September 06, 2009

The Education of Charles I

From Plato onwards people have believed that if you educate someone they absorb the knowledge and then that brings them the basis of knowledge that they use for the rest of their life. The truth is very different. Charles I (1600-49, r. 1625-49) illustrates the point. The popular idea of Charles is not wrong: basically Charles was anti-Calvinist and anti-Parliamentarian. He was influenced by people like William Laud, they did not agree with Calvinists about predestination. Predestination is the Calvinist doctrine that salvation was decided before you were born. But Charles was educated as a Calvinist. Charles's other famous predisposition was as a man who hated Parliaments and again there is some truth to it. Richard Cust's new biography of Charles suggests that Charles disliked negotiating with Parliament. But Charles had more experience than any other English monarch before him in Parliament: he sat in 63 of the 89 sessions of the House of Lords in 1621 as Prince of Wales. Charles was as Benjamin Rudyerd said a 'Prince bred in Parliaments' and yet, unlike his father who had no experience of English Parliaments before coming to the crown, Charles was unable to sympathise with his MPs and the House of Lords, making misjudgement after misjudgement in his handling of them.

So did Charles not take anything from his education? He definitely does not seem to have taken John Preston, the Pope of Puritanism, lectures about Calvinism seriously. Henry Burton, another of Charles's teachers, ended up earless after an incautious anti-bishop pamphlet in the 1630s. So what did Charles take from his teachers? He may not have taken their theology but he did take their strong interest in providence- their belief that God directed the world. Charles beleived that God punished him through his misfortunes in the late 1640s because he had deserted his friends in the early 40s- particularly the Earl of Strafford. Charles believed that you should not adjust your beliefs to the times- you should, in his view, stick to your views no matter what the political moment suggested. Again his teachers would have been unhappy with the view he wanted to stick to, but happy with his stubborn affection to what he saw as God's will. Despite Charles's inability to see other people's points of view, he tragically did believe in Parliament- he just didn't believe that they were forums to criticise him, but forums which should give him supply in return for his benificent acknowledgement of their greivances.

What Charles's education did for him was not to give him a base of knowledge or ideas but a set of mindsets. The main thing- the most important thing that emerged for Charles from his education was a sense of insecurity relating to his father. His father kept him away from politics until the early twenties, overawed the young Prince with his intelligence and isolated him socially: Charles's prickliness, in Cust's view, partly came out of this early experience. Education is emotional and about mindset. Noone comes up against the same problems as they were educated to deal with: what education does is equip you to deal with the new problems that you face when your education finishes.


James Higham said...

But Charles had more experience than any other English monarch before him in Parliament: he sat in 63 of the 89 sessions of the House of Lords in 1621 as Prince of Wales.

Yes, that's a point much forgotten by many.

edmund said...

i wonder if he dint' react against his teachers views- am sceptiucal how much his "mindset" was even shaped by whatw was specific in his education-i imgaine a lot of others had that kind of stuff just as engendered by their education.

Similarly i wonder if being in the house of lords may not have made him more disdainfull of parliament- or more likely to believe they could be pushed around if they were deferential to him personally?

Gracchi said...

On the education point I'd cede some of that- in that most had that education in some part- but he got his ideas from somewhere and just to say others had the same education doesn't disprove Cust's argument.

On Parliament, partly you are right though Charles led a Parliamentary rebellion against his father- I'd argue that he experienced the Lords as a party leader and was always most successful as a party leader.

edmund said...

I remain sceptia of Cust-though it sounds like we don't really disagre.

very interesting piont in the second half what was the rebellion on? very true on Charles as party leader. the modern polital job he'd have been best suited for would be leader of an american congressional Caucus :)

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