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 John Pym

John Pym

Birth
Somerset, England
Death 8 Dec 1643 (aged 59)
London, City of London, Greater London, England
Burial Westminster, City of Westminster, Greater London, England
Memorial ID 13048 · View Source
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Pym was the eldest son of Alexander Pym of Brymore, Somerset, who died when John was a child; his mother married Sir Anthony Rous, a client of the Russells, the earls of Bedford. Pym was educated at the University of Oxford, but took no degree, and at the Middle Temple, but was not called to the bar. Through Bedford influence he became a local official of the Exchequer. From 1621 to his death Pym sat in every Parliament, usually for the Russell borough of Tavistock. He soon made a name as an enemy of popery and Arminianism (high-church Anglicanism) in high places, and as a sound financier, an expert on colonial affairs, and a good committeeman. He was no extremist, however, but a loyal subject anxious to maintain good relations between crown and Parliament. From 1630 Pym was treasurer of the Providence Island Company, which sought to open trade with Spanish America--peacefully, if possible, by force, if not. From 1629 to 1640, during which period the king chose to rule without Parliament, this company brought together the men, mostly Puritans, who were to lead the Parliamentary party in the 1640s. Opposition to Charles's tax of "ship money" to support the Royal Navy (a tax without parliamentary approval) was organized by adventurers of the company; in August 1640 the petition of 12 peers demanding a Parliament was drafted by Pym and another adventurer. When the Long Parliament met in November 1640, Pym headed what has been called the middle group, whose central position allowed it to dominate the House of Commons. His policy was that of his patron, the Earl of Bedford: to force the king to accept a government in which Parliament, representing the wealth of the country, had confidence. Their main obstacle was Charles's toughest adviser, Thomas Wentworth, 1st Earl of Strafford, who was executed as a traitor in May 1641. It was difficult to prove a man deep in the king's confidence a traitor, but Pym argued that "to endeavor the subversion of the laws of this kingdom was treason of the highest nature." Thus, by implication, even a king was capable of committing treason: here was the germ of the charge on which Charles was to be executed in 1649. There were great popular demonstrations in London calling for Strafford's execution, and Pym was accused of fomenting them. Pym forced Charles to accept an act forbidding the dissolution of Parliament without its consent. This was followed by acts abolishing the whole apparatus of personal government and finance. On paper Charles had accepted that he must rule through Parliament, but he had no real intention of accepting this, and he had to be coerced. The main issue became control of the armed forces. When rebellion broke out in Ireland (October 1641), all agreed that it must be crushed; but Parliament rightly feared a military coup if the king were given command of the army. The House of Commons said it would act in Ireland without the king unless Charles changed his ministers. This virtual declaration of revolution was reinforced by the Grand Remonstrance, listing the grievances of the kingdom as Pym's group saw them and demanding ministers trusted by Parliament and an Assembly of Divines nominated by Parliament to reform the church. This Remonstrance, carried by 159 votes to 148, was printed and circulated to rally support outside Parliament; its opponents henceforth formed a Royalist party. Pym was one of five members of Parliament whom Charles tried to arrest in January 1642. They took refuge in the City of London, from which they returned in triumph when the king quitted London. Before and during the Civil Wars, Pym's political philosophy was summed up in the phrase "I know how to add sovereign to [the king's] person, but not to his power." He believed that the king reigned but did not rule alone: power should be balanced between him and Parliament. "To have printed liberties," Pym once said, "and not to have liberties in truth and realities, is but to mock the kingdom." Pym never seems to have contemplated abolishing the monarchy, and he was certainly no democrat; but he used popular pressure to achieve his ends. When war started, he set about creating an army, the machinery to administer it, and the excise and assessment (later the land tax) to pay for it. His City connections helped him to raise loans. He created the network of committees at Westminster and in the counties that ran the country for the next 17 years. When military stalemate threatened, Pym called in Scottish assistance even at the price of concessions to Presbyterianism that went further than he wished. Ever pragmatic, when the House of Lords made difficulties, he told them that the Commons could run the country alone. Assessment Pym was a sonorously eloquent speaker, arguing each particular issue from first principles without ever being doctrinaire. His skill as a parliamentary tactician was unrivaled. He balanced between radicals--some of whom were republicans--and the peace party, which was so frightened of social upheaval that it would have accepted almost any terms from the king. Pym preserved the unity of Parliament for three years with no party organization, no discipline, no whips. This great achievement wore him out, and when he died, no one could replace him; Parliament's supporters split into wrangling groups. But by then Pym had laid the basis for victory and had sketched the shape of the England that was to survive the 17th century. He was Puritan opposed equally to Roman Catholicism and to Arminianism in the Anglican church, Pym early became prominent in the parliamentary opposition to Charles I. He organized the impeachment (1626) of George Villiers, 1st duke of Buckingham, and the passage (1628) of the Petition of Right. In the 11-year interval between Parliaments (1629ö40), he supported the colonizing ventures of the Providence Island Company in the West Indies. Pym was the unquestioned leader of the House of Commons in the events leading up to the English civil war. His long speech in the Short Parliament (1640) listing popular grievances resulted in the dissolution of that Parliament. Resuming the attack in the Long Parliament (1640), he initiated the prosecution of Thomas Wentworth, earl of Strafford, and of Archbishop Laud; urged the abolition of the courts of high commission and the Star Chamber; proposed the abolition of episcopacy; and played a major role in drafting the Grand Remonstrance (1641). Pym was one of the five members of Commons whom Charles tried to remove (1642) by military arrest. After the outbreak (1642) of the civil war, Pym organized various taxation reforms for Parliament and imposed the first English excise duties. His last important act was the arrangement of an alliance with the Scots, based on English acceptance of the Solemn League and Covenant (1643) Covenanters in Scottish history, where groups of Presbyterians bound by oath to sustain each other in the defense of their religion. The first formal Covenant was signed in 1557, signaling the beginning of the Protestant effort to seize power in Scotland. It was renewed thereafter at times of crisis, most notably in the 17th cent. The National Covenant of 1638 aimed to unite the Scots in opposition to the Episcopal innovations of King Charles I and William Laud, especially the adaptation for Scottish use of the English Book of Common Prayer. The Covenanters successfully resisted the king's armies in the Bishops Wars (1639ö40). In the English civil war they supported the parliamentary party only after the English Parliament had accepted (1643) the Solemn League and Covenant, which provided for the eventual establishment of a Presbyterian state church in England and Ireland as well as in Scotland. After the first civil war, however, the Independents in the English army secured control of affairs and prevented implementation of the Covenant. The Scots, therefore, concluded the agreement known as the "Engagement" with Charles I, by which the king agreed to establish Presbyterianism in England if restored to the throne. As a result, the Covenanters fought for Charles I in the second civil war (1648) and, after his execution (1649), they fought for Charles II, who also subscribed (1650) to the Solemn League and Covenant. They were subdued, however, by Oliver Cromwell's conquest of Scotland (1650ö51). After the Restoration (1660), Charles II resumed his father's effort to impose episcopacy in Scotland. The Covenanters were subjected to alternate attempts to conciliate them and to hunt them down. The result was a series of new compacts of resistance among them and new attempts to suppress them. A rebellion in 1679, which culminated in a rout at Bothwell Bridge, was met with harsh repression, as was the resistance of Richard Cameron and his followers, who issued the Sanquhar Declaration in 1680. The troubles ended with the Glorious Revolution of 1688, which restored the Presbyterian Church in Scotland. Bibliography C.E. Wade, John Pym (1912, reprinted 1971); S. Reed Brett, John Pym, 1583-1643: The Statesman of the Puritan Revolution (1940) J.H. Hexter, The Reign of King Pym (1941, reissued 1975). (Bio by M. Pymm)


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  • Maintained by: Find A Grave
  • Added: 18 Oct 2000
  • Find A Grave Memorial 13048
  • Find A Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed ), memorial page for John Pym (c.20 May 1584–8 Dec 1643), Find A Grave Memorial no. 13048, citing St Margaret Churchyard, Westminster, City of Westminster, Greater London, England ; Maintained by Find A Grave .