At the opening of his third Parliament Charles had hinted in ominous words that the continuance of Parliament at all depended on its compliance with his will. "If you do not your duty," said the King, "mine would then order me to use those other means which God has put into my hand." The threat, however, failed to break the resistance of the Commons, and the ominous words passed into a settled policy. " We have showed," said a proclamation which followed on the dissolution of the Houses, " by our frequent meeting our people, our love to the use of Parliament; yet, the late abuse having for the present driven us unwillingly out of that course, we shall account it presumption for any to prescribe any time unto us for Parliament".
No Parliament in fact met for eleven years. But it would be unfair to charge the King at the outset of this period with any definite scheme of establishing a tyranny, or of changing what he conceived to be the older constitution of the realm. He "hated the very name of Parliaments," but in spite of his hate he had as yet no settled purpose of abolishing them. His belief was that England would in time recover its senses, and that then Parliament might re-assemble without inconvenience to the Crown. In the interval, however long it might be, he proposed to govern single-handed by the use of " those means which God had put into his hands." Resistance, indeed, he was resolved to put down. The leaders of the popular party in the last Parliament were thrown into prison; and Eliot died, the first martyr of English liberty, in the Tower. Men were forbidden to speak of the reassembling of a Parliament. But here the King stopped. The opportunity which might have suggested dreams of organized despotism to a Richelieu, suggested only means of filling his Exchequer to Charles. He had in truth neither the grander nor the meaner instincts of a born tyrant.
[Authorities. - For the general events of the time, see previous sections. The "Strafford Letters," and the Calendars of Domestic State Papers for this period give its real history. " Baillie's Letters" tell the story of the Scotch rising. Generally, Scotch affairs may be studied in Mr. Burton's " History of Scotland." Portraits of Weston, and most of the statesmen of this period, may be found in the earlier part of Clarendon's " History of the Rebellion."]
He did not seek to gain an absolute power over his people, because he believed that his absolute power was already a part of the constitution of the country. He set up no standing army to secure it, partly because he was poor, but yet more because his faith in his position was such that he never dreamed of any effectual resistance. His expedients for freeing the Crown from that dependence on Parliaments against which his pride as a sovereign revolted were simply peace and economy. To secure the first he sacrificed an opportunity greater than ever his father had trodden under foot. The fortunes of the great struggle in Germany were suddenly reversed at this juncture by the appearance of Gustavus Adolphus, with a Swedish army, in the heart of Germany. Tilly was defeated and slain; the Catholic League humbled in the dust; Munich, the capital of its Bavarian leader, occupied by the Swedish army, and the Lutheran princes of North Germany freed from the pressure of the Imperial soldiery; while the Emperor himself, trembling within the walls of Vienna, was driven to call for aid from Wallenstein, an adventurer whose ambition he dreaded, but whose army could alone arrest the progress of the Protestant conqueror.
The ruin that James had wrought was suddenly averted; but the victories of Protestantism had no more power to draw Charles out of the petty circle of his politics at home than its defeats had had power to draw James out of the circle of his imbecile diplomacy. When Gustavus, on the point of invading Germany, appealed for aid to England and France, Charles, left penniless by the dissolution of Parliament, resolved on a policy of peace, withdrew his ships from the Baltic, and opened negotiations with Spain, which brought about a treaty on the virtual basis of an abandonment of the Palatinate. Ill luck clung to him in peace as in war. The treaty was hardly concluded when Gustavus began his wonderful career of victory. Charles strove at once to profit by his success, and a few Scotch and English regiments followed Gustavus in his reconquest of the Palatinate. But the conqueror demanded, as the price of its restoration to Frederick, that Charles should again declare war upon Spain; and this was a price that the King would not pay, determined as he was not to plunge into a combat which would again force him to summon Parliament. His whole attention was absorbed by the pressing question of revenue.
The debt was a large one; and the ordinary income of the Crown, unaided by parliamentary supplies, was inadequate to meet its ordinary expenditure. Charles himself was frugal and laborious; and the economy of Weston, the new Lord Treasurer, whom he made Earl of Portland, contrasted advantageously with the waste and extravagance of the government under Buckingham. But economy failed to close the yawning gulf of the treasury, and the course into which Charles was driven by the financial pressure showed with how wise a prescience the Commons had fixed on the point of arbitrary taxation as the chief danger to constitutional freedom.
It is curious to see to what shifts the royal pride was driven in its effort at once to fill the Exchequer, and yet to avoid, as far as it could, any direct breach of constitutional law in the imposition of taxes by the sole authority of the Crown. The dormant powers of the prerogative were strained to their utmost. The right of the Crown to force knighthood on the landed gentry was revived, in order to squeeze them into composition for the refusal of it. Fines were levied on them for the redress of defects in their title-deeds. A Commission of the Forests exacted large sums from the neighbouring landowners for their encroachments on Crown lands. London, the special object of courtly dislike, on account of its stubborn Puritanism, was brought within the sweep of royal extortion by the enforcement of an illegal proclamation which James had issued, prohibiting its extension. Every house throughout the large suburban districts in which the prohibition had been disregarded was only saved from demolition by the payment of three years' rental to the Crown. Though the Catholics were no longer troubled by any active persecution, and the Lord Treasurer was in heart a Papist, the penury of the Exchequer forced the Crown to maintain the old system of fines for "recusancy." Vexatious measures of extortion such as these were far less hurtful to the State than the conversion of justice into a means of supplying the royal necessities by means of the Star Chamber. The jurisdiction of the King's Council had been revived by Wolsey as a check on the nobles; and it had received great developement, especially on the side of criminal law, during the Tudor reigns.