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The breakdown of 1641-2

Over the winter of 1641-2 relations between King and Parliament broke down entirely. The unity of purpose between and within the Lords and Commons which had been evident at the end of 1640 also broke down.

Religious tensions and the Grand Remonstrance

The tensions within Parliament over the English Church were increased by radical Protestants destroying perceived "idolatrous" religious images in churches during the summer of 1641.

In October the native Irish, largely Catholics, claimed Charles I's authority for their attacks against the Protestant English and Scottish settlers who had taken their lands. This was seen by many as yet more evidence of Charles I's part in a Catholic conspiracy to destroy Protestantism. This became just one part of what was termed the Grand Remonstrance to the King, drafted by John Pym and his circle, which detailed Charles I's abuses, both real and imagined, since 1625.

The Remonstrance barely passed the Commons by 11 votes in November and was not even submitted to the Lords before being presented to the King, who rejected it.

The arrest of the five Members

Charles I moved for the impeachment of Pym and four of his followers. On 4 January 1642 the King entered the Commons chamber with an armed guard to effect the arrest himself of the MPs. The Speaker, William Lenthall, refused to tell him where they were, saying: " I have neither eyes to see nor tongue to speak in this place but as this house is pleased to direct me whose servant I am here." The King replied that he had eyes too, and said: "I see the birds have flown".

The Militia Ordinance

Charles left the capital five days after this humiliation, and in his absence John Pym and his allies pushed through in March 1642 the Militia Ordinance (an Ordinance and not an Act because it never received the Royal Assent). This placed the command of each county's armed forces in the hands of their supporters.

At the same time Charles I issued his own commissions of array assigning his followers to organise their own armed forces in the counties. The country was on the edge of civil war.

Related information

Read about the current role of the Speaker


You can access biographies of

Charles I
John Pym
William Lenthall

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.

Did you know?

The King took the Great Seal with him when he left London, which made all his orders official. Parliament had to make its own Great Seal to give its documents a semblance of legality.