The Parliament of November 1640 was in many ways a turning point in the lead up to civil war in1642. From his accession in 1625 Charles had been keen to play a part in the wars then ravaging Europe and for this he needed to raise money. But Parliament was not inclined to grant him the funds needed and was dissolved. Charles’s last Parliament was in 1628, and reluctant to call another, he resorted to other means of raising money in the mean time. Although, by 1631, he was no longer involved in European conflicts, he was deep in debt. In order to raise extra revenue Charles resorted to using taxes long out of date while at the same time extending the scope of others. The collection of ship money, traditionally only levied in coastal areas, was now to be levied in inland counties, which caused much resentment. Although Charles won a court case against John Hampden for non-payment, he was seen as riding rough shod over established practices.
His desire to introduce more elaborate church services seems to have caused as much if not more distress and was seen by many as an attempt to introduce Catholicism by the back-door. Scotland would have none of this and in protest introduced the National Covenant which, among other things, pointed out that none of the measures Charles wanted had been approved by Parliament. The King then resorted to force of arms in order to bring Scotland to heel. War broke out in 1639 and twice in 1640. In the meantime Parliament had been called and dissolved again after refusing to give the King any money unless he would discuss what were considered to be his wrongful actions. When the Scots invaded and over-ran the North of England however, he was forced to call another Parliament in November 1640, having already met with many of his Peers at York in September.
Charles had to make concessions and in May 1641 reluctantly signed the Dissolution Act, which required that Parliament assemble every three years. The Act also forbade the imposition of taxes without its consent. The trouble was: Charles could not be trusted. In Scotland, after agreeing to the appointment of mainly protestant officers of state to the Scottish Parliament he then appointed a Royalist as Chancellor and was believed to be implicated in the attempt to seize the Covenanter Leaders. In England panic grew over a feared invasion from Ireland, following a revolt by Irish Catholics. The possible need for an army raised the question of how much power Charles could hold over the military given the lack of trust that surrounded him. The answer seemed to be for him to share this power with Parliament, who, as a check on his authority, also insisted on approving the appointment of any of his councillors. However rumour had it that Charles was supporting at least one of the Irish rebels, Sir Phelim O’Neil. Parliament was then forced to introduce measures to bring the army under its complete control, which they did on the 7th December 1641. On the 4th January 1642 Charles tried and failed to arrest six of the leading Members of Parliament. Having failed and fearing for his life, he left for Oxford. War was officially declared on 22nd August 1642.
Following the departure of the King, London declared for Parliament as did Hertfordshire, which began to train volunteers to assist the existing militia to secure and protect the county. Existing stocks of arms, the magazines, were seized and attempts by Royalist forces to capture them were repelled. In addition weapons held by the King’s supporters within the county were also seized, notably from Hadham Hall, the residence of Arthur Capel. The effort to maintain and indeed increase the Parliamentary forces, to provide supplies and horses and to give free quarter to regiments passing through the county, placed a great strain on the inhabitants of Hertfordshire. Taxation, already heavy, increased and was extended by the use of the excise to include even the less well off. Loss of labour to work the fields and bring in the harvest only added to the difficulty of finding increasing amounts of money from dwindling resources. All these measures caused much resentment, resistance and, if possible, evasion. The conflicts of the 1600s touched every level of society through death, destruction, loss of property, broken friendships and shattered families.
Through a selection of the documents held at Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies, it is hoped over the next year to give a flavour of life for those living in and connected with Hertfordshire in the turbulent 17th century.