James I and the Spanish Alliance
From 'A History of the British Nation' by AD Innes, 1912
Again [in 1623] James had to fall back on such shifts for raising money as had been declared legal by the Crown lawyers. He reverted to a demand for benevolences, concerning which they had pronounced that the request might legally be made although it could not be legally enforced. But he could not in this fashion furnish forth an army which could save his son-in-law.
He devised instead the farcical scheme of despatching the Prince of Wales incognito, accompanied by Buckingham, with false beards and other simple devices for concealing their identity, to Spain, that the Prince might woo the Infanta in person. Thus would the King of Spain and the Infanta be so charmed that they would willingly concede every request of the gallant wooer.
Success did not attend this ingenious introduction of comic opera into high politics. The prince and the duke got themselves to Spain and were politely welcomed. The Infanta was terrified at the idea of marrying a heretic; Charles was totally unfitted for playing the part of a romantic adorer, and Buckingham's arrogance enraged the entire Spanish court.
The conditions of the marriage proposed from England were ridiculous from the Spanish point of view, and the Spanish conditions were intolerable from the English point of. view. Prince and duke returned from Spain full of fury and burning for war. For the only time in his life Buckingham became popular.
Now, although James had gone hopelessly astray in imagining that Spain could be detached from the Catholic combination, he understood the situation better than his subjects. Either the Hapsburg Catholic combination must be split up or a powerful anti-Hapsburg league must be formed, strong enough enough to beat it. The English parliament did not realise the necessity; it thought only of applying the old Elizabethan method of sending supports to the United Provinces, which were now fighting the Spaniards again and of renewing the maritime war upon Spain.
James then turned to the policy of a French alliance and a French marriage, since the Spanish alliance and the Spanish marriage had been put out of court. But the French marriage also involved that toleration for Romanists in England which was an abomination in the sight of English Puritanism. Parliament, summoned again, though ready for a Spanish war, viewed the proposals for a French marriage with extreme suspicion; and was not at all inclined to vote the huge supplies necessary for a great German campaign, and for providing the subsidies which were needed to induce the Lutheran princes of Germany to take the part of the Calvinist elector palatine.
The supplies voted were insufficient; and when parliament had been prorogued, the proposed marriage was negotiated between Charles and the French King's sister Henrietta Maria. But to carry through the negotiations, Buckingham made concessions on the Catholic question which rendered it impossible for him to face parliament again with demands for more money.
Parliament was not again summoned, and, although there was no money, Buckingham promised it right and left and plunged into war without the means to carry it on. There was just enough in the treasury to pay for raising and despatching to Holland a force of a few thousand men; but when they got there they were left to starve. In a few weeks three-fourths of them were dead or dying from starvation, cold, or pestilence, Just at this point the old king died. For some time past, however, he had been entirely in Buckingham's hands, and Buckingham was no less omnipotent with the ill-fated Prince of Wales, who now ascended the throne as Charles I.
This article is excerpted from the book, 'A History of the British Nation', by AD Innes, published in 1912 by TC & EC Jack, London. I picked up this delightful tome at a second-hand bookstore in Calgary, Canada, some years ago. Since it is now more than 70 years since Mr Innes's death in 1938, we are able to share the complete text of this book with Britain Express readers. Some of the author's views may be controversial by modern standards, particularly his attitudes towards other cultures and races, but it is worth reading as a period piece of British attitudes at the time of writing.