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Long Parliament in United Kingdom


Convocation of the Long Parliament, 1640

In his Scotch policy Charles overreached himself. With the zealous coöperation of Archbishop Laud, imprudently attempted to strengthen the episcopacy (system of bishops) in the northern kingdom, and likewise to introduce an un-Calvinistic order of public worship. Thereupon the angry Scotch Presbyterians signed a great Covenant, swearing to defend their religion (1638); they deposed the bishops set over them by the king and rose in revolt. Failing in a first effort to crush the Scotch rebellion, the king summoned a Parliament in order to secure financial support for an adequate royal army. This Parliament—the so-called Short Parliament—was dissolved, however, after some three weeks of bootless wrangling. Now unable to check the advance of the rebellious Scotch forces into northern England, Charles in desperation convoked (1640) a new Parliament, which, by reason of its extended duration (1640-1660), has been commonly called the Long Parliament. In England and Scotland divine-right monarchy had failed.

Reforms of the Long Parliament

Confident that Charles could neither fight nor buy off the Scotch without parliamentary subsidies, the Long Parliament showed a decidedly stubborn spirit. Its leader, John Pym, a country gentleman already famous for speeches against despotism, openly maintained that in the House of Commons resided supreme authority to disregard ill-advised acts of the Upper House or of the king. Hardly less radical were the views of John Hampden and of Oliver Cromwell, the future dictator of England.

The right of the Commons to impeach ministers of state, asserted under James I, was now used to send to the Tower both Archbishop Laud and Thomas Wentworth, earl of Strafford, who, since 1629, had been the king’s most valued and enthusiastically loyal minister. [Footnote: Strafford was accused of treason, but was executed in 1641 in accordance with a special “bill of attainder” enacted by Parliament. Laud was put to death in 1645.] The special tribunals—the Court of High Commission, the Court of Star Chamber, and others—which had served to convict important ecclesiastical and political offenders were abolished. No more irregular financial expedients, such as the imposition of ship-money, were to be adopted, except by the consent of Parliament. As if this were not enough to put the king under the thumb of his Parliament, the royal prerogative of dissolving that body was abrogated, and meetings at least every three years were provided for by a “Triennial Act.”

Violation of Parliamentary Privileges

All the contested points of government had been decided adversely to the king. But his position was now somewhat stronger. He had been able to raise money, the Scotch invaders had turned back, and the House of Commons had shown itself to be badly divided on the question of church reform and in its debates on the publication of a “Grand Remonstrance” —a document exposing the grievances of the nation and apologizing for the acts of Parliament. Moreover, a rebellion had broken out in Ireland and Charles expected to be put at the head of an army for its suppression. With this much in his favor, the king in person entered the House of Commons and attempted to arrest five of its leaders, but his dismal failure only further antagonized the Commons, who now proceeded to pass ordinances without the royal seal, and to issue a call to arms. The levy of troops contrary to the king’s will was an act of rebellion; Charles, therefore, raised the royal standard at Nottingham and called his loyal subjects to suppress the Great Rebellion (1642-1646).

Parliament and the Presbyterians

In the Long Parliament there was a predominance of the Presbyterians— that class of Puritans midway between the reforming Episcopalians and the radical Independents. Accordingly a “solemn league and covenant” was formed (1643) with the Scotch Presbyterians for the establishment of religious uniformity on a Presbyterian basis in England and Ireland as well as in Scotland. After the defeat of Charles at Marston Moor (1644) the Presbyterians abolished the office of bishop, removed altars and communion rails from the churches, and smashed crucifixes, images, and stained-glass windows. Presbyterianism became a more intolerant state religion than Anglicanism had been. Satisfied with their work, the Presbyterian majority in Parliament were now willing to restore the king, provided he would give permanence to their religious settlement.

The “Rump Parliament”

For almost two years the Presbyterian Parliament negotiated for the restoration of the king and at last would have made peace with the royalists, had not the army, which still remembered Charles’s schemes to bring Irish and foreign “papists” to fight Englishmen, now taken a hand in affairs. Colonel Pride, stationed with his soldiers at the door of the House of Commons, arrested the 143 Presbyterian Commoners, and left the Independents—some sixty strong—to deliberate alone upon the nation’s weal (1648). This “Rump” or sitting part of Parliament, acting on its own authority, appointed a “High Court of justice” by whose sentence Charles I was beheaded, 30 January, 1649. It then decreed England to be a Commonwealth with neither king nor House of Lords.

The executive functions, hitherto exercised by the king, were intrusted to a Council of State, of whose forty-one members thirty were members of the House. The Rump Parliament, instead of calling for new elections, as had been expected, continued to sit as the “representatives of the people,” although they represented the sentiments of only a small fraction of the people. England was in the hands of an oligarchy whose sole support was the vigorous army of Cromwell.

Menacing conditions confronted the newly born Commonwealth.

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  • Article Name: Long Parliament
  • Author: International
  • Description: History Convocation of the Long Parliament, 1640 In his Scotch policy Charles overreached himself. With the zealous [...]

This entry was last updated: October 30, 2016


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