The ‘Petition of Right’ Approved by King Charles I in England

The Petition of Right (see document) is a statement of the objectives of the 1628 English legal reform movement that led to the Civil War and deposing of Charles I in 1649. One of England’s most famous Constitutional documents, it expresses many of the ideals that later led to the American Revolution. It was written by Parliament as an objection to an overreach of authority by King Charles I. During his reign, English citizens saw this overreach of authority as a major infringement on their civil rights. The Petition of Right contained four main points:

  1. No taxes could be levied without Parliament’s consent;
  2. No English subject could be imprisoned without cause–thus reinforcing the right of habeas corpus,
  3. No quartering of soldiers in citizens homes; and
  4. No martial law may be used in peacetime.

Each of these four points enumerated specific civil rights that Englishmen felt Charles I had breached throughout his reign. Although he’d never been that popular as the monarch, his abuse of power escalated to an intolerable level after Parliament refused to finance his unpopular foreign policies.

Leading Up to the Petition

Charles I firmly embraced the idea of Divine Right. Divine Right meant that the monarch had been given the right to rule by God and that he didn’t have to answer to anyone. Although his foreign policies were also wildly unpopular, he believed he could rule purely by Royal Prerogative, which meant that the power of the monarch could be used without the consent of the representative government. Therefore, in order to side-step objections by Parliament and gain the funding he desired, Charles I began enforcing a policy of Forced Loans. Under this policy, the ministers and representatives of Charles I forcibly took money from the citizens and and called it a loan to the Crown.

Anyone who refused to pay or anyone who opposed the policies of Charles I were jailed without cause for undetermined periods of time. This caused an upheaval among the citizens in some regions of England so severe that Charles I declared martial law in these areas. Additionally, to force the citizens to assist with the financing of the military, Charles I quartered soldiers in private homes where he expected them to be fully cared for by the individual families. This also caused dissent among the citizens because not only was it expensive to quarter soldiers, often these soldiers weren’t exactly the best behaved; they tended to cause damage and destruction to the local areas.

This only served to intensify hostility toward the Crown. Earlier statutes and laws going back as far as the Magna Carta had delineated to the citizenry specific rights in the areas of civil rights, taxation, and the redress of grievances through a representative government. However, these rights weren’t allowed under the reign of Charles I.

Passage and Acceptance of the Petition

The Petition of Right was drafted by the House of Commons for a redress of grievances. In other words, the subjects expected a remedy and compensation for the stated wrongs they suffered at the hands of the Crown. Although the monarchy had historically found support within the House of Lords, there was little support to be found this time because most members of the House of Lords were against the Forced Loans. Those in the House of Lords that actually supported the Forced Loans were ultimately impeached by Parliament after they tried to write clauses into the petition to give Charles I the power he craved. Despite these issues, the Petition of Right was ratified by both houses at the end of May of 1628 and was sent to the king for acceptance.


Recommended Book:

Excerpt from Free Government in England and America: Containing the Great Charter, the Petition of Right, the Bill of Rights, the Federal Constitution

IT would seem to be an easy task to arrange a just system of relations between government and people; certainly so on the basis that the former is an agency created by and for the sole benefit, advantage, and protection of the latter. In theory, this is the purpose and end of every description of polity, the public good being the grand objective point to be reached.

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