The Long Parliament
The Long Parliament was first called by King Charles I on 3 November 1640, six months after the dissolution of the Short Parliament and within weeks of the defeat of the English in the Bishops’ Wars against Scotland. The King was reluctant to summon another Parliament but the expense of the wars had left him desperately short of money and in urgent need of parliamentary subsidies.
The Long Parliament sat throughout the First and Second Civil wars until December 1648, when it was purged by the New Model Army. The Purged Parliament (or the “Rump” of the Long Parliament) was expelled by Oliver Cromwell in April 1653. The Long Parliament was reinstated in February 1660 after the fall of the Cromwellian Protectorate and was formally dissolved on 16 March 1660.
Prelude to Civil War, 1640-2
The early sessions of the Long Parliament were dominated by attempts to limit the King’s autocratic and arbitrary use of his powers. Parliamentary opposition was orchestrated byJohn Pym who initially focused his criticism upon the King’s advisers rather than the King himself. At Pym’s instigation, the Earl of Strafford and Archbishop Laud were denounced as “evil councillors” and impeached within weeks of the Long Parliament first assembling.
During 1641, a series of reforms was carried out to abolish the courts of Star Chamber and High Commission and other institutions that had allowed King Charles to circumvent the common law and to rule without calling a Parliament during his eleven-year Personal Rule (1629-40). Financial measures of dubious legality, such as ship-money, forced loans and destraint of knighthood, were also abolished. The Triennial Act was passed in January 1641 to ensure that Parliament would be called at least once every three years. The reforms carried out by the Long Parliament before the outbreak of the civil wars eventually formed the basis of theRestoration Settlement in the 1660s. The abolition of the prerogative courts and of the Crown’s right to raise money by arbitrary means were important steps towards the establishment of the constitutional monarchy and parliamentary democracy of modern Britain.
The Irish Uprising of October 1641 brought into sharp focus the critical issue of whether the armed forces should be controlled by the King or by Parliament. Pym and his supporters drafted the Grand Remonstrance in an attempt to undermine confidence in the King and his advisers; a new Militia Bill was proposed in Parliament but this was strenuously resisted by the King. Matters came to a head in January 1642 with the failure of the King’s attempt to arrest the Five Members whom he regarded as his leading opponents in Parliament. In March, the Long Parliament decreed that its own ordinances were valid and legally binding without the need for the King’s assent. With the complete breakdown of dialogue between King and Parliament, civil war became inevitable.
The First Civil War, 1642-6
From 1642-4, Parliament’s war-effort was directed by a specially appointed commission known as the Committee of Safety. After Parliament’s military alliance with the Scots, the Committee of Safety was superseded by the Committee for Both Kingdoms.
Around one-third of the members House of Commons and most of the House of Lords left Westminster to join the King’s alternative Oxford Parliament in 1643. From 1645 onwards, “recruiter” elections were held to “recruit” or make up the numbers of MPs at Westminster.
Money to finance Parliament’s war-effort was raised initially through loans from City financiers. In November 1642, John Pym introduced the first of several innovatory financial measures with an ordinance for an assessment tax on property to be levied in London. This was the first time that Parliament had imposed a tax without the consent of a monarch. The assessment was gradually extended throughout all areas of England under parliamentary control. In March 1643, Pym introduced an ordinance for the sequestration (confiscation) of the estates of Royalist “malignants”, and in July 1643 the excise ordinance imposed a purchase tax on many common goods and commodities. From early 1644, further funds were raised by the process of “compounding”, whereby those whose estates had been sequestered paid a fee to Parliament to recover them.
Under Pym’s direction, Parliament organised local government through a system of county committees that were responsible for directing the general affairs of each county. Additional committees were set up to administer sequestered estates, to oversee the clergy and to levy the assessment and excise. Membership of the various committees often consisted of the same people, and in some counties powerful individuals emerged who dominated the county administration such as Sir John Gell in Derbyshire and William Purefoy in Warwickshire. Local justice continued to be administered by the High Sheriff and Justices of the Peace in each county, and local militias continued to be organised by commissioners for the militia.
During the course of the First Civil War, members of the Long Parliament became divided over whether hostilities should be settled by negotiation with the King or by inflicting a decisive military defeat on him. The “peace party” developed into the Presbyterian faction in Parliament; the militant “war party” was associated with the Independents. These factions were also divided by their differing approaches to religion: the Presbyterians tended to favour a national church, while the Independents advocated the separation of church and state. However, the Presbyterians and Independents were not organised political parties in the modern sense and few MPs consistently supported one side or the other. A third “middle group” has been identified which was initially associated with John Pym and which sought to bridge the conflicting policies of the war and peace parties.
The Purged Parliament
After the end of the First Civil War, the victorious New Model Army became a political force in its own right. The army’s involvement in the political process began over the reluctance of the Presbyterian majority in Parliament to settle arrears of pay and other grievances of the soldiers. After the Second Civil War in 1648, the army, with the connivance of some Independent MPs, carried out Pride’s Purge to exclude Presbyterian sympathisers. The purged Parliament became popularly known as the Rump Parliament. This body governed the republican Commonwealth after the execution of King Charles and the abolition of the Monarchy and the House of Lords. However, army leaders grew impatient with Parliament’s slow implementation of radical policies, and the Rump was expelled in April 1653, to be replaced by the short-lived Nominated Assembly and the Protectorate of Oliver Cromwell.
The Rump Parliament met again after Cromwell’s death and the collapse of the Protectorate in 1659. The surviving members who had been excluded at Pride’s Purge were recalled in February 1660, thus restoring the Long Parliament for its final session. This body voted on 16 March 1660 to dissolve the Long Parliament and to hold new elections. The pro-Royalist Convention Parliament that assembled in April 1660 prepared the way for the Restoration of the monarchy.
S.R. Gardiner, History of the Great Civil War, four vols (London 1888-94)
J.H. Hexter, The Reign of King Pym (Harvard 1941)
C.V. Wedgwood, The King’s Peace (London 1955)
C.V. Wedgwood, The King’s War (London 1958)
Blair Worden, The Rump Parliament (Cambridge 1974)
The power of the Long Parliament’s committees History of Parliament blog