Pride's Purge

Pride's Purge was the occasion when troops under the command of Colonel Thomas Pride forcibly removed from the House of Commons all those who were not supporters of Oliver Cromwell. Many historians liken it to a military coup d'état.

In 1648, King Charles I was in captivity at Carisbrooke Castle and the civil war was over. Parliament issued a set of demands for the future government of the Kingdom and sent commissioners to negotiate with the King. The army, firmly committed to revolution, sent in a Remonstrance which was rejected by 125 to 58. When the Commissioners returned with the King's answers, which were far short of what was hoped, the House of Commons eventually declared them acceptable by 129 to 83 early in the morning of December 5, 1648 (though this was technically a vote on whether the vote should be called).

On Wednesday December 6 Col. Pride's Regiment of Foot took up position on the stairs leading to the House, while Nathaniel Rich's Regiment of Horse provided backup. Pride himself stood at the top of the stairs. As MPs arrived, he checked them against the list provided to him; Lord Grey of Groby, a revolutionary MP, helped to identify them. Of 489 MPs at the time, 18 were permanently absent before the purge. 45 were secluded from Parliament and imprisoned. 186 were secluded from Parliament but not imprisoned. 86 were not secluded but absented themselves voluntarily. 83 were allowed back in Parliament after formally dissenting from the decision to accept the King's proposals. 71 were supporters of the revolution from the outset.

The imprisoned members were taken first to the Queen's Court within the Palace of Westminster, and then to a nearby public house. There were three public houses next to the Palace in 1648, called Heaven, Purgatory, and Hell. The imprisoned members were taken to Hell where they spent the night. On the next day they were moved to two inns in the Strand. By December 12, the first of the imprisoned members was allowed home; many more were released on December 20.

The purged House, nicknamed the 'Rump Parliament', now had a majority that would establish a Republic, and any doubts the remaining members may have had over the wisdom of this course was suppressed by the presence of the Army in great numbers. On January 4 1649 an Ordinance was passed to try the King for treason; the House of Lords rejected it. The House of Commons then passed an 'Act' by itself for the same purpose, and the King was beheaded on January 30. On February 6 the House of Lords was abolished; the monarchy went the same way on February 7, and a Council of State established on February 14.

Pride's Purge was reversed on February 21, 1660 when the secluded members were restored in a preparation for the restoration.

Further reading

  • Pride's Purge: Politics in the Puritan Revolution by David Underdown ISBN 0048220450

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