The Eleven Members, 1647-48

During the power struggle between the Army and Parliament in 1647, eleven prominent Presbyterian members of the House of Commons were named by Army leaders as ringleaders in plots to destabilise the kingdom. The Eleven Members were: Denzil Holles, Sir William Waller, Sir Philip Stapleton, John Glyn, Sir John Maynard, Sir William Lewis, Sir John Clotworthy, Edward Massie, Walter Long, Edward Harley, and Anthony Nichol.

Waller, Stapleton and Massie all had distinguished military records in the service of Parliament during the First Civil War.

While rank-and-file soldiers of the New Model Army protested at the refusal of MPs to settle arrears of pay and other grievances, Army leaders and Independent MPs were alarmed at Presbyterian intrigues with the King, at their plots to bring a Scottish or foreign army into England, and at their attempts to gain control of the militia and to recruit new levies in London. In its first direct involvement in the political process, the Army Council demanded the suspension of the Eleven Members from the House of Commons. The Eleven were accused of attempting to overthrow the peoples' rights and liberties; of delaying and obstructing justice; of misrepresenting the Army and its intentions to Parliament; and of attempting to raise forces to plunge the kingdom into another war.

At first, Parliament indignantly refused to suspend the Eleven Members without proof of their misconduct, but under increasing pressure from the Army, the Eleven were forced to withdraw. They appointed five distinguished lawyers, headed by William Prynne, to prepare a legal defence, then took advantage of an order granting them permission to go abroad and to postpone final presentation of their defence for six months.

Meanwhile, Presbyterians had gained control of the London Militia Commitee. On 26 July 1647, a mob of pro-Presbyterian rioters burst into Parliament to demand that the Militia Ordinance should be repealed and that the King should be invited to return to London. The following day, leading Independent MPs and the Speakers of the Lords and Commons fled from Westminster to seek refuge with the Army. The Eleven Members were recalled to Parliament, new Speakers were appointed and Edward Massie was given command of military forces in London.

The Presbyterians made preparations to defy the Army but their resistance melted away when General Fairfax led the New Model into London on 6 August and restored the Independents. Agitators called for a purge of Parliament; Cromwell and other radical officers had lost all patience and were fully prepared to use force against the Presbyterians. Realising that their cause was hopeless, Holles, Stapleton, Waller, Massie, Lewis, Clotworthy and Long fled abroad. Of those who remained at Westminster, Glyn and Maynard were later expelled from Parliament and imprisoned.

An attempt was made to impeach the Eleven Members, but this was abandoned in June 1648 when MPs were anxious to retain the support of the Presbyterian-dominated Common Council of London. At this time, the ten surviving Members (Stapleton had died in August 1647) were allowed to return to their seats in Parliament.


Sources:

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

David Underdown, Pride's Purge (Oxford 1971)