Parliamentarian and Royalist Ideas
in the Civil Wars (1642-6, 1648)
and Interregnum (1649-60)

367 - 6 (2)

Philip, Lord Wharton


The English Civil War

bulletBoth James I and Charles I were always in need of money to implement their policies, but when they asked Parliament to levy taxes, the members responded by demanding "redress of grievances" - i.e. changes in royal policy.
bulletJames and Charles reacted by devising extra-parliamentary sources of taxation and stretching their prerogative powers.
bulletThe Petition of Right (1628) tried to curb Charles I's methods, but without success. The Parliamentary session of 1629 ended in uproar.


Alexander Henderson

Archibald Campbell, Marquis of Argyle

Two of the most important leaders of Scottish opposition to Charles I

bulletFor the next eleven years (1629-40), Charles I ruled without Parliament. The experiment in Personal Rule was ended by the Scots who rebelled (1638) in opposition to Charles' ecclesiastical policies (especially the new Scottish Prayer Book of 1637).
bulletFew Englishmen were willing to help Charles suppress this rebellion, and - unable to pay the army he had raised to fight the Scots - Charles was forced to call Parliament. Charles rapidly dissolved this  "Short Parliament" and still lacing money he was defeated by the Scots who forced him to call the Long Parliament.
bulletThe Long Parliament was overwhelmingly united in its opposition to Charles I's policies and passed a series of legislative measures to curb royal power.


John Pym (1584-1643)

Viscount Falkland (1610-43)


bulletBut divisions soon began to develop amongst the opponents of Charles I. Some - like John Pym and Philip, Lord Wharton - thoroughly distrusted Charles I and wanted to deprive him of all real power. Others, like Lucius Cary, 2nd Viscount Falkland, thought that the reforms of 1641 had gone far enough; they feared that social unrest might erupt into revolution, and were hostile to radical puritan efforts to overthrow episcopacy.


        "Now for our Irish wars:
We must supplant those rough rug-headed kerns,
Which live like venom where no venom else
But only they have privilege to live."

(Richard II 2.1)


bulletThe two sides were approximately equally balanced - in one key vote in Parliament (over the Grand Remonstrance) the split was 159 votes to 148. Then the outbreak of Rebellion in Ireland brought matters to a crisis. Parliament wanted to suppress the uprising, but did not trust Charles to raise an army to suppress the rebellion in case he used it against them.
Charles I left London, taking his family - especially the unpopular Henrietta Maria - to safety. He and Parliament both began to raise armies.

"Weep not, sweet queen; for trickling tears are vain."

(Henry IV.i 2.4)


bulletBetween 1642 and 1646 Charles and Parliament fought for supremacy. Parliament enlisted Scots help in 1643 (at the price of promising religious changes) and in its determination to win levied far higher taxes than ever before.
bulletBy overturning old ideas about social precedence, Parliament in 1645 was able to create an efficient New Model Army that defeated the King. That army then suppressed the opposition that arose from high taxation and religious disagreements.


      "Who dare cross 'em,
Bearing the king's will from his mouth expressly?

(Henry VIII 2.2)


bulletThe arguments of Parliament's propagandists grew more radical as the Civil War advanced. Most initially hid behind the idea that the king was just "badly advised," but in the face of Charles' stubborn refusal to compromise, a number argued that Charles was himself a tyrant who could be dethroned and executed.

The Battle of Naseby (1645)


The Second Civil War and the Commonwealth

bulletFrom 1646 onwards the army, led by Sir Thomas Fairfax, Oliver Cromwell and Henry Ireton, became increasingly important in politics. To prevent the institution of Presbyterian government and a moderate constitutional settlement, it marched on London (1647), seized and executed the king (1649), and then comprehensively defeated the Scots at the Battles of Dunbar (1650) and Worcester (1651).
bulletCromwell and Ireton then finally and ruthlessly suppressed the Irish Revolt.
bulletCromwell dealt as firmly with unrest in the army amongst soldiers who did not want to fight in Ireland and who wanted some form of democracy in government. He was willing to talk with these "Levellers" at the Putney Debates, but crushed them when mutiny seemed likely.

Oliver Cromwell


bulletAfter the execution of Charles I in 1649, England became a republic. It was ruled by the Rump Parliament (the few remaining members of the Long Parliament who had not left voluntarily or been purged by the army). In April 1653, Oliver Cromwell closed it down by force.

"And knowing this kingdom is without a head,--
Like goodly buildings left without a roof
Soon fall to ruin,--your noble self,
That best know how to rule and how to reign,
We thus submit unto,--our sovereign

(Pericles 2.4)


bulletSuppressing resistance proved easier than creating workable institutions. Oliver Cromwell tried calling an assembly of religious radicals - Barebone's Parliament -  and he also summoned Parliaments on more traditional lines, he tried military dictatorship - the rule of the Major Generals - and he even considered becoming king himself. None of these experiments succeeded in bringing about a long-lasting settlement.
bulletAfter Cromwell's death, a brief period of anarchy was rapidly followed by the Restoration of the Stuart monarchy. Only the first reforms (those of 1640-1642) survived.


Theories and theorists

Richard Hooker (1554-1600)

Before 1640

bulletEven before 1640, ideas of popular sovereignty and contractual government circulated in England. The Elizabethan divine, Richard Hooker spoke of the "original compact", and his friend, Sir Edwin Sandys a leading critic of royal policy in Jacobean parliaments, talked in 1614 of the "reciprocal conditions between King and people".
Francisco Suárez was one of the authors most quoted in the Parliament of 1628.

"It is well known the people of this state are under no other subjection than what they did voluntarily assent to by the original contract between King and people"

(Phelips in the Parliament of 1628)


bulletThe lawyer and parliamentarian, John Selden writing in 1614, described democracy as the first form of government and he later said that "to know what obedience is due to the prince you must look into the contract betwixt him and his people."
bulletWilliam Ames - a puritan divine (who greatly influenced the New England founders Thomas Hooker and John Cotton) also espoused the idea of original popular sovereignty.
bulletIn Scotland, the tradition of Knox and Buchanan was continued by a number of thinkers  including Alexander Henderson, who argued that they could resist the misguided policies of Charles I. From 1640, puritans in England, such as Calybute Downing, expressed similar views.



bullet Both parliamentarian and royalist propagandist strove to sound moderate and so appeal to as many people as possible. Very few people wanted war - particularly not in their own backyard - and the pamphleteers tried not to offend this neutralist sentiment with hard-line rhetoric.

In 1642, Parliament sent Nineteen Propositions to Charles asking for control of his advisors, church reform, and measures against Catholics and Charles' more enthusiastic supporters. Charles refused in his Answer to the Nineteen Propositions. The King's Answer was important because it conceded that government was not in the king's hands alone - indeed it conceded too much and Charles and his supporters later backed away from these concessions.


bulletParliament too began with moderate claims that England's "mixed" constitution gave it a part in government to asserting that they were the only true representative of the sovereign people.
bulletIn the early stages of the Civil War the political leaders and propagandists on both sides were members of the social elite - landowners, lawyers, and clergy. They had no interest in social revolution and no plan to abolish the monarchy. (The republican, Henry Marten (1602-80) was a rare exception to this rule).


The Civil War theorists


Prince Rupert of the Rhine (1619-82)
 one of Charles most dashing cavalry commanders


bulletSince Parliament controlled London and its presses, many royalist pamphlets were printed in Oxford - the King's headquarters. One of these was The unlawfulnesse of subjects taking up arms against their sovereign in what case soever by Dudley Digges. In it Digges foreshadowed some of Thomas Hobbes' arguments by basing his case for strong monarchy on the hypothesis of an original state of complete anarchy (Digges may have derived his argument from Hobbes' Elements of Law (written 1640) which circulated in manuscript).
bulletMore moderate than Digges was Henry Ferne, one of Charles I's chaplains who became Bishop of Chester at the Restoration. He accepted the constitutional reforms of 1640-42 and thought that Charles would too, but essentially left it in the king's discretion to reverse them.
bulletAnother royalist theorist was Sir John Spelman, son of Sir Henry Spelman, a famous lawyer and historian. Sir John argued that it was absurd to suggest that the king had ever derived his power from the people - the people could not simultaneously be ruler and ruled. It was the House of Commons who were making innovatory changes to the English constitution, not Charles I.
bulletThe royalist theorists repeated many of the earlier themes of divine right and patriarchal theory: kings held their power from God, not the people; government arose from descent and conquest more often than agreement; resistance to kings was never legitimate and would lead to anarchy; in the event of tyranny, the people's only resort was prayers and tears; if the king commanded a wicked action, the subject must refuse, but should accept the penalty (passive obedience).
bulletAll the Royalist theorists wanted both to insist that Charles could be trusted to abide by the laws, and that he was subordinate only to God.



Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex (1591-1646)
Commander of the Parliamentary armies


bulletCharles Herle - a leading puritan cleric - wrote in response to Henry Ferne. He insisted that the king's power was given to him by the people, not directly by God.
bulletPhilip Hunton's Treatise of monarchy (1643) adopted a position diametrically opposed to Bodinian theories of the indivisibility of sovereignty, and argued that sovereign power was in the hands of King, Lords and Commons jointly. If one of these bodies attempted to seize more than its fair share of power, the others could defend their rights by force if necessary.
bulletOne of the best-known and most influential Parliamentarian theorists was the lawyer Henry Parker. His Observations upon some of His Majesties late answers and expresses (1642) was one of the earliest and clearest expositions of the doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty. He argued that sovereignty resided in the people, but that the people as a whole were a disorganized mass, incapable of coherently expressing its will; as a united political entity, the people only came into existence in its elected representative, parliament; parliament - or the House of Commons - was the people in a political sense, and there could be no appeal from parliament to the people, for there was no organized people to appeal to - only a collection of individuals.


"Ignorance of the law excuses no man; not that all men know the law, but because ’tis an excuse every man will plead, and no man can tell how to refute him."


"A king is a thing men have made for their own sakes, for quietness sake. Just as in a family one man is appointed to buy the meat."

John Selden (1584-1654)
A prominent common lawyer:
His motto was "Above all, liberty"



bulletJohn Selden was famed for his scholarship - not only was he immensely learned in English law, but his grasp of Hebrew and other Middle Eastern languages was extraordinary. Selden insisted on the contractual basis of government - especially the terms of the contract which might vary greatly between states.
He was also a leading Erastian, who objected strongly to clerical control. This led to considerable conflict at the Westminster Assembly, where the Presbyterians were attempting to establish a state church firmly under clerical control.
bulletParliamentary propaganda grew steadily more radical, but it always insisted on popular sovereignty, the consensual origins of government, the overwhelming importance of the public good, and the right of self-preservation in the face of tyranny.
bulletIn the opening stages of the Civil War, many parliamentarians argued that they were fighting not against the king, but against the "malignants" who had deceived and misled him. This argument became increasingly difficult to sustain as Charles both by his deeds and his actions showed himself no cipher but determined to defeat Parliament.
bulletParliamentarian authors initially argued that the king could not veto emergency legislation; later they denied his "negative voice" (or power of veto) altogether.
bulletParliament came to infringe many of the same liberties (such as the right not to be imprisoned without cause shown) that they had defended against the crown. Parker and others justified this by drawing on notions of Bodinian sovereignty, and insisting that this lay with the people's representative (Parliament, specifically the House of Commons) not the king. By "the people" they usually meant land-owning gentlemen, not the masses.
bulletIn 1646-7 relations between the New Model Army and Parliament worsened, as the Presbyterian majority in Parliament worked to disband most of the soldiers, without paying their arrears and without granting them indemnity for things done during the war. Pamphleteers writing for the Army argued that Parliament was becoming increasingly corrupt and that it no longer represented the people, claiming that the Army was now the people's true representative, and God's providential instrument.
bulletIn 1647, the Army occupied London and forcibly removed some leading Presbyterian members from the Commons. After the second Civil War, Pride's Purge (December 1648) got rid of many more members. In 1646-7 the Army had attacked Parliament as corrupt and as no longer representative of the people; after 1647, many people in the country at large thought that Parliament had become unrepresentative because it had fallen under the control of the Army. For much of the 1640s, Parliament had in fact combined legislative and executive functions. In the late 1640s and 1650s the ideas spread that there should be a separation of powers between the legislature and the executive, and that constitutional checks should be introduced to prevent either of them from misruling (as the king had in the 1630s, and as Parliament had more recently). Such ideas exercised a great influence on Montesquieu and other thinkers of the French Enlightenment, and on Revolutionary America.

A crown (5 shilling piece) of the Commonwealth bearing the legend "God with us"

The Rump still claimed to be the representative of the people but added supplementary appeals to God's providence (which certainly seemed to favor Cromwell in battle)  and to the principle of "protection and obedience" - the government was in practice providing its basic functions of law, order and the protection of person and property, and this was enough to entitle it to the people's compliance.


Oliver Cromwell was particularly fond of the providential argument and adopted it himself after his dissolution of the Rump.


A 1658 crown of Oliver Cromwell - the legend (in full) reads "Oliver By the Grace of God Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland, Ireland &c.


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