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The Long Parliament

Updated Sunday, 7th January 2001

One man dominated the longest, most fractious sessions in government history: The Long Parliament

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As the Commons reassembled, at the centre of the opposition party to the King stood a thick-set, intense and slightly shabby lawyer called John Pym.

A West Countryman of passionate Puritan beliefs, he was a child of the Elizabethan age and saw all the old Protestant virtues of Good Queen Bess being betrayed by an effeminate, quasi-Catholic King. His obstinacy and sanctimonious self-belief were to be disastrous for Charles. Pym was as convinced of his own righteousness as Charles. But unlike the King, he was a strategist of the first order whose knowledge of Parliamentary procedure and grasp of political initiative was striking.

Pym, like Strafford, had been an MP in 1629 when Charles had closed down Parliament. But during the 1630s, while Strafford grew ever more loyal to the King, Pym saw his nation being betrayed by a closet Papist sitting on the throne. Declaring war on fellow Protestants in Scotland was the final straw.

If Pym couldn't get to the King, then his old adversary Strafford was the next best thing. The official charge was Strafford's attempt to import an Irish army to crush the Scots. Pym alleged that this force would then be used against Parliament itself.

But in truth, Pym wanted to try Strafford for the 'crimes' of the 1630s - for a different vision of Church and State. Many MPs thought that if only they could separate Charles from his evil advisers, men such as Strafford and Laud, then everything would be alright.

Pym was only the front-man for a much broader coalition of interests centered around the trading organisation, the Providence Island Company, formed to exploit trade and settlement in North America. The company's directors, men like the Earl of Essex and Lord Saye and Sele, were the real opponents of Charles. Known as the 'Twelve Peers', they were Protestant nobles who looked back fondly to the old certainties of the Elizabethan age when England championed the Protestant cause against Catholic Spain and monarchs listened to grand noblemen. Since the Scots victory at Newburn, the Twelve Peers had entered into an alliance with the Covenanters. And so, when the 'Long Parliament' met, Pym argued for a more Presbyterian Church of England and the prosecution of Strafford as a war-monger who tried to use Irish troops to quell religious opposition in Scotland. English problems between King and Parliament were now intricately bound up with the British problem of a multiple kingdom.

Pym worked Parliament brilliantly. He played on the irritation which had built up during the years of personal rule and the disgust felt at waging war on the Scots. Within a week of the opening session, the Commons impeached Strafford for treason. By December, Archbishop Laud was gaoled on similar charges.

 

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