Norfolk and the Little Parliament of 1653

By C. B. Jewson


On April 20th, 1653, Cromwell forcibly dissolved the Rump of the Long Parliament. To the secular mind of the twentieth century his action appears as a triumph of Military Dictatorship over the last vestiges of parliamentary legality. The people of the seventeenth century tended to emphasize the religious implications of the dissolution, regarding it as a triumph of the Independants who were dominant in the army.

Since the accession of Queen Elizabeth I the further reform of the Church of England had been sought by puritan churchmen. The theoretical goal of such reform had been the establishment of a Presbyterian system. This further measure of reformation had always been effectively blocked by the crown. Eager spirits, driven out of England for their puritan convictions, had experimented in Holland and New England and had evolved the practical alternative of Congregationalism or Independency. Under this system all church powers were decentralized and vested in each “particular church” which consisted of a society of believers bound together by a covenant for the constant exercise of the communion of saints among themselves. Their prophet was William Ames an Ipswich man born in 1576 and educated under William Perkins at Cambridge. His puritanism barred the way to advancement in England and he settled in Holland where he became Professor of the University of Franeker and attained a European reputation as a teacher. In his Medulla Theologica he defined or rather described the church as the Congregationalists understood it. The Medulla was translated into English as “The Marrow of Sacred Divinity.” Published by order of the Honourable House of Commons in 1642 it exercised a wide influence.

Men who belonged to Congregational Churches had formed the backbone of Cromwell's armies. Such surely was the man Cromwell described as the “russet-coated captain, who knows what he is fighting for and loves what he knows.” They had fought with a religious zeal to free themselves from Anglican uniformity and had no more wish to submit to the Presbyterian uniformity which they feared the Parliament would ultimately enforce upon them. Such men immediately greeted Cromwell's high-handed action as an act of deliverance. He received, as he reported, many papers from the Churches of Christ throughout the nation wonderfully approving what had been done in removing obstacles. One such paper came from Norfolk and is preserved in the Milton State Papers.

May it please your Excellency,
Wee, the churches of Christ in the county of Norfolk, with humble thankfulnesse to the Lord of Hosts, affected and stirred up in the beholding of his allmighty and most gracious arme stretched out with your Excellency, and those other his chosen instrumments under your command as also professing our speciall relation, wherein wee are called to observe and attend upon the goeings of our God for the exalting of the Lord Jesus doe herewith unanimously, and in his holy name, acknowledge and embrace the signall fruites of his everlasting Covenant-mercy, so plentifully reaped for his poore people in your Excelnencyes late proceedings; the which as lively answeares of our instant groanes to Heaven, we do all take up as engagements never to be forgotten, for the knitting up of our hearts to our gracious father and his precious instruments still further entreating the King of Saints for your Excellency, that as your love to his testimonies arid to his churches, hath made your name as a precious ointment among the faithfull; Soe may your wayes ever flourish under the dew of that good spirit in the midst of your most important agitations, that all the thousands of Israel may call you blessed. Yea againe, with joynte hearts and mouthes, we say. Blessed be you in the name of the Lord
Subscribed in the name of the churches, who doe instruct the Reverend Mr William Bridge to Waite upon your Excellency.
For the church at Norwich: Timothy Armitage, John Eyre
For the church at Allby: Will.. Sheldrake, Nathaniel Brewster
For the church at Yarmouth: Tho. Dunne, Sam. Shipeham
For the church at Pulham: Samuell Prentice, Walter Reyner
For the church at Hapton: Edward Wale, Thomas Wetherell
For his Excellencie the Lord Oliver Cromwell, Captaine General of all the forces raysed by the Commonwealth of England.

Two days after the dissolution of the Rump the Army Council published its intention that the supreme authority should be devolved upon “known persons, men fearing God, and of known integrity.” On 30 April a Proclamation was issued that persons of approved fidelity and honesty were to be called from the several parts of the Commonwealth to be the Supreme Authority. That same day Major-General Harrison who had been actively concerned with Cromwell in the dissolution of the Rump wrote to a friend that it was “resolved to have in power men of truth, fearing and loving our Lord, his people and interest: the difficulty is to get suclh: whether my Lord only shall call them or the Saints choose them.”' By 6 May a procedure had been determined upon. There was be an assembly at Westminster of men chosen by the Army Council from lists of persons nominated by the Independent Churches in each county.

The nominations for Norfolk were made by the representatives of seven churches as follows:

Addresse of the Churches in Norfolk to the Lord General and the Councell of State
Right Honourable,
Wee whose names are underwritten, in the name of the respective churches of Christ in the county of Norfolke here undermentioned, doe humbly nominate and present to your Honours these persons in the behalfe of the saide county. viz.
Major-General Philip Skippon, Henry King, Esq.
Tobias Freere, Esq. Capt. Roger Harper
Major Ralfe Woolnier
As men truly fearing God, experienced to be faithful!, and such as it is desired (on behalfe of the godly and well affected in the said county and elsewhere) may be elected members of the succeeding government, and keepers of the liberties of the saide Commonwealth.
In the name of the church at Norwich: John Tofte, Daniel Bradford
In the name of the church at North Walsham: Richard Breviter, Anthony Playfordes
In the name of the church at Pulham: Samuel Prentice, Thomas Benton
In the name of the church at Glitwyck: Richard Worts, Edward Gay
In the name of the church at Alby: Nathaniel Brewster, John Miller
In the name of the church at Tunsteade: Christopher Cutting, William Beare
In the name of the church at Windham: Christopher Pooly, Thomas Manfield

The Churches subscribing these two letters call for some notice as do those who signed on their behalf:

The Yarmouth and Norwich Churches were the parents of Congregationalism in Norfolk, founded in 1643 by members of the English Church at Rotterdam, returned home “after ye glad tydings of a hopefull Parliament called and convened in England.”
William Bridge (1600-70) M.A. of Emmanuel Cambridge; Rector of St. Peter Hungate, Norwich, 1632-36, deprived by Bishop Wren for refusing to rail in the altar; minister of the English Church at Rotterdam, 1636~42; Town Preacher Great Yarmouth, 1642, minister of the Congregational Church there; member of the Westminster Assembly 1643; one of the Triers for ejecting ignorant ministers in Norfolk and Norwich, 1653 ejected from St. Nicholas, Yarmouth (where his church occupied the chancel), 1661. Died at Stepney, 1670.

Thomas Dunne. Admitted a member of the Yarmouth Congregational Church, October 1650 and chosen one of its Ruling Elders in January 1652; elected one of Town's Members of Parliament in 1654.

Samuel Shipdham. Admitted a member of the Yarmouth Congregational Church in November 1643. He was one of the Common Councilmen dismissed from the Corporation in 1660.

Timothy Armitage (--1655) Wednesday lecturer at St. Michael's, Coslany. Norwich; pastor of the Norwich Congregational Church, 1647; “a gracious and sweet-spirited man” as appears by the two volumes of his sermons which were published.

John Eyre, a grocer. He and his wife Mary went to Holland in 1637 and were in membership with the English Church at Rotterdam. They were foundation members of the Norwich Church.

John Tofts son of Thomas Tofts admitted Freeman Grocer of Norwich, 1645. He had joined the Congregational Church in tile previous year.

Daniel Bradford, one of the founding members of the Norwich Church. having previously been in membership with the English Church at Rotterdam. He was subsequently a leader of the Baptists.

The Hapton Church was in existence in May 1645 when it consulted the Yarmouth Church about the administration of the Lord's Supper. There is a letter from Cromwell in July 1647 asking Thomas Knyvett of Ashwellthorpe to protect the members of this church from injury and oppression - “Sir, this is a quarrelsome age and anger seems to me to be the worse, where the ground is difference of opinion; which to cure, to hurt men in their names, persons or estates, will not be found an apt remedy.” Edward Wale, who may have been the weaver from Wramplingham who travelled from Yarmouth to Rotterdam in 1637 was now pastor at Hapton. He went to Ireland in 1655 and became pastor of a church at Waterford.

The Alby Church was incorporated by the "saints in and about Alby"in February 1651. William Sheldrick (c. 1627-85) M.A. of Caius, Cambridge Rector of Reepham, 1652; Lecturer at Wisbech, 1655; ejected 1660; thereafter plyed his father's trade in wool and yarn; succeeded Wm.. Bridge as pastor at Gt. Yarmouth, 1672; licenced there as Congregational Teacher in that year. Nathaniel Brewster was pastor of the Alby Church. In 1655 he held the living of Alby and Thwaite worth about £50. He went to Ireland in June 1655 bearing a letter from Cromwell to Fleetwood the Lord Deputy.

The people at Pulham were contemplating “entering into church estate” in 1646 when they sought advice from the Norwrich Church. Correspondence between the Hapton and Yarmouth Churches in 1647 reveals that the Pulham Church “denies the administration of baptism to infants “- that is to say it was a Baptist Church. It is not clear that the Pulham people remained of one mind on this issue. George Whitehead, the Quaker, held a public disputation with their minister Thomas Benton in 1659 when he described him as “an Jndependent minister.” The Baptist element continued for there was still a Baptist Church here in 1689. Thomas Benton, pastor of this church, was admitted Rector of Pulham St. Mary in 1658 and ejected in 1660. Samuel Prentice was commissioned as a Major of Foot in the Norfolk Militia in 1650.

At Wymondham the “godly party” were in touch with the Yarmouth Church in 1646 concerning their embodying. There was some difference between them as to whether the baptizing of infants was the way of God or not. They were not actually embodied until 1652 when John Money was transferred from the Norwich Church to be their minister. Money who was M.A. of Queen's Cambridge in 1632 and had been ordained priest at Norwich in the following year also held the Vicarage of Wymondham from which he was ejected in 1661.

Christopher Pooly was not the clergyman of that name who was Rector of Gt. Massingham and in 1652 published “The Vindication of Christ in his Ordinances” attacking the errors of Independents, Anabaptists and Brownists. Probably he was the man who was B.A of King's Cambridge in 1642-43 and ordained deacon at Norwich in May 1643 at the age of 23 and had been curate of Thwaite in Suffolk. He was a Fifth Monarchist and in 1656 became a Baptist. After the Restoration he was concerned with Thomas Tillam in persuading the faithful to emigrate on the ground that the sins of the Kingdom were so great that God would certainly destroy it.

The church at North Walsham had been formed in 1652 in fellowship with the Yarmouth Church.

Richard Breviter was M.A. of Corpus Christi, Cambridge, 1647 and Vicar of Walcot in the same year; Vicar of North Walsham, 1651 (a living of £40 a year) and pastor of the Congregational Church there. In 1656 he and part of his flock became Baptists and embraced the Fifth Monarchy doctrine. He resigned his living in 1656. Died 1663-44.

The church at Glistwyck (Guestwick) was formed at the end of 1652.

Richard Worts was M.A, of Cams, Cambridge, 1648 and Vicar of Guestwick, 1650. Foundation pastor of the Congregational Church. Rector of Foulsham and Themelthorpe, 1654 on presentation of the Protector. Ejected 1660. Arrested in 1664 he suffered seven years imprisonment for infringing the Conventicle Act. Licenced to preach at Guestwick, 1672. Remained pastor of the church till his death in 1686.

The church at Tunstead was embodied in October 1652 in fellowship with the Yarmouth Church. Its minister (John Green) was later (1657) Vicar of Tunstead and Sco Ruston.

Such were the churches and their representatives who nominated the Norfolk members of the Little Parliament. They comprised only a tiny fraction of the population but so indeed did the 40/- freeholders to whom the normal parliamentary franchise was limited. Perhaps the most remarkable fact is that however revolutionary the manner of selection was, the people selected were in the main just the type who would have been returned by the orthodox means.

Of the nominees only Skippon had previously sat in Parliament, being elected for Barnstable in a bye-election in 1647. His nomination was no doubt an expression of pride in his Norfolk origin. The son of yeoman parents of West Lexham he had risen to a position of considerable eminence. He was a professional soldier with a good record of service in the Palatinate and the Low Countries. He fought at Naseby where he marshalled the Parliamentary foot soldiers and later commanded the London Militia. He had been appointed one of the King's judges - but he never attended the court.

The remaining four nominees though innocent of parliamentary experience were drawn from a class of persons who, from the time the Norwich burgesses sent Adam de Toftes, formerly eight times their bailliff, to the Parliament of Edward I down to the present day have provided representatives to Westminster - those who are active in local government. Henry King of Norwich and Tobias Frere of Redenhall on the Suffolk border were both active Magistrates wvhose names appear frequently in the pages of the Quarter Sessions Order books for the county while RaIf Woolmer and Roger Harper had been sufficiently prominent in local affairs to be appointed Norfolk Commissioners of the Assessment in December 1652.

Only three of the Norfolk Nominations were accepted by the Army Council. Skippon and Harper were omitted and William Burton of Yarmouth and Robert Jermy of Bayfield substituted in their places. We can only surmise the reasons for these changes but there are clues which may account for them. The first is that the important church at Great Yarmouth had not been a party to the nominations. Perhaps its representatives were unable to attend the meeting which must have been held to determine the matter or possibly they found themselves in disagreement with the majority decision and refused to support it. It was probably the independent representations of the Yarmouth Church which caused the Army Council to select Burton. Jermy had a record of active support for the parliamentary cause and is said to have served under General Harrison who was certainly a powerful influence in settling the list of names.

William Burton was perhaps the most notable of the five Norfolk members. A considerable merchant and shipowner of Yarmouth, he and his wife Martha had been associated with the Congregational Church there since l644 though he was not formally admitted to its membership until July 1652. At the outset of the civil war he had contributed to the funds of the parliament both money and plate, including one of his best silver spoons and a silver bodkin. He was bailiff in 1649. He was authorized to raise a troop of one hundred men for the defence of the town and given the rank of Major. By 1651 he was regularly employed as agent of the Admiralty. He was in charge of building fortifications under General Monck's directions. He gave orders to Men-of-War calling at Yarmouth and passed back their information to London. He had sometimes to press men for the navy a job he cordially disliked and for which he received little thanks. He recommended to the Admiralty Committee men suitable for promotion in the fleet. Sometimes he arranged victualling and water for he ships although the Admiralty seem to have been chary of employing him in this for fear that he should make a private profit. He bought naval stores for he government - hemp and iron in particular - and he had them worked - up into cordage and anchors. He supervized ship-building. He arranged for surgeons to be available when a battle was expected. During the Dutch War and again in the Spanish War he made great efforts to arrange convoys for the herring fishers and mackerel fishers and to organize the exchange of prisoners. At one time he held as many as eighty prisoners of war at Yarmouth. The prison was full and he had to use two towers of the town wall as well. He was constantly troubled by the wailing of the wives of Yarmouth men in prison at Ostend but refused to act directly for exchanges - as it was alleged some other towns did - insisting on awaiting instructions from Whitehall.

As for the other Norfolk Representatives, Tobias Frere came of a family which had migrated from Suffolk in the sixteenth century and in 1621 had acquired the manor of Redenhall. He had aspired unsuccessfully to a place in the 1640 parliament, earning this notice in L’Estrange’s anecdotes:

“Tobias Frere, a pretended zelote but true ringleader and head of all factions and schismaticall spirits in the County, puft up with the pride aud strength of his party, must needs stand to be Kt. (or rather Knave) of the shire for Norff, but fell most shamefully short, and lost it with many squibs and disgraces; only for his comfort a true disciple of his say'd: ‘ However, I am sure Mr. Fryer stood for Christ Jesus, for none but reprobates and profane wretches went against him.’”

When the civil war broke out he was active on the parliamentary side, serving on various local committees. In 1648 he was a Commissioner for the Norfolk Militia. He was busy too as a county magistrate, serving on the Beacons committee which reported on April 1653 on the twelve Norfolk beacons and commending a county rate for their maintenance.

Robert Jermy was son of John and Eleanor Jermy of Norwich. Their ascent has been traced from a thirteenth-century Sir John Jermy who married Margery, daughter and co-heir of Roger Bigot, Earl of Norfolk. The Jermys acquired Bayfield Hall in the 1620s. Robert Jermy was admitted to the Middle Temple in 1621 and called to the Bar in 1629. In September 1643 he was appointed to the Norfolk Committee under the Ordinance for the Defence of the Eastern Association (as also was Tobias Frere). In February 1650 he was commissioned Colonel of Horse and Dragoons in the Norfolk Militia. Later on in the same year he was responsible for warning the Government of the Royalist conspiracy in the Norwich area. Troops were drafted in and five judges sent down to try the conspirators. A number of local magistrates were appointed to sit with the judges, among them Wm. Burton, Tobias Frere, Robt. Jermy and Henry King. The court commenced its work on Friday, December 20, in Norwich New Hall and sat through Christmas week, condemning nineteen men who were summarily hanged. Among the unfortunates was Mr. Cooper, the minister and schoolmaster at Holt. As Cooper was his neighbour, Jermy was suspected of some malice in securing his conviction.

Henry King was a Norwich man and probably a lawyer. We first meet with him in August 1637 paying a visit to Holland to see his sisters. He then told the customs officer he was 36 years old. In June 1643 he was of the Norfolk Committee for execution of certain ordinances of parliament. He joined the Norwich Congregational Church in 1644. In 1645 he was on the Norwich Committee for the New Model Ordinance. In December 1652 he was appointed Commissioner for the Assessment for both Norwich and Norfolk. He was among the most active of the county magistrates, sitting at Norvich and elsewhere. In 1650 he was one of those appointed to view Norwich Castle and to look into the cost of its repair. He was later treasurer for the purpose.

Ralph Woolmer had been commissioned as Major of Horse and Dragoons under Robert Jermy in 1650 in the Norfolk Militia. In December 1652 he was a Commissioner for Norfolk for the Assessment. He served later as a county magistrate. Hc was a member of the Wymondham Church.

On 4 July, 1653 the large majority of those summoned duly assembled in the Council Chamber at Whitehall. We may be sure that some if not all of our Norfolk members were present. William Burton wrote to the Admiralty Committee on 13 June that he was summoned to Whitehall on 4 July - he obviously intended to attend. The authorities seem to have been especially anxious that he should be there for on 29 June the Council of State gave orders that convenient lodgings were to be provided for him, a provision which cannot have been made for the generality of members. Tobias Frere, Robert Jermy and Henry King regularly sat on magisterial benches in Norfolk but their names do not appear on the Quarter Sessions Order Book during the period of the Little Parliament which is at least negative evidence that they may have been there. It was a hot day and the room was crowded. The Lord General presented them with a deed under his hand and seal constituting them the Supreme Authority.

He promised to “contract himself”' and proceeded to a long speech.He first sketched the Providences which had led up to their meeting. He had wished to use all fair and lawful means to have the nation reap the fruit of all the blood and treasure that had been spent. He had tried in vain to get the Parliament to bring forth the good things promised and expected. Its members were only interested in perpetuating their own power: so its dissolution had been necessary. And so he had been moved to put them to this trouble - " for government must not fall " . . . " truly you are called by God to rule with Him and for Him, and you are called to be faithful with the saints who have been somewhat instrumental to your call. . . ." He urged them to protect the poorest and most mistaken Christian were he only willing to live peaceably under them. Let them endeavour to promote the gospel and encourage a faithful ministry. Turning to themselves - " we have not allowed ourselves in the choice of one person, in whom we had not this good hope, that there was love, that there was faith in Jesus Christ and love towards his people." Then he allowed himself to appear to give some support to the speculations of Harrison and the Fifth Monarchists - " I say you are called with a high calling and why should we be afraid to say or think that this may be as the door to usher in the things Which God hath promised, and have been prophesied of and which he hath set the hearts of his people to wait for and expect. . ." His speech was adorned with Scripture references and must have taken more than an hour to deliver.

The men who listened to this address were the nominees of churches of the Congregational order, many of them actually in membership with such churches. As church members they were accustomed to meet not only for Sunday worship when their service was conducted by a minister set apart for that purpose but also on other occasions for the less formal exercises of prayer and exhortation in which those who were gifted were encouraged to take part. They would also come together in formal church meeting for the conduct of their church’s business; the reception or discipline of members, the financial affairs of the church, the appointment of ministers and deacons when required and all other matters affecting their community life as a “society of the faithful.” This assembly in Whitehall must have seemed to them much like a large-scale church meeting and they acted accordingly. They spent the first day's session in prayer, seven of the members taking part; they resolved to employ in their business only such as, " the House shall be first satisfied of his real godliness." They ordered a Bible for the use of the House and they sent a declaration to the Sheriffs of the counties to be dispersed among the churches inviting the People of God to seek the Lord for a blessing upon their Counsels and Proceedings.

On the second day, Tuesday, 5 July, they called to the chair the most experienced parliamentarian among them - Francis Rous, the veteran provost of Eton. Next day, by 65 votes to 46, they resolved to assume the title of Parliament. On Thursday a committee was appointed - Tobias Frere among them - to find a fit person to be Sergeant at Arms. The next Monday was again occupied in prayer and on Tuesday it was resolved to have back the mace - the bauble Cromwell had so rudely removed not three months before.

Despite their preoccupation with religious matters and the small proportion of members having previous parliamentary experience, they were soon forced to find ways of getting practical business done. A committee was appointed - Ralph Woolmer was one of its members - to consider the right ordering and disposing of the business of the House by Committees. Business indeed was pouring in in the shape of petitions and to deal with it a number of Committees were appointed. The Norfolk Members served on the following:
Burton : Committee for Trade and Corporations
Frere : Committee for Affairs of Ireland
Frere : Committee for Receiving Petitions
Jermy : Committee for Receiving Petitions
King : Committee of the Law
Woolmer : Committee to consider the Property of Incumbents in Tithes
Woolmer : Committee for the Army and Navy
Woolmer : Committee for inspecting Treasuries

Though it appears from this list that Woolmer was the most active parliamentarian among them, he was the first to be excused attendance, being given leave by the House to go into the country on 11 August. On 12 September Frere also was given leave of absence for a month to go into the country.

The parliament had to provide for the carrying on of the war with Holland. On 27 July they passed an Act regularizing Cromwell's declaration which provided an assessment of £120,000 a month for the maintenance of the armed forces and appointing a committee and "treasurers at war." Next day followed a second Act for managing the affairs of the admiralty and navy with the appointment of eleven commissioners for the purpose, among them Robert Blake, George Monck and the Norfolk member William Burton. Under these arrangements the war was successfully prosecuted. In pursuance of their foreign policy Bulstrode Whitlocke was sent to Stockholm to negotiate a treaty with the Swedes.

Important changes were made in financial arrangements. Their third Act passed on 28 July was “Touching the several receipts of the Revenue and Treasuries of the Commonwealth.” They abolished the medieval forms of recording the receipt of revenue and substituted a plain easy method on the lines of those employed by Venice and the Dutch. Despite financial improvements they felt the pressing need to raise more money and on 7 August Jermy was appointed to a small committee to consider propositions for this purpose. Several measures of law reform were achieved. On 5 October an important Act provided for the release from prison of bankrupts unable to pay and hitherto condemned to spend their lives in custody living on charity. The same Act laid down that a table of just and moderate fees payable to gaolers for the accommodation of prisoners should be published and that arrangements should be made to supply wholesome beer and other provisions to be sold to prisoners at moderate prices. Two other Acts of 2 August and 4 November were designed to reduce the costs of legal processes.

Perhaps the most revolutionary law passed by this parliament was its Act of 24 August making marriage a civil ceremony - the knot to be tied by a justice instead of the parson.

The Norfolk members would be specially concerned with the Bill for regulating the Making of Stuffs in Norfolk and Norwich. An existing Act which gave authority to a corporation of Master Weavers to control the manufacture of stuffs and to mark approved cloth and to proceed against defaulters came up for renewal and was re-enacted on 12 November without time-limit.

In his opening speech to this parliament Cromwell had casually let fall an important and fatal expression of his philosophy of parliamentary government.

"How hard and difficult a thing it was," he said to get anything to be carried, without making parties and friends &c, things indeed unworthy of a parliament."

After three hundred years' experience of parliamentary government the notion that a party is a thing "unworthy of a parliament "strikes us as utterly unreal. Yet that was what Cromwell had learned to believe and, acting on his belief, he never took steps to organize a party to promote government policy in his parliaments The inevitable consequence was that the opposition formed a party and began to frustrate government policy until Cromwell was driven to a dissolution. The opposition in this parliament has been described as "the extreme totalitarian radicals, the Anabaptists and their fighting zealots, the Fifth Monarchy men." Their leader was Major-General Harrison, aptly described by a contemporary as, "A very gallant, deserving, heavenly man, but most high flown for the kingdom of saints." Basing their expectations on an interpretation of the prophecy of Daniel these people believed that the then government would be followed by the Fifth Monarchy when Christ would return to reign with his saints. Their tendency was therefore anarchic - they wanted to overturn the existing government to make way for this happy consumation. Cromwell admired their religious enthusiasm but when their proposals ran counter to his instinct for conservative and common-sense solutions he was ready to curb them. The influence of Harrison's party was at once felt in the Little Parliament. The Dutch mission, sent to discuss terms for peace, could make no headway because the Harrisonians considered the seas should be secured to make way for the coming of Christ. An inevitable struggle arose over religious policy. Cromwell desired to guarantee the freedom of Independents (both paedo-baptist Congregationalists and Baptists) within the framework of a State-supported church. Harrison wanted religion freed from the fetters of state-control and state-support, the churches being left to provide voluntarily for the maintenance of the ministry. His programme involved the abolition of tithe. Here he offended Cromwell's instincts at two points - the ministry should not suddenly be deprived of the customary means of support, and patrons and lay-impropriators should not be deprived of their rights and properties. There is preserved among the Thurloe State Papers a list of members with those starred who were “for the godly, learned ministry and universities.” Frere, Woolmer and King are marked with stars: Burton and Jermy, on this issue at any rate, appear to have voted with Harrison's opposition. The conflict blew up in other fields too: in the realm of law Harrison secured a vote to abolish the Court of Chancery. Perhaps most serious of all was the opposition to Army finance. The Act providing for the monthly assessment was due to run out at Christmas and must be renewed. Harrison attacked the renewing Bill and advocated large reductions in the soldiers' pay.

So at last the conservative element acted. The non-party majority of the Parliament met early on 12 December, taking the organized opposition by surprise, and abdicated their powers to Cromwell.

The five Norfolk members returned home to their normal avocations. Ralf Woolmer and Henry King sat regularly on the bench when the county justices met at Norwich. Occasionally they were joined by Robert Jermy and Tobias Frere. They attended to the repair of bridges and all the minutiae that fell to the lot of the county administration. Tobias Frere was again returned for Norfolk to the Parliament of 1654. But he soon left the scene for a stone in Redenhall Church records his death on 6 February 1655 (56) in his 66th year. His ghost has been reputed to walk between Redenhall and Harleston. We get a glimpse of Ralf Woolmer in the journals of George Whitehead, the Quaker, in 1654. He tells us that Richard Huberthorne was moved to go and speak in the Wymondham steeplehouse, “at which the priest, whose name was John Money, and Ralph Wollner, called a justice, (being both professors) were offended and the said Ralph Wollmer sent him to Wymondham Bridewell.” Huberthorne was sent thence to Norwich Castle but Woolmer thought better of it a few days later and sent a discharge for his release.

In July 1656, Henry Haynes, the acting Major-General for the district wrote to Secretary Thurbe that he had arranged to meet Woolmer and others who were “eminent among the churches” to endeavour to dissuade them from embroiling themselves in the Fifth Monarchy agitation. He was evidently successful for later in that year Woolmer was asked to advise the government on the bona fides of the men chosen to sit in parliament. He wrote to Haynes in September that he found no man willing to give information on this score but enclosing some information which had been offered on the occasion of the last parliament.

In 1654 Henry King was appointed a commissioner for the Ejection of Scandalous Ministers; in 1656 for the security of the Protector's life. After the Restoration he was in trouble with the Commissioners of Charitable Uses concerning £470 subscribed by Sir Thomas Hogan, Richard Catlyn and others to be layed out for buying impropriations in or near the city of Norwich for the benefit of the ministers of several parish churches. These subscriptions had been made about 1638 before the outbreak of the civil war and it is likely the money had been spent during the war in ways that royalists and episcopalians would not approve.

Robert Jermy like Henry King was one of the commissioners for the security of the Protector's life in 1656. In January 1659 he was involved in a disputed election at Castle Rising. Two returns were made, one by the Mayor returning Guibon Goddard and John Fielder and one by the parson, John Calvert (who had previously ministered at Letheringsett under Jermy's patronage) and several burgesses returning Guibon Goddard and Jermy. Although the Mayor's return was accepted primia facie Jermy was ultimately admitted member for the burgh in the following April.

After the Restoration we find him presenting to the living of Bayfield in 1661 and several times to Letheringsett. He was recommended for a baronetcy and the warrant conferring it was actually made out (in 1663) but never signed by the King. Probably it was stopped by the efforts of the enemies he had made as a leading supporter of the Commonwealth. He was subject of an extremely defamatory ballad, accusing him of cowardice and various mal-practices, which was published in “A Collection of Loyal Songs.” He made a will in 1677 and died in the same year.

William Burton went back to his duties as Admiralty agent at Yarmouth. He was again returned to Parliament as representative of the town in 1656 and 1659. It is said that in 1657 he was one of seventy members who voted to offer the crown to Cromwell. If this is correct he had travelled far from his support of Harrison and the Fifth Monarchy in the days of the Little Parliament. In 1659 he was bailiff a second time. It was expected that the King on his restoration would land at Yarmouth and arrangements were made for the corporation to meet His Majesty in state and to entertain him at Bailiff Burton's house. Had this happened the King's host might well have received a knighthood and would surely have stood well with the new regime as so many of his former colleagues were to do. But the King landed elsewhere and Burton lost his chance to make his peace. When the Act of Free and General Pardon, Indemnity and Oblivion was passed he was one of the eighteen persons named therein as debarred from exercising any public employment in the kingdom. He prudently retired to Rotterdam but had so neglected his own affairs in the service of the state that he left many debts unpaid. He was able to return unobstrusively a few years later. He died in 1673 at the age of 65 and was buried in St. Nicholas Church beneath a stone inscribed:
“He liv'd to Christ He dy'cl in Christ, and must
Appear with Christ: Disturb not then his dust.”
His son John, who married Cromwell's niece Jane Desborough, was to sit as Member of Parliament for Yarmouth in 1701.

The Little Parliament was certainly a curious experiment in the manner of selecting a legislative assembly. At no other time did the Independants come so near to exercising political power. The majority proved to be conservative and the radical minority destroyed its chances of success by an attempt to go too far and too fast. Our Norfolk members seem to have taken the episode in their stride - an unusual piece of public duty perhaps but one to be performed like any other. A brief stay at Westminster was well enough. They were no doubt pleased to return to local affairs.


Ref: Jewson, C.B. 1961. Norfolk and the Little Parliament of 1653. Norfolk Archaeology. v32. 129-141.