Protestation of 1641

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The Protestation was an attempt to avert the English Civil War. In July 1641 Parliament passed a bill authored on 3 May,[1] requiring those over the age of 18 to sign the Protestation, an oath of allegiance to King Charles I and the Church of England. No one could hold a Church or state office without signing.

The speaker of the House of Commons sent a letter to sheriffs of each county. They and the Justices of the Peace had to take the Protestation. From there, each parish incumbent was to read the Protestation in church to his parishioners and have each one sign. This took place during February and March 1642, after which the returns were sent to Parliament. Those among the population who could not write marked a cross against their names. Those who did not wish to have their names used in support were also listed in the Protestation.

Background[edit]

Religiously, the 16th and 17th centuries were period of vast changes and religious conflicts. Officially starting in 1517, the Protestant Reformation of Martin Luther led to shock waves across Europe in political, religious, and cultural terms. It reached the British Isles during the reign of Henry VIII and successive acts of Parliament that ultimately led to the Break from Rome in 1534 as the Act of Supremacy was passed. Most of the Englishmen, however, remained Catholic and conflicts and anxiety lingered. In 1641, amid fears of the Protestant Reformation being in danger, alleged Papist plots, and Catholic influence under the court of Charles I, the House of Commons was in the Long Parliament was ordered by royal decree to prepare a national declaration. In fact, the Protestations were the first of three oaths of allegiance imposed by the Long Parliament between May 1641 and September 1643, being followed by Vow and Covenant and Solemn League and Covenant.

In political terms, discontentment among Protestants for Archbishop's of Canterbury measures that intended to transform the Church of England into a more ceremonial one and its theological basis of Arminianism were evident. Added to that, Charles I's marriage to the Catholic Marian Henrietta, failures in the Thirty Years Wars, and the imposition of new taxes not authorized by Parliament, such as the Ship Tax, and diminished Charles I support among main lords and important sectors of his realm. However, with the start of revolts in Ireland and Scotland, Charles I had to end his Personal Rule and call Parliament to increase taxes so he could raise an army to put down these revolts. The House of Commons and the House of Lords instead, led by John Pym, focused on protesting against the government and were quickly dissolved by Charles as an attack against the King, being known as the Short Parliament. Charles decided to go on the offense against the Scottish revolt and recalled the Earl of Strafford from Ireland, where he had successfully managed to convince the Catholic gentry to pay taxes in exchange of future religious benefits, increasing the revenue of Charles I, to lead his forces against the Scots. However, upon Strafford's failures in the battlefield, Charles' economic shortcomings from paying both English and Scottish armies as he was the King of both, and the fact that he was already paying large sums of pounds to stop the Scottish from advancing further into Northern England, Charles followed the advice of his Magnum Concillium, the House of Lords when the Parliament was not in section, and recalled Parliament. This Parliament would become known as the Long Parliament, as it met for twenty years between 1640 and 1660.

The Long Parliament, however, would turn out to be much harsher against Charles I's interests than the Short Parliament, and with Pym's leadership it began to vote on laws that would limit royal power in terms such as Parliament convening at every three years, even without a royal summons, a prohibition on taxation without Parliamentary consent, the control of Parliament over the King's ministers, and an act that prohibited Parliament from being dissolved by the King, even if it had been meeting for over three years. Even though the Members of Parliament were strongly opposed to Charles I, they also attempted to enact legislation to reduce tensions and avert the likelihood that an armed conflict between the King and Parliament, which was called the Protestations, which were the first of three attempts to make all adult males sign an Oath of Allegiance to Charles I and prevent that the conflicts between both factions turned into a civil war.

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