In the third in our series of blogs marking the release of the Commons’ proceedings of the 1624 Parliament – with those for April 1624 now available here – Dr. Maija Jansson, Director Emerita of the Yale Center for Parliamentary History, places them in their wider historical context and recounts the protracted story of their publication.
The online publication of the Commons’ proceedings in the English Parliament of 1624 is a cause for celebration on two counts. For one thing, it completes the body of modern editions of parliamentary texts from 1610 through to the first year of the Long Parliament in 1640. These debates constitute the record of tumultuous years of high drama in the annals of men learning to govern themselves. Later years would build on their experience, but at the time it was a matter of mastering the balance between the interests of parliamentary expression with the assumptions of a ‘divine-right’ monarchy.
That span encompasses the accession of Scottish-born King James, the contentious sessions of 1610 where MPs argued over government finance, followed by the Parliament in 1614 that was so rancorous the King ordered many notes of its sitting burned. In 1621 the Parliament impeached Sir Francis Bacon, the Lord Chancellor, and three years later, in 1624, took on foreign policy and argued against the Spanish marriage treaty. By 1625 the Parliament welcomed a new King but within a year impeached his favourite, the Duke of Buckingham. By 1628 MPs arrived at the doors of Westminster with a multitude of grievances spelled out in the arguments for drafting the Petition of Right. Blaming the lawyers for their influence in those debates, Charles I dissolved the Parliament in 1629, ushering in a decade of governance without Parliament, followed by civil war and the (temporary) end of monarchy. The proceedings in any one of these Parliaments by itself does not tell the tale. To understand pre-civil war England we must think hard about the positions and arguments of MPs and Lords put forward in all of the parliamentary debates of these decades.
Secondly, the publication of this account marks the success of the History of Parliament Trust in an undertaking that over a period of time had defeated a number of others. Various scholars over many years had their hearts and hands in this project but almost from the outset it was fraught with problems. Briefly the story was this. A collection of photocopies and microfilm of the debates in 1624 was sent from England to the United States in 1918 or 1919 under the direction of Wallace Notestein who had himself, however, in the interval, become involved with editing the papers for 1621. Consequently, he began looking for a suitable editor and funding for the compiling of an edition of those proceedings. With the collapse of the stock market in 1929 and later, the outbreak of the Second World War, the project languished. By the 1950s Mark Curtis, a professor of history at University of California at Los Angles, and a friend and colleague of Wallace Notestein, who was then teaching at Yale University, proposed taking over the project, whereupon trunks containing the 1624 material were shipped west. It seems, however, that funding was illusory. Eventually the materials were returned to Yale where it was believed they would be edited at Jack Hexter’s Center for Parliamentary History. However, 1624 was now out of the chronological sequence of editions set up at Yale to edit the proceedings in the Caroline Parliaments, 1625, 1626, 1628, and the first session of the Long Parliament. Nevertheless, work on editing the 1624 material was undertaken elsewhere between the late 1960s and 1980s by Robert Ruigh and Mark Kennedy but eventually ran out of funding. Again, 1624 was put on hold. Following the completion of the seven volumes on the first year of the Long Parliament, when funding was no longer available, Yale closed the Center in 2007. At that time the 1624 materials were once more packed up in boxes, this time shipped back across the Atlantic to the History of Parliament Trust in London. There, from a collection of disparate memos, notes and diaries, a dedicated staff compiled a readily accessible scholarly edition of texts. With great expectation we await the full printed publication with annotation and index.
Philip Baker, the editor of Proceedings in Parliament 1624: The House of Commons, has done a masterful job with organizing this material and setting up, in tandem with British History Online, a very functional and clear website. The Leverhulme Trust, Paul Seaward and the History of Parliament Trust, and Parliament itself are to be recognized and thanked for their part in the support of this important edition.
Don’t forget that over on twitter we’re marking the publication of ‘Proceedings in Parliament 1624: The House of Commons’ with extracts from the diaries on each day that the Commons sat using #1624Parl. Do follow us for the tweets – starting again from 12.30pm today.