The Long Parliament

When the Long Parliament first met in November 1640 its Members, in both houses, were almost unanimous in their condemnation of the non-parliamentary policies of the Personal Rule.

The fall of Strafford

The first target of their anger was Charles I's hated minister, Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford, who had at one point advised that in fighting the Covenanters the King should be "loosed and absolved from all rules of government".

But in his impeachment trial before the Lords in March to April 1641 Strafford defended himself so well that those intent on his prosecution were forced to adopt a more drastic measure. This was called attainder, that is, an Act that would declare the earl a traitor and condemn him to death without further trial.

John Pym, the leader of the group in the Commons pushing for Strafford's death, was apparently as ready to work outside the law to achieve his goals as was the King he so freely criticised.

Pym also resorted to non-parliamentary measures by stirring up hostile London crowds to surround the Palace of Westminster as the debates on the Attainder Bill were taking place. Under this intimidation both houses eventually passed it and the King very reluctantly assented to his friend's execution in May 1641.

Root and Branch

The attainder of Strafford was just the beginning of Parliament's onslaught on Charles's prerogative rule. Soon after this Acts were passed on the following:

  • to ensure that Parliament met every three years and could not be dissolved without its own consent
  • to abolish the prerogative courts which were seen as challenging the supremacy of the law, and
  • to declare the collection of non-parliamentary taxation, such as ship money, illegal

On the religious front, the hated Archbishop of Canterbury, William Laud, was impeached and the 'Root and Branch' Bill was introduced in May 1641. This called for the removal of the bishops from the Church of England and for the Church's reform along Scottish-style Presbyterian lines.

Throughout 1640-1 the Long Parliament dismantled bit by bit the structure of Personal Rule. The King had to assent grudgingly to whittling away his own prerogative rights.

Also within Living Heritage

Did you know?

Matters were becoming so tense while the King refused to agree to the execution of Strafford that the earl himself advised Charles to assent to the Attainder Bill which would seal his own death

Also in this section

Discover documents about Strafford in the Parliamentary Archives

Biographies

You can access biographies of

Charles I
Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford
John Pym
William Laud

from the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography for free, online, using your local library card number (includes nine out of ten public libraries in the UK) or from within academic library and other subscribing networks.