In the second half of her series on exiting the English Republic (part one available here) Dr Vivienne Larminie, Assistant Editor of the Commons 1640-1660 project, explores the dissolution of the Long Parliament…
On 16 March 1660 the Parliament which had begun nearly twenty years earlier, on 3 November 1640, agreed to dissolve itself. After well over 3,000 days of sitting, several forcible interruptions and a lengthy gap from 1653 to 1659, a great volume of unprecedented legislation, countless hours of novel executive committee meetings, many heated debates and much praying and listening to sermons, the assembly which had stood up to Charles I and defeated his forces in battle voted for its own demise. It did so explicitly in anticipation of fresh elections and the calling of a new representative body, to convene at Westminster on 25 April.
The end of the Rump Parliament on 21 February had not meant that the return of the monarchy was inevitable. Nor did the dissolution of the Long Parliament three weeks later – at least in theory. The Act for Dissolving Parliament, quickly disseminated in the government-backed The Publick Intelligencer and other newspapers, barred defiant, unreconciled royalists from eligibility for election to the next one. Prospective MPs must not have been involved in the Irish rebellion of 1641 or (nothing new) be Roman Catholics; also excluded were ‘all …persons who have advised, or voluntarily aided, abetted or assisted in any war against the Parliament, since [1 January 1642] and his or their sons, unless he or they have since manifested their good affection to this Parliament’.
The dominant voice in crafting the Act had been that of the Presbyterians, who had driven business in the Commons since the re-admission of the Members secluded at Pride’s Purge in 1648. Their goal of conservative reform in church and state, not dissimilar to those of the early days of the Long Parliament, was apparent, for example, in the bill for ‘the approbation and admittance of ministers to public benefices’ which announced (14 March) a return to the form of church government authorised in August 1648. This measure provided for the ordination and admission of ‘preaching ministers’ to parishes and universities, but took no account of the sectarian, ‘gathered’ congregations and their preachers tolerated under the commonwealth and protectorate, and promoted by the Presbyterians’ political rivals the Independents. Presbyterian activists familiar from the 1640s were prominent on committees – among them Denzil Holles (also see Denzil Holles), John Glynne and Sir William Lewis – as were various others who had closed ranks with them in recent days – the likes of Harbert Morley (who had stood against the army officers over the autumn and winter of 1659-60), Robert Reynolds, Nathaniel Fiennes and Sir Anthony Ashley Cooper. Fiennes’s old antagonist William Prynne, the irrepressible pamphleteer and sufferer under Archbishop William Laud, was in the vanguard. It was men such as these who looked likely to dominate the elections to the new representative body.
But there was another force at work in the shape of General George Monck, whose intentions remained as opaque to the political elite as they were when he had arrived in London with his army in February to usher the Long Parliament back in. The day after it dissolved itself, he secretly promised his support to Charles Stuart. Thereafter, the situation evolved constantly and successive attempts to secure compromise settlements guaranteeing that particular legislation stayed in place and changes of the previous two decades remained permanent were overtaken by events. Proclamations ordering both royalists and discharged soldiers to leave London were flouted. On 23 March Monck imposed on all army officers subscription to a declaration of obedience to their superiors, the interim council of state and (in due course) the new Parliament. On 24 March the council of state promised a reward for anyone informing on republican agitation in the army.
Republicans themselves were by now losing hope. At an earlier point in his retrospective narrative, Edmund Ludlowe observed that ‘it was not yet tyme for Monck to pull off his last hood, though it was so thin that every one might see through it that had a minde so to doe’ [Ludlow, Voyce, 85]. For a while Ludlowe dared to keep a public profile ‘passing sometimes through Westminster Hall, that they might see I was not withdrawne upon any designe [of insurgency]’, but he did so ‘not as frequently or publiquely as formerly, lodging sometymes at one friend’s howse and sometymes at another’ [Voyce, 100]. His attempt to exercise his vote in the forthcoming Wiltshire elections to secure the return of the more friendly-seeming Edward Bayntun instead of Sir Anthony Ashley Cooper (‘who had now most clearely discovered himself to be what I alwayes suspected him to be’ [Voyce, 102]), involved much clandestine travel and was ultimately fruitless. Civil servant and poet John Milton launched desperate salvos, The Readie and Easie Way of Establishing a Free Commonwealth (editions in February and March, warning against monarchy) and then Brief Notes upon a Late Sermon (compromising as far as an elected monarchy). On 9 April Marchamont Nedham lost his post as editor of government newsbooks, while on 22 April former Major-general John Lambert’s short republican insurrection ended with his capture at Daventry.
The Presbyterians fared a little better. Holles, Glynne, Lewis, Morley, Ashley Cooper and even Bayntun, one of the ‘fiery spirits’ of the early Long Parliament but now repentant, were elected to the new Parliament, as was Monck himself. But so too were candidates whose royalist sympathies were unadulterated by a complicated past or current reforming aspirations. The assembly which met on 25 April as a Convention rather than a Parliament in the strict sense was of a different temper to the restored Long Parliament, and will be the subject of a subsequent post.
E. Ludlow, A Voyce from the Watch Tower, ed. A. B. Worden (Camden Society, 1978)
Journal of the House of Commons, vol. vii at https://www.british-history.ac.uk/commons-jrnl/vol7
Biographies or further biographies of Edward Bayntun, Sir Anthony Ashley Cooper, John Glynne, Denzil Holles, John Lambert, Sir William Lewis, Edmund Ludlowe, George Monck, Harbert Morley and William Prynne are being prepared by the Commons 1640-1660 section.
A biography of William Laud will appear in the Lords 1604-29 volumes, scheduled for publication later this year.