1647 – A year of tumultuous and unstable ‘peace’

1647 was the first year of peace after Parliament’s victory in the First Civil War. Rather than a return to pre-war normality, the year brought more instability as the lives of the British and Irish peoples were turned upside down.

The year began when the defeated King was ‘sold’ to the Westminster Parliament by his Scots captors and ended with an imprisoned Charles I signing a secret treaty with the Scots which would have imposed Presbyterianism on England.

It was also a year in which Parliament unsuccessfully attempted to disband the victorious New Model Army.  In February 1647, Cromwell suffered an illness that kept him out of political life for over a month and by the time he recovered, a majority of both Houses of Parliament pushed for a settlement that would pay off the Scottish army, disband much of the New Model Army, and restore Charles I in return for a Presbyterian settlement of the church. Cromwell rejected the Scottish model of Presbyterianism, which threatened to replace one authoritarian hierarchy with another. The New Model Army, radicalised by Parliament’s failure to pay the wages it was owed, petitioned against these changes, but the Commons declared the petition unlawful.

In response, factions within the Army demanded the settlement of their grievances. Inspired by John Lilburne and the Levellers, the soldiers demanded new political and religious rights, leading to tense debates in Putney Church during the autumn between Cromwell and Ireton on the one hand, and Levellers like Thomas Rainsborough and John Wildman on the other.

In this programme, part of his series exploring the critical years of the mid-seventeenth century, social historian and author, Dr Jonathan Healey of the University of Oxford, takes us through the dramatic events of the year 1647.

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The World Turned Upside Down
The World Turned Upside Down - The British Civil Wars 1638-1651
1647 - A year of tumultuous and unstable 'peace'
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J Healey

Jonathan Healey

Associate Professor in Social History Kellogg College, University of Oxford

Jonathan Healey works on early-modern social and economic history. As well as being a Fellow of Kellogg, he is an Associate Professor in Social History in the…

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