Aside from the fact that spelling remonstrance is not straight forward its an interlude that heads me off in the direction of the English Civil War.
The Bishop’s War of March 1639 and its renewal in August 1640 culminating in the Treaty of Ripon meant that Charles I had to call Parliament because he had finally run out of cash despite his best efforts to raise taxes through every other means possible. It wasn’t long before the earl of Strafford who had led the army was in the Tower and by spring 1641 Archbishop Laud was there as well.
The atmosphere was became more tense with the failure of Common Law to condemn Stafford. Charles was pressured into signing a bill of attainder against Strafford and the earl was executed on May 12th even though Charles I had sent his son to plead for the peer’s life. At the same time as Parliament was exacting its punishment on the earl, John Pym had also reveal the details of the first so-called Army Plot which allegedly involved Royalist army officers seeking to force Parliament to do the king’s bidding. Whilst affairs were difficult there was some movement and it appeared that having resolved to summon Parliament every three years and declared Ship Money as an illegal tax that Crown and Parliament might have come to some kind of accommodation.
Unfortunately in October 1641 the Irish rose in rebellion (I’m not going to get side-tracked by the roots of the rebellion or the fact that this unhappy chapter was the start of many more.) It’s estimated that some 15,000 men, women and children died. Initially Catholic rebels put Protestants to the sword but the sectarian violence spiralled when the Protestants took their revenge on their Catholic neighbours. Those who did not die by violence were left homeless and without food – so many more succumbed to starvation and exposure. In part the whole horrible affair had been triggered by the late earl of Strafford who encouraged Protestant plantation, irritated the local Catholic nobility and employed what can only be described as bullyboy tactics.
In England there was a move to supply an army to go and put the rebellion down – the enemy was seen as being on the doorstep. King Charles found that he was a bit more popular than he had been in previous years. In Parliament, John Pym (pictured at the start of this post), Charles’ old adversary was less convinced. He believed that Charles was ultimately sympathetic to the Catholic rebels. It didn’t help when a document to this effect was circulated. It was neither here nor there that the document expounding the king’s support had in fact been forged by Irish rebels. Pym now took the opportunity to stop the provision of money and arms for the king to make war upon his unruly Irish subjects and instead to attack the king and his perceived abuses of power.
Parliament was not united behind John Pym when he outlined the content of his Grand Remonstrance which was effectively an outlining of Parliaments case against the Crown. Ultimately, Parliament passed it by only eleven votes being accepted by 159 MPs. Essentially three groups of people were seen as having caused the nations problems – Catholics who’d had their heads turned by Jesuit propaganda (Charles’ queen, Henrietta Maria was a partial target here) Catholic leaning clergy like Laud who wanted music with their church services and stone altars and the usual scapegoat – bad advisers. It then went on, in great detail, to outline everything that had gone wrong in Charles’ reign since 1625 and demanding the right to choose the king’s advisers in future – in essence it was a challenge on the king’s power to rule absolutely. If Pym had succeeded at this point, power would have rested in Parliament’s hands and Charles would have become the first constitutional monarch.
Charles, not unsurprisingly rejected the document. It had the effect of sending some moderate parliamentarians into the king’s camp but when it was printed and circulated in London it resulted in riots.
The Constitution Society have very helpfully placed a complete copy of the text of the Grand Remonstrance online for those of you who wish to read through it in its entirety covering the disasters of foreign policy to illegal taxation. http://www.constitution.org/eng/conpur043.htm
They have also provided Charles’ response.
Relations between King and Parliament would deteriorate rapidly after the Grand Remonstrance and it wouldn’t be long before Charles attempted to arrest John Pym but arrived at Parliament to discover that his “bird had flown” and that the population of London were up in arms. Charles would go from making one mistake to the next on a road that would ultimately lead to the raising of the royal standard in Nottingham in August 1642.
Harris, Tim (2014) Rebellion: Britain’s First Stuart Kings. Oxford: Oxford University Press.