Police Raid Parliament

Mick Manise


This article has more of a 'History in the making' potential. At the beginning of December, English police entered the Palace of Westminster to execute a search warrant in the offices of an MP and to arrest that member over allegations of leaking sensitive information. This action, of course, triggered the expected outrage from certain quarters and one comment reported in the media was that a similar action had triggered the English Civil War in 1642. Intrigued and wanting to know more, I discovered the following causes of that conflict: the opposing sides were Charles 1st King of England, with his royalist followers and the Parliamentary forces eventually under the command of Oliver Cromwell. The father of Charles I, James VI of Scotland and I of England believed in rule by divine right. As he had been chosen by God, he could not be wrong and he expected Parliament to do as he said. However, parliament had access to the tax revenue that the King needed to pursue of his aims. King James suspended Parliament in 1611 for 10 years because Parliament withheld their necessary consent for the raising of revenue through taxation. King James recalled parliament in 1621 to discuss the marriage of his son, Charles, to a Spanish princess. Parliament was outraged because it viewed Spain as a Catholic and hostile nation. The relationship between King and Parliament was permanently damaged even though the proposed marriage did not take place.


Charles I succeeded to the throne in 1625; he also believed in the divine right of Kings and blamed Parliament for the problems his father had encountered. He was conceited and arrogant. From 1625-1629 Charles argued with Parliament over money and religion in particular, and made a Parliamentary lock-out. When members arrived at the House they found they had been locked out with large chains and padlocks; Charles ruled for 11 years without summoning Parliament and by using the Court of Star Chamber. To raise money for the king, the Court heavily fined those brought before it. Rich men were persuaded to buy titles. If they refused to do so, they were fined the same sum of money it would have cost for a title anyway! In 1635 Charles ordered that everyone in the country should pay Ship Money. This was historically a tax paid by coastal towns and villages to pay for the upkeep of the navy. The logic was that coastal areas most benefited from the navy's protection. Charles decided that because everyone in the kingdom benefited from the navy's protection, everyone should pay. Charles also clashed with the Scots. He ordered that they should use a new prayer book for their church services. This angered the Scots so much that they invaded England in 1639. Charles was short of the money necssary for a war with the Scots, and he recalled Parliament in 1640 specifically to authorise taxation to raise money for the Scottish war. In return for the money and as a display of their power, Parliament called for the execution of "Black Tom Tyrant" - the Earl of Strafford, one of Charles´ top advisors. Strafford was tried and convicted and Charles reluctantly signed his death warrant. He was executed in 1641. Parliament also demanded that Charles get rid of the Court of Star Chamber.


Trying to reassert his authority, in 1642 the King went to Parliament with 300 soldiers to arrest his five biggest critics. Someone had already tipped off Parliament that these men were about to be arrested and they had already fled to the safety of the City of London. Charles had shown his true side. Members of Parliament represented the people yet the King had attempted to arrest five Members of Parliament simply because they dared to criticise him. If the King could arrest five Members, how many other Members were not safe? Even Charles realised that things had broken down between him and Parliament. Only six days after trying to arrest the five Members, Charles left London for Oxford and eventually raised his standard in Nottingham (on Standard Hill near the castle). Civil War could not be avoided.


Will the recent police action result in another English civil war? This is only a personal view, I don't think it will as the statement recorded in the press was taking a liberty by drawing a parallel with recent events and historical fact. Then again, watch this space!