Civil War, Religion or Economy
To what extent do you accept Lawrence Stone’s view that religion rather than economic interests influenced the taking of sides among the gentry in 1642? Religion was a huge part of 17th century England, and can be seen as one of the highest contributing factors to the civil war. Most of the country consisted of Protestants with a minority of Catholics, however this did not mean there was no friction between the two. The religious quarrels began right at the start of Charles’ reign, when Charles married Henrietta Maria, a French Catholic.
Although Charles didn’t choose to marry her – his father, James, set up the marriage – the public, especially the Puritans, didn’t like having a Catholic as Queen. A few extremists even saw this as a sign that Charles was secretly Catholic! After the King dissolved Parliament, he made William Laud the Archbishop of Canterbury, in 1633. While Laud was Archbishop, he made many changes to the Church. Most of these changes involved beatifying the Church and bringing back robes for priests, statues and stained-glass windows.
All these things reminded the English of Catholicism, and it did not please the Presbyterians (puritans) who believed that church should just be about “you” and God, no extravagance was required and it was considered to be unnecessary. In 1636, Archbishop Laud decided to introduce the English Prayer Book (which stated how services should be run) into Scotland. There was nationwide rioting, because no one wanted to follow the new Prayer Book. Scotland was a Presbyterian (Puritan) country, and they thought that the English Prayer Book was far too Catholic to use in Scotland.
This eventually led to many Scots, called the Covenanters, marching down the country in an attempt to invade England. At this point, Charles had to call Parliament to ask for taxes to pay for the war, but was horrified to see that most of the MPs were on the Covenanters’ side. Parliament agreed that the Prayer Book was too Catholic, so Charles dissolved them again, but after he ran out of money to pay the Scots, he was forced to call Parliament again. These actions support the view of Source 6 that the populace believed in an authoritarian popish plot to undermine English laws and liberties, and significantly “true religion”.
This plot was made apparent by the “alarming” support from the “evil councillors” at court. The Grand Remonstrance’s famous phrases signify these views and suggest that it was common belief that the King and his advisors were involved in a popish plot. Parliament first put Laud on trial, and found him guilty. Later they decided to execute Strafford on charges of organising an army in Ireland, where he governed. It turned out that this was a big mistake. As soon as Strafford was executed, the Irish Catholics rebelled against the Protestants, saying they were rebelling for the King.
Although it was clear this was not true, Parliament did not trust the King when he asked them for an army, and so refused, believing he would use it to crush them instead. Notably, in contradiction to both Sources 5 and 6, Source 7 states that the gentry held no clear alignments as war broke out. There is said to be no “clear association” of wealth or political sympathies before the war, but correlations do appear in 1645. However, religion is considered to be far more decisive than any socio-economic correlation, suggesting that if any factor could be attributed to the taking of sides, it would in fact be religion.
This is supported by the fact that in Yorkshire, over a third of the Royalist gentry were Catholics, and over half the Parliamentarians were Puritans. In contrast to the view that religion was the main influencing factor in the taking of sides among the gentry in 1642, it is also believed that economic interests were responsible for influencing the gentry. James was the first King to reign over both England and Scotland, and when he came down from Scotland it is said that he was astonished at how rich England was, while James had needed to borrow money for his travelling expenses.
When James died in 1625, Charles came to the throne, and he, like his father, had very little money. Once Charles became King, the County Faction wanted him to go to war with the Catholics in Spain, so Charles asked them for taxes to use on the war. They refused to pay enough, so the war was hopeless, and Parliament blamed the King for this. The reason Parliament granted so few taxes was that they wanted to make sure they were called again. Charles, a firm believer in the Divine Right of Kings, thought that he should not have to rule with Parliament, and the only thing that kept him calling it was money.
One good example of the way Parliament made sure they were called back in Charles’ reign was tonnage and poundage. These were duties imposed on certain imports and exports. It was normal for these duties to be decided in the first Parliament of a monarch’s reign, but in the case of Charles, they only decided on it for one year, so the King would be forced to call them again. Although Charles tried to ask for more money, Parliament refused, because they believed he spent it on his favourites. Because of this, Charles had to get himself more money.
He began using the Church Courts, exploiting taxes such as ‘ship money’, and selling monopolies and titles. He also opened a Court of Star Chamber, which he used to fine people heavily to raise money. Since the judges in the Star Chamber were officials of the Crown, and there was no jury, Charles could be sure of getting a favourable result. Parliament was furious with this, and immediately drew up the Petition of Right, which asked the King to stop illegal taxation. The King signed it, but only because Parliament threatened to impeach Buckingham, one of the King’s favourites.
The quarrels about money went on, and eventually Charles decided to dissolve Parliament. He reigned without them for 11 years. When the new prayer book was brought into Scotland, a group called the Covenanters attempted to invade England. Charles called a Parliament to try and get taxes to fight the Covenanters, but they refused, so Charles dissolved them again. He was forced to pay the Scots ? 850 a day to stop them advancing, and eventually, in 1641, his money ran out, and he had to call Parliament – he was bankrupt and at their mercy, so money was definitely a key factor in the outbreak of the civil war.
With the economic depression and impoverishment of the populace, the gentry were bound to rebel against the king. Source 5 suggests that this was the main reason why the gentry rebelled against the king. In contrast to Source 6 which suggests religion was the reason, Source 6 implies that the gentry were merely part of a “blind protest” against the depressing economic situation the found themselves in. In conclusion it can be suggested that neither economic interest nor religion were individual influences in the taking of sides in 1642.
It would be a much more accurate judgement to suggest that a mixture of the two were responsible. The combined fears of a popish plot and a continued depression, or even loyalty to the king may have motivated the gentry in taking sides. This is implied by the variety of evidence from all three sources, mention economic influences and significant religious motivations that would have been completely relevant to the population, but more specifically to the gentry.