King Charles I of England Moves To Arrest The Five Members

Charles I in Three Positions by van Dyck, 1635–36.

Today on January 4, 1642, King Charles I marches into the English House of Commons with his armed soldiers to arrest the five members for treason.

The Five Members were elected parliamentarians who conspired against the autocratic King Charles I of England. The Five Members included John Hampton, Arthur Haselrig, Denzil Holles, John Pym and William Strode. King Charles believed the group had recently supported the Scots during the Bishops’ War. He also was convinced they were actively encouraging London’s mob to start rebelling against him. Finally, several rumors had reached court suggesting Charles’ wife, Queen Henrietta Maria, was allegedly involved in Catholic plots of rebellion. The King could take no more and moved to arrest the members on charges of treason.

Upon entering the House of Commons, Charles moved across the floor and boldly sat in the Speaker’s chair. After surveying the room, he famously commented, “I see the birds have flown,” referring to the conspirator's absence. He then questioned the Speaker of the House, William Lenthall, on the whereabouts of the Five Members. The King’s unprecedented action was the catalyze the long and bloody English Civil War. After failing to capture the conspirators, Charles and his family moved from London to Oxford for safety reasons. Several loyalist politicians and members of the royal court joined their king. Under Oliver Cromwell, the parliamentarians won the English Civil War and executed King Charles on January 30, 1649.

To this day, the British monarchy is still forbidden to enter the House of Commons because of Charles. The sovereign now sits on the throne in the House of Lords and can only address the Commons via a messenger. The Commons initially denies access to the monarch's messenger at the annual State Opening of Parliament. As he or she approaches, the guard will symbolically slam the door in their face. The messenger then bangs on the door three times before being granted access. This ceremony reinforces that the Commons is independent of the monarchy and will not be influenced or subjected to any external forces.

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