Preview: Charles I – Downfall of a King

Lisa Hilton

In this series historian Lisa Hilton discovers how in just 50 tempestuous days Charles I’s rule collapsed, laying the foundations for civil war, the loss of Royal power and – ultimately – the King’s head.

King Charles I is in Edinburgh. Whilst he is away from his capital the leader of the House of Commons, John Pym, is plotting a move to limit the King’s power.

The duel between these two men will spiral across the next weeks into an irrecoverable split across the country.

21 November, 1641: Pym dominates a stormy debate in the House of Commons over a document known as the Grand Remonstrance: it is a list of 200 complaints against Charles I. It claims he is under the influence of ‘evil counsellors’ and many see this as a coded reference to the Queen, Charles I’s French Catholic wife, Henrietta Maria.

In Ireland a Catholic uprising has led to the deaths of thousands of Protestants. This rebellion is at the forefront of MPs’ minds.

It is one of the greatest debates in parliamentary history, lasting 14 hours. It is passed – 52 percent to 48 percent. The Grand Remonstrance – a vote of no confidence in the King’s rule – will now be presented to the King.

25 November: King Charles I arrives back in London. He makes a show of power and parades through the city with 500 horsemen.

With the King back, discussion turns to the rebellion in Ireland. An army must be sent to crush the Catholic rebels, but who should lead it? Pym fears the King will use the army to suppress his opponents. And Charles fears Pym will use the army to arrest his Catholic Queen.

King Charles fights back. He issues a Proclamation on 12 December ordering all MPs to London by 12 January, 1642. He is confident that with a full House of Commons he’ll have a majority with which to stamp out John Pym’s faction. The clock is ticking. The deadline is set.

Charles I: Downfall of a King – Tuesday at 9.00pm on BBC4.