The Early Stuarts, 1603-1660

By Godfrey Davies | Go to book overview

IV
POLITICAL AND CONSTITUTIONAL HISTORY, 1629-40

WHEN Charles I dismissed his parliament in 1629 he hoped never to have to summon another. Observers noticed that, on his return from Westminster after the dissolution, he was in high spirits, as if he had freed himself from the yoke.1 He was now at liberty to practise that form of government which commended itself to him. In his own eyes he was the guardian of the church and constitution against iconoclasts and anarchists. He declared that he was going to maintain the established doctrine of the church of England, as well as the just rights and liberties of his subjects;2 and he meant what he said. The difficulty was that he was to be the sole judge of true doctrine and just rights. If the very elasticity of the Reformation settlement permitted the adoption of Arminianism as the true doctrine, then the suppression of puritanism was inevitable. Charles held strongly, if unconsciously, the theory that was embodied in such legislation as the Corporation Act after the Restoration--that only a devoted adherent to the national church could be a loyal citizen. At court nonconformity and sedition were synonymous terms, and puritans were time- servers who stayed in the church only to betray it or revolutionaries who made zeal for religion the cloak for their nefarious designs. Absolute unity of church and state was the ideal that Charles and Laud, his favourite ecclesiastic, set before them. They regarded all their opponents as both morally and politically dangerous--guilty of blasphemy and disaffection alike. They intended that disputes about doctrine or ritual should be settled by the clergy in convocation--subject to the royal leave-- and the layman was to accept their decisions without question.

Just as the ordinary citizen had no voice in determining the discipline of the church, so the intermission of parliament deprived him of any share in shaping the law of the land. His only concern with the law was to obey it. True, Charles had promised to observe it, but events were to prove that he meant

____________________
1
State Papers, Venetian, 1628-1629, p. 589.
2
Gardiner, Constitutional Documents, pp. 97-98.

-81-

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