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Peaceful Stage of the English Revolution

a. Parliamentary career of "the commons" (1265-1625)

1. The goal of this section is to show that representatives of bourgeoisie have not become so revolutionary and "impetuous", as we see them in XVII and XVIII centuries. First, we find them in struggle for insignificant privileges, then we see them in struggle for influence on national politics, and finally in struggle for state power.

2. First representatives of "the people" are in English parliament on January 20, 1265.  This was a rebellious parliament gathered by count Leicester who desired the support of the common people in his struggle with the royal power. First "lawful" parliament with "people's representatives" was gathered by king Edward I at the end of XIII century. Hume writes: “he issued writs to the sheriffs, enjoining them to send to parliament, along with two knights of the shire, two deputies from each borough within their county, and these provided with sufficient powers from their community, to consent, in their name, to what he and his council should require of them”, i.e. money. “They composed not, properly speaking, any essential part of the parliament: They sat apart both from the barons and knights, who disdained to mix with such mean personages: After they had given their consent to the taxes required of them, their business being then finished, they separated, even though the parliament still continued to sit…”

3. Representatives of the people barter with the crown: “it became customary for them, in return for the supplies which they granted, to prefer petitions to the crown for the redress of any particular grievance, of which they found reason to complain. The more the king’s demands multiplied, the faster these petitions increased both in number and authority …” From the role of a humble beggar these representatives rise to position of influence: “The house of representatives from the counties was gradually separated from that of the peers, and formed a distinct order in the state. The growth of commerce, meanwhile, augmented the private wealth of the burgesses, the frequent demands of the crown increased their public importance …”

4. Contradictory interests start to appear among "representatives of the people", and so at the end of XIV century, in the rule of Richard II, it becomes necessary for the House of Commons to choose a speaker, who would hold the house in order.

5. Around 1410 the House of the Commons gains in power, for we read in Hume: “they insisted on maintaining the practice of not granting any supply before they received an answer to their petitions; which was a tacit manner of bargaining with the prince.” But then new demands start to appear: the "representatives of the people" desire the Church lands. We read in Hume: “In the sixth of Henry, the commons, who had been required to grant supplies, proposed in plain terms to the king, that he should seize all the temporalities of the church, and employ them as a perpetual fund to serve the exigencies of the state. They insisted, that the clergy possessed a third of the lands of the kingdom; that they contributed nothing to the public burdens; and that their riches tended only to disqualify them from performing their ministerial functions with proper zeal and attention.” This time the Commons didn't get what they wanted: “The king (Henry IV) discouraged the application of the commons: And the lords rejected the bill which the lower house had framed for stripping the church of her revenue.”

6. In the rule of James I (beginning of XVII century), the Commons interfere with the "prerogatives" of the king. They demand a war against Austrian papists and catholic Spain. Also, they forbid a marriage between the king's son and a Spanish princess. According to S.R. Gardener, a feeling of mutual irritation increased daily between the king and the Commons. James replies to the commons that they “had no title to interpose with their advice, except when he was pleased to desire it.”

House of Lords and the House of Commons in the reign of Charles I, around 1640-2

 b. From mutual irritation to a civil war.

The big question which leads up to the civil war appeared that of money, for in the incipient capitalist society control of money meant control of social and political power.  

England in the time of Elizabeth I is described by Guizot: "The higher aristocracy wanted to be at the court, to improve their affairs, and to obtain earthly majesty, which separated it from the people more and more; meanwhile, lower nobility, owners of free lands, citizens whose only business was exploitation of their lands and capitals, became more wealthy with property and credit, united among themselves, spread their influence on the people, and imperceptibly, without any political ambitions, conquered all the social powers, the true sources of wealth". Thus, two opposite camps gradually formed.

Queen Elizabeth I, last from the House of Tudors, on throne from 1558 to 1603

The crown was desperate for money. Rent from land was specified by feudal charters and it remained unchanged for centuries. Meanwhile, prices for all commodities rise, due to inflow of precious metals from the New World. King James I (one of the biggest landlords) attempts to get his finances straight by increasing the taxes on the commodities entering the country, but the commons vote against this measure. Hence, according to Hume, “the prince was insensibly reduced to poverty amidst the general riches of his subjects.”

James I, House of Stuarts, on throne from 1603 to 1625

A curious incident is related to us by a poet named Waller, after he visited the court of king James I, “where, among other company, there sat at the table two bishops, Neile and Andrews. The king proposed aloud this question, whether he might not take his subjects’ money, when he needed it, without all this formality of parliament. Neile replied, ‘God forbid you should not: For you are the breath of our nostrils.’ Andrews declined answering, and said, he was not skilled in parliamentary cases: But upon the king’s urging him, and saying he would admit of no evasion, the bishop replied pleasantly: ‘Why then I think your majesty may lawfully take my brother Neile’s money: For he offers it.’”

The aristocracy turns to extortion to secure the money. For example, in London, under James I, a check of quality of woolen products to be exported has become an open trade in "stamp" which confirmed their quality. Similar situation we find in France in XVIII century; a royal stamp was needed on leather goods, and feudal officials used this to extort both money and favors. In case a craftsman refused to pay, he was to be jailed.

The system of extortion and corruption reaches to the highest levels of political power. Guizot writes about the reign of Charles I: "People were put in jail who never owed money; they were freed, after delivering a sum of money which depended upon the credit and shrewdness of the victim. Taxes, jail, persecution or pardon - all was voluntary". Officials shared their gain with the king. One example of this was Lord Stafford, who, when he was a governor of Ireland, unlawfully jailed lord Mountnorris. A scandal started in London, and so Stafford sent to London 6000 pounds to be divided among the councilors of the king. Lord Cattinhon brought the money straight to the king. Guizot writes: "For this sum, Stafford was not only relieved of any persecution, but obtained a permission to divide up among his favorites the property of the person whom he unlawfully jailed".

King Charles I, House of Stuarts, on throne from 1625 to 1649

Money are stolen before they reach the treasury. For example, Charles I resurrects the system of monopolies for all mass consumption products. Patents for monopolies are sold to court favorites and to those who can pay; however, out of 200 thousand pounds obtained in this way, only 15 thousand reach the king's treasury.

People, “the commons”, refuse to pay the money to the central treasury. Hume writes: “The same mutinous spirit, which prevailed in the house of commons, had diffused itself over the nation; and the commissioners, appointed for making the assessments, had connived at all frauds, which might diminish the supply, and reduce the crown to still greater necessities.” As a result, we have a financial crisis, which typically precedes any revolution.

Authority of government takes a sharp dive. Often this is a result of an unpopular war. For example, England started war with France because of a whim of duke of Buckingham, a favorite of Charles I. This powerful baron wanted to conquer the heart of Anna of Austria. The duke took a squadron of British ships against the fortress of La Rochelle, where he has thrown away many lives. He has returned to England without victory, losing over half of his men. One of the officers, named Felton, kills him with a knife, as a revenge for his fallen comrades. The people feel happy.

Parts of the armed forces become sympathetic with the opposition. About the army of Charles I we read: "among the sailors Puritanism was dominant; he didn't dare to rely upon the militia, as it was more influenced by the citizens and the nobles of the counties than the king".

An interesting testimony about the state of the English army on the eve of revolution is its expedition against Scottish Presbyterians. Scottish Presbyterians were people who were opposed to the power of the king, the head of the Anglican church. In 1639 Charles I started a war against the Presbyterians. Hume writes: “It may be worthy of remark that several mutinies had arisen among English troops, when, marching to join the army; and some officers had been murdered, merely on suspicion of their being papists.” M. Barg writes: "the Englishmen were not ready to fight. They knew that the Scottish cause was essentially the cause of England. There was a total chaos in the camp of Charles. Soldiers were suffering from lack of provisions. Even the leaders performed their duties grumbling. New soldiers didn't want to study the military art, and one even shot a bullet through the king's tent". Eventually, the Englishmen were defeated by the Scottish Presbyterians, and the king was forced to sign a treaty with them at Rippon. The English parliament was very happy at the defeat of its king. They even arranged for fireworks to celebrate this occasion.

Even before the start of violence, the revolutionary party accumulates some armed forces. The English parliament has the militia, numbering around 160 thousand men. In addition, the Parliament has friendly relations with the Scottish army. They even ask them to stay on English soil and not be in a hurry to return to Scotland. The class nature of the Scottish army is akin to the class composition of the English Parliament.

Power of the king comes into an open conflict with the power of the commons. For example, Hume writes: “Berkeley, a judge of the King’s Bench, was seized by order of the house, even when sitting on his tribunals; men saw with astonishment the irresistible authority of their (commons’) jurisdiction.”

As soon as people start to feel that there is an alternative to the existing regime, the whole country awakens to a political life. Hume writes: “The nation caught new fire from the popular leaders … The capital especially, being the seat of parliament, was highly animated with the spirit of mutiny and disaffection. Tumults were daily raised; seditious assemblies encouraged; and every man, neglecting his own business, was wholly intent on the defense of liberty and religion … The harangues of members (of parliament), now first published and dispersed, kept alive the discontents against the king’s administration. The pulpits, delivered over to puritanical preachers and lecturers, whom the commons arbitrarily settled in all the considerable churches, resounded with faction and fanaticism. Vengeance was fully taken for the long silence and constraint, in which by the authority of Laud and the high commission, these preachers have been retained. The press, freed from all fear or reserve, swarmed with productions; dangerous by their seditious zeal and calumny, more than by any art or eloquence of composition.” Even women “claimed equal right with the men, of declaring, by petition, their sense of the public cause”.

The pre-revolutionary situation in the country was like a heaven for agitators. Hume describes the atmosphere in the churches where popular preachers were preaching: “Those, who were so happy as to find access early in the morning, kept their places the whole day: Those, who were excluded, clung to the doors or windows, in hope of catching, at least, some distant murmur or broken phrases of the holy rhetoric.”

The conflict passes from peaceful stage into violent one. In 1640, a rebellion broke out in Ireland. The leaders of the Irish thought that contradictions between the king and the parliament would allow them to recover their independence. English parliament was faced with the question: should they appropriate money for the army in order to suppress the rebellion? The answer was negative, as the king could use the army against the parliament. S.R. Gardiner explains what happened: "The result was a Great Remonstration. It was a long accusation list against Charles, from beginning of his reign... To correct the evils, following measures were proposed: 1) appointing ministers responsible to the parliament; 2) transferring of all unsettled church questions to a spiritual assembly, elected by the Parliament". One proposal said that the Remonstration should be printed and made public. At this, a great roar started, and the swords were drawn.


1. The new power develops very gradually, from a disdained outsider in the House of Lords, to a primary contestant for power in the state.

2. The nature of power changes with time. In the feudal society, power belonged to those who own the land. In the capitalist society, the power belongs to those who own capital, money being its primary form.

3. The old powers that be resort to extortion, corruption, theft in order to secure the money. The incipient powers resist in open and undercover ways. Thus, a revolution is preceded by a financial crisis.

4. In addition, the old powers that be wage a war that proves unpopular and ends up in defeat. This further delegitimizes this power, in the eyes of the people, and greatly weakens it.

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