Parliaments, Politics & People Seminar: Alan Marshall, The political ideas and parliamentary career of Thomas Scot, regicide, 1645-1660

Today Dr Alan Marshall (Bath Spa University) reports back from his last ‘Parliaments, Politics and People’ seminar paper: The political ideas and parliamentary career of Thomas Scot, regicide, 1645-1660

This paper’s general aim was to briefly survey some of the ideas of Thomas Scot, the regicide, to delineate the hostility towards him, and, hopefully, open out explanations of his career. The view of Scot is taken though the lens of the remaining, somewhat problematic, evidence. The paper also proposed to explore Scot’s political ideas in the light of the various labels of ‘republican’ and ‘radical’ that had been placed upon him.

Certainly, Scot remains a somewhat undervalued, but interesting, figure in the era of the English republic – a man who stood at the nexus of the revolution over December-January 1648-49. He was prominent at the establishment of the early years of the Rump government – 1649-53, as well as at the republic’s collapse of 1659-1660. The subsequent debate following the paper on his status generally agreed that he could be considered a significant figure in this era.

Scot held somewhat conventional ideas: liberty, religion, and the threat of Popery were all, if still deeply held, values and concerns that led him to the Parliamentary side.  They were views based on his notions of the historical process, and upon the way he interpreted the history of the English state and its monarchy; as well as the very concepts, and history, of parliament itself- with parliamentary representation and sovereignty at their heart. Scot called himself the ‘Weathercock of reason’, and clearly knew both his Tacitus and his Livy very well, being fond of quoting them in his speeches and writings. He could be considered a ‘parliamentary republican’.

This paper’s reflection on Scot’s ideas also stemmed from a more specific interest on the impact of his main role in this period: Scot acted as a government intelligencer, ‘spymaster’ for the Rump parliament.  This raised questions as to why was he given this commission? Was he any good at it?  And what did he actually do -practice wise- when in this role? More significantly, how did this role relate to the processes of government and the actual linkage of contemporary intelligence material to the floor of the House of Commons and to policy?

Furthermore, a long-term view of Scot’s ‘intelligence routine’, and his techniques, reveal that that unlike Oliver Cromwell’s famed ‘Spyder’ John Thurloe, who succeeded him, or for that matter the Restoration spymaster Joseph Williamson, Scot generally endeavoured to work in collaboration with the other members of the Council of State and through its established committee systems on secret intelligence matters. It is very clear from the evidence that Scot himself never seems to have had any particular qualms about the spirit of co-operation that was firmly entrenched in the republican intelligence system. His earlier work in the Buckinghamshire County Committee, and his subsequent parliamentary background of extensive committee work since 1645, as well the evidence of his frequent speeches on the floor of the House of Commons, had made him very used to working in this manner. Quite naturally Scot brought this philosophy into his secret intelligence work, where it provides a very strong theme to his daily routine. Clearly his attitude was distinctively noticeable in his work- a republican theme as it were -and it marked him out from his espionage peers in the early-modern English context.

Lastly, Scot was frequently derided in contemporary political satires as one of the major ‘hell-hounds that have preyed upon…[England] this 7 years’, and this hostility was linked to ideas of his deviant sexuality. Such ideas may have solely emerged from the ‘rough’ politics of the press of the day, to which he was ‘a continual perplexer’, rather than from any real sexual unorthodoxy.


Join us for tonight’s ‘Parliaments, Politics and People’ seminar, where Gary Hutchison (University of Edinburgh) will speak on: ‘‘A distant and Whiggish country’: The Conservative Party and Scottish elections, 1832–1847’. Full details here.

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