Date of Award
Master of Arts in History
King Charles I had ruled over the Kingdom of England from 1629 -1640 without calling a meeting of Parliament. During the period of his "personal rule", trouble broke out in Scotland as a result of the King's attempt to impose the Church of England upon the Presbyterian Scots. To obtain funds to wage a war, Charles called on Parliament. This Parliament was more interested in reforming the government than supplying the king with funds. Rebellion in Ireland necessitated the calling out of the militia.
Until this point, the reforms of Parliament had been passed in the ordinary constitutional manner. Now, however, Parliament violated the Constitution by declaring the Militia Bill of 1642 to be law, without royal assent. Civil war was the result. On one side were the supporters of Parliament: the Puritans, the merchant class, and the armed forces. On the other side were found the King, the nobility, the Angelicans, and the landed gentry. After seven years of bloody warfare, the Parliamentarians won, with the execution of the King. The old constitution was overthrown by an act of Parliament.
This Parliament became known as the Long Parliament. It and the army had to decide on a substitute for the old monarchical form of government. This paper discusses the various attempts at a constitutional settlement during those ensuing eleven years -- 1649-1660. During the last year of the war, 1647, the army drafted a paper constitution which was never adopted. To some extent, it was to be a model for the future proposals. The constitutional schemes discussed include the Heads of the Proposals of 1647, the Agreement of the People of 1649, the Instrument of Government of 1653, and the Humble Petition and Advice of 1657. Only the Instrument had an opportunity to be seen in action.
These proposed constitutional settlements are treated in some detail and the political events and theories behind them are also given consideration. In the Restoration settlement of 1660, the old constitution was restored in almost all of its essentials. There were, however, some lasting influences both in the field of positive law, and in the area of political thought.
The paper constitutions contained the provisions for a republican form of government. They all provided for the redistribution of the seats of the House of Commons. The Instrument restored some vestiges of the old system, in regard to the position of' the Protector. The Humble Petition restored the House of Lords. In the Restoration Settlement, all acts of the Commonwealth were repealed. The principal contributions lay in the field of theory: popular sovereignty, the enhanced position of Parliament in the members minds, and the discredit of republican government.
In 1679 there was an attempt to exclude James, Duke of York, as heir to the throne. The scheme failed, but it led to the reformation of the Privy Council, as planned by Sir William Temple.
Prall, Stuart Edward, "The Paper Constitutions of the English Interregnum 1647-1660" (1953). Open Access Master's Theses. Paper 1774.