Beginning of England’s Long Parliament Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The opening months of the Long Parliament offered Charles I and his opponents a final opportunity for a peaceful resolution of their differences through compromise. Unfortunately, they failed, and England was soon plunged into civil war.

Summary of Event

In 1637, at the urging of William Laud, Laud, William the high church archbishop of Canterbury, Charles I Charles I (king of England);Scots and attempted to impose a new Anglican prayer book, modeled after the Book of Common Prayer, on the Kirk (church) of Scotland Kirk of Scotland . The Kirk was Presbyterian and Calvinist in character and was opposed to the overt ceremonialism of the new book. The Scots were a factious nation, but the issue of the so-called Scottish Prayer Book Scottish Prayer Book united them. The Presbyterian clergy and Scottish nobility led their countrymen in endorsing a covenant that rejected the reforms imposed upon them by the king and Laud. Their defiance led to the First Bishops’ War Bishops’ War, First (1639)[Bishops War, First (1639)] against King Charles in 1639. [kw]Beginning of England’s Long Parliament (Nov. 3, 1640-May 15, 1641) [kw]Parliament, Beginning of England’s Long (Nov. 3, 1640-May 15, 1641) [kw]Long Parliament, Beginning of England’s (Nov. 3, 1640-May 15, 1641) [kw]England’s Long Parliament, Beginning of (Nov. 3, 1640-May 15, 1641) Government and politics;Nov. 3, 1640-May 15, 1641: Beginning of England’s Long Parliament[1370] Laws, acts, and legal history;Nov. 3, 1640-May 15, 1641: Beginning of England’s Long Parliament[1370] England;Nov. 3, 1640-May 15, 1641: Beginning of England’s Long Parliament[1370] Long Parliament (1640-1648)

A staunch believer in absolutism and divine right monarchy, Charles I had, from the day he took office, found the advice of Parliament irritating and its interference with what he considered his prerogatives intolerable. Thus, in 1629, he had dissolved Parliament, and he had resolved to govern his realm without calling another one. This decision required the strictest economy, however, because only Parliament was capable of instituting new taxes.

England’s role in European affairs was minimal. Except in Ireland, there was no standing army, and the navy received only the barest minimum of support. When the Scots prepared to invade England, the king had the county militia units as his only ready military force, and they refused to fight outside the borders of their respective counties. Charles I was forced to open negotiations with his rebellious Scottish subjects, concluding the Pacification of Berwick Berwick, Pacification of (1639) in June of 1639. Neither side was willing to fulfill the terms of the treaty, however, creating the possibility of another war early in 1640. Charles could not afford to raise an army to fight such a war without more taxes. Reluctantly, he called Parliament for the first time in eleven years, in a session since known as the Short Parliament Short Parliament (1640) . The Short Parliament met from April 13 until May 5, but the House of Commons repeatedly answered the king’s demands for money with conditions of its own. Charles dissolved Parliament and had a number of his opponents arrested.

Thomas Wentworth, earl of Strafford, Charles I’s chief military adviser, attempted to arrest the leaders of the Long Parliament. Instead, the earl was imprisoned and ultimately executed as a result of a Parliamentary Bill of Attainder.

(R. S. Peale and J. A. Hill)

Thomas Wentworth, Wentworth, Thomas earl of Strafford and lord lieutenant of Ireland, urged Charles I to use the Irish army he had created against the Scots. The king sought financial aid from Spain, France, and the pope, but with no success. Meanwhile, the Scots seized the English city of Newcastle. With the Scots demanding £850 a day for the maintenance of their forces and public sentiment for the Scottish cause growing daily, Charles I had no choice but to call the fifth Parliament of his reign. The Long Parliament opened its first session on November 3, 1640. It would not be dissolved until 1660.

At the urging of the king, and with his solemn promise of protection, Strafford hurried to London to arrest the leaders of the House of Commons. John Pym, Pym, John the leader of the parliamentary opposition to royal power, had no doubts of Strafford’s intentions, and he countered the king’s strategy by beginning impeachment proceedings against the earl. Charged with high treason, Strafford was arrested and held in the Tower of London. Another supposed traitor, Archbishop Laud, soon joined him there. Strafford was charged with advising the king to use the Irish army to subdue England. The earl countered that he meant Scotland, not England. The testimony of two witnesses was necessary to gain a conviction for treason, but there was only one witness to the alleged statement concerning the Irish army, Sir Henry Vane Vane, Sir Henry, the Elder the Elder, a bitter enemy of Strafford.

Vane’s notes on the conversation had been destroyed on the order of the king, but there were copies made by Vane’s son, Sir Henry Vane the Younger, Vane, Sir Henry, the Younger and they were permitted to stand as the second witness. Treason could be committed only against the king, however, and Strafford maintained that he was acting on the orders of Charles I. The trial promised to be a lengthy one until, over the protests of Pym and John Hampden, Hampden, John a Bill of Attainder was introduced against Strafford. It required no witnesses and no proof, merely a majority vote to convict. Thus began an often-acrimonious debate that dragged on for months.

On February 8, 1641, the House of Commons began to debate the Root and Branch Petition Root and Branch Bill , which bore fifteen thousand signatures. It called for the complete abolition of episcopacy. When a Root and Branch Bill was introduced in the Commons, one of its sponsors was Oliver Cromwell, Cromwell, Oliver;Root and Branch Bill who would play a pivotal role in the English Civil Wars and the brief replacement of the monarchy by a republic during the Interregnum from 1649 to 1660. Opposition to the bill was so strong in both houses that it was temporarily dropped. The Root and Branch Bill caused some members to reconsider their opposition to the king, and slowly a Royalist faction began to form in both houses.

In the midst of the Strafford debate, the House of Commons passed the Triennial Act Triennial Act (1641) on February 16, 1641. Designed to protect its members from royal reprisals, it provided for parliamentary elections without royal assent. It had already been resolved that Parliament could not be dissolved without its consent. Charles I capitulated on both counts and offered no resistance when the prerogative courts, which had been one of the main supports of his regime, were abolished. The other expedients that had provided him with revenue during the eleven years he had governed England without a Parliament—including levying ship money, or money to support the navy, from landlocked counties—were declared illegal. Those who been punished for violating these laws were released from prison or recompensed by Parliament. Meanwhile, the king and his closest advisers desperately sought help from abroad, but with little success. Charles even married his eldest daughter, Mary Mary II (queen of England);marriage of , to William of Orange, the future stadtholder of the Netherlands and future king of England as William III William III (king of England) (r. 1689-1702), in the hope of gaining support from that quarter.

Strafford defended himself with great courage, but he was ultimately condemned to death. Charles I could have pardoned him, but the rumor that he intended to do so provoked riots in London. Fearing for the safety of his family, the king capitulated to the pressure of Pym. Strafford was executed on May 12, 1641, the victim of a judicial murder. Charles I never forgave himself for what he came to see as the rank betrayal of a loyal servant. The public rejoicing in response to the earl’s death and the Parliamentary tactics employed to accomplish it seemed to stiffen the king’s resolve to resist any further encroachments on what he considered his prerogatives. Charles I began to intrigue in earnest with anyone and everyone who might rid him of Pym and his gang of murderers. The time for moderation and compromise had ended. Fifteen months later, England was torn apart by civil war.


The Long Parliament was one of the most important episodes in the evolution of the English concept of representative government. In the seventeenth century, while continental legislative bodies were vanishing, Parliament and especially the House of Commons stood firm against the pretensions of royal absolutism personified by Charles I. Although during the Civil Wars and the Commonwealth the legislature would come under the control of zealots and extremists, their excesses could not erase the achievements of Pym and his colleagues during the first year of the Long Parliament. By May, 1641, Parliament was firmly established as the equal partner of the monarch in governing the realm.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Aylmer, G. E. Rebellion or Revolution? England, 1640-1660. New York: Oxford University Press, 1986. A study of the transformation of England between the Long Parliament and the Restoration, this work is well written and contains extensive notes and a very useful bibliography.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Brunton, Douglas, and Donald H. Pennington. Members of the Long Parliament. Reprint. North Haven, Conn.: Archon Books, 1968. Although in print for more than fifty years, this work remains the standard work on the subject.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Jansson, Maija, ed. Proceedings in the Opening Session of the Long Parliament: House of Commons. 3 vols. Rochester, N.Y.: University of Rochester Press, 2000. The definitive work on the initial session of the Long Parliament. It is the standard by which all future books on this critical moment in England’s history must be judged.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">MacLachlan, Alastair. The Rise and Fall of Revolutionary England: An Essay on the Fabrication of Seventeenth-Century History. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1996. Essentially a study of the controversy that has raged over the historiography of the period in the late twentieth and early twenty-first century.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Woolrych, Austin. Britain in Revolution, 1625-1660. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002. This is an excellent synthesis of the histories of the various components that composed Great Britain in the seventeenth century.
Related Articles in <i>Great Lives from History: The Seventeenth Century</i>

Charles I; Oliver Cromwell; William Laud; Mary II; John Pym; First Earl of Strafford; Sir Henry Vane the Younger; William III. Long Parliament (1640-1648)

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