The House of Commons, 1793-94 by Karl Anton Hickel.
National Portrait Gallery, London.

Members 1604-1629

Published in 2010

The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1604-1629 edited by Andrew Thrush and John P. Ferris, was published in six volumes in November 2010.

Some of the darkest moments in the history of Parliament are revealed in the most comprehensive survey ever compiled of the House of Commons in the early seventeenth century. While many MPs feared that England’s representative institution was teetering on the brink of extinction, two successive kings were no less fearful that some of the most influential members of the Commons were secretly trying to undermine the monarchy. In 1629 the king forced the House of Commons to adjourn amid scenes of uproar as a band of Members, led by Sir John Eliot, dragged the Speaker back to his chair while the House agreed a formal protest. Parliament was not called again until 1640, when the king, having failed to suppress rebellion in Scotland, was left with no other option.  Two years later the country descended into Civil War.

The volumes include biographies of each of the 1,782 men who sat in the House of Commons. The composition of the Commons is included in Dr Andrew Thrush’s introductory survey

The MPs featured in the biographies include:

  • The key Commons politicians of the period, among them Sir Edward Coke, the finest lawyer of his day with an arrogance to match his talents; Edward Alford, the talented and bluntly-spoken Sussex squire who was one of the foremost champions of the Commons’ right to free speech; Sir Edwin Sandys, famed for his razor-sharp intellect and an ability to articulate clearly and powerfully the concerns of his colleagues, but who went on to lose all his credit in the Commons over his views on religion and support for Buckingham; and Sir Robert Phelips, son of a former Speaker of the Commons and the greatest orator of his day, a man described by Sir John Eliot as possessing ‘elegance of words, readiness and dexterity in fancy and conception, a voice and pronunciation of much sweetness’.
  • Men who went on to become famous during the Civil War, such as the parliamentary hero John Hampden and the military strongman and Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell, who made a single intervention in the 1628 Parliament.
  • Men who sat in Parliament but were more famous outside politics, such as the architect Inigo Jones, who was brought into Parliament in 1621 through the intervention of his friend the earl of Arundel, and who was put to work by the Commons erecting a gallery in the House; and the poet John Donne whose election in 1614 formed part of a quest for government office, a quest which he gave up the following year when he was ordained.
  • Very many less celebrated figures, such James I’s physican Sir William Paddy, whose ill-judged liaison with the wife of one of the king’s Scottish courtiers led to scenes which, as related by one newsletter-writer, would not have been out of place in a Whitehall farce; or John Martyn, who represented Nottingham in 1625 and who once accused some local opponents of ‘procuring morris-dancers to assault’ him.