Thursday, October 20, 2011

The English Republic

In Search of the Republic--13

An English civil war finally brought in a republic.

After Charles I raised the royal standard declaring war, the Parliament organized the New Model Army. It dispensed with the tradition of creating an army organized around local militias. It created a truly national army. Also, officers were appointed based upon merit rather than status. They appointed Thomas Fairfax to lead it. Parliament also forged an alliance with the Scots, who had organized already in anticipation of invasion by Charles to force religious union with England.

With the help of the Scottish army, the New Model Army defeated the King and his loyalist forces. He was captured and imprisoned by the Scots. During his imprisonment, Parliament initiated several attempts at compromise and reconciliation. Because they included among other things assumption of control of the army by Parliament, the King rejected it. He also continued secret negotiations with the Scots and the French to effect his escape and restoration to power.

Meanwhile, the Army  purged the Parliament of those members, mostly Presbyterian, whom it considered sympathetic to the royalist cause and unsympathetic to Army grievances. The remaining members, mostly religious independents and republicans,  became known as the Rump Parliament.

When all negotiations failed to yield an agreement, the Scots turned Charles I  over to Parliament. King Charles was tried and executed.

Parliament then began the piecemeal creation of a republic.
The Parliament abolished the monarchy. It replaced the monarchy with a Council of State to act as executive authority.  It also abolished the traditional aristocratic institutional  base of support for monarchy, the House of Lords. A couple of months later it declared England to be a commonwealth or republic. It also passed laws requiring oath of allegiance to the Commonwealth and acknowledgment of the Parliament as the supreme sovereign power in England.

Parliament also enacted a new religious settlement.

The republican Parliament adopted the Westminster standards, the product of a conference of English and Scottish divines. It created a  Presbyterian state church structure that still permitted independents to form their own congregations.

An act of toleration was passed. It also enacted a Blasphemy Act against more radical Christian sects.It  repealed laws that required attendance to parish churches every Sunday. But it also enacted law requiring strict observance of the Sunday sabbath, ending the tradition of devoting the day to sports.

The English republic, however, proved short lived.

The next post will look at its collapse.

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