John Pym 1583 - 1643
A West Country lawyer, Pym was one of Charles' leading opponents throughout the 1630s and a major architect of Parliament's ultimate victory. Pym died in December 1643, two weeks after concluding the Solemn League and Covenant with the Scottish Presbyterians which profoundly influenced the final outcome of the conflict.
Pym was born in Brymore, Somerset in 1583. His father died when he was a child and his mother remarried Sir Anthony Rous, a political associate of the Earl of Bedford. When Pym initiated his political career, this connection served him well.
Pym entered politics in 1614 when he was returned as MP for Calne Wiltshire. He was returned as Calne's MP in the 1621 and 1624 Parliaments, but, in 1625, he was returned for Tavistock and represented this constituency throughout the rest of his career.
During the 'twenties and 'thirties, Pym was also Treasurer of the Providence Island Company, but this commercial position was rich in political and religious connections. The main goal of the Company was to create a Puritan colony on the island, and many of its leading members also became leading Parliamentary opponents of Charles.
The very existence of the Providence Island Company and its determination to create a 'new world' in the Caribbean reveals the extent of Puritan opposition to Laudian Anglicanism during this period.
As hostility to the King developed during the1630s, Pym quickly emerged as a vocal and articulate exponent. When the humiliation of the First Bishops War forced Charles to call a Parliament in 1640, the opposition seized the opportunity to express grievances which had accumulated over eleven years of personal rule. It was Pym's lengthy peroration against royal policy which prompted Charles to dissolve the Parliament only three weeks after it had been called.
The calling of the Long Parliament in November 1640 gave the opposition an opportunity to target their fire on unpopular architects of Crown policy. Within a week of the opening session, the Earl of Strafford was impeached on charges of treason, and by December 1640, Archbishop Laud was also detained in the Tower of London. Both men were later executed.
The Irish Rebellion of 1641 provided the opposition with another opportunity to challenge Charles. While Charles looked to Parliament to provide him with an army to suppress the revolt, Parliament refused, fearing it could be used against opposition at home. Pym also helped draft the Grand Remonstrance in November 1641, outlining alleged religious and political abuse by Charles during his period of personal rule.
Stung by this attack on his own authority, Charles attempted to arrest Pym and four of his supporters but Pym had already gone into hiding. Charles' departure from London following this episode helped to create an unbridgeable rift between Crown and Parliament.
When the War started, Pym became a key Parliamentary organiser. He created a network of committees which governed the regions under Parliament's control, and also raised funds to finance the Parliamentary Army.
In September 1643, Pym performed one final service for Parliament when he concluded a Solemn League and Covenant with the Scottish Presbyterians. This helped offset Royalist successes during 1643 and gave Parliament its numerical superiority on the field at Marston Moor.
Pym died of cancer on 8th December 1643 and was buried at Westminster Abbey. When the Stuarts returned in 1660, his body was exhumed and placed in a common pit.
English Civil War: The Key Players
Copyright & revisions
Originally published: Sunday, 7th January 2001
Last updated on: Sunday, 7th January 2001
- Body text - Copyrighted: The Open University
- Image 'John Pym' - Copyrighted: Wark Clements
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