Today, on the anniversary of its opening 391 years ago, the History of Parliament is proud to announce the initial release of material from its on-going project on the 1624 Parliament. Hosted by British History Online, Proceedings in Parliament 1624: The House of Commons provides free online access to the first in a progressive release of the Commons’ debates during the final Parliament of the reign of James I, beginning with those of February 1624. Covering eleven days and at just over 90,000 words in length, readers will, for the first time, be able to consult the full range of Commons’ proceedings during the opening month of what remains one of the most controversial and puzzling of the early Stuart Parliaments.
Situated between the earlier, often rumbustious assemblies of James and the even more turbulent ones of Charles I that followed it, the 1624 Parliament is something of an anomaly. Dubbed the ‘Happy Parliament’, it fits rather awkwardly into the accepted scholarly framework, which views the period between 1604 and 1629 as one of steady and marked deterioration in relations between the king and the Commons. The Parliament is notable for James I’s invitation to it to discuss whether or not war should be declared against Spain and also for its significant burst of legislative activity. But a full understanding of the assembly has been hampered to date by the lack, uniquely among the early Stuart Parliaments, of a complete edition of its proceedings
Work on such an edition actually began in America almost a century ago, under the guidance of the great parliamentary historian Wallace Notestein. Further research was undertaken in the US between the late 1960s and 1980s by Robert Ruigh and Mark Kennedy, and the project was subsequently taken over by the Yale Center for Parliamentary History. When the Center closed in 2007, the 1624 materials were transferred to the History of Parliament, and in 2012 we began our work on them, generously funded by the Leverhulme Trust and the Friends of the Yale Center for Parliamentary History.
Since 2012, we have checked and edited all the materials inherited from Yale and transcribed a number of additional key sources. This has been a major undertaking, with the full text of the Commons’ proceedings likely to be in the region of 770,000 words. There are some seventeen diary and journal accounts of Commons’ business, with a number written by well-known figures such as John Pym and Edward Nicholas. Some of these accounts are neat, fair hand copies, written up at some point after the events they describe, while others take the form of rough scribbled notes, perhaps recorded on the diarist’s lap in the Commons’ chamber itself and thus at times exceedingly difficult to decipher.
The publication of Proceedings in Parliament 1624 will in itself fill a considerable hole in early modern parliamentary history. But used in tandem with the articles already published online from our volumes on The House of Commons, 1604-29 and those forthcoming on The House of Lords, 1603-60, it also offers the prospect of a connected set of electronic resources which will enable scholars to dig more deeply and more easily than ever before into the vexed political world of the early modern Stuarts.
To mark the beginning of the publication of Proceedings in Parliament 1624: The House of Commons, from today until 29 May – the final day of the Parliament – we will be tweeting extracts from the various diaries and journals on each day that the Commons sat. So please do follow us – we’ll be using the hashtag #1624Parl – to find out more about the workings and rituals of Parliament, the words and opinions of its members, and for a sometimes more irreverent look at early modern political culture.
We’ll also be publishing more blogposts for each release of new Proceedings in Parliament 1624 material – so watch this space for more!