This blog was written by Richard Ward, Assistant Archives Officer,
The 4th January 1642 was a day of high-drama within the Palace of Westminster as the toxic relationship between King Charles I and his Parliament reached endgame. The events of this day would lead the nation into a civil war that would define the century and ensure that a monarch would never enter the HoC chamber again. Taken from the original manuscript journals and transcripts from the History of Parliament series this blog will bring to life this most eventful of Parliamentary episodes.
The Journals of the House are a wonderful mirror into the daily life of Parliament. When reading the account for the 4th January 1642 you knew trouble was brewing when it stated;
His Majesty came into the House; and took the Speaker’s Chair.
‘Gentleman, I AM sorry to have this Occasion to come onto you’-
At this juncture the House adjourned itself till the following day at one o’clock and the Journal entries end, it is a 17th Century example of a media blackout.
Entering the House of Commons was undoubtedly an act of provocation by the King, fuelled by the events of the previous year when he realised the rule of the Crown was beginning to lose its air of invincibility against a belligerent Parliament. This rebellion was led by John Pym, leader of the ill-fated Long Parliament .
The House of Lords Journal for the 4th January 1642 is a more detailed reportage of the day’s tumults, as messages sent to the Lords from the entrenched Commons was referenced in the proceedings, these included;
"That the Occasion of this Conference was, to put their Lordships in Mind that last Night, at the Conference, the House of Commons informed their Lordships of a Guard of Soldiers, which were in a Warlike Manner at Whitehall, near the Houses of Parliament”
“The House of Commons have met with a scandalous Paper, as was published abroad, to the Scandal of some Members of both Houses. The Paper, being read, contained Articles of High Treason and High Misdemeanors against the Lord Kymbolton, a Member of this House, and Denzill Hollis, Esquire, Sir Arthur Haslerigg, John Pym, Esquire, John Hampden, Esquire, and William Stroude, Esquire, Members of the House of Commons”
Famously it was a moment of great oration from the vengeful King Charles I and the resourceful Speaker Lenthall and these are to be found in the volumes of the Parliamentary History of England and for that we have to thankful to a Mr Rushworth, a Clerk- Assistant in the House who dramatized the scene in his printed collections and also the transaction transcribed by Sir Edmund Verney, Knight Marshall to the King.
The King stated to the House from the Speaker’s Chair; ‘Gentleman, I have accused these persons of no slight crime, but treason, I must have them wheresoever I find them’. He then with a mixture of opaqueness and blind-optimism made this plea, ‘Well, since I see the birds have flown, I do expect from you that you shall send them unto me as soon as they return hither’. Lenthall was then requested by the King to make a comment, under the most glaring of spotlights he said with a biblical deference, ‘May it please your majesty, I have neither eyes to see nor tongue to say anything but what the House commands’. As the King left the House, the emboldened members in a sudden gust of bravery shouted ‘Privilege, Privilege’. To add, this all happened before lunch.
The following day’s Commons Journal are thankfully more descriptive than the previous day’s events. It states with a certain ambiguity, ‘that the door be locked & the key brought up’, it also requests member’s servants to take up snooping duties, ‘to see what numbers of people are repairing towards Westminster’. In an atmosphere riven with tension they voted that a Guildhall Committee sat to consider the vindication of privileges, in a truly football score manner…
Tellers for the noe: 86, Tellers for the yea: 170.
The House was adjourned till the 11th January for much-required cooling off period to allow the Committee to discuss the ramifications of this most dramatic of stand-offs. These proceedings are for another day- now let’s all take a breather, it’s been emotional!
Did any other monarchs make the decision to enter the Commons Chamber again?? Not on your nelly!