Parliament at War: The House of Commons and the British Revolution, 1640-1660

Overview

How did parliamentary politics operate during the Civil Wars and Republic?

This hybrid day school sheds new light on this question from the perspectives of both Westminster and the localities. It celebrates the launch in 2023 of 9 magnificent new volumes by the History of Parliament’s House of Commons 1640-1660 section. This constitutes the largest single publication yet within the History of Parliament series, and totals 7 million words of detail on the constituencies and biographies of MPs who sat in the House of Commons between 1640 and 1660. The day school reunites this project team to reflect on the project’s contribution to scholarship of the Civil Wars and Interregnum.

We will begin with an overview of this flagship project from its Emeritus Director who will review the section’s key findings and outline avenues for future research. We will then explore how party politics operated in 1640s Westminster, illuminating the divisions and factional infighting within the parliamentarian cause. We will also consider the local experience of Oxfordshire and Thames Valley MPs, as well as the role of family politics in the eventual collapse of the Cromwellian regime in 1659.

Programme details

9.45am
Registration at Rewley House Reception (for those attending in person)

10.00am
Introduction and welcome
Andrew Hopper and Paul Seaward

10.15am
Writing the History of the House of Commons 1640-60: An Overview
Stephen Roberts

The History of Parliament’s House of Commons 1640-1660 project began in a very small way in 1983. Forty years, some nine volumes and over 7 million words later, the project is complete and is the largest single publication yet of the History of Parliament series, which has so far reached a total of 65 volumes. Though the title ‘History of Parliament’ might be taken to imply a grand narrative, the heart of the project is in fact a biographical dictionary, with lives of each of the 1,803 men who sat in the Commons in the two decades. In addition, there are accounts of elections in 329 constituencies, which in the parliaments of the Cromwellian Protectorate included seats in Scotland and Ireland.

This talk will outline the parliamentary history context and methodology of the project, and indicate some of the challenges facing anyone seeking to write the parliamentary history of such a turbulent period of British history. We will also identify and discuss some of the main findings of the project, and even point the way to some further research directions.

11.30am
Tea/coffee break

12.00pm
Party Politics in 1640s Westminster
David Scott 

The 1640s saw the emergence in England of party politics in something like its present-day form. Under the impact of collapsing royal government and the outbreak of civil war in 1642, the nation divided into opposing military camps and, among its more committed parliamentarians, into distinct political parties. Although these parties took shape at Westminster and comprised small groups of leading politicians, they developed rival programmes for national settlement and acquired strong popular followings in the localities. Like their modern successors, civil-war party leaders used the press and propaganda, bribery and management to secure voting majorities in the House and public support for their policies.  When these methods failed, they frequently resorted to outright coercion.  Political power in the 1640s, as in other revolutionary periods, proceeded ultimately from the barrel of a gun.

This talk will explore the rise of party politics in civil-war England and its transformative impact upon British political culture and government. The 1640s were a forcing house not only for the dark arts of parliamentary management but also for many of the partisan mentalities, fears and rivalries that would fuel the ‘rage of party’ in England well into the eighteenth century.

1.15pm
Lunch break

2.15pm
War at Home and Politics at Westminster: The Loyalties and Preoccupations of Oxfordshire and Thames Valley MPs
Vivienne Larminie 

The upheavals of the civil wars and interregnum affected different regions of England and Wales differently. The apparently austere and uncompromising puritanism and parliamentarianism of Oliver Cromwell and his fellow East Anglian MPs have long captured the popular imagination; their perspectives have sometimes been projected onto the country more widely. The west is often known for its royalism. But those men who represented or had their estates in Oxfordshire and the Thames Valley, and who adhered to Parliament from 1642, faced particularly complicated choices.

When the king established his headquarters at Oxford, their lands and constituents were potentially under the control of royal troops. They had a vested interest in either negotiating peace or prosecuting a vigorous military campaign to win the war, leading to subterfuge or unaccustomed radicalism. Once Oxford surrendered to Parliament, there was retribution and reconstruction to be navigated. The careers of local Members like Speaker William Lenthall, scholar and jurist John Selden, memorialist Bulstrode Whitelocke and orator Nathaniel Fiennes reveal complexities far removed from those of the archetypal Roundhead.

3.30pm
Tea/coffee break

3.45pm
Charles Fleetwood, John Disbrowe and the fall of the House of Cromwell
Patrick Little

This talk tells the story of the rise and decline of the Cromwellian regime in the 1650s through the careers of two military MPs who were very close to Oliver Cromwell, showing how biographies can bring to life the alliances and tensions that brought about its collapse.

The MPs concerned are Cromwell’s son-in-law, Charles Fleetwood, who sat for Marlborough, Oxfordshire and other seats, and his brother-in-law, John Disbrowe, MP for Cambridgeshire, Somerset and elsewhere. Both men were especially close to Oliver in the early and mid-1650s, and were given important roles in the Protectorate, but came to doubt the Protector’s commitment to ‘the good old cause’, and eventually turned against his son, Richard Cromwell, becoming instrumental in his downfall in 1659.

5.00pm
Concluding remarks
Andrew Hopper

5.15pm
Course disperses

Fees

Description Costs
Tuition - in-person attendance (includes tea/coffee) £85.00
Tuition - virtual attendance £75.00
Baguette £6.10
Hot lunch (3 courses) £16.50

Funding

If you are in receipt of a UK state benefit or are a full-time student in the UK you may be eligible for a reduction of 50% of tuition fees.

Concessionary fees for short courses

Tutors

Prof Andrew Hopper

Course Director

Andrew Hopper is a historian of religion, politics and society in early modern England with research expertise on the British and Irish Civil Wars. Andrew graduated from the University of York in 1999 with a doctoral thesis examining the nature of parliamentarian allegiance in civil-war Yorkshire. Thereafter he worked as a researcher for the JISC-funded Virtual Norfolk Project at the University of East Anglia (2000-2003) and the AHRC-funded High Court of Chivalry Project at the University of Birmingham (2003-2006). He was appointed Lecturer in the Centre for English Local History at the University of Leicester in 2006, where he was promoted to Professor (2018) and Director of the Centre (2020). Andrew moved to the Department for Continuing Education in September 2021.

Dr Paul Seaward

Speaker

Paul Seaward is Director of the History of Parliament. He is a historian of seventeeth-century English politics and political thought, whose work has included books and articles on Restoration politics, an of edition of Thomas Hobbe's history of the English Civil War, Behemoth, and the Oxford World's Classic edition of Clarendon's History of the Rebellion. He is currently working on a history of parliament as an institution from its origins to the present day.

Dr Stephen Roberts

Speaker

Stephen Roberts is Emeritus Director of the History of Parliament and for over 20 years was editor of the 1640-60 House of Commons Section of the History of Parliament.

Dr Vivienne Larminie

Speaker

Vivienne Larminie, assistant editor of the House of Commons 1640-1660, was responsible primarily for MPs sitting for south central England, including Oxfordshire. A long-time resident of Oxford, she has been involved in various aspects of local history and has given talks to numerous local groups. Formerly a college lecturer and an in-house research editor at the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, she is currently honorary editor of the Huguenot Society of Great Britain and Ireland and secretary of the Oxford branch of the Historical Association.

Dr Patrick Little

Speaker

Patrick Little is assistant editor of the 1640-60 House of Lords section of the History of Parliament Trust. His publications include (with D.L. Smith) Parliaments and Politics during the Cromwellian Protectorate (Cambridge, 2007).

Application

Please use the 'Book' or 'Apply' button on this page. Alternatively, please contact us to obtain an application form.

Accommodation

Accommodation is not included in the price, but if you wish to stay with us the night before the course, then please contact our Residential Centre.

Accommodation in Rewley House - all bedrooms are modern, comfortably furnished and each room has tea and coffee making facilities, Freeview television, and Free WiFi and private bath or shower rooms.  Please contact our Residential Centre on +44 (0) 1865 270362 or email res-ctr@conted.ox.ac.uk for details of availability and discounted prices.

IT requirements

For those joining us online

We will be using Zoom for the livestreaming of this course. If you’re attending online, you’ll be able to see and hear the speakers, and to submit questions via the Zoom interface. Joining instructions will be sent out prior to the start date. We recommend that you join the session at least 10-15 minutes prior to the start time – just as you might arrive a bit early at our lecture theatre for an in-person event.

Please note that this course will not be recorded.