11th March 1656. The Other House.
In March 1649 the House of Commons enacted to abolish the Lords as it was said: ‘The House of Lords is useless and dangerous to the people of England’.
During the rule of the puritanical Major Generals and at the time of the Second Protectorate Parliament there was a growing opinion that another chamber was needed as a check on the House of Commons.
It was during a debate over The Humble Petition and Advice, that Lord Protector, Oliver Cromwell realised the value of an Upper Chamber, as he was finding the Lower House increasingly difficult to control, particularly over the Naylor Case when Quaker, John Naylor was charged and imprisoned for Blasphemy.(1)
So in a volte face Today in 1656 the House of Commons passed a bill creating a second Chamber of up to 70 Members nominated for life by the Lord Protector with a quorum of 21.
Cromwell had pushed for a second chamber in John Thurloe’s words, ‘as it would be a great security and bulwark to the Commons’ interest’.(2)
Judges of the Upper Bench (not King’s Bench), were to be summoned as Assistants, but there was no great rush to become members, with George Eure (7th Baron), the only peer to sit in the new chamber.
However when Parliament reconvened in January 1658, republicans in the Commons tried to kill off the second chamber even before a name had been decided, ‘Lords’ or ‘The Other House’. Cromwell sensing arguments would encourage the Royalists dissolved parliament the next month.(3)
On Oliver’s death in May, the now 3rd Protectorate, under his son Richard, the new Lord Protector, the Upper Chamber was regarded with suspicion as being closet Presbyterians and Royalists, so it was dissolved never to reconvene until the Restoration of the monarchy.(4)
After the Restoration in 166o, the Lords Temporal were restored in the newly constituted House of Lords, with the Lords Spiritual quickly following.(5)
One wonders in a way what was the point of the English Civil War as the monarch and the old parliamentary institutions were restored.
In this secular age there are still bishops in the Lords and over 90 hereditary peers. What Cromwell did however was to ensure the primacy of a parliament against the dictatorial notion of a Divine Right of Kings, and even reform of the Lords in 2017 is on the agenda.
(1) James Naylor (1616-1660) was an English Quaker who in October 1656 enacted Jesus’ ride into Jerusalem, through Bristol.
He was imprisoned and charged with Blasphemy before the 2nd Protectorate Parliament and branded with a ‘B’, narrowly escaped execution and condemned to serve 2 years hard labour.
(2) Thurloe was Secretary of State in Cromwell’s Protectorate as well as Spymaster.
(3) Reconvened on 20th January 1658. 4th February 1658 it was dissolved.
(4) Third Protectorate 27.1.1659-22.4.1659.
(5) The Clergy Act 1861 repealed the 1640 Act which had prohibited those in Holy Orders from temporal jurisdiction authority.