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  • Parliamentary Politics and the Politics of the Street:The London Peace Campaigns of 1642-3*
  • Ian Gentles

Nulla salus bello; pacem te poscimus omnes1

- Virgil, Aeneid, bk xi. 362

For the past generation and more the question of popular allegiance in the English Civil War has been the subject of active debate. About London's loyalties the discussion goes back to the first writings on the war. During the 1640s a royalist commentator attributed the dissolution of monarchy to 'the proud, unthankefull, schismaticall, rebellious, bloody City of London'.2 'How forward and active the Londoners were to promote this rebellion, can hardly be imagined; people of all sorts pouring out their treasure', wrote a commentator in the 1680s.3 'Thousands of them in armes against [the king], neither were they backward in the adventure of their lives', addedWilliam Lilly.4 The war's first historian, Edward Hyde, earl of Clarendon, took a similar if more jaundiced view. London, he wrote, was characterized by an 'unruly and mutinous spirit'; it was 'the sink of all the ill humour of the kingdom'.5 Writing in the late nineteenth century, S.R. Gardiner and R.R. Sharpe agreed that in the beginning at least all classes in London except the richest were united in their hostility to the crown6. Valerie Pearl in her indispensable study, London and the Outbreak of the Puritan Revolution, states that throughout the 1640s the City was broadly parliamentarian, but that at all times Charles I 'had a small body of supporters in the municipality'.7 Ian Roy too, while acknowledging that there was much 'latent support' for the king, asserts that London was the bedrock of parliamentarianism. Robert Ashton quite simply takes it as given that London was essentially parliamentarian between 1640 and [End Page 139] 1645.8 Brian Manning is even less qualified in assigning London to the parliamentary camp. London provided core support for parliament; its infantry 'saved it from losing the war in 1642 and 1643' and 'the royalists were right in thinking that their most formidable opponent was the ordinary citizen of London'.9

The most recent historian of London in the civil war, Keith Lindley, offers a more subtle interpretation: 'the upper echelons of London society largely opposed and tried to stymie the war effort', prosperous merchants and tradesmen who were outside the City's inner circle of government and privilege before 1642, as well as 'the generality of shopkeepers and artisans' and also 'the brewers, mariners and artisans of the eastern suburbs and their equivalents on the south bank, the capital's young men and apprentices and men and women of relatively humble status', supported parliament, and more importantly, filled up the ranks of its army.10 Without exaggeration, then, we may summarize the historiography as giving the impression that London's position in 1642 and after was like that of Paris in 1789 and the years following: it was the treasure house and arsenal, the nearly inexhaustible supply of manpower for a great civil war and revolution.

In this article I want to suggest that from an early stage in the conflict, Londoners were more lukewarm towards parliament than received accounts would lead us to believe. After the first blood was shed at Edgehill in October 1642 people quickly lost their appetite for further conflict. An increasingly large minority campaigned actively for peace, while a sullen majority had to be coerced by the City's radical leadership into serving in the parliamentary forces, and opening their purses to furnish ever greater quantities of cash for the armed struggle.

In the lead-up to the civil war it had not appeared so. For two years after the summoning of the Long Parliament London was a bastion of parliamentary and war-party strength. The tumultuous petition campaigns and mass demonstrations outside parliament, as well as the enormous output of pamphlets and newsbooks bear sufficient testimony to the state of public opinion in the metropolis from 1640 to the autumn of 1642. Led by its three radical M.P.s, the alderman, and soon-to-be mayor Isaac Penington, John Venn and Samuel Vassal, the City had offered sanctuary to the five...


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pp. 139-159
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