Parliament, Cromwell, Charles I, and Tourette

In 1653, with Charles I beheaded, Charles II in exile, and the rebellions in Ireland suppressed (brutally, since you asked), Oliver Cromwell had no one left to fight with but his allies. So off he toddled to the House of Commons and closed it down.

How’d we get to this point?  

Before Charles I was executed and when the odds of him losing his throne looked about the same as the odds that he’d invent the rechargeable battery, he knocked heads with his parliament over money and power. It’s hard, when you’re not just the king but the head of your country’s church, not to think that god meant you to be the head of everything else too, so Charlie believed he had a divine right to be king.

Semi-relevant photo: Minnie the Moocher believes she has a divine right to be in bed.

He wasn’t the only one. It was a long-standing European belief, but that didn’t make it any less of an issue, because  Parliament, for the most part, didn’t believe it. It believed in the Magna Carta, which said (with just the slightest bit of paraphrasing), Sure, this guy can be king but there are limits. So Parliament voted him money by the teaspoonful and did everything it could to limit his power.

Charlie sent them home, because that was one of the powers that they both agreed he had.

Bad Parliament. You can’t play at Our house anymore.

Did I say “house”? I meant “palace.”

But dissolving Parliament turned off his largest money tap. He cobbled together assorted of ways to raise money, but after eleven years he needed those pesky parliamentarians again. He’d gotten himself in a war with Scotland over prayer books and bishops. No, seriously: That stuff mattered. Either that or it stood in for what mattered more but didn’t play as well to the crowd.

Whatever they’re about, though, wars are expensive.

So Parliament met and and the new one didn’t get along with the king any better than the last one had. The most Protestant Protestants among its members suspected Charles of edging the country toward Catholicism, what with his Catholic wife and his stained glass church windows and his priests in fancy dress.

No, I’m telling you. All of that mattered.  

In 1641, the new Parliament arm-wrestled Charles for various sorts of power and passed–barely–a list of complaints about the king, called the Grand Remonstrance. When Charles didn’t email back immediately and say, Hey, guys, great talking points, let’s discuss them, my door is always open, its supporters circulated the Remonstrance to the public.

And with that, the Parliamentary debate had broken powerfully into the world, where ordinary people were already debating these issues.

Before long, Charles broke into the House of Commons and tried to arrest the five members who annoyed him most, which must’ve been a hard choice. They were all getting on his refined and kingly nerves.

Within weeks, armed bands had invaded Westminster. The king and queen fled. Parliament held London.

Both sides armed themselves, the Scots came in on the side of Parliament, and everyone fought back and forth for a few years, with neither side knocking the other one off the board. That was the First Civil War.

Where did the army stand in all this? Funny you should ask. The country didn’t have a standing army. It raised one when it needed to, then sent it home when it didn’t. That’s how it had always been done, and it saved having to feed and pay soldiers to sit around during peacetime.

In 1645, Charles escaped a siege at Oxford and handed himself to the Scottish army for safety. After nine months of negotiations, Scotland sold him to Parliament for £100,000 and a promise that England would never enter the haggis market.

No, no, no. That bit about the haggis? Please don’t link to it.  

Charlie escaped again and made a deal with the Scots: You get rid of these pesky rebels and I’ll make England Presbyterian for three years.

What would have happened after three years if he’d had a chance to make good on the deal? Someone would have taken one chair away and the music would’ve started all over again. And they all pretty much knew that, but no one could tell who’d be chairless when the music stopped, so they all jumped in and started the Second Civil War, which ended with Charles captured again.

This left Parliament with an awkward problem: What were they supposed to do with this guy? No matter how many times he lost his tail feathers, he was still the king.

In the meantime, Parliament wasn’t getting along with its army much better than it had with Charles. Like everything else, this had a religious element to it. Everything had a religious element. It was the language of politics. It was the language of everything. If they’d had cooking shows, they’d have had a religious element to them as well.

What mattered more immediately was that Parliament wanted to negotiate with the king and that Oliver Cromwell, on behalf of the army, didn’t.

How do you settle a problem like that? Ollie tossed out the MPs who didn’t take his side and made his deal with the ones who were left.

And since everything had a religious element, God said it was okay.

The MPs who were left were called the Rump Parliament, not after anyone’s hind end but because the word also means a small part of something that used to be bigger, and they put the king on trial. The House of Lords and the highest available judges said it wasn’t a good idea, so they established a new court, tried the king, found him guilty, and executed him. No one called it revolutionary justice, but that’s pretty much what it was. When you tear down the old order, you make new laws because the old ones don’t work anymore. Is that right? Is that wrong? It depends on your point of view.

England was now a republic, or a commonwealth. The House of Lords was abolished.

Did they all live happily ever after? No, they fought the Third Civil War. The remaining royalists and Scotland rallied about Charles part Two, but by 1651 it was all over. When the last Irish resistance ended in 1653, there was no one left to oppose Cromwell.

And that’s when he lost it with the Rump Parliament. Cromwell and the army wanted it to dissolve itself so they could elect a new, godly assembly. Parliament thought it was plenty godly, thanks, and wanted to stay where it was.

It sounds familiar? It is. We’re still watching the same play, but Cromwell’s playing Charles and Parliament’s playing Parliament. The difference is that Cromwell was a better Charles than Charles was: He stomped into the House of Commons with some musketeers, had them seize the mace, that symbol of Parliament’s royal authority, and sent the MPs home.

The symbol of royal authority? Wasn’t the king dead? Well, yes, but old habits die hard and history–not to mention humans–is nothing if not contradictory. They were still using the thing.

The members of the new Parliament were chosen by the army’s officers for their religious fervor. But it turned out to be too radical and in 1653, when its more problematic members were in a prayer meeting, the remainder of the group dissolved itself.

That left Oliver Cromwell to become the Lord Protector: a king in all but name.

History doesn’t exactly repeat itself, but with the way it barks our repeated phrases you have to wonder sometimes if it doesn’t have tourette’s.

68 thoughts on “Parliament, Cromwell, Charles I, and Tourette

  1. Yes, the whole issue of who actually has power is an interesting one that’s still very relevant today. In the C17th it was king vs. parliament (Henry VIII had used acts of parliament to bolster sweeping changes like making himself head of the church, closing down monasteries etc, they in return granted him money) …. these days the monarch is now largely of (very expensive) ceremonial significance and the issue is over how much power the executive/government has versus parliament. I think there’s a similar tussle going on in the USA.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Very much so. I’ve noticed, after decades of shaking my head over American politics and both parties (but far more so the Republicans), that the Republicans complain about executive power when they don’t have it, then shut up and use it (and sometimes expand it) when they do. I don’t remember the Democrats complaining about it so much in the past, but they are now–and this time around the complainst are legitimate, I think. The idea of having someone in power who can just get things done is seductive. They wouldn’t have to mess around with parliament, congress, debates, votes, all that endless nonsense, they could just say the word and it would be done. And you end up with a Cromwell, a Duterte–the list is endless and Trump, I’m sure, would like to be on it.

      Liked by 5 people

      • Thank goodness for the the checks and balances in the system (UK and USA), I just hope that they continue to work. I always thought the USA was very worried about the president having too much power, so I was surprised that just how much exective power that Trump has wielded. I suppose the fact that he had a Republic Congress helped him enormously. For all its faults, I am often glad of the existence of the House of Lords in the UK, because they sometimes slow down and some times stop the excess of the government.

        Liked by 2 people

        • When the US has a president, House, and Senate all belonging to the same party, there isn’t much in the way of checks or balances. When the Supreme Court is leaning in the same direction, there’s even less.

          The House of Lords is infinitely stackable and essentially undemocratic, but you’re right, it can slow the process down. A separately elected body could, of course, do the same. The US is far from having an ideal system, but I’m coming to realize that having two houses elected by separate systems (by small districts in one, by states in the other) points in a useful direction.

          Liked by 2 people

      • I learned after making my user name (“weggieboy”), which is in reference to Wegener’s granulomatosis, a potentially fatal and nasty vascular disease I have but have successfully lived with since 2003, that my posts got lumped in with those for “wedgieboy” posts. Wedgies are something I never did to anyone and high disapprove of because they are a form of bullying! I’m not so sure that isn’t why my comment went to “spam”. If I tried to change my username, it would complicate thing more than just living with it. Tedious.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I wondered where the name came from. I don’t remember if I looked on your About page–it’d be the logical place to start–but if I did I didn’t find an explanation and if I didn’t I should have. I usually do read people’s About pages. Anyway, I vaguely decided that it had something to do with veggies. With a W. And I also vaguely assumed I was wrong about that but it shut my mind up on the subject so that was a good enough place holder. The name may or may not be the reason, though. An assortment of people get dumped there, some just once, some repeatedly. For a while, I was consistent about checking but I’ve gotten much more sporadic about it lately. I just don’t seem to remember.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. I think it was one of those times when almost everyone was in agreement that they didn’t like what had gone before, but they couldn’t agree about what should replace it. In the end, they didn’t go far from the original model, to the point that Cromwell was going to be succeeded by his son. The Stuarts, being kings of Scotland, weren’t affected by Magna Carta, but were more influenced by the idea of the divine right to rule that had held sway over the rest of Europe for centuries. No wonder they didn’t get on with Parliament.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Don’t I wish someone could. The best I’ve been able to do is to say that even the people who support the current plan don’t support the current plan. After that, I’m inclined to pull the covers over my head and hope that helps.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. I enjoyed your amusing – and actually very good – romp through this vital piece of our history; it’s always good to get the neutral view :-) Almost time to dissolve Parliament again – I’m not sure it’s doing terribly much at the moment, and think of the money we’d save.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. History keeps repeating itself. Theresa May is behaving as if she had omnipotence, and is ignoring the obvious will of the people. Trump thinks he is all powerful and beyond reproach. Hopefully they will both have plenty of time to read some history books soon. Or, in Trump’s case, to look at the pictures and colour them in.

    Liked by 4 people

      • I was referring to the large support for a second referendum, Frank. The underlying problem seems to me to be that people were voting for a vague concept in the original one, based on what the proponents admitted were lies. Whichever side they chose in 2016 I don’t believe anyone wants to implement something which looks as though it will have severe consequences for the country without at least a plan being in place – which doesn’t appear to be the case yet. At the very least, I think there is now majority support for the exit to be deferred until serious issues like the Irish border can be resolved. May is in a state of denial on this, and doesn’t fill many with confidence.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Well, well, well. I believe the most precious and adorable Minnie the Mooch looks like she is about to pass a Grand Remonstrance to anyone who dares enter her kingdom and, oh dear, now where did she put that mace?
    Most informative and entertaining post for your followers across the pond. We revel in our ignorance.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Coming to this a day late, but loving it just the same. When’s the collected works coming out in book form? It would definitely outsell that guy Bryson. I’ve never understood why we call that particular fracas “The Civil War” (or, as you’ve pointed out the first and second ditto). What was “The War of the Roses” if not a civil war?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Good point, and I have no idea.

      As for the collected works, at the moment, I’m completely frozen in an attempt to write something–anything, please–about the empire. I have an assemblage of facts, arrows going in seventeen different directions, and one single sentence that’s vaguely amusing. I’m not sure what the solution is. I do know it involves narrowing my focus. It may also iinvolve chocolate.

      Once I solve that problem and skip over another century or three, all I’ll need is an agent.


    • Thanks for sending the link, Frank. I was very conscious, in writing this, that Ireland deserves more attention that I was giving it, given the impact all this had there. But I’ve had to keep a fairly narrow focus or I’ll be juggling so many countries that they’ll all end up in the ocean.


  7. You know this has all been set to music?

    ‘The most interesting thing about King Charles the First is that he was 5’6″ at the start of his reign, but only 4’8″ at the end…’

    Liked by 1 person

    • If I had to memorize dates and battles, I’d be listening to that over and over. If I was looking for something to sing, I don’t think that would be it. And if I had to pick a piece of music for a friend’s wedding? I’d consider it.

      For obvious reasons, I’ve never been asked to pick a piece of music for a friend’s wedding. That’s a tradition we’d all be wise to continue.

      Thanks for sending it.


  8. Another great history lesson. As long as you understand that the dog has the right to the bed, you’re in good standing. I left the covers folded back today and Maddie settled on the sheets with her head on the pillows and declared it “fit for the pooch.”

    Mark Twain is said to have said, but probably didn’t say: ““History doesn’t repeat itself but it often rhymes,” I think if he actually said it, we’d know what it means. No matter, reruns of history are always money makers in Washington, DC.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You think? There’s only so many? I never looked at it that way and just assumed the list was endless–a result of human creativity and bad temper. You could be right, though. We just recycle the same old reasons and never notice that we’re trapped in a loop.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Currently a lot of Brits are asking who holds power here. The government and opposition are tearing themselves and each other apart over Brexit. It’s also a case of who SHOULD have power – because the current elected representatives can’t find their backsides with both hands, a map, a giant neon sign and a satnav…

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Pingback: The Cerne Abbas Giant | Notes from the U.K.

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