Pride's Purge, 1648

The purging of MPs of the Long Parliament hostile to the politicised New Model Army,
carried out on 6 December 1648.

The purging of Parliament was first proposed after the ending of the First Civil War in the manifesto known as the Representation of the Army. It was presented to Parliament in June 1647 at a time when Presbyterian MPs were attempting to disband the New Model Army without settlement of the soldiers' grievances. The Army occupied London in August, after which Agitators again demanded a purge, resulting in the departure from London of several of the Eleven Members, who were regarded as the Army's leading opponents in Parliament. Lieutenant-General Cromwell supported the Agitators at this time but a full purge was prevented by the opposition of General Fairfax.

On 20 August 1647, Cromwell stationed a cavalry regiment at Hyde Park and marched under armed escort to take his seat in the House of Commons. This display of force coerced many Presbyterians into withdrawing from Parliament, leaving the House of Commons for a time with an Independent majority whose views were broadly in line with those of the Army.

In November 1647, Lieutenant-Colonel Jubbes proposed the purging of Parliament at the Putney Debates. By then the attention of the Army radicals had shifted to the removal of MPs opposed to bringing the King to account. Their attitude was further hardened by the King's alliance with the Scots, which resulted in the Second Civil War during 1648, and by his refusal to compromise in negotiations for a settlement even when the Royalists had been defeated a second time.

The Army Remonstrance

Despairing at the King's obstinacy during negotiations at the Treaty of Newport, Commissary-General Henry Ireton wrote to Fairfax advocating the purging of those Members of Parliament who continued to work for a negotiated settlement. Fairfax resisted the idea until it became clear that Presbyterian MPs were determined to continue negotiating with the King and even to invite him to return to London. In November 1648, the General Council of the Army adopted the manifesto drafted by Ireton and known as the Army Remonstrance. When Parliament refused to discuss the Remonstrance, the New Model Army marched for London, occupying the city on 2 December 1648.

Although alarmed at the Army's actions, Parliament persisted in discussing the final proposals received from the King at Newport. After a continuous twenty-four hour sitting that lasted from the morning of 4 December until eight o'clock the following morning, Parliament voted by 129 votes to 83 that the concessions agreed by the King were sufficient grounds to continue negotiations. In view of the Army's antagonism, Speaker Lenthall warned the Members that adhering to the vote would inevitably mean the destruction of Parliament.

By this time, Ireton, supported by Colonel Harrison and other radicals, wanted to dissolve Parliament rather than to purge it, after which a few radical MPs would be invited to act as an interim government until new elections could be held. In discussions with Ireton, John Lilburne insisted that a dissolution would be illegal and that the Leveller manifesto An Agreement of the People should be enacted first in order to legitimise the constitution. Independent MPs who supported the Army, including Edmund Ludlow, Cornelius Holland and Henry Smith wanted Parliament purged rather than dissolved, arguing that even as members of a purged Parliament, they could still claim to be a legal government.

After Parliament's fateful vote to continue negotiations with the King, a meeting was held at Whitehall on 5 December between Army officers led by Ireton and Independent MPs, at which Ireton was persuaded to use military force to purge Parliament of the King's supporters rather than dissolve it. A six-member sub-committee of officers and MPs headed by Ireton, Harrison and Ludlow withdrew to a private room to make the detailed arrangements and to prepare the list of MPs who were to be purged.

The Purging of Parliament

Early in the morning of 6 December 1648, Colonel Pride's regiment of foot and Colonel Rich's cavalry regiment occupied Palace Yard, Westminster Hall and the approaches to the House of Commons while Colonel Hewson's and Sir Hardress Waller's regiments patrolled the neighbouring streets. When the Trained Band units that usually guarded Parliament arrived to take up their stations, they were ordered to return home by New Model officers. A confrontation between the Army and the Trained Bands was averted by Major-General Philip Skippon, who took advantage of his great popularity with Londoners to persuade the Trained Bands to stand down.

Pride's Purge19th Century representation of Pride's Purge

Colonel Pride was stationed on the steps leading to the entrance of the House of Commons with the list of MPs regarded as enemies of the Army. He was seconded by Sir Hardress Waller and accompanied by Lord Grey of Groby, who identified the proscribed MPs as they approached. The exact number of MPs on the list is not known for certain. Out of a total of around 470 MPs eligible to sit, about 180 were to be "secluded" or prevented from entering Parliament. A smaller number regarded as extremists were to be placed under arrest. At least 100 of the MPs on Pride's list stayed away from Parliament or fled from London, including the leading Presbyterians Denzil Holles and John Glyn.

Pride and his accomplices kept the proscribed members from entering Parliament and arrested about forty-five, including William Prynne, Sir William Waller and Edward Massie. The arrested MPs were held in the nearby Queen's Court throughout the day, where they were badly treated by soldiers who believed that they were responsible for withholding Army pay. The MPs were held overnight under uncomfortable conditions in a nearby tavern known as "Hell" but were transferred to more comfortable quarters in other local inns during the next few days. On 12 December, five of the most extreme Presbyterians (Waller, Massie, Lionel Copley, Sir John Clotworthy and Sir William Lewis), along with the sheriff of London and former major-general Richard Browne, were imprisoned at St James's. Massie escaped in January 1649 but the others were accused of plotting the Scottish invasion of 1648 and remained in prison without trial for several years. The rest of the members arrested during the Purge were released early in 1649.

The Purge was carried out on the orders of Henry Ireton. General Fairfax apparently had no knowledge of it, even though all the Army's actions were carried out under his name. He was said to be furious when he heard what had happened but did nothing to interfere. Cromwell arrived back in London from the siege of Pontefract the day after the Purge and announced his approval of the proceedings. By removing the MPs who still favoured a negotiated settlement, the Purge effectively cleared the way for the King's trial the following month.

Initially, only around eighty MPs sat in the purged Parliament, though their numbers increased after the execution of King Charles and the declaration of the Commonwealth early in 1649. The purged House of Commons came to be known as the Rump Parliament.


Graham Edwards, The Last Days of Charles I (Stroud 1999)

S.R. Gardiner, History of the Great Civil War vols. iii & iv, (London 1889-94)

David Underdown, Pride's Purge (Oxford 1971)

Blair Worden, The Rump Parliament (Cambridge 1974)