374 Paradise Lost

Francis Russell, Earl of Bedford believed that an accommodation could be reached with Charles – a amoderate agreement that would preserve the king’s  honour but provide a lasting reform. And early in 1641, an agreement was within grasp.

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So last time we had round one; the threat of Strafford had at least been knocked back, although not resolved yet by any means, but Strafford’s removal from the house on 11th November at very least took that piece off the board of play, and Charles was forced to think again.

There is a sort of pause in proceedings or at least in dramatic news coming from parliament to the waiting country; for a few weeks after 11th November and the beginning of December parliament doesn’t really seem to be getting anywhere. Some disenchantment about this is in evidence. You might want to visualise how things where in St Stephens Chapel, and if I might make so bold, you might want to hop along to the History of England website and look at the maps and pictures of Westminster Palace.  The basic rhythm of the day was about 3 hours in the morning for debate; and then everyone went their own way and separated into committee meetings in the afternoon – unless there were big issues like, ooh, I don’t know, discussing a whether bishops should be consigned to the dustbin of history just for example. In the morning then, members would make their way into the chapel, which was decked out in dark wood wainscotting – just like the film, Cromwell, 1970, with all associated historical inaccuracies.

As they filed in you might notice a few things; at one end was a raised dais where the Speaker sat, and in front of him sat two clerks. Above his seat were the royal arms – to which members were supposed to bow before sitting. You might also notice that people often kept their hats and coats on, because there was no heating. This is most unlike the White Chamber where the Lords sat, which had once been the Queen’s apartments, and so was comfy with fires & enough space & all the little niceties of life that high status brings. Come the Revolution brothers and sisters. Anyway, MPs could also wear a sword, still very much a symbol of gentility.

St Stephens Chapel where the Commons met, was very small for its job – there was nowhere near enough space for everyone, so if everyone did attend a particular debate, MPs had to stand on the floor and in the galleries where once musicians used to sing and play. In debate there was a lot of noise going on – you may be imagining these great events being discussed in stentorian, serious terms of furrowed brows and quizzical looks and pensive expressions. Not bit of it, the Elizabethan calm was gone, history. Members would talk amongst themselves[1], laugh, make jokes; they’d hiss and heckle speakers, and sometimes shout speakers down. The House of Commons has turned into the bear pit it is today.

When there was a vote to be made, the doors would be locked so that no one could slip in a few gents with barrel chests, and there’d be a yay yell and a nay yell, and if it was close-ish, a division – the ones challenging the status quo leaving the chamber. Each side was appointed two tellers, who count the members in and out and then stand in front of the bar and the clerks of the chambers then announce their scores.

Anyway, so progress was not dramatic for a while, as parliament diligently sought to analyse the problems of the nation. There were vast numbers of county investigations set up, until there were 69 committees formed. People got worried about that, so committee no. 70 was established – a committee to investigate committees. A meeting about meetings, sort of thing. Gosh that takes me back to pre-shed days. Not that there’d been no action at all yet; the Canons of 1640 had been condemned, along with Ship Money, Strafford removed.

Outside in London though, people were not content with this level of progress, particularly in the minds of a powerfully motivated and radical group of Ministers, and their supporters in the City – including the likes of Isaac Pennington, who I briefly mentioned to you a couple of episodes ago. Pennington was becoming hugely influential; as a financier, he was the link between city and parliament about how to pay this blasted fee to pay for the occupation of North East England by the Scot; and he would try to exploit this link to promote religious reform. And he worked closely with the Scottish Commissioners, and their hand also can be seen in what happens next.

Which is, that together, they all harnessed the power of all that pent up fury and outrage caused by the Laudian reforms of the 1630s – here was their chance to set things right and they would not be denied. On 11th December, London mobilised, using the traditional tool of community, parliamentary protest – the petition. It was called the Root and Branch Petition, and I have to say, of you are a clickavist, take a lesson from this, what a great title for a petition – root and branch. According to the petitioners, The Bishops and Archbishops were the source of all the evils of the current church. They were to be cleansed from every root, from every branch. It linked the religious and secular grievances together, even blaming bishops for Ship money, tax and monopolies. And at the end was paragraph which may well have been added by Robert Baillie, the Scottish Commissioner

The present wars and commotions happened between his majesty and his subjects of Scotland …will not only go on, but also increase to an utter ruin of all, unless the prelates with their demandings be removed out of England who as we…do verily believe and conceive have occasioned the quarrel[2]

The petition had been signed by 15,000 Londoners, which is a substantial percentage of the total population; among all the tumult and debate of religion and politics, keep remembering that London was not only a vibrant, humming mix. But also a city pursued at the time by economic hardship and the spectre of plague that reached its black fingers into every corridor and backstreet; a fertile ground, anyway, for protest. The petition was carried by an unruly crowd of 1,500 citizens through the city led by two Aldermen, who crowded noisily into Westminster Hall, to the scandal and general chin wobbling of secretary Henry Vane senior. There it was received by one of London’s four and presented to parliament.

For Pym and the Junto, this was not welcome; this was a massively divisive issue for parliament in general, and would get in the way of compromise. Yes, there were almost no friends of the Laudian church in the Commons. But there were friends for the traditional structure of the church and the bishops, albeit returned to the days of the Elizabethan church; Presbyterianism was a very radical and unpopular religious model for many and probably most in the country as a whole; and although relatively popular in London, London was not England. In the Commons, George Digby, son of the Earl of Bristol, warned MPs not to replace bishops with ‘a Pope in each parish’ he was talking about the Presbyteries that would control parish politics and morality in the structure f the bishops was swept away. Pym tried to get his Scottish allies to hold the petition back, or tone it down – now was not the time, when compromise was needed. But the Scots would not play ball. England must come in line with the Scottish church if the Scottish Revolution was to be safe.

Not until February 1641 would the Petition be accepted by the house, and a debate led by Henry Vane, Junior. But until then, just to use the language of all those meetings of which I have now been reminded, Pym’s eyes focussed on a low hanging fruit. It is an image I find strangely disturbing. But anyway, the fruit in question was of course William Laud.

In fact in a way it’s surprising that his name has not come up before; after all, our use of the adjective Laudian has been bounteous and fecund, to the point of promiscuity in this podcast. So why wasn’t Laud a target for the Junto at the same time as Stafford? After all, the Apprentices in May had hunted for ‘William the Fox’ and in the coming debate the delightfully named Harbottle Grimston called him

‘the roote and ground of all our miseries and calamities … the sty of all pestilential filth that hath infected the State and Government

Which is language that would get you a Commons censure these days. The answer is that despite the strength of feeling against Laud and his reforms, he was not seen politically as a danger now; he was not, like Strafford, an attack dog capable of fixing destructive jaws on the throat of reform to choke the life from it. And Laud’s reaction to the calling of the Long parliament rather bears this out. He refused to nominate an MP for his local town of Reading, because he thought it would just annoy people against him further. He lamented in his writing that

I am almost every day threatened with my ruin in parliament’

And discussed with the MP John Seldon that he’d be happy to surrender by abrogating the Canons of 1640 for example; he spent his time in November not with the king or Privy Council planning tactics, but at home sorting, out his charitable bequests in Reading and his gifts of manuscripts to Oxford. He thought he was doomed. And who’s to say he was wrong. Laud’s account books show that in November the regular and frequent gifts from his king, abruptly stopped; even the man who had done so much to encourage his reforms appeared to have deserted him. Before long, it was commented that Laud

‘was ready to die, since the King did not now regard him’.

And so it was that on 18th December, Denzil Holles moved a motion to impeach Laud in the Commons. The accusations were not just religious, but also secular. He was accused of advancing tyrannical and arbitrary government. It was not a contested motion, and Laud was removed from his post, pending trial. But it’s very notable that unlike, Laud was not quickly committed to the Tower – he was handed over to a gentleman usher of the King, Black Rod I think, and allowed to come and go from Lambeth, until finally committed to the Tower in February the following year. It would be 1643 before he came to trial. Shortly after the debate thought, the canons of 1640 were declared to be unlawful; which is again, a sign of parliament arrogating to itself more power than it had normally had – this would usually be a matter for Convocation. But convocation was stuffed with Arminians so, best Parliament got it sorted.

To return to the duck and ferocious paddling under water with calm up top analogy; despite the apparent lack of progress, things were happening. Factions and opinions were forming and developing, and conversations going on behind the scenes. Historians like John Adamson have identified the role of Francis Russell, Earl of Bedford as a particular figure on the parliamentarian side leading a smooth and powerful current in the mighty sea of politics,[3] a gulf stream if you like, leading hopefully to a happy compromise and a healthy commonwealth. And the plankton swimming in the stream were led by Charles’ friend, James Hamilton the Marquis of Hamilton. Apologies, I didn’t mean to call James a plankton, I was simply following a metaphor to its conclusion, possibly unwisely.

So, Bedford then; we have heard his name before, because I failed miserably to resist the temptation to digress into the creation of Covent Garden. Bedford’s involvement in this project and in Fen drainage marks him out as an energetic man of business. He’s rich, landed, and involved continually in litigation, a feature of property as far as I can see; and that meant he retained lawyers and men of Business – notably, Oliver St John and John Pym. Bedford has been involved throughout therefore, in resistance to the personal rule, releasing St John to work with Pym and Hampden on the Ship Money case, just for instance. Bedford has been seen as an outsider, more at home with at Warwick House than at Court; but Adamson points out that Bedford was no such thing; he had connections at court and the Privy Council, was well known to the king personally, though of the generation above Charles ; he wore the black silks derived from the style of the fashionable Spanish court, popular in England since the 1620s. That also a point to be noted by the way – black clothing was not necessarily a sign of puritanism.

Bedford’s affiliations at court were mainly with the anti Spanish faction – and notably in line with the earl of Pembroke, the folks we’ve referred to before as the Patriots, and his political vision was from that mould. So, although a puritan, Bedford was relatively moderate in religious terms; it was secular and political reform that floated his boat. You might remember last time in Richard Baxter’s speech about the Commons that met, about MPs mainly motivated by religion, or those mainly by secular issues – the Commonwealth men. Well, whereas Warwick might fit into the religious category – Bedford was in the latter, a Commonwealth man. So, in his famous History after the event Edward Hyde, the Earl of Clarendon, wrote a slightly stinging comment about Bedford’s motivations, saying that

the earl of Bedford, was a wise man, and of too great and plentiful a fortune to wish a subversion of the government; and it quickly appeared, that he only intended to make himself and his friends great at Court, not at all to lessen the Court itself.[4]

I say slightly stinging, but also more than a little unfair; Bedford was far more subversive that the judgement implies, although Hyde was right when he also thought Bedford wanted no substantial change in the government of the church – he was no Presbyterian.

Hyde also described Bedford at the head of a group of ‘the great contrivers and designers’; and here was the plan Bedford led his adherents towards, Pym, St John, Hampden, and the Junto. This plan was radical; but it was not revolutionary. In overview, the constitutional relationship of England must be rebalanced – if the state was a ship, then some substantial re-rigging, move that ballast about, a bit of a make over, but the same boat. The base assumption was that Charles was no longer to be trusted; he needed to be some chains to restrict his freedom – they could be pretty chains, gilded maybe covered in some sparkly tinsel with a few feathers – but chains nonetheless. Persuasion and sweet reason were no longer enough on their own – Mr & Mrs Coercion had ridden into town and taken up residence in the Bridal Suite of history.

The engine of coercion was to be money. The King’s ability to raise money independently of parliament must be taken down a dark alley, given a thorough working over, and put on a ship never to return. The king must be entirely dependent on parliament for his ability to operate government.

Secondly, since we’ve fallen into list construction, the king must have better council; the incendiaries, as the Scots called them, like Strafford and Laud, must be removed and good Commonwealth men replace them. Men like..ooohh let me think…Oh! Bedford. Maybe Pym, he’s a good man, sound. Hence, Hyde’s accusation of self interest. But what Bedford and the reformers aimed for was a situation where the King’s ministers had the confidence of parliament. And that would be the basis of the English and British parliamentary monarchy. Getting there would be a bit of a walk though.

Thirdly, there must be no way the king could repeat his games of the 1620s and 1630s, just declare UDI and reign without parliament. So the king’s right to dissolve parliament at will must be spiked. Now that – that would not be popular with the Monarch of the piece. Charles wasn’t going to like that, not one little bit. He’d rather have Marie de Medici back to stay than that.

Ok, so commonwealth reform – prerogative revenues swept away to make monarch dependent of parliament, counsellors with the confidence of parliament, parliament to sit by its own right.

Fourthly – the church. That must be reformed, Laudianism must be reversed. Now the Scots and radical puritans had got the bit between their teeth as regards bishops, but that was horribly divisive. Even the more religiously radical members of the Junto avoided the thought of a radical rebuilding of the church; John Hampden, for example, was challenged on this point by Edward Hyde in parliament, who smelled blood, but Hampden was no thicky, he saw a rock that would split the reformers. So in answer to the challenge he gave only the lame reply ‘we are all of a mind in desiring what is best’.

So the reformers were very aware of the danger. What they wanted, what all parliament would agree on – was to roll back Laud’s reforms. To return the church to the balance that had been achieved by Elizabeth, of an episcopalian, Calvinist church, within which both puritan and traditionalist had been able to live; a church of unity.

In return, the Reformers realised that the king needed to be offered a positive vision of the future. A carrot, if you like, not just the stick. Royal revenues needed to be put on a firm footing. This was Pym’s bailiwick. The king would be granted by parliament a greatly enhanced customs revenue, already the most lucrative source of money anyway; and regular subsidies. All of this though, would be subject to regular renewal by parliament, therefore ensuring the need for parliament to sit, holding those sparkly chains.

There was more; income from royal and church lands would be improved by being let at proper market rates. To the benefit of the nobility of the realm – all those musty old prerogative fees – wardships, scutage and stuff which Charles had been mining for the Personal rule would go. But in return they’d have to pay an annual rent for their lands. It sounds awfully familiar all of this – Remember Robert Cecil, Earl of Salisbury and his idea of the Great Contract? Maybe all of this could have been prevented if James had been more canny with his cash.

So, it was on this basis that negotiation behind the scene was carried out in November and early December. The Reformers had taken out the stick from behind their back and waved it around – Ship Money condemned, Strafford and Laud removed. Now a channel of communication to the court was opened, through Harry Vane, senior – the Secretary of State on the one hand but connected with reformers on the other, not least through his son, Harry Vane Junior.  Harry Vane Senior was delighted with the plans as presented to him, I can see him beaming with joy right now as I type

His majesty would be very joyful to hear of our care of his revenue and our desire to make him able to subsist like a king

Not quite sure Harry Senior was right that the king’s reaction was likely to be joyful, but let’s see. Much later after the Restoration, Edward Hyde would look back at Harry Vane Senior’s gambolling around like a young lamb in a very sour way. But then he was jaundiced by his access to 20/20 hindsight. But his judgement was cruel, an

illiterate’ time-server of mediocre abilities, who joined the court to enrich himself, rose to a position for which he was utterly unqualified, and betrayed the king because of personal malice against a more able rival

The judgement was probably unfair. But there are personal relationships involved. The more able rival mentioned was Strafford – who had resented Vane’s promotion to the Secretary of State, and a previously friendly relationship had turned bad. When he’d been promoted to Earl, Strafford meanly took the title also to Raby, Vane’s seat. It was a deliberate snub. And Vane was not man enough to rise above or indeed to turn the other cheek as we are taught to do. As a result, there was trouble; one insider wrote home that the Privy Council

‘is divided into a double faction; the Lieutenant of Ireland goes on still in a close high way; Sir H. Vane marches after him in a more open posture … fiery feud there is between them’.

I’ve frequently been told not to tread on people on the way up. That’s never been much a temptation for me, having remained resolutely earth bound, but someone should have told Strafford. Because the Vane shaped chicken was coming home to roost, one day, and one day soon. Nudge nudge. Wink, and I say again, wink.

Now meanwhile in Charles head, the man himself was having to deal with a series of setbacks. Strafford had been dismissed and was in the Tower. Laud had gone. The Canons and Ship Money had been condemned by parliament, and the determined and exasperated tone of parliament was now very clear. Also, the separate negotiations with the Scots, led by Hamilton, had been essentially something of a capitulation. On 3rd December, in an announcement which must have had the Covenanters and their English allies leaping and high fiving as though Scotland had just qualified for the World Cup, Charles indicated his likely approval for the acts of the Scottish parliament. I need to go through what that means, and really you need to be sitting down and preferably not operating heavy machinery. He approved thereby the abolition of the prayer book, the 1640 Canons; the abolition of Bishops – I mean what? And maybe most extraordinary – he agreed to hold triennial parliaments, without the Lords of the Articles there to help him control the agenda. One issue remained unresolved; the Covenanters wanted parliament to have the right to appoint Charles’ ministers, a matter which was kicked down the road to the next Scottish parliament.

Well, good golly Miss Molly. There’s a deal of scepticism, now and then, that Charles really meant all of this; the distrust left by the two Bishops’ Wars would take a long time to heal. On the other hand, the Revisionists would argue that Charles was capable of looking for peace and compromise he would soon be entertaining similar ideas in England. But there are alternative interpretations as to this change in heart. Charles knew very well that everything hung on the Scottish army. Without it, the Reformers had little leverage, or at least the pressure for reform would be much reduced, because the financial pressure would be lifted from Charles’ shoulders – he could disband the English army, and remove the reason for the Scots to stay in England. So he wanted the Scots army gone. At any price. And once more – maybe when he had a grip on England, he could then use the power of the English purse to visit vengeance and retribution on the Scots.

So Charles was having a hard time. None the less the negotiations between Reformers and King through Vane were not going well, and the Junto were getting impatient. And then, near the end of December, Bedford caught wind of some news that shook the confidence of the reformers that they were moving toward agreement of the king. The rumour was that John Conyers, the King’s field Commander in York, still commanding the English army, was planning a resumption of the war against the Scots.  [5]

There was a loud crack as the patience of the Junto snapped, and within a week, the Commonwealth men released a ferocious attack on the king’s prerogative, to force Charles to the negotiating table. William Strode MP had been released in 1640 after 11 years of imprisonment for his role in the 1629 parliament, a running abuse of the privilege of parliament. On 24th December, he put a proposal to MPs for annual parliaments – striking at the heart of Charles’ power to dissolve parliament arbitrarily and declare another personal rule. Parliaments would be called, said the bill,

Whether or not the king sends out his writ

Walter Erle, imprisoned for refusing to pay Charles’ forced loans in the 1620s, had parliament agree that the payments to the Scots would be made through Warwick and the petitioner earls not through the king – thus making sure Charles could not divert the money to nefarious ends. The payments and subsidies would now be arranged by Warwick with Isaac Pennington; in a way, parliament was beginning to behave as though the king was incapacitated, a legislature ruling without him, a supposedly advisory legislature becoming the executive.

Oliver St John then launched and action in parliament against the judges that had defended Ship Money. Specifically, Lord Keeper Finch was impeached for his role in the Ship Money trial; though before hands could be laid on him, he fled to that favoured destination for political and religious fugitives, the Netherlands. This happens so often, the poor old Netherlands must have been bulging at the seams with discontented English folk. Lord knows what we’d have done if they hadn’t been there. That’s the end of John Finch’s story of the Civil Wars I have to say – though he’ll return in 1660.

So – an assault, which stood to strip the king of his sources of finance and ability to declare personal rule to try and raise them anyway. The result of this could have been outright war – but Bedford and the Commonwealth men also held out the hand of friendship – to was proposed that four subsidies would granted at the same time. So – the challenge was clear – negotiate, because without it Parliament will deprive you of the ability to determine a settlement. The Reformers were not backing down.

Right, let’s leave the Palace of Westminster and nip over to Whitehall Palace again, and see what’s going on now in the king’s counsels at this point. Just a quick reminder; we have a king with a keen sense of honour and belief in his own divine mandate, and also rather insecure, and therefore liable to see disagreement as an insult and sign of disloyalty; he was a good and loyal friend to those who stood at his side – although William Laud might disagree – and therefore every instinct screamed that he must defend and stand by Strafford. But around him, there was a group of men and women who, just as Alfred Dolittle, knew he could not afford any morals, so their king could no longer afford his sense of exalted honour.

Which brings me finally to Hamilton. Hamilton gets a hard time – so he stands accused of working for compromise simply to defend himself from being jailed for being named by the Covenanters as an incendiary. But I think this is harsh; Hamilton had proved his good sense in Scotland trying to get his king to compromise, and done his best nonetheless to do his bosses bidding. He could see now that Charles could not blah his way out of this one, he must be flexible. Also, Hamilton had colleague at court who were of his mind; Henry Jermyn, who was a close counsellor of the Queen; but the Queen herself will be a prime mover in bringing compromise. There were others – Viscount Falkland, Viscount Conway; and the old pro French, protestant, anti Spanish faction – Northumberland, Pembroke and Holland. They, might have been out of favour; but, Charles was now no longer so enamoured of his pro Spanish faction – Spain had failed to deliver, money or troops in his hour of need. Again.

Ok, what I am saying is – there’s a peace party, saying take this deal, and forget Strafford for the good of the nation. But Charles is being stubborn and hoping for unicorns. At this point something surprising happens – it comes in the form of the Frederick Henry, the Dutch Stadholder – and prince of Orange. Orange knows what’s going on and sees an opportunity to use Charles’ general air of grump towards the Spanish to bring Charles away from the side that has cookies and back to Protestantism. A proposal was revived that his son William should marry Charles’ daughter Mary.

It seems to be this that finally opened the gates to advice for compromise; the proposal, soon agreed, knocked back the Spanish faction, and bestowed prestige on the Protestant faction. HM enthusiastically supported the prospect of a new ‘make the Hapsburgs eat dust’ alliance – Netherlands, France, England – And glory of glories, concessions finally began to come forward from Charles’ mouth.

The case of the judges was first; on the 15th January he made a stunning announcement – judges would no longer hold office ‘at the pleasure of the Crown’. Now this rarely gets mentioned in Civil war stuff, and I say shame! Shame on us, I say. Because that is a fundamental to the independence of the judiciary; no longer can the monarch pressurise judges into the decisions they demand on pain of dismissal. Wild. More – it was followed by the promotion of the very man who had led the attack on the Ship Money Judges – Oliver St John was made the new Solicitor General. In terms of olive branches, it was a generous one, with leaves and olives on it ‘n all. Hamilton persuaded Charles to appoint a new bench of judges, all Bedford and Northumberland’s nominees. At one stage, remarkably,  Pym, Saye and Sele  and Bedford were closeted away face to face with the Queen explaining their plans.

And on 4th February parliament was astonished to hear from her directly, she wrote to them. Now the Queen’s councillors was a matter of angry and constant debate about – you guessed it – her Catholic household. And the anger directed at the Queen’s head will remain a constant factor; one of Charles’ most attractive traits was his evident and constant love and concern for the safety of his family. Anyway she sent a lovely letter, assuring parliament that a particularly fractious Catholic priest Rosetti was to be sent back to Rome, she apologised for her appeal to Catholics to support king in his Scottish war, and promised to bring people together. HM has a reputation as headstrong, incendiary, careless of consequences; here she is, in the traditional role of Queens since time immemoral, the peacemaker, intelligently and sensitively searching for peace and bringing people together. Though later when the chips were down – she’d be a tiger.

On 23rd January 1641 Charles gave a speech at the Banqueting House to all parliament. Now Charles cannot help expressing a bit of his frustration and fury at the water the royal horse is being persuaded to drink

There are some men that more maliciously than ignorantly will put no difference between the reformation and alteration of Government

Warwick, Junta, I’m looking at you. But apart from that, the speech was amazingly conciliatory

Whatsoever part of my revenue shall be found to be illegal, or heavy to my subjects, I shall be willing to lay down, trusting in their alterations

Wow! By’eck and by golly by gum, the king has accepted the cancellation of prerogative rights.

There are problems lurking still; Numero Uno, Strafford. It hurt Charles immeasurably to think of his loyal servant being punished. So there’s an affair that sets everything back a bit – Charles uses the royal prerogative to reprieve a Jesuit, tried and convicted for being in the wrong place at the wrong time – i.e. England, now. So now people panic, panicky people can’t make deals – is this what Charles is planning for Strafford, is everything a blind? Will be simply use the royal pardon to set him free? Once again the Queen intervened, explaining the realities of life to Charles and a deal was done – the reformers gave Strafford a 2 week reprieve to prepare his case before trial; and promised that said Jesuit would not be executed, whatever his sentence – and Charles withdrew the pardon. Gosh this is all rather emotional, touchy feely, and moving.

The other problem – religion. Finally the day dawned for the Root and Branch Petition to be debated in parliament. Now Charles was implacably opposed to the abolition of Bishops – implacably. Conrad Russell makes a rather astute observation – he is after all well known as a clever chap our Conrad; and I suspect might be a descendant of Francis Russell, Earl of Bedford, am I right? Anyway he makes the point – we accept that a majority of English, and especially MPs, were not prepared to compromise the religion they had grown up with; and yet we assume Charles should be a political realist and compromise over his religious beliefs. Well, Charles believed in his, admittedly extreme, view of the divinity of Bishops as firmly as the Calvinist believed in predestination. How are we to blame him for that?

So…10/15 years ago or so, the idea of petition for the abolition of Bishops would have been daft. That this was now a matter for debate in the commons of parliament was the clearest evidence of the chaos that Laud and Charles had wrought within the settled Elizabethan church, a settlement achieved only after two generations had passed. The issue also divided parliament, and would do so throughout the period. The Scots were utterly determined that they would have their way, that Bishops would be abolished and Presbyterianism established – that was the reason they were still involved. For Scotland they saw it as essential that England would come into line with Europe’s most perfect church, and Charles could never again impose his religion on his Scottish subjects. But it was a deeply divisive issue foe the English and specifically an issue that divided the reformers; of the Commons, maybe only about 130 of the 500 plus members were in favour of Presbyterianism, and a handful of peers. The likes of Bedford had no desire to get rid of bishops, all they wanted was to return to the Elizabethan church; but the Scots wielded enormous power, because of their army. If the Root and Branch petition was accepted, it would spell the end of the tentative peace.

The debate on 7th and 8th of February was hard fought, and close. In the background, once more Charles made a major concession; he would sign up to a formula agreeing to return the church to the Elizabethan state. In the debate three men, all celebrities now, Hampden, Pym and St John – were pivotal – if they spoke for root and branch reform, the petition would pass. They sat on their hands, and said nothing. The moment of danger passed. The petition was referred to a committee. The Scots tried to pack the committee with their supporters and thought they’d succeeded – but crucially, the terms of reference for the commission specifically excluded any discussion of the role of Bishops. It was a reprieve, and the Root and Branch proposal looked buried. It was a defeat for the Scots and English Presbyterians.

Peace then approaches, surely. Charles was now faced with an agonising decision – the Triennial Bill. Strode’s bill for annual parliaments had been amended to election every three years. It was crucial to Bedford’s settlement, the lock that prevented Charles from reneging from the deletion of his prerogative money raising powers by dissolving parliament, that tied the monarchy financially to parliament for ever. George Digby, the radical son of the Earl of Bristol took the bill to the Lords; there it was approved and came to the king for assent.

Now Charles head was forced unavoidably to the grindstone of reality. As it spun and ground he was now required to accept the chains that would bind him to the grindstone of accountability and limitation. It was too much. He would not do it. The Venetian ambassador reported his fury that this bill

would ruin his authority entirely …the king became very angry.

He knew he was being frog marched towards the end of the idea of divine right. Despite his counsellors he would not do it. But HM explained the realities of his position to him. And Charles gave way.

So on 16th February, there was a piece of theatre, so beloved of English politics. The King’s assent in parliament was presented as a ceremony of reconciliation. The king, crowned and robed in ermine was escorted to the bar of the house. The Speaker presented Charles with the four subsidies of the Commons as what they called a free gift – actually of course it was the most expensive gift ever, but whatever. Charles made a speech, accepted that the status quo was irrevocably changed by the Triennial Bill

Yielding up one of the fairest flowers in his garland

He expressed his confidence that parliament would now not push him on the matter of the Bishops, and true to form, slipped in a dig that parliament

Had proceeded to the disjointing almost of all parts of his government.

Public euphoria greeting the passing of the Triennial act – bells tolled, the streets were packed, bonfires burned. 3 days later on the 19th February, the new order was confirmed. Bedford became the Lord Treasurer; Pym the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Other reformers were all summoned to the Privy Council – the Earl of Essex, Hertford, Saye and Sele, the future Earl of Manchester, and the Earl of Bristol, and lord Savile. King’s counsellors with the confidence of parliament.

Conspicuous by his absence was one of the greatest peers of the land Warwick. Charles was still playing politics as he should of course – the moderate reformers and supporters of the continuance of the episcopalian church were rewarded – the incendiary radicals like Warwick were not.

The King’s teeth as he made these appointments must have been ground to shapeless stumps. There is no doubt at all of the rage, frustration, humiliation and fury with which these concessions had been made by Charles. There’s no getting around it – the sword had been at his throat. But the new Commonwealth, incredibly, was dawning, achieved in the English way – by evolution and compromise, without blood.

And then, on 24th of February, a handbill appeared on the streets of London, written, printed and distributed by the Scots’ Treaty Commissioners in London. And paradise was lost.

[1] Hutton, R: ‘The Making of Oliver Cromwell’, p56

[2] Woolrych, A: ‘Britain in Revolution’, pp169-172

[3] Adamson, JK: ‘The Noble Revolt’, pp141-163

[4] Russell, C: ‘Bedford’, ODNB

[5] Adamson, JK: ‘The Noble Revolt’, p146


One thought on “374 Paradise Lost

  1. Many years ago I acquired somewhere a used copy of an English history textbook written in the early 20th Century by an American historian named Edward Cheyney. His chapters on Charles I and his opponents were written in the old Whig tradition, but despite his criticisms of Charles and general approval of the Commonwealth, he wrote that the reforms of the first year or so of the Long Parliament (particularly the Triennial Act) constituted a much more radical constitutional innovation than anything Charles did during his period of personal rule. Do you feel that’s a fair statement?

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