John Pym

John Pym (20 May 1584 – 8 December 1643)[1] was an English parliamentarian, leader of the Long Parliament and a prominent critic of Kings James I and then Charles I. He was one of the Five Members whose attempted arrest by King Charles I in the House of Commons of England in 1642 sparked the English Civil War. In addition to this Pym went ahead and started to accuse William Laud (the king's adviser) of trying to convert England back to Catholicism.

Early life and education

Pym was born in Brymore, Cannington, Somerset,[2] into minor nobility. His father died when he was very young and his mother remarried, to Sir Anthony Rous. Pym was educated in law at Broadgates Hall (now Pembroke College, Oxford) in 1599 and went on to the Middle Temple in 1602.[3] In May 1614, he married Anne Hooke of Bramshott in Hampshire, aunt of the scientist Robert Hooke and daughter of John Hooke and Anthony Rous's sister Barbara, who bore five of his children.[4] This marriage established Pym as a member of the Rous circle, which in turn influenced the development of his strong Puritanism and fierce opposition to Catholicism and Arminianism.[5]

Political life

He entered politics through the influence of the Earl of Bedford, working for the Exchequer in Wiltshire before entering Parliament for Calne, Wiltshire in 1614.[6] Despite his Puritanism he gained a good reputation in Parliament, although he was relentless in his campaigning against Roman Catholics. After the dissolution of Parliament in 1621 he was one of those placed under house-arrest in January 1622. In 1624 he changed his seat, representing Tavistock, Devon, for the rest of his career.[7]

In 1626 he was one of the main movers of the attempted impeachment of George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham, an action that led to the dissolution of that Parliament.[4] He also supported Edward Coke who presented the Petition of Right to Charles in 1628.[7] At the 1628 parliament, Pym led the charge against Roger Maynwaring and Robert Sibthorpe, two clergymen who had published sermons at the behest of Charles I in which they argued in favor of the divine right of kings and passive obedience.[8] Pym believed that Maynwaring and Sibthorpe's sermons were part of an attempt to introduce absolute monarchy in England and he therefore had them censured for preaching against the established English constitution. Charles I later granted Maynwaring and Sibthorpe royal pardons and signaled his support by naming Sibthorpe a royal chaplain.

In the interval between Parliaments he was treasurer of the Providence Island Company from 1630, linking him to a small, intense group of Puritan opponents to the King.[9]

In the Short Parliament of 13 April to 4 May 1640 he made one of the speeches that led to its dissolution and "appeared to be the most leading man" according to Clarendon. What would become the Long Parliament first met in November 1640—Pym had avoided an accusation of treason and rose to leader of the opposition to the king.[10]

He was notable in defending the powers of Parliament; he initiated the legal attacks on the Earl of Strafford and William Laud,[3] and attacked the operation of the Star Chamber. It is probable that he even used popular supporters to stage riots, attempting to prevent the House of Lords from vetoing the abolition of episcopacy. When control of the army became an issue, concerning the Irish Rebellion from September to October 1641, Pym directed the house's defiance and helped draft the Grand Remonstrance of grievances presented to the King on 1 December 1641. However, many moderate Members of Parliament were alienated by the radical momentum, led by the Puritan opposition to Charles I.[11]

Thus Pym lost the unity of the House of Commons, which had allowed him to oppose the King from a firm platform; previously the King had had to agree to demands because he could not raise an army alone to fight the Irish rebels. Pym was one of Five Members sought for arrest when the King entered the House of Commons on 5 January 1642 but, forewarned, they had already fled, to return to some acclamation a week later.[11] This shows how great an emphasis Charles placed on Pym's leadership of the Puritan opposition group and how closely he was identified with the Parliamentary cause.

English Civil War

When the English Civil War began in 1642, Pym became involved in solving the financial problems of the Parliamentary side, heading the Committee of Safety from 4 July 1642. He was a key organizer of the loans and taxes that Parliament needed to fund its army and fight the King, and he negotiated the Solemn League and Covenant that gained the support of Scottish Presbyterians.[3] These two things laid firm foundations for Parliament's success in 1645–6 because it now had financial and military resources far beyond those of the Royalists. Pym died, probably of cancer, at Derby House on 8 December 1643 and was buried in Westminster Abbey. Following the Restoration of 1660 his remains were exhumed, despoiled and finally re-buried in a common pit.[1]


  1. "John Pym". Westminster Abbey. Retrieved 17 November 2015.
  2. Harvey, Dave. "West: Great Westerner, John Pym". BBC. Retrieved 10 November 2015.
  3. "PYM, John (1584-1643), of Westminster, Brymore, Som., Whitchurch and Wherwell, Hants; later of Holborn, Mdx. and Fawsley, Northants". History of Parliament. The History of Parliament Trust. Retrieved 10 November 2015.
  4. Plant, David. "John Pym, 1584-1643". BCW Project. Retrieved 17 November 2015.
  5. Russell, Conrad (1990). Unrevolutionary England, 1603-1642. Bloomsbury. p. 221. ISBN 9780826425669.
  6. "John Pym". British Civil Wars Project. Retrieved 25 March 2018.
  7. "PYM, John (1584-1643), of Westminster, Brymore, Som., Whitchurch and Wherwell, Hants; later of Holborn, Mdx. and Fawsley, Northants". History of Parliament. The History of Parliament Trust. Retrieved 17 November 2015.
  8. Little, Patrick (2008). Oliver Cromwell: New Perspectives. Palgrave Macmillan. p. 33. ISBN 9781137018854.
  9. Keats-Rohan, K. S. B. (2007). Prosopography Approaches and Applications: A Handbook. Occasional Publications UPR. p. 531. ISBN 9781900934121.
  10. Jessup, Frank W. (2013). Background to the English Civil War: The Commonwealth and International Library: History Division. Elsevier. p. 25. ISBN 9781483181073.
  11. "The breakdown of 1641-2". Parliament UK. Retrieved 17 November 2015.

Further reading

  • Glow, Lotte. "Pym and Parliament: The Methods of Moderation." Journal of Modern History 36.4 (1964): 373-397. online
  • Hexter, Jack H. The Reign of King Pym (Harvard UP, 1941).
  • MacDonald, William W. "John Pym: Parliamentarian." Historical Magazine of the Protestant Episcopal Church 38.1 (1969): 37-49. online
  • MacDonald, William W. The making of an English revolutionary: the early parliamentary career of John Pym (Fairleigh Dickinson UP, 1982).
  • Russell, Conrad. "Pym, John (1584–1643)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2009) accessed 21 Aug 2017 doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/22926
  • Scott, David. "The Outbreak of the English Civil War: August 1642–September 1643." in David Scott ed., Politics and War in the Three Stuart Kingdoms, 1637–49 (Macmillan Education UK, 2004) pp. 37-67.
Parliament of England
Preceded by
Sir Edward Carey
Richard Lowe
Member of Parliament for Calne
With: John Duckett
Succeeded by
John Duckett
Sir Edward Howard
Preceded by
(Sir) Francis Glanville
Sir Baptist Hicks, Bt
Member of Parliament for Tavistock
With: Sampson Hele (1624–1625)
Sir Francis Glanville (1625)
Sir John Ratcliffe (1625–1626)
Sir Francis Glanville (1628–1629)
Succeeded by
Parliament suspended until 1640
Preceded by
Parliament suspended since 1629
Member of Parliament for Tavistock
With: Lord Russell
Hon. John Russell
Succeeded by
Elisha Crimes
Edward Fowell
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