Friday, 3 January 2014

A month of Civil War! part two

Welcome back! It's part two of my look at the English Civil War, and I would like to spend today's installment looking into the religious background to the wars in England, Scotland and Ireland - the Wars of the Three Kingdoms. 

Religion and Charles I
In school, I learnt that Charles I was an arrogant and petulant monarch, who demanded more and more money from parliament. When they wouldn't give it to him, he dissolved parliament, who fought him during the Civil War and won, executing the king and setting up the Commonwealth. Oh, and by the way, everyone in parliament was a Puritan, and they banned Christmas and football. 

Such a simplistic view of events is a criminally distorted one, it really is. Let's look at some religious details...

James I was the son of Mary, Queen of Scots, the woman who posed such a threat to Elizabeth I as a focus for Catholic insurgency against the English monarchy. James was brought up far removed from Mary, however, by a Calvinist Protestant group of men, which allowed him to succeed Elizabeth in 1603. James appears to have had a fairly tolerant view of religion, however, aside from the reaction to the Gunpowder Plot. He conducted a pro-Spanish and pro-French foreign policy, Catholic nations both, eventually marrying his son Charles to Henriette Marie, the daughter of the King of France, Henri IV. 

Perhaps because of his wife, Charles I was seen to be extremely well-disposed towards Catholics, a dangerous position to be in when the English Reformation was to some extent still being settled. His choice of Archbishop of Canterbury, William Laud, perhaps made matters worse. 

Anglicanism stripped away a lot of the ceremony and pomp from the Catholic church, making services much simpler. Instead of the sacrament of the Mass, a Communion was held between the minister and the congregation, taking place around the Communion table, which was placed in the centre of the Chancel rather than against the east wall, as the Altar was in Catholic churches. 

Mass was a huge deal for the Reformers of the sixteenth century. For Catholics, during the Mass the wafer and the wine are transubstantiated into the body and blood of Christ himself by the ordained priest. Luther denied this, preaching that the wafer and wine are consubstantiated to represent the body and blood of Christ, in commemoration of his sacrifice. The difference is subtle but massive. Further reformers, beginning with Zwingli in Zurich, denied this altogether - the wafer and wine are a wafer and wine. Instead, during the Communion it was determined that the congregation entered into a spiritual experience with Christ, but he was not deemed to be 'present' in any physical sense. The sacrament of the Mass caused a great deal of turmoil over the course of the century. 

By the seventeenth century, this was by no means a resolved issue. Many English Protestants wanted further reform in a Lutheran/Calvinist vein, as opposed to the delicate balance Elizabeth I had introduced. However, Archbishop Laud did not prove popular following his investiture. 

Calvinism, Arminianism, and William Laud
As discussed above, Luther offered his own version of the sacrament of the Mass, and Zwingli rejected these ideas in favour of a Communion. The next big reformer to take up these ideas was John Calvin, who developed Zwingli's idea along with that of predestination in a godly society. Briefly, God has decided who is to be saved and who will be damned ahead of time, and no amount of 'good works' will save you. This takes Luther's condemnation of 'good works' a step further. Calvinism rigorously controlled society, much in what we now think of as a Puritan vein, through the consistory courts of a Company of Pastors, who judged society and instilled a sense of religious morality. This caused huge upheaval in Geneva, but eventually Calvin settled the city to become something of a Protestant paradise, especially for French Huguenot refugees from the Wars of Religion. From Geneva, Calvinism spread up the Rhineland to the Spanish Netherlands, where it was built upon by the Humanist scholars and theologians, particularly Jacob Arminius. Perhaps the biggest point of contention between Calvin and Arminius is the idea that man can be saved by having faith in God, and has the free will to choose whether he pursues a life of faith or not. 

All of this is significant, because Charles I and a substantial part of his court were Arminian believers, including his choice of Archbishop, William Laud. However, Calvinism had become fairly widespread under Elizabeth I, and many nobles expected Charles to follow his father in espousing the stricter form of worship. What they didn't expect, however, was Laud's agenda for the Church, one that was backed fully by Charles. 

Following Henry VIII's restructuring of the Church of England, with himself at the top, the episcopal rule through bishops remained in place, as it was in Catholicism. Calvinism, as discussed, ruled the church through the Company of Pastors and the consistory courts, and as such had abolished episcopal rule. Charles, however, was a major supporter of bishops in the Anglican Church. Under his rule, bishops remained in place. Adding to this unpopular ruling, Laud continued to upset the people with a series of reforms of his own. I said earlier that Anglican Communion tables were in the centre of the church, accessible by the congregation in order to partake of Communion. Laud, however, moved the Communion table back against the wall, and railed off the Chancel - the congregation was now expected to approach the table kneeling to receive Communion. This smacked too much of the Catholic idea of the sacrifice and transubstantiation, and outrage ensued. Laud also initiated visitations, which ensured that religious practice remained consistent throughout the land - yet another Catholic idea. 

Consistency was the watchword of the day, however. Charles appears to have desired a greater consistency in his kingdoms. I say kingdoms, because while he was King of England, Scotland and Ireland, the King merely provided the common denominator for the three, as each had its own parliament and could govern independently of the other (except in matters of foreign policy, for instance, which could only be determined by the King). This is where a lot of the tension comes during the seventeenth century, as Westminster could not tell Edinburgh or Dublin what to do. 

Speaking of Dublin...
As part of his break with Rome, Henry VIII had declared himself King of Ireland in 1542 (previously, the King of England had ruled as Lord of Ireland by Papal dispensation). It was always a difficult position to maintain, because of the cultural clashes between the native Irish and the Old English, who had settled in Ireland as part of the Norman Conquest of the country in the twelfth century. Following the break with Rome, a policy of Anglicanisation had been implemented, where any Catholic who rebelled against the Crown had his lands confiscated and sold to Protestant English 'planters', who came over and established model farms for the local Irish to emulate. These 'New English' were often at odds with the Old English because of their respective religions. After the accession of James I in 1603, 'planters' also came from Scotland, establishing communities in the northern, Ulster regions of Ireland. The 'planters' served to unite the Old Irish and the Old English by their common religion, breeding two very distinct religious factions in the land.

By the 1630s, however, something approaching religious toleration had been reached. While the Irish Parliament was primarily Protestant, Charles had agreed to granting them toleration in exchange for higher taxes. However, all Irish legislation had to be approved by the King, and when he had demurred a bit too long, the Irish broke out into revolt. Catholic uprisings against the Protestant 'planters' were brutal, with news coming across the water of horrific massacres throughout Ulster, one of the most heavily-Anglican areas of Ireland. When Civil War broke out in England, the Catholics saw their chance to seize control of Ireland and establish the Irish Catholic Confederation in Kilkenny in 1642.

Meanwhile, up in Scotland
In 1637, Charles initiated a policy in Scotland of Anglicanisation - that is, he insisted on the use of the Book of Common Prayer, a new liturgy for the church to use, and an episcopal rule of the church, to which Scotland was vehemently opposed. This Book is perhaps one of the most fractious and divisive books ever written! The Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh declined, to say the least - a National Covenant was drawn up, renouncing the Book and bishops. Charles, who had been ambivalent at best about his kingdom north of the Tyne, decided he would force the Scots to agree with military action. 

The National Covenant was first espoused by Scotland in 1581, and was based on an earlier Confession of Faith from 1560, which basically outlined the Presbyterian faith. Derivative of Calvinism, it was developed by John Knox, who studied with Calvin in Geneva. Rather than the large system of church consistory courts that Calvinism adopted, Presbyterianism adopted a simple rule of the church through the minister and elders in a council called a presbytery (unrelated to the architectural term used for the East End of a monastic church). As such, it was opposed in theory to the episcopal rule of bishops, hence the ideological clash between the Scots and the Laudian reforms.

The National Covenant reaffirmed the opposition to popish elements of religion, which is how many of Laud's ideas were seen. However, not everyone in Scotland was opposed to Charles, and a clash between royalists and Covenanters that began the First Bishops' War of 1639, became the first engagement in the Wars of the Three Kingdoms. Charles marched north with a hastily-assembled army, and only narrowly avoided serious military action by agreeing to basically postpone any formal decision on the implementation of religious reform until the matter was heard by the Scottish Parliament. 

The Scottish Parliament then dismissed any idea of reform, and the following year a Scottish army marched into Northumberland and Durham - the Second Bishops' War - but Charles couldn't afford to raise another army. He had managed to rule the country for eleven years without parliament, but in desperation he called a meeting in 1640. However, the MPs refused to deal with the King's issue before they had their own grievances discussed, so Charles dissolved this Short Parliament and marched north again, concluding a second peace treaty at Ripon that basically required him to pay off the Scots. A second parliament was called in order to raise the revenue to make this payment, but things wouldn't go so easily for Charles this time...

I find Charles I to be something of a problem. He seems to have the potential to have been a fine monarch, inspiring some pretty amazing demonstrations of loyalty during his lifetime. But just how far those demonstrations are for loyalty to the man or to the crown is hard to say. His obstinacy, however, would ultimately prove to be his undoing. A fervent belief in the divine right of kings - that is, the monarch is divinely ordained to rule the people of that country - led to some undeniably arrogant displays. Charles is a man very sure of his kingship - in the idea that he must be obeyed, because he is king. 

He also demonstrated some unbelievably unsympathetic behaviour towards his subjects, not least in matters of religion. While the English Reformation had seen few years of sustained conflict when compared with, say, the French Wars of Religion, or the persecutions in the Spanish Netherlands, by the 1630s it was still something of an open wound in the country. After Henry VIII had broken with Rome, Edward VI had instituted some quite ruthless religious reforms, and then Mary I had burnt as many Protestants as she could get her hands on, Elizabeth I proved to be incredibly skillful in achieving a reformation almost through coercion rather than imposition. The Gunpowder Plot of 1605 had demonstrated that Catholics still moved among the English, however, and the threat of national instability as a result of open religious conflict as was happening on the continent loomed large for many Englishmen. Under Elizabeth I and James I, the ruling elite was Anglican, and a Catholic rebellion was therefore intolerable. And yet Charles was seen to favour Catholics, and to reintroduce Catholic elements to the religious life of the country, by force if need be. 

This sort of reform was bad enough, of course. But Charles' attitude to reform was perhaps the worst part. As king, he expected to be obeyed without question, and when he wasn't, he didn't think to coerce or compromise, he sulked. And herein lies the problem. A refined patron of the arts, capable of inspiring tremendous loyalty, but also a politically shortsighted brat. 

Next time, let's look at the political side of the fence, in the run up to the clash between King and Parliament!

No comments:

Post a Comment