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JOHN PYM (1584-1643)

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Originally appearing in Volume V22, Page 683 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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JOHN PYM (1584-1643), English statesman, was the son and heir of Alexander Pym, of Brymore, Somersetshire, a member of an ancient family which had held this seat in direct male descent from the time of Henry III. He matriculated as a commoner at Broadgates Hall (now Pembroke College), Oxford, in 1599, and entered the Middle Temple in 1602. He acquired a sound knowledge of the law, and became receiver-general of the king's revenue for Wilts., thus gaining a valuable insight into business and finance. He was returned to parliament as member for Calne in 1614 and again in 1621. Heat once became conspicuous in the struggle between Crown and parliament. To the committee appointed to consider the state of religion he made his first great speech on the 28th of November 1621. He held fast to the Elizabethan principle that the Roman Catholics should be subjected to disabilities, not because of their religion, but because of their politics. He, therefore, moved that a special commission for the suppression of recfisancy should be appointed, and that an association, after the model of those formed under Elizabeth, should be entered into for defence of the king's person and for the execution of the laws concerning religion. Pym supported Sir Edward Coke in the remonstrance on the prevailing discontents, and was a chief promoter of the petition which incurred James's violent displeasure, and of the Commons' answer defending their privileges, which was after-wards torn from the records by the king's own hand. On the dissolution of parliament which immediately followed, Pym, with other "ill-tempered spirits," was arrested in January 1622, and was confined first to his house in London, and then to Brymore. He associated himself with the party of Francis, 4th earl of Bedford, was returned for Tavistock in 1624, and represented this borough in all the ensuing parliaments. Hesupported Eliot in urging war against Spain for the defence of Protestantism and the Palatinate, and showed throughout his career, as far as his attention was ever directed to foreign policy, a steady inclination in favour of France. In the parliament of 1625 he continued his campaign against the Roman Catholics, and drew up with Sir Edwin Sandys the articles against them, and the petition to the king for the direct execution of the penal laws. In the parliament of 1626 he was the chief mover, in April, in the prosecution of Richard Montagu, who had advocated Romish doctrines. On the 8th of May he was manager of Buckingham's impeachment, when it was his special duty to press articles ix., x., xi., relating to the improper distribution of rewards and honours. In the third parliament of Charles I., in 1628, Pym overruled Eliot in deciding that Buckingham's impeachment should now be subordinated to the struggle on general grievances. He zealously pushed on the Petition of Right, resisting on the loth of May the clause added by the Lords to safeguard the king's " sovereign power," declaring that " he knew not what it was." On the 9th of June he carried up to the Lords the impeachment of Roger Manwaring, and delivered a famous speech in which he expounded the fundamental principles which guided his policy. " Histories," he said, " are full of the calamities of whole states and nations . . . . [when] one part seeks to uphold the old form of government and the other part to introduce a new .. . But it is equally true that time must needs bring about some alterations. . Those things only are eternal which are constant and uniform. Therefore it is observed by the best writers on this subject, that those commonwealths have been most durable and perpetual which have often reformed and recompensed them-selves according to their first institution and ordinance." On the 11th of June he joined in the attack upon Buckingham, whom he regarded as the " cause of all these grievances." On the 27th of January 1629 he was reporter of the committee on religion, and declared that convocation was dependent upon parliament. He again, in February 1629, differed from Eliot, who treated the dispute about tonnage and poundage as a point of privilege, declaring that " the liberties of this house are inferior to the liberties of the kingdom," and desiring to deal with it on higher ground as a breach of law and the constitution. He .took no part in the subsequent disturbance in the house, and his name is not mentioned as actively resisting Charles's arbitrary government during the eleven years which followed the dissolution. At this period the state of public affairs may well have appalled the most hopeful and the most patriotic, but there seems no sufficient authority for the belief that Pym, with Hampden and Cromwell, actually embarked for New England and were prevented from sailing by orders from the government. An allusion, however, to a similar plan formed " by some very considerable personages," " diverted by a miraculous providence," is made in a sermon by Thomas Cave in 1642. Pym himself was directly interested in the colonies, being patentee of Connecticut and Providence, and of the latter company also treasurer, and there can be little doubt that like other leaders of the opposition during this period, he regarded America as a possible refuge. On the assembly of the Short Parliament on the 13th of April 164o, Pym was the acknowledged leader. " Whilst men gazed upon each other," says Clarendon (Hist. ii. 68), " looking who should begin (much the greater part having never before sat in parliament), Mr Pym, a man of good reputation . . . who had been as long in these assemblies as any man there living, broke the ice." On the 17th of April he made a great speech of nearly two hours, in which he enumerated the national grievances, deplored almost in the words of Bacon " the interruption of that sweete communion which ought to be betwixt the king and his people in matters of grant and supply," pointed out the practical injury inflicted on commerce and every sort of enter-prise including colonial expansion by illegal and arbitrary taxation, and concluded by asking the Lords to join in finding out causes and remedies. His words made a deep impression. On the 27th of April he resisted the grant of supply, and when the Lords passed a resolution that supply should precede the discussion of grievances, Pym, as manager of the Commons, on the 1st of May, read them a severe lecture on the breach of privilege they had committed. Finally, on the 4th, it was resolved that Pym should next day petition the king to make terms with the Scots, to avoid which Charles summarily dissolved the parliament. All the energies of Pym were now concentrated on obliging Charles to summon another parliament. He was the author of the petition of the twelve peers to the king for redress of grievances and for calling a new parliament, by the wide distribution of which an appeal was made to the nation, and he was the promoter of the petition signed by ro,000 citizens of London. In company with Hampden he rode through the provinces, rousing and organizing public opinion. Meanwhile Charles's attempt to implicate Pym in treasonable communications with the Scots, though there is little doubt that they existed, met with complete failure. Thus, when the king was forced to call the Long Parliament on the 3rd of November, Pym was its acknowledged author and leader. His great work was now, as he conceived it, to save the national liberties and the national religion. Clarendon (Hist. iii. 2) records some " sharp discourse " of Pym with himself at this time, " that they had now an opportunity to make their country happy by removing all grievances and pulling up the causes by the roots, if all men would do their duties." He had seen Vane's notes of Strafford's speeches at the council when he had advised the subduing of " this kingdom " by the Irish army, and on the 7th of November, after declaring to the house the dangerous designs then on foot, Pym moved for a sub-committee to examine into Strafford's conduct in Ireland. The latter's sudden arrival at London on the 9th with the intention of instantly impeaching the popular leaders of treason was met by Pym with corresponding quickness and resolution. On the 11th, after a debate of four hours in the Commons, by his directions with locked doors, he carried up Strafford's impeachment to the Lords, and by this great stroke rendered him at once powerless. On the 16th of December he moved the impeachment of Laud, whom he joined with Strafford as conspiring to subvert the government of the kingdom, and carried up the articles to the Lords on the 26th of February 1641. He was the chief promoter of the case against Strafford, while the attempts of the queen to gain him over were without result, and on the 28th of January 1641 he brought up to the Lords the list of charges. On the 23rd of March he opened the case, when he argued that to attempt to subvert the laws of the kingdom was high treason, and delivered a violent denunciation against the fallen minister, attributing to him systematic cruelty, avarice and corruption. He soon afterwards heard of the army plot, and the necessity of destroying Strafford became more apparent. He now disclosed Vane's notes. To the attainder, which was at this stage resolved upon, he was opposed (since he clung to the more judicial procedure by impeachment), but when overruled he sup-ported it, at the same time procuring that the legal arguments should not be interrupted. He delivered his final speech on the 13th of April, a great oratorical performance, when he again appealed to the Elizabethan political faith and to that of Bacon, who had so severely censured any action which divided the king from the nation. The man who violated this union was guilty of the blackest treason. " Shall it be treason," he asked. " to embase the King's coin though but a piece . . . of sixpence . . . and not to embase the spirits of his subjects; to set a stamp and character of servitude upon them?" Towards the end of his tremendous indictment of Strafford, Pym broke down, fumbled among his papers, and lost the thread of his argument. But his temporary failure did not diminish the force and effect of his words, all the more impressive because actually spoken in the presence of the sovereign. " I believe," wrote Baillie (Letters, i. 348) " the king never heard a lecture of so free language against that his idolized prerogative." Attempts were now once more made to gain over Pym to the administration. He had two interviews with the king, but without result, and Charles again determined to resort to 681 force. On the 2nd of May he endeavoured to get possession of the Tower. On the 3rd the Protestation, on Pym's.motion, was taken by the Commons within closed doors, and afterwards circulated in the country, and on the 5th Pym disclosed the army plot. These incidents decided the struggle and Strafford's fate. The Lords immediately passed the attainder, together with the bill for making parliaments indissoluble without their own consent. Soon afterwards were swept away those institutions of Tudor growth which had become the chief instruments of oppression, the council of the North, the court of high commission, and the star chamber, while the Crown abandoned the claim to levy customs without consent of parliament. Meanwhile Pym had also taken the lead in the religious controversy. During the dispute between the two houses on this question on the 8th and 9th of February 1641, while supporting the London petition for the abolition of the bishops, he had declared his opinion that " it was not the intention of the House to abolish episcopacy or the Book of Common Prayer, but to reform both wherein offence was given to the people." This, no doubt, expressed his real intentions and policy. When, however, it became clear that the bishops were merely the nominees of the king to carry out " innovations in religion " and preach arbitrary government, Pym was easily persuaded to support their abolition, and voted in opposition to the moderate party for the Root and Branch Bill of May 1641, and again for taking away their votes in October. But in his " Vindication," published in March 1643, he especially states that his action with regard to the bishops in " no way concluded me guilty of revolt from the orthodox doctrine of the Church of England." The first act in the great political struggle had ended in the complete triumph of Pym. His chief care now was to defend the parliament from violence, since this was the only method of retaliation left aK the king's disposal. Through the medium of the countess of Carlisle, Charles's plans were regularly disclosed to Pym. In June he heard of the second army plot, and on the 22nd he carried up the ten propositions to the Lords, requesting their concurrence in effecting the disbandment of the armies and the removal of evil counsellors. After Charles's departure for Scotland, Pym served on the committee for defence, appointed on the 14th of August, and was chairman of the committee which sat during the recess from the 9th of September to the loth of October to watch the progress of affairs and communicate with Scotland. On the latter day letters arrived from Hampden, who had accompanied Charles, with news of the " incident," and immediate measures were taken to guard the parliament, by bringing up the train-bands. On the 3oth Pym revealed his knowledge of the second army plot. On the 1st of November came news of the Ulster insurrection, which created a serious difficulty for the parliament, when it was finally declared, at Pym's instance, that if the king did not change his advisers parliament would provide for the needs of Ireland in-dependently. On the 22nd of November Pym made a great speech on the Grand Remonstrance, of which he was the chief promoter, when he referred to plots " very near the king, all driven home to the court and popish party." Charles returned on the 25th. He immediately substituted a force commanded by Dorset for the guard already placed at Westminster, but was compelled to withdraw it, and on Pym's motion the house appointed its own watch. Everything now pointed to the advent of a frightful catastrophe. Charles appointed Lunsford to the Tower, rejected the Grand Remonstrance and the Impressment Bill, and began to assemble an armed force. In consequence Pym urged, but unsuccessfully, on the 3oth of December the summoning of the train-bands to guard the parliament, and moved the impeachment of the bishops, who had declared the proceedings of the parliament to be sinful and illegal. At the critical moment, however, Charles wavered. He renewed his offer to Pym of the exchequer on the 1st of January 1642, and this meeting with a refusal, or again drawing back himself, he determined on the impeachment of the five members on the 3rd of January. The latter had been forewarned of the -king's plans, and when on the 5th he entered the House of Commons with an armed band to seize them, they had removed themselves in safety (see LENTIAL, WILLIAM). Charles's first look on entering was for his great opponent, and he was greatly disconcerted at not finding him in his usual place. To his question "Is Mr Pym here?" there was no answer, and nothing remained but to retreat with his mission completely unachieved. The second act in the great national drama had thus, as the first, ended in a victory for Pym. On the 11th, with the other members, he was escorted in triumph back to Westminster, and while the other four stood uncovered, Pym returned thanks from his place to the citizens. On the 25th of January he delivered a great speech to the Lords on the perils attending the kingdom, and referring to their hesitation on the subject of the militia, declared that he should be sorry that history should have to relate that the House of Peers had had no part in the preservation of the state in the present extremity of danger. The Commons ordered his speech to be printed, and it provided the chief material for the paper war between Charles and the parliament which now followed. Still endeavouring to avoid a complete breach of constitutional forms, Pym caused to be added to the resolution of the Commons on the loth of May 1642, which declared that " the king intends to make war against the parliament," the words " seduced by wicked counsel." When war broke out, Pym remained at headquarters in control of the parliament and executive, and on the 4th of July was appointed to the committee of safety which directed the movements of the parliamentary forces. His attitude was firm but moderate. He opposed the attempt to prevent Colepepper giving the king's message to the house on the 27th of August. On the 2oth of October, upon Charles refusing to accept the petition of the parliament and advancing tavards London, Pym proposed the parliamentary covenant, and that those who refused it should be " cast out of the Hcuse." He succeeded in over-coming the opposition in the city to the heavy taxation now imposed. On the loth of November, after Edgehill, he spoke in support of the negotiations for peace, at the same time warning the citizens that " to have printed liberties and not to have liberty in truth and realities is but to mock the kingdom." In February 1643 he still showed an inclination for peace, and during the negotiation of the treaty at Oxford supported the disbandment of the armies. When it was evident that peace would not be secured, he proposed in order to carry on the war an excise, hitherto unknown in England, which met with the same violent hostility afterwards aroused by Walpole's scheme. In March he published a " Declaration. and Vindication " of his public conduct, in which he threw the whole blame of the appeal to arms on the opposite party, and expressed his fidelity to the Church and constitution. In May he entered, together with the other leaders, into resultless negotiations with the queen, and on the 23rd he took up her impeachment to the Lords. In June he reported on Waller's plot, which exposed the insincerity of Charles's negotiations, and on the 26th of June wrote a " sharp letter " to Essex on his inaction. In July, after the defeat at Adwalton Moor, he prevented the house from again initiating negotiations for peace, which he declared " full of hazard and full of danger," and on the 3rd of August, after having visited Essex at Kingston, persuaded him to separate himself from the peace propositions of the Lords and to march to relieve Gloucester. He thus incurred the hatred of the peace party, and on the 9th of August a mob of women surrounded the house calling for Pym's destruction, and were not dispersed without some bloodshed. Pym had already, on the 3rd of January, proposed to the house an alliance with the Scots, and the Royalist victories now induced parliament to consent to what had before been rejected. The establishment of Presbyterianism was accepted by Pym as a disagreeable necessity, and he was one of the first to take the covenant on the 25th of September. This alliance, which was afterwards destined to have so decisive an influenceon the military campaign, and was the first occasion on which the two nations had united in public action, closes Pym's great career. He was made master of the ordnance on the 8th of November, but died on the 8th of December at Derby House, where he resided. On the 15th of December he received a public funeral in Westminster Abbey, whence his body was ejected at the Restoration. A sum of £io,000 was voted by the parliament to pay Pym's debts and provide for his family. About 1614 Pym married Anne Hooke, or Hooker (d. 1620), by whom he had five children, including two sons, Alexander, who died unmarried, and Charles, who was created a baronet; this title, together with Pym's male line, became extinct in the person of Pym's grandson Charles in 1688, Brymore then passing to his sister Mary, wife of Sir Thomas Hales, Bart. Pym had little of the Puritan in his character or demeanour. His good humour, humanity and cheerfulness in all circumstances, "his pleasant countenance and sweet behaviour," were marked characteristics; the aspersions, however, on his morals, as well as the accusations of bribery, are completely unsubstantiated and discredited. His death came as an irreparable loss to the parliamentary cause. " Since Pym died," writes Baillie (Letters, ii. 216), " not a state head among them; many very good and able spirits, but not any of so great and comprehensive a braine as to manage the multitude of weightie affaires as lyes on them." He was one of the greatest leaders that the House of Commons has produced, a most capable man of business, and indefatigable in assiduous attention to its details. He possessed great tact in infl fencing the conduct of the house and in removing personal jealousies on critical occasions, and he excelled as a party leader in choosing and directing the course of policy, and in keeping his followers united and organized in its prosecution, as well as in stimulating and guiding popular opinion outside in its support. The frequent appeals to the nation by protestations, oaths of association and popular petitions, were a very striking feature in Pym's policy, one of the chief sources of his strength, and new in English history. We may indeed perhaps see in these and in the canvassing of constituencies conducted by Pym and Hampden the beginnings of party government. His eloquence lay rather in the clearness of his expression and in the depth and solidity of his ideas than in the more showy arts of oratory. Much of his success as a leader was the result of the confidence inspired by his high character, his well-tried courage and resolution at critical moments, his skill and vigilance in unmasking and frustrating the designs of the opposite faction. But Pym was not only great as a party leader; he had the real instinct of construction, the true test of the statesman. This construction, he believed, in the spirit of genuine conservatism, must always be progress along the lines of natural development, and not by the methcds of revolutionary or extraneous innovation. It was Pym's chief charge against Charles, Strafford and Laud that they had arrested this progress, and were thus leading the nation to ruin and dissolution. Such was the theory and conviction, inherited from Bacon and passed on to Halifax and Burke, which underlay and inspired Pym's policy. The article on Pym by S. R. Gardiner, in the Diet. Nat. Biog. with its references to authorities, must be supplemented by the same author's Hist. of England and of the Civil War. Pym's life has also been written at length by J. Forster in Lardner's Cabinet Cyclopaedia, Eminent British Statesmen, vol. iii., and by Wood in Atli. oxon. iii. 72, who adds a list of Pym's printed speeches. His character, drawn by Clarendon, Hist. 30 and vii. 409, is inaccurate and obviously prejudiced. See also J. Forster's Grand Re-monstrance, Arrest of the Five Members, Life of Sir J. Eliot; Verney's Notes of the Long Parliament; Whitelocke's Memorials, (needing corroboration of other authorities); R. Baillie's Letters; Eng. Hist. Rev. xvii. 736; Rushworth's Collections; Thomason Tracts, E 153 (10), 63 (8), 172 (14), 164 (3), 200 (13) (26) (37) (49) (65), 199 (24) (49), 78 (13); Somers Tracts iv. 217, 355, 461, 466; Affaniae and Death's Sermon, by C. Fitzgeffrey; Add. MSS. Brit. Mus. 14,827; 11,692; Lords and Commons Journals. There are a large number of references to Pym in Calendars of State Papers Dom. 1619-1643, and Colonial Series 1574-1660, and in the Hist. MSS. Comm. Series; but the supposed notebook of Pym mentioned in Rep. x. app. vi. 82, has been shown by Gardiner to be that of another person (Eng. Hist. Rev., Jan. 1895, p. 105). (P. C. Y.)
End of Article: JOHN PYM (1584-1643)
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