Heads of the Proposals, 1647

The Heads of the Proposals offered by the Army was a set of propositions drawn up by officers of the New Model Army and submitted to King Charles I, independently of Parliament, as a basis for a constitutional settlement after the King's defeat in the First Civil War.

In consultation with Lord Saye-and-Sele and other parliamentary representatives, the proposals were drafted by Commissary-General Henry Ireton and Major-General John Lambert during the summer of 1647 when the Army was engaged in a political power struggle with Presbyterian MPs over the settlement of the nation. The proposals were termed the "Heads" to indicate that they were a broad outline, to be negotiated in detail later. The main points were:

  • Episcopacy would be retained in church government, but the power of the bishops would be substantially reduced.
  • All Acts enforcing church attendance, the use of the Book of Common Prayer and the forbidding of holding religious meetings elsewhere would be repealed. The Covenant was to be revoked.
  • The sitting Parliament was to set a date for its own termination. Thereafter, biennial Parliaments were to be called (i.e. every two years), which would sit for a minimum of 120 days and maximum of 240 days.
  • Parliamentary constituencies were to be reorganised.
  • A Council of State would be established to conduct foreign policy. It would need Parliament's approval to make war or seek peace.
  • Parliament was to control the appointment of state officials and officers in the army and navy for ten years.
  • No Royalists were to hold office, or stand for election, for at least five years.

Although the Army proposals were more lenient than the terms offered in Parliament's Newcastle Propositions, the King regarded them as too restrictive and rejected them outright. During the negotiations, Ireton and Cromwell lost the support of the Army radicals, who were disappointed that the proposals made no concessions to Leveller demands for a wider franchise, and who criticised the Grandees' "servility" in their dealings with the King. Meanwhile, Charles continued his attempts to play off the Army and Parliament against one another. He also began secretly negotiating with a faction among the Scots, which was to lead to the Second Civil War in 1648.

At the Putney Debates (October-November 1647), where the Army Council discussed a new constitution for England, Ireton promoted the Heads of the Proposals as a moderate alternative to the Leveller-inspired Agreement of the People. Six years later, elements of Ireton's proposals were incorporated into the Instrument of Government — the written constitution that defined Cromwell's powers as Lord Protector. The religious settlement proposed by Ireton in 1647 was virtually identical to that finally adopted in the Toleration Act of 1689.


S.R. Gardiner, History of the Great Civil War vol. iii (London 1889)

Ian J. Gentles, Henry Ireton, Oxford DNB 2004

David Underdown, Pride's Purge (Oxford 1971)


Full text of the Heads of the Proposals www.constitution.org