- Proceedings in the Opening Session of the Long Parliament. The House of Commons. Volume 5: 7 June-17 July 1641
The appearance of the fifth volume of the Yale Center for Parliamentary History's Proceedings in the Opening Session of the Long Parliament under the editorship of Maija Jansson is a welcome addition to the available resources for the study of seventeenth-century political, constitutional, military, and ecclesiastical history.
The volume covers the events of the late spring and early summer of 1641. These difficult months following the execution of the earl of Strafford on 12 May reveal an atmosphere of continued tension and growing mutual mistrust. Much of the volume is taken up with the Long Parliament's response to the revelation of the army plot in which a cabal of senior army officers, in league with courtiers close to the king, had allegedly conspired to turn elements of the king's army in the north on London, and in some versions, effect the rescue of the hated Strafford prior to his execution. Understandably, there was great urgency during the month of June to secure the de-militarization of the north, a process involving, not only the disbandment of the defeated English army, but also the payment of £200,000 in 'brotherly assistance' to the Scots for the withdrawal and eventual disbandment of their forces still occupying significant areas of England's northern counties. Other important business included legislation for the abolition of the courts of star chamber and high commission, and impeachment proceedings against both the Ship Money judges and Matthew Wren, bishop of Ely.
It was, however, religion and issues relating to ecclesiastical governance that continued to take precedence. In the late spring and early summer of 1641 the Long Parliament again concerned itself with continuing debates on the nature of [End Page 418] ecclesiastical power, and in particular the quetions of whether canons made without parliamentary consent could bind the laity, and whether the continued role of episcopacy in the govesrnance of the establlished Church was consistent with the goal of a truly reformed protestantism. The reading of the bill for the abolition of episcopacy aroused heated, and occasionally very learned discussion on the apostolic origins of the episcopate, and the continuing place of episcopacy, not only in a reformed Church, but also in a Godly commonwealth. Similar learned discussion, including a contribution from none other than John Selden, characterized debate concerning proposed legislation for the abolition of deans and chapters, addressing such questions as the origins and role of cathedrals and cathedral chapters in the early English church, as well as the relationship of the adjunct offices of dean and canon to episcopal government. Consistent with the debates of the Short Parliament and the opening debates of the Long Parliament the previous November, the contested nature of the true reformed church remained critical.
This volume, along with the Yale Center's previous publications, represents an essential resource for historians of seventeenth-century parliments. The standard of scholarship remains excellent, the detailed footnotes providing an excellent guide and resource for readers seeking a fuller understanding of particular issues. However, the real value of these volumes has little to do with the possibility of constructing a comprehensive, univocal narrative of high politics on the eve of the English civil war; rather, the greatest achievement of this volume concerns the recovery and collation of the subjective perceptions of the individual diarists. These perceptions were the products of specific local and religiolus conditions beyond Westminster; they included not only individual M.P.s' perpectives on the ecclesiastical, legal, and constitutional abuses of Charles I's personal rule (1629-40), but also of the very constitution itself, and its continued operation during a period of deepening crisis. These sometimes conflicting subjective understandings of the constitutional 'breakdown' of 1640-2 are the meat of these volumes.
The contributions of Sir Simonds D'Ewes to these debates - speeches recorded...