There existed something of an ideological division between king and Parliament under the early Stuarts. James I is notorious for standing before Parliament and asserting the 'doctrine' of the Divine Right of Kingship, antagonising members of the Commons who interpreted the relationship of the Crown and Parliament as one of cooperation for the good of the 'common weal'. However, the extent of this should not be overestimated, as James' abilities as a king should not be undervalued. Before ascending to the English crown in 1603 on the death of Elizabeth, James (VI) had learned his statecraft as king of Scotland for over thirty years.

Nevertheless, after a period of eleven years in which Charles I ruled without recourse to Parliament and continued arbitrary methods of government, taxation and ecclesiastical policy, when Parliament was eventually summoned (the Short Parliament of 1640, and the Long Parliament from 1641) relations between king and Parliament had collapsed. War was never inevitable, but relations grew increasingly worse, a combination of the King's obstinacy to negotiate religious and political-constitutional compromise, Parliament scoring propaganda points by exposing the dubious, duplicitous, and underhanded methods of the King, and attacking his chief ministers Laud and Strafford. War became increasingly possible during 1642, especially during the summer as the King had left London to raise money and support in the counties, leaving Parliament in control of the capital. Attempts at peace negotiation failed and war broke out.

Parliament managed to win the first of the civil wars even though the Crown had superior resources at the beginning and wasted valuable tactical opportunities early on. After a period of stalemate, Parliament developed the more sophisticated governmental machinery and reorganised its military structure, with the formation of the New Model Army. After the first civil war the situation become more complicated, with the emergence of religious and political radicalism, the politicisation of the Army, the intervention of the Scottish Covenanters, discord within the Parliamentary cause, and the continued duplicity of Charles I. Attempts at compromise failed, and it is possible that Cromwell engineered the fall of Charles with his attempted escape from Carisbroke Castle.

To ensure the trial of the King, Pride's Purge of Parliament was executed in December 1648. After a trial of dubious legality, in January 1649 Charles I was beheaded outside the Banqueting House at Whitehall. Over the next two months a significantly reduced Parliament, after executing its king and abolishing the House of Lords and the episcopacy, declared England a republic.

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