409 Agreement of the People


The New Model, Levellers and Radical MPs reacted with steely determination to the adoption of the Newport treaty. It was probably Ireton that inspired Pride’s Purge. Ireton it was also that drove the development of the constitutional proposal that followed, forged in the Whitehall Debates – the Agreement of the People. That would have to wait though, because more immediate questions were at hand. What now to do with this incorrigible king?

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It’s the dusk 5th December, in the palace of Westminster outside the houses of parliament, and a pretty wet and miserable one at that. It was the job of the London Trained bands to keep things orderly around Westminster and keep out undesirables; a wit like Henry Marten might have suggested that would have meant most of the MPs, but Henry Marten wasn’t about that evening. The MPs had suffered a late night session the previous night so few people were around as the new City Watch turned up to take up evening duty.

When they arrived though, rather than the expected Trained Band militiamen waiting to be relieved, they found red coats in their place – the red coats of the New Model. They were a bit uncertain about what to do, the militiamen. I mean the soldiers did their best to make everything light hearted, telling them they could take the evening off and leave everything up to them. But it definitely wasn’t right, this was their place, what were these soldiers doing here? They considered kicking up a fuss.

With impeccable timing, their commander appeared out of the growing gloom. Philip Skippon was respected and admired by pretty much all of them trained bands and New Model. There wasn’t much he hadn’t seen or done, he’d been at the forefront of countless conflicts for parliament, and the ceramic of his reputation had been fired under fire, if you see what I meant. With a cheerful smile, Skippon re-assured the bandsmen that all was as it should be, good humour was restored, and off the Trained Bandsmen went for an unexpected night in.

So it was that in the morning of 6th December, as the MPs arrived at the Chapel of St Stephens to take up their places in the Commons, everything seemed a little different. The presence of the red Coats was deeply unsettling. The New Model frightened a number of MPs who just the day before had defied them by agreeing the Treaty of Newport. They wanted them permanently gone. But also at the top of the stairs just inside the Chapel stood a well-known Colonel of the Army – Thomas Pride, an ex drayman, and military stalwart who had helped turn the tide against royal infantry at Naseby. And beside him stood one of the few remaining revolutionary aristocrats Lord Grey of Groby – unkindly referred to by one as that ‘grinning dwarf’. He was holding a list of names. As the first MP approached, Grey was heard to mutter to the Colonel ‘This is the person’, and Colonel Pride removed his hat and stepped forward. And ever so politely instructed two soldiers to accompany the MP not to the Chapel, but into Hell.


Hello everyone and welcome to the history of England, episode ***

Now then gentle listeners, a few episodes ago – episode 403 I believe, Eric, Rachel and Rowena of this parish were kind enough to educate me, and tell me that in that episode I had executed a Cold Open. I did not know that, and so, excited that such a thing has a name, I have tried it again.

Well you will be wondering what is going on with Colonel Thomas Pride, and to explain I probably need to go back 48 hours and take you to desperate meetings held in lodgings all over Whitehall, where Henry Ireton was struggling to decide how to react to the defiance of parliament in accepting the heinous Treaty of Newport. You might remember from the last episode, that the Army had decided enough was enough, they would not longer give this king any part of a pineapple, let alone the premium rough end. Under Ireton’s leaders they, the Levellers and radical MPs had produced the Remonstrance of the Army, and placed it reverently Parliaments hands, filled Westminster with redcoats, and waited for Holles & Co to take the hint and kick Newport into touch. They hadn’t.

Ireton, Fairfax and Cromwell probably hoped that parliament would have seen sense and reformed themselves; it was even hoped they might purge themselves of the most recalcitrant members, which does seem wildly optimistic if so. Fairfax in particular but also Cromwell were very reluctant to raise their hands against parliament.

The trouble is, of course, that for representative politics, you have to be able to accept the decisions that go against you, that is after all the basis of democracy. Not that even Ireton believed in democracy, but you know what I mean. But none of the Grandees were in a position to accept parliament’s decision to let the King have such a favourable treaty. In practical political terms, they were pretty confident the army would riot. In religious terms they believed that it would be a sin to deny the sign of God’s providence which had been witnessed against the king in battle; and Independent preachers were thunderously quoting the Old testament in support of the view that the King must accept the judgement of heaven. The lawyer John Cooke indeed had written on this subject, in a tract called ‘Monarchy no creature of God’s making’, riffing on quotations like that from Hosea, 8:4,

They set up kings, but not by Me; They made princes, but I did not acknowledge them.

As Geoffrey Robertson observed, radicalism did not necessarily come from the pagan ancients, the likes of Cicero or Demosthenes, but from the bible.

Nonetheless, the grandees hesitated to intervene, but it had become obvious that the Commons would not yield to the Army. So late at night Ireton consulted with army officers like Ludlow, and Harrison, and MPs like Grey and Marten probably. Ireton favoured complete dissolution; storm into the house send the whole rotten lot of them packing and hold fresh elections. But the MPs there  argued against it; it would look simply too outrageous. Better do for the Commons what they should have done themselves – purge it of the folks with the wrong sort of opinions.

Hence the presence of Pride and Grey at the steps of St Stephens. Along with a regiment of soldiers to make sure that the likes of Denzil Holles and William Prynne couldn’t reach their seats, some were hauled off to Hell. Hell I should point out, was the irreverent name given to one of the taverns Palace Yard. You may remember I mentioned the two competing taverns, Heaven and hell some time ago. Many MPs were just sent home, but the worst offenders against the right opinion were arrested and pushed and shoved into the basement of Hell. At one stage they were promised they’d be moved to the more comfortable Wallingford house but that never happened, so they had to spend the night down there. They spent quite a lot of the time passing hankies to Robert Harley who had a cold.

And Thomas could take pride in the quality of his work. Pride’s purge carried on at least until 12th December, with Thomas and his clipboard asking his question; Crucifixion? Good…Down the corridor first on the left, one cross each…By the end of it about 45 MP had been arrested, without charge, and maybe as many as 185 had been sent home and excluded. Some wag of course, as the English do, turned to bottoms, and dubbed the remainder, the Rump Parliament. It is a name that will stick.

It was not just the Presbyterians who recognized this act of violence as a breach of parliamentary privilege far worse than Charles’ attempt to arrest five members. Attitudes would vary, but it’s interesting to look at reactions to Pride’s purge from some of the independents who have so far in our story played such a leading role. Harry Vane, Arthur Haselrige, Oliver St John and Viscount Saye & Sele were appalled at the breach of parliamentary privilege, and considered they were now forced to choose between a parliamentary and military tyranny, and all would oppose the idea of king killing. I believe a Leveller, Thomas Prince, called this lot the Silken Independents. So They all left and refused to take part in the rump. Later in 1649 many would return. But Saye and Sele was done with all of this. At some point I believe he ended up on a 3 mile outcrop of granite called Lundy Island in the Bristol Channel, and lived there along with Puffins and Manx Shearwaters. I feel quite emotional; Old Subtlety leaves our story, the man whom Clarendon angrily wrote was

the pilot that steered all those vessels which were freighted with sedition to destroy the government.

The Rump for the next couple of months would constitute maybe 70 members in the Commons. Wiliam Lenthall the Speaker would be one of them, but it was a far cry from the 471 who were supposed to be there. The number of Lords meanwhile rarely rose above single figures. It is therefore a revolutionary and Radical body now. Over time, people will return, so through 1649 something like 200 MPs will return, and reconcile themselves; Vane, St John and Haselrige will be in this category.

Cromwell arrived back for Yorkshire and Pontefract just a tad late, on 7th December. He declared to Ludlow that he’d not known anything about the plan of Prides Purge, but since it was happened,

He was glad of it, and would endeavour to maintain it

Fairfax would have known all about the purge – Ireton almost certainly told him; but Thomas seems terribly torn in all that follows. He clearly went along with it, because he loved his soldiers and would always be on their side; he is intimately involved as chair of many of the Army councils and many of the discussions that drive events, and as such, a stream of MPs and foreign dignitaries will beat a path to his door seeking his good offices. But he has doubts about the Revolution, his heart is never quite in it, and he distracts himself by concentrating on his first love, making sure the Army get what they need and deserve in practical terms like pay and billets.

Over December in particular Cromwell stirred might and main to try to bring back as many moderates as possible to take part in the Rump; it remained Ireton who drove the revolutionary agenda. Cromwell made sure most of those 45 members were released from prison, which of course was only reasonable given there were no proper charges; he even sprang William Prynne, an implacable opponent of the army, and who was of course spitting feathers. Famously Cromwell particularly tried to get moderates like Bulstrode Whitelocke back on board. He met with Whitlocke in the royal place of Whitehall, lolling around on a sumptuous royal bed, in what sounds like a rather odd anecdote but has that feeling of the ordinary people suddenly inhabiting a world of unimaginable sumptuousness. Whitlocke was important because of his high standing in the legal profession, if you remember his role in Strafford’s trial. But our Bulstrode was far too canny to nail his colours to a mast before it had been firmly stepped into place. He and the other legal eagles knew that the trial of the king was in the offing and melted gently into the countryside and took up camoflague; Whitlocke goes back to Henley. Trimmers like Bulstrode are not the kind you need on your side if there’s hard, dirty work to be done. But the point is that Cromwell kept lines of communication open with Radicals and Moderates; to would help broaden political supporters of the forthcoming Commonwealth.

Meanwhile, London’s head exploded. Presbyterian Ministers went bananas condemning the purge and the vanishing prospect of a national Presbyterian church, and the extremely dodgy looking future of the king – who, let it be remembered, was in theory, core to the Solemn League and Covenant. I mean Charles wouldn’t give the Solemn League and Covenant the time of day, but there’s supposed to be a covenanted king, he was sacred. The London Common Council was dominated by presbyterians and by people noted for being careful with their money, and unless the money’s on board there will always be trouble.

But Skippon helped with that. Despite being a Presbyterian, he had turned out to be a rampaging revolutionary during 1648. Being also an MP he stood in the Commons of the Rump

Looking demurely as if he meant to say Grace[1]

And moved that no one in favour of the Newport Treaty should be eligible to stand for the London Common Council. The result was a landslide election for Independents, and men like Isaac Pennington are back in the driving street. It’s an astute move. London is where it all happens; throughout the revolution, controlling the environment there is critical, and the Common Council was broadly now back on board. And when Fairfax quartered the Army in London they finally paid up their missing tax assessment.

What no one could control though, were the Presbyterian ministers, nor the newsbooks and pamphlets. Newsbooks of all flavours went to war, across all political and religious persuasions. Marchamont Nedham at Pragmaticus, or the ‘Prag’ as it was called, still playing on the king’s team remember, poured out brilliant, anti Army journalistic invective and was just having a party. A hoot I tell you. Like a pig in muck. Must do a shedcast on our Nedham.

To set against that though were the independent ministers; they are doing exactly the same kind of ranting, but FOR the revolution, roundly condemning the king in biblical terms. In the words of Ian Gentles, there was a crescendo of sermons. And just before we decide this is all about the London and nothing but the London, as news gets out, petitions start arriving from the provinces. Seriously, in 17th century if a morning goes by and you haven’t sent off a petition, you’re just not trying. Over a hundred petitions come in from towns all around England. Praising the army, urging members to complete the reformation and often calling for justice on the king.[2] Often calling for the execution of the king. The northern counties were particularly passionate that the king should be held to account; possibly because they had suffered most from the plundering of the Scots, but more generally they appeared more radical – 10 members of the trial Commissioners would be Yorkshiremen.[3]

The first job of the Rump parliament is to get the revolution back on track. The Repeal of the Vote of No Address was repealed, if you get the double negative. So, mouths zipped don’t talk to the king. Then it was on to the heady business of designing a new world – a new constitution.

Ireton delivered on his earlier promise to the Levellers. There was a new constitution to be forged, The Agreement of the People as it was to be called. The discussion went on between 14th December and 13th January, and was forged in the Whitehall Debates. Forged in the fire of detailed and passionate debate by people across a wide range of social classes and occupation. I wish I had been there.

The meeting included the agreed council of 16; but many others too – more than 68 by the end, soldiers, civilians, ministers. Official Levellers were John Lilburne, William Walwyn, Maximillian Petty and John Wildman, but Richard Overton would also speak there. And of course there were representatives of the Army, principal among whom was Henry Ireton. Of the MPs, Henry Marten was the main player. Marten was an important bridge between the Army, Levellers and Parliament. For example, the day after Pride’s Purge when Cromwell returned, Marten arrived at the Commons arm in arm with him; Marten was not a fan of Oliver’s, but at that point unity was more important than personal rivalry. At the debates Lilburne would argue with Marten as he argued with everyone, but in the end wrote that

The true lovers of their country in England were more beholden to Mr Henry Marten for his sincerity, uprightness, boldness and gallantry than to half, if not all, of those that are called conscientious men in the house

So the debates kicked off, with Thomas Fairfax usually presiding in the chair. As the debate swung back and forth, they were surrounded by secretaries taking careful notes. Once more we owe a lot to William Clarke and his shorthand; but other versions also exist. One of the things that survives from the record is everyone’s awareness that this was an historic occasion, that they were involved in something deeply significant, which must be fought over and crafted line by line, word by word. Lilburne described it as ‘a tedious tug’, especially because the debate about liberty of conscience was fierce. Despite later accusations from Lilburne, this was no pretence, no fake attempt to fob people off with by fake pretence of involvement – the clear intention was that this would be the mold for a new state.

One of the things I love about it was the openness. At one point Ireton turned to the audience and remarked that:

if any body will take notes of it in writing they may

There was nothing to hide.

There’s a lovely flash of light on the debates, from the diary of the royalist John Evelyn. Evelyn was a multi talented man, aesthete, gardener, courtier, man of letters. He’d spent most of the civil wars wandering around Italy in luxury taking notes of all the glories, but he was back in England by this time and like many others in the fascinated to see know what was going on in this extraordinary debate that might shape all their futures. And he managed it. He was a creative and intelligent man, but in this his imagination and vision failed him

I got privately into the council of the rebel army, at Whitehall

But Evelyn write he heard nothing but

horrid villanies.

There he saw the people gather round and engaged in debate; In the centre of the hall on a table he saw the working copy of the Agreement of the People

a large scroll containing this new device

and he listened to the debates. Not for Evelyn the subtleties of conscience, not for Evelyn the honest struggle to reach for a new future, a better society. All he saw was

young, raw and ill-spoken men

an nothing but

Disorder and irreverence

Basically – ‘disgusted of Tonbridge Well on Points of View. Well, disgusted of Surrey’. His diary then goes on to talk about some nice paintings he bought. I mean what can you do with people like that?

The atmosphere alive with tension. There were dark references to shipwreck and the risk of ruin; but through it all it was Ireton who drove the meeting forward. As speaker followed speaker, he took on all comers. It would infuriate Lilburne. He described Ireton as a tyrant, but he was simply infuriated that Ireton was his equal in conviction and steeliness of purpose. Ireton in debate was almost always calm, on top of every question, with impressive command of the issues.

I feel the temptation to get into the detail, but must resist I think, so the main points. Firstly, from the Whitehall Debates, the draft Agreement was to be taken to an Army Council, where it was debated and amended again. This was what got Lilburne really angry – he thought the Whitehall Debates would be the end of it. He’d had enough, enough of the compromise and he stormed out, and dismissed all the participants as

A pack of juggling, dissembling rogues

He met with Fairfax and complained bitterly that it was all just not fair; Fairfax was not sympathetic, he been at the debate himself. So Honest John published his own version of the Agreement of the People. And left London to sort out a land dispute with Arthur Haselrig in Durham. It meant he would be away when the king was out on trial.

Finally , on the 20th January, the Agreement of the People was presented to parliament, for their consideration.

So the key points of the Agreement. The principle of reserved rights, natural rights not subject even to parliament was accepted; there were to be six rights Reserved. The biggest debate was about extent of liberty of conscience. Everyone accepted the state must have no right to impose uniformity. For the Levellers and many Junior officers, the state must have no role whatsoever. Others recognized how divisive this would be. Edward Whalley reminded everyone that such toleration had already divided the army – think how it would divide the kingdom. In the end it was a compromise. The state should have no power to impose uniformity; but Christianity would be

Held forth and recommended as the public profession in this nation

Tithes would be abolished, but ministers maintained from a central national purse.

This was the first reserve. Then; no one would be forced to fight for the state, no military conscription, there would be indemnity for soldiers’ actions in the civil war; there would be equality before the law and the legal profession separated from intervention by parliament. Parliament also could not intervene where no law had been broken – a big defeat for Ireton here, who worried it would prevent the trial of the king, to which he was utterly committed by this stage.

For the body of the Agreement of the People; there would be fresh elections by April 1649. Royalists would be excluded for seven years, and then the slate wiped clean, a delayed act of Oblivion as it were. Constituencies were redrawn on the principle not of Tax revenue, as Ireton had wanted, but on equal numbers of people. But the compromise reached at Putney would be maintained – People dependent on others like servants would not get the vote, so essentially it’s all householders. Which did not include women of course. It’s a radical extension of the franchise – but universal suffrage it is not. Though I am interested to hear that nor was universal suffrage implemented in the American Revolution, nor the French – the 1792 Convention claimed to be, but like the Agreement of the People excluded domestic servants or so I understand. You are allowed to correct me.

The Agreement of the People, was a new, balanced, workable constitution that bore in mind not only reform, but what would be workable and acceptable. It was presented on 20th January to parliament. They ordered it printed and promised to debate and enact it ‘as the necessity of affairs permit’. As it happens of course, the necessity of affairs never did permit. The immediate reason was the affair we’ll come to now, the small matter of what to do with that bloke freezing his bottom off in Hurst Castle. Longer term, the Agreement of the People was probably simply too reasonable to live. There was no one, with the exception of the Junior officers, who were passionate about what was inevitably a compromise – too radical for the traditionalists, not radical enough for the Levellers. There was no one with the passion to pull it above the chaotic hurly burly of the birth of a new Commonwealth.

Which brings us to the other big, burning issue of the moment. What shall we do with that boke with the freezing bum in Hurst Castle, the incorrigible, the irreconcilable, the unscrupulous and untrustworthy father of the people – the king. Shall we talk a bit about that maybe? Oh go on then.

It’s a confused affair all of this. I doubt we can fully appreciate the doubts and pressures on all sides about what to do next; there were as many different opinions as shells on the beach. Also, looking back is very difficult, because the evidence is irremediably tainted by the attempts of swathes of people after the accession of Charles II to distance themselves from having been anything other than passionately opposed to killing that lovely, lovely man, jolly fine chap, anointed by God don’t you know and also just co-incidentally Charles II’s Dad. Who can blame anyone for not wanting to be hanged until almost but not quite dead, have your entrails drawn from your body, genitals cut off in front of your disbelieving eyes, before being quartered and bits of you sent around the country to deserving towns? I would say literally anything to avoid that piece of barbarism.

So there are a couple of questions and myths we need to try to address. One is that this is all about Oliver Cromwell, that it was he that drove everything, utterly convinced that the king must die. That is an idea very much driven by people avoid that aforementioned unusually intimate view of your privates. After the Restoration, Cromwell had of course been head of state, and became the ultimate bogeyman; blaming Cromwell becomes the all-purpose Get Out of Jail Free card. So, you can ignore all of that special pleading, from John Downes or Richard Ingoldsby or whomever it might be, they are all worthless, or at least only admissible with corroborating evidence. Lucy Hutchinson knew this at the time, and nailed this neatly and unequivocally, that at the trial and afterwards

It is certain that all men herein were left to their free liberty of acting, neither persuading nor compelled

I mean I think she’s going a bit far – I’m sure there was plenty of persuasion going on – but no one was forced into it. Multiple people run away for various reasons, and none suffer as a result.

Connected to that is the question; was the Trial was nothing but a show trial, a kangaroo court as Tristram Hunt disparagingly calls it[4], which was only ever going to have one outcome? Or, was the outcome much less certain; was it, as some contemporaries thought at the time, part of an extended negotiation, a way to put the king under pressure to come to a reasonable agreement?

Wel, let’s park that for your process of, in the words of Bucks Fizz, Maling your mind Up. And let’s understand the process. The Rump of parliament, the radicals, or the ‘fierce party’ as one newsbook called them, opened the debate on 15th December, about what to do with the king. The army of course had made it quite clear in the Remonstrance of the Army, that the king must be brought to trial. And given the radical nature of the Rump, a trial of some sort was very likely. But, what that trial should be, and what its objectives should be, was a little more fluid, and so they did what parliaments do – they set up a committee, to determine everything. What, where, how, who.

Some though still hoped for a negotiated peace, and accordingly it is thought, but not certainly known, that Lord Denbigh went to see Charles with a deal, which would mean he remained king on much reduced terms. Charles was never a coward, and turned it down flat. But it is this that leads some to think that a deal was still there to be chased, and that Charles also was doing his normal gig – holding out for more and overestimating the strength of his position

By this stage Charles was no longer in the dire surroundings of Hurst, because after the debate on 15th December, since a trial of some kind was in the offing, the king was to be brought closer to London. Windsor seemed a nice secure location, and so Thomas Harrison was sent to fetch him. Harrison is an interesting case; son of a butcher, wildly radical, convinced the Lord was on his way for a second coming. But also rather natty, took pride in his appearance – ‘fine and gilded’ as Lilburne called him. Anyway, on the way back Charles noticed him and drew him to one side, in a friendly sort of way, and admitted that, ha ha ha, he’d heard Harrison – isn’t this silly! was planning to kill him. Gosh. Certainly not, said Harrison. I wouldn’t do that. The law is the best judge. And added

The law was equally obliging to great and small, and that justice was no respecter of persons

Now this was not to Charles’ liking so he dropped Harrison like a stone. Because Charles had already had access to legal advice from a number of different sources. One of them came from an expert who had written

…by the letter of the law, all persons charged to offend against the law ought to be tried by their peers or equals. What is the law if the person…is without peer?

It is probably, then, that very early on Charles had all the legal advice he needed to devise his strategy, though others would tell him the same. For him, the trial would be a political process, not a legal one. Because he was secure in the confident knowledge that if the rebels were daft enough to accord him a trial rather than doing the Edward II thing with a red hot poker, they would be lost. Because kings were not responsible to law but only to God. A belief with which a lot of people agreed. Though as Cromwell would remark in 1970 in a film, that was a question over which this war had been fought. But from Charles’ viewpoint, at some point there would be the time when a deal could be struck.

It is interesting that as late as 21st December, Cromwell argued at the Council of Officers that executing the king would merely render the Prince of Wales more dangerous, and the Council voted that if the King accepted Denbigh’s proposals he should be spared. So Charles might well not have been wide of the mark that this was a negotiation, and again he could hold out for more. He may have known that Fairfax was almost certainly strongly against the idea of killing the king; indeed Anne Fairfax was reported to have had a dream, of her holding her husband’s severed head. So, Whitelock reported after a visit to see the king at Windsor on 2nd January that he found him

Cheerful and took no notice of any proceedings against him, and sayeth he doubts not within 6 months to see peace in England, & in case of not restoring, to be righted, from Ireland, Denmark and other places[5]

This is a remarkable quote. It shows us that just a few days before his trial, Charles was confident of his approach – that he could not be tried, and if he was no court could convict him. And it shows that he would remain happy at all times and in all places to wage a third civil war on his people, or a fourth civil war. And so on.


Right, back to parliament then. The committee appointed to work out what, where, how who and all that included leading lights such as Ireton, Marten, and Skippon, and legal experts Whitlocke and Widdrington before they ended up skippon’ town. Arf, arf. Not Cromwell as it happens. The reason they were here was of course that they had decided there was no point negotiating any more, that even if an agreement was reached, Charles would double cross them at any time on the basis that they were just worthless rebels. So, we might reflect that they had some options. And to be fair they were tempting.

Firstly – an abdication. Cromwell favoured Henry Stuart, eight years old and therefore presumably biddable – though to be fair he will say to his Dad he’d rather be torn in pieces. And anyway Charles would certainly chose martyrdom before Abdication, and was brave enough to carry that through, then there’d be disputed succession etc etc. So, no go.

More attractive must surely have been to take Charles for a pleasant afternoon walk along the coast, let’s say, um, the cliff of Dover, and oops so sorry he slipped; or the Livia approach, I’ll cook all your food dear to make sure you get the very best. Implement the Edward II, Henry VI gambit, and pop Charles II on the throne. That was the way things were normally done after all, for those lovers of tradition. Or the Richard II approach – lock him away and carry on. Though everyone was painfully aware that Richard had been a honey pot for plots, until he unaccountably died, because someone forgot to feed him.

Then there was the Military, court martial approach; Charles was a military commander, he could have been shot like Charles Lucas; the convention was that everyone, including princes were subject to martial law, according to Albertico Gentili, a prof at Oxford, on the principle that ‘a dead man renews no war’. There’d have been a bit of a fuss obviously, but quick, and clean, and look there’s have been a fuss anyway since 1638 so whatever.[6]

But the committee did not choose any of these options. They were made of sterner stuff, and despite the fact that no one had ever done it before they wanted this done right. As C V Wedgewood writes,

Those who brought King Charles to trial defended their actions on principles of religion and patriotism and were proud of what they did

The trial would therefore be held in the most public place possible not hidden away in some palace or castle like Forthinghay was for Mary Queen of Scots. It would be held in the home of Common law, the holy of holies – Westminster Hall. And the doors would be thrown wide, open to all.

Clarendon was, of course dismissive on the whole affair, a show trial, as just another way of king killing, but in his  angry words he had the right of it. The English took their king to trial precisely because, as he wrote, it would:

Be most for the honour of the parliament, and teach all kings to know that they were accountable and punishable for the wickedness of their lives

Bang on, Clarrers,pal, look at the brain on that bloke. But there’s more.

Let me tell you a story I should leave to later, the trial of Thomas Harrison on the restoration. Famously he told the court

the matter that hath been offered to you, was not a thing done in a corner. I believe the sound of it hath been in most nations.

As Wedgewood pointed out this was not an object of shame to the revolutionaries, but of pride. As we have seen in multiple episodes on this very podcast, the English respect for Common Law was monumental, even despite the shade cast in the Putney debates, that many actual laws represented the tyranny of the powerful. The principle of English law had always been openness. Public access, trial by peers all that sort of thing. So Mr Hunt is quite wrong, so sorry. The Revolutionaries would tie themselves in knots trying to follow the rules in an extraordinary situation, and do so in the glare of publicity. This would specifically not be a kangaroo court.

Of course whether or not it would be a show trial, is moot. I am not exactly sure what a show trial is, but I assume it’s a bad thing, one where the outcome is rigged. Whether this is true is moot. Certainly, the Army and radicals wanted this case to be exemplary. They wanted the world to see their evidence, they wanted everyone to see they were right, because that would allow the nation to accept the result; in the way that a closed trial could never do. And certainly they were utterly  confident of their case, and convinced Charles would be found guilty because, I mean – he was. But If the unexpected happened, which demonstrably does happen in English Common Law, as John Lilburne would prove, and would always be a risk, if that happened would it have been allowed? I cannot be sure. But actually I suspect the answer is yes, though surely Charles would never again have his freedom. But I am sure many would think otherwise with justification given stuff like Pride’s Purge.

An interesting interlude would be the long sessions the committee spent with Elizabeth Poole, a prophetess from Abingdon. She had received visions, and the committee wanted to hear about them. They all gathered in a room, these revolutionaries, and earnestly and anxiously asked her questions about what she had seen; should they put the king on trial? If so, should the sentence be death? The tradition of female prophetesses and visions was long and her testimony was taken seriously and respectfully. She interpreted her visions as telling her that yes, the king should go on trial. But no, they should not shed his blood. The most illuminating question came from one of the officers, a Colonel Rich. He asked – what if the king denied the right of his subjects to try him, and so would not answer the charges? Elizabeth didn’t understand the legal niceties of that question so didn’t answer, but the question is interesting. The basis of the king’s defence was no surprise; it was foreseen, understood. There will be an answer, but it will also be deeply awkward.[7]

So, the decision had been made that there would be a trial, according to the dictates of English law, in the open and with evidence. Now the details needed to be worked out, but the principle was established by Christmas Day 1648. Bulstrode chose this moment to leg it, as fast as his little leggies would carry him, knowing he would be asked to lead the case, and his neck was unaccountably itchy. On 26th Charles turned down the Denbigh peace proposal – always assuming it actually happend. On 27th in the parliamentary debate on the decision to put the king on trial ,Cromwell seems to have changed his tune at last and gave a speech with is often described as gnomic, Delphic that sort of thing, obscure. He said that

If any man whatsoever had carried on this design of deposing the king and disinheriting his posterity, or had yet any such design, he should be the greatest traitor and rebel in the world. But since the providence of God hath cast this upon us, I cannot but submit to providence, though I am not yet provided to give you my advice

The way I see it, is that he was saying, look, no one started this to rob the king of his rights, and if they did they were  a traitor – and if that’s their real reason for doing it now, they are still nowt more than a traitor. But events turned out as they did, God gave his judgement in battle, and having done so we must act accordingly. But even so I am not sure enough of my mind to take that last awful step. That’s how I see it. Don’t shout at me.

But whatever; the journey had started with the first, single step. Now they must work out the full journey.

Which we will come to next time, when the big moment finally arrives. The unprecedented trial of a king. I hope you will join me, and follow me through all the twists and turns. Meanwhile, thank you very much for listening, all your comments and questions. Don’t forget member ship is a smorgasbord of special shedcasts, and ad free listening, is as cheap as chips and available at the history of England.co.uk.

Good luck everyone, and have a great week

[1] Wedgewood, CV: ‘The Trial of Charles I’, p76

[2] Woolrych, A: ‘Britain in Revolution’, p 430

[3] Hopper, A: https://media.nationalarchives.gov.uk/index.php/reluctant-regicides/

[4] Hunt, T: ‘The English Civil Wars’, p203

[5] Hopper, A: ‘Black Tom’, p101

[6] Robertson, G: ‘The Tyrannicide Brief’, pp131-133

[7] Wedgewood, C. V. ‘The Trial of Charles I’, p89


9 thoughts on “409 Agreement of the People

  1. Re: Harrison quote
    “At the noise of the taking of Babylon the earth is moved, and the cry is heard among the nations” (Jeremiah 50:46), perhaps?

    1. Wayne seems to have nailed it:
      ‘It was St Paul was speaking to King Agrippa when he said at Acts 26:26, “For the king knoweth of these things, before whom also I speak freely: for I am persuaded that none of these things are hidden from him; for this thing was not done in a corner.”

  2. I’ve been trying for a while to come up with a spoof of Santa Claus Is Coming To Town (by Mariah Carey) about Pride’s Purge.
    “He’s making a list, he’s checking it twice, he’s gonna find out who’s going to be too easy on the king” (I never did get the rhyme right)

  3. Small edit: in being hanged, drawn and quartered, I suspect one of the upsetting parts was the “aforementioned unusually [public] view of your privates”.
    Thanks for another excellent episode!

  4. I must admit, I clicked on the latest article I found just so that I could send you a message. I’m up to episode #186 in The History of England, and wanted to give you my opinion that you’ve put together the very best history podcast that I’ve ever come across. The balance of information and comical asides has helped me out a lot through many frustrating workdays, and quiet evenings. The single donation I’ve made is not yet enough to compensate for the hours of relaxation, laughter and knowledge you’ve given me, so I will be rectifying that soon enough. I know that I’m 8 – 9 years late to the party, but your episodes are still giving me loads to look forward to and enjoy. Thank you, David

    1. Lovely, thank you so much, and thanks for taking to effort to find out the post. I amn vwery glad you are enjoying it.

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