The Open Door Web Site
17th Century England Index
Introduction : Constitutional Government
BRITAIN : ISLAND STATE TO EMPIRE
17th Century England
The Second English Civil War
Charles I's surrender in 1646 marked the end of the First Civil War. The Long Parliament, as it was called, now had to decide what to do with the king. The Scots, who had accepted the king's surrender, were paid £200000 to hand him over to Parliament. The king was placed in custody in Holmby House.
The Long Parliament was made up of members of many different groups of people. There were the Presbyterians (radical Puritans), the conservative middle class and the merchant class who argued against the Independents, the radical middle class, some of the gentry and merchants. These last four groups were being backed by the New Model Army.
The Presbyterian faction attempted to reform the Church of England. In 1646, laws were passed which imposed a Presbyterian Church structure on the people. The old Prayer Book was replaced, celebration of Christmas and Easter was abolished and a strict moral code was enforced. This was extremely unpopular with the majority of the people. The Independents refused these changes and demanded the right of religious freedom outside the national church.
Parliament was very short of money and decided to disband the army without paying the soldiers what it owed them. There were many Independents in the army who felt anger towards both the Presbyterian and conservative factions of Parliament.
The army ranks also harboured members of a group called the Levellers. This group, which also had members outside of the army, wanted Parliament dissolved since it thought it ineffective, tyrannical and corrupt. The Levellers called for a democratic institution, where every free-born Englishman would sign an "Agreement of the People". This would mean being able to vote someone into office. Each office would only be held for a short period of time and the elected person would be accountable to the electorate. The Levellers also advocated freedom of Christian worship.
Another active political group, led by a man called Gerard Winstanly, was called the Diggers. This group found its supporters from amongst the peasant population, rather than in the army ranks. The Diggers advocated a type of primitive communism. They argued that all land belonged equally to the whole of the English people, and in saying this they opposed themselves to the rich land owners who kept their land for other purposes than agriculture. The Diggers set up a prototype community on St. George's Hill in Surrey in 1649, but they were quickly removed.
The king, meanwhile, was busy making promises to several groups even though he had no intention of keeping them. He thought that he could play one group against the other and cause disagreements between them. Between 1646 and 1648, Charles made promises to the Independents, the Presbyterians, the army, the House of Commons and the Scots.
During the same period when the king was negotiating with these different groups, there was much discontent in many parts of the country. The people were revolting against military rule. It had brought them high taxes, fines, compulsory billeting of troops and, since the troops had not been paid, a lot of pilfering. These revolts were encouraged, if not organized, by ex-royalists, but the army had little problem in controlling them since they were sporadic and uncoordinated.
In May 1647, the army forcibly removed the king from Holmby and took him to a military camp in Newmarket. This was followed by a march on London where the leading Presbyterians were removed from Parliament and the king was housed at Hampton Court. General Cromwell, one of the leaders of the army, was still in favour of negotiating a settlement with the king, and presented him with a document called " The Heads of Proposals". This was a much watered-down version of the Levellers' "The Agreement of the People" and gave many concessions to the king. If this settlement had been accepted by the king, it would have created a Constitutional Monarchy as early as 1647.
The Levellers in the army reacted by organizing a mutiny which Cromwell quickly put down. The king, however, rejected the "Proposals" and promptly escaped from Hampton Court to the Isle of Wight. Cromwell was furious and declared himself in agreement with the Levellers.
The Second Civil War consisted of a series of uprisings around the country. The Presbyterians were in coalition with the Royalists, and their uprisings were in conjunction with a Scottish invasion. General Fairfax led the army into rebellions in Kent and Essex. Cromwell's army was successful in Wales and then marched on the Scots.
The king's dishonesty and the resulting conflicts only served to reunite the various factions in the army. The king was re-arrested. Cromwell sent Colonel Pride to London to remove from Parliament all the Presbyterians and other MPs still willing to negotiate with the king. This was to become known as Pride's Purge. What was left of the Long Parliament was called the Rump Parliament. It is estimated that only one in six of the Long Parliament MPs were left to discuss the fate of the king and that as few as one in ten were present when the decision was made that the king would stand trial.
After the king's execution, The Rump Parliament was further reduced in number by Cromwell. What was left was known as the Barebones Parliament and consisted of 140 men who had been chosen by Cromwell to run the country. After only five months, however, it became clear that the Barebones Parliament was a failure. In 1653, Cromwell marched the army into Westminster and dissolved Parliament. He ruled as a military dictator for the next five years.
The Open Door Web Site is non-profit making. Your donations help towards the cost of maintaining this free service on-line.
Donate to the Open Door Web Site using PayPal