The Newcastle Propositions

During the 1650s parliament and Protector redefined treason and also clamped down on security and to those ends they passed several new treason and/or security acts and ordinances, but none specify thirty (or more) people being present as the threshold size of a gathering at which such legislation became enforceable. Equally, during the 1650s Cromwell and his council issued various orders prohibiting cock-fighting and horse-racing and gatherings under the pretence of such activities, but again I have rechecked the texts and there is nothing about thirty being the key threshold when a harmless gathering became actionable/illegal. The closest I can come is a clause found in two documents sent to the king in the later 1640s as grounds for a possible settlement.

 The set of terms which the victorious parliament sent to Charles I while he was being held prisoner by the Scottish army at Newcastle upon Tyne in summer 1646 and thus generally known as the Newcastle Propositions included a lengthy section about military command, control of the public and general security, amongst which we find the clause:

…And if any persons shall be gathered and assembled to­gether in warlike manner or otherwise, to the number of thirty persons, and shall not forthwith disband themselves, being required thereto by the said Lords and Commons, or command from them or any of them, especially authorised for that purpose, then such person or persons not so disbanding themselves, shall be guilty and incur the pains of high treason, being first declared guilty of such offence by the said Lords and Commons; any commission under the great seal or other warrant to the contrary notwithstanding; and he or they that shall offend herein, to be incapable of any pardon from his Majesty, his heirs or successors, and their estates shall be dis­posed as the said Lords and Commons shall think fit, and not otherwise.

 Eighteen months later, in December 1647, parliament sent Charles I, newly escaped from Hampton Court and holed up on the Isle of Wight, a bill for settling the army and command, which included the same clause:

…And that if any persons shall be gathered and assembled together in warlike manner or otherwise, to the number of thirty persons, and shall not forthwith separate and disperse them­selves, being required thereto by the said Lords and Commons, or command from them or any of them, especially authorised for that purpose, then such person and persons, not so separating and dispersing themselves, shall be guilty and incur the pains of high treason, being first declared guilty of such offence by the said Lords and Commons; any commission under the great seal or other warrant to the contrary notwithstanding; and he or they that shall offend herein shall be incapable of any pardon from his Majesty, his heirs and successors, and their estates shall be disposed as the said Lords and Commons shall think fit, and not otherwise.

 However, Charles rejected them both, neither passed as law or took effect and I cannot find this or a similar clause or these general provisions reappearing in any subsequent acts, ordinances, proclamations or declarations passed and issued by the various parliaments and regimes of the 1650s, including the Cromwellian Protectorate. From an email from Peter Gaunt, Chester University.

The Newcastle Propositions, 1646

The Newcastle Propositions were drawn up by the Westminster Parliament as a basis for a treaty with King Charles I in July 1646 after the defeat of the Royalists in the First Civil War. The King had surrendered to Parliament's Scottish allies rather than to Parliament itself and was held in semi-captivity at Newcastle.

There was resentment amongst English Parliamentarians that the King was in the hands of the Scots and tension had increased after an intercepted letter revealed that secret negotiations had passed between the King and the Scots earlier in the year. Fearing that the alliance with Parliament was under threat, the Committee of Estates in Edinburgh instructed the Scottish commissioners in London to consent to Parliament's proposals, even though they fell short of the Covenanters' ideals in the settlement of religion.

The Propositions put to the King consisted of nineteen clauses. The main points were:

  • The King was to sign the Covenant and an Act was to be passed imposing it on all his subjects

  • Episcopacy was to be abolished as it had been in Scotland; the church in England and Ireland was to be reformed along Presbyterian lines as directed by Parliament and the Assembly of Divines

  • The armed forces and militia were to be controlled by Parliament for a period of twenty years before reverting to the Crown

  • Leading officials and judges were to be nominated by Parliament

  • The Irish Cessation was to be annulled and the war in Ireland to be directed by Parliament

  • Conservators of the Peace were to be appointed in England and Scotland to maintain peace between the two nations

  • A number of named Royalists were to be exempted from pardon and punished for their actions in the Civil War

  • Strict laws against Catholics were to be enforced

The Propositions were entirely unacceptable to the King. He believed that a Presbyterian church settlement would undermine the power of the monarchy because obedience to the crown was not implicit in its doctrines. Although he had no intention of accepting the Propositions, Charles delayed giving his answer for as long as possible in the hope that the strained relationship between Parliament and the Scots would deteriorate further. He was also engaged in secret intrigues with France and still hoped for military help from Ireland. His strategy backfired when the Scots withdrew the Army of the Covenant from England and handed the King over to the English Parliament in February 1647.

In May 1647, King Charles attempted to win over Presbyterians in England and Scotland by offering to accept a modified version of the Propositions in which Presbyterianism would be granted for a period of three years. The King made this compromise with the ultimate aim of obtaining a Scottish army to help him regain the throne. The coalition of Scottish, Presbyterian and Royalist interests laid the foundations of the alliance that resulted in the Second Civil War in 1648.

Presbyterian MPs continued to regard the Newcastle Propositions as a viable basis for negotiation throughout 1647. They were gradually modified into the Four Bills, presented to the King in December 1647 in Parliament's final attempt to reach a settlement before breaking off negotiations with the Vote of No Addresses.

Sources:

S.R. Gardiner, History of the Great Civil War vol. iii (London 1889)

David Stevenson, Revolution & Counter-Revolution in Scotland 1644-51 (Newton Abbott 1977) .......... From the BCW website.