Towards the second Civil War (May 1646 – January 1649)

General Thomas Fairfax, commander of the New Model Army, was due to chair the Putney Debates in 1647 but ill-health prevented him from doing so. Instead, Lieutenant-General Oliver Cromwell took his place.

After a long series of battles, Charles I and his Royalist forces were finally beaten in 1646 and the King held prisoner. Yet at that stage most hoped for negotiations with the monarch in which he would agree to political and religious change and return to the throne as the head of the country. While Charles was held prisoner different political and religious factions of Parliamentary supporters jostled for their opposing views to prevail.

The army of King Charles was defeated at Stow-in-the-Wold in Gloucestershire in March 1646. In the following months the King attempted to form an axis across the towns of the Midlands, from Oxford to Leicester, and Newark-on-Trent in Nottinghamshire, where he had greatest support. Charles then attempted a treaty with the Scots. He therefore travelled in disguise to Newark, which the Scottish army was besieging. They were therefore astonished when the King arrived at their camp at Southwell in May 1646. He was put under house arrest by the commanding officer.

Charles agreed to the surrender of Newark and the Scots marched north with him to Newcastle, which was under their control. The Scots made a number of demands of Charles, including that the Presbyterian Church be recognised in Scotland. That was an issue to which Charles would never agree. Nevertheless, he was aware that the fact he was being held by the Scots was creating a rift between them and their English Parliamentary allies and he therefore delayed his answer to their demands. At the same time he was secretly negotiating with the French for military help, while the Scots were negotiating with the English Parliament, which in January 1647 finally agreed to pay them £400,000 for the King and he was held in Northamptonshire. Charles quipped that the Scots had sold him too cheaply.

Some people in London had more radical opinions than some of the MPs in Parliament and a group headed by John Lilburne, John Bastwick, and William Prynne became known as Levellers, an early version of what would in later centuries be called ‘socialists’ or ‘democrats’. Although there was no single issue that united them they were generally republicans. Their demands were for reform of Parliament and an end to corruption; Parliamentary seats distributed according to the number of inhabitants rather than ownership of property; annual elections; a greater degree of democracy with a broader suffrage for the population; religious tolerance; and for the legal process to be undertaken in plain English. Their belief was that “all degrees of men should be levelled and an equality should be established” and hence the term ‘Leveller’.

There was also strong support for the views of the Levellers within Parliament’s New Model Army, with many in its ranks worried that their leaders were abandoning the rights and liberties for which they had fought so hard. However, as the threat of a Royalist victory in the war receded, and particularly after the King’s defeat at the Battle of Naseby in 1645, the influence of the more radical elements declined. The moderates who came to dominate in London had no interest in additional political change than had already been achieved, although they looked for further Puritan reform of religious institutions. They were generally content with the newly-won parliamentary liberties, as well as the reduction of the power of London’s mayor and aldermen, with the ascendancy of the more representative Common Council, that had been achieved in 1642. In fact, a restored monarchy, in their view, could protect them from the extremists.

Those who had previously been London’s revolutionaries, seeking political change and religious freedom, were by 1646 heading London’s government, but then attempted to establish political order and quash further radicalisation and religious freedom. Many were Presbyterian activists, while other Independent Protestant factions such as Anabaptists and Brownists, were side-lined. The City’s political leadership was gradually purged of the more politically and religious radical individuals. London’s political leaders sought to impose control by suppressing dissent and pressing for negotiation with the King.