Skip to main content Accessibility help




This article argues that parliamentary debates over the access to and control of the crown jewels from 1641 to 1644 were intrinsic to the emergence and proliferation of revolutionary ideas about political sovereignty in the earliest stages of the English Civil Wars. In combining the methodologies of parliamentary history with theoretical scholarship on the material foundations of power, it demonstrates that shifting attitudes toward the royal regalia were indicative of more general developments in parliamentary thinking on the origins and limits of monarchical authority. In so doing, it contributes to recent scholarship on the problem of ‘ideological escalation’ at Westminster, demonstrating how quickly an initially radical proposal for access to the crown jewels became sufficiently popular in the House of Commons to authorize the melting down of the royal regalia only a year later. By emphasizing the centrality of the crown jewels to ongoing debates over the ‘ancient constitution’, it suggests that their destruction was understood as a step towards the abolition of monarchy per se.


Corresponding author

Department of History, University College London, Gower Street, London, wc1e


Hide All

I am especially indebted to Richard Bell, Ed Legon, and Jason Peacey for their comments on previous iterations of this article, and for their unsparing advice, assistance, and friendship throughout. I am grateful to Misha Ewen, Eilish Gregory, and Sean Kelsey for their expertise and encouragement, and the journal's anonymous readers for their comments on an earlier draft.



Hide All

1 Journal of the House of Commons (CJ), iii, p. 112. The motion had also named Sir Henry Mildmay, MP and Master of the Jewel Office, alongside Marten as a potential recipient of the keys. The motion was defeated by 21 votes: 58 to 37.

2 British Library (BL), Harleian MS 165, fo. 97r. The room most likely the target of Marten's scheme is the Chapel of the Pyx, which had been previously used as a royal treasury, and where, around the mid-fourteenth century, the royal crowns were indeed stored. See Scott, George Gilbert, Gleanings from Westminster Abbey (Oxford, 1863), pp. 910; Joel Francis Burden, ‘Rituals of royalty: prescription, politics and practice in English coronation and royal funeral rituals c. 1327 to c. 1485’ (Ph.D. thesis, York, 1999), pp. 46–7.

3 BL, Harleian MS 165, fo. 97r.

4 CJ, iii, p. 114; BL, Harleian MS 165, fo. 97v. The motion was passed by 42 to 41 according to the Commons journal, which suggests there were 12 fewer votes cast than the day prior. D'Ewes's own estimate is that the motion passed by 41 to 40, suggesting 14 fewer votes.

5 CJ, iii, p. 114.

6 For two previous conceptualizations of ‘ideological escalation’, defined in different ways, see Braddick, Michael J., ‘History, liberty, reformation and the cause: parliamentary, military and ideological escalation in 1643’, in Braddick, Michael J. and Smith, David L., eds., The experience of revolution in Stuart Britain and Ireland: essays for John Morrill (Cambridge, 2011), pp. 117–34; Como, David R., ‘Print, censorship, and ideological escalation in the English Civil War’, Journal of British Studies, 51 (2012), pp. 820–57.

7 Scott, David, Politics and war in the three Stuart kingdoms, 1637–1649 (Basingstoke, 2004), p. 29.

8 For an overview of the waxing and waning of ‘radicalism’ in the historiography of the Revolution, see Baker, Philip, ‘Radicalism in Civil War and Interregnum England’, History Compass, 8 (2010), pp. 152–65. For recent scholarship that explores contemporary ‘radicalism’, see, for example, Como, David R., Radical parliamentarians and the English Civil War (Oxford, 2018); Davis, J. C., ‘Afterword: reassessing radicalism in a traditional society: two questions’, in Burgess, Glenn and Festenstein, Matthew, eds., English radicalism, 1550–1850 (Cambridge, 2007), pp. 338–72; Foxley, Rachel, The Levellers: radical political thought in the English Revolution (Manchester, 2013); Hessayon, Ariel and Finnegan, David, eds., Varieties of seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century English radicalism in context (Farnham, 2011); Scott, Jonathan, England's troubles: seventeenth-century English political instability in European context (Cambridge, 2000); Rees, John, The Leveller revolution: radical political organisation in England, 1640–1650 (London, 2016); Vallance, Edward, A radical history of Britain (London, 2009).

9 See, for example, Sharpe, Kevin and Lake, Peter, eds., Culture and politics in early Stuart England (Basingstoke, 1994); Sharpe, Kevin, Selling the Tudor monarchy: authority and image in sixteenth-century England (New Haven, CT, 2000); idem, Remapping early modern England: the culture of seventeenth-century politics (Cambridge, 2000); idem, Image wars: promoting kings and commonwealths in England, 1603–1660 (New Haven, CT, 2010); Keay, Anna, The magnificent monarch: Charles II and the ceremonies of power (London, 2008); Bertelli, Sergio, The king's body: sacred rituals of power in medieval and early modern Europe, trans. Litchfield, R. Burr (University Park, PA, 2001).

10 Humphrey, David, ‘To sell England's jewels: Queen Henrietta Maria's visits to the continent, 1642 and 1644’, E-rea, 11 (2014),

11 For a detailed account of Charles's tendency to pawn and sell items of the royal regalia, see Collins, Arthur Jefferies, Jewels and plate of Queen Elizabeth I (London, 1955), pp. 165–79.

12 Calendar of state papers, domestic (CSPD), 1625–1626, p. 123.

13 BL, Hargrave MS 311, fo. 66v; Robert Cotton, An abstract out of the records of the Tower (1642), p. 9. All pre-1800 works were published in London unless otherwise stated. This version, which survives in the Thomason Tracts, is dated to July 1642.

14 CJ, ii, p. 213.

15 Edward Hyde, earl of Clarendon, The history of the rebellion and Civil Wars in England (8 vols., Oxford, 1826), iii, pp. 101–2.

16 Calendar of state papers, Venetian (CSPV), 1640–1642, pp. 186–7.

17 Jason Peacey, “‘That memorable parliament”: medieval history in parliamentarian polemic, 1641–1642’, in Cavill, Paul and Gajda, Alexandra, eds., Writing the history of parliament in Tudor and early Stuart England (Manchester, 2018), p. 202.

18 It was the opinion of Sir Edward Coke, for example, that the ‘ancient jewels of the Crowne are heire-loomes and shall descend to the next Successor, and are not devisable by testament’. See Sheppard, Steve, ed., The selected writings and speeches of Sir Edward Coke (3 vols., Indianapolis, IN, 2003), ii, p. 681.

19 White, Michelle Anne, Henrietta Maria and the English Civil Wars (Aldershot, 2006), pp. 62–6.

20 Journal of the House of Lords (LJ), v, p. 96.

21 LJ, v, pp. 130–1. In Oct., parliament sent a declaration to the United Provinces accusing the prince of Orange of abetting the king's cause. See CSPV, 1642–1643, pp. 182–3.

22 CSPV, 1642–1643, p. 80.

23 Strange and terrible newes from the queene in Holland (n.p., 1642), sigs. A2r, A3r.

24 The queens majesties message and letter from The Hague in Holland (1642), p. 3.

25 Braddick, ‘History, liberty, reformation and the cause’, p. 131.

26 Como, Radical parliamentarians, ch. 6.

27 Wootton, David, ‘From rebellion to revolution: the crisis of the winter of 1642/3 and the origins of Civil War radicalism’, English Historical Review, 105 (1990), pp. 654–69, at p. 654.

28 Como, Radical parliamentarians, p. 177.

29 Cobbett, William, ed., Cobbett's parliamentary history of England (36 vols., London, 1806–20), ii, p. 599; Barber, Sarah, A revolutionary rogue: Henry Marten and the English republic (Sutton, 2000), p. 10.

30 Roberts, Stephen K., ‘The House of Commons, 1640–1660’, in Jones, Clyve, ed., A short history of parliament (Woodbridge, 2009), p. 123.

31 CJ, iii, pp. 112, 114.

32 David Como has recently defended the use of the war/peace party categories, noting that even some contemporaries spoke of such divisions. See Como, Radical parliamentarians, pp. 132–3.

33 Taft, Barbara, ‘Return of a regicide: Edmund Ludlow and the Glorious Revolution’, History, 76 (1991), pp. 197220, at p. 202.

34 Coates, Wilson H., Young, Anne Steele, and Snow, Vernon F., eds., The private journals of the Long Parliament (3 vols., New Haven, CT, 1982–92), i, p. 249.

35 CJ, ii, p. 564; Henry Foulis, The history of popish treasons and usurpations (1671), p. 113.

36 His majesties declaration to all his loving subjects (Cambridge, 1642), p. 78. This declaration is discussed at length in Hyde, The history of the rebellion, iii, pp. 613–19.

37 The sence of the house, or the opinion of some Lords and Commons concerning the Londoners petition for peace (Oxford, 1643).

38 Ludlow, Edmund, The memoirs of Edmund Ludlow, ed. Firth, Charles H. (Oxford, 1894), p. 38.

39 BL, Harleian MS 165, fo. 97r.

40 Hyde, The history of the rebellion, ii, p. 23.

41 Barber, A revolutionary rogue, p. 5; Russell, Conrad, The fall of the British monarchies, 1637–1642 (Oxford, 1995), p. 461.

42 Hexter, J. H., The reign of King Pym (Cambridge, MA, 1961), p. 56.

43 Sachse, William L., ‘England's “black tribunal”: an analysis of the regicide court’, Journal of British Studies, 12 (1973), pp. 6985, at p. 80; John Nalson, A true copy of the journal of the High Court of Justice for the tryal of K. Charles I (1684). Wentworth blamed ill health for his non-participation at the trial. See Sarah Barber, ‘Wentworth, Sir Peter (1592–1675)’, Oxford dictionary of national biography (ODNB).

44 Barber, A revolutionary rogue, p. 16; CJ, v, pp. 312, 314.

45 Clement Walker, The compleat history of independencie (1661), p. 97.

46 Hexter, The reign of King Pym, pp. 39–40, 47.

47 David Johnson, ‘Parliament in crisis: the disintegration of the parliamentarian war effort during the summer of 1643’ (Ph.D. thesis, York, 2012), pp. 129–31.

48 Underdown, David, Pride's purge (Oxford, 1971), pp. 389–90.

49 London, The National Archives (TNA), PROB 11/231/16.

50 Stephens, Isaac, ‘Confessional identity in early Stuart England: the “prayer book puritanism” of Elizabeth Isham’, Journal of British Studies, 50 (2011), pp. 2447; Underdown, Pride's purge, p. 390.

51 CJ, ii, p. 367.

52 Braddick, Michael, God's fury England's fire (London, 2009), p. 253; Como, Radical parliamentarians, p. 144; John Morrill, ‘Holles, Denzil, first Baron Holles (1598–1680)’, ODNB; Crawford, Patricia, Denzil Holles, 1598–1680 (London, 1979), pp. 84–5; Underdown, Pride's purge, p. 376.

53 Henning, B. D., ed., History of parliament: the House of Commons, 1660–1690 (3 vols., London, 1983), ii, pp. 556–60.

54 Miller, John, ‘A moderate in the first age of party: the dilemmas of Sir John Holland, 1675–1685’, English Historical Review, 114 (1999), pp. 844–74, at p. 857.

55 For such an analysis, see Tuck, Richard, Natural rights theories: their origin and development (Cambridge, 1979), pp. 82100.

56 Haivry, Ofir, John Selden and the Western political tradition (Cambridge, 2017), p. 69.

57 Tuck, Richard, ‘“The ancient law of freedom”: John Selden and the Civil War’, in Morrill, John, ed., Reactions to the English Civil War, 1642–1649 (Basingstoke, 1982), p. 145.

58 Barber, A revolutionary rogue, pp. 57–8.

59 Haivry, John Selden, p. 83; Paul Christianson, ‘Selden, John (1584–1654)’, ODNB.

60 Edward Hyde, earl of Clarendon, The life of Edward earl of Clarendon (3 vols., Oxford, 1827), i, p. 35.

61 David Underdown lists Selden among the secluded, though this is disputed by Richard Tuck. See Underdown, Pride's purge, p. 385; Tuck, ‘“The ancient law of freedom”’, p. 137.

62 Haivry, John Selden, p. 83.

63 CJ, ii, pp. 379–80.

64 George Yerby, ‘Pierrepont, William (1607/8–1678)’, ODNB; Adamson, J. S. A., ‘The English nobility and the projected settlement of 1647’, Historical Journal, 30 (1987), pp. 567602, at pp. 570–1.

65 Pearl, Valerie, ‘The “Royal Independents” in the English Civil War’, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 5th series, 18 (1968), pp. 6996, at pp. 82, 85–6.

66 Underdown, Pride's purge, pp. 71–2; Pearl, ‘The “Royal Independents”’, p. 86.

67 Underdown, Pride's purge, p. 383; Bulstrode Whitelocke, Memorials of the English affairs (1682), p. 357.

68 This was conveyed perhaps most forcefully in the army's charges against eleven members presented to the Commons in June 1647. See Cobbett, ed., Cobbett's parliamentary history of England, iii, pp. 625–7. I am grateful to Jason Peacey for this information.

69 Scott, Politics and war in the three Stuart kingdoms, pp. 41–2. For Saye's ties with Strode, see Adamson, J. S. A., ‘Parliamentary management, men-of-business and the House of Lords, 1640–1649’, in Jones, Clyve, ed., Pillar of the constitution: the House of Lords in British politics, 1640–1784 (London, 1989), pp. 33–4.

70 Adamson, ‘Parliamentary management’, p. 21.

71 It may be noteworthy that Henry Marten does not appear to have been implicated in such bicameral business; indeed, his opposition to the authority of the Lords is articulated in four unpublished pamphlets. See Williams, C. M., ‘The anatomy of a radical gentleman: Henry Marten’, in Pennington, Donald and Thomas, Keith, eds., Puritans and revolutionaries: essays in seventeenth-century history presented to Christopher Hill (Oxford, 1978), p. 135.

72 George A. Drake, ‘Percy, Algernon, tenth earl of Northumberland (1602–1668)’, ODNB; Adamson, ‘The English nobility and the projected settlement of 1647’, pp. 569–70; Brotton, Jerry, The sale of the late king's goods: Charles I and his art collection (Basingstoke, 2006), pp. 322–3.

73 BL, Harleian MS 165, fo. 97v.

74 CSPV, 1642–1643, pp. 286–7.

75 Mercurius Aulicus, 23 (Oxford, 4–10 June 1643), pp. 301–2.

76 Milton, Anthony, Laudian and royalist polemic in seventeenth-century England (Manchester, 2007), p. 122.

77 There has been some suggestion that Heylyn took over as sub-dean of Westminster in 1642, though the risk of parliamentary reprisal appears to have encouraged him to flee to the king's court in Oxford in Jan. 1643. For the former, see John Walker, An attempt towards recovering an account of the numbers and sufferings of the clergy of the Church of England (1714), ii, p. 90; Bradley, E. T., Annals of Westminster Abbey (London, 1898), p. 251. For a more recent account of Heylyn's movements between 1641 and 1645, see Milton, Laudian and royalist polemic, pp. 120–2.

78 Heylyn, Peter, Aërius redivivus: or, the history of the Presbyterians (Oxford, 1670), p. 461. For more on Wither's role in the sequestration of royalist estates, see Brotton, The sale of the late king's goods, pp. 220–1.

79 Sharpe, Remapping early modern England, pp. 458–9.

80 Agamben, Giorgio, The kingdom and the glory, trans. Chiesa, Lorenzo and Mandarini, Matteo (Stanford, CA, 2011), esp. ch. 7, at p. 178. The emphasis is my own.

81 Greenberg, Janelle, The radical face of the ancient constitution: St Edward's ‘laws’ in early modern political thought (Cambridge, 2001), p. 182.

82 See ibid., esp. ch. 5; and idem, The Confessor's laws and the radical face of the ancient constitution’, English Historical Review, 104 (1989), pp. 611–37.

83 Idem, ‘The Confessor's laws’, p. 615. See the order of the coronation pertaining to Charles I's oath in TNA, SP 16/20, fo. 15r.

84 TNA, SP 16/20, fo. 20v.

85 Elias Ashmole and Francis Sandford, The entire ceremonies of the coronations of his majesty King Charles II and of her majesty Queen Mary (1761), p. 41; Heylyn, Aërius redivivus, p. 461. The account of Charles I's coronation forms part of an appendix to Ashmole and Sandford's text. Laud was accused by some of having slightly altered the wording of Charles's oath to enable a more arbitrary mode of kingship. See Cressy, David, Charles I and the people of England (Oxford, 2015), pp. 78–9.

86 The precise function of the coronation has proven difficult for scholars to establish. For an influential sociological attempt to explain its purpose, see Shils, Edward and Young, Michael, ‘The meaning of the coronation’, Sociological Review, 1 (1953), pp. 6381.

87 TNA, SP 16/20, fo. 20v.

88 Greenberg, The radical face of the ancient constitution, p. 213; Twysden, Roger, Certaine considerations upon the government of England, ed. Kemble, John Mitchell (London, 1849), p. 36.

89 Legon, Edward, ‘“If ever the devil is abroad, he is abroad now”: loyalty, disloyalty and the coronation of 1661’, in Ward, Matthew and Hefferan, Matthew, eds., Loyalty to the monarchs of late medieval and early modern Britain, c. 1400–1688 (London, forthcoming). Authorities disagreed with Venner, who was subsequently executed for his part in an attempted coup.

90 Kantorowicz, Ernst H., The king's two bodies: a study in mediaeval political theology (Princeton, NJ, 1997), p. 23.

91 Peter Heylyn, The rebells catechism (n.p., 1643), p. 20.

92 Orr, D. Alan, Treason and the state: law, politics and ideology in the English Civil War (Cambridge, 2002), p. 49.

93 Greenberg, The radical face of the ancient constitution, pp. 190–1; Dudley Digges, The unlawfulnesse of subjects taking up armes against their soveraigne, in what case soever (n.p., 1643), p. 117; Digges, Dudley, An answer to a printed book intituled, observations upon some of his majesties late answers and expresses (Oxford, 1642), p. 2.

94 Cressy, Charles I and the people of England, p. 77.

95 For more on the ancient constitution, see Christianson, Paul, ‘Royal and parliamentary voices on the ancient constitution, c. 1604–1621’, in Peck, Linda Levy, ed., The mental world of the Jacobean court (Cambridge, 1991), pp. 7195; Burgess, Glenn, The politics of the ancient constitution: an introduction to English political thought, 1603–1642 (Basingstoke, 1992); Foxley, Rachel, ‘John Lilburne and the citizenship of “free-born Englishmen”’, Historical Journal, 47 (2004), pp. 849–74.

96 CJ, iii, p. 114.

97 Bertelli, The king's body, esp. ch. 3, at p. 59.

98 Hyde, The history of the rebellion, ii, p. 487; CSPV, 1642–1643, p. 71.

99 CSPV, 1642–1643, p. 168; CJ, iii, p. 86.

100 BL, Harleian MS 165, fos. 95v–96r.

101 Williams, C. M., ‘Extremist tactics in the Long Parliament, 1642–1643’, Historical Studies, 15 (1971), pp. 136–50, at p. 143.

102 CJ, iii, p. 86. It is not specified which Evelyn this was, though it seems likely to have been Sir John Evelyn of Wiltshire, who had a history of operating alongside Holles and Pierrepont. See Scott, Politics and war in the three Stuart kingdoms, p. 41.

103 Kelsey, Sean, Inventing a republic: the political culture of the English commonwealth, c. 1649–1653 (Manchester, 1997), p. 93. For Maynard, see Adamson, ‘The English nobility and the projected settlement of 1647’, p. 568.

104 Heylyn, Aërius redivivus, p. 461; CSPD, 1644, p. 47; A proclamation touching the counterfeit great seale (Oxford, 1643).

105 The declaration and ordinance of the Lords & Commons touching the great seale of England and his majesties declaration to all his loving subjects upon occasion thereof (Oxford, 1643), pp. 1718.

106 Bedos-Rezak, Brigitte, When ego was imago: signs of identity in the middle ages (Leiden, 2011), ch. 4, at p. 75.

107 Hyde, The history of the rebellion, iv, pp. 338–9.

108 Kelsey, Inventing a republic, p. 92.

109 Kantorowicz, The king's two bodies, p. 23.

110 Kelsey, Inventing a republic, p. 93. Kelsey notes that the great seal was only purged of the royal image after the regicide.

111 Hill, Christopher, ‘Political discourse in early seventeenth-century England’, in Jones, Colin, Newitt, Malyn, and Roberts, Stephen, eds., Politics and people in revolutionary England: essays in honour of Ivan Roots (Oxford, 1986), pp. 4164.

112 Braddick, God's fury, pp. 269–70; An ordinance for sequestring notorious delinquents estates’, in Firth, Charles Harding and Rait, Robert, eds., Acts and ordinances of the Interregnum, 1642–1660 (3 vols., London, 1911), i, pp. 106–17; ‘An ordinance for the due and orderly receiving and collecting of the kings, queens and princes revenue, and the arrears thereof’, in ibid., pp. 299–303.

113 CJ, iii, pp. 239, 243–4.

114 Ibid., p. 651.

115 BL, Add. MS 31116, fo. 165v.

116 Ibid.

117 CJ, iii, p. 659; LJ, vii, p. 20.

118 Como, Radical parliamentarians, pp. 266–71.

119 BL, Harleian MS 166, fo. 130v.

120 LJ, vii, p. 25.

121 CJ, iii, pp. 665, 667; Collins, Jewels and plate, pp. 187–9.

122 CJ, iii, pp. 698, 702.

123 The document is of contested provenance, though the most probable attribution is to Henry Mildmay. See Collins, Jewels and plate, p. 189.

124 John Rushworth, ed., Historical collections of private passages of state (8 vols., 1721–2), vii, p. 985.

125 Seventh report of the royal commission on historical manuscripts, part I, report and appendix (London, 1879), p. 595.

126 Collins, Jewels and plate, pp. 190–1. For more on the sale of the royal goods after the regicide, see Brotton, The sale of the late king's goods, ch. 8, passim.

127 For an analysis of Cromwell's decision to reject the crown, see Worden, Blair, God's instruments: political conduct in the England of Oliver Cromwell (Oxford, 2012), ch. 1. For more on the ceremonial iconography of the Cromwellian republic, see Kelsey, Inventing a republic, esp. chs. 2 and 3; Knoppers, Laura Lunger, Constructing Cromwell: ceremony, portrait, and print, 1645–1661 (Cambridge, 2000); Peacey, Jason, ‘The street theatre of state: the ceremonial opening of parliament, 1603–1660’, Parliamentary History, 34 (2015), pp. 155–72; Calladine, Amy, ‘Public ritual and the proclamation of Richard Cromwell as lord protector in English towns, September 1658’, Historical Journal, 61 (2018), pp. 5376.

128 For the ‘Knave of Diamonds’ quote, see The last will and testament of the earl of Pembroke (n.p., n.d.), p. 3. For the Prynne quote, see Cobbett, ed., Cobbett's parliamentary history of England, iv, p. 162.

129 Brotton, The sale of the late king's goods, p. 332.

I am especially indebted to Richard Bell, Ed Legon, and Jason Peacey for their comments on previous iterations of this article, and for their unsparing advice, assistance, and friendship throughout. I am grateful to Misha Ewen, Eilish Gregory, and Sean Kelsey for their expertise and encouragement, and the journal's anonymous readers for their comments on an earlier draft.




Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed