Despite being defeated militarily, Charles I was still in a strong position in 1646 – he was the King and was still regarded as being necessary to a lasting settlement, and Charles knew this. Thus his approach in the following two years was based highly upon this fact, and he sought to try and play upon the divisions between the groups who had defeated him.
There are four key reasons for why a settlement failed to be reached in these three years, and why it resulted in the eventual execution of the king:
The first was Charles himself, as he was inherently uncompromising it made any chance of a compromise difficult to say the least. Charles’s attitude regarding the settlement made many of his opponents more radical in their outlook, and led to the contemplation of a settlement without a King.
The second was Parliament, and specifically its divisions – Political Presbyterians could not agree with the Political Independents about what to try and accomplish. Despite being labelled by their religious divisions, their divisions were also political; the Presbyterians were largely conservative, whereas the Independents were far more radical.
Another highly divisive issue between them was that of religious tolerance; the Political Presbyterians wanted no religious tolerance what so ever and were not very happy with the New Model Army as a force. They were also more in favour of an alliance with the Scots.
The Political Independents were, on the other hand, opposed to a close relationship with Scotland because of the authoritarianism of Scottish Presbyterianism, they wanted a large amount of religious toleration for non-conformists and they allied with the new model army.
In 1646, it was the Political Presbyterians who were the most influential group in parliament, and this was largely because of their policy of favouring peace; the country was drained from the war. A higher percentage of England’s population died during the First English Civil war than either of the World Wars, and so much of the country would favour whoever wanted peace the most – and this was the Presbyterians, who favoured making terms with the King.
If, in 1646, Charles had accepted the proposals presented to him by the Political Presbyterians, it is likely that the rest of the country would have accepted this. Of course, because of Charles’ uncompromising nature, his response to the ‘Newcastle Propositions’ as they were budded, was to neither agree nor disagree with them.
The Presbyterians in the Newcastle Propositions essential asked that Charles accept Presbyterianism as an establishment for three years, that Parliament would control the militia and the armed forces for the next 20 years (probably the remainder of Charles’ life), that the Triennial Act* would remain, and that 58 Royalists would not be pardoned and would thus be executed.
Since Charles failed to accept this, the Presbyterians tried to offer a revised version to the King which would require the demobilisation of the New Model Army.
Charles’ inability to accept compromise, coupled with the constant hampering of any chance of a settlement by the divisions within Parliament meant that it was virtually impossible for any kind of settlement to be reached; but these were not the only reasons for why a settlement was not reached.
*The Triennial Act was put in place to ensure that Parliament met on a regular basis, and demanded that Parliament must be in session for at least 50 days of each year – this was to make sure that there would be no repeat of when Charles failed to call a parliament from the year 1629 right through to 1640.