We Dream Now of a Golden Age

The Long Parliament and the Public Sphere

Failure in the Bishops” Wars forced Charles to call a parliament which he could not dissolve until the Covenanters were paid and a treaty ratified. From an English point of view this meant that there was now ample opportunity to air eleven years” worth of grievances. When Parliament met in November 1640, therefore, there was plenty to talk about, but that talking was structured by a number of concerns which were already becoming clear. Aside from, or behind, the immediate problems of undoing the religious innovations and abuses of the prerogative during the 1630s there lay an influential body of opinion in favour of further reformation. There were potential tensions in this coalition, however. Over the previous summer pressure for reformation had seemed to threaten political and social decency: a willingness to collude with the Covenanters was by no means the same thing as a desire to import their reformation, or an even more radical one; still less did it imply approval of unofficial iconoclasm. The previous summer had seen politics in the hands, to some extent, of Scottish soldiers inspired by Merlin and led by ministers and English soldiers eager to make a statement of their own about the future of the church. The potential for political debate to spill out of the usual channels was becoming plain: this was true out in the counties but it is revealed most clearly in London, which now replaced Edinburgh as the theatre of events.

Looking at Wenceslaus Hollar’s 1647 engraving, drawn from an imaginary spot high above Bankside, we see the two sides of the heart of the English kingdom. On the right, below the only bridge, ships are massed on the river, carrying goods into and out of the greatest port in the country. London’s trade was increasingly reaching not only into the Baltic and Mediterranean, but also across the Atlantic and even into the Indian Ocean. London was also an important manufacturing centre, with more diverse trades and industries than any other city in England. With a population of 400,000 it dwarfed its nearest provincial rivals, which mustered only 20,000 inhabitants, and it was second only to Paris in the whole of Europe. It dominated the economy more completely than the capital cities of other major kingdoms and its position was more akin to that of a city republic like Amsterdam or Venice, but with a larger hinterland. On the left, centred on the great medieval buildings of Westminster, is the seat of government, a magnet for petitioners, lobbyists and those with political ambition, as well as increasingly large numbers of litigants. This was the most litigious age in English history, with great tides of suits washing over the courts each year. The market for manufactures, the level of litigation and the expansion of overseas trade reflected increasing domestic wealth. The beneficiaries of increasing population growth were spending on exotic luxury items, manufactures and the pursuit of grudges. London benefited from all three.1


London in 1647

This drove a massive expansion of population despite the fact that London was a death trap: year after year the death rate far exceeded the birth rate. A flood of immigration replaced not just the annual loss of population but fed spectacular growth. By 1650 London contained about 8 per cent of the total population of England and Wales. A substantial part of that migration was motivated by a desire for betterment, of course, but an even larger part was probably motivated by hardship. In arable communities farms were getting bigger as those able to profit from rising prices and falling wages bought out their smaller neighbours. These large farms generated profits which helped to create the market for London’s trades and services and therefore fed the city’s growth. These changes also led to improvements in agricultural efficiency, helping to create the food surpluses necessary to support London and other large towns. But they also tended to employ less labour than a larger number of small farms and therefore created conditions which forced young people off the land. One of the places where it was possible to secure a living without land was obviously a town; and the pull of London for that kind of migration was mighty indeed.2


London was a densely governed as well as a densely populated city. Within the ancient bounds of the City power lay with the Corporation: the Lord Mayor, Court of Aldermen and Common Council. Below them lay the wards, which took on a wide range of administrative tasks. According to one estimate, one in ten adult males in London held office. Alongside these civic offices stood the Companies, which took on a variety of social and welfare roles, integrating a broad swathe of London’s population into a complex associational life. Finally, the City contained a large number of parishes and numerous lectureships. There was not a free market in religious belief, but, on the other hand, an interested worshipper would not have to try very hard to find alternative visions of proper Christian worship. One element of this relatively diverse religious life was a ‘puritan underground’.3

Beyond the lines of the medieval City walls and the boundaries of Westminster, densely settled inner-city parishes gave way to more sprawling suburbs. Unlike the modern city, however, the suburbs were not havens of semi-rural retreat, but sprawling settlements of new arrivals, often of low status. Here the structures of authority were less well-established. South of the river too, in Southwark and Bankside, the growth of population placed strain on political and religious institutions which had evolved in very different conditions. These places were associated, often without good reason, with a lack of order.4

This sprawling metropolis was the centre of a demonstrative, theatrical street politics. London crowds had been prominent in politics throughout the sixteenth century and during the 1620s. Particular dates such as Shrove Tuesday, and particular forms of demonstration such as attacks on brothels, formed a recognizable repertoire of protest, which could be used to express political views. Bonfires and street celebrations marked an official Protestant calendar, celebrating the accession of Elizabeth or deliverance from the Armada, but these same celebrations of Protestant triumph might be the means to express more limited victories. Charles I’s ignominious return from Madrid in 1624, for example, a defeat for diplomacy aimed at securing him a Spanish bride, was enthusiastically celebrated in London’s streets as another delivery from popish threat.5

Talk on the streets, and in the shops and markets, was crucial in unleashing this political energy. Richard Beaumont, an apprentice apothecary, while visiting one of his master’s patients in May 1640, had heard from members of the militia about the assaults on White Lion prison and other prisons in Southwark to release those arrested for attacking Lambeth Palace. In conversation with his master’s sister-in-law, who lived by the Old Exchange, he heard forecasts of further intended outrages which were confirmed and augmented in conversation with other apprentices. They in turn circulated the street talk. Back in his master’s shop he passed on the highlights of these conversations to a waterbearer, telling him that apprentices planned attacks on popish royal chapels and the Earl of Arundel’s house, and passing on the rumours about Laud’s conversion.6 London’s streets, it seems, were alive with engaged political comment, and ambitious plans for action. An attack on a bawdy house off Golden Lane also seems to have had some connections with these protests against Laud and Laudianism: two of the main actors, when asked about the recent proclamation against disorders in the City, were said to have replied: ‘tumultuous persons God bless them God prosper them, let them go on’.7 As the disorders in May had demonstrated, action or talk on London’s streets could accelerate, or rarefy, political issues, raising the stakes in public controversies. Behind these events lay a political energy that could only be restrained by the authorities with some difficulty.

The potential for more direct political interventions by this mobilized citizenry was clearly demonstrated in September, after the defeat at Newburn, when a petition with 10,000 signatures was presented to the King. Like that of the twelve peers, who had petitioned the King on the same day as the battle of Newburn, the petition called for a parliament. Unlike the peers, however, the petitioners were citizens ‘of every condition’ and they added a list of specific grievances in need of remedy, including ship money, impositions, monopolies, innovations in religion and complaints about the sudden dissolution of parliaments. It also contained explicit statements of hostility to the campaigns against the Covenanters. Signatures had been systematically gathered in the City’s wards and at one such venue 300 people queued to read and subscribe the petition, twenty or thirty at a time. Although four aldermen signed the petition, it was not organized or condoned by the Corporation. Indeed, while it was being mobilized, from August onwards, the Privy Council repeatedly urged the Corporation to stop it, but they could not. The Lord Mayor was reported to have refused to present it and on 22 September the Court of Aldermen officially disowned it. It was presented instead by four citizens, including two prominent radical merchants, Maurice Thomson and Richard Shute. Like Captain John Venn, another of those who presented the petition, these men were to be prominent in radical politics in London in the following years.8

It had been clear in May that the atmosphere in the teeming streets of the City and its sprawling suburbs could be febrile – rumour and argument swirled around the streets and the pressure of the vulgar was felt by those in authority. Mobilization in the City ran beyond the control of the Corporation. The Covenanters, as we have seen, appealed downwards as well as upwards. News of Charles’s domestic political woes was clearly in circulation in provincial England. Political debate was spilling out onto London’s streets and into the provinces. This was not politics as it should be; negotiation in such an atmosphere was going to be difficult.

When Parliament met, much was at stake for Scotland, England and (in the eyes of many) for Europe at large. The anticipation that had attended the Short Parliament (when the Earl of Bridgewater had paid through the nose for his wife’s place at a window) was reinforced. Sir Henry Slingsby, in Yorkshire, expected ‘a happy parliament where the subject may have a total redress of all his grievances’; John Bampfield, in Somerset, wrote: ‘For ever be this parliament renowned for so great achievements, for we dream now of nothing more than of a golden age’. In part this was a religious hope for redemption, very marked among the godly – Stanley Gower wrote to Sir Robert Harley: ‘We cease not to pray for you and that great assembly… if the Lord turn away our captivity we shall be like them that dream’.9 Exiles returned and foreigners arrived hoping that this was a moment for the perfection of reformation – the eyes of Christendom were now on the negotiations in London.10 Perhaps the most significant fact about the new parliament was that it could not be dissolved – whereas in May no-one could have known that they were witnessing the summoning of the ‘Short’ parliament, it was more obvious in November that they were witnessing the meeting of a long one. The price of the money to pay for the Treaty of Ripon was to be the redress of grievances. And, after eleven years, a relatively unpopular ecclesiastical policy, an invasion from Scotland and the collapse of financial reforms based on the prerogative, there were a lot of potential grievances to hear.

Elections in the autumn of 1640 were, like those earlier in the year, unusually contentious and eighty-six elections were contested. Since many of these were two-member constituencies, it seems that one quarter of the Commons had gained their seats through a public contest. Inflation had reduced the real value of the property qualification in the counties – fixed at possession of a 40 shilling freehold, which was now a relatively small sum. As a result the electorate was expanding. In the boroughs it was increasingly common to challenge the right of the Corporation to select members on behalf of the inhabitants. Such disputes were referred to the Commons Committee for Privileges, which frequently ruled in favour of wider franchises. As a result of these developments perhaps one in three adult males had the right to vote in 1640, and in many cases they had a choice of candidates too. Although in many elections only two candidates were presented for the two seats, reflecting an aversion to public contests and a preference for ‘selection’ over ‘election’, even where no effective choice was offered to electors there were still opportunities for the middling sort to apply independent pressure. In eighteen counties, and a number of significant boroughs, petitions were drawn up in the name of the candidates, and presented to them for delivery to Parliament. In some cases they had been read out and acclaimed at meetings of the county court when the elections had been organized.11

It is certainly clear that many members arrived with a powerful sense of the strength of provincial feeling, and of their obligation to represent it. When official business opened in the Commons speaker after speaker presented petitions covering what was quickly to become pretty familiar ground. Among the petitions piled up on the desk of John Rushworth, the clerk of the House of Commons, was the text of a speech by Sir John Colepeper, member for Kent. ‘I stand not up with the petition in my hand, as others have done’, he declared, ‘I have it in my mouth, and in charge from them that sent me hither to present the grievances of the county of Kent’. Like many others he expressed concern about the fate of religion, complaining both of the great increase of papists due to the neglect of the laws against them and of the ‘intruding and countenancing of divers new ceremonies in matters of religion’. This dislike of Laudianism was particularly evoked by the placing of the communion table altar-wise and ‘bowing or cringing to or towards the same’. His complaints against the Convocation, although they included the ‘etc oath’, were primarily constitutional: the canons had been passed by a Convocation which had turned itself into a synod, without warrant, following the dissolution of Parliament. It had, in effect, taken unto itself the power to make laws and impose benevolences. Along with many others Colepeper was also concerned about financial measures of the 1630s, especially coat and conduct money, the rising cost of gunpowder, and the taking of arms from Kent to Scotland the previous summer, which had not been returned. He was particularly bothered by ship money, however, claiming that the legal position on which it was based threatened property rights: ‘If the laws give the king power in any danger to the kingdom whereof he is judge, to impose what and when he please, we owe all that is left to the goodness of the king’. Finally, he complained of the monopolists, ‘a nest of wasps or swarm of vermin which have overcrept the land’ who invaded the households of the English like ‘the frogs of Egypt’. These are the ‘leeches that have sucked the commonwealth so hard it is almost become hectical’.12

Colepeper fought for the King in the civil war, like nine of the fifteen other speakers recorded by Rushworth in the collection of these speeches published later.13 Although Colepeper’s language was ripe, and the grievances very serious, there was no constitutional radicalism here, or any clear desire to pursue further reformation. Most of the speeches from these early days make similar recitations of threats to the true religion, bemoan the long intermission of parliaments and the uses made of the prerogative during the 1630s. Many of them attributed these problems to poor advice, and called for a change in royal counsels. But that was it. The programme represented by these speeches, which claimed to reflect provincial opinion in general, was in that sense limited: parliamentary control of taxation, the end of the Laudian experiment, and a balance between prerogative power and other sources of law which gave greater security to the subject.14

A number of overlapping concerns were at the heart of these provincial and parliamentary complaints: resentment of some of the religious and secular policies of the 1630s; of those who promoted them, and towards the influence of Catholicism at court; and of the powers that had allowed these counsellors to implement their policies. On secular matters these were calls for redress, rather than a positive programme for a new settlement – the removal of specific counsellors and the abolition of particular powers. The same was true in religious matters – there was a widespread grievance, but no agreed programme for a new settlement.

One of the first measures taken by Parliament was to release Burton and Bastwick, two of the Puritan martyrs pilloried and whipped in 1637, in response to petitions from their wives presented to the Commons by Pym. The case for the third, William Prynne, was made by one of his servants and presented by Rous.15 On 28 November, Prynne and Burton, released from prison and heading for London, were met at Brentford, where an escort was established. They proceeded to London accompanied by more than one hundred coaches and by thousands of men and women. Those escorting them carried rosemary for remembrance and laurel in token of joy and triumph. What could this triumph possibly be but the defeat of Laudianism? Crowds gathered in the city, ‘the common people strewing flowers and herbs in the ways as they passed, making great noise and expressions of joy for their deliverance and return’. According to one observer they were received almost with ‘adoration, as if they had been let down from heaven’.16Bastwick was similarly greeted at Blackheath a few days later. Although Charles, incensed by the reception afforded to Burton and Prynne, had issued instructions that no more than 800 horse should accompany Bastwick into town, he was not obeyed. Twenty-seven coaches and 1,000 horse formed a convoy into London, where Bastwick was greeted with jubilant crowds and the sounding of trumpets.17

Demonstrations added to political pressure, but also fed fears about the breakdown of normal politics. Sir Edward Hyde, MP and later the Earl of Clarendon, became a prominent loyalist. In November 1640, however, he shared many of these grievances about Laudianism and other policies of the 1630s but he could not distinguish between this obviously peaceful demonstration celebrating the return of Burton and Prynne and an ‘insurrection (for it was no better) and frenzy of the people’. Nothing provided clearer illustration than these scenes of ‘the unruly and mutinous spirit of the city of London, which was the sink of all the ill humour of the kingdom’.18 These tensions were plain over the next two years – sympathy with the pressure for further reformation was in tension with its implications for authority, and the threat that it might proceed in an unlicensed way, on the streets.

Moreover, these demonstrations combined opposition to Laud, anti-popery and hostility to bishops. These were different issues, of course, and not everyone who was happy to see the Puritan martyrs returned had the same view of what their return signified, and some were not happy at all that they had been returned. For example, Nehemiah Wallington, the pious London wood turner, rejoiced at the liberation of ‘those worthy and dear servants of God’. Robert Woodford, steward of the Earl of Northampton and another godly man, was also there, and his zeal also rings down the years: ‘oh, blessed be the Lord for this day! This day those holy living martyrs Mr Burton and Mr Prynne came to town… My heart rejoiceth in the Lord for this day; it’s even like the return of the captivity from Babylon’. But Peter Heylyn thought their release reflected the machinations of the Puritan faction in London and Southwark. Behind this suggestion lay the view that being anti-Laudian was something rather less radical than was intended by the men mobilizing these crowds: one observer noted that cries against the bishops had mingled with the acclamations of the crowds. Others saw these demonstrations primarily as an affront to the courts that had condemned these men, rather than as a religious deliverance. It was in the words of Thomas May the ‘greatest affront that was ever given to the Courts of Justice in England’, and contributed to the eventual abolition of the courts of Star Chamber and High Commission.19 All the signs are that in November 1640 England was in the grip of a powerful anti-Laudian reaction, but this was a rather disparate coalition. A profound hostility to aspects of Laudian ceremonial was shared for example by Colepeper, the future royalist, and Pym, the future champion of Parliament’s cause.

Despite these divisions all this was, for Charles, unpromising. He had called a parliament to meet the costs of an army of occupation, but faced calls for the redress of the grievances of his English subjects while also seeking to negotiate terms for the withdrawal of the Covenanters” army. He could not dissolve Parliament, because of the costs of the Treaty of Ripon, and in order to get the money he was clearly going to have to listen to a lot of rather inchoate bellyaching, including pressure for a significant change in his ecclesiastical policies. Concessions were inevitable, but painful for a monarch for whom his public front was a crucial political matter. Charles set about minimizing the impact on his regality, and on the frame of well-ordered monarchy and religion. Here he had two pre-eminent advantages: the very general commitment to the principles of monarchy (even among those with concerns about this particular king) and the lack of unity among his critics about what positive measures should be taken beyond the redress of particular grievances.

A remarkable feature of the first six months of the Long Parliament was that it produced very little by way of legislation. In part this was due to the double fact that grievances were at once so loudly expressed and so very miscellaneous. Much business was passed on to committees: five Grand Committees were established to consider matters relating to general areas of concern and select committees proliferated to discuss particular issues. The first of a number of attempts to reduce the number of these committees took place in January 1641, resulting in a list of sixteen committees alongside the five Grand Committees. But the tendency was to sclerosis. The Houses usually sat for three hours each day, from 9 a.m. to noon, occasionally starting earlier, and afternoon sessions were relatively rare. In November and December 1640 only a little more than one in twenty sittings were in the afternoon. Even in November of the following year, a month of intense crisis, only one quarter of sittings were in the afternoon. In the absence of effective management, business tended to drift. Parliaments were not designed as executive bodies, but as occasions where the ills of the kingdom were resolved through a union of monarch and people. As a result, grievances and disputes were brought before the Houses in an apparently random manner and important discussion was hived off to the committees. The intention was that committees would produce legislation that would be passed effectively, but in these months the impression is more of drift than of efficiency.20

On top of this flood of petitions came numerous private legal suits to the House of Lords. During the 1620s the House of Lords revived its judicial function, responding to massive demand from the increasingly litigious population. The lower courts were overcrowded, plagued with complex and overlapping jurisdictions, procedural irregularities and peculiarities, and appeal from some of the busiest courts was not possible. Measures of reform in Parliament had been considered, but not produced, and so the Lords became an attractive alternative forum. This development was at first slow – there was a rising trend through the 1620s, but only about 200 petitions in all during that decade. The first three months of the 1640 session brought 200 more. In addition to the kinds of suit brought in the 1620s, the Lords was now inundated with petitions from people who claimed to have fallen foul of what they said was the abuse of the legal system by crown officials during the 1630s. The Lords was flooded with petitions relating to the imposition of Laudian policies and the enforcement of unpopular fiscal expedients, and, from the summer of 1641, another round of litigation was opened up when Parliament abolished some of the courts that had enforced these measures. Officials of those courts were forced to seek protection from prosecution for their actions while the courts had been in existence, and those who would have used those courts in the past were forced to go to the Lords instead. By the middle of 1641 the Lords had received some 500 petitions and by the end of the year the figure had reached 650.21

Another reason for slow progress was the close relationship between the fate of reform and redress in England and the negotiations for a Scottish treaty. The Covenanters had agreed eight negotiating points, each of which was to be settled in turn. Nothing was to be formally agreed until all eight had been dealt with, and then the whole package was to be ratified by the English parliament once everything had been agreed. In the later stages of the negotiation this raised the stakes, since earlier agreements could come unstuck in the light of later discussions, and each party was responding throughout to external circumstances in the hope of securing more of their aims. The eighth negotiating point included the demand that the religious practices of the two kingdoms would be harmonized around a single confession of faith, something which was in practical terms essential to the security of the Scottish settlement. The first seven points were agreed by February, leading to fears among English parliamentarians that they might be abandoned by their Covenanting friends. Fortunately, and perhaps not entirely to the regret of the Covenanters and their English friends, discussion of the vague eighth point dragged on until June. Business in the Long Parliament was tied to these negotiations formally but also because it was Parliament which paid the costs of the Scottish army and which would have to finance their eventual disbandment. There was also more or less obvious co-operation over particular demands, for example the removal of Laud and Strafford.22

Anglo-Scottish affairs were intertwined in less formal ways too. One of the first acts of the parliament was to institute fast days on which sermons would be heard by the members. The first two preachers were Stephen Marshall and Cornelius Burges, both famous Puritans. They both preached on the theme of the Reformation in danger and Burges went further, dwelling on the story of Israel’s delivery from Babylon by an army from the north.23 On their arrival in London the Covenanters” commissioners were greeted by cheering crowds (‘this libertine populace’, according to the Venetian ambassador) and it is clear that there were close connections between the commissioners and their friends in Parliament. However, at the heart of this friendship lay the emotive, but potentially problematic, issue of the ecclesiastical settlement.24 As we have seen this was not the only grievance brought to Parliament by the county petitions, and to the extent that it was a prominent concern in England, there was room for doubt that the Covenanters represented a more viable position in England than the Laudians.

Parliament met, then, with a variety of secular grievances to settle and a strong reaction against Laudianism in progress. But it was not clear what measures, precisely, would satisfy the country in secular and religious matters; and in the religious sphere the attempt to turn an anti-Laudian moment into a positive programme of further reformation, or to ‘Scottify’ the church, was not going to have an easy passage. These English issues were further complicated by the formal and informal connections with the Scottish settlement and the danger that reformation, even if it was desirable in itself, was proceeding without proper licence. Parliament was a deliberative body, with procedures designed to facilitate the airing of grievances and the generation of consensus. It was not an executive body, and there was no very developed machinery of management – certainly there were no party organization, no whips, no front bench, no Prime Minister.

The most coherent proposals for settlement were promoted by the ‘Junto’, a group associated with John Pym in the Commons and the Earl of Bedford in the Lords. They had no formal position: their authority rested not on office, but on the extent to which they were able to guide business in the direction of their preferred settlement by domination of committees, effective speech-making and the creative use of the power of the purse to secure redress of grievances.25 Members of the Commons were also apparently willing to co-ordinate their efforts with pressure from outside Parliament – the presentation of petitions and the assembling of crowds. If this was happening, however, it did not always favour the Junto’s programme – here and elsewhere they could hope to guide or harness the larger forces at work but they could not control them. There is no reason, beyond hindsight, to think that Charles ought to have seen a deal with the Junto as the centre of his political concerns. They were not an elected party and had no formal role: their authority was informal, and negotiated, and their command of business in the two Houses was imperfect.26

Pym had been a relatively prominent figure in the parliaments of the 1620s, and was in the Short Parliament one of the two most experienced members. He had achieved prominence in that parliament also by his electrifying speech on 17 April, which had fused religious and secular grievances around the need to protect the liberties of Parliament: Parliament was the guarantor of both.27 He established himself in the new parliament with a similarly powerful speech made on 7 November. The burden of his two-hour speech was similar, but introduced a new element. Once again he suggested that law and religion were so necessarily joined that ‘with the one, the other falls’, but he now identified a single and compelling threat: a plot by the papists to alter both. This case had been made by Rous in the Short Parliament but was now taken up with vigour by Pym. The agents of this plot were evil counsellors, corrupt clergy that ‘finds a better doctrine in papists to serve their turns better than that of our church’, and those who were not particularly concerned about popery and, through their inaction, allowed it to flourish. Part of his appeal was his ability to meld the miscellaneous grievances being expressed into a single problem, with a clear diagnosis and a suggested remedy: he consistently argued, and at times convinced many other members, that the problems of popery and arbitrary government were bound together by a single popish plot.28

For much of the first session of the Long Parliament, however, Pym was a significant but not quite dominant figure, and was not the manager of business that his later reputation as ‘King Pym’ suggests. His views were compelling, but not universally held. Colepeper’s speech, for example, bears many similarities with Pym’s: they could more or less agree on all the symptoms that were in need of attention, but their diagnosis of the cause was different. Pym saw a fundamental corruption, caused by a malign and identifiable agent, whereas Colepeper saw examples of misgovernment. As the symptoms were alleviated over the coming months it became clearer that men like Colepeper were working to a different, and less demanding, agenda from men like Pym. In the early months of the parliament, in fact, much of Pym’s energy was engaged in liaising between the two Houses, seeking to establish a coalition in difficult circumstances.29

Hindsight leads historians to emphasize the role of the Commons, but in Tudor and Stuart parliaments the Lords often took the lead. They did not initiate supply bills (taxation), but networks of patronage and connection often meant that business in Parliament was dominated by peers. Clarendon thought that it was Pym’s patron in the Lords, the 4th Earl of Bedford, who really could have brokered this settlement. A Calvinist who favoured bishops and disliked sects, someone who distrusted this king but did not like the stronger arguments for restraint on the monarchy, Bedford represented a kind of par position that might have been the basis for settlement. He was undoubtedly a respected figure in both Houses: when he died, in early May 1641, the Commons adjourned all committees in order to allow members to attend his funeral – no-one else was honoured in this way by the early Stuart parliaments. But his views were not shared by the majority in the Lords, many of whom were more wary than Bedford about the direction of secular and religious redress.30

The Privy Council showed some interest in achieving a settlement through a change of counsel, by bringing in prominent men from among the twelve peers who had petitioned for a parliament the previous August. Bedford was a key figure here, and there is evidence that the plan for settlement favoured by him and Pym made some headway between January and March 1641. Their settlement required the removal of Strafford, Laud and others associated with the policies of the 1630s. They also sought a number of ‘bridge appointments’ intended to surround the monarch with more reliable advisers. Naturally enough, Bedford and Pym were in the frame here, as Treasurer and Chancellor of the Exchequer respectively. They wanted permanent, parliamentary additions to the revenue in order to compensate the crown for the loss of ship money and other prerogative revenues. That had constitutional implications, of course, in shifting the balance of royal revenue towards sources granted by Parliament. Beyond that they do not seem to have wanted to go: their own authority as counsellors, of course, depended on the preservation of a reasonable freedom of action for the monarch. A third important element of the projected settlement was the regulation of episcopacy, along lines proposed by James Ussher, the Calvinist archbishop of the Church of Ireland, a scheme in which bishops were to act in consultation with the clergy and to be bound by law; the analogy was with the regulation of the divinely ordained powers of the monarchy by the laws of the community.31

It seems that Charles was reluctant to abandon his counsellors, willing to accept augmentation of his revenue, but not at all willing to allow reformation to reach to the abolition of bishops. On the other hand, the inducement of a sufficient financial settlement, based on parliamentary grants, was attractive to the King but less so to many Members of Parliament, who favoured the abolition of ship money more than they did the creation of new sources of revenue. Meanwhile, the Scots were seeking the abolition of episcopacy in England in order to secure their own church settlement; any settlement in England short of that was unacceptable to them. This was a tricky negotiation, which foundered for a mixture of reasons, including the failure of the money to arrive in return for attacks on prerogative revenues. But what really did for it was the failure to reach an agreement over church government. Bedford and Pym were closely tied to the Covenanters, who made it clear that the abolition of episcopacy was an unshakeable demand.32 The failure of this proposed settlement would not have mattered if there had been a ready alternative, but there was not.

Religious settlement was just as problematic outside Whitehall and Westminster. As parliamentary business and the treaty negotiation with the Covenanters meandered along, religious debate in England began to range well beyond the attack on Laudianism, and as it did it became more divisive. This was a very public debate, which had immediate relevance to every churchgoer in the land. In the parish of All Hallows, Barking, for example, a week before the triumphal return of the Laudian martyrs local enthusiasts sawed wooden angels off the altar rails and took them to the House of Commons as evidence of popish innovation, without the approval of the vestry. There were clearly divisions in this parish, however: in August 1638 the vestry had agreed to the creation of an altar. There was such an outcry from other parishioners that the bishop’s chancellor had to intervene in January 1640.33 It is highly likely that these decisions were taken, and perceived, against the background of the Scottish crisis, of course; in any case they bear testimony both to the divisiveness and the immediate local significance of these arguments about the future of the true religion.

Parish radicalism underpinned the mobilization of London’s Root and Branch petition, presented on 10 December. The petition de nounced ecclesiastical hierarchy in comprehensive terms and became a focus for subsequent discussion of religious reform in Parliament. Its tone was inflammatory: ‘the government of archbishops and lord bishops, deans and archdeacons, etc, with their courts and ministrations in them, have proved prejudicial and very dangerous both to the church and commonwealth’. Such government was ‘found by woeful experience to be a main cause and occasion of many foul evils, pressures and grievances of a very high nature unto his Majesty’s subjects in their own consciences, liberties and estates’. The particular offences of this church government were miscellaneous and grave: it had allowed the decay of preaching or was actively hostile to it; discountenanced the magistracy; failed to identify the Pope as Antichrist and therefore fostered a continued resemblance between practices in England and Rome, particularly in ‘vestures, postures, ceremonies and administrations’; abused its legal power; failed to enforce observance of the Sabbath; and allowed pluralism – ministers holding more than one appointment in the church. In suppressing godly and painful preaching, the bishops had fostered:

The great increase of idle, lewd and dissolute, ignorant and erroneous men in the ministry, which swarm like the locusts of Egypt over the whole kingdom, and will they but wear a canonical cap, a surplice, a hood, bow at the name of Jesus and be zealous of superstitious ceremonies, they may live as they list, confront whom they please, preach and vent what errors they will, and neglect preaching at their pleasures without control.

The net result was that ‘only papists, Jesuits, priests and such others as propagate Popery or Arminianism’ had prospered, with three particular consequences: the encouragement of popery and papistical party; the forced migration of godly men, particularly to Holland, resulting in the decay of trade; and the likelihood that the ‘wars and commotions’ between the King and his subjects in Scotland would be perpetuated, making all his kingdoms ‘prey to the common enemy’.34 Hostility to Laud’s policies had been radically elaborated here, and the final implication that the Scots were not the real enemy was pretty incendiary -something close to treason on one reading of the King’s proclamation of the previous August.35

Printed copies of the petition had circulated for some time, and between 10,000 and 20,000 signatures were eventually gathered, all of them, or so it was claimed, from citizens. On the day of its presentation the petition was accompanied by a large crowd, of around 1,500 people, that gathered in Westminster Yard. Although most observers agreed that this was a socially respectable and well-behaved assembly, it was nonetheless politically unsettling. The menace of such forceful demonstrations threatened political propriety.36


New Palace Yard and Westminster Hall in 1647

Metropolitan mobilization soon produced provincial imitations. During January, as the Commons prepared to discuss the petition, similar petitions were produced in thirteen counties. One more was delivered in January, from Devon; another two, from Lancashire and Nottinghamshire, followed in April; Lincolnshire petitioned on 27 May and Oxfordshire on 27 July. Somerset brought up the tail in December.37 The Kentish petition was presented by Sir Edward Dering, with some reluctance and in response to pressure from some of his constituents. He had disliked the tone of the London petition and in subsequent debates expressed a willingness to see reformed episcopacy survive.38 In this case, as in many others, it is clear that the petition was not simply got up by MPs, although it is also clear that we should not see it as the consensual voice of the county either.39 Instead petitions represent successful efforts at mobilizing wider opinion – making use of networks of officeholders, gentlemen and ministers, appealing to issues recognizable to larger constituencies. Whatever the opinions being represented, however, the increasing sophistication of the petitioning process was in itself a remarkable political development. These petitions seem to have been timed to maintain the momentum of a parliamentary debate: the Commons held significant debates on Root and Branch reform on 8/9 February and 27 May, and the process approached conclusion in late July.40 Provincial petitions were almost direct contributions to specific parliamentary debates and this phenomenon of mobilizing opinion in order to influence the political process became a source of concern in itself.

The first of the Root and Branch debates, on 8 February, lasted eight hours and involved sixty speakers. The question was whether to commit the petition to the consideration of a committee. It was renewed the following day, when the exchanges were even more divisive.41 There was an issue of substance here, about whether the faults of Laudian bishops justified such radical measures. But there was also a debate about the means being used, about the threat of street politics. As Lord George Digby put it: there was ‘no man of judgement, that will think it fit for a parliament, under a monarchy, to give countenance to irregular, and tumultuous assemblies of people, be it for never so good an end’. On the other hand, Nathaniel Fiennes was willing to defend mass petitioning, arguing that the crowds proved that the thousands of signatures were genuine, and that the weight of numbers was a reason for Parliament to take the petition seriously. Others supported this view and emphasized the respectability of the crowd.42 Not only did Fiennes make this case, but it was published to an audience outside the House: both he and Digby saw their speeches in print.43 Parliament was clearly a permeable institution, and that was a political issue in itself. Some members were willing to exploit or respond to audiences beyond the chamber, others feared the implications of that for the authority and dignity of government, but it did not necessarily stop them going into print too.

On 9 February a compromise emerged: the petition was referred to a committee, but the issue of episcopacy was reserved for the House. Chastened by the divided response to radical reform, the ‘rooters’ in Parliament proceeded cautiously over the spring, aiming, as their Covenanting friend Baillie put it, ‘to take down the roof first to come to the walls’. Committee meetings over the following month received presentations from citizens and ministers, and came to concentrate on the secular powers of bishops. A well-prepared measure to remove their legislative and judicial powers was approved by the Commons on 10 March and, on the following day, so was their exclusion from the Sessions of the Peace and Star Chamber. This paved the way for a bill to exclude bishops from secular employments and from the House of Lords, which passed the Commons and was sent to the Lords on 1 May. There it had a rough ride, and relations between the two Houses were made worse by proceedings which were also, by that time, under way against the Earl of Strafford. Bringing the tussle to a head, a Root and Branch bill was presented, rather half-heartedly, by Dering on 27 May (coinciding with the Lincolnshire petition). Dering made clear that he had not abandoned all hope of reviving ‘the primitive, lawful and just episcopacy’, and it may have been that the presentation of this bill was tactical – intended to pressure the Lords into accepting the exclusion of bishops from their House. They did not accept it, and that meant that a Root and Branch bill would not get through the Lords either. A contentious committee stage for the legislation between 27 May and 11 June was followed by nearly two months of wearisome debate. The last discussion took place on 3 August, and thereafter the bill was lost in the tide of events.44 Neither the modified episcopacy promoted by Pym and Bedford nor more fundamental reform was a live political option.

By the spring of 1641 little of the Pym-Bedford plan had been achieved. There was no consensus about what the post-Laudian church should look like and there was no financial settlement either. In the first two and a half months of the parliament the Lords initiated ten bills, of which two had made it to the statute book by the end of January: a bill to allow the Marquess of Winchester to sell some of his lands and a bill relating to the Queen’s jointure (the provision made for her in the event of her husband’s death). The Commons were in one way even less effective, initiating twenty-six bills, of which only one became law. But that Act was of fundamental political and constitutional importance: the Triennial Act, passed on 16 February.

Henceforth, it said, Parliament should meet at least every three years, and each sitting should last at least fifty days. This right to sit was, or so the preamble claimed, already established in laws and statutes which, as experience had shown, should be ‘duly kept and observed’. It was in part a measure necessary to secure public credit: in order to pay off the Scots the King needed to borrow and his personal credit was low. Over the previous two generations the crown had been increasingly reliant on intermediaries for its credit, since the word of a king was of no value to a businessman. Behind the intermediary stood the assets of the crown – its lands, its rights to raise revenue and its powers to grant monopolies and licences. Now, however, these things were increasingly under pressure, and parliamentary revenue was the best security for loans. Regular meetings of Parliament would offer a reasonable security for lenders. Although these suggestions may have persuaded the King, the Act meant much more than this: if ship money had arguably affected the constitutional balance then the Triennial Act certainly did.45

Progress on crown income had also been limited. Ship money collection had collapsed over the summer of 1640 but there had been no permanent parliamentary grant to replace it. In the meantime the costs of the two armies continued to mount. A grant of four subsidies, first proposed in November 1640, was not finally made until 16 February 1641. Two more were proposed on 20 February, but 129 members spoke against them, and it took until May to get them onto the statute book.46 If this reflected a lack of financial realism in Parliament it was reflected in the provinces too. The subsidy imposed a fixed rate of taxation on the wealth of the population, assessed in either lands or goods. But the assessment of the wealth on which that rate was levied was in the hands of local men – the sort of people who served as constables or Justices. This was one of those tasks in which they did not impose the letter of the law. Beyond straightforward under-assessment, there were more elaborate evasions, such as the use of bearers, described by Henry Best in 1641. According to that scheme a small number of inhabitants were returned on the tax assessment, with others agreeing to bear the burden with them. This, and similar scams, had led to a catastrophic decline in the overall value of subsidies from the 1560s onwards, which was offset but not overcome by the habit of granting more and more of them at once.47 Pym had been aware of the need to reform the subsidies early on, and had proposed an obvious solution – that Parliament should grant a lump sum, sufficient for the intended purpose, that could then be divided up as a specific sum due from every county and borough, and eventually every village and ward.48 But this was an uphill battle, quickly abandoned in the autumn of 1640. In Norfolk and Cheshire yields of the subsidies of 1640/41 were no higher than they had been in the late 1620s, and in Norfolk that meant that an individual subsidy was worth about 30 per cent as much as it had been in 1589.49

Customs revenues were in general more important to overall crown finances since they provided a large part of the ordinary revenue, for the normal costs of government, whereas parliamentary subsidies were occasional additions intended to meet extraordinary costs.50 The customs consisted of several elements: the ancient customs which belonged to the crown by prerogative right; tonnage and poundage, which rested on statute, but which had from the fifteenth century been routinely granted to a monarch for life in the first year of his reign; and impositions, more recent additions raised without parliamentary sanction. The rates at which these duties were raised was determined by the Books of Rates, which laid out the schedule of liable goods. This was negotiated between the crown and merchant bodies. Impositions were raised by prerogative power either openly, as a means to regulate trade, or through the manipulation of the Books of Rates. Like ship money, they looked like taxes imposed without consent; but as in the case of ship money there was a defensible legal case that they were a reasonable use of a long-established legal power. By 1640 the impositions and the ‘pretermitted custom’ (another duty raised by prerogative power) brought in £250,000 per annum.51 Overall, therefore, the customs, and their yield, were largely outside parliamentary control.

Both tonnage and poundage and the impositions were grievances in 1640 and, true to form, Parliament was keener to abolish than to replace them. Particular duties among the impositions had been the subject of legal challenge, and although (or because) the crown won, they remained a grievance. In 1625 Charles had not been granted tonnage and poundage for life by his first parliament, as the grant was held up as part of a negotiation about the unpopular impositions. It seems clear that the intention had been to make the grant for the monarch’s life once the negotiations were concluded, and a one-year grant was made to tide the King over. Events overtook these negotiations, with the result that the grant was not renewed. Charles continued to collect the duties. In 1626 it was declared illegal, but a bill was prepared to indemnify the King from prosecution. The issue was not resolved in the next parliament either, and so Charles collected the duties without parliamentary sanction throughout the 1630s.52 Now, the grant of tonnage and poundage was deliberately used as a negotiating counter: successive short-term grants were made in order to lever concessions from the King, on the promise of a long-term settlement. Moreover, when a new tonnage and poundage bill was proposed, in March 1641, it contained a Book of Rates set by Parliament rather than the crown – both measures reflect a determination to secure greater parliamentary control over the grant, and yield, of the customs.53 Neither bore immediate fruit, partly because of parliamentary resentment at the King’s determination to resist pressure to institute thoroughgoing persecution of Catholics.54 By the summer of 1641 there was no financial settlement either.

The one area of substantial progress in redress of provincial grievances was in the removal of Charles’s counsellors, in particular Laud and Strafford. There were few defenders of either in Parliament, among the Covenanters or in Ireland, and the attacks on both resonated powerfully in the streets. Laud was impeached in mid-December, the beginning of a slow march to the scaffold which did not finally end until January 1645. In the meantime he was imprisoned in the Tower of London in March 1641, his arrival greeted by jeering crowds, and throughout his incarceration suffered neglect and indignity at the hands of the godly. Other committees were also pursuing particular people: Bridgewater and other parties to the dispute about the muster master in Shropshire were brought to book and so was the Earl of Huntingdon, brought low by his adversary Sir William Fawnt.55

The first real victim, however, was Strafford, who was impeached on 10 November, a week after the meeting of Parliament. He was accused of trying to subvert Parliament, or to find ways of avoiding having to summon it at all. It was said that he had intended to have some of the leading figures in the Commons arrested and tried on charges of treason on the grounds that they had co-operated with the Scots, or even actively encouraged the Covenanters” invasion. He may have done that, just as they may have. His strong line on the need to crush the Covenanters made him few friends in Scotland. In Ireland he had imposed an oath in Ulster, heartland of Scottish Presbyterian settlement in Ireland, disavowing support for the Covenant. This ‘Black Oath’ outraged influential Protestant opinion in Scotland and Ireland. It was also said, plausibly but almost certainly inaccurately, that immediately after the failure of the Short Parliament he had suggested using an Irish army to bring the English kingdom to heel.56

Whatever the truth, Strafford came to personify an apparently lawless defence of the King’s interests in the face of all political difficulties; a willingness to subvert the constitution in defence of otherwise indefensible policies. But, although Strafford had few admirers, the manner of his trial and execution compounded fears that the political process was becoming dangerously corrupted. It was close to judicial murder, informed in no small part by the threat of public disorder if his neck was saved.

On 30 January 1641, when Strafford was called to Westminster to hear his charge, he travelled by water under armed guard. In the event he suffered nothing worse than shouts and curses from the crowd and the early stages of the trial were uneventful. However, as the likelihood that he might escape with his life increased, so did the temperature on London’s streets. On 23 March Strafford’s trial opened on the rather frail-looking charge of ‘cumulative treason’. It was likely that Strafford would have beaten this particular rap, since those accusing him of this previously unknown crime were themselves motivated in part by fears about the erosion of legal protections for the subject. Tiring of this procedure, Arthur Haselrig introduced a bill of attainder of Strafford on 10 April. Here, by vote, was the possibility of simply declaring Strafford to be guilty, and the bill had passed its third reading in the Commons on 21 April. Avoiding the complexities of a trial, it had the advantage of achieving an obviously necessary political end by efficient means. ‘Stone dead hath no fellow’; as one wry observer put it. In April petitions circulated in the City calling for swift action, despite a personal request from the King to the mayor to put a stop to this activity. The petitions made a connection between the slow progress in Parliament and economic problems, and attributed the decay of trade to political uncertainty. This agitation was taken up by those anxious for the attainder to make progress. The suggestion that animals of prey (like Strafford) did not deserve the same protections as the creatures they hunted was politically convenient but worrying in principle. Even more worryingly, the names of those who had voted against the attainder (the ‘Straffordians’) were published, and those named feared for their lives in the face of angry crowds. In the Lords there was hostility to these pressures from the Commons and the trial continued.

Not trusting to the course of law, however, some of Strafford’s friends, with Charles’s knowledge, hatched a plot to spring him. On 3 May, fearing that Strafford was not going to survive the attainder, Charles sent loyal troops to take control of the Tower, but they were foiled by the lieutenant of the Tower and vigilant citizens. The public failure of the plot, ‘the first army plot’, did Strafford no favours.57

Nehemiah Wallington was among the huge crowd that gathered at Westminster the same day, prompted by a declaration that Charles would not allow the attainder to succeed. Several thousand gathered in the morning and by the afternoon the crowd had swelled to perhaps 10,000. The demand, paradoxically perhaps, was for justice and execution. When the Earl of Arundel arrived his way was deliberately blocked, and he was forced to say that he was working to achieve the execution of Strafford. These words, reassuring in one way, were met with the threat that ‘they would have justice, or take it’. As for Arundel, they said, ‘we will take his word for once’. At midday the Lords adjourned and many peers left by water. Some of those who took coaches were subject to personal abuse – the Earl of Bristol, for example. Pembroke, a supporter of the attainder, was able to pacify the crowd. John Lilburne, the celebrity radical, was also among the crowd. A London apprentice, originally from the north-east of England, he came from a minor gentry background and had a grammar school education. In the house of Thomas Hewson, a Puritan clothier, he had immersed himself in the Bible and emerged with an intense personal piety. During the 1630s he had been imprisoned for helping to distribute Burton’s publications. Present at most of the crucial disturbances of the period 1640–42, Lilburne became a successful soldier and then a prominent controversialist in print and in the courts. He was questioned the day after these events for some treasonable words, and at this distance in time it sounds like it was a fair cop.58

Despite the efforts of the Lord Mayor crowds assembled again on 4 May in the feverish atmosphere created by the revelation of the army plot. Some of the crowd were indeed armed, as had been threatened the previous day and the social profile was, if contemporaries are to be believed, less respectable. In the Commons the main business was the drafting of what became known as the Protestation, intended as a litmus test of political reliability. Those swearing to it would bind themselves to protect the true religion, and its passage seems to have calmed fears about the direction of events. The crowd eventually dispersed in the late afternoon, when the text of the Protestation was read out by Cornelius Burges, a well-known radical divine, client of the Earl of Bedford and a key figure in the London Puritan brotherhood.59

More excitement followed the next day, when a rumour swept the City that the House of Commons was being besieged by papists. Wallington closed his shop and rushed to the defence of the Commons, along with many others. When an old woman interrupted the sermon at St Anne’s, Blackfriars, with the news, people ‘ran up and down as if they had been wild’. As armed men hurried through Moorfields on their way to Westminster, women wept in the streets.60

Hostile contemporary accounts habitually claimed that the crowds in London’s streets in May and November 1640, and May 1641, were a low-born rabble. Those that can be identified, however, were often socially respectable, and more fair-minded commentators noted the social mix of these crowds. The leadership and organization seem to have been generated in London, within the City’s middling sort or from activists. There were continuities in the participation of Lilburne, Wallington and others, and there is no reason to suppose they needed, or wanted, the support of MPs in order to mobilize. Indeed, there is every reason to think that they felt the pressure should be operating in the opposite direction. The placards, petitions and crowd mobilizations drew on the crowded commercial society of the City, not on the natural obedience of thousands of inhabitants to MPs representing other constituencies.61

When the Lords did pass the attainder, on 8 May, therefore, there were good grounds for thinking that this significant political gesture, arguably the most significant so far achieved by the parliament, owed something to the pressure of London’s crowds. This was certainly true of the royal assent – the final necessary step to pass the bill into law. Charles was by no means inclined to give his assent – his loyalty to Strafford, and determination to save him, had already been amply demonstrated. But his judgement was affected by the arrival in Whitehall of a crowd said to number four or five thousand, among them armed men. Charles was advised by the Privy Council and the Archbishop of York that the only way to quell these disorders was to sacrifice Strafford. He regretted submitting to this pressure for the rest of his life.

In the days before the execution tensions continued to run high. Rumours spread of a planned French invasion to save Strafford, an attack on a bawdy house served as a guise for economic and social protest, there were attacks on the Queen Mother and a guard was placed on St James’s Palace. The execution itself drew a crowd of 100,000, also immortalized by Hollar, and following Strafford’s death celebrations continued long into the night. Bonfires were lit and those who failed to join the celebrations had their windows broken. Strafford had not made a helpful ‘last dying speech’, with the result that it was necessary to pretend that he had, and a pamphlet was published purporting to be a repentant speech he had made prior to reaching the scaffold. It was immediately denounced as a hoax.62 In all sorts of ways the virtue of the outcome – Strafford’s death – was undermined by the unseemliness of the means.


The execution of the Earl of Strafford

Strafford died unlamented except perhaps for the way that he had come to his end. Here were populism and something close to judicial murder in tandem. Strafford himself thought that the Lords had been affected by the crowds.63 A second important reason for acquiescence in these dubious proceedings was the vividness of fears about a popish plot, but this too was felt differently by different people. On 19 May a board in the gallery of the House of Commons had cracked and Walter Earle’s son had ‘cried out Treason, Treason and many of the burgesses had run away with swords drawn’. Other members, however, merely laughed at the panic and remained in the House. Arthur Haselrig, a notoriously hot Protestant who had clutched hold of an image in his alarm, was jeered for flying to the horns of the altar. Anti-popery, in other words, was extremely powerful, but its more extreme manifestations were not universally persuasive. It is significant both that there were parliamentary proposals in the summer of 1641 to geld Jesuits and that they were not accepted.64 Those anxious about legal propriety or political decency could take little comfort from Strafford’s trial or the crowds that (successfully) bayed for his blood during the passage of the attainder.

In May, seven months after the assembly of the parliament, some progress was finally being made but the principal achievement, the execution of Strafford, left a legacy of division and bitterness which further undermined attempts at settlement. Certainly, these proceedings against Strafford were a final nail in the coffin of the Pym-Bedford plans: their association with these events is unclear, but they finally ended their hopes of retaining the King’s favour. Equally, the army plot to seize Strafford increased fears that Charles might employ a military coup against the troublesome parliament. Committed to the abolition of episcopacy by their alliance with the Covenanters, and now tarred with the brush of populism, these were people with whom Charles would not deal. Bedford was in any case dying – he caught smallpox in the first week of May and died on 9 May.65Strafford’s end was in some ways a consummation of the politics of 1640: opposition to royal policies was most powerful as a movement of redress rather than rebuilding, and drew considerable strength from opinion outside Whitehall and Westminster. But these events also accelerated some of the divisive political trends that had emerged since November 1640: rebuilding would be difficult in the atmosphere of distrust and mutual recrimination which now reigned.

In particular Parliament’s search for security for the future led it onto new constitutional ground, fuelling fears of a Puritan populist conspiracy against the monarchy. On the day of the attainder of Strafford, Parliament had passed an Act against its own dissolution. If the Triennial Act had tiptoed awkwardly round the implications of such measures for the prerogative, there was no such hesitation after the army plot. At this point over half of the members of Charles’s Privy Council in November 1640 were dead, under arrest or in exile, but further safeguards seemed to be necessary to some MPs.66 The political context for this was clear: the revelation of the army plot and the fear that all the talking about grievances would come to nothing because of the King’s advisers.

Immediately, however, the prospects looked good as a constructive legislative programme finally materialized. Revenue measures were not necessarily far-sighted, although they had far-reaching implications. On 12 May the Houses voted on a bill based on Pym’s earlier proposal for grants of a fixed sum, in this case the £400,000 subsidy. The bill was not treated with urgency until December, but it is a sign of the growing seriousness of measures to settle the financial question.67 In the meantime, a poll tax was granted in June 1641, with high hopes. It passed from first reading to royal assent in only eleven days and in some places appears to have captured a large slice of the population, but the yield was disappointing (£250,000 compared with the £1m some had hoped for). This reflected widespread evasion, and there was also a problem of slow payment.68 Its failure made the adoption of the £400,000 subsidy more or less inevitable. A Tonnage and Poundage Act was finally passed on 22 June. This was in one sense a tactical measure, since it granted the duties for less than two months, starting retrospectively on 25 May, and there were frequent subsequent renewals as negotiations continued. But the effect of the Act was to transform the customs into parliamentary taxes. It abolished those impositions which had been taken without ‘common consent in Parliament’, setting almost all the various duties instead on a statutory basis, and it stated that the rates at which the duties were to be imposed would ‘be hereafter in this present Parliament altered in such manner as shall be thought fit’. Parliament had taken control of the Books of Rates too.69

With new sources of revenue available the legal basis of the fiscal expedients of the 1630s was taken away: on 7 August ship money and forest fines were declared unlawful; knighthood fines were abolished on 10 August. Collectively, these measures had profound implications for the basis of crown finances. Prior to 1640 only about 25 per cent of crown revenue depended on parliamentary sanction, and that figure was probably falling. When Charles’s son took possession of his throne in 1660 it was on the terms of these 1641 reforms. During his reign about 90 per cent of his revenue depended on parliamentary sanction.70

There was rapid progress towards the redress of grievances, too. The courts of Star Chamber and High Commission, the two courts most responsible for the enforcement of Laudianism, were abolished on 5 July. All these measures enjoyed considerable political support, but, collectively, they represented a redrawing of crucial aspects of the constitution, changes which were never reversed. This rapid progress owed something to the need to get things done before members returned home for the harvest. Attendances were dropping and there is evidence of anxiety that constituents would not be happy at the return on a year of talking.

Another development that focused minds was Charles’s decision to go to Scotland. In itself this was a reasonable enough enterprise – it was after all one of his kingdoms and he was in the process of finalizing a treaty with a Scottish army. But in the atmosphere of distrust and anxiety that lingered after the attainder of Strafford, and the first army plot, this trip to Scotland was regarded with deep concern. There were signs in Scotland that the remarkable unity of the Covenanting movement was beginning to fracture. A number of leading noblemen had come to feel that the restraint of royal power was going too far, and that a new danger was emerging. Prominent among them was James Graham, later first Marquess of Montrose. It has been said persistently that Montrose was ambitious rather than anything else. His undoubted enthusiasm for the Covenanting cause – he played a prominent role in its mobilization – was attributed to disappointment at his reception at the English court in 1637. If that was part of his motive he must have been frustrated by the dominance of the Earl of Argyll – his superior in wealth and influence. But it was also conviction that made him pull back and by the time of the second Bishops” War he was no longer a prominent Covenanting leader. He had also been significant in the organization of the Cumbernauld band, partly in opposition to the growing dominance of Argyll.71

Montrose and others encouraged Charles to come to Scotland as early as March, and Charles had announced his intention to do so in April. Quite what he intended is not clear, but he was suspected in Scotland of planning some kind of move against the Covenanters (those who had written to him are known to posterity as the ‘Plotters’). In England it was feared that he intended to raise Scottish support for moves against Parliament, or that he intended to use the northern army to impose his authority. In the spring, at the time of the plot to spring Strafford from the Tower, there had also been discussions about the possibility of bringing the English northern army south in order to teach Parliament some discipline. These two army plots reflected the fact that the northern army had become resentful about the reluctance of Parliament to pay their wages and board, and come to regard Parliament with hostility. Lavish grants of money to enable the disbandment of the armies certainly owed something to the desire to see them gone before Charles went north.

A short-term problem – the difficulty of trusting this particular king to pass through two large armies without causing trouble – again led to proposals which had far-reaching implications and which raised the political stakes. This was compounded by a continuing fear of court Catholics – that the King was not reliable so long as he was surrounded by agents of the plot to subvert the law and religion. The Ten Propositions, agreed on 24 June 1641, arose from ‘A large conference with the Lords, concerning several particulars about disbanding the army, the Capuchins & c.’ They made demands which would have been quite startling a year earlier. As well as calling for disbandment of the English army and appealing to the Covenanters to withdraw part of theirs, the Houses asked Charles to delay his journey until more business in England was settled (including the tonnage and poundage bill). Beyond that the proposals clearly encroached on royal power: a wish not only to remove but also propose royal counsellors; a desire to restrict the religious freedoms enjoyed by his wife; the proposal to take over the education of the princes (to ensure that they grew up good Protestants); the view that anyone entering the kingdom as a representative of the Pope was committing treason; that the militia and defensive resources of the kingdom be placed in reliable hands; that the King should be more sparing in inviting Catholics to court; and that pensions should be withheld from recusants ‘held dangerous to the state’. It was clear who would do the ‘holding’ in this case. The militia demand (‘That there may be good lord-lieutenants, and deputy-lieutenants; and such as may be faithful and trusty, and careful of the peace of the kingdom’) was later to harden into a demand for parliamentary control – a precipitant of the war, and a sticking point in all subsequent negotiations.72 This was well short of that, but the direction of politics was plain. The difficulty that prominent politicians had in trusting Charles was radicalizing demands, and this despite the substantial legislative programme achieved in the early summer. This was a truly worrying sign, since it is difficult to see how Charles could have rebuilt this trust, or his opponents suspended their distrust.

A second significant obstacle to a lasting settlement was the very public and divisive religious debate. The failure of Root and Branch proposals had amplified that debate without offering a resolution. The Protestation, passed in the aftermath of the revelation of the first army plot, exacerbated religious conflicts, both in Parliament and in the provinces. The preamble made no bones about the popish plot to subvert law and religion and about the dangers presented by a plot to move the army against Parliament. It was, to say the least, tendentious and provocative, but this account of recent history justified an oath of association to defend ‘as lawfully I may with my life, power and estate, the true reformed Protestant religion expressed in the doctrine of the Church of England, against all Popery and popish innovation’. Those who subscribed were collectively bound to maintain the King’s royal person and estate, the power and privilege of parliaments, and the rights and liberties of the subject.73 In structure it was much like the Scottish National Covenant, therefore, and Baillie made the comparison directly. But it was shorter – there was no historical account of what the doctrine of the Church of England was. More importantly still, it was deliberately silent on the discipline of the church. In the frenzied debate of the Protestation a number of members who saw some ‘hint intended’ against bishops and the liturgy argued that ‘the word discipline might be adjoined to the word doctrine’.74 They failed, and the Protestation became, for those in the know, a defence of the doctrine but not necessarily the discipline of the church.

Rather than becoming a unifying force, therefore, the Protestation divided: it went to the heart of the problem of the post-Laudian church. Beyond the defence of the church from popish innovation, was it necessary to push for further reformation of its discipline? Some of the promoters of the Protestation were quite aware that it would have this function, serving as a shibboleth ‘to discover a true Israelite’, a means of identifying who was really committed to the pursuit of reformation.75 Imposing it in Westminster was a means of intimidation, although the fact that the bishops were able to take it devalued it in the eyes of Robert Baillie, the acute Covenanting observer of English affairs. Reported, debated, amended in one day, this demonstrated the power of Parliament to act when it felt the urgency. It also took the debate out into the country. On 5 May the Commons ordered that it be printed and on the following day a bill was read requiring all adult males to take the Protestation by Christmas. The Lords refused to pass it, but subscription to the printed Protestation became a national campaign, nonetheless.76 Alongside the official copies went unauthorized manuscript and print copies, not all of them accurate.77

The divisions caused by the Protestation were evident in print – Henry Burton saw it as a licence for radical reformation, others as a threat to the authority and responsibilities of the godly magistrate; the easy phrases, about the powers and privilege of Parliament and the rights of the subject, were all contestable. So too was the doctrine of the church. The text did nothing to answer doubts on these points and there was a healthy public debate.78 Copies of the Protestation eventually became talismans, worn in hats, thrown in the King’s coach and, later, affixed to muskets and ensigns, and the text was later treated as the parliamentarian’s ‘title to be in arms’.79 But it was controversial, and that controversy was deliberately exported from Westminster to the rest of the country. Across the country, at assizes and quarter sessions, the Protestation was subscribed by officeholders and the better sort. London led the way in its systematic arrangements for subscription. In Essex the following spring swearing of the Protestation was not always limited only to the men of the parish-women and youths took it too. It was done in church, following a sermon and, in some places, was accompanied by communion.80

For radicals, the Protestation gave further legitimacy to iconoclasm. There is evidence in Essex that religious protests moved beyond anti-Laudian gestures such as attacks on altar rails, on to attacks on the liturgy of the Prayer Book and the use of clerical vestments.81 In Cheshire, during the spring, painted windows and images had become targets for iconoclasts.82 At Radwinter, where there had been attacks on altar rails the previous summer, one of the churchwardens began to refuse to co-operate with the minister over matters of ceremony – locking away the vestments, refusing bread and wine at communion, and moving the communion table from its elevated position.83 Iconoclasm in London seems to have picked up pace and there were the first signs of the cleansing of chapels in the universities of Oxford and Cambridge.84

It was not just the Protestation which prompted or gave legitimacy to these radical acts. The parochial energies which had prompted the Root and Branch campaign had not been dissipated, and gained some legitimacy from parliamentary debate. Following the presentation of the original petition a committee had been established to consider the decay of preaching, scandalous ministers and the increase of popery soon after the presentation of the London petition. On 31 December, Simonds D’Ewes proposed a bill to abolish idolatry, heresy, superstition and profaneness, a measure attached to the subsidy bill. A committee report led to further consideration of idolatry, and on 23 January 1641 this resulted in an order from the Commons for ‘commissions, to be sent into all countries, for the defacing, demolishing, and quite taking away of all images, altars, or tables turned altarwise, crucifixes, superstitious pictures, monuments, and relicts of idolatry, out of all churches or chapels’.85

The fact that the Commons was pushing for reform in these directions lent legitimacy to local initiatives. In the light of this parliamentary pressure, for example, Cheapside Cross, in London, came to stand for, even personify, the dangers of popery and superstition. It had been erected in the late thirteenth century, one of a series of Eleanor Crosses built around the country to commemorate Edward I’s wife. An elaborately carved and very public monument, decorated with images of angels, the cross was a very familiar landmark. It had been the target of hostility in Elizabeth’s time, and at the beginning of the seventeenth century, and now, once again, came under scrutiny. Henry Burton, preaching in Parliament in June 1641, had called on Parliament to cast down idols, beginning with the Cheapside Cross, and a flutter of pamphlets followed. On the whole, however, these pamphlets were satirical, sending up the radicals who made such a fuss about so little, likening the cross, for example, to Dagon, the filthy God of the Philistines.86 The cross survived again, in 1641, but remained a focus for religious controversy.87

The attack on Laudianism was readily expressed as an assault on popery (spiritual bondage), but that language might lead in the direction of more radical reform, undertaken without magisterial direction. As this line of polemic about popery and reformation developed so did a counterpoint: attacks on episcopacy opened the way for religious licence and sectarianism (spiritual anarchy). There was a long tradition of anti-Puritan polemic, stretching back to the 1560s, in which hot Protestants were denounced as hypocrites and sectarians, and this provided a means to understand the threat now being posed by the challenge to ecclesiastical hierarchy. Such fears seem to have exercised a powerful effect in the Lords. Most notably, having been informed about the activities of sectarians in Southwark on 15 January, the Lords ordered


Cheapside Cross, a focal point of civic life

That the divine service be performed as it is appointed by the Acts of Parliament of this realm; and that all such as shall disturb that wholesome order shall be severely punished, according to law; and that the parsons, vicars, and curates, in several parishes, shall forbear to introduce any rites or ceremonies that may give offence, otherwise than those which are established by the laws of the land.88

The order was to be read publicly in all the parish churches of London, Westminster, Southwark and their surrounding liberties and suburbs. This fear about spiritual anarchy gained strength from stories of iconoclasm in the provinces. As radicals in Parliament pressed for the abolition of episcopacy, iconoclasts in the country attacked the outworks of popery in their own church. For hesitant reformers such as Dering, these stories of provincial iconoclasm only added to their hesitancy about the abolition of episcopacy. In June, at the time of the Protestation controversy, and the exchanges over Cheapside Cross, Dering seems to have had a change of heart. He abandoned attacks on episcopacy and the cause of Root and Branch reform, informed once again by concerns in his home county about religious order. Others, like Sir John Colepeper and Sir Thomas Aston, also seem to have been driven towards royalism by attacks on episcopacy and the Prayer Book.89

From late 1640 through 1641 there were intermittent attempts at local reformation, as activists took up the call to arms. These local initiatives stood in uneasy relation to the parliamentary debates on religion, which gave out an intermittent and often contradictory message. As the events of the previous summer had shown, local activists did not need explicit parliamentary prompting: attacks on altar rails, surplices and images were reported in the summer of 1640, all associated with hostility towards Laudianism, but without explicit parliamentary sanction. When Parliament did begin to discuss Root and Branch reform there was a well-grounded fear that this would invite, or license, unofficial and disorderly reformation. It does seem that indecisive debate in Parliament legitimated local action without setting limits to it.

Church government had become crucial because, following the impeachment of Laud, episcopal authority was collapsing: the archbishop was in the Tower, after all. But the politics of reformation were also coming to centre on the material dimensions of worship – the fabric of the church, the arrangement of its internal space, dress and gesture during worship. It was in these details that the boundaries between the practices of a true church and the corruptions of Rome could be marked out. It is impossible to quantify these local controversies, or to attempt an account of their geography, but attacks on church furnishings and decoration, and demonstrations against particular forms of worship, across the summers of 1640 and 1641 were clearly informed and calculated acts. These were interventions in the liturgical and ritual calendar, gesturing towards a purified form of religion; they were not ill-informed, violent or particularly spontaneous. Behind each lay local histories too, as at Radwinter. It is a mistake to see the iconoclasm of the 1640s as a new Puritan zealotry. Those who undertook these actions were aware of their place in a longer Reformation history, and so can we be.90

Radical debates in Parliament, and their local resonances, were taking politics beyond the redress of grievances towards the creation of a renewed moral order. Exuberant hopes lay behind these measures, but they also excited dark fears. Although it is plain to us that this was not indiscriminate or anti-religious violence, for many contemporaries it was difficult not to see this popular agency as anything other than sedition. It may not actually have been the case that this presaged anarchy, but it was an important political fact that many respectable people thought it did. This unofficial iconoclasm in the counties created fear that religious authority was no longer in safe hands. Matters of high politics, the most important matters of state, were now being canvassed quite deliberately on the streets of London and in the counties. The political issues being thrashed out in Parliament were available to a broad section of the population, particularly in London but also in the provinces. Politics had gone public.

By the time the King eventually left for Scotland on 13 August he had consented to a major constitutional reform: the very halting progress made before the death of Strafford had given way to rapid and important legislative action. But the experience of debate up until May is important in understanding why this substantial legislative programme did not produce a permanent settlement. By the early summer of 1641 the removal of evil counsellors had been successful, but the death of Strafford seemed to illustrate the threat of mob rule. Religious debate was both inconclusive and very public: there was a gathering reaction against radical reformation which was soon to take defence of the English Prayer Book as its talisman. The Pym-Bedford plan, which in retrospect appears to have been the most constructive one available in Parliament, was now dead. Charles was not inclined to settle with Strafford’s killers, or those who consorted with a popular reformation that was tending towards anti-clericalism. On the other hand, revelation of the army plot had reinforced a sense that the King could not be trusted and his trip to Scotland had produced radical demands intended to offer security for the gains already made. Just as attacks on Laudianism had given rise to attacks on episcopacy, attacks on particular policies and counsellors had begun to give way to proposals for more profound and durable constitutional change. When Parliament went into recess on 9 September, therefore, much had been done to redress the grievances of November 1640, but there were new difficulties that it seemed hard to settle. Most obviously, the shape of a religious settlement in England was unclear and the King was not trusted.

During the harvest recess, in September 1641, George Thomason acquired two pamphlets which clearly reflected the fear that reformation was tending towards licence and spiritual anarchy: A Discovery of 29 Sects here in London and A Nest of Serpents Discovered.91 The latter described the practices of the Adamites, a sect said to have been active in fifteenth-century Bohemia and now alive in London. Most of A Nest of Serpents was taken up with a recitation of previous denunciations of religious enthusiasts who went naked in imitation of Adam’s innocence before the Fall. The cover featured eight naked figures, three of them clearly women and four very conspicuously men. One of the women is flagellating a man whose penis is erect, alongside the banner ‘Down lust’: the exhortation, we are invited to believe, was not being honoured. A Discovery also placed the Adamites alongside other historic errors, sects and schisms. Religious order and decency depended on tradition, and the authorities cited in A Nest of Serpentsmade an implicit case for the importance of tradition alongside scripture. These pamphlets belong to a growing genre of shocking revelations about sectarian threat – the polemical accompaniment to the concerns enshrined in the Lords order of 16 January 1641. Adamites had been mentioned in the controversy over the Protestation and pamphlets over the summer and autumn of 1641 built on the conceit.92 As the anti-Laudian cause splintered, and many committed themselves to the Protestation, which had been explicitly designed not to make commitments about the discipline of the Church of England, anti-sectarian polemic made the case about where this was leading.

In fact, in this case, this polemic about spiritual excess probably tells us more about a particular form of anxiety than it does about actual conditions. A Nest of Serpents offers almost nothing of substance about the actual practices of modern-day Adamites: ‘Their meeting is sometime at Lambeth, at other times about Saint Katherine’s, sometimes in the fields or in woods, at sometimes in cellars’. It does offer, perhaps ironically given the subject matter, to reveal more. The authorities are after their leaders, and there is little doubt that they will be caught ‘in the midst of their lewd and abominable exercise, which is so scandalous, blasphemous, heathenish and abominable. At their discovery more shall be written’.93 The style of attack was to become familiar through the rest of the decade. The falsity of the Adamites” teaching was addressed not through doctrinal debate but on the basis of its obviously sinful fruit: ‘By their fruits shall ye know them’. There was also a strong desire to enumerate and taxonomize, as in A Discovery of 29 Sects: the intention was presumably to alarm and perhaps titillate, and the numbers (which tended to grow bigger) had that effect. But they were also precise – lending credibility perhaps, but also limiting the threat at the same time that it was being publicized. By historicizing, taxonomizing and enumerating sects these pamphlets captured, and to some extent contained, the dangers of spiritual excess.


The dangers of sectarian excess

There is no independent evidence of the existence of the Adamites, and Ephraim Pagitt wrote about them in his 1645 compendium of religious errors as a historical, rather than a contemporary, phenomenon. Thomas Edwards, in his even more compendious catalogue of schisms and errors, did not mention them at all.94 Prior to 1640 there had undoubtedly been sectarian congregations, separating from the national church, in London and elsewhere. There was also a long tradition of semi-separatism, of groups remaining within the church but also pursuing their faith in voluntary settings. It seems unlikely that the pressure for further reformation, and in particular the attacks on episcopal power, did not lead to an actual increase in these forms of religious practice: although bishops were not abolished, the fact that the suggestion was in the air eroded their cultural legitimacy and, therefore, their practical powers. Church courts had lost their teeth. Nonetheless, although these fears were plausible, it seems that they were exaggerated. By the autumn of 1641 there were probably fewer sectarians in London than there were Catholics – seven congregations have been identified, with perhaps 1,000 adherents – and the evidence we have suggests that lay preaching was being restrained too.95

That the fears being expressed in print were probably exaggerated does not diminish their political significance, and actions in Parliament fed them. Root and Branch reform was a victim of the impending recess, as debate had led to an elaboration of proposals, making agreement more difficult and discussions more complex. On the day before the recess, 8 September 1641, the Commons passed an order for the suppression of innovations, which pushed the cleansing of the church further than before and did so by authority of the Commons alone. The pressure for further reformation was becoming increasingly easy to associate with threats to order and decency. It was, for its proponents, an epochal moment in a larger history; for its opponents a resonance of other periods of over-zealous interpretation of the gospel message. The Lords responded to the Commons order by publishing their order of 16 January calling for worship according to the law established.96 But such calls were not unifying – the refusal in the Protestation to demand support for the ‘discipline’ as well as the doctrine of the church could assume considerable importance in that respect. If the Protestation appealed to those hot for the fight with popery, the defence of the Prayer Book and discipline of the church was attractive to those resisting both popery and Puritan populism.

Over the coming months opinion was successfully mobilized in support for the Prayer Book as a defence against the sectarian threat. In September 1641 the Essex Grand Jury, which contained a number of hotter Protestants, with connections in both Houses, had made a declaration which failed to defend the Prayer Book. This seems to have prompted an attempt in the county to set in train a petition in favour of the book, citing instances of religious disorder as evidence of the need to uphold the decencies it enshrined. This was part of a wider phenomenon: between September 1641 and May 1642 twenty-two English counties sent up petitions in defence of the Prayer Book, twelve of them in November and December 1641.97 They had in common a desire to reaffirm fundamentals – episcopacy and the Prayer Book. Stories of the mocking or desecration of the Prayer Book justified an appeal to the established liturgy, authenticated by long custom.98 Often promoted by the clergy, some of these petitions gained very large numbers of signatures – 14,350 in Somerset, 6,000 each in Cheshire, Devon and Nottinghamshire, 30,000 in the six counties of north Wales.99

There were now two clear slogans in religious debate: the Protestation was a totemic expression of defence of the doctrine (but not the discipline) of the Church of England, and a bulwark against popery. The Prayer Book, by contrast, expressed both the doctrine and the discipline of the Church of England, and was therefore a bulwark against both sectarianism and popery, so long as it could be agreed that it was not itself popish. These Prayer Book petitions were driven not just by fear of course, but by an attachment to the forms of religion currently established. Nonetheless, the necessity of petitioning in order to sustain the status quo reflected anxiety that that settlement was not safe. In at least sixteen counties there were clashes between those promoting rival petitions, and those clashes were related to opposition to the Protestation.100 Anti-Laudians, of whom there seems to have been no shortage, might sign up for either.

Successive drafts of one of these petitions survive from Essex and they reveal the tensions that might lie behind these campaigns. The drafts survive among the papers of Henry Nevill, a prominent supporter of the Personal Rule in Essex and an opponent of the Puritan networks protected by the Earl of Warwick. It told of the need to protect the Prayer Book in the light of local disorders. The detail and the way in which the stories were redrafted suggest that, although the petition was addressed to the King, the audience for the petition was as much opinion in the county. It highlighted not only how the Protestation had been used as a pretext for religious disorder, but also how attempts to restore order had been obstructed by the Grand Jury. Close analysis of who was on the Grand Jury suggests that it had indeed been captured by the local godly. Actual desecrations of the Prayer Book and disruptions of the observance of the liturgy bear testimony to local support for the view (stated in the first Root and Branch petition) that the Prayer Book was ‘a plain device to usher in the mass’.101 In Essex, as elsewhere, there was a developing battle between rival fears of popery and religious anarchy – emblematically expressed in attachment to the Protestation or the Prayer Book.102

The anti-sectarian pamphlets of September point to a further change in the means by which political debate was being conducted. A consequence of the abolition of High Commission and Star Chamber in July was not only to further reduce the effective influence of church discipline, but also to end controls on printing. George Thomason, the London bookseller, had been collecting pamphlets since early 1640. Prior to the meeting of the Long Parliament he had collected seventeen, over nine months. Between November 1640 and May 1641, the month of the attainder of Strafford, he had amassed a further 116. From May onwards he was collecting around sixty per month, and in September amassed eighty. There was more to come, but the rising political temperature, the collapse of effective censorship and the increasing willingness to resort to print were transforming the market for print.103 Parliamentary declarations and speeches were printed, partly it seems to satisfy the country that MPs were active on their behalf. The open expression of religious and political differences now spilt onto the streets, not only in the form of crowd actions and the circulation of partisan statements. In Cornwall the promotion of the Prayer Book petition was linked explicitly to ill-affected pamphlets, ‘which fly abroad in such swarms as are able to cloud the pure air of truth and present a dark ignorance to those who have not the two wings of justice and knowledge to fly above them’.104

This growth of publicity was troubling for a monarch who felt, probably correctly, that the security of the monarchy lay ultimately in the deference of his subjects. Charles’s refined sense of his regality emphasized respect for the King, and entailed an extensive, perhaps jealous, view of the arcana imperii. He was not alone in feeling uneasy about the growing publicity afforded to fundamental political and religious controversy. By late 1641 religious and political anxieties were finding regular expression in print: this was no longer a matter simply of parliamentary politics and the politics of the day were reported in an increasingly luxuriant print culture.

In debate and in practice it was proving difficult to foster a positive alliance around the promotion of the true religion or to maintain a negative alliance on the basis of a ragbag of grievances such as those expressed in the opening months of the parliament. As reformers took advantage of their position of strength not only to dismantle Laudian innovation but also to mark out the new boundaries of the true church, fundamental questions were publicly raised but not resolved. Polemically this gave great prominence to anti-popery; practically it centred on matters of church decoration and ritual practice. Here, though, was a potential problem of order – the thought that groups of individual Christians could take it upon themselves to mark out these new boundaries could bring little comfort to many people. The resonances of this pressure for reform on the streets of London and in the provinces were not always welcome. As in the 1630s, shifts in national policy preferences could be taken up by willing local parties, but in the early 1640s those responding sometimes came from outside the ranks of the ‘natural governors’. It was not just the content but also the conditions of religious and political debate which had been transformed in the first year of the Long Parliament: the mobilization of opinion for partisan purposes in crowds, petitions and now print.

In both secular and religious matters the debate during 1640-41 was moving from particularities to general principles: from the policies of the 1630s to the constitution; from attacks on Laudianism to the problem of reformation. In November 1640 the Covenanters had been useful to a broad coalition of English people – not simply admirers of Scottish Presbyterianism but also those who wanted reformation of a different kind, as well as those with the more modest hope of rolling back Laudianism or those who wanted to force Charles to summon, and listen to, a parliament. Everyone in November 1640 was a monarchist, but almost everyone was also opposed to at least one of the following: Laudianism; financial devices based on the prerogative; court Catholicism; some of the leading royal counsellors. In its first year the Long Parliament produced no clear programme of redress and no definitive text on which such a thing could be built. Instead debate escalated without resolution, and the political process became increasingly public, as demands relating to political principle were made by crowds and petitioners and were debated in print.

As Parliament went into recess for the harvest after a year of parliamentary activity, the King was in Scotland finalizing a settlement there, and substantial measures of reform had been achieved in England with (grudging) royal assent. Although some did not trust this particular king, no-one seems to have advocated a political settlement that was not monarchical. In the autumn of 1641 everyone was still a monarchist and more or less everyone believed in the necessity of a national church. Laudianism and the unpopular financial policies of the 1630s were dead, and the counsellors of the 1630s were out of power. But new dangers seemed to have arisen in their place. Differences were emerging between those afraid of the King’s role in relation to the true religion and those afraid of the corrosive effects on church and monarchy of a populist Puritan campaign for further reformation. The latter was a principled position and one which underpinned the commitment of some of Charles’s supporters when war broke out. It was not simply, or necessarily, a reactionary position since it sought a balance, not a retreat to the 1630s; and it was not simply aristocratic – it too found support on the streets and in the provinces, just as influential peers were pushing policies of radical reform. Petitions and pamphlets sought to mobilize opinion among wider publics. Their appeal was overlapping, not mutually exclusive, and therein lay the problem. What the English lacked in 1640, by comparison with the much more successful campaign of the Covenanters in Scotland, was a rallying point for a settlement – a text like the National Covenant, around which a coalition could mobilize and on the basis of which specific measures could have been agreed. What they had instead, by the summer of 1641, was the Protestation, seen by some as a shibboleth, intended to sort the sheep from the goats. Against that stood the Prayer Book, seen by some as a threat to the true religion. Many were able to support both. As they were urged as alternatives, however, the possibility of a deep divide had emerged, and one that might run through not just the heart of government but also through the towns and villages of England.

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