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19 May 2011

On this day in history: England declared a republic, 1649

From the beginning of his reign, King Charles I's relations with the Parliament of England were strained. In 1625, he married a Catholic, Henrietta Maria, daughter of Henry IV of France: an unpopular move with many of his subjects. The next year he dismissed Parliament after MPs tried to have his chief minister, George Villiers, removed from office - only to recall it later when he needed money for his war against France and Spain. In 1628, Parliament drew up a Petition of Right detailing their grievances with the King, which included regular Parliaments and their approval of any new taxes. The next year, Charles had an MP arrested for not paying a tax that had not been approved by MPs and then dissolved Parliament declaring his divine right to rule.

Charles then ruled the country for the next eleven years without calling a Parliament. In this time he imposed a tax called Ship Money on the whole country, which previously only the residents of coastal towns paid to fund the Royal Navy. Nevertheless, even with this extra income Charles did not have sufficient funds to finance a campaign against rebellious Scots. As a result he finally recalled Parliament in 1640.

In return for new taxes, the Commons made a number of demands, including an end to the collection of Ship Money. The King responded by dismissing them after only a few weeks, but relented and recalled them later that year. In the summer of 1641 another rebellion broke out; this time in Ireland. Parliament criticised the King's ability to control the Scots and Irish and suggested that they be responsible for the security of the realm rather than him.

In 1642 matters reached a head. The King issued warrants for the arrest of one peer and five members of the House of Commons on charges of treason. When Parliament refused to accept the charge, Charles ordered troops to the Commons to arrest the accused, who, forewarned, had already fled. The King then sent his wife to the Catholic monarchs of Europe to request military aid against the parliamentarians, who responded by taking control of the militias. Finally, on 22nd August 1642, King Charles I raised his standard at Oxford, declaring war on Parliament.

Civil war raged for nearly four years before the King finally surrendered on 6th May 1646 to the Scottish army (which fought on the side of Parliament). He managed to escape from custody the next year, but his intransigence had sealed his fate: following a purge of Parliament to remove any last vestiges of support for the King, he was tried and found guilty. On 30th January 1649 at Whitehall Palace, he was executed.

Those Members of Parliament that remained following the purge - known as the Rump Parliament - started to create the legislative framework and institutions to rule without a monarch. This culminated when they passed An Act declaring England to be a Commonwealth on 19th May 1649. The text of which is as follows:

Be it declared and enacted by this present Parliament and by the Authoritie of the same That the People of England and of all the Dominions and Territoryes thereunto belonging are and shall be and are hereby constituted, made, established, and confirmed to be a Commonwealth and free State And shall from henceforth be Governed as a Commonwealth and Free State by the supreame Authoritie of this Nation, the Representatives of the People in Parliament and by such as they shall appoint and constitute as Officers and Ministers under them for the good of the People and that without any King or House of Lords.

Britain continued without a monarch for the next eleven years until the Restoration of Charles II in 1660 ended what had effectively become a military dictatorship. Nevertheless, Parliament had asserted its power and set a precedent of removing an individual from the Throne. England was never going to be an absolutist monarchy.

See David Plant's excellent British Civil Wars site for more details of the Civil Wars, Commonwealth and Protectorate.

Related posts
The Solemn League and Covenant: 25th September 1643
English Parliament authorised the trial of Charles I: 6th January 1649
Richard Cromwell resigned as Lord Protector: 25th may 1659
Sir Thomas Fairfax died: 12th November 1671


Unknown said...

On this day in the not so distant future, the United States of America may cease being a Republic.

Nice History, again!
Aloha From Sunny South Florida!

Borkiman said...

Your comment reminded me of this viral email that did the rounds following the 2000 presidential election:


In the light of your failure to elect a President of the USA and thus to govern yourselves, we hereby give notice of the revocation of your independence, effective today.

Her Sovereign Majesty Queen Elizabeth II will resume monarchial duties over all states, commonwealths and other territories: except Utah, which she does not fancy. Your new Prime Minister (The Rt Hon Anthony Blair MP for the 97.85% of you who have until now been unaware that there is a world outside your borders) will appoint a Minister for America without the need for further elections. Congress and the Senate will be disbanded. A questionnaire will be circulated next year to determine whether any of you noticed.

To aid in the transition to a British Crown Dependency, the following rules are introduced with immediate effect:

1. You should look up "revocation" in the Oxford English Dictionary. Then look up "aluminium". Check the pronunciation guide. You will be amazed at just how wrongly you have been pronouncing it. Generally, you should raise your vocabulary to acceptable levels. Look up "vocabulary". Using the same twenty seven words interspersed with filler noises such as "like" and "you know" is an unacceptable and inefficient form of communication. Look up "interspersed".

2. There is no such thing as "US English". We will let Microsoft know on your behalf.

3. You should learn to distinguish the English and Australian accents. It really isn't that hard.

4. Hollywood will be required occasionally to cast English actors as the good guys.

5. You should relearn your original national anthem, "God Save The Queen", but only after fully carrying out task 1. We would not want you to get confused and give up half way through.

6. You should stop playing American "football". There is only one kind of football. What you refer to as American "football" is not a very good game. The 2.15% of you who are aware that there is a world outside your borders may have noticed that no one else plays "American" football. You will no longer be allowed to play it, and should instead play proper football. It is a difficult game. Those of you brave enough will, in time, be allowed to play rugby (which is similar to American "football", but does not involve stopping for a rest every twenty seconds or wearing full kevlar body armour like nancies). We are hoping to get together at least a US rugby sevens side by 2005.

7. You should declare war on Quebec and France, using nuclear weapons if they give you any merde. The 98.85% of you who were not aware that there is a world outside your borders should count yourselves lucky. The Russians have never been the bad guys.

8. July 4th is no longer a public holiday. November 8th will be a new national holiday, but only in England. It will be called "Indecisive Day".

9. All American cars are hereby banned. They are crap and it is for your own good. When we show you German cars, you will understand what we mean.

10. Please tell us who killed JFK. It's been driving us crazy.