The Oxford Parliament, 1644-45

The Oxford Parliament was proposed during the first year of the English Civil War by the King's adviser Sir Edward Hyde as a means of challenging the legitimacy of the Westminster Parliament.

The Royalists occupied Oxford after their withdrawal from London at Turnham Green in November 1642. Various university buildings were taken over by the King, his court and the military high command. King Charles himself took up residence at Christ Church Hall; the Privy Council met at Oriel College. Pembroke, Jesus and St John's Colleges were used as living quarters for courtiers and high-ranking officers; All Souls became an arsenal and New College was turned into a gunpowder store. A mint was set up in New Inn Hall to create a new currency and arrangements were made for collecting taxes. Oxford Castle became a prison for Parliamentarian soldiers who refused to transfer to the Royalist army, and was notorious for its harsh conditions. The Royalist newspaper, Mercurius Aulicus, was first published at Oxford in January 1643.

The King was unable lawfully to dissolve the Long Parliament without its consent, so on 22 December 1643, he summoned all members of the Lords and Commons who had not already left London, or who were willing to leave on the promise of a free pardon, to assemble for a new Parliament to be held at Christ Church Hall. The total number listed as willing to answer the King's summons was 82 peers and 175 commoners, i.e. most of the House of Lords and about one-third of the Commons. When the new Parliament met on 22 January 1644, many would-be participants were unavoidably absent because of the war. The opening was attended by 44 members of the House of Lords and 118 members of the Commons.

In the light of Westminster's recent adoption of the Solemn League and Covenant, King Charles' opening speech called upon all loyal subjects to join him in resisting the Scottish invasion of England. The Oxford Parliament unanimously denounced the Scottish alliance and wrote to the Earl of Essex requesting his attendance at the Oxford House of Lords to help bring about peace. In reply, Essex sent a message from the Westminster Parliament calling for all members of the Oxford Parliament to do their duty as Protestants by returning to London and taking the Covenant. Many of the King's supporters were wavering because of his attempts to come to terms with the Irish Catholics; Sir Edward Dering was the first of many Oxford MPs to respond to Westminster's overture and return to London.

In March 1644, the Oxford Parliament attempted to initiate peace negotiations. The attempt failed because Westminster refused to recognise it as a legitimate parliament. In retaliation, the Oxford MPs denounced the Westminster Parliament and its supporters as traitors for inviting the Scots to invade England.

The Oxford Parliament attempted to raise war funds for the Royalist cause but its relations with the King were always strained. Members remained uneasy about Charles' intentions over religion and about his plans for raising an Irish army. The Parliament was prorogued on 16 April 1644 until 8 October (i.e. adjourned but not dissolved). In January 1645, the King ordered the arrest of lords Percy, Andover and Sussex who had been persistent in their calls for fresh negotiations with Westminster. Irritated by further calls for peace negotiations from his own MPs, Charles again adjourned the Oxford Parliament on 10 March 1645, contemptuously describing it as "our mongrel parliament" in a letter to Queen Henrietta Maria. It was scheduled to re-assemble in October 1645, but by then the King had lost the war.


Sources:

S.R. Gardiner, History of the Great Civil War vols. i & ii (London 1888-9)

Royston Spears, Oxford and the Civil War (Orders of the day, Volume 30, Issue 6, Nov/Dec 1998)

C.V. Wedgwood, The King's War (London 1958)

Links:

Oxford during the Civil War www.british-history.ac.uk