In 1640 at last Charles is forced to call a parliament and search with parliament for an accomodation. But Charles was to discover the price for restoring order not to his liking.
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Last time we heard about the Personal Rule of Charles I, or the 11 years tyranny depending on your view point. We heard how Charles managed to rule without parliament, by carefully controlling costs and raising all sorts of weird taxes. He indulged few of the pastimes of kings, then, playing only at happy families, admiring HM’s extravagant masques, collecting and patronising art – and encouraging his friend William Laud and his bishops in taking his church to a more beautiful, ceremonial and more formal hue. In 1638 England was at peace; you might ask how long would it last; his financial exactions, the rigor and brutality with which he imposed ecclesiastical and financial compliance through the courts of High Commission and Star Chamber made him deeply unpopular, but if his reign had primed the gun of England with the gunpowder of outrage, yet there was no finger pulling the trigger.
After a couple of minutes listening to this episode, you might wonder at the title the search for peace, because there’s going to be a lot of conflict. But although the trigger would come in 1638, today we are going to talk about a period where all the English parliament was saying was give peace a chance, and for long time, that would happen.
So, It was from Scotland that the trigger came. I need to be brutally short with the Scottish revolution, which is in itself a fascinating story, so I hope you will go to episodes 369 and 370 to hear about all the events and personalities, including Jenni Geddes, after whom I believe Robbie Burns named his horse. The long and short was that in 1636 Charles tried to impose his Laudian church vision on Scotland, complete with English canon law and a Scottish BCP; this in in a country determined not to become a province of England. This in a country that prided itself on the perfect kirk, and a view of religion wildly different to Charles’ view – often radically Calvinist, and determined to outlaw Bishops and implement a full Presbyterian model of local consistories without what they saw as a papist hierarchy. Despite multiple public protests, Charles would not compromise until effectively the Scots took law into their own hands. They drew up and signed a confession of faith, the National Covenant which was sworn in parish communities throughout Scotland. And they threatened to radically curtail royal power. And prepared to raise an army to resist what they knew was coming.
Charles’ view was simple and uncompromising. The Scots were rebels and must be reduced to obedience. For, as he said to his friend and main Scottish advisor the Earl of Hamilton
So long as the Covenant is in force I have no more power in Scotland than as a Duke of Venice; which I will die rather than suffer
Well, that could be arranged. It must therefore be war. Charles must raise an army. And surely with the wealth of England – about 6 or 7 times larger – that should be a gimme.
There were several problems with this; the Scots had a wealth of experience from individuals seeking their fortune in the 30 years’ war, they were well armed, highly enthusiastic about their cause, and their army was led by a talented general in Alexander Leslie. Meanwhile England might be wealthy, but Charles refused to recall parliament in order to access that wealth. So he scrabbled around with forced loans and customs dues and managed to raise some kind of army. But I said several problems – well, the next problem was that there were plenty in England who might recognise that fighting the Scot was a pleasurable and natural pastime but on this occasion…they rather sympathised with them. Especially with their religious complaints. As one good English Calvinist said, with deep sarcasm
We must needs go against the Scots for not being idolatrous and will have no mass among them’
So the army that rocked up was poorly trained, poorly equipped, and both poorly and unenthusiastically led. Not only unenthusiastic either. For amongst the English there were many who said to themselves ‘aha! This is just the opportunity we have been looking for!’. These are the people who had cheered when the Speaker was held in his chair, who had lit bonfires and rung the bells when the Petition of Right was proclaimed, who had worked with Hampden to refuse Ship Money, who had wept when William Prynne was mutilated by order of the High Commission, and Honest John Lilburne was whipped through London at the arse of a cart. Without parliament, resistance had no way of organising. If the Scots won and Charkes lost, the king must call a parliament to raise money. So the Scots must win. There’s a word for it…um…oh yes – treason. Rebellion. It seems that some were talking to the Scots already; trying to prevent the raising of militia in England, giving away the king’s military secrets. Naughty, I think you will agree.
Well, with the nobility around him all wearing long faces and muttering that the Scots were going to kirk their arses, when Charles looked through the telescope at the Scottish army, cleverly deployed on Duns Law to look like 30,000 men not 15,000 he bottled it, and accepted the Scottish plea for a truce and talks. So he agreed to a …well I’m not quite sure what you’d call the Pacification of Berwick of June 1639 to be honest. Truce I suppose. No one really thought this business was finished. Charles promised to come up and be at the next General Assembly of the Kirk and parliament, when the thing maybe would be finished.
Well, it turns out Charles felt he had some other engagements in his diary, I don’t know, looking at another Reubens or hanging the odd Van Dyke or whatever, so he didn’t go, and he sent messages to dissolve the parliament they’d started anyway. The Scots simply said – nope not this time, and went straight ahead, abolishing bishops, the BCP too, and doing some fantastically radical things like saying they their parliament got to decide when it started and ended not the king, and that Acts and new laws didn’t need the king’s consent anyway. Really, the Scottish Revolution is, initially at least, every bit as radical, and I cannot believe the English didn’t pick up some tips. So that was that – Charles’ head exploded, and in a right old paddy he had the proclamations of the Scots publicly burned, and declared the Scots all rebels. ‘Foul and horrid treason’ I think were the actual words.
There are a couple of things I’d like you to take away about the Scots and their influence on the English Revolution. They had a highly effective army and tax raising capability – and so punched consistently above their weight. Having carried out their Revolution they are now obsessed, rightly, about security; that if Charles could re-establish control in England he could use her wealth to come north, give the Covenanters a kicking, execute the rebels and re-impose bishops and the BCP. So; what happens in England is critical for the Scots; they want their form of Christianity imposed in England so that there is no reason for reversion to Laud; they want Charles shackled. They are not disinterested observers. From now on there would be Scottish commissioners in London, spreading their religious word, building alliances, and keeping a close eye.
Now Charles had a problem. Raising an army for the First Bishops War had been tricky, raising money for second Bishops War would be a nightmare. First off, Charles realised he needed his right hand man at his – well, at his right hand. And so he recalled Thomas Wentworth, lieutenant in Ireland to come home, and made him Earl of Strafford as soon as he did.
Strafford put a rod of iron up the collective backside of the Privy Council – obviously I am talking metaphorically here, just want to make that clear. He successfully managed to persuade the Irish parliament to vote subsidies to allow him to raise an army of 9,000 men in Ireland. Now this Irish army is hugely significant, and will be regularly referred to; the English reformers will be constantly looking over their shoulders worried that the king will bring this army over and use it to defeat the Scots, and visit tyranny on the English. However, even Strafford could see that life would be much easier if an English parliament could vote some enormous sums of money. And so, taking a deep breath and muttering curses, Charles called a parliament. The 11 Years’ tyranny was over.
Well everyone in the country was utterly overjoyed. In Somerset the local JP noted that the announcement ‘Begat much joy amongst all the country people’. It has to be said there were others who were not so keen. This is where. from being rather appalled at William Laud’s arrogance and insensitivity at imposing religious change on a largely unwilling population, I now begin to feel rather sorry for the lad; because there’s little doubt he had believed he was acting for the best, and he now saw the writing on the wall. As soon as he heard there was a parliament, he knew he was heading toastwards and he wrote
He would be destroyed the very first day of the sitting.
Well, this is where I need to introduce you to the Junto. In the main stream of podcasts, this is a word that caused some distress, so let me scotch the head of this snake from the start, if that’s what you do with snakes’ heads. The word is not Hun-toe. It is a word derived from the same root as the Spanish word Hun-ta, which is the Latin word junctum, together. Anyway, the Junto. This is a group of reformers who will actively drive for change. Charles had always believed in a small group of malignants, and he’s not entirely wrong – although he was wrong in dismissing them as mere rebels – these people believed what they were doing was for the good of the Commonwealth every bit as much as he. They were led by a group of peers- the Robert Rich the Earl of Warwick preeminent amongst them, but also William Fiennes, who was Lord Saye & Sele, and in particular the Earl of Bedford. Now Bedford will be particularly important.
Their networks of these powerful men extended widely; directly in contact were people like John Hampden of the Ship Money case, Oliver St John his lawyer – but the name to remember is John Pym, a west country lawyer and client of Warwick. He will be the face of the Junto in parliament. His links were also wide; a good friend of the deeply political and influential Lucy Hay, for example, continually bringing news of the court plans from HM’s household.
The junto had an agenda just as Charles did. It was critical to them that Charles did not succeed in this parliament to raise money on only mild promises which would allow him to fund an army and defeat the Scots without substantial political and religious concessions. The army of the Scots was the Junto’s only leverage, the only thing which forced the king to the table. The king then must be shackled to parliament so that the 11 years tyranny could not reoccur. It was essential that Laudianism was rolled back, and the church of Elizabeth restored – the real one, not Charles’ fictionalised view of what that meant. So in effect they needed this parliament to fail, so that the king would be forced in the next parliament after being drubbed by the Scots, to make real concessions. They could not however be seen to be rebels. They had to make a failed parliament look like Charles’ fault. Essentially, as the Historian Conrad Russell put it
They had to hope that Charles would not prove too flexible
Russell then went on to add
and not for the first time he did everything they could have hoped from him
Because the first parliament of 1640 is known to history as the Short Parliament. John Pym stood up and for 2 hours laid out the Junto’s programme, and it was clear both Commons and House of Lords were four square behind him. Charles wanted money in return for only vague promises. And so he dissolved parliament. In the name of Christ, go.
As this stage Strafford came to the fore. He dominated the PC and told Charles what he wanted to hear. ‘Go vigorously’ he said, advising an aggressive war to reduce the Scots and reminding him ‘you have an army in Ireland you may employ here to reduce this kingdom’. Raising money and an army was even harder this time around; the London Common Council refused point blank to offer a loan s second time. Charles and Strafford took to trying to force individual Aldermen into contributing – some gave way, some defied the King. Meanwhile the apprentices rioted over religion and sacked Lambeth Place, home of William Laud. London itself was divided between a largely royalist elite, and up and coming religiously radical merchants; the streets of London and their control will be critical to the fortunes of the Reformers.
However it was done, the King set up court in the fair city of York, and the Second Bishops war happened, resulting in a Scottish victory at Newburn; once more, members of the Junto probably helped the Scots in their campaign. 12 English peers launched a petition demanding a parliament – instead Charles gave them a Noble Counsel, a magnum consilium. He and Strafford demanded the tools to continue this war against the Scots. But the peers forced them to accept reality, and a deal was done; the Scottish army would stay in the north of England at Newcastle until a deal was written down by them with the king in London, and agreed by an English parliament, and meanwhile the English would pay the Scots £850 a day for the privilege, a remorseless engine forcing the king to compromise.
There are a couple of interesting wrinkles here; firstly, there’s a trend in this, the peers and political nation of England beginning to make executive decisions, normally the jealously guarded preserve of the monarch, the only source of executive power. That is a trend that will increase, of the political nation extending its sphere of competence, almost as though the king was mad, or incapable. The Junto had achieved their aim – there would a parliament, otherwise the king could never get rid of the Scottish dirk at his throat, and this time the king must surely be forced to make real concessions to the demands of the Commonwealth.
Well the elections for the second parliament in the Autumn were a good deal wilder than the earlier one; there is a line of thought that said Charles had missed his last chance for a relatively easy settlement, because the House of Commons elected was much more radical, and most court MP candidates failed to win votes from the unruly masses. One conservative MP complained of a general feeling in the country that Charles’ refusal to accept parliament meant Charles’ government was no longer legitimate, when he wrote
Common people were bound to think themselves loose and absolved from all government, when they should see that which they so much venerated so easily subverted.
The streets of London were humming; the Scottish preachers were welcomed and masses of radical protestants flocked to hear them; unemployed, unpaid soldiers called reformardoes were everywhere, blaming parliament for their lack of pay, and shouting for the cause of the king. It’s all a bit of a to do. At the same times, expectations flew higher than a small orbital satellite
We dream now of nothing more than of a golden age
As parliament convened, it might seem that Charles, figuratively speaking, lay secured fastened to a barrel. But Charles most assuredly didn’t see himself like that and he had an ace in the hole; he had an absolute veto. Without his agreement, no decisions could be made. It would be only after many years, many negotiations and an effusion of blood that someone would contemplate cutting that particular gordian knot and removing the king from the equation. With an axe.
Charles in fact had broadly had 3 options; the moderates at court urged him to cooperate in a mild programme of reform, and minimise the damage. Or he could fight reform on the floor of parliament and build a party there; the lords would always be more sympathetic, but he could come down from the mountain, get his hands dirty, and start becoming a party manager, building a party within the Commons. But his third option came from Strafford. Strafford’s plan was that if you want to be absolute, be absolute. His plan was for Charles to take control of the Tower of London, arrest the leaders of the Junto and execute them for treason on the grounds of collaboration with the Scots. I think this is important; Pym and the Junto realised full well that it was either them or Strafford. One of them had to go.
One point worth remembering was that there had been no enlightenment before the English Revolution; no John Locke or Thomas Paine or Montesqieu or Wollstonecraft. There were no ideas kicking around about the ideal new society, no principles that had been doing the rounds and gained acceptance. No examples for successful revolutions to follow. The Reformers saw things through the prism of the past. They wanted to restore peace, not make war. So they didn’t come to parliament with a worked up programme, no end point in mind. It had to evolve. Step by painful step. Always hoping for peace.
Having said that, They knew the first steps. And Hopefully you’ll go to episode 373 to hear all the drama, but step one was to right the wrongs of the personal rule. Pym of course opened proceedings on 7th November after all the royal verbiage, and laid out the great wrongs secular and religious; and the victims of tyranny must be freed. The streets were rammed with ecstatic cheering well-wishers when William Prynne was released from prison and he and his colleagues marched into London through the crowds, bells ringing throughout the city, still bearing the mutilations inflicted by the High Commission. Next Oliver Cromwell petitioned parliament to release John Lillburne, victim of the Star Chamber and another blow for justice was served.
But it was Strafford, Strafford that was the threat; Pym knew that he was closeted with the king, and that plans were moving forward. This danger must be scotched, and quickly. Once more it was to impeachment that Pym and the Junto turned; a motion was proposed to impeach Strafford in the Commons, with a request to the Lords to have him immediately imprisoned while specific charges were prepared. Impeachment alone was not enough – he needed to be removed straight away so that he was completely neutralised and could implement no counter revolution.
The proposal was passed with a massive majority in the Commons and sent to the Lords while Strafford was still with the king, unknowing; by the time he returned to the Lords it was too late. As he entered, he was forced to kneel and judgement given – he was not only impeached but ordered straight to jail while charges were prepared. He had been removed from the board. On 25th November he was taken to the Tower through jeering crowds delirious, the downfall of the man they condemned as ‘full of cruelty and blood’. Not until December was the other villain of the piece sent the same way – William Laud. Charles’ closest champions had been removed. More and more, he would now turn to HM for advice.
Now, the Junto themselves were divided, on what next; it was a very tricky political situation, and in some ways they reflected the shades of different opinions in the house of commons. As I have mentioned, the Commons was firmly Calvinist; so even the most kindly disposed towards the king, wanted the Laudian reforms unwound, and the regular role of parliament restored to provide the voice of the people. But some wanted more radical and deeper reform of both church and state, which would fundamentally change the nature of the English Commonwealth both in religious practice and balance of power between people and king; politics and radical protestantism don’t always go together but they are linked.
A good example of how they are linked comes through the example of Catherine Chidley and the rise of Independancy. So, it is one of the most remarkable thing about William Laud that in his desire to establish a more formal and ceremonial church, he inadvertently revived and unleashed a radical Protestantism that had seemed dead, that had learned to accept the compromises of the Elizabethan and Jacobean church. One of these was Presbyterianism, linking with the demands of the Scots to remodel the governance of the national church to one with was still fiercely uniform, but without the hierarchy of Bishops, based instead on local elders, which was also deeply involved in regulating behaviour and morality.
But another form went much further – the group of beliefs known as independency, or congregationalism, which rejected both Bishops and hierarchy, but also rejected uniformity; each congregation would find its way to God – while resolutely resisting the evils of the Anti Christ, the Pope of course. Curiously, Independancy, the form of religion favoured by Cromwell, led to a level of religious toleration most unusual in Christendom at the time; after all each congregation was to find its own way to God. Independents like Catherine Chidley, and indeed Cromwell, believed themselves to be socially very conservative; certainly Chidley accepted the contemporary attitudes to women which look deeply misogynistic to us now.
But, the liberation of that belief that everyone had a right to find their way to Christ, albeit rigorously through the word as revealed in the bible, was actually very socially subversive. So Catherine Chidley dared to write a long, closely argued and passionate tract in 1641 challenging the views of a Presbyterian divine – a male Presbyterian divine. She might accept the doctrine of men’s control of secular affairs – but they had no such overlordship in matters of conscience. She might accept the traditional social hierarchy – but not in matters of conscience. Everyone had an equal right to found their own church, as she wrote,
‘whether they be Taylors, Felt-makers, Button-makers, Tent-makers, shepherds or ploughmen, or what honest trade soever’
You can hear more about Catherine Chidley, the rise of the independents and some of the various roles women took up in the civil wars in episode 375. Anyway, so – suddenly, deleting Bishops was a hot, hot and very public topic, a situation unthinkable just a few years before, where the streets of London will reverberate with protests against their existence or their involvement in politics in any way.
So, back to the Junto then. There were some in the Junto, Warwick in particular, who were strongly religiously and politically radical. Religion was be radically remodelled, and the king must be forced into a relationship which made it impossible for him to govern without the people and parliament. But pre-eminent in the Junto was the Earl of Bedford, who most strongly influenced and controlled John Pym and Oliver St John; he looked for a moderate way, which re-established a Commonwealth based around king and parliament, rolled back Laudianism, but which took care to retain Calvinist bishops, so as not to disrupt the Commonwealth throughout the country, where the Church of England held the love of the majority as a fair balance of Calvinist theology and ceremony reminiscent of the older church. In a way, Bedford was a child of the Patriot faction of Jacobean times – protestant, strongly anti Spanish, strongly in favour of a partnership between king and parliament.
For the moment it was Bedford who ruled, with a desire to work with Charles to arrive at a peaceful compromise. But he trod a tight line between the radicals, in parliament and Scotland, and the king’s absolutist instincts. However, he had some allies; around Charles two advisers appeared to be encouraging moderation; the Earl of Hamilton was one, who had seen from personal, painful experience where the king’s refusal to compromise had landed him in Scotland – abject defeat, basically. And HM; in later years she will be a fierce proponent of reducing rebels to obedience, pushing Charles on; but throughout 1641, she was a voice of conciliation, supporting Bedford in his efforts at court.
And so matters proceeded through December, and into January 1641 and February, and the cause of reform appeared to be moving forward, as Charles seemed to be accepting reforms proposed by the parliament. Pym and Bedford had developed a plan; the king’s evil counsellors must be replaced by good Commonwealth men, members of the Junto, obviously. Laudian reforms must be rolled back. Political reform must embed parliament in the constitution – absolute primacy in matters of taxation, the removal of the tools of tyranny – lessening royal influence in the judiciary, the abolition of Star Chamber, and courts of High Commission. And more radically, the rejection of the king’s right to dissolve parliament willy nilly; it lead to the contentions Triennial bill, which laid down that parliaments should sit at least every three years, whether the king wanted or not. If these could be achieved, royal finances could be restored, and placed on a firmer more permanent basis. That’s the deal.
Outside, many were much more radical; parliament encouraged petitions from around the country, and they poured in to London signed by vast numbers. In London, the movement for abolition of the bishops and radical church reform grew to almost uncontrollable levels. It acquired a name, Root and Branch reform. An enormous petition signed by 15,000 Londoners was marched through the streets and presented to the house. A debate was promised. For the Junto these people, demanding religious and political reform, were their greatest supporters; but also their greatest danger. Because their, and the demands of the Scots for the end of Bishops would never be accepted Charles, even if he could be accepted to roll back Laudian reform – and that was a big IF. Religious Radicals stood to destroy the chance for compromise.
Compromise with Charles proceeded, or appeared to, and Bedford’s plan seemed to be working. A peace agreement was worked out with the Scots; I mean really the king had no choice, but essentially he agreed to their reforms in principle, subject to his assent at a parliament in Edinburgh which he would attend in August 1641.
Charles then agreed to changes in England. That judges would no longer sit at the king’s pleasure; it’s not a fully independent judiciary yet, but the monarch could no longer remove them at will. He appointed a key member of the Junto, the lawyer Oliver St John to the Privy Council; he made a speech at the Banqueting hall, where he announced that he would accept whatever parliament decided as regards his tax raising power. The Commons received that most rare of beasts, a conciliatory letter from HM, acknowledging the concerns raised by her very public celebration of the Catholic Mass and large scale services at Somerset house, and the number of high profile Catholic priests – and assured them that many were being sent back to France. In return, when the Root and Branch Bill came before the Commons, demanding abolition of the Bishops amongst other radical changes, all the key members of the Junto sat on their hands. There can be little doubt that the likes of John Pym would have dearly loved to have seen it succeed; but they sat on their hands, did not support it – and it was shelved. They’d kept their part of the bargain.
On 16th February 1641, there was one of those bit of theatre beloved of parliament; Charles came to parliament and presented his assent of the triennial bill, the requirement for parliament to sit every three years; in return at the bar of the house, the Commons presented a bill for 4 subsidies to raise tax money for the king. It seemed that peace was at hand. Everyone could take a deep breath, and things could get back to the way they were.
Then, on 24th February, a handbill appeared on the streets of London, written by the Scots, and indeed by one of the men who had written the Scottish National Covenant. It had been printed and distributed for maximum effect. In it the Scottish Commissioners demanded that the English church be reformed in accordance with the Scottish kirk, and that Bishops be abolished.
It’s effect was incendiary. This was exactly what Bedford and the Junto had been delicately tiptoeing around like some demented, puritan sugar plum fairies in black tutus and ruffs; this was one of the two things that could de-rail the carefully constructed peace. And the Scots had gone and put their great clogs in the pie. The Scottish commissioners were duly hauled up in front of Charles and they watched him go ballistic
The king has run stark mad at it
Wrote one of them. Well he cannot have been surprised at Charles reaction, he knew darned well how important that was to Charles. Whatever Archibald Johnston of Waristoun might have been, he was not an idiot. And nor would he have been apologetic; an agreement in England that reunited king with income in a settlement with parliament, on a church based on Bishops and traditional hierarchy, was not in the best interest of the Covenanters. They are very unlikely to have been surprised or unhappy, at the large hole punched in the side of the English ship of state. There are some historians who think that this was the moment when Charles started making other plans, and abandoned thoughts of reconciliation. And indeed there were rumours sweeping London that the King’s commander of the Army, still in York, had been making plans to attack the Scots at Newcastle.
However it might be harsh to lay all the blame on the Scots for this possibly mortal wound to hopes of peace. Firstly, it is more than likely that they were, at the time, in cahoots. Accompanying them in said cahoots might have been the more radical members of the Junto; Warwick’s younger brother seems to have been involved in the printing of the handbill. It may be that Bedford and Charles were more cahooted against than cahooting. The other thing is that, if you were listening carefully, sitting up straight and had brushed your teeth, you might have noticed I said ‘the two things that could derail the carefully constructed peace protest’. Because there was another – the evil councillor to end all evil councillors, the evil councillor to rule them all and plunge them into darkness. Strafford.
It may be that Charles was expecting the price of this cautious agreement not only to be the protection of the role of bishops – and he hadn’t agreed to the demise of Lauidianism either let it be noted – but also the preservation of Strafford as his minister. Almost unbelievably, even in February 1641 with Strafford behind bars and all his three kingdoms baying for his blood, that once he had made it clear that Strafford was his man, just doing his bidding, his subjects would not dare overstep the mark and go against his express command. And that, just as James had done with Buckingham, when the king made it clear his order was ‘hands off’ they would back down. Though to be honest I’m not sure the words hands off should apply to James’ relationship with Buckingham. That, ladies and gentlemen I believe is what they call double entrendre, smutty innuendo. I do apologise.
Bedford and Pym laboured hard to present the realities and try to find the best result they could for as long as possible; John Pym at this time was involved in face to face meetings with both Charles and HM. They were always being too optimistic; it’s not clear they could ever have held back the tide. But it transpired Charles was not particularly worried about the Junto anyway; if convicted by trial, he would simply pardon Strafford using the royal prerogative. Now once this became known, even Bedford and Pym recognised there could be no mercy, the king had not accepted the need to pay the required asking price for peace. Strafford must be brought down and Charles forced to accept the realities, that he could no longer simply wield the prerogative without regard to the wishes and needs of his commonwealth. It was him or them.
Well that’s all very well, but they figured without the remarkable talents of the object of their fury. Strafford was nobody’s push over. On the very day the Scottish handbill against Bishops had come out, Strafford was called before the Lords and presented with the 28 charges to be made against him and given a chance to respond. Once he had been called in there was an enormous kerfuffle and red faces all around – because unannounced Charles turned up, and no one was wearing their robes. Soooo awkward. And he sat through the whole proceedings and made it very, very clear of his support, at one point saying for all to hear that Strafford
had done him no wrong for ought he knew, and that he had spoken all truth, so as far concerned him
The signal for the charges to be dropped of course. But Pym and the Junto had greater problems. For Strafford was brilliant. He even dressed for the occasion to win the sympathy of the lords, looking impeccably ill kempt and downtrodden. But he demolished the 28 charges against him with ease; and noted, rather cuttingly, that there was no point having such a long list charges, since none of them amounted to treason, and having so many didn’t make it so. Now look I do hope you’ll listen to the trial of Strafford, it is a fantastic story; you can find it all in episode 376.
Over the next month, Pym and his legal leads, Bulstrode Whitelocke and Oliver St John laboured on their case. They prepared with enormous care; ad a month later the rial date came around, held with maximum publicity in Westminister hall in front of a loud, fractious, noisy crowd, and all the assembled members of parliament. When Charles and HM arrived they were refused permission to sit in state in the court as normal – he was put in a small room high up behind the court, behind a screen. Charles was so furious he ripped the screen out of the window.
He needn’t have worried. Strafford was superb. He systematically deconstructed the arguments against him, bamboozled many of the witnesses, pulled on the heart strings when he wept when recalling the death of his wife – it was a BAFTA winning performance, no doubt about it. There should have been red roses all over the stage. The best charge Pym and Whitelocke had was Strafford’s declaration to Charles that
You have an army in Ireland you may employ to reduce this kingdom
The witness who had recorded the phrase lost all memory of the occasion under oath. It became clear anyway that the phrase applied to Scotland, not England. Seriously this was a train smash, complete signal failure. At one stage the Lords sitting in judgement actually burst out laughing when Strafford ridiculed some of the evidence. As matters proceeded, Charles was all smiles and clearly delighted, the Venetian ambassador remarked ‘that Strafford will be saved’, and wrote of Strafford in the dock
That he could not hide his joy
A Strafford acquittal would be disastrous for the credibility of the Junto and the cause of reform. Enter Arthur Haselrigg, the MP from Leicestershire. As things were going pear shaped into the court of the House of Lords he introduced a bill of Attainder against Strafford into the Commons to execute Strafford for
an arbitrary and tyrannical government against law’
If the task was a political assassination – this was brilliant. An Act of Attainder did not require the analysis of proof; MPs and Lords simply had to decide if they believed Strafford to be guilty of the charges. There was no problem at all with that in the Commons – the act swam passed. But the moderates on the Junto were horrified – this was judicial murder, and it could destroy any chance for compromise with the king; Strafford was not only to be brought down, but executed. Many disapproved on moral grounds as well as tactical, and like John Hampden simply stayed away from the vote. But the fear of Strafford and his symbolic significance was too strong. When one of Charles’ councillors tried to persuade the Earl of Essex to try to stop this, that surely it would be sufficient to have Strafford removed from his post, Essex coldly replied
Stone dead hath no fellow
Charles began to understand the danger, and that at very least he would be forced to remove Strafford from his post; not yet had he accepted that Strafford would die, oh no, not a bit of it. On 23rd April he wrote to Strafford
that upon the word of a king you shall not suffer in life, honour or fortune
Still after the business of the trial, the House of Lords were unconvinced; maybe Charles was right, maybe Strafford could be saved, maybe the Lords would vote the Attainder down. Into this breach stepped the leftie lawyer, sorry Junto Lawyer, Oliver St John, with a brilliant speech in front of the commons, Lords and king. Unless law prevailed over tyranny, over the king and his councillors’ ability to imprison without charge, tax without consent, raise armies against their own people, no one was safe. Strafford was a predator, and must be dealt with accordingly
It was never accounted either cruelty or foul play to knock foxes and wolves on the head…because they are beasts of prey’
The whole mood changed. The vote on the Act of Attainder was due on 1st May. But Charles was not prepared to lose, and in his desperation he made a dreadful miscalculation. In April a royalist wild boy and poet John Suckling had come to Charles with a plot to raise a company of soldiers seize the Tower of London, and spring Strafford from jail; at the same time another councillor promised HM that the Army in York was close to mutiny, that they blamed parliament for lack of pay, and could be used to restore the king to authority.
The news got out, as news is wont to. On 1st May in a feverish, excitable atmosphere of plot and rumour in London, Charles ordered Suckling and 100 men to be given control of the Tower of London. The Constable of the Tower refused to admit them against the King’s ordered. But the damage was done – words was out of an Army Plot. London went bonkers; shops were closed crowds gathered, armed men flooded to the Tower to defend it against the king’s soldiers. An observer watched it all
In a clap all the city in alarum; shops closed; a world of people in arms run down to Westminster
In parliament there was an air of crisis. Pym stood and announced all he knew of the plot. The House of Commons responded by appealing to an old, tried and tested demonstration of unity of purpose: a bond, a covenant to defend England’s true constitution of the rights of parliament and a king ruling in harmony with it. Within 24 hours all the members of parliament had signed the Protestation Oath as it became known. Within months, parishes all over the country had gathered together, often men, women and children together after the Sunday service, to swear to this covenant to preserve the Commonwealth. It is an absolutely astounding, extraordinary display of unity and shared purpose – in many assemblies in the future, protesters would stick a copy of the protestation in their hats to demonstrate their commitment. It’s a great story – do listen to more about in in episode 378.
Charles attempt to seize control by force had failed, and the Army Plot destroyed his credibility in the Lords. On the 4th May, they voted in favour of the Act of Attainder. Parliament had demanded Strafford’s death. As soon as the bill was passed, it was walked to Whitehall and given to Charles for his assent.
Oh the agonies, and the drama. Charles wept in front of his PC searching for a way out of this horror. To refuse would surely lead to violence. Assent would mean breaking his word and defiling his conscience. Take this cup of poison from my lips.
From the Tower Strafford bravely wrote to his king
Sir to you I can give up life of this world with all the cheerfulness imaginable
But he probably never imagined Charles would do it; because at the same time, tried to bribe the Constable to leave the door of his cell open. But Charles was beaten. He signed.
When Bulstrode Whitelocke took him the news, Strafford was amazed. Asked again for confirmation. And on receiving it, turned to a handy biblical quote
put not your trust in princes, nor the sons of men, for in them there is no salvation’
Parliament wasted no time. Within days, scaffolds and seating had been constructed. London was heaving with people, all come to see the hated tyrant Strafford die The Venetian ambassador marvelled at the crowds, 200,000 he claimed – certainly wrong but basically – a lot. As you might expect, Strafford died well. He refused the protection of a coach, and walked proudly through the baying mob. As he passed through the gatehouse of the Tower, his friend Laud reached his hands through the bars and blessed him. Am I getting sentimental? I feel a lump in my throat. On the scaffold as everyone looked breathlessly, he did the normal immortal soul prep, and then spoke including the words
I wish every man would lay his hand on his heart and consider seriously whether the beginning of the peoples’ happiness should be written in letters of blood.
He presented his neck for testing, and the axe found it wanting. God save the king. The crowd roared its approval.
William Laud, after he released his friends’ hands sat back down in his room. Maybe he remembered the times he and Strafford had exchanged scrawled notes, mocking the Treasurer for his fussing over expenditure in PC meetings; they’d had a code name for him, Lady Mora – Lady Delay. His jailer heard his bitter complaint that Strafford had died because he had served a king ‘who knew not how to be, or be made, great’.
In Whitehall, Charles was in agony, and might well have agreed with Laud’s judgement. Much later, he would confide to his friend Hamilton that he believed all the troubles that had come on him were God’s punishment for this betrayal of his friend and servant. There was no room now for compromise with the Junto, or the reformers more generally. There could only be victory or defeat. As it happens, the architect of peace, the Earl of Bedford, lay dying, victim of a sudden disease a, and so did not see Strafford die. If he had, he would have seen his hopes for peace die with him.
There we are ladies and gentlemen, next time we hear how in the aftermath of the Army Plot, Pym and parliament push the reform programme. Charles appears to yield, But had he really been defeated? Or did he have other, new counsels.
 Stevenson, D: ‘The Scottish Revolution, 1637-1644’, pp218-9