Five Members

In the first five years of his reign Charles I summoned and dissolved Parliament three times. Charles now tried to rule England without Parliament. For the next eleven years no Parliaments were held. The king's main adviser was William Laud, the Archbishop of Canterbury. Laud argued that the king ruled by Divine Right. He claimed that the king had been appointed by God and people who disagreed with him were bad Christians. Laud believed that Church reforms had gone too far. Anglicans tended to support the policies of Laud but the Puritans strongly disagreed with him. When Laud gave instructions that the wooden communion tables in churches should be replaced by stone altars. Puritans accused Laud of trying to reintroduce Catholicism.

William Laud also upset the Presbyterians in Scotland when he insisted they had to use the English Prayer Book. Scottish Presbyterians were furious and made it clear they were willing to fight to protect their religion. In 1639 the Scottish army marched on England. Charles, unable to raise a strong army, was forced to agree not to interfere with religion in Scotland. Charles also agreed to pay the Scottish war expenses.

Charles I did not have the money to pay the Scots and so he had to ask Parliament for help. The Parliament summoned in 1640 lasted for twenty years and is therefore usually known as The Long Parliament. This time Parliament was determined to restrict the powers of the king.

The king's two senior advisers, William Laud and Thomas Wentworth were arrested and sent to the Tower of London. Charged with treason, Wentworth's trial opened on 22nd March, 1641. The case could not be proved and so his enemies in the House of Commons, led by John Pym, Arthur Haselrig and Henry Vane, resorted to a Bill of Attainder. Charles I gave his consent to the Bill of Attainder and Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford, was executed on 12th May 1641.

Parliament then passed a law that gave members control over the king's ministers. Charles I was furious and decided it was time to retaliate. On 4 January 1642, Charles sent his soldiers to arrest Arthur Haselrig, John Pym, John Hampden, Denzil Holles and William Strode. The five men managed to escape before the soldiers arrived.

When the king demanded to know where the Five Members were the Speaker, William Lenthall, famously replied: "May it please your Majesty, I have neither eyes to see nor tongue to speak in this place but as this House is pleased to direct me, whose servant I am here; and humbly beg your Majesty's pardon that I cannot give any other answer than this to what your Majesty is pleased to demand of me".

Members of Parliament no longer felt safe from Charles and decided to form their own army. After failing to arrest the Five Members, Charles fled from London. Aware that Civil War was inevitable, Charles began to form an army.

© , September 1997 - April 2014

Primary Sources

(1) The Journal of Sir Simonds D'Ewes (1642)

About 3 of the clock we had notice that his majesty was coming from Whitehall to Westminster with a great company of armed men but it proved otherwise in the issue that they were only some of the officers who served in his majesty's late army and some other loose persons to the number of about some 400.

Mr. Pym and the other 4 members of our House who stood accused by his majesty's attorney of high treason knowing that his majesty was coming to the House of Commons did withdraw out of it. The House leaving it to their own liberty whether they would withdraw or stay within, and it was a pretty whiles before Mr. Strode could be persuaded to it. His majesty came into the House with Charles Prince Elector Palatine with him a little after three of the clock in the afternoon, who all stood up and uncovered our heads and the Speaker stood up just before his chair. His majesty as he came up along the House came for the most part of the way uncovered also bowing to either side of the House and we all bowed again towards him and so he went to the Speaker's chair on the left hand of it coming up close by the place where I sat between the south end of the clerk's table and me; he first spoke to the Speaker saying "Mr. Speaker I must for a time make bold with your chair" . . . when he asked for Mr. Pym whether he were present or not and when there followed a general silence that nobody would answer him he then asked for Mr. Holles whether he were present and when nobody answered him he pressed the Speaker to tell him who kneeling down did very wisely desire his majesty to pardon him saying that he could neither see nor speak but by command of the House to which the king answered 'well well this no matter I think my eyes are as good as anothers' and then he looked round about the House a pretty whiles to see if he could spy any of them.