The Parliament of 1626
Available from Cambridge University Press
THE PARLIAMENT OF 1626
Date of writs of election: 26 Dec. 16251
6 Feb. 16262
8 Feb.-5 Apr. 1626 (adjourned for Easter)3
13 Apr.-17 May 1626 (adjourned for Ascension Day)4
19 May-25 May 1626 (adjourned for Whitsun)5
1 June-15 June 1626 (dissolved)6
Despite the refusal of the 1625 Parliament to vote more than two subsidies, Charles and Buckingham pressed on with their war preparations, as they now had at their disposal the £120,000 paid by France for Henrietta Maria’s dowry. In October 1625 ten thousand English troops led by the veteran soldier Sir Edward Cecil and accompanied by an Anglo-Dutch fleet descended on the Spanish port of Cadiz, but although the town was largely undefended Cecil failed to exploit the element of surprise, and by the time he landed his army Cadiz had been reinforced. During the subsequent return journey to England Cecil’s forces, which also failed to seize the Spanish Plate Fleet, were battered by winter storms, and the soldiers and seamen were reduced to eating rotten victuals, as a result of which many of them died. Meanwhile, in the Channel, English merchant shipping continued to fall prey not only to north African corsairs but also to the privateers operating out of the Spanish-held ports of Dunkirk and Nieuwpoort.
Even before Cecil’s fleet sailed for Spain, Charles turned his thoughts towards a fresh meeting with his subjects. Convinced that the attacks on Buckingham at Oxford had been the work of only a handful of malcontents, he ‘pricked’ the individuals concerned as sheriffs, thereby ensuring that they would be incapable of sitting in the forthcoming Parliament. However, far from making the Commons more amenable to the royal will, the removal of some of its leading spokesmen served only to enrage many of its Members, some of whom were already angry at the humiliating failure of English arms at Cadiz and the disruption to trade caused by the loss of merchant shipping. Their anger was increased by the fact that, over the summer, an English naval squadron lent to Louis XIII had helped destroy a fleet set out by the French Calvinist Huguenots of La Rochelle. Charles and Buckingham had intended that these ships would assist the forces of the French king to blockade the Spanish-controlled port of Genoa, but to outside observers it looked for all the world as though they had aided in the defeat of fellow Protestants. To make matters worse, the Protestant credentials of both men were further damaged by the favour shown from 1625 to anti-Calvinist churchmen, whom many Calvinists regarded as scarcely better than papists. Before the mid 1620s the anti-Calvinists (dubbed Arminians by their opponents after the Dutch theologian Arminius, whose views in fact they did not share) exercised little real influence at Court, but following Charles’s accession this situation began to change. In 1625 the king protected from the wrath of the Commons the Essex rector Richard Montagu, whose printed works equated mainstream Calvinists with puritan zealots, by appointing him a royal chaplain. In February 1626, shortly before a new Parliament met, Buckingham (whose mother was a Catholic) conspicuously refused to censure the Arminians at a conference to heal the doctrinal divisions in the Church held at his London home, York House. On the contrary, he enjoyed warm relations with many of the leading Arminian churchmen, among them Matthew Wren, William Laud and Richard Neile, all of whom supported his election as chancellor of Cambridge University later that year.7
By the time the 1626 Parliament met it was clear that many Members of the Commons regarded Buckingham as both suspect in religion and responsible for the failure of the Cadiz expedition. Encouraged by the lord chamberlain, the earl of Pembroke, and the staunchly anti-Arminian archbishop of Canterbury, George Abbot, both of whom had opposed the alliance with Catholic France, they set about framing charges against the favourite in the hope of driving him from office. Faced with a mounting assault on the duke, Charles might have chosen to dissolve the Parliament immediately, as he had in August 1625, but he was now so desperately short of money that it was hard to see how a second expedition against Spain could be mounted without further parliamentary supply. Consequently he was forced to keep the Parliament, which was soon dominated by the attempted impeachment of Buckingham, in being. Formal charges were laid before the Lords on 8 and 10 May, and were accompanied with a request that the duke be immediately imprisoned. However, Buckingham’s strongest support lay in the Lords, whose members were unwilling to take such drastic action until they had heard the duke in his own defence. On 8 June Buckingham rebutted each of the charges against him in detail, and the following day Charles, far from pressing the Lords to proceed to a trial, warned the lower House that unless it now turned its attention to supply he would be forced ‘to take other resolutions’.8 However, although it had earlier agreed in principle to vote three subsidies and three fifteenths, the Commons insisted on framing a Remonstrance against Buckingham before complying with Charles’s demand. It now seemed clear to Charles that the Commons would only grant supply in exchange for the removal from office of Buckingham, and since he was not willing to sacrifice his favourite for implementing policies of which he himself approved he dissolved the Parliament on 15 June.