All the King's Men: the English rebellion

The Seventeenth Century

The Middle Ages in England drew to a close with the death of Elizabeth I, the last absolute monarch of England. Without an heir Elizabeth provided no continuance for her royal House of Tudor. She still had many royal and Catholic relations in Spain and in Spanish Flanders who yet hoped to restore England to the Popish fold. However, the tide of circumstances inside England was against them, moving instead towards revolutionary new constitutional changes which heralded the more modern parliamentary system which spawned the fiercely Protestant British Empire.

Given the degree to which the people of England had turned away from the Roman Catholic Church in the two generations since Elizabeth's father, Henry, had removed them from the Catholic Church, it was a vain supposition that the English could ever submit to Rome again. There were two great obstacles to such a reformation inside England. Firstly, the prejudice against the arch enemies, namely, the Catholic Spanish court and so, by association, the outlaw Spanish Jesuits sneaking around the English countryside ministering to, and plotting with, the remnant of the English Catholic Church. Secondly, the great popularity of the more extreme Protestant sects among the English people, including the depressingly intolerant Presbyterians and the fanatically self-righteous Puritans, both of whom were in the process of informing deeply committed new political factions, and both of which were only going to increase in strength over the coming decades.

Upon Elizabeth's death, the casting about for a suitably Protestant successor led her chief ministers to hook her nephew James, then King of Scotland. So ended hereditary kingship in England, and so began invitational kingship: the subjects choosing the King. James came to England an outsider, but with a promisingly large young family. Arguably, his most lasting achievment may have been his commissioning of the scholarly english translation of the Bible, which is still viewed by most Protestant Christians as the only truly inspired english version. The lyric King James version of the Bible, with the contemporary secular masterpieces by Shakespeare, lead us to recall the the reign of King James I as a time of literary greatness in England.

During the first two years of his reign, however, there were sown the seeds of political discontent. Most famously, a tiny, mad faction of Catholic rebels attempted to kill the new King along with the entire House of Lords by blowing them all to kingdom come with barrels and barrels of gunpowder they'd purchased expressly for that purpose and squirreled away in the ground floor storage room under the House of Lords assembly hall. Fortunately the plot was disclosed by an informant and on November 5, 1605, the culprits, including the notorious Guy Fawkes, were all shot or arrested. Sadly, the inevitable backlash against all the Jesuits then hiding in Britain, and against all the Catholic faithful, was severe and unproductive for tolerance in England.

Interestly enough, since his own wife, the Queen, was Roman Catholic, James had been tolerantly predisposed towards Catholicism, while remaining suspicious only of Rome's continental allies and of Spanish intentions regarding his crown. Until November 5, 1605, his discerning instincts had set him more wholeheartedly against the inflammatory Puritans.

Ever the canny Scot, James sensed that the rebellious Puritan philosophy was more of a danger to his crown than the historically supportive Catholic philosophy of church and king. It was the stupid Gunpowder Plot which distracted official disfavour away from the Puritans at this critical moment and back towards the largely obedient Catholics. If not for that disastrous misadventure, the success of the ensuing Puritan rebellion and their execution of James' son and heir, King Charles I, may have been avoided.


Father and son, Henry and Thomas Grey, both opposed the king and his cavaliers after the outbreak of civil war, choosing instead to stand behind the rights of parliament. Just how dedicated the old man was to the incidental, but connected, cause of Puritan ethics is uncertain, but certainly the younger man was swept up in the revolutionary feelings of his day.
(For more detail click here.)

Both men were members of the parliament assembled against king Charles I, and both fought for Cromwell. Henry was a general of the parliamentary army, while Thomas, Lord Grey of Groby (1623-57) was MP for Leicester in the Long Parliament and commander of cavalry to the Earl of Essex during the first Civil War. Thomas acted as a whip when the commons sat and voted against the king. He was one of the parliamentarians who sat in final judgement of king Charles I. He sat on the High Court of Justice that was formed to try the King and was the second signatory of the King's order of execution. As much as any man, he stands convicted, by his own hand, of regicide.

This original declaration of the Lords and Commons assembled in parliament was printed during the english civil war at the Old Bailey, London town, in 1643.

A declaration of the Lords and Commons assembled in Parliament shewing the reasons why they cannot consent to the keeping of Easter Tearme at Oxford, but in the usuall places: an Army being there maintained to destroy the Parliament and Kingdome, and still continued although the Lords and Commons have used the best means they possibly could by Proposition and Treaty, to, and with his Majesty, for the disbanding thereof, and as yet all their endeavours are Fruitlesse. Die Martis 18 Aprilis, 1643. Ordered by the Lords and Commons Assembled in Parliament, that this Declaration shall be forthwith Printed and published, John Browne Cler. Parliamento. London,i Aprill 19 Printed for John Wright, in the Olde Bailey, 1643.

A Declaration of the Lords and Commons Assembled in Parliament. Die Martis, 18. Aprilis, 1643. The Lords and Commons in Parliament, taking into their serious consideration, a proclamation dated at Oxford the first of this instant April, for the holding & continuing of the Court of Chancery & all proceedings therein, the Receipt of his Majesties Exchequer, and of the first fruits and tenths, the Court of the Dutchy of Lancaster, Court of Wards, and Liberies, and Court of Request, at the City of Oxford, for the whole terme of Easter then next ensuing, upon and from the 12 day of this instant April, untill and upon the 15 day of May next following, and for adjourning the Courts of Kings Bench, Common Pleas, Excheqiri, from Quindena Palche, untill the returne of Quinque Septianas Palche next, doe find that it will much tend to the prejudice of the Commonwealth, to have the said Courts & Receipts held and continued at Oxford, where great part of an Army raised against the Parliament and the authority therof now resides. And the said Lords and Commons apprehending & foreseeing the great inconveniences and mischiefes, that necessarily must happen to many of his Majesties most faithfull & best Subjects, in case those Courts and Receipts be held at Oxford, where such of them as have occasion to attend, cannot with any safety of their persons or estates repaire to his Majesty, having in effect declared all persons that have contributed any thing in ayd or defence of the Parliament & the priveledge thereof, to be guilty of high Treason, and in pursuance therof , by the force & power of the Army there remaining have seized upon many of their persons, where they are detained prisoners, and some proceeded against as Traytors, having nothing layd to their charge but their assisting the Parliament, and opposing that Army raysed to destroy it and the Kingdome, and finding that divers, both Judges and others, whose attendance upon the said Courts & Receipts will be necessary, are Members or Assistants, to one or both houses of Parliament, whose presence at this time cannot be be (sic) spared, and that if the Records necessary to be used in the said Courts should be removed from the usuall places to Oxford, in a time when two Armies are residing neeretherabouts, it would indanger the miscarriage of them which might ruine many of his Majesties Subjects, whole estates depend thereupon, and that so farre a distance betweene the said Courts of Law and Equity, which have necessary dependance one upon another, would prove exceeding prejudiciall to many; and finding greater cause to take care for preventing the said mischiefes and inconveniences, then was in Hilary Terme last, in that the said Army is still continuing, although the said Lords and Commons have used the best means they possibly could by Proposition and Treaty, to, and with his Majesty, for the disbanding thereof, and as yet all their endeavours are fruitlesse. The said Lords and Commons doe therefore Declare and Order, that no Judge, Minister, or other person belonging to any of the said Courts or Receipts shall repaire to the said city of Oxford, or doe, or execute any thing belonging to the said Offices, and Imployments, but in the places usuall for the doing and executing thereof, and the said Lords and Commons doe enjoyne the said severall Judges, Officers, and Ministers, to attend the execution of the said Offices at the usuall times and places for the execution thereof, and not elsewhere; And that no member of, or Assistant to either of the two houses of Parliament, that have any place, office, or imployment about any of the said Courts or Receipts that presume to depart from their attendance upon the Parliament, without the speciall leave of that house wherof they are Members or Assistants, and that those departed doe returne forthwith; and doe further order that no person that remove or cause to be removed any Records or Writings of any the said Courts or receipts, to or towards the City of Oxon, and the Lords and Commons, doe declare that if any persons shall disobey this Order, they will proceede against them as Wilfull contemners of the authority of Parliament, and disturbers of the Peace of the Kingdome; And it is further Declared and Ordered by the said Lords and Commons, that no Judgment, decree, Order, or proceeding whatsoever, that shall be given, made or bad by, or in any of the said Courts or Receipts out of the usuall places where the said Courts & Receipts have beene accustomed to be held and kept, shall bind any person that may be concerned therein, without his owne voluntary consent; and that all Judges, Officers, and other persons shall be protected and kept indempnified from any dammage or inconvenience that may or can happen to them, for yeelding obedience to this Ordinace, or by the not execution of any just suite, or action in the said Courts at Oxford, or any of them.

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the source for this document can be found at:

Transcribed from The Life of William Lilly, wrote by Himselfe (Spelling and punctuation modernised) January 1649 I am serious. I beg and expect Justice. Either fear or shame begins to question Offenders. The Lofty Cedars begin to divine a thundering Hurricane is at hand. God elevates men contemptible. Our Demigods are sensible we begin to dislike their actions very much in London; more in the Country. Blessed be God who encourages his servants, makes them valiant and of undaunted spirit to go on with His decrees. Upon a sudden, great expectations arise and men generally believe a quiet and calm time draws nigh. In Christmas Holy Days, the Lord Grey of Groby and Hugh Peters sent for me to Somerset House with directions to bring them two of my almanacs. I did so. Peters and he read January's observations. "If we are not fools and knaves," says he, "We shall do Justice." Then they whispered. I understood not their meaning till His Majesty was beheaded. They applied what I wrote of Justice to be understood of His Majesty, which was contrary to my intention, for Jupiter, the first day of January, became direct, and Libra is a sign signifying Justice. I implored for Justice generally upon such as had cheated in their places, being treasurers and suchlike officers. I had not then heard the least intimation of bringing the King to trial, and yet the first day thereof I was casually there, it being upon a Saturday, for going to Westminster every Saturday in the afternoon in those times, at Whitehall I casually met Hugh Peters. "Come Lilly, wilt thou go hear the King tried?" "When?" said I; "Now, just now, go with me." I did so and was permitted by the guard of soldiers to pass up to the King's Bench. Within one quarter of an hour came the Judges, presently His Majesty, who spoke excellently well and majestically, without impediment in the least when he spoke. I saw the silver top of his staff unexpectedly fall to the ground, was took up by Mr. Rushworth. But when I heard Bradshaw the Judge say to His Majesty, "Sir, instead of answering the Court, you interrogate their power, which becomes not one in your condition," the words pierced my heart and soul to hear a subject thus audaciously to reprimand his Sovereign, who ever and anon replied with great magnanamity and prudence.

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Thomas Grey later fell from favour with Cromwell and was suspected of Leveller beliefs. He died 1657 and so escaped trial and execution with the other regicides after the Restoration three years later, when the dead King's son was invited back to take the throne. The end of Puritan law was wildly popular, but the new King was not, so his lineage was later replaced when the English invited the Dutchman, William of Orange, to be King. William could not speak English, so he studied it exactly... and we still have the expression "the King's english", referring to the grammatically precise spoken english which he learned.


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