The Breakdown - The Crisis Escalates

Updated Sunday 7th January 2001

The Short and Long Parliaments provided a forum for discontent - and so the crisis escalated

Map of Britain and Ireland Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Wark Clements

The Short Parliament of 1640 gave MPs an opportunity to express grievances which had accumulated over the previous eleven years. Charles looked to his Parliament for support and supply but many MPs sympathised with the Scots and refused to give Charles command of an army which might be used against opponents at home. Charles dismissed the Short Parliament after three tumultuous weeks.

Charles gathered together a second army to try to teach the Scots a lesson but the Second Bishops War ended in further humiliation. The Covenanters struck first, seizing large parts of Northumberland and the city of Newcastle, and Charles was forced to bring the war to an end by signing the Treaty of Ripon and calling a second Parliament.

The Long Parliament of 1640 was even more corrosive of royal authority. Under John Pym's leadership, the opposition focused their anger on the Earl of Strafford, determined to put him on trial for failures of Royal policy. Within a week of the session starting, Strafford was impeached on charges of treason and by December, Archbishop Laud was gaoled on similar charges. At this stage, the attack was on the King's advisers rather than on the King himself.

Unable to make the charges of treason stick, Pym moved an Act of Attainder against Strafford, a tactic which required only a general presumption of guilt. Charles promised to defend his courtier to the end, but when both Commons and Lords voted against Strafford, Charles caved in and signed the death warrant. Strafford was executed on 12th May 1641.

After sacrificing Strafford, Charles caved in to other Parliamentary demands and moved north to make his peace with the Scots. However, just as the crisis seemed to have passed, Ireland exploded in rebellion and the three kingdoms started experiencing new difficulties.

John Pym Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Used with permission

If one person embodied Parliament's opposition to Charles in the early 1640s, it is the intense and slightly shabby Puritan lawyer, John Pym. Pym's lengthy peroration against Charles signalled the end of the Short Parliament and he had a leading hand in drafting the Grand Remonstrance. In 1643, he concluded the Solemn League and Covenant with the Scots.

Civil War: The Breakdown

 

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