379 The King’s Party

Many MPs began to think enough had been done. Charles  meanwhile had decided he would never compromise with the Junto; now he would defeat them at their own game. The king would build a party of loyalists.

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Now last week was an indulgence, and I am here wearing white and carrying a candle; I am sorry. I just have a bit of a pash for the Protestation, such an extraordinary thing, a bit of nation building, an attempt to build a sense of unity around the parliamentary view of a healthy nation. This week, though, we are going to see that while the Protestation was hugely successful at engaging communities in a desire for unity and peace, in practice the battle lines were become more clearly drawn – and therefore harder to bridge. We going to hear how Charles began to build an opposition to the Junto. I remember when I was a lad we went to the seaside, on a tidal estuary – lots of sand and, well, mud to be honest. Anyway, there was an exciting, uncertain time at the top of the flood tide when the waters on the river became uncertain; lots of eddies and ripples one way then t’other, the river was no longer sure whether it was coming or going in flood or ebb. The turning of the tide. And that is what’s happening now; the current no longer knows which way it is going. Surely, thought some, the flood had gone on long enough.

And Charles, to give the lad his due, was wise to it, this was an opportunity – to build a party.  Build it and they will come, said Charles, thereby sparking an idea of a film in a few hundred years. The aim of achieving consensus and unity in parliament was dead, Charles would rather eat his liver than deal with Strafford’s murderers and the architects of his shame. They must be politically defeated, then crushed and punished. To do that – there must be a royalist party to defeat the Reformers in their own back yard, Charles must storm parliament. Just to state the obvious, it is worth saying that although Charles will prove rather good at it, the strategy is a sur sign of failure and weakness, not of strength. The secret of royal success had always been to stand above faction, and not be forced to get involved; even in the faction ridden court of Henry VIII, Henry was never part of a faction. Charles getting his hand dirty in parliamentary faction building was another failure of kingship.

Charles was building a new set of ramparts behind the ruins of the first line of defence, Strafford’s wall, which had fallen into the reformers’ hands. The last battle would be fought on three issues. Let’s for an Acronym – BAM. As in wham.

B Is for Bishops – to be or not to be

A is for Army – to have and to hold

M is for Ministers – who picks the team

BAM. So, bishops then. Let me re-emphasise a point, because this will be a red hot ground of battle between king and reformers and the cry of ‘No Bishops’ will echo round London and the country. Bishops played a religious role in imposing a specific view of worship – and of course had imposed what many believed was a betrayal of the Elizabethan Calvinist church with Arminianism. But they were also of crucial political importance; they were the royal foot soldiers, promoting absolutism from England’s pulpits; and they were an ultra royalist voting block in the house of lords. For the radical reformers, bishops must be removed for the more moderate reformers, their political and secular power must be removed, even if the religious office survived. Alles Clar? Political and religious, To reformers, Bishops were a central part of Charles’s so called tyranny.


While he’d been in Scotland Charles heard about the progress of the Root and Branch bill, and worried that it would succeed and delete Bishops; as a result he instructed Nicholas

To assure all my servants there that I am constant for the doctrine and discipline of the Church of England as it was established by Queen Elizabeth and my father and resolve (by the grace of God) to live and die in the maintenance.

Charles would never accept the destruction of the Bishops in England. The Junto were aware not only of Charles’ firmness of view, but that many in England agreed with him. But they needed to keep the Scots happy – and the Scots wanted them gone as proof of English commitment. So the Junto had to walk a line  – convince the Scots they were on it but hold their hand so as not to lose the support of the Anglicans in England. A tightrope indeed.

Secondly, Army – control of the trained bands, the military. The army in York was finally disbanded so that’s cool, phew, but there was still control of the militia at issue. No one trusted the king anymore. No one wanted an untrustworthy king to have control of the military that could become the sword of fire, vengeance and perdition. As it were. But King had always been the country’s military leader since, Penda, since, well year dot. Charles was never going to let that go without a fight, it would make him a cipher, a nought. The coil would have been off shuffled.

And finally then, the right to appoint ministers. Forever it had been a problem when a royal counsellor gained power and were not aligned with the Community of the Realm. Piers Gaveston. And so on. But the right of the king to appoint those ministers had never been questioned. Now it was being questioned, the Ministers were also the King’s sword and the Junto no longer trusted the king with anything more than a cheese knife. So it was proposed, nay demanded that parliament should have a role on choosing the king’s ministers, so that a new Strafford could never happen again to threaten the peace of the commonwealth. When warned of this, Charles again was clear. He instructed Nicholas

To advise with some of my best servants there how this may be prevented, for I assure you that I do not mean to grant it.[1]

BAM. Ramparts, Battlements. Redlines. Non Negotiables. Charles as Gandalf on the bridge of Khazad-dûm. Though shall not pass. And we know how that ended up.

Pym walked the tightrope walk of the Bishops. For Pym, religious reform was a deeply held personal  belief, but he knew that political necessity dictated that the Root and Branch bill could not, this time succeed. Destruction of the Bishops would destroy unity for reform in the Commons. But they must show the scots they were proceeding to reform religion – so, while stalling on Root and Branch, the Junto had ordinances passed; they authorised Churchwardens to remove altar rails, initially  ‘without warrant of law’[2]. On 8th September they went further and demanded with authority of law, despite the king’s absence to approve such a thing, that Church wardens should remove crucifixes and images of the trinity, there was to be no bowing at the name of Jesus, the sabbath must be strictly maintained.

But for many even this was too far. Storm clouds gathered over parliament – the Lords could not accept this, certainly not without the king’s approval. The majority of the House of Lords were in favour of Bishops and the Anglican church. So they refused to approve the ordinance. Pym grimly persuaded the commons to print their declaration anyway. For the first time, Commons and Lords were disunited. Charles would rub his hands with glee.

This disunity in parliament reflected disunity in the country. In many places, the religious ordinances were adhered to with glee; altar rails were indeed ripped up, images smashed and removed including stained glass; in Wallbrook, the minster talked about a ‘riotous rout’, where parishioners battered down a stained glass window, despite the fact that the local glazier had offered to take it down and pay a fair price for it. It’s a sort of fever. The widespread iconoclasm that gets blamed on ‘Cromwell and his soldiers’ started a year before the war starts, and far longer before Cromwell gets near power. But in many other places though none of this happened. So in London, the most puritanically minded city in the country, 29 of 85 parishes make some sort of change – a substantial amount, but it meant 2/3rds did no such thing. In significant numbers of places, laity as well as ministers objected. In Kidderminster – which I’ve always associated with carpets rather than religion and riots, I have to say – the churchwardens tried to enforce the declarations. But to the local puritan writer Richard Baxter’s horror, a

Crew of then drunken, riotous party of the town…poor journeymen and servants…took the alarm…and with weapons…defend the Crucifix and the Church Images’

It might be a good idea to talk about the Harleys of Herefordshire again, to give an example of how one family were responding to events. Brilliana and Robert Harley, owners of Brampton Bryan; Robert Harley an MP, and so very much in London with Brilliana at home managing the estate and family. Both were very much part of the Calvinist and Puritan party; Brilliana once wrote in her Commonplace book that

Man cannot move God’s will once to goodness…it is God that first turns our will to that which is good’

She believed fully in the idea of the elect, and like most puritans suffered agonies about whether or not they were saved; her letters include, for example, the agonies of one of her servants, Blechly who decided she was not saved and

Has these two days been in grievous distress and is in grievous agony of conscience and despair; she says she will be damned

Brilliana’s writing to her family and relatives kept her connected with events, and she passed news on to her friends that  she received; thus the network of news spread through the country. Though often her letters were about more personal and family worries rather than religious politics; there’s a rather nice letter to her son Ned, who was off to Oxford University worrying that

Now I fear you will both see and hear men of nobility and excellent parts of nature abandon themselves to swearing and that odious sin of drunkenness

And who’s to say she was wrong to worry? Speaking as a man of excellent parts of nature, I can confirm that it can happen. It also seems that there was a stream of food flowing all the roads from Brampton Bryan to Oxford and London; she wrote to Ned again:

I have sent your father a snipe pie and a tealpie, and a collar of brawn, or else I had sent you something this week

I wish my folks had sent me the odd pie. Anyway, I digress, more immediately though, through this network news reached her when the court of High Commission was abolished, and she was delighted. In March 1641 she wrote happily

I am glad the bishops begin to fall and hope it will be with them as it was with Haman; when he began to fall, he fell indeed

And she was delighted at Strafford’s fall reflecting that he

died like a Seneca but not like one who had tasted the mystery of godliness

Also delighted was their local vicar, whose appointment they had secured with their influence; and he was therefore duly Calvinst in tone; since 1634 he’d fought against Laudian reforms and forced his parishioners not to comply. And so in September, Robert Harley came home with news of the religious declarations and set about purifying the church at Brampton Bryan and surrounding villages; at Leintwardine he broke the windows and smashed the glass with a hammer, throwing it into the river Teme, celebrating that he was imitating

King Asa who threw images into the brook Kidron

Trouble is, they were rather outliers in their area. A lot of the locals watching all of this hated it; I imagine you at home are yourselves shuddering at the thought of all that beautiful art being so randomly destroyed. And also I have to saw, with more than a hint of the litter bug, what was with glass being chucked into the river? I hope no one cut their feet swimming. I can see a new book along the ‘history they are trying to keep from you’ line. Anyway, the Vicar reported that

‘the vulgar comfort themselves with assured confidence that the Bishops will get up again

Brilliana and her family prayed and expected that parliament was in the right and would prevail, and that peace and harmony would be restored; she wrote

The lord in his mercy make them one and in his good time incline the King to be fully assured in the faithful counsel of parliament

But as another son, Thomas Harley wrote to Ned Harley, others in the area were not so supportive of parliament at the Harleys:

Some men jeer and cast forth reproachful words against the parliament and others that might forward the work of parliament are very backward[3]

In summary, the religion was dividing the country as it was beginning to divide parliament. To puritans and anti Laudians it was a triumphant resurgence of the old ways, bursting back into the light and pushing back the fear that they were to be engulfed by a revolution of popery, they were saved from the darkness. The puritan poet John Bond crowed

Papists tremble, Arminians tumble

Others were horrified at the chaos and riot. ‘The madness is intolerable’ wrote one. They feared that this religious chaos was just one aspect of rising social disorder and the many headed beast

We must take care that the Common people may not carve out a Justice, by their multitudes. Of this we have too frequent experience, by their breaking down enclosures and raising other tumults, to an ill purpose.

John Pym during the Summer and Autumn 1641 was at the height of his dominance and control. He managed parliament with authority and enormous skill, steering through an enormously significant programme of reform. And yet as MPs began to return from the Summer recess of parliament, he received a parcel brought to him by a porter in parliament. Curious, Pym opened the package – and out fell not a letter or petition, but

‘an abominable rag, full of filthy abominable matter’

There was a bit of paper with it

Mr Pym, do not think that a guard of men can protect you if you persist in your traitorous courses, and wicked designs. I have sent a paper messenger to you, and if this does not touch your heart, a dagger shall, so soon as I am recovered of my plague sore. In the mean time you may be forborne, because no better man may be endangered for you. Repent, Traitor.

Well, that’s not very nice. The rag had been the dressing for plaque sores. The thing is that Pym had become very unpopular.[4] Many backbenchers were beginning to resent the high handed tactics of the Junto; they were feeling corralled. The chaos around religion as we have seen was placing the wind up various parts of the national anatomy, and the Junto’s efforts to walk the line between keeping Scots on board and not scaring the traditional church was not entirely successful;[5] they were widely suspected on being in cahoots with the radical puritans in the city; libels appeared printed and scattered around the city, accusing Pym of going too far, of setting himself up above the king, of pride and chaos.

‘Pym was King Pym, and that rogue would set all the kingdoms by the ears

Many people were beginning to think the Junto were being paranoid about the king. Now the Junto were probably right in their belief that Charles was essentially untrustworthy and looking for a way now to defeat the cause of Reform, not work with it; a settlement could only work if the king was bound in a seven-fold fence, stiff with hoops, and armed with ribs of whale. Like a corset. But around them, others were weary, and wanted an end.

There was more; the Poll tax levied to pay off the Scots army had seriously  miffed people, since everyone had to pay, except those receiving poor relief; the Venetian Ambassador noted the mood

Parliament is losing great credit which it once enjoyed universally, since it appears that instead of bringing relief, it has imposed expenses and burdens on the public

Here was a parliament supposed to be putting things right – and all we’ve got is a pain in the wallet. That’s a theme we’ll hear again.

The chaos over religion and the mushrooming of religions groups as we’ve said was seriously worrying moderates and conservatives, but there was more chaos than that. Nicholas had been confident that the removal of the Scots’ army would hit the cause of the Reformers hard

‘those that have depended upon them will … fall flat

He wrote. But he didn’t anticipate the impact of the disbanding of the English army. London was increasingly flooded with out of work out of pocket soldiers; they became known as Reformadoes. The word is an odd one, or so it struck me, and it’s a borrowing from Spanish, where there’s a word for an officer who’d been left without a command due to a re-organisation, or reform you might say. So of course the English borrowed it, which is what we do.

On the happy bunny scale, the Reformadoes scored very low indeed, and they blamed parliament, and members of the Junto for their pain;  they were very royalist. Nervously, a substantial guard was placed on both houses of parliament for fear of a riot. The discontent now extended right into the City, which had been such a stalwart for the reformers. The tide was changing, the waters uncertain.

Edward Nicholas spotted this, and wrote to Charles:

I am credibly assured that the City of London grows very weary of the insolent carriage of the Schismatics

All of this was important; it began to be possible now to make an argument for the king as the defender of law and order, and as the defender of the Elizabethan church. Nicholas and Charles set about using this opportunity.

Drawing on advice from HM as well as the king, Nicholas started with what I might once have called low hanging fruit. In a frankly tawdry effort to win hearts and minds amongst others around me in the meeting trying to complete the cards of bullshit bingo they were all hiding, I might have also explained that there was no point trying to push water uphill, that in strategic terms we needed to focus on the knitting rather than extending the envelope. Such was once the way to win friends and influence people. Anyway, Nicholas focussed first of the House of Lords, where Pym’s support was weakest and support for the Church of England the strongest. He and HM identified two groups – a dozen disaffected lay peers and an equal number of bishops.

He wrote to the peers on behalf of the king; and in the letter implored them to keep the communication secret. Nicholas, HM and Charles were building a party.

And Charles was conscious that he needed also to give them confidence that he was a reformed character. He had a perfect opportunity in early October with the appointments of Bishops to five vacant sees; the appointments he made were not, as he would once have done, Arminians – they were all impeccably Calvinist, people, Nicholas said, happily,

Of whom there is not the least suspicion of favouring the popish party

Charles was learning to play to the gallery. And the policy began to deliver, building a party was not just a pipe dream, it could happen. And the new party began to acquire some notches in its belt.

That notch might come from the City of London. Since the start of the Bishops Wars, the City Corporation had been on the side of parliament, and seemed an increasingly close ally, hand and glove sort of thing. But the annual elections for the mayor were coming up, and the outgoing puritan Mayor hoped to hand over to the puritan and Pro-Junto Thomas Soame, President of the Honourable Artillery Company, that hot bed of puritans, and presumably hotbed of future lovers of WarHammer in a few centuries time.

But the thing about the City of London was that it was about trade, first and foremost. Uproar and mayhem is not a good for trade; the merchants’ brows were furrowed, were caught as they were in a pincer movement of poor continental demand due to war, and falling trade due to local argy bargy. And it was not just the big boys like the Honourable Companies of Clothworkers or Fishmongers and so on who were finding things hard; some far less reputable groups were raising their voices. It is time to the hear the voices of the Sisters of the Scabbard, as they join the mighty and deep river of history. The Good Sisters worked the back lanes and alleyways of Long Acre, just check by jowl to Bedford’s grand Convent garden. I am going to leave it to your imagination to decode what trade the Sisters were in[6], but just know that their ancient profession was struggling, and they were not being quiet about it.

So on 28th September the electoral body of the Common Hall was in a riot of noise, catcalls and shouts. Up against Soame, darling of the Radicals, was a much more traditional candidate – Richard Gurney, of the Clothmakers guild, who had made a bundle selling bundles of cloth to France and Italy. Now he himself was on a political journey; He’d started in 1640 being part of the decision to refuse to offer a loan to the King; but he’d turned and changed his mind as time went by; as the time the election came round, everyone knew about his rowing court sympathies. Well the election was chaos and time after time the Sheriff was forced to intervene to impose order. When it was finished an excited member rushed out of the Hall and wrote that Soame was defeated, and his supporters

Overcome with hisses

Charles would be delighted, especially because in his return to London in November his new ally Gurney stumped up £4,000, no less, for celebrations. Gurney received the traditional reward for his brown nosing, I mean for his selfless loyalty; a knighthood and baronetcy. For Charles of course this was a wise investment. The streets of London were crucial, controlling them could be the difference between success or failure, and having the Mayor on his side could swing events his way.

At this stage, news came back from Edinburgh; and it arrived on the collective desk of the Junto before anyone else knew. Hampden had set a messenger from Edinburgh and he’d covered the 6 day journey in just 4 days. Pym was able to stand up in the Commons on 9th October as the new session after Summer recess got under way, and make an announcement. Listen up! There has been another attempted royalist coup; first we had one in England, now there has been one in Scotland, an Incident, against our friends Argyll and the Covenanters. The news galvanised the commons, and brought waverers back to the reforming camp – another example of the King’s duplicity, and Pym took advantage – on 20th October a new reform programme was started in parliament in a highly charged atmosphere, with a sense of crisis and danger.

Well, it seems the timing could hardly have been better then, a massive advantage for Pym and the Junto, a superb environment on which they could capitalise to further develop the king’s corsetage. We are back to BAM. The first bid was a proposal to exclude the Bishops from the House of Lords and from other secular office; the Junto knew full well this was one topic where they could command complete support from the Commons. Such a policy would deliver not just one whammy, but two; it would convince those Scots that the Junto were reassuringly anti Bish, and remove a substantial block of royalist supporters from the Lords. But Pym found that the world had indeed changed; the Lords refused. In seems the king was now more in tune with his Lords than were the Commons, and that for the Lords also, the Bishops were non-negotiable.

For the moment,  taking on the king about military control seemed beyond the Junto’s reach; but even if they’d failed to persuade the Lords to move on the issue of Bishops, they felt confident of the third battle ground – choosing of ministers. To make arbitrary rule harder to achieve they must ensure the king was surrounded by counsellors who would respect the rights of the people. So, Pym introduced a proposal that parliament should have the right to a veto appointments of the King’s ministers. It was another of Charles’ non negotiables, of his red lines. This was another test case of the strength of the Reformers held in the Commons.

So it was that William Strode stood, speaking it was said, ‘with great violence’

All we had done this parliament is nothing unless we have a negative voice in the place of great officers of the king and his councillors, by whom the King was held captive

Neatly put – unless we can veto the king’s ministers all this could just be swept away. And, you’ll note, still carefully not blaming the king. Speaker after speaker stood to support the bill. The survival of reform was at stake. Without this bill, tyranny stood just around the corner. And don’t think we are claiming any new right here, all been done before – Pym argued they’d seen it all before in medieval times and were simply reviving ‘an ancient right’.

But this time the Reformer’s chain saw bit not through compliant wood but into unyielding metal, and sparks and screeches of protest followed. Few bought the idea that this was perfectly normal and an ancient right revived. In fact everyone recognised that this was as revolutionary as root and branch; that the right to appoint the ministers of choice was a fundamental platform on which England’s ancient monarchy had forever rested. The MPs who led the resistance included many of those who had previously been thick with the cause of Reform and stood with them shoulder to shoulder. But when Edward Hyde stood, the air was tense – this was the man who had called for Strafford’s blood. Which way would he jump? Hyde delivered his verdict

The great officers of the crown were to be appointed by the king, this being an hereditary flower of the crown

From there the debate was lost. Nicholas watched with delight, and later he wrote to his king with the match report –

So many in the Commons appeared against this business

He crowed, and named, those who had stood in the King’s Party

As Champions in the maintenance of your prerogative[7]

Charles was once again to remember the name of Edward Hyde and his role. He was cock-a-hoop. The proposal was diverted and watered down and watered down until all the Commons would approve was a feeble petition to the king on the subject. I imagine in Whitehall palace there was a room with the legend ‘Evil Councillor’ archive, organised by century, in which this new petition would be filed. It would have been a big room.

The proposal had been defeated. To have trouble in the Lords was unfortunate; but in the Commons that seems like carelessness, and it was a first in this parliament; and that, in the panic right after another apparent coup by the king. Charles was delighted, and wrote back to Nicholas and told him to prepare a list of ideas about how he could reward these loyal MPs. He had built it, and they had indeed come, the Junto would have to think again. For now, Nicolas was eager to get his king back down from Scotland to build on this turn around and put all tis talk of reform to the dustbin of history where it belonged.

The Junto though would not give up. They would relaunch, and Pym prepared a massive document, detailing the wrongs and tyrannies of the king, what the reformers had achieved, and what needed to happen once more. A manifesto for the people, as it were. On 1st November the Grand Remonstrance was to be presented to the Commons. This would allow the Junto to regain the initiative.

So on 1st November, the MPs filed into St Stephens’ Chapel, prepared for what many now expected to be a fractious, hard fought argument over the rights of parliament and the rights of the king; and whether further reform was needed to embed and protect the reform achieved; or if they had gone far enough, that the king had done all that should be asked on him, normal business should now be resumed, away from contention and conflict. So that they could all go home to their countries and get on with the politics that mattered – the politics of the parish.

Instead, once they’d crammed into that Stephens, they were interrupted. The debate cancelled. The Commons were presented with the sight of 17 Privy Councillors approaching the bar and demanding that they must be heard, and heard immediately because they had news that would change everything. Instructions duly went out and hurriedly 17 chairs were found and brought forward so the Councillors could address the House. What they had to say did indeed change everything.

News had arrived late last night when an exhausted rider had appeared at the gates of Leicester House in the West End of London, demanding an audience with the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, the Earl of Leicester. The news he had bought was this; Ireland was in flames, Dublin castle had been attacked, there were reports of massacres of Protestants, and English rule hung by a thread.

As you might expect that managed to catch everyone’s attention, and I hope yours. And next time we will turn to Ireland and an event which might be one of the most momentous in the History of Britain and Ireland, with the most long lasting and tragic consequences.

[1] Cust, R: ‘Charles I: A Political Life’, pp 294-5

[2] Harris, T: ‘Rebellion’, p422

[3] Purkiss, D: ‘The English Civil War: A People’s History’, pp143-152

[4] Healey, J: ‘The Blazing World’, p151

[5] Woolwych, A: Britain in Revolution’, p187

[6] Adamson, J: ‘The Noble Revolt’, p390

[7] Adamson, J: ‘The Noble Revolt’ pp418-9


5 thoughts on “379 The King’s Party

  1. Wonderful, we’ve found something Charles is good at: fomenting division. Starting to agree with Laud (how’d that happen?): that Charles was a king “that knows not how to be or be made great”.

    1. Yes I agree. One of the most insightful things I read was from Conrad Russell, who said that the real tragedy of charles was that he wasn’t competent enough to rule, but not incompetent enough to be pushed aside, and it was this that made civil war unavoidable.

  2. Apology for the last episode accepted David! That was a rough listen 🙂 I think I hit the rewind on Protestations at last 15 times to figure out what it was all about. Still loving the show though!

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