Charles I and the Short Parliament
From 'A History of the British Nation' by AD Innes, 1912
The Bishops' War
It was not possible to pretend that the action of the General Assembly [in Scotland] was legal. In plain terms, a crisis had arrived in which the will of the king and the will of the nation were in flat opposition, and the constitution provided the nation with no legal means of resisting the Crown.
The General Assembly, in fact, constituted itself the governing body of the nation, and it did so with the approval of probably at least nine-tenths of the population. The Scots were well aware that they might be compelled to resort to maintaining the popular liberties in arms, and they had been making preparations for that possibility.
They had been collecting subscriptions which were virtually compulsory though nominally voluntary. They now chose officers; troops were being drilled on all hands, and there were in the country experienced veterans who had fought under Gustavus Adolphus — soldiers who understood discipline, and captains competent to hold high command, of whom the chief was Alexander Leslie.
Charles, on his side, appeared to have no other alternatives before him than complete surrender or successful coercion, since the Royal authority had been practically defied. But he could not coerce Scotland with Scottish troops, for, apart from the remoter highlands and islands, the immense majority of the fighting men were on the side of the Covenant.
To coerce Scotland he must have an English army. He could rely on the Royalty of the Marquis of Huntly in the north, and of the city of Aberdeen elsewhere he could hope for very little support. In the spring of 1639 Montrose, for the Covenant, captured Aberdeen, and Leslie secured Edinburgh Castle.
As General-in-Chief of the self-constituted government, Leslie, then, with a considerable force, proceeded to Dunselaw, in the neighbourhood of Berwick. Charles had succeeded in collecting some levies in England, and faced the covenanting force; but his troops were untrained, his officers without experience, and the men were at the best half-hearted and quite unfitted to do battle with Leslie.
The Scots had no desire for war, and Charles came to terms, which merely postponed the conflict, which is known as the Bishops' war. Under the terms of the treaty, both sides were to disband their forces, and a free Assembly and Parliament were promised. Assembly and Parliament met in August only to confirm the proceedings of the previous Assembly, and to order a universal signing of the Covenant.
For ten years, as we have seen, it had been possible to carry on the king's government in England without an appeal to parliament for further funds. But without further funds the organisation of an army competent to coerce Scotland was not possible. Wentworth, now raised to the earldom of Strafford, advised the step of calling a parliament. The voice of opposition had been so long silenced that the Deputy, long absent in Ireland, may well have imagined that a new parliament might be coerced or cajoled into satisfying the king's demand. If so he was mistaken.
The Short Parliament
The assembly known as the Short Parliament met in April 1640, only to demand that grievances should be dealt with before supply. Strafford's Deputyship had carried him out of touch alike with England and Scotland; and it is evident that he completely misjudged the temper of both peoples. His recommendations for a northern campaign had been based on the assumption that the Scottish resistance was merely superficial; and even now he seems to have been under the illusion that in this emergency the English people would rally to the Crown.
But the Short Parliament would not grant the king the twelve subsidies for which he asked, even though he had offered to withdraw the claim to ship-money as the price. The king, certainly not by Strafford's advice, was unwise enough to reject the proposal put forward by the moderate party in the House of Commons, that the sense of the House should be taken on the question of granting a supply without committing them to any specific amount. It was tolerably certain that parliament would not grant all that he asked; and, choosing to have either all or nothing, he dissolved the parliament when it had been sitting for only three weeks.
A considerable war-fund was raised by contributions which were strictly voluntary. Again Charles marched to the North, where he was joined by Strafford, who had in the meanwhile been back in Ireland arranging for the organisation of a force. But before his arrival the Scots had already crossed into England, easily routing the English at Newburn; for the king's army was no better than it had been in the previous year.
The Scots came, declaring themselves to be in no way hostile to the English. To fight under the existing conditions would have been mere folly. Again the king entered on negotiations, and withdrew to the South; leaving Northumberland and Durham in the hands of the Scots as security for the payment of their expenses. It was clear that without vigorous support from England the king would be compelled to concede to the subjects of his northern kingdom whatever they might demand.
Without aid from an English parliament Charles was paralysed; and in the desperate hope that such aid might after all be forthcoming, the assembly known as the Long Parliament was summoned in November.
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.