The ‘Convention’ that wasn’t: the Opening of the 1660 Parliament

Today we hear from Dr Andrew Barclay, senior research fellow for our Commons 1640-1660 project. He explores the accuracy of the naming of the so-called Convention of 1660 in the first of a three-part series about the Parliament that would end the English Republic…

Prior to dissolving itself on 16 March 1660, the Long Parliament had agreed that a new Parliament should meet on 25 April. The elections held over the next six weeks used the old franchises revived for the 1659 Parliament. Unlike then, the new Parliament did not include MPs from Scotland and Ireland. The other obvious difference from 1659 was that it included the traditional House of Lords, not the Cromwellian ‘Other House’. The new assembly was consciously intended as the Long Parliament’s successor, although, crucially, one with a fresh electoral mandate.

But was this a ‘Parliament’? Modern historians have usually said that at this stage it was instead a ‘Convention’, on the basis that it had not been summoned by a monarch. It thus did not become a Parliament until the following June when by its first Act, which received the assent of the newly restored king, Charles II, it declared itself to be one. That was superficially comparable to how the Nominated Assembly of 1653 had transformed itself into a Parliament only after it had convened. That the 1660 body was initially only a ‘Convention’ is then why it is sometimes called ‘the Convention Parliament’. All this however rests on an anachronistic distinction. The Long Parliament’s ordinance of the previous March by which this replacement was summoned spoke of it only as a ‘Parliament’ and the Journals of both the Commons and the Lords call it a ‘Parliament’ from the very first entries on 25 April. The later Act declaring it to be a ‘Parliament’, while acknowledging the doubts over the lack of royal writs, never actually said that it had not been one before.

Nor is there evidence that contemporaries called it a ‘Convention’. Sir Edward Dering, whose notes are the only surviving diary by a sitting MP covering its opening days, just calls it a Parliament (Dering, Diaries, 35). The body meeting at the same time in Dublin was the ‘General Convention’, but, as Patrick Little has recently explained, that was not quite the same as a full Irish Parliament. Tellingly, the earliest citation in the Oxford English Dictionary for the word ‘convention’ being used for a English parliamentary assembly of questionable legality does indeed date from 1660, but it is from a comment by Sir Orlando Bridgeman at the trial of the regicides and is actually an unflattering reference to the Rump (1648-1653, 1659-60). The idea that a Convention is a Parliament-like body summoned without royal writs dates only from the next such occasion, the ‘Convention Parliament’, summoned in 1689 following the flight of James II, when the issue of the writs was far messier and thus more precisely considered. Historians only later applied the term ‘Convention’ to the 1660 Parliament retrospectively, as well as, even more anachronistically, the 1399 Parliament.

The MPs who assembled at Westminster on 25 April were a mix of experienced men and novices. About half of them had never been MPs before, but about a quarter had sat in the Long Parliament and about one in three had been Members of Richard Cromwell’s Parliament the previous year. Their political views are more difficult to pin down. This Parliament has few diaries and no division lists. On the biggest issues, most especially the Restoration of the monarchy, many seem just to have accepted, albeit with misgivings, the prevailing mood. The History’s Commons 1660-1690 volumes thought that about half of them were ‘Anglican’ (presumably implying that they were committed to bishops and the Book of Common Prayer), but that is a very crude measure, especially at a moment when the shape of any religious settlement was still so open.

Sir Harbottle Grimston, by John Riley Parliamentary Art Collection: WOA 2709

The Commons began by electing Sir Harbottle Grimston (also see: http://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1660-1690/member/grimston-sir-harbottle-1603-85) as its Speaker. A professional lawyer who had first been elected as an MP in 1628, he had made a famous speech on the nation’s grievances during the opening days of the Long Parliament. That George Monck, the man of the hour, helped drag him to the Speaker’s chair was surely deliberate symbolism. The Lords re-elected Edward Montagu, 2nd earl of Manchester, who had been their Speaker during some of the most eventful periods of the 1640s. In the Commons the first three days were dominated by routine business – appointing its officials, hearing election disputes, setting a fast day and a day of thanksgiving. The only actual legislation introduced was a bill against vagrants. Monck was thanked, as was Richard Ingoldsby, who had recently arrested John Lambert, the leader of the diehard republicans in the army.

The key move by the Lords was its decision to admit those peers who had succeeded to their peerages since 1649. The first steps were also taken by them to appoint Monck as the captain general for England, Scotland and Ireland. Neither House then met over the weekend and the Monday had been set aside as a fast day, although the Lords did transact some minor matters before processing to the service in Westminster Abbey. In truth, all this was just marking time. Everyone was waiting for Monck to declare his hand. The Commons agreed that when they resumed on the Tuesday (1 May), they would discuss the ‘Settlement of these Nations’. Meanwhile, the Lords asked for a joint conference with them on that day ‘to make up the Breaches and Distractions of this Kingdom’. The events of 1 May would indeed end the uncertainty.

A.B.

Further reading

E. Dering, The Diaries and Papers of Sir Edward Dering, Second Baronet, 1644 to 1684, ed. M.F. Bond (1976)

R. Hutton, The Restoration (1985)

Biographies or further biographies of Richard Cromwell, Sir Edward Dering, Harbottle Grimston, Richard Ingoldsby, John Lambert and George Monck are being prepared by the Commons 1640-1660 section.

For more blogs from Andrew and colleagues from our 1640-1660 project, see our James I to Restoration category.

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