From Revolution to Restoration
The History of Parliament: The House of Commons 1640-1660 covers one of the most dramatic and significant moments in English and British history, and one to which Parliament was central. It was the only moment in which the basic continuity of monarchical succession was disrupted by a popular revolution; the only time when Parliament became itself an executive government; the only time when the country was governed by a republic. It was only period in which Britain was governed through direct military rule. It was a period when the king was put on trial and executed in 1649, and the old institutions of the English state – the monarchy and the House of Lords, the episcopacy and the structure of the Church of England – were all abolished; when Scotland and Ireland were incorporated into a new British state under the only formal written constitution it has ever had. These volumes cover:
The Short Parliament: summoned by Charles I in April 1640, the first parliament to be summoned since the disastrous 1628-9 parliament ended in turmoil; called in a crisis to raise funds to fight against a revolution in Scotland, its determination to seek remedies for the misgovernment of the 1630s made the king dissolve it only three weeks after it started, only to find himself forced to call another.
In the Long Parliament, later the same year, discontent turned to confrontation between king and parliament and ultimately resulted in the outbreak of Civil War in 1642. Over the next seven years, politics at Westminster turned around whether to seek outright victory in the war or to look for a negotiated peace, over the alliance with the Scots and their army, and on the relationship between the politicians and the army officers. With the king defeated in 1646 and ultimately in the custody of Parliament, the question of how to secure a lasting settlement became a power struggle between ‘Presbyterians’ and ‘Independents’ over negotiations with the king. It ended in the seizure of power by Independents, backed by the army, in Colonel ‘Pride’s Purge’ of December 1648.
The Rump Parliament of 1648-53 was the outcome of that purge: dominated initially by Independents and the army, it passed legislation to put the king on trial, leading to his execution, and to abolish the monarchy and the House of Lords. But its relationship with the army, and its general Oliver Cromwell, was soured by its reluctance to support radical reforms of the sort promoted by many army officers. Cromwell famously dismissed it in April 1653.
The Nominated Assembly or ‘Barebones Parliament’of 1653 was summoned by Cromwell to give some sort of representative gloss on the army’s rule. Its members, though, were selected by the army leadership, rather than elected. Its more conservative Members took fright at the radicalism of some of their colleagues, and it was brought to an end after a few months. Shortly afterwards, Cromwell took the title ‘lord protector’ under England’s first written constitution, the Instrument of Government. It required parliaments to be elected on a new basis, including representatives from Ireland and Scotland.
The First Protectorate Parliament of 1654-5 was called under this new constitution. But it quickly disintegrated as a result of disagreements over the balance of power between protector and parliament and over Cromwell’s support for a wide diversity of religious practice. As soon as was possible under the Instrument of Government, it was dissolved.
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The Second Protectorate Parliament of 1656-7 was required because the security of the regime and its foreign wars required new taxation. Upset by arguments over one of the most alarming new outbreaks of religious radicalism – the Quakers – it soon became embroiled in the same arguments as its predecessor. Conservative efforts to revive a form of the old constitution in the Humble Petition and Advice presented Cromwell with an acute dilemma over whether to accept the offer of the kingship. He turned it down, and the parliament like its predecessor collapsed in bitterness and recrimination.
The Third Protectorate Parliament of 1659 was called following Oliver Cromwell’s death and his replacement as protector by his son Richard. Dominated by republicans and other opponents of the regime it was even more unworkable than its predecessor, and it in its turn was removed by the army in April.
The Restoration of the Rump and the Long Parliament; and the end of the Revolution: the politics of the remainder of 1659 and early 1660 saw an unravelling of the changes that had happened since 1640. In May 1659 the army brought back the Rump Parliament. The relationship was still an unhappy one: but this time a split in the army, enabled the return in February 1660 of the members who had been purged in 1648. The outcome was a vote to dissolve the Long Parliament and to hold new elections. The new Parliament – the Convention –restored the monarchy and called back Charles I’s son, Charles II.
The Men Who Made a Revolution
The core of The History of Parliament: The House of Commons 1640-1660 is a biographical dictionary of all of the 1,803 men who were members of the Parliaments and political assemblies that sat at Westminster from the Short Parliament of May 1640 to the Restoration of 1660. The biographies provide detailed summary information about their family background, the offices – civil, military, local, religious – they held, the estates they possessed, and list portraits and other likenesses; and give a full political biography. In sum, they build up to the most comprehensive account ever created of the individuals behind the turbulent politics and fighting of the period, covering all of the principal politicians who sat in the lower House of Parliament, but also those who took on merely supporting roles and those who tried as hard as they could to avoid commitment altogether. Among them – to pick only a small representative selection – are:
THE KEY PARLIAMENTARY LEADERS: such as John Pym: a formidably experienced politician who cut his teeth in the political rows of the 1620s, the pre-eminent and tireless figure of the Commons in the early years of the Long Parliament, one of the central leaders of the parliamentary ‘junto’ that coordinated opposition to Charles I and managed the opening phase of the Civil War. A superb political manager and parliamentary tactician, he threw himself into tenuously maintaining the unity of Parliament in the face of military near-disaster up until his death probably from bowel cancer in 1643. The biography – the most detailed reconsideration of Pym’s career since 1943 – reasserts his centrality in the House of Commons and his importance in sustaining the parliamentary war effort, justifying the contemporary soubriquet of ‘King Pym’. John Hampden: the hero of the Ship Money case and the resistance to the king’s illegal exactions in the 1630s, Hampden stood alongside Pym as a leader of the junto in the early years of the Long Parliament and Civil War, until he died of his wounds sustained at the battle of Chalgrove Field in the summer of 1643. A charismatic figure – ‘the most popular man’ in the House of Commons – whose adept mastery of the place was admired by his opponents.
THE ARCHITECTS OF A ROYALIST PARTY: men like Lucius Cary, Viscount Falkland, the intellectual regarded by his friend, Edward Hyde, as too innocent for the rough business of politics: killed in a reckless cavalry charge at the battle of Newbury in 1643 he was immortalised by Hyde in his History, in one of the most famous literary outputs of the War.
CONVICTION POLITICIANS AND FACTION FIGHTERS: The men behind the fierce divisions in the House of Commons over the period, who battled for a particular vision of England’s and Britain’s future: men such as Sir Henry Vane II the leading but wayward, clever and slippery Independent who was a key architect of the commonwealth regime in 1649 and a central figure in rallying ‘Saints’ and republicans against the protectorate in 1656-9, as well as being the central – and often forgotten – builder of English naval power; Henry Marten, the quarrelsome, outspoken and overtly republican member of the Commons during the early 1640s, who hinted as early as 1641 at his dislike of monarchical government, and who was so addicted to political combat over constructive engagement that he was expelled from the House in 1643; he returned to power as a councillor of state under the Rump, living openly with his lover Mary Ward in the prestigious Derby House next to Whitehall (Mary Ward put the noses of the more respectable wives of other MPs out of joint by appearing at a reception party for ambassadors in 1653 ‘finer and more bejewelled than any’); Sir John Evelyn ‘of Wiltshire’, often seen as leader of one faction seeking a negotiated and conservative settlement in the 1640s.
OLIVER CROMWELL: Parliamentarian, army officer, lord general, and lord protector with a big problem with parliaments, Cromwell towers over the period and its parliaments. The biographies include a major reassessment of Cromwell as a parliamentarian that shows him active on the floor of the House of Commons, and illuminates his unusual idealism and the role he took on as advocate of groups and individuals including victims of government persecution, unpaid soldiers, his suspicion of moneyed interests in the City and his drive to rid the church of episcopacy and his determined promotion of religious toleration. Many other biographies within the volumes show the importance of Cromwell’s extended network of family and army officers to the politics of the 1650s. The network includes key army officers such as his son-in-law Henry Ireton and Charles Fleetwood, who married Ireton’s widow and for a while became Cromwell’s right-hand man, before becoming doubtful about the conservative drift of the protectorate. His role in forcing the protector’s successor, Richard Cromwell, to dissolve parliament in 1659 and dithering over the next steps made him seem inept, distrusted by everyone and mocked by many.
THE COMMERCIAL INTEREST: The Yorkshire businessman and Hamburg merchant Slingisby Bethell enriched by his contracts (in collaboration with notorious army officer Thomas Pride)supplying Norwegian fish to the navy, joined the attacks of the republicans against the protectorate in the parliament of 1659, and argued for an aggressive foreign policy based on trade interests in a series of post-Restoration pamphlets that mulled over the lessons of the 1652-4 war with the Dutch; the obscure Scottish contractor Robert Bressie whose apparent success in multiple enterprises, including supplying the army in Scotland in the 1650s proved to be founded on a mountain of debt and a web of corruption, and collapsed in 1655, imperilling its military governor, General John Monck, for a time.
THE CHRONICLERS: Sir Simonds D’Ewes, whose daily diary entries of parliamentary business are the single most important source for what went on the House of Commons: pious and learned historian, nerdy proceduralist and caustic critic of his colleagues, D’Ewes was a figure of some significance within the Presbyterian faction in the parliamentary struggles of the mid-1640s; John Rushworth a solicitor who used shorthand to great advantage in recording some of the key moments in the history of the time: assistant to the clerk of the House of Commons he took down notes in the chamber of speeches; he moved up to be secretary to Sir Thomas Fairfax as commander-in-chief of the New Model army and later used his legal skills to manage deals in forfeited royalist estates. In later life, despite debt and an addiction to alcohol, he managed to see the publication of the work for which he is famous, the Historical Collections, a crucial collection of documents that has been a key source for the period’s history ever since.
THE GODLY: John White, a puritan lawyer originally from Wales, whose animus against the Church and Wiliam Laud, archishop of Canterbury, had been exacerbated by Laud’s suppression of the feoffees for impropriations, a charitable project to ensure the appointment of godly clergy. White led the charge against Laudian clergy in the early years of the Long Parliament, and against Laud himself, and as chairman of the committee of printing took a major role in Parliament’s vetting of printing and publications. A zealous public servant and patriot to his allies, a vicious religious hypocrite to royalists. Thomas Hoyle one of York’s leading exporters of cloth and a patron of the godly party in the City, harassed by the Laudian archbishop of York in the 1630s; but while he was a leading Independent and had supported the demands for justice against the king he seems to have become troubled by the regicide and the declaration of the republic: his suicide by hanging on the first anniversary of the execution of Charles I suggests a mind deeply unsettled by the event. Samuel Hyland, who seems to have run a distillery in Southwark, was a close associate of the radical John Lilburne and an Independent preacher, using his membership of the Nominated Parliament of 1653 and the second and third protectorate parliaments to call for law reform and the provision of competent clergy. Thomas Harrison, the army officer who was seen as their highest placed ally by the Levellers, was charged with transporting the king from the Isle of Wight towards London on the way to his eventual trial and execution, and was in charge for the arrangements of his trial. During the Rump Parliament Harrison was the patron of the millenarian radicals and congregational churches and pressured Cromwell into supporting their cause. Closely involved in the decision to dismiss the Rump in 1653, his relationship with the protector disintegrated completely after the dissolution of the Nominated Parliament.
THE OFFICERS: On the royalist side, George Goring, a professional soldier and able commander, whose unconvincing denials of involvement in the so-called ‘army plot’ of 1641 to seize control of the Tower of London and rescue the earl of Strafford from the process against him probably masked a considerable slice of double-dealing; rival to Prince Rupert, but a man of ‘debauchery beyond all precedents’ and ‘constant drinking’, who ended up in the service of Spain in the 1650s, where he died, having converted to catholicism. Among parliamentarians they include John Disbrowe, Cromwell’s brother-in-law, who helped to lead the New Model army’s resistance to its disbandment after the Civil War was won and became a key political ally of the lord general and future protector, and one of the major-generals charged with the governorships of regions of England; but fell out with the protector over its drift towards conservatism, healing of the divisions of the civil war, and kingship. William Boteler, who may have contributed to the suppression of the Leveller mutiny in the army in 1647 adopted radical religious views, and in the 1650s grew close to Cromwell: in 1655 he was appointed one of the major-generals, the protector’s regional gauleiters, and zealously performed his new duties, rounding up vagrants and suspected royalists, persecuting Quakers, and admitted to exceeding the bounds of his power in forcing the resignation of the mayor of Bedford.
THE UNGODLY: Lord Howard of Escrick whose name became something of a by-word for venality, was a key figure in the Committee for Advance of Money and an important instrument in the Independents’ stranglehold on political and financial patronage in the later 1640s; accused of taking bribes from royalists to reduce their fines: he was as a result expelled from the House and fined £10,000 and imprisoned – but he managed to wriggle fre and avoided the fine. Edward Bishoppe, who ran the playwright Henry Shirley through with a sword when he came to collect money Bishoppe was due to pay.
THE REGICIDES: the men who put their names to Charles I’s death warrant ranged from the great leaders of the revolution, including Cromwell himself, to the relatively humble. Among them are the swarthy leading Independent figure Miles Corbett, of whom it was said that ‘neither his actions or his face can be paralleled by any but the devil’, and whose performance as chairman of the Committee for Examinations gave him a reputation as Parliament’s ‘inquisitor-general’. who fled to the Netherlands in 1660, only to be captured in 1662 along with John Okey and John Barkstead in an operation that nowadays might be called ‘extraordinary rendition’; the three were tried and executed, making their way to the scaffold ‘very cheerfully’, according to Samuel Pepys. John Bradshawe the long-winded president of the court of justice that tried the king, and later republican opponent of Cromwell and the protectorate, who was unceremoniously turfed out of his burial place in Westminster Abbey after the Restoration in 1661 and his head (with that of Oliver Cromwell and others) stuck on a pike on the top of Westminster Hall, ‘over the place where the high court of justice sat’.
ADMINISTRATORS AND BUREAUCRATS: those who kept the wheels of the parliamentary state turning: John Thurloe, a man of obscure origins (‘Sir Gamaliel Capel’s butler’s man’) who rose to be secretary to the commonwealth council from 1652 and secretary of state for much of the 1650s; Robert Scawen whose role as chairman of a series of committees concerned with parliament’s armies was pivotal to the organisation and effectiveness of its war effort, most notably the Army Committee from 1645-8, and whose success in organising its recruitment and supply was perhaps as important as the contribution of any of its generals.
ROYALIST CONSPIRATORS: among the men who continued to work for a royalist Restoration were some who managed to secure election and avoid attempts to remove them in the last parliament of the protectorate: the libertine Philip Howard, admired by Pepys after the Restoration, who found him in 1666 ‘dressing himself in his night-gown and turban like a Turk… he had several gentlemen of his own waiting on him and one playing finely on the guitar’.
The Representative of the People
Alongside the men at Westminster, the volumes describe politics and elections in the country at large. Central to Parliament’s sense of itself, to its claim to resist the King in the Civil War, to its decision to put the King on trial and its assertion of a a governing role was its claim to be the representative of the people of England and Wales. The claim was based on the election of its members in counties, boroughs and universities throughout the country. These volumes include entries on each of those ‘constituencies’, including the counties, boroughs and burghs of Scotland and Ireland that participated in the parliaments of the protectorate from 1654 onwards. The articles show:
The hammering of court candidates in the elections to the Long Parliament in the autumn of 1640 following the premature dissolution of the Short Parliament in May, with confident and determined opponents of the government exploiting ‘godly’ networks to ensure the return of the like-minded, and the government’s own systems for ensuring the return of reliable men failing.
The process of ‘recruiter’ elections in 1645-9, carried out as the Civil War came to an end, to replace the men who had died, or been expelled, since its outbreak, was closely followed by and influenced by the factional divisions in the House of Commons between Independents and Presbyterians, with the Independents initially benefiting from the fact that the first elections took place in areas controlled by the army; and the Presbyterians later securing more successes in the more conservative areas that fell much later to the parliamentary side.
The alterations to the historic pattern of constituencies that took place under the protectorate in 1653-9, including the redistribution of seats in England with the removal of notorious rotten boroughs like Old Sarum, nearly two hundred years before the 1832 Reform Act, and the allocation of seats to northern towns and cities Durham, Halifax, Leeds, Swansea and Manchester; the introduction of sixty new seats for Ireland and Scotland, creating the first parliaments of a united Britain and Ireland.
The Machinery of State
The volumes also provide the first detailed institutional histories of the structures Parliament evolved to co-ordinate its war: committees with executive powers whose job was to oversee the raising of money for its armies, to investigate conspiracies and subversion. This was an unprecedented development in British history: the seizing of parliamentary control over the executive functions of the state. Many of the committees became powerful machines, the basis for the power of individual politicians; many of them were also the powerbases of particular factions. The committees often overlapped and could clash with each other. Each of these committees receives a detailed article in the volumes, describing its membership, functions, and history. They include:
The successive leading executive committees – the Committee of State, the Committee of Both Kingdoms, the Derby House Committee, the Council of State – which operated on a spectrum from central coordinator of the war effort and overseer of the security of the state and its foreign relations to a more backroom role in terms of managing Parliament’s alliance with the Scots and chasing progress in other committees.
Committees dealing with military administration, particularly the Committee for the Army which was entrusted with disbursing taxation revenues for the sole supply of the New Model army in 1645; and the Committee of Navy and Customs which oversaw the disbursement of the revenue from the Customs and some of the new Excise.
Committees that dealt directly with security, often with the power to arrest and detain suspects. The most notorious was the Committee for Examinations which took on virtually unlimited powers of search, arrest, confiscation, interrogation and imprisonment, with the authority to issue penal bonds for good behaviour and to award bounties on those seizing weapons or goods of parliament’s enemies: it raised questions about the preservation of civil liberties and comparisons with the prerogative courts of Charles I’s government which had been a major cause of the discontent revealed in the Short and Long Parliaments in 1640.
The new financial machinery set up to deal with the expenses of the war: the Committee for the Revenue which took over the collection of the revenue that formerly would have gone into the royal treasury, the Committee for Advance of Money, the Committee for Compounding and the Committee for Sequestrations which collected or oversaw the administration of confiscated royalist estates, the collection of fines and punitive levies imposed on Parliament’s enemies.
Committees concerned with religious affairs, particularly the Committee for Plundered Ministers whose main role was to remove ‘scandalous’ and ‘malignant’ clergymen and replace them with ‘orthodox and godly’ ones
The Operation of Politics
In line with previous History of Parliament sections, there is a survey volume which analyses and summarises the information contained in these 9 volumes. The survey includes:
- A reference summary of the political events of the period;
- A survey of the process of elections setting out how the 1640-60 volumes confirm or challenge the current historiography, and analysing the election results to each of the Parliaments of the period;
- A survey of the Members, summarising the information provided about education, profession or occupation, previous experience, religion and much else;
- Surveys of the procedures and the business of the House and of its committees;
- A survey of the factional or party complexion of the House of Commons throughout the period, focusing on the importance and nature of the parties represented and the machinery by which they operated.