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  • Cited by 1
  • Print publication year: 2006
  • Online publication date: December 2009

8 - The constitutionalist revolution


The upshot of the complex shift this book has been describing can be encapsulated in a contrast. In the later 1550s, Queen Mary fought a war against the French. In doing so, she exercised her extra-legal powers – she raised forced loans, revised the Book of Rates, and made extensive use of martial law – but not even her Protestant subjects made public objections. In the later 1620s, when Charles I was waging war against the same opponent, he naturally resorted to the same expedients, but reactions were completely different. What had changed was not the government's behaviour but the political culture in which it operated.

Charles had few of the characteristics traditionally attributed to tyrants. He was a sane and virtuous man of no imagination whose anti-political craving for hierarchy and order cursed him with a debilitating sense both of his duties and his dignity. Close reading of the promises he was accused of breaking in general acquits him of the charge of perjury, though not, perhaps, of willingness to be misunderstood. He had the kingly quality of lack of interest in other people: when subjects were obedient, he showed no curiosity about their private motives; when they were disobedient, however, he jumped to the conclusion that their recalcitrance was part of a deliberate attack on monarchy. Although he was committed to personal rule, his major political weakness, under pressure, was not so much a failure to consult with his advisers as a calamitous tendency to vacillate between them.