On the 4th January 1642, Charles I attempted and failed to arrest the Five Members of Parliament, prompting the English Civil War and his own eventual execution for treason.

Charles ascended to the throne in 1625, but as a believer in the divine right of kings ruled without Parliament for eleven years of personal rule. During this time his policies – particular those regarding taxation and religion – were met with hostility from his subjects.

His religious policies towards Scotland culminated in the outbreak of the Bishops’ Wars in 1639, which saw a Scottish army invade England in August 1640. Charles became convinced that the Scots had been encouraged in some way by the Five Members: John Pym, John Hampden, Denzil Holles, Arthur Haselrig and William Strode. Charles was afraid of them turning the London mob against him, and had heard rumours of a plan to impeach the Queen, so he charged them with treason.

The Five Members failed to respond to a summons on the 3rd January. Therefore on the afternoon of the 4th the King himself entered the House of Commons chamber – an act that was a huge violation of Parliamentary privilege – and sat in the Speaker’s chair to demand the men be handed over to him.

The Five Members had already left the building for safety, and when asked for their whereabouts the Speaker announced that he wouldn’t tell the king their location as he was a servant of Parliament, not the crown. Exclaiming that “the birds have flown,” Charles soon fled the capital. The English Civil War began just a few months later.

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