After such a decision, parliamentary government in England seemed to be at an end, and in no year did its restoration appear less likely than in 1637. Nevertheless, in that year, a movement began in Scotland which was destined to destroy the system of government that the king, Wentworth, and Laud had so carefully built up. After 1603 Scotland and England had the same king, but separate parliaments; and, in 1636, Charles, as king of Scotland, had agreed to the extension of Laud's system into that land. This act showed him to be a man of less wisdom than his father, who knew the temper of the Scottish people too well to tamper with their religion. The new liturgy roused the Scots to revolt. In March, 1638, all classes of the people; noblemen, barons, gentlemen, burgesses, ministers, and commons, signed the National Covenant, thereby supporting the reformed religion of Scotland, and declaring their detestation of all contrary religion or doctrine. They soon made it evident that they would fight, if need be, to defend the Covenant; in fact, they went so far, in an assembly held in Glasgow, in November, 1639, as to abolish Episcopacy and the prayer-book altogether. The king, aroused by this defiant act, called Wentworth from Ireland to help coerce Scotland, at the same time creating him earl of Strafford (1640).
Strafford knew that Charles had neither army nor money, and was, therefore, in no condition to war against a nation like the Scots, roused in the present emergency to an extraordinary pitch of religious excitement. He therefore advised the king to call a parliament and throw the responsibility of a decision upon its members. The king, glad to be relieved of the responsibility, accepted the suggestion, and on April 13, 1640, convened the first parliament that had sat in eleven years.
After a portrait by C. Janssen in South Kensington Museum.
But this body, led by John Pym, a Somersetshire squire, at once raised the question of redressing grievances before granting supplies, and in three weeks it was dissolved (May 5). Thereupon Strafford gave a new version of his policy of "thorough." "Go on vigorously," he advised the king, "loose and absolved from all rules of government. . . . You have an army in Ireland you may employ here to reduce this kingdom. Confident as anything under heaven, Scotland shall not hold out five months." This hasty and unfortunate remark was interpreted by the English people as a threat to bring over Irishmen to crush their liberties, and was destined to bring Strafford himself to the block.
In Scotland the policy of "thorough" failed. A Scottish army invaded England, entered Newcastle, and nearly captured York. The king called a council of peers, but received only the advice to summon another parliament. There was nothing else for him to do. The Scottish army was in the northern counties. Strafford had not succeeded in forcing money from London, or even in borrowing it of Spain or the pope. People in the counties were resisting the payment of ship money; the apprentices and journeymen were rioting in London, and everywhere moderate men were fearing a Roman Catholic conspiracy. Under these circumstances were elected the men who, at Westminster, on November 3, 1640, assembled in parliament. A great crisis was at hand.
The new assembly is famous as the Long Parliament. Few bodies have done greater deeds than this one, and few worse. Its members had come together with a grim determination to be, as Pym said, “of another temper than they were the last parliament;” determined not only "to sweep the house clean below, but to pull down all the cobwebs which hung in the tops and corners, that they might not breed dust and so make a foul house hereafter." They had resolved to accomplish three things : (1) to release from prison those who had suffered from the king's arbitrary methods; (2) to punish the king's ministers and advisers; (3) to strengthen the constitution so that arbitrary rule would be impossible hereafter.
First of all, therefore, Prynne, Bastwick, Burton, and others were released from prison and welcomed to London by crowds of sympathizers. On November 11, Strafford was impeached and sent to the Tower; and a month later Laud likewise was imprisoned. Others of the king's ministers were impeached, but escaped by fleeing to France. Six judges were imprisoned and all monopolists expelled. The charge of treason did not hold in the case of Strafford, for his acts had not been legally treasonable, inasmuch as they had not been directed against the king. The House of Commons, therefore, changed the bill of impeachment to one of attainder, which called for no trial and gave no opportunity to the accused to defend himself.' The Lords hesitated to pass the bill, but yielded when they learned that the king was negotiating with the English army in Yorkshire to march on London and rescue Strafford. To his shame, Charles himself submitted, and signed away the life of his minister, to whom he had given the promise, on his word as a king, that he “ should not suffer in life, honor, or fortune."' On May 12, 1641, Strafford was executed on Tower Hill, in the presence of two hundred thousand persons. Laud, after remaining five years in the Tower, met the same fate at the hands of parliament in 1646.
In the meantime the amending of the constitution had begun. Fearing lest the king might cut short the present work by a prorogation or dissolution, and then endeavor to rule again without parliament, the House of Commons passed the Triennial Act, which ordered that no more than three years should ever elapse without a summons of parliament. It also provided that in case the king refused to issue writs summoning the members, the House of Lords should do so, and in case that body should refuse, the sheriffs in the counties and the mayors in the cities should hold elections without writs. If the sheriffs and mayors failed in their duty, the electors were to meet without further notice. Another act forbade the king to dissolve the existing parliament without its own consent. Each act was duly signed by the king.
Finally, the parliament swept away the courts that the king had made so obnoxious during his period of personal rule: the Star Chamber, High Commission Court, the Councils of the North and of Wales. It made the levying of tonnage and poundage absolutely dependent on a parliamentary grant, prohibited further tampering with the forest boundaries, forbade the exacting of fees for knighthood, and declared ship-money unlawful. In this work of reform the members acted with extraordinary unanimity and step by step brought the constitution of England nearer the form it bears today. The common law was placed above the king, and extraordinary courts of justice were permanently forbidden. These reforms represent the greatest and most important work of the Long Parliament.