Charles II King of Scotland ( February 1649 - September 1651)

The end of the Bishops Wars afforded the Scots the opportunity to step aside and avoid becoming involved in the English Civil War that had broken out. But their wishes were disappointed when the Parliamentary party in England approached the Scots for military aid in their war with King Charles I. From this was born the second great Covenant so dear to the staunch Presbyterians - the Solemn League and Covenant of 1643. This gave military aid in return for a commitment to extend the Presbyterian religion throughout Great Britain. The English saw the Solemn League and Covenant as a  treaty with a hefty price tag, but as they were desperate for military help against Charles I they acceded to the monetary and religious demands. By 1648 however, the Parliamentary forces had gained control in England and no longer needed Scottish support. With their dreams of extending Christ`s Kingdom broken, the Scots stepped aside from the basically English war and King Charles was handed over to the Parliamentary Army . There followed the ill advised Engagement and retribution at the battle of Preston that put paid to any hopes of restoring the King`s authority. He was soon tried and executed on 30 January 1649* thereby creating a new problem for the Scots who resented the execution of `their king`.

It is of note that in England the majority of the people did not desire the King`s death, however, the majority were prepared to accept it.  People were shocked and even publicly spoke against it but absolutely no one risked their life to rescue him. In a final irony Charles I was laid to rest in St George`s Chapel, Windsor  in a vault containing the coffins of Henry VIII  and Jane Seymour (his third wife). There was a space for Katherine Parr, his widow, but she had remarried and was buried elsewhere. Into this space was placed Charles I.  Thus together lay the King  who created the Church of England and broke from Rome, largely to satisfy his sensual tastes. And his companion a King who died because of his dedication to the Anglican faith. They jointly shared a belief in Divine Right.

Two important constitutional events took place at this time which laid the foundations for the Glorious Revolution of 1688. On 4 January 1649 the English House of Commons had convened a High Court of Justice to try the king, and had  issued three resolutions :

  • he people under God are the original source of all just power;

  • the House of Commons exercise that power;

  • the laws enacted by the Commons bind all citizens alike.

The Scottish Parliament also passed an act requiring the King and successors to subscribe to the Covenants, and to seek uniformity of religion (Presbytery) in the three kingdoms.

The break with England and the Commonwealth soon came. On the morning of Charles` execution Parliament had hurriedly passed an act  prohibiting the proclamation of a successor. On 5 Feb 1649 Scotland in defiance of the act declared his son, Charles II,  the lawful heir to the thrones of Great Britain, France and Ireland. 

Against this background, a delegation of the Commission of the Kirk was sent in 1650 to see Charles, Prince of Wales, at Breda in Holland and invited his return to Scotland. On 2 June 1650 Charles II and his entourage embarked for Scotland and landed on Speyside on 23 June. Charles soon found that he might be king but he did not have any real power. The Presbyterian zealots in power forced Charles to sign a declaration at Dunfermline on 16 August 1650, which greatly humbled him for:

His father`s opposition to the `Worke of God` and to the Covenants.

For idolatry, especially by his mother in the royal household.

Acknowledged that he had no ulterior motives in signing the     Covenant and would have no friends but Covenanters.

Annulled the Irish Treaty.

And that he would:

Encourage trading by sea.

Would promote the Covenant in England and Ireland.

Would pass an Act of Oblivion except for all who obstructed the Reformation, traitors and regicides.

Would advise the well affected English to help the Covenanters in preference to the Sectaries.

This relatively short period as King can hardly be called rule as he was dominated by the strict Presbyterians then in power. It is, however, an important period because it set the scene for the King`s revenge when he returned to all three thrones in 1660.

Politically there was no way that the English Parliamentarians could stand by and watch the threat of renewed Civil War grow.  Inevitably there began the relatively short lived Anglo Scottish war - the Scots fighting for their new King, Charles II, against the English Parliamentary Party with Cromwell as commander of their armies. The awesome power of Cromwell`s New Army, its discipline and the generalship of its commander were soon displayed at the battle of Dunbar on 3 September 1650. Stories are told that on hearing of the defeat of the Covenanter army  Charles fell to his knees in thanksgiving ;  another tale relates that he threw his cap into the air for joy.  The stories reflect the resentment and dislike that had built up in the young king for the Scots. It did little to help the situation that Robert Douglas, Moderator of the General Assembly had the insensitivity to imply that the defeat at Dunbar was due to the guilt of the royal family and that a new day of `humiliation` should be kept.  Notably he made no reference to the Act of Classes that the Covenanter leaders had pushed through parliament, and the purging of the 3000 or so alleged malignants from their own army just before it clashed with Cromwell at Dunbar.

   Charles was further publicly humiliated when a declaration was issued that listed  a range of causes for the defeat, including

 -   The manifest provocations of the Kings house, which we fear are not  thoroughly repented of,..

- The bringing home with the King a great many malignants, and  endeavouring to keep some of them about him,..

-  Not purging the King`s family from malignant and profane men,

 On 26 September the Estates enacted that some twenty two named persons in the King`s household were to leave the country within 24 hours. The King attempted to pare the list down asking for about nine names to be reconsidered; but the Estates were intransigent This may well have been the last straw for Charles as about one thirty in the afternoon of Friday, 4 October, he and a small party went out as if going hawking. This was the `Start`, a dash for the Highlands where it was hoped there would be royalist supporters. It came to naught and Charles was returned to Perth on 6 October, chastened and very bitter.

Division soon developed among the Presbyterians themselves and the moderate faction, who were more  supportive of  the King, regained power. The coronation of Charles was at Scone on 1 January 1651 and he had a short period of rule which focussed almost entirely on preparing for war against Cromwell and his armies encamped on the doorstep. The Scottish army finally made a dash south in the expectation that royalist supporters in the west of England would join them. The armies and generalship of Cromwell were, however, far too strong and the Scots were annihilated at Worcester on 3 September 1651.  Charles fled into exile. A remark he made to the Dean of Tuam was ominous for future relations 

 The Scots have dealt very ill with me very ill.

NOTE: * The English calendar was still not reformed. The month date was ten days behind the continent and the year began on  March 25th. By the European calendar Charles I died on 9th February  1649 , and by English dating 30 January 1648. To add confusion most modern historians accept the year in this period as starting on 1st January (which was celebrated as New Year) thus the generally used date is 30 January 1649.

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