English civil war: The Long Parliament

The disasters of the second Scottish war compelled a virtual surrender by the king to the opposition, and the Long Parliament was summoned (Nov., 1640). The parliamentarians quickly enacted a series of measures designed to sweep away what they regarded as the encroachments of despotic monarchy. Those imprisoned by the Star Chamber were freed. A Triennial Act provided that no more than three years should elapse between sessions of Parliament, while another act prohibited the dissolution of Parliament without its own consent. Ship money and tonnage and poundage without parliamentary authorization were abolished. Strafford was impeached, then attainted and executed (1641) for treason; Laud was impeached and imprisoned. Star Chamber and other prerogative and episcopal courts were swept away. However, discussions on church reform along Puritan lines produced considerable disagreement, especially between the Commons and Lords.

Despite the king's compliance to the will of the opposition thus far, he was not trusted by the parliamentary party. This distrust was given sharp focus by the outbreak (Oct., 1641) of a rebellion against English rule in Ireland; an army was needed to suppress the rebellion, but the parliamentarians feared that the king might use it against them. Led by John Pym, Parliament adopted the Grand Remonstrance, reciting the evils of Charles's reign and demanding church reform and parliamentary control over the army and over the appointment of royal ministers. The radicalism of these demands split the parliamentary party and drove many of the moderates to the royalist side. This encouraged Charles to assert himself, and in Jan., 1642, he attempted to arrest in person Pym and four other leaders of the opposition in Commons. His action made civil war inevitable.

In the lull that followed, both Parliament and the king sought to secure fortresses, arsenals, and popular support. In June, 1642, Parliament sent to the king a statement reiterating the demands of the Grand Remonstrance, but since the proposals amounted to a complete surrender of sovereignty by the crown to Parliament, the king did not even consider them as a basis for discussion. Armed forces (including many peers from the House of Lords and a sizable minority of Commons) gathered about him in the north. Parliament organized its own army and appointed Robert Devereux, 3d earl of Essex, to head it. On Aug. 22, 1642, Charles raised his standard at Nottingham.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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