Five Members

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Lenthall kneels to Charles during the attempted arrest of the Five Members, painting by Charles West Cope in the Houses of Parliament

The Five Members were those five Members of Parliament whom King Charles I (1625–1649) attempted to arrest when he, accompanied by armed soldiers, entered the House of Commons of England on 4 January 1642, during the sitting of the Long Parliament:


Main article: Long Parliament

The King believed that Puritans, (or Dissenters), encouraged by five vociferous Members of the House of Commons, known thereafter as the Five Members – John Pym, John Hampden, Denzil Holles, Arthur Haselrig and William Strode and – together with the peer Edward Montagu, Viscount Mandeville (the future Earl of Manchester), had encouraged the Scots to invade England in the recent Bishops' Wars, and that they were intent on turning the London mob against him. When rumours reached the court that they were also planning to impeach the Queen for alleged involvement in Catholic plots, Charles decided to arrest them for treason. The counterclaim was that the King had an Irish army set to reduce the kingdom.[citation needed]

The Speaker of the House during the Long Parliament was William Lenthall. On Tuesday, 4 January 1642, the King entered the House of Commons to seize the Five Members, and sat in the speaker's chair. Not seeing the Five Members and commenting "I see the birds have flown", the King then turned to Lenthall, who stood below, and demanded of him whether any of those persons were in the House, whether he saw any of them and where they were. Lenthall fell on his knees and replied: "May it please your Majesty, I have neither eyes to see nor tongue to speak in this place but as the House is pleased to direct me, whose servant I am here". By the time he consented to appear as a witness against the regicide Thomas Scot, Lenthall seems to have forgotten the resolve he possessed whilst Speaker.[citation needed]


The action of the king was the catalyst for the Civil War, the beheading of the king, and the rule of Oliver Cromwell. After his failure to capture the Five Members and fearing for his family's lives, King Charles left London for Oxford. Most of the royalist members of Parliament joined him there, where they formed the Oxford Parliament. The Long Parliament continued to sit during and beyond the Civil War without its royalist members, because of the Dissolution Act.[citation needed]

Annual commemoration[edit]

At the State Opening of Parliament by the British monarch each year, the sovereign sits on the throne in the House of Lords and sends their messenger Black Rod to summons the Members of the House of Commons to attend them. At his approach the doors to the Commons Chamber are slammed in his face. He bangs forcefully with the end of his ceremonial staff three times on the closed doors which are then opened to him. This is a show of the refusal by the Commons ever again to be entered by force by the monarch or one of their servants when the House is sitting.[citation needed]