Charles isolated

The Short Parliament

bullet Desperate for money to suppress the Scots insurgency, Charles called Parliament for the first time in eleven years.
bullet For all the change in themes since the parliament of 1628 and 1629, it could as easily have been eleven weeks:   immediately the Commons returned to complaining about the infringement of their liberties and the innovations in religion.
bullet Convinced that he would get no money this way, Charles dissolved Parliament, 5 May 1640.

"Thereupon [Charles] hoping that a Parliament would espouse his quarrel, and furnish him with money for the carrying on of his design, he summoned one to meet at Westminster on the 3rd of April 1640, which, sitting but a little time thereby obtained the name of the Short Parliament. The King by his agents earnestly pressed them to grant him present supplies for the use of his army; but they, sensible of former usage … and of the insupportable burdens and oppressions they lay under, refused to grant any subsidies till their grievances should be redressed …"

(Edward Ludlow, Memoirs)


The Second Bishops' War


Thomas Wentworth - created Earl of Strafford in January 1640 - had returned from Ireland, and began to advocate tough measures against the Scots. He suggested bringing over an Irish army - a measure utterly repulsive to both English and Scottish Protestants.


Alexander Leslie, Earl of Leven

Charles' and Strafford's hopes for a rapid military resolution of the Scottish problem were shattered at the Battle of Newburn, 28 August 1640. An outnumbered and ill-equipped English force fled from the Scots army of Alexander Leslie, Earl of Leven. He promptly seized Newcastle. Newcastle was of key strategic importance because it provided most of London's supply of coal - the basic heating fuel.

Charles desperately tried to persuade or bully London's wealthy merchants and financiers into lending him the money to supply and pay his troops, but the City persistently refused his entreaties.


Charles summoned the most important peers of the realm to York for advice, but they reiterated that only parliament could resolve the issues. In October 1640, Charles was obliged to concede in the Treaty of Ripon that the Scots should continue to occupy Northumberland and Cumberland, and that a parliament should be summoned to cover the costs - £850 per day - of that occupation.


The meeting of the Long Parliament


Parliament met at Westminster on 3 November 1640.

Membership of the Long Parliament

Many members of the Long Parliament had sat in earlier Parliaments. The greatest number (328) had also been elected to the Short Parliament, but lesser numbers had attended earlier parliaments.

Number of parliaments attended

Dates of parliaments attended


The high level of experience was tied to the fact that MPs of the Long Parliament were largely middle-aged.

Age of Long Parliament MPs (where known)



John Eliot was dead, but many of those who had headed opposition to Charles I in earlier parliaments were elected again and soon assumed positions of leadership. The most important was John Pym, and key roles were also taken by William Strode and Denzil Holles (who had held the Speaker in the Chair in the 1629 Parliament) and by John Hampden (who stood out against Ship Money) and his defending counsel, Oliver St John.


The Commons immediately returned to complaining about their many grievances and about (what they saw as) the government's scheme to undermine the church and the constitution. They fixed responsibility for this plot not on Charles himself, but on Strafford.


The execution of Strafford


"…that Thomas Earl of Strafford, hath traitorously endeavoured to subvert the fundamental laws and government of the realms of England and Ireland, and instead thereof to introduce an arbitrary and tyrannical government against law…"

(First article of impeachment of Strafford)



The impeachment of Strafford was begun in November 1640 and he was committed to the Tower of London.


Strafford's trial started the following March in Westminster Hall. Strafford knew that the Lords would be reluctant to roll over before dubious charges of treason against one of their own (however disliked). Although in poor health, Strafford conducted his own defense in masterly fashion - exposing the weakness of the evidence and the bias of the witnesses against him.


By 10 April the leaders of the House of Commons were so unsure that the legal proofs of Strafford's guilt were convincing, that they decided instead to proceed against him by an Act of Attainder.


Many of the Lords were swayed by Strafford's powerful stand upon his obedience to his king and the law then established. But just at the crucial moment Charles I rashly declared that his conscience would never allow him to sign an Act of Attainder against his loyal servant. This let the Lords off the hook, and they passed the Bill of Attainder by 37 votes to 11 on 8 May 1641

On 10 May, frightened by the threat to himself and his family from the angry mobs around Whitehall Palace, Charles I folded under the pressure and signed the Act of Attainder against Strafford into law.
Before an enormous crowd, Thomas Wentworth Earl of Strafford was executed on Tower Hill, 12 May 1641.
"Put not your trust in princes, nor in the sons of men, for in them there is no salvation"

(Strafford's words on hearing Charles had forsaken him)


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