The Cambridge Modern History: Planned by the Late Lord Acton - Vol. 4

By A. W. Ward; G. W. Prothero et al. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER IX
THE FIRST TWO YEARS OF THE LONG PARLIAMENT.
(1640-2.)

WHEN the great assembly which was afterwards to be known as the Long Parliament met at Westminster on November 3, 1640, the condition of affairs was very different from what it had been in the spring of the year. It was plain, even to the King, that concessions must now be made. The Crown would probably have to surrender the claim to levy ship-money, and even the customs duties, without consent of Parliament, to abolish monopolies, and to extend the limits of religious toleration; but subsequent events showed that Charles had no intention of seriously modifying the ecclesiastical system, of accepting the principle of ministerial responsibility, or of binding himself to summon Parliaments regularly; in other words, he clung to the essentials of prerogative. The parliamentary leaders, on their part, while resolved to carry out the programme which Pym had indicated in the previous April, had at first no intention of pushing matters to extremes. Their aim was rather restorative--their plan, to thrust back the encroaching power of the Crown, to sweep away the bulwarks of despotism, to revive ancient rights and safeguards. But, as is usual in revolutionary times, mutual suspicion and mistrust prevented a halt when the work of restoration was complete; and it was at this point that the vacillating and shifty character of Charles proved of so fatal a significance. The conviction became ineradicable that the King intended, at the earliest opportunity, to withdraw the concessions into which he had been forced; and it must be allowed that, so early as the summer of 1641, incidents, to be noted later, occurred which lent only too much colour to this suspicion. Thus the measures promoted by Parliament, in order to safeguard the rights which had been gained, became more and more subversive of the old order, while acts of violence on the King's part betrayed more and more hostility towards the parliamentary party; and the two sides were gradually driven into a position of antagonism, of which the only outcome could be civil war.

The most important event of the first six months of the Long

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