogative he could govern without the advice and consent of Parliament.

This was matched by Parliament's insistence that it had a necessary role in Government, particularly in the granting of supply (tax income) to the Crown and in redressing the grievances of those ruled by the King.

Tonnage and poundage

Charles I came to the throne in March 1625. Throughout his reign (1625-49) he continued to collect customs duties, known as tonnage and poundage, by the royal prerogative. This continued even though Parliament had voted in 1625, against long-standing custom and precedent, that he could collect this revenue only for one year.

Charles I also tried to raise money without Parliament through a Forced Loan in 1626, and imprisoned without trial a number of those who refused to pay it.

The Petition of Right

As a precondition to granting any future taxes, in 1628 Parliament forced the King to assent to the Petition of Right. This asked for a settlement of Parliament's complaints against the King's non-parliamentary taxation and imprisonments without trial, plus the unlawfulness of martial law and forced billets. However, the King ensured that the Petition was enrolled in such a way that there would be doubts about its force as law: it was granted by his grace, rather than 'of right'.

Speaker held by Members

This and Charles's other high-handed acts in relation to the appointment of bishops, angered some less moderate Members in the Commons. On 10 March 1629 when the Speaker, Sir John Finch, tried to adjourn the House on the King's command, he was forcibly held down in his chair by three Members - Sir John Eliot, Denzil Holles and Benjamin Valentine - while the Commons passed a number of motions against the King's recent actions.

Speaker Finch said in justification of his actions: "I am none less the King's servant for being yours." This illustrated the dilemma which moderate Members in the Commons began to find themselves in from this period onwards.

Parliament dissolved

Charles I was furious and dissolved the Parliament that very same day. He did not call another one for 11 years, making clear his distaste for dealing with Parliament and his belief that the royal prerogative allowed him to rule and to raise money without it.


You can access biographies of

Charles I
John Finch
John Eliot
Denzil Holles
Benjamin Valentine

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.

Related information

Read about the current role of the Speaker