Atlas of the English Civil War

By P. R. Newman | Go to book overview

Pride's Purge and the King's Execution

Scottish help for the King had been substantial (14,000 men or more) but dilatory and, in the event, badly commanded. The surrender of Colchester in Essex on 27 August 1648, followed by the wanton execution of its two royalist commanders, marked the end of the abortive uprising. In Scotland the duke of Hamilton's proEngagement party was overthrown by the marquess of Argyle, with Cromwell's backing, and the King was thus stripped of any effective support in Scotland. Nevertheless, Parliament was eager to continue to talk to the King, perhaps as much motivated by a desire to outmanoeuvre the army as anything else, and spokesmen were sent to Newport on the Isle of Wight on 6 September. Again Charles sought to draw out time by prevarication, and the talks dragged on into November. On the 25th of that month, the army presented a Remonstrance to Parliament urging that the King be brought to trial for his life. Parliament ignored it, whereupon detachments of the New Model were ordered to cross to the Isle of Wight and to take the King into their custody on 29 November. On the following day he was transferred to Hurst Castle on the mainland.

Linked with this step was the purge of Parliament carried out by the army on 6 December, with the connivance of Independent members. The Commons had already concluded that the seizure of the King had been an act of great 'insolency' and on the evening of the 5th had gone so far as to issue a stern rebuke to the army by voting to continue negotiations. On the morning of the 6th therefore, Colonel Pride, commanding the regiment responsible for the security of the House, together with Lord Grey of Groby, stood at the door turning away members unsympathetic to the army's case. Some were actually arrested and locked up temporarily in a nearby public house. Later in the day Cromwell, who had now virtually supplanted his superior, Fairfax, as the prime mover in these affairs, came into London and approved the measures. Amongst those subsequently arrested was the old parliamentary general, Sir William Waller.

All further talks with the King were now abandoned, and on 23 December a Commons committee was set up to plan the King's trial. With 240 members of Parliament removed, there was now no opposition whatsoever to the army's demands. On 1 January 1649 the King's war against the Parliament was declared to have been treasonous, making a trial a necessary next step. Over 130 commissioners were appointed to preside, a necessary number from Cromwell's point of view, who had no desire to have the thing done, or appear to be done, in an underhand way. Charles himself had probably by this time accepted the inevitability of his fate and, although he put on a dignified performance at the trial, the conclusion was foregone. The King was executed on 30 January 1649.

The Council of State, which ruled the country after the abolition of monarchy, appointed Cromwell on 15 March 1649 to command an expeditionary force to be sent into Ireland to break the resistance of the royalist/nationalist armies there. The revolution in government which the army's commanders had initiated and carried through now required to be contained, since the doctrines of radical groups were gaining ground. Before the army could embark for Ireland, a series of Leveller-inspired revolts broke out near London, Banbury and in the South-West. These risings were rapidly suppressed by the army, and the ringleader of the Banbury Mutiny, Corporal Thompson, was shot dead near Wellingborough. The Leveller threat was ended.

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