Academic journal article Canadian Journal of History

Oh, What a Lovely War? War, Taxation, and Public Opinion in England, 1624-29 (1)

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of History

Oh, What a Lovely War? War, Taxation, and Public Opinion in England, 1624-29 (1)

Article excerpt

The wars against Spain and France which inaugurated Charles I's reign formed a notably inglorious chapter in the annals of English martial history. The new king and his favourite, the Duke of Buckingham, seized one of the brief moments when the Hapsburgs and Bourbons were not fighting each other to pick a quarrel with both continental superpowers, botched the campaigns and even propelled their adversaries into a temporary reconciliation. (2) However, the diplomatic and military consequences of this misadventure were modest when compared to the damage the war inflicted on the relationship between Charles and his own subjects.

I

If the evidence of sermons, letters and parliamentary speeches is to be believed, a groundswell of support for war against Spain in the final years of James's reign, led by Prince Charles and Buckingham from the autumn of 1623, was frustrated only by the King's refusal to countenance outright hostilities. (3) Yet a war which did not involve national survival was a peripheral concern to many who called for a breach with Spain during the 1624 parliament, and they failed to convert their belligerent rhetoric into cash after James's death. (4) Charles's first parliament declined to make any realistic contribution to the impending war, refusing to improve upon its initial offer of two subsidies as a "free gift," while the Commons proved alarmingly willing to be distracted by domestic issues such as the plague, recusancy, Arminianism, and Buckingham's shortcomings. Six months later, the Commons voted four subsidies and three tenths and fifteenths, but demanded the impeachment of Buckingham in return, a deal Charles rejected, turning to unconstitutional means to finance his war. (5)

Charles raised around 227,000 [pounds sterling] from various forms of extra-parliamentary taxation in the seventeen months from July 1626 to November 1627, which represents two-thirds of the 340,000 [pounds sterling] which could have been expected during the same period from the supply offered by the 1626 parliament, or three-quarters of the 299,000 [pounds sterling] quota set for the forced loan. (6) However, despite the relative success of these extraordinary measures, direct taxation did not fulfil its traditional role as the financial mainstay of a viable war effort. (7) This failure can be illustrated by a comparison between Charles's tax revenues and those his son secured in 1665-68 to cover the cost of war against the Dutch (table 1). The second Anglo-Dutch war was hardly a triumph for English arms, but whatever the shortcomings of Charles II's forces, they were supported by a level of parliamentary taxation his father would have considered improbably lavish, even when due allowance is made for inflation, the growth in the size of military establishments and the cost of technological developments since the 1620s. So while James I had stunned the 1624 Parliament with his initial demand for six subsidies and twelve tenths and fifteenths (780,000 [pounds sterling]) before embarking upon a war with Spain, in 1665 the Commons rose to the occasion (albeit grudgingly) by voting a staggering 2.4 million [pounds sterling] to fund a war against the Dutch. Moreover, when this initial grant proved insufficient it was doubled, despite the difficulties the nation was then experiencing in coping with the most virulent plague epidemic of the century and the destruction wrought by the Great Fire of London. Charles I, by contrast, secured only just over 1 million [pounds sterling] towards his war effort from all from sources of direct taxation, and had to make up the shortfall through sales of Crown assets, by loans charged against future revenues from customs and subsidies, and by utilising the portion of his wife's dowry which arrived before Anglo-French relations broke down at the end of 1625. The Restoration war effort enjoyed the additional advantage of a regular monthly income from direct taxation, first 68,000 [pounds sterling] then 120,000 [pounds sterling], whereas such sums as Charles I managed to raise arrived at less predictable intervals (graph 1), a factor which imposed grave limitations upon strategic planning in 1626 and 1628. …

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