Long Parliament

The Long Parliament was an English Parliament which lasted from 1640 until 1660. It followed the fiasco of the Short Parliament which had convened for only three weeks during the spring of 1640, and which in turn had followed an 11-year parliamentary absence. In September 1640,[1] King Charles I issued writs summoning a parliament to convene on 3 November 1640.[a] He intended it to pass financial bills, a step made necessary by the costs of the Bishops' Wars in Scotland. The Long Parliament received its name from the factthat, by Act of Parliament, it stipulated it could be dissolved only with agreement of the members;[2] and, those members did not agree to its dissolution until 16 March 1660, after the English Civil War and near the close of the Interregnum.[3]

The parliament sat from 1640 until 1648, when it was purged by the New Model Army. In the chaos following the death of Oliver Cromwell in 1658, General George Monck allowed the members barred in 1648 to retake their seats, so that they could pass the necessary legislation to allow the Restoration and dissolve the Long Parliament. This cleared the way for a new parliament to be elected, which was known as the Convention Parliament. Some key members of the Long Parliament, such as Sir Henry Vane the Younger and General Edmond Ludlow, barred from the final acts of the Long Parliament, claimed it was not legally dissolved, its final votes a procedural irregularity (words used contemporaneously "device" and "conspiracy") by General George Monck to ensure the restoration of King Charles II of England. On the restoration the general was awarded with a dukedom.

American Whig historian Charles Wentworth Upham believed the Long Parliament comprised "a set of the greatest geniuses for government that the world ever saw embarked together in one common cause" and whose actions produced an effect, which, at the time, made their country the wonder and admiration of the world, and is still felt and exhibited far beyond the borders of that country, in the progress of reform, and the advancement of popular liberty.[4] He believed its republican principles made it a precursor to the American Revolutionary War.

Establishment, trial of Strafford, implicating the King, reconciliation

Charles signed a bill agreeing that the present Parliament should not be dissolved without its own consent.

The sole reason Charles I assembled Parliament in November, 1640 was to ask it to pass finance bills, since the controverted taxation of ship money was unpopular, and since the Bishops' Wars had bankrupted him. Instead, Parliament quickly proceeded to impeach William Laud, the Archbishop of Canterbury, of high treason, on 18 December.[5] John Finch was impeached the following day, and he consequently fled to the Netherlands with Charles's permission on 21 December.

The parliament was initially influenced by John Pym (1584–1643) and his supporters. Pym rose in his place and entered into a particular enumeration of the troubles of the kingdom. Early in the Long Parliament's proceedings, the house also unanimously accused the Earl of Strafford of high treason, and other crimes and misdemeanors. This marked a new unanimity in Irish politics, whereby Old English, Gaelic Irish and New English settlers joined together in a legal body to present evidence against governor Strafford. However, the evidence was supplied indirectly by Henry Vane the Younger through the acquisition of notes of his father Henry Vane the Elder. Vane the Elder, on the King's Privy Council, remained completely loyal to his king and was aghast when he learned in public hearings of the theft of his notes of the Privy Council meetings by his son. On 10 April, Pym's case against Strafford collapsed, but Pym made a direct appeal to the Younger Vane to produce a copy of the notes from the Privy Council, which the Younger Vane had discovered and secretly turned over to Pym, to his father's great anguish.[6] These handwritten notes of the elder Vane obtained by Henry Vane the Younger were confirmed by independent testimony. Lord Strafford had told the King:

Parliament, as representatives of the people, felt betrayed, and accused Strafford of raising an Irish army for the purpose of subduing England, abolishing English freedoms, and collecting revenues for the King. Pym immediately moved a Bill of Attainder, asserting Strafford's guilt and ordering that he be put to death.[9] Charles, however, promised Strafford that he would not sign the attainder, so it could not be passed.[10] The Lords opposed the severity of the death sentence imposed upon Strafford, but increased tensions and an attempted army coup in support of Strafford began to sway the issue.[10] On 21 April, the bill went virtually unopposed in the Commons (204 in favour, 59 opposed, and 250 abstained),[11] and the Lords then acquiesced. Charles, fearing for his family's safety, signed the death warrant on 10 May.[11] Strafford was beheaded two days later.[12]

With the king having been implicated, the Long Parliament passed the Triennial Act, also known as the Dissolution Act, in May 1641, to which the Royal Assent was readily granted.[13][14] In the meantime both Parliament and the King agreed to an independent investigation of royal involvement in Strafford's plot. This Triennial Act required Parliament to be summoned at least once every three years, and stipulated that when the King failed to issue proper summons, the members could assemble on their own. This act also forbade ship money without Parliament's consent, declared unlawful both fines in destraint of knighthood and forced loans, severely cut back monopolies, and abolished the courts of Star Chamber and High Commission by the Habeas Corpus Act 1640 and the Triennial Act 1641.[15]

The very doctrine of modern freedoms has, to some degree, its origins in these acts. All remaining forms of taxation were legalised and regulated by the Tonnage and Poundage Act,[16] the billetting of soldiers was funded, whereas it had not been under Charles;[17] and the Ship Money Act 1640 vacated the contentious ship money issue.[18][19] On 3 May, Parliament issued the Protestation of 1641, attacking the 'wicked counsels' of Charles's government. Those who signed the petition undertook to defend 'the true reformed religion', Parliament, and the king's person, honour, and estate. Throughout May, the House of Commons passed several bills attacking bishops and episcopalianism in general, but each time the Lords refused to acquiesce.[20]

Charles made several important concessions to Parliament, but improved his own military position by securing the favour of the Scots that summer. He promised the official establishment of Presbyterianism in Scotland; in return, he enlisted considerable Scottish support.[21] But "The Incident", an attempted royalist coup in Scotland, significantly undermined Charles's credibility there.[22]

The Irish Rebellion, which started in October 1641, brought the control of the army back into the discussions between King and Parliament. Led by John Pym, Parliament presented the King with the Grand Remonstrance, which the House of Commons passed by 11 votes (159–148) on 22 November 1641. It listed over 150 perceived "misdeeds" of Charles' reign, including putting the Church under the influence of foreign papists, and royal advisers also "have[ing] engaged themselves to further the interests of some foreign powers". The second half of the Remonstrance proposed solutions to the "misdeeds," including church reform and Parliamentary influence over the appointment of royal ministers. In December 1641, Parliament asserted control over appointment of Army and Navy commanders in the Militia Ordinance. The king rejected the Grand Remonstrance and refused to give royal assent to the Militia Ordinance.

Charles believed that Puritans (or Dissenters) had encouraged the Scots to invade England in the recent Bishops' Wars. He thought the Puritans had been stirred up by the Five Members, the vociferous MPs John Pym, John Hampden, Denzil Holles, Arthur Haselrig, and William Strode; also Viscount Mandeville (the future Earl of Manchester) who sat in the House of Lords, and that the Five intended to turn the London mob against him. When rumours reached the court that they were also planning to impeach the Queen for alleged involvement in Catholic plots, Charles decided to arrest them for treason.

Lenthall kneels to Charles during the attempted arrest of the Five Members (painting by Charles West Cope in the Houses of Parliament)

No king had ever entered the House of Commons, but on Tuesday, 4 January 1642,[a] in gross violation of Parliamentary privilege, the King entered the House with armed men to arrest the Five Members. They had been warned and fled.

Charles sat in the chair of the Speaker of the House, William Lenthall. Looking around in vain for the Five Members, he commented, "I see the birds have flown." He then turned to Lenthall, who stood below, and demanded of him whether any of those persons were in the House, whether he saw any of them and where they were. Lenthall fell on his knees and replied: "May it please your Majesty, I have neither eyes to see nor tongue to speak in this place but as the House is pleased to direct me, whose servant I am here."[b]

After failing to arrest the Five Members and fearing for his safety, Charles left London on 10 January. Most royalist MPs also departed. However, because of the Dissolution Act, the Long Parliament continued to sit during and beyond the Civil War, without its royalist members.

Charles declared Parliament in rebellion and began raising an army. He set up his court at Oxford, where the royalist MPs formed the Oxford Parliament.

In March 1642, with the King absent from London and war clouds gathering, Parliament decreed that its own Parliamentary Ordinances were valid laws, even without royal assent. The Militia Ordinance was passed on 5 March by Parliament and gave Parliament control of the local militia called Trained Bands. Control of the Trained Bands of London was the most strategically critical, because they could protect Parliament from armed intervention by any soldiers which Charles had near the capital. In response to the Militia Ordinance, Charles revived the Commissions of Array as a means of summoning an army instead.

In 1645 Parliament reaffirmed its determination to fight the war to a finish. It passed the Self-denying Ordinance, by which all members of either House of Parliament resigned any military commands, and formed the New Model Army under the command of Fairfax and Cromwell.[23]

The New Model Army soon destroyed Charles' armies.[24] Charles tried to rally support in the Midlands, but by May 1646 he sought shelter with a Presbyterian Scottish army at Southwell, Nottinghamshire.[25] The Scots later handed over Charles to Parliament and he was imprisoned.[26] This marked the end of the First English Civil War.

While Charles negotiated with Parliament, the House of Commons investigated his policies. A political stalemate resulted. Charles briefly escaped captivity in 1647, made a secret alliance with the Scots, and incited fresh Royalist rebellions. This resulted in the Second English Civil War of 1648, which the New Model Army again quickly won. Nonetheless, in 1648, Parliament determined that it was not to abjure the King's person; that is, depose him from the throne. "During the negotiations with the King, he manifested a fixed resolution to do all that could be done to make the best of the opportunity the country then enjoyed, of securing to itself the blessings of liberty."

Parliament was by this time deeply suspicious of the Army, and vice versa. On 1 December 1648, the House voted 129 to 83 to continue negotiations with Charles for reforming the government on terms they had proposed and he had accepted. This would allow for the King's restoration and the end of the stalemate between Parliament and the King. Legally, this should have ended the Civil War and restored the King with limited powers.[27]