The Outbreak of the English Civil War

The Outbreak of the English Civil War

The Outbreak of the English Civil War

The Outbreak of the English Civil War

Excerpt

The seventh of November 1640 was the fifth day of a new parliament, the second to be held that year, a parliament which, though no one would have believed it if they had been told, was to sit for more than 12 years. Arthur Capel, from Hertfordshire, gave others their cue when he stood up in the House of Commons with a petition in his hand. County agendas began to pile the table. Harbottle Grimston, with a powerful piece of rhetoric, called for a committee to consider them so that 'laws may be contrived and found for the preventing of the like mischiefs for the future'. The veteran Sir Benjamin Rudyerd harnessed the rising tide of emotion by harping on the 'destructive counsels' which rang 'a doleful deadly knell over the whole kingdom'. Then John Pym rose. He was a man in a hurry, more passionate than in his deft summary of grievances to the Short Parliament on 17 April, less coherent in what he said. The speech was probably an inspired response to the day's debating. He began by sweeping aside Grimston's demand for new laws: 'we have good laws yet they want their execution; if they are executed it is in a wrong sense.' There was a design, Pym insisted, 'to alter law and religion', or, as another version of the speech has it, 'to alter the kingdom both in religion and government'. The papist conspiracy against the nation provided an overall perspective for a mass of discontents that Pym knew were seething in men's minds. Yet it was far from merely a propaganda device. Pym was utterly convinced that a conspiracy existed.

With Pym's speech on 7 November 1640 provincial and national politics were fused. He concentrated men's minds: some of his listeners probably failed to grasp fully what he meant; many had not worked out the implications of his words. Nevertheless, for a rare and brief moment, the mood was one of complete unanimity. So menacing did the threat appear to be from above, that members did not stop to consider the process of events, involving riots, mutinies and a taxpayers' strike during the summer, which had brought them together. They did not ask each other about their priorities when religious zeal clashed with the preservation of social order or when the pursuit of evil counsellors involved making new laws. They . . .

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