A Gimson parliamentary goodie

Andrew Gimson (husband of the formidable Sally), discarded by the Torygraph, and now depping for ConHome, has been wrong over the Maria Miller affair. He makes good by decorating his PMQs sketch with a teaser:

David Cameron made an admirably provocative statement as he tried to defend his handling of the Maria Miller affair: “This is a good and honest Parliament with good and hard-working people in it.”

Many people will at once reject this assertion. There is a widespread view that MPs are a bunch of greedy and corrupt scoundrels. It seems unlikely this will become known to history as the Honest Parliament. The names we have given to particular Parliaments have most often been uncomplimentary: they include Addled, Barebones, Drunken, Dunces, Mad, Mongrel, Rump, Unlearned and Useless.

Parliament-The-Biography-VolI suspect that means Mr Gimson is getting to Chris Bryant before I have.

So, a bit of self-testing:

The Addled Parliament

That was 1614, when it all went sour between James I and parliament.

The influence of the Puritans was increasing. One of its earliest decisions was to debouch, en masse, to St Margaret’s, Westminster, and defiantly by-passing the High Anglican celebrations at the intervening Abbey:

The Communion to be received … not at the Abbey, but at the Parish Church. That in the Abbey they administer not with common bread contrary [to the] 20th Canon and the Book of Common Prayer.

That’s from the Commons’ Journals for 13th April, 1614; and it marks the moment from which the traditional link between the Commons and St Margaret’s dates.

Along with suspicion of a Catholic plot (it’s only a few years since Guy Fawkes & co.), the running sore was royal expenditure. James I was in debt. The war with Spain had been concluded by the Treaty of London; and the Commons were objecting to expenditure on the royal favourites.

The Barebones Parliament

Another easy one, also known as “the Parliament of Saints”. The independent congregations in each county were asked for nominees. Cromwell’s Council of Officers then selected 140 persons “fearing God and of approved fidelity and honesty”, who were summoned in June 1653. One precedent was set here: five of the chosen were representatives from Scotland (see also next entry), and six from Ireland.

This motley crew duly announced themselves a parliament, elected a Council of State (adding eighteen of their own to Cromwell’s existing Council of thirteen), and created a Byzantine complex of twelve great committees to set about redressing grievances and reforming the body politic.

What went wrong is a majority were provincial gentry who could not afford constant attendance at Westminster, whereas the more extreme elements were only too ready to attend regularly, and push through ‘extreme’ measures: civil marriage, registration of births, marriages and deaths, reform of imprisonment for debt, and a more enlightened treatment for lunatics and the mentally-incompetent. Since there were no lawyers in the Commons, laws made by amateurs might have been simple, but they were not fool-proof.

The moderate majority lost patience, arrived in force on 12 December 1653, and moved to vote themselves out of existence. When the extreme faction turned up, the Speaker and his moderate supporters hiked out to abdicate. The residue was inquorate, and had to be persuaded by the arrival of a couple of colonels and a force of musketeers. In the end eighty, a clear majority, signed the deed of abdication.

Cromwell was left the absolute power in  the country.

The Drunken Parliament

I needed a nudge with that one.

If one had been near Edinburgh’s Mercat Cross on 4th February 1652, one would have heard eight trumpeters go full blast, followed by the bizarre Norman-French repeated cry of Oyez!

The English Parliamentarians had sent a “Tender of Union” to the eighty-nine parliamentary constituencies (thirty-one shires and fifty-eight royal burghs) of Scotland. This “Union” was enforced by occupation and General Monck’s army — it took an entire regiment to cow Glasgow. The Scottish parliament was abolished. The Scottish Privy Council was supplanted by English commissioners and their dupes. The judiciary was replaced by effective Cromwellian army officers.

Come the Restoration, the Earl of Middleton came north as Commissioner to the restored Scottish Parliament. On New Year’s Day, Middleton rode up the Royal Mile to open Parliament. For the record, Parliament Hall, beside St Giles Cathedral, is the oldest purpose-built parliamentary building in these islands.

The contemporary accounts have Middleton in his usual intoxicated condition. Charles II appointed as  Secretary of State for Scotland John Maitland, the Earl of Lauderdale. Once a Covenanter and moderate Presbyterian, Lauderdale had spent a decade in English prisons after the Battle of Worcester: not surprisingly, the experience had turned him to drink.

The Drunken Parliament then rescinded all laws passed since 1633 (the year of Charles I’s coronation in Edinburgh), killed the settlement of 1639-41, restored all the royal prerogatives, made the Covenanters illegal. All office-holders had to swear loyalty to the new régime. The nobility had their jurisdictions and patronages restored. The Episcopacy was re-established, and all parish ministers appointed since 1649 would have to seek patronage and the bishop’s confirmation (a third of the ministry, mainly in the west and south-west of Scotland, were dispossessed. Their replacements were derided as “king’s curates”, and the former ministers set up in new “conventicles”.

Officialdom finally realised things were going too far. Middleton was sent off to be Governor of Tangier (where he died in 1674, falling down stairs dead drunk) and replaced by John Leslie.

It inevitably all ended in tears, and the Pentland Rising of 1666.

The Dunces Parliament

Wa-hey! We’re heading back here, all the way to 1404.

In the middle of his troubles with the Percies, Henry IV summoned parliament to Coventry. He deliberately excluded any lawyers: the legal writers of London had just unionised themselves  (the Inner and Middle Temples have records from 1388), to general disapproval:

DICK: The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.
CADE: Nay, that I mean to do. Is not this a lamentable thing, that of the skin of an innocent lamb should be made parchment? that parchment, being scribbled o’er, should undo a man?

The Mad Parliament

Even further back: 11th June 1258. We are even at the birth of parliaments in England.

I think the name may have come, and certainly was given notice, from David Hume, writing in 1761:

This parliament, which the royalists, and even the nation, from experience of the confusions that attended its measures, afterwards denominated the mad parliament, met on the day appointed; and as all the barons brought along with them their military vassals, and appeared with an armed force, the king, who had taken no precautions against them, was in reality a prisoner in their hands, and was obliged to submit to all the terms which they were pleased to impose upon him. Twelve barons were selected from among the king’s ministers; twelve more were chosen by parliament: To these twenty-four, unlimited authority was granted to reform the state; and the king himself took an oath, that he would maintain whatever ordinances they should think proper to enact for that purpose.

Edward II had summoned parliament, in part because he was at his (limited) wits’ end in dealing with bumptious barons, in part because he hoped for supply to finance the Pope’s offer of a kingdom in Sicily. What he got were the Provisions of Oxford (still with Hume here):

… three sessions of parliament should be regularly held every year, in the months of February, June, and October; that a new sheriff should be annually elected by the votes of the free holders in each county; that the sheriffs should have no power of fining the barons who did not attend their courts, or the circuits of the justiciaries; that no heirs should be committed to the wardship of foreigners, and no castles intrusted to their custody; and that no new warrens or forests should be created, nor the revenues of any counties or hundreds be let to farm. 

The consequences of all that were bloody, and need not detain us here.

The Mongrel Parliament

Whoops! Back to the seventeenth-century.

This was Charles I’s last attempt at any kind of P.R.

The Long Parliament had split into “royalist” and “parliamentarian” factions and, by 1642 had arrived at a state of civil war. Visit the Round House pub and restaurant in Nottingham to be on the spot where Charles  raised his Royal Standard on 22 August 1642.

In 1644 Charles summoned a parliament at Oxford. It met just the once. Meanwhile, the parliamentarians were still in London, still the “Long Parliament” and about to be reduced to:

The Rump Parliament

In December 1648 Colonel Pride forcibly evicted 110 moderate members (forty arrested, seventy more barred) . The Rump was now just a sixth of the membership of 1640, and a tenth of the original 1640 MPs . It now voted for the king’s execution.

The Unlearned Parliament

We’ve visted here before. This is a variant on the Dunces’ Parliament of 1404 , so see above.

The Useless Parliament

Charles I’s first parliament, which sat from July 1625, decamped to Oxford on 1st August because of the plague, and was dissolved on 12th August.

Charles was asking for revenue for a war with Spain. This amounted to a life-time income from the duties of tonnage and poundage (that is, import and export taxes, and a royal right which had existed since 1414), for the length of this reign. Parliament were prepared to make the grant for only a year at a time. Since this was unacceptable to Charles, he had Villiers, the Duke of Buckingham, block the Commons bill in the Lords. The Commons then moved to impeach Buckingham. Charles dissolved parliament, and entered into an attempt at absolute rule.

The real moment of interest was the MPs holding the Speaker, John Finch, in the chair until they had declared any payment of tonnage and poundage to be illegal.


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