Revolutionary Church Democracy 1640 - 1660
Evidence on Parliamentarian Army Democracy Before the Agitators
Popular Tax Assessment in the English Revolution [the cases of Staffs & s. Essex]

Revolutionary Church Democracy 1640 - 1660

© Christopher O'Riordan 1983

There was a degree of church democracy at the grassroots (parish) level during the English Revolution. In sequestrated livings at least, the new minister was not infrequently put in by popular choice. Shaw thought that this 'amounted in most cases to an usurpation by the parish'.[1] It can perhaps be explained in the beginning by a conjuncture of popular pressure from below and the need for puritan leaders to gain support for their reforms.[2]

     In 1641 the Anglican establishment was disestablished, and puritans of various hues pursued their ideas for a 'Godly reformation', to the accompaniment of popular agitation. A small minority formed radical separatist congregations, patronised mainly by the working classes.

     On 8 September 1641 the House of Commons ordered that

it shall be lawful for the parishioners of any parish, in the kingdom of England and the dominion of Wales, to set up a lecture, and to maintain an orthodox minister, at their own charge, to preach every Lord's Day, where there is no preaching, and to preach one day in every week, where there is no weekly lecture.[3]
A lecturer was an assistant preacher who had the use of the pulpit for, perhaps, a Sunday afternoon and one other day of the week, and the stated object of the order was to remedy 'the great scarcity of preaching ministers throughout the whole Kingdom'.[4]

     From this time there was a steady flow of petitions to the House of Commons from parishes for leave to set up a lecture and to elect a lecturer, sometimes even requesting the House to nominate or recommend one for it. This apparently limited intrusion of his territory 'was bitterly resisted by many a clergyman, but his resistance was beaten down by the Commons with ruthless purpose'.[5]

     The Commons order also implied that parishioners could effectively have a free choice of minister, provided that they could first remove their existing one. A minister could be removed by successfully bringing against him charges of conduct incompatible with his office.

In 1641 there were nine hundred petitions against allegedly "scandalous" ministers, one from every ten parishes in the land. ... "If the meanest and most vicious parishioner they had could be brought to prefer a petition to the House of Commons against his minister", Clarendon tells us, the latter were sure to be prosecuted as scandalous. It was "the very dregs and scum of every parish" who petitioned against "the orthodox clergy", a Royalist pamphlet of 1643 declared.[6]
(This device could cut both ways of course; it could be used by the Parliamentarian authorities to remove ministers against vox. populi.) In the Civil War, on both Parliamentarian and Royalist sides ministers were removed from their cures for political or religious reasons.

     Traditionally, 'in most churches the right to nominate a minister belonged to a gentleman, who resented a bishop who refused to accept his nominee';[7] and non-'delinquent' or non-sequestrated private patronage was officially not interfered with during the Revolution. But in other cases, popular choice was not infrequent.[8] In Dorset many officiating ministers were appointed by the county committee, upon the choice of the 'inhabitants' of each parish concerned as signalled by their petitions.[9] In London 'the general vestry from 1640 to 1660 elected the minister where possible and through feoffes made agreement with him concerning his tenure, his pay, and his disciplinary power'.[10] A survey of Middlesex church livings of 1650 reveals a few examples of ministers 'put in' by, or with the consent of, the parishioners (not necessarily all in sequestrated livings).[11] There are numerous examples of popular election of ministers in Lancashire in the later 1650s.[12] The parsonage in Newport, Isle of Wight, having been sequestrated, the municipal assembly there elected, 'in as much as in them is', one Hallett to be the minister. A petition to Parliament stated that the mayor, chief burgesses and inhabitants (with submission to Parliament) had 'made a full and free election and choice of the said Mr. Hallett to be our minister' and asked for Parliament's approval. In March 1645 the Newport assembly sent delegates to the inhabitants to 'know what every one will pay yearly to Mr. Hallett so long as he continues minister of this town'. The House of Lords had wanted a Mr. Thompson to be the minister, and in the summer of 1646 we hear that 'Mr. Hallett our late minister is removed from us, and we are now like unto sheep without a shepherd'. Apparently a key issue was for the town to be made parochial.[13]

     This apparent democracy had its limitations. Many ministers seem still to have been chosen by high authority; and the authorities sometimes expelled 'scandalous' ministers and put in puritan preachers against the wishes of the parishioners. Prof. Ashton gives several examples of ministers expelled despite the testimonials of large numbers of their parishioners.[14] In many cases parochial choice was not established on a permanent basis; in Dorset, for example, those appointed by the county committee (with or without the popular choice) were officiating ministers, put in until further orders of the committee. There is the question of what the terms 'inhabitants' and 'parishioners' actually covered in each case. Women and children were almost certainly not included, and although the term 'inhabitants' often included non-householders, there is no guarantee that this was so in every case. In at least one instance in Dorset, the parochial choice was by the 'parishioners' in one reference, and by the 'well affected' (i.e. to Parliament) in another.[15]

     Dr Morrill estimates that three-fifths to two-thirds of ministers were the same in 1649 as in 1642.[16] This would seem a strict circumscription of potential church democracy. But it is possible that even where ministers nominally retained their position, they were effectively supplanted in the revolutionary years, perhaps by democratic choice. This is a strong possibility in the case of the parish of All Saints, Bristol.

     Samuel Seyer states[17] that in 1643 Fiennes, the Parliamentarian governor of Bristol, 'put in Mr. John Tombes of Leominster into the church of All Saints instead of Mr. Williamson, whom he turned out'. The 'truth', according to John Latimer,[18] 'may be found in the Commons Journal for January 4, 1643, about six weeks before Fiennes' arrival:- "On the petition of the major part of the parish of All Saints, Bristol, Ordered, that Mr. Tombes be recommended to the parish as a lecturer, and that George Williamson, the vicar, be required to permit him the use of the pulpit"'. Thus Williamson was not officially displaced. The vestry minutes for All Saints do not begin until 1650, and so cannot shed any direct light on what happened in 1643. However, between April 1650 and April 1660 Williamson does not appear among those who officiated at the vestry. At a vestry meeting on 17 August 1660 it was

Now agreed that Mr Williamson is to retain the benefit of the [word erased] house which Mr Holmes now dwelleth in, and his time is to begin at midsomer last he himself is to retain the rent.

Also it was then agreed that Mr Williamson shall be paid twenty six pounds per annum by the churchwarden by order of the vestry out of the church rents for a sermon preached on a Sabbath.

At subsequent vestry meetings George Williamson, vicar, regularly appears. He evidently was previously unofficially excluded, and then unofficially restored.[19] Williamson was perhaps vicar of Halberton, Devon, 1645 - 63.[20]

     Thus Tombes may well be an example of a popular choice of de facto minister where the old minister officially retained his position. Tombes apparently did not stay long in Bristol, however. He could have been turned out when the Royalists occupied the city later in 1643 (he seems to have been a puritan). He was a preacher in London in 1645.[21]

     Ministers of the 'official' church were still supposed to be 'orthodox', and would have been university-educated and middle class. But with the collapse of church law enforcement and the effective establishment of liberty in 1641, people were free to join a sectarian church, where the preacher was often chosen by the congregation, and was often a labouring man like them.[22]

To replace Anglicanism, Parliament decided to set up a Presbyterian system. Such a system was hierarchical, with parish congregations at the base and the National Synod at the summit. In the finally worked-out scheme each parish, excluding those who were both wage workers and not heads of families, were to elect six to twelve 'elders'. The elders were expected to be members of the upper classes, consisting of the ministers and delegate elders of a number of parishes. In London the election of elders certainly went ahead in most parishes in 1646. Although the system was an artificial construct to start with (the officials initially being nominated by Parliament), and broke down at the higher levels, Shaw thought that 'whenever a body is found performing the work of ordination in the years 1647 - 53, it was a properly constituted classis, composed of elders freely elected into a parish eldership, and freely delegated from such elderships to the classis'.[23]

     More democratic than Presbyterianism was Independency (which took its name from the autonomy which it prescribed for congregations). Some independents thought that congregations should 'choose their officers'.[24] Most democratic of all were the sects, in which free discussion and election were possible.[25]

The Revolution affected the secular as well as the ecclesiastical parish. In the previous two hundred years parishes had come increasingly under the government of the vestries, which in turn were dominated by increasingly narrow parish elites. Under the Tudor monarchs the vestry was revamped as a unit of civil government, to supplement the declining manor court. In London too, vestries sat alongside the wards and precincts.

     There was an increase of popular participation in London local government in the 1640s. In 1641-2 the election of Common Councillors (who were the chief ward officers under the Aldermen) was taken out of the hands of vestry cliques and given to all freemen paying 'scot and lot', i.e. any form of tax. The new electorate embraced the majority, perhaps the large majority, of the adult male population. After 1641 popular participation in London vestries was increased. As in the case of the election of clergy, it is not clear how broad this increase was, how often it included all the inhabitants of a particular parish, or only a more restricted group such as householders or freemen.

     The power of vestries in respect of church administration increased during the Revolution, when 'they often sat without a minister because a living held by sequestration had not the legal validity of a living held by nomination and induction'.

     In the 1650s control by more select groups in the vestries tended to be restored, and parishes largely reverted to elitist government in the Restoration.[26]

Notes to 'Revolutionary Church Democracy':

1. William A. Shaw, A History of the English Church ... 1640 - 1660, ii (1900), p.277.

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2. Cf. Brian Manning, 'Puritanism and Democracy 1640 - 1642', in Pennington and Thomas (ed.), Puritans and Revolutionaries (1978), pp.142, 144. Dr Manning's article gives an exposition of puritan theories of popular participation in the church.

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3. House of Commons Journal, ii, p.283. Back to text

4. Shaw, ii, pp.182-3. Back to text

5. Shaw, ii., pp.183-4. Back to text

6. Christopher Hill, The World Turned Upside Down (1975), p.30.

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7. Manning, 'Puritanism and Democracy', p.140. Back to text

8. Shaw, ii, 226-7, 277. Back to text

9. C. H. Mayo (ed.), The Minute Book of the Dorset Standing Committee 1646 - 50 (1902), pp.34, 45, 49-50, 270, 389 etc. The introduction contains a list of expelled or silenced ministers.

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10. Alice E. McCampbell, 'The London Parish and the London Precinct 1640 - 1660', in Guildhall Studies, ii, no.3, p.124.

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11. Home Counties Magazine, i, pp.56-8, 120; ii, p.62. Back to text

12. Shaw, ii, pp.270-1 note. A few similar examples in Cheshire are also given here.

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13. Isle of Wight Record Office, Newport Convocation Book, 1609 - 59, pp.*, 481, 497-9, 501. House of Commons Journal, iv, pp.30-1, 527.

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14. R. Ashton, The English Civil War (1978), pp.279-83. Back

15. Mayo, Dorset (op.cit., note 9) pp.56, 116. Back to text

16. In Reactions to the English Civil War (1982), p.100. Back to text

17. In his Memorials of Bristol, ii (1811), p.336. Back to text

18. In his Annals of Bristol in the 17th Century (1900), pp.169-60. Back to text

19. Bristol Record Office, P/AS/V/1 (a), passim. Back to text

20. A. G. Matthews, Walker Revised, p.179. Back to text

21. A. G. Matthews, Calamy Revised (1934), pp.487-8. Back to text

22. Hill, pp.98-9, 105. Back to text

23. Shaw, ii, pp.1-29; Manning, 'Puritanism and Democracy', p.154. Back

24. Manning, 'Puritanism and Democracy', p.147. Back to text

25. Hill, pp.98-9, 105. Back to text

26. McCampbell, passim, esp. pp.108-9, 111, 116, 118, 121-4. See also V. Pearl, London and the Outbreak of the Puritan Revolution (1961), pp.55-6, 138-9. For the proportion of freemen in mid-17th-century London, see V. Pearl, 'Change and Stability in 17th Century London', London Journal, v, p.13.

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A basic account of election of ministers in the Revolution is given in Shaw, ii, pp.266-77.


Evidence on Parliamentarian Army Democracy Before the Agitators

© Christopher O'Riordan 1983

CHESHIRE (Nantwich)

Richard Baxter gives the following account of an episode which took place in September 1643.[27] The Royalist commander Lord Capel brought his forces against the Parliamentarian garrison at Wem, whereupon the Parliamentarian commander, Sir William Brereton, led the trained bands or militia of Cheshire (of Nantwich hundred, according to another account[28]) to assist the garrison. Capel then resorted to the stratagem of marching his troops to assault Nantwich, to draw off the Cheshire men, and returning to attack Wem.
The Cheshire men were quickly on their march when they heard that the enemy was plundering their country. ... When they came [to Nantwich] they understood the stratagem of the Lord Capel, and heard that they were storming Wem. And Sir William Brereton would have had his men march after them presently to relieve Wem; but the soldiers were all commanders, and seeing their own country plundered in their absence, and being weary, they all resolved that they would not go; and so Wem was given up as lost; but in the morning, about three or four o'clock, when we thought they had been asleep, their minds all changed, and to Wem they would then go.
And Wem was eventually relieved.

     The implication here is that the soldiers came to a new decision after having debated the issue overnight. The passage suggests that they were able to make decisions, and act upon them, independently of their commander.[29]

     Whether or not these men were substantially the same as the later Nantwich mutineers, the soldiery possessed a similar independent-ness three years later. In July 1646 five companies of the Nantwich garrison (about five hundred men), driven by arrears of pay and acting without their officers, took forcible and violent action against various authorities in the town.

A more startling feature was that at the height of the mutiny the soldiers, still acting independently of their officers, sent representatives to put their case before the county committee. The report of their meeting shows that their demands were moderate, but they ended in a veiled threat. They hoped to 'bee prevented of takeing any unusuall course to supply our wants, but may bee enabled to behave themselves'.
However, according to one London report, the soldiers were forced to capitulate without achieving their demands, for troops from Lichfield were despatched against them. They had to rest content with a promise from the Governor [of Nantwich] and committee that they would not be prosecuted, and with the contents of a chest they had discovered - rumoured to contain £500.[30]

     The choosing of representatives shows a fairly sophisticated level of organisation (and is interesting in comparison with the army Agitators of the following year - the famous representatives chosen by the junior officers and ranks of the New Model Army).

     The 1643 and 1646 cases are just incidents by themselves; but taken together they hint at a more substantial and sustained popular organisation.


The accounts of Lucy Hutchinson provide evidence here,[31] where the questions of martial and municipal democracy are interlocked.

(a) Elected captains, 1643-4. Colonel Hutchinson, the Parliamentarian governor of both the town and garrison off Nottingham, had been 'troubled' about taking up his post because, amongst other reasons, 'the religiousest and best people were so pragmatical that no act, or scarcely word, could pass without being arraigned and judged at the bar of almost every common soldier's discretion, and theeafter censured and exclaimed at', and also 'the townsmen, being such as had lived free and plentifully of themselves, could not subject themselves to government, but were so saucy, so negligent, and so mutinous that the most honourable person in the world could expect nothing but reproach and ingratitude ... from them.'[32]

     In 1643, in the face of the Royalist threat, Hutchinson 'called a full Hall of all the town ... [who] unanimously voted that the town should be fortified, except Alderman Drury, and two or three that followed him'. The townsmen were reluctant actually to take up arms, however, and 'the better to encourage them' so to do, the governor allowed them to choose their own captains (winter 1643-4). They chose their Mayor, Mr. Coates a church minister, Alderman Drury, Mr. John Gregory, and Mr. Mason an attorney. But all the captains except Coates refused to serve, and the townsmen, being discouraged, did not enlist. At length, 'with infinite trouble', Hutchinson managed to get four hundred to enlist under Coates and Mason.[33]

(b) The garrison and the question of the government, 1644-5. In 1644 Hutchinson and the Nottinghamshire county committee commenced a struggle for power in Nottingham. The committee, working progressively to undermine the governor's authority, about September proposed to put it to the garrison soldiers whether they would be governed by the governor or the committee. Hutchinson denied that his command was elective, and refused to consent.[34] Nevertheless he evidently found it necessary to curry favour with the soldiers (who were mostly Nottingham townsmen) by letting it be known that 'he knew a way to ease the excise [the hated purchase tax which fell most heavily on the poor] on the town', although the committee did not.[35] Although the garrison captains had previously sided with the committee, in the event the soldiers declared their support of him, and 'desired no other governor; whereupon a certificate to that purpose was drawn up ... [and] subscribed with 700 townsmen's hands'.[36] This petition was sent to Parliament, where the dispute was being heard; and on 22 April 1645 the House of Commons gave Hutchinson 'full orders to execute his charge without disturbance'.[37]

     Colonel Hutchinson (who was an Independent) was luckier than some of his more moderate colleagues who were driven out of their commands and replaced by 'win-the-war' men around the winter of 1644-5. The Nottingham incident is the more interesting as it occurred at the same time as an evidently successful bid to oust a military moderate in Shropshire and replace him with a radical using democratic intervention.


In Shropshire there was rivalry between the moderate commander of the West Midlands Association, the Earl of Denbigh, and the radical general Sir William Brereton. In mid 1644 Brereton purged the moderates in the county committee, and a power struggle began between moderates and radicals.[38]

     In September we hear that the committee was procuring hands in the garrison at Oswestry, without the privity of their colonel, (Mytton, a Denbigh appointee) to elect Brereton general over Shropshire. Many soldiers were 'seduced'.[39]

     Denbigh's power in Shropshire appears to have evaporated, and on 2 April 1645 he 'laid down his commission in obedience to the Self-Denying Ordinance'.[40] Brereton, on the other hand, forged the closest links in the county, developing and deepening his alliance with the committee.[41]

     The Oswestry garrison was still an independent force to be reckoned with in 1646. A letter from the Shropshire committee to the Committee of Both Kingdoms stated that they had endeavoured to settle an orderly militia in the county,

which none oppose but the garrison of Oswestry, and they with such insolence that their example has a bad influence on the rest of the soldiery in this county. And although we have endeavoured by fair means to reduce them to a more regular government, all our endeavours have proved abortive, they being protected from punishment, Col. Mytton countenancing them therein.[42]
     But Mytton complained that the committee had kept the soldiers without pay for six months.[43] The Committee of Both Kingdoms sent the following letter to Mytton:
... We have received many complaints of the disorders of those at Oswestry, which in regard of your absence from them [the colonel was on his task of reducing the Royal fortresses in North Wales] you can neither take notice of nor prevent. [The county committee sent to muster the garrison,] that they might know what their pay would amount to, [but were] received with resentful language, and an absolute refusal by them to be mustered.[44]
     Parallel with the Parliamentarian popular radicalisation of winter 1644-5 was a Royalist one, but this was in the upshot a failure. In the summer of 1644 the Royalists hoped to exploit the rising wave of popular discontent with the war by channelling it against Parliament. A scheme for a mass rising, known as 'One and All', was to bring Parliament to 'reasonable' peace terms. Various meetings of the aristocracy, clergy, freeholders and copyholding peasants were subsequently held in western counties. A mass army, under its own chosen officers, was to march on London. By the winter this scheme had evolved into plans for an army based on an association of Marcher counties, in which the junior officers would be elected, subject to the veto of the commander (Prince Maurice). However this scheme petered out in the spring of 1645 without having come to fruition. An independent movement, of peasant groups banded together to oppose the war and protect their communities, electing the own officials and even army officers in Somerset, arose at this time. This 'Clubman' movement was soon suppressed by Cavaliers and Roundheads alike, and one historian blames this 'misapplication' of popular energy for the demise of the Marcher Association scheme.[45]

     In the wider view, the winter of 1644-5 was a conjuncture in the Civil War and Revolution, in which radicals replaced or subordinated moderates in the military commands (as also in other sections of the state apparatus). In Nottingham and Shropshire at least, this had a democratic aspect. It was reflected too in the Royalist plan for a democratic army, and the failure of this in contrast to the success of Parliamentarian popular radicalisation is perhaps a facet of the general contrast between the historical failure of the Counter Revolution and success of the Revolution.

Notes for 'Evidence on ... Army Democracy ...':

27. J. M. Lloyd Thomas and N. B. Keeble (ed.), Reliquiae Baxterinae [the autobiography of Richard Baxter] (1925 / 1974), pp.43-4 (p.45 in an older edition). See Thomas Malbon, Memorials of the Civil War in Cheshire (1889), p.78, for the date of this episode.

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28. Malbon, Memorials, p.78. Back to text

29. See the tract 'The Unfaithfulnesse of the Cavaliers ...' (11 Jan. 1643/4), for the behaviour of the Nantwich commanders and soldiery in the winter of 1643-4 (quoted in Chetham Society, new series, vol. 65, pp.93-4). Cf. also the Earl of Denbigh's letter from Nantwich, 11 July 1644, in which he states that he '... with much difficulty brought off the Cheshire foot, who could by no order be withdrawn from firing against [Nantwich]. ... Next day we marched to Wem ...' Calendar of State Papers Domestic, 1644, p.338.

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30. J. S. Morrill, Cheshire 1630 -1660 (1974), pp.96-7. See Bodleian Library Tanner MSS, vol. 59, f.412, for the reference to representatives.

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31. Lucy Hutchinson, The Life of Colonel Hutchinson, ed. James Sunderland (1973); British Library, Egerton MS 2646 (an earlier version of the Life).

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32. Hutchinson, p.106. Back to text

33. Hutchinson, p.115; Egerton MS 2646, f.46a. Back to text

34. Hutchinson, p.140. Back to text

35. Hutchinson, p.154. Back to text

36. Hutchinson, pp.154-5. Back to text

37. Hutchinson, p.158 and note. Back to text

38. Morrill, Cheshire, p.143. Back to text

39. Morrill, Cheshire, pp.143-4. N.b. the original letter does in fact say 'elect'; Warwickshire County Record Office, CR 2017/C 10/38.

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40. Morrill, Cheshire, p.144; Historical Manuscipts Commission, Fourth Report, p.255.

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41. Morrill, Cheshire, p.144. Back to text

42. Transactions of the Shropshire Archaeological Society, vol. 48 (1934-5), p.53 (a verbatim transcript of Bodleian Library Tanner MSS, vol. 60 f.444).

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43. Ibid., p.56 (Tanner 60, ff.461, 463). Back to text

44. Ibid., p.59 (from the Calendar of State Papers Domestic 1645-7, p.359). Back

45. J. S. Morrill, The Revolt of the Provinces (Longman edn., 1980), pp.112-14 (ibid., pp.98-111 etc. for an account of the Clubmen); Ronald Hutton, The Royalist War Effort 1642 - 1646 (1982), chapter 15, pp.155-65, 'The Marcher Association and the Clubmen'.

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Popular Tax Assessment in the English Revolution

(as judged by the cases of Staffs. & S. Essex)

© Christopher O'Riordan 1983

The common people cannot traditionally have had any say in the state's extraction of revenue from society. In the 1630s Ship Money was assessed at the grassroots level by the sheriff and head constables in each county, who called on the 'most substantial' (i.e. wealthiest) inhabitants in each village to help them. This method apparently still applied in Royalist areas in the Civil War.[46]

     In 1643 the Long Parliament started a tax known as the assessment or 'weekly pay' to finance its war effort. The county committees, Parliament's revolutionary bureaucracy, were designated to receive the income raised, and to appoint assessors to calculate the tax on the inhabitants of each parish.

     To judge from the examples in which the Staffordshire county committee ruled on disputes between September 1644 and March 1645, the method of assessment in Staffordshire villages at this time was often a democratic one. Out of six cases in which the committee prescribed the method, four were to be (in one case in the upshot) democratic.[47] While the number of examples is too few for any definite judgement to be made, there may also be a democratisation trend in this period. (This would coincide with the arrest of the leading moderates in the committee at the end of 1644.[48]) In September and October the committee still nominated assessors;[49] in November and December they ordered the inhabitants of parishes to elect them;[50] and in 1645 they frequently apparently chose direct democracy, ordering the inhabitants, or the major part of them, directly to assess the tax.[51] One parish apparently won an entirely new assessment for itself.[52] The committee still acted as the ultimate arbiter; on 22 March, for example, it ordered the inhabitants of Stone to meet together within one week to reassess an individual who, in its judgement, had been over-assessed by them.[53]

     To what extent were the cases dealt with by the committee representative of Staffordshire parishes as a whole (the vast majority)?[54] There are several examples in the committee's records of parishes on which no ruling on the general method of assessment appears (these were orders concerning taxation of individuals), but where the method was evidently already a popular one.[55] Although the 'tax democracy' may not have been universal, it must have been widespread. In southern Essex too, assessors were chosen in a few cases by the parishes, although they were more often nominated by the divisional committee.[56]

     In Staffordshire the traditional requirement that assessors should be 'substantial' or 'sufficient' (i.e. in wealth) or be gentlemen, became replaced towards the end of 1644 with the criteria of 'honesty' and 'indifference' (i.e. impartiality).[57] In Essex before the Revolution assessors had been minor gentry and other men of standing.[58] In 1643 sub-collectors were appointed there to speed up the collection of tax. At the start of the civil war they were often yeomen, but later on their social status became increasingly obscure. By 1649 it had become a point of note when a literate assessor was appointed.[59] The Essex commissioners were probably forced to these measures by the expansion of the bureaucratic apparatus, and also perhaps because men of higher social status became increasingly unwilling to serve the cause. [The preceding italicized statement, drawn from Quintrell's thesis, was not born out by my subsequent research on s. Essex assessors: they were mainly yeomen in the 1640s. One of the illiterate assessors of c.1650 (which Quintrell cites as evidence of social decline) was a particularly well-to-do yeoman. (Note added 2001.)]

     The Staffordshire committee showed concern to redress any imbalance of assessment which the rich had contrived at the expense of the poor.[60] addendum A The Essex commissioners too insisted on insisted on equitable methods of assessment.[61] During the imposition of Ship Money in the 1630s, the nobility and gentry had shifted the burden onto the shoulders of those less well off than themselves - quite unconstitutionally.[62] Now (equally unconstitutionally) assessors in Essex sometimes shifted it onto the rich; a wealthy merchant, an unpopular landlord and the like.[63]

     Although the people gained what was supposed to be only a clerical function, and they did not officially have any say in the amount of tax they paid, in practice there must have been opportunity to take advantage of their position at the expense of the rich. The democratic majority of poorer people might have over-assessed the affluent few,[64] and plebian tax officials could do the same.

Notes for 'Popular Tax Assessment':

46. ?* Back to text

47. D. H. Pennington and I. A. Roots (ed.), The Committee at Stafford 1643 - 1645 (1957) (this reproduces the Order Book of the committee for this period), pp.183, 189, 198, 207, 235, 242, 250. See notes 49, 50 and 51 below for the names of villages concerned.

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48. J. S. Morrill, Cheshire 1630 - 1660 (1974), p.141. Back to text

49. Newport; Rugeley; Teane and Checkly. Back to text

50. Rugeley; Crakemarsh and Creighton. Back to text

51. Acton Trussell; Cowley and Coton. Back to text

52. Pennington and Roots, p.242 (Acton Trussell). Back to text

53. Ibid., p.278. Back to text

54. In the period covered by the Order Book, the method for most parishes is not dealt with.

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55. E.g. Butterton (apparently) by 23 Jan. 1645, and Stone (evidently) by 22 March, were direct-democratic. Pennington and Roots, p.244, 278. Cf. Rugeley, where the previous year the committee had rejected the inhabitants' own assessment, but later ruled that they should choose twelve assessors. Ibid., pp.189, 207.

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56. B. W. Quintrell, 'The Divisional Committee for Southern Essex During the Civil Wars' (University of Manchester M.A. thesis, 1962), p.75.

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57. Pennington and Roots, pp.198, 207, 234, 235 ('honest' and/or 'indifferent'). Back

58. Quintrell, pp.45-6, 163, 173. Back to text

59. Quintrell, pp.77-8. Back to text

60. Pennington and Roots, p.242 (the case of Acton Trussell). Back to text

A. We might also compare the attitude of the J.P.s in Parliamentarian-controlled Cheshire. In October 1645 the justices heard that diverse of the 'poorer inhabitants' of Marston were 'much oppressed' by non-payment of military tax on the part of a few well-to-do individuals, thus burdening the rest with the payments. The justices, stating that '[t]his Bench doth much dislike this unequall and dishonest dealing', ordered the miscreants to pay up. (Unfortunately the inhabitants had to complain again in April 1646.) Cheshire Record Office, QJB/1/6, p.93b; QJF/73/3, no. 105; QJF/74/1, no. 72. Cf. Mobberley, QJF/73/3, nos. 87, 95, 98.

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61. Quintrell, p.75. Back to text

62. Brian Manning, The English People and the English Revolution (Penguin edn, 1978), pp.171-2.

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63. Quintrell, pp.75-6. Back to text

64. A more ambiguous case was found in Warwickshire. 'There were problems caused by unfair ratings as when the Welford townsmen "cunninglie" made a levy which [allegedly] charged half the cost on all the inhabitants, including labourers, and all the other half on [the Earl of] Middlesex, who owned less than half the land.' Anne Hughes, Warwickshire thesis, p.420 [a book based on this thesis has since been published].

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