The Personal Rule, 1629-40

Early in the twentieth century it was fashionable among historians to view the Personal Rule as a period of 'Eleven Years' Tyranny', during which Charles was suspected of trying to establish an absolutist government based on Continental models. However, there was no grand strategy on Charles' part - the decision to rule without Parliament was the culmination of frustration with the Commons' refusal to be pliant. Charles inherited his father's constitutional perspective; with regards to the relationship between Parliament and the monarchy, Charles was steadfast in his belief that it was an institution that existed only because the crown wanted it to be so. Charles was careful he remained within the law, though he did go right to the limits of its interpretation. The King had to ensure the legality of his regime because without the co-operation of the provincial political élite, government would collapse.

The dissolution of the third Parliament left Charles in a precarious financial position; he had failed to win a parliamentary grant, customs revenues were depreciated by war and there was growing mercantile hostility towards and refusal to pay tonnage and poundage. Most serious was that England was at war with the two most powerful European states - hence peace treaties were swiftly sought with France (1629) and Spain (1630). Merchants' boycott of trade eventually ebbed away as it became apparent that it would be quite some time before another Parliament sat. After deciding to abandon attempts to win the parliamentary subsidy, Charles had to find alternative means of generating revenue. Most important would be to avoid measures that could be seen as illegal or against custom - Charles could not afford to risk losing the support of the JPs and government officials in the localities, on whom effective government at the centre rested. With the advent of peace commercial opportunities in Europe expanded greatly; English merchants were quick to exploit these advantages in a Europe that was still torn apart by the Thirty Years' War. Strong maritime trade links were forged with Spain - the English supplies of arms, foodstuffs, and military and naval supplies were made all the more important because of great restrictions on land routes through western Europe. During the 1630s English maritime trade thus rose to unprecedented prosperity; concurrent was a huge growth in royal revenue - by the end of the 1630s Charles was effectively solvent.

In 1629 however, a debt in excess of £1 million meant that urgent financial solutions had to be found. Weston went to considerable effort to curb royal expenditure. The Household took around 40% of the annual royal income. In part, this came down to its sheer size. Another problem was waste. It is estimated that savings somewhere around £80-90,000 per annum could have been achieved by cutting the costs of Court dining arrangements alone. However in political terms, such reform was too expensive. For all Weston's efforts, few significant economies in the Household were imposed and there was no reform of the structure of Charles' finances. On Weston's death in 1635 the Crown was almost solvent; this owes more to revenue generated from customs revenues and prerogative rights than any attempts at cost- cutting at the Court. Rather than risk attacking the patronage system and provoking considerable political backlash, Weston turned to prerogative rights of the crown which had fallen into disuse, an approach collectively termed as 'Fiscal Feudalism'.

Traditionally, men with an income over £40 were required to present themselves at the coronation for knighthood; the value of this sum had fallen with inflation and the practice had become antiquated. Charles exhumed it. Men who technically could be summoned by right of this custom were summoned and fined for failing to support the king. It was never Charles' interest to create more knights. Some men who were not eligible in 1626 were even fined. By the end of the 1630s this had raised an additional £170,000, i.e. the equivalent of around three parliamentary subsidies. Financial success with the use, or misuse, of the obsolete custom of distraint of knighthood came at a cost; Clarendon wrote about the unpopularity of the measure, and Lord Montagu noted the short-term gains were likely to be costly in terms of political loyalty. However the legality of knighthood fines was never doubted.

More dubious was the exploitation of the forest law concerning the royal forests. The government declared the boundaries of the royal forests from the time of Henry II, and thus many properties were technically encroaching on royal land. This meant that the property owners could be fined. The Earl of Salisbury was fined £20,000 for encroachment on Rockingham Forest, though fines were generally up to £4,000. There were other more substantial and permanent means of raising money; these were just as unpopular.

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