His Majesty Regrets

The royal charter that King Charles I issued to the Massachusetts Bay Company in 1629 was the subject of a long struggle between the colony and the kings and governments that tried to impose their will on it. A new charter replaced it in 1691, when Massachusetts Bay became a province instead of a commonwealth, but the struggle continued in the form of legislative resistance to royal governors. I wouldn’t insist that every American citizen needs to be familiar with the details; we have several more important things to remember. But Cambridge Farms had the bad luck to petition for the right to form a parish at a point when the legislature was deeply embroiled in its conflict with the crown, which is therefore relevant to the story of Lexington's beginnings. The narrative here follows the struggle only as far as the main event this website is concerned with: the incorporation of the town of Lexington in 1713.

The creation of the charter in 1629 is fully described in the previous section, “A Truly New England.” Rather than repeat it, this section begins with the start of the conflict a few years later.
King Charles I
In 1634, only five years after he issued it, King Charles I called for the Massachusetts Bay Colony to surrender its charter. It’s possible that he had finally looked into what the colonists and their elected leaders were up to, and found it not to his taste. But the reason may have been more technically legal.

Sir Ferdinando Gorges, a knight who lived in Somerset, was the proprietor of a colony in Maine (where he sponsored settlement, but never came to live), and he was concerned that the Massachusetts Bay Colony was encroaching on his territory. Joining John Mason, the proprietor of New Hampshire, and a few of their settlers who—having been expelled from Massachusetts Bay into these nearby domains—had little love for that colony’s leadership, Gorges complained to the crown and also initiated a lawsuit against Massachusetts.

In the process of sorting out this dispute, the government canceled the charter of the original Company of New England, on which both Gorges’ and the Bay Colony’s charters were based. So it’s at least possible that King Charles was only trying put matters on a solid legal foundation by issuing a new charter for each. In any event, the colony ignored his request, and hung onto its charter.

In 1637, the king’s Privy Council issued a legal writ, or order, of a type known as quo warranto (literally, ‘on whose authority?’) against the colony. In effect, the writ commanded Massachusetts’ leaders to produce the charter—in London, needless to say.

No one in the colony was naïve enough to expect the charter to survive such a trip unaltered. None imagined that whatever took its place would leave the colony as free to govern itself as before. So the General Court hedged and delayed and raised objections, and although legal proceedings were initiated in London, the case advanced slowly. (This wasn’t unusual. Hamlet’s soliloquy, written only a few decades earlier, lists “the law’s delay” as one of the afflictions that make suicide comparatively attractive.)

The legal process was still creeping forward in 1640, when the king found himself fighting a war against Scotland. (Like his father, he was king of that country as well as England, although the two realms were still separate.) Charles tried to impose Anglican forms of worship on the Scots, who had enthusiastically embraced Calvinism. They showed no enthusiasm whatever for Anglicanism: hence the war.
Contemporary German print of Charles’ execution
The king couldn’t raise money for the war effort without an act of Parliament, and so, after 11 years of happily doing without it, he was forced to call a new Parliament into session. But that Parliament, dominated by Englishmen whose religious sentiments were closer to the Scots’ than the king’s, refused to pay for the war. The domestic quarrel grew into a civil war between king and Parliament, and the king lost. The fighting wasn’t over until 1651, but it ended sooner for King Charles, whom Parliament executed for high treason in 1649.

England became, for the next ten years, a commonwealth rather than a kingdom. Its government, Puritan to the core, had zero interest in prosecuting a case against the Massachusetts Bay charter. The colony’s delaying tactics had succeeded, though most of the credit should go to lucky timing.