The Cambridge Modern History: Planned by the Late Lord Acton - Vol. 4

By A. W. Ward; G. W. Prothero et al. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VIII.
THE CONSTITUTIONAL STRUGGLE IN ENGLAND.
(1625-40.)

WHEN, on March 27, 1625, James I died, and the accession of his eldest surviving son as Charles I opened one of the most momentous reigns in English history, the condition of the country was by no means happy. A fundamental divergence of view as to the limits of the royal prerogative, the rights of Parliament, and the independence of the Law- Courts, had led, in the late reign, to those serious disputes between the King and his subjects which have been recounted in a previous volume. The revenue which had not sufficed even for a thrifty Queen was still less adequate to the requirements of her wasteful successor, enhanced as these were by causes, such as the change in the value of money, which were beyond his control. Though the country was at peace, lavish expenditure and the lack of supervision involved the Crown in heavy liabilities, from which even the skill of Robert Cecil had failed to extricate it. Unable to agree with Parliament, James had substituted the influence of favourites for that of the national representatives; and ten years of absolute government had set a precedent which his son was to follow with baleful results. This system had broken down under the pressure of the Thirty Years' War, and the demands made by an active foreign policy on an impoverished exchequer. But fresh recourse to Parliaments had not produced the desired agreement between Crown and nation; on the contrary, to the old causes of difference and distrust-- questions of financial control, questions of ecclesiastical policy--was now added disagreement in regard to foreign affairs. The coalition between the two branches of the Habsburg House seemed to revive, for Englishmen scarce past middle age, the Spanish terror of their youth, and to threaten equally the political and the religious independence of Great Britain and of Europe. To allay the fears which his diplomacy had aroused, James had publicly pledged himself to conditions which it was impossible for Spain to accept; but the nation, which had hailed with an outburst of joy the rupture of the Spanish treaty, found its anxieties. revive when the matrimonial overtures which had failed at Madrid were

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