The Militia Ordinance, 1642

By which Parliament grants itself powers to command the armed forces, in defiance of the King.

A militia bill was proposed in December 1641 in the wake of the Irish Uprising of October. The bill was drafted by Oliver St John and introduced in the House of Commons by Sir Arthur Hesilrige on 7 December 1641.

The King and Parliament agreed that an army was needed to supress the rebellion in Ireland, but neither side trusted the other with control of the armed forces. Parliament's militia bill proposed that a lord-general should be appointed to raise and command the militia, to levy money to pay it, and to execute martial law. A lord-admiral was also to be appointed to command the navy. The bill proposed that Parliament should have the right to nominate the commanders of the armed forces rather than the King. Headed by Sir John Culpeper, the King's supporters in the House of Commons vehemently opposed the measure and called for its rejecton, but the bill passed its first reading by 158 votes to 125.

Despite the protestations of Parliament, King Charles refused to surrender his control of the armed forces by giving his assent to the bill, so that it was unable to pass into law. In March 1642, however, Parliament issued the militia bill as an ordinance (legislation that has not received the royal assent) and took the unprecedented step of proclaiming that Parliament could act independently of the King in the interests of the nation's defence. The lords-lieutenant of counties, who had authority over the trained bands, were to be appointed by Parliament and all appointments made by the King were to be revoked. Ordinances passed by the Commons and Lords were to be regarded as valid in law without the royal assent.

The King issued commissions of array to counter the militia ordinance. The question of whether to obey the militia ordinance or the commission of array became an early test of allegiance in the English Civil War. Baron Strange's attempt to prevent the execution of the militia ordinance at Manchester resulted in the first fatal casualty of the war in England when linen weaver Richard Perceval was killed in street fighting on 15 July 1642.


C.H. Firth and R.S. Raitt (eds), Acts and Ordinances of the Interregnum, 1911

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


Text of the Militia Ordinance

Declaration concerning the Militia issued by the House of Lords, March 1642