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Pride's Purge

Pride’s Purge
Part of Second English Civil War
Colonel Thomas Pride refusing admission to the Presbyterian members of the Long Parliament.
Colonel Pride refusing admission to the Presbyterian members of the Long Parliament. (Engraving, c. 1652)
Planned by The Grandees of the New Model Army
Objective Forcibly remove from the Long Parliament all those who were not supporters of the Grandees in the New Model Army and the Independents.
Date 6 December 1648 (1648-12-06)
Outcome Establishment of the Rump Parliament

Pride’s Purge was an event that took place in December 1648, during the Second English Civil War, when troops under the command of Colonel Thomas Pride forcibly removed from the Long Parliament all those who were not supporters of the Grandees in the New Model Army and the Independents. It is arguably the only military coup d'état in English history.


  • Background 1
  • The Purge 2
  • Aftermath 3
  • Notes 4
  • References 5
  • Further reading 6


In 1648, King Charles I was in captivity at Carisbrooke Castle and the first stage of the English Civil War was over. The Long Parliament issued a set of demands for the future government of the Kingdom and sent commissioners to negotiate with the King over the terms of the putative Treaty of Newport. The leaders of the New Model Army had previously tried to negotiate with the King themselves in 1647, shortly after the end of the first civil war in 1646. Its leaders, the "grandees", were sorely disappointed when Charles stalled these negotiations by quite clearly attempting to play different factions in the Parliamentary alliance off against others. He eventually escaped captivity, leading to the second civil war that raged between 1647 and 1649. By the time Charles was recaptured, most of the army leaders were convinced that they could no longer trust him. So the army sent in a remonstrance on 20 November 1648, which was rejected by 125 votes to 58 in the House of Commons on 1 December. When the Commissioners returned with the King's answers, which were far short of what was hoped, the House of Commons eventually declared them acceptable by 129 votes to 83 early in the morning of 5 December 1648 (though this was technically a vote on whether the vote should be called).

The Purge

On Wednesday 6 December Colonel Pride’s Regiment of Foot took up position on the stairs leading to the House, while Nathaniel Rich’s Regiment of Horse provided backup. Pride himself stood at the top of the stairs.[1] As MPs arrived, he checked them against the list provided to him; Lord Grey of Groby helped to identify those to be arrested and those to be prevented from entering.[2] The purge was not over in one day, and a military watch was kept on the entrance until 12 December. By then 45 members had been imprisoned of which 25 were released before Christmas. It is not known exactly how many were excluded as many, once they heard of the purge, voluntarily stayed away, either because they feared they would be arrested but more usually as a sign of protest. Pre-purge the number of members who were still eligible to sit in the house was 507 but 18 seats were vacant and a further 18 members had not sat for a long time which meant that there were 471 active members. After the purge just over 200 members sat in what would become known as the Rump Parliament.[3][4] Of the 200, 86 absented themselves voluntarily, 83 were allowed back in Parliament after formally dissenting from the decision to accept the King's proposals, and 71 were supporters of the army from the outset (see List of MPs not excluded from the English parliament in 1648).

The imprisoned members were taken first to the Queen’s Court within the Palace of Westminster, and then to a nearby public house. There were three public houses next to the Palace in 1648, called Heaven, Purgatory, and Hell. The imprisoned members were taken to Hell where they spent the night. On the next day they were moved to two inns in the Strand. By 12 December the first of the imprisoned members was allowed home; many more were released on 20 December.[3]

The Rump now had a majority that would establish a Republic. Any doubts the remaining members may have had over the wisdom of this course were suppressed by the presence of the Army in great numbers. On 4 January 1649 an Ordinance was passed to try the King for treason; the House of Lords rejected it. The House of Commons then passed an ‘Act’ by itself for the same purpose, and the King was beheaded on 30 January. On 6 February the House of Lords was abolished; the monarchy went the same way on 7 February, and a Council of State established on 14 February. Between the purge and the King's trial and execution only about 70 attended the Commons and attendance in the Lords rarely reached a dozen.[3]


Pride’s Purge was reversed on 21 February 1660 when all the surviving barred members were restored to the Long Parliament which, as law required, voted for its own dissolution. It was followed by the Convention Parliament (1660) which proclaimed Charles II king and restored the monarchy.

Pride's Purge was arguably the most significant political event of the English Civil War, directly leading to the execution of Charles I and thus a permanent end to hostilities between the King and Parliament. Historians argue over the extent to which this was an independent action by Pride's regiment. Army chief Sir Thomas Fairfax and his second in command, Lieutenant-General Oliver Cromwell, stayed aloof from the proceedings. But Cromwell's swift journey to London from Pontefract on the day of the purge implies that he may have been involved in its planning. He most certainly benefited from and supported the outcome of the purge after it had taken place.


  1. ^ Firth 1898, p. 349.
  2. ^ Bradley 1890, p. 206.
  3. ^ a b c Woolrych 2004, p. 428.
  4. ^ "The indispensable work on the Purge and the number of members affected by it is Underdown, Pride's Purge. Equally essential on the Rump and its membership is Blair Worden, The Rump Parliament (Cambridge, 1974), esp. Appendix A, pp. 387-91; on pp. 391-2 he convincingly revises Underdown's estimate of the number of members physically excluded by the army (Woolrych 2004, p. 428)."


  •  Bradley, Emily Tennyson (1890). "Grey, Thomas (1623?-1657)". In  
  •  Firth, Charles Harding (1898). "Pride, Thomas". In  
  • Woolrych, Austin (2004). Britain in Revolution: 1625-1660 (illustrated, reprint ed.). Oxford University Press. p. 428.  

Further reading

  • Pride’s Purge: Politics in the Puritan Revolution by David Underdown ISBN 0-04-822045-0
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