Pym, John (DNB00)
PYM, JOHN (1584–1643), parliamentary statesman, born in 1584, was the eldest son of Alexander Pym of Brymore, near Bridgwater, Somerset, and Philippa Coles. His father must have died when he was, at the utmost, six years of age, as in the sermon preached at his mother's funeral in 1620—probably in 1620–1—she is said to have lived more than thirty years with her second husband, Sir Anthony Rous (Death's Sermon, by C. Fitzgeffry; the ‘Notebook’ printed as Pym's from the Brymore MSS. in Hist. MSS. Comm. 10th Rep., is in reality William Ayshcombe's, and the interesting details which it would have furnished if it had been genuine must be unhesitatingly rejected; see the question discussed in the Engl. Hist. Review for January 1895, p. 105). Pym matriculated from Broadgates Hall (now Pembroke College) on 18 May 1599, (Register of the Univ. of Oxford, Oxford Hist. Soc. II. ii. 234), and in 1601 is mentioned in a short Latin poem addressed to him by his friend Fitzgeffry, in a collection of verses which bears the name of ‘Affaniæ.’ In 1602 he became a student of the Middle Temple (information communicated by Mr. Joseph Foster), though he was never called to the bar. Mr. Firth, in his preface to Robert Browning's ‘Prose Life of Strafford’ (p. lxiv), having been misled by the notebook at Brymore, makes Pym enter the Middle Temple in 1607, in the same year as Wentworth, and naturally supposes that the friendship between the two men originated here. As a matter of fact, we have no evidence on the duration of Pym's stay in London after 1602, as we know nothing of his career till he entered the House of Commons as member for Calne in 1614. As Wentworth also sat in the same parliament, it is quite possible that Pym's intimacy with him had no earlier origin. All that we know of Pym during the six years which elapsed before parliament again met is that he married Anna Hooker or Hooke (she is called by the latter name in the pedigree at Brymore), and that his wife died in 1620. In the same year, according to the old reckoning, probably February or March 1620–1 (Fitzgeffry, in his sermon already cited, speaks of the impossibility of his attending the funeral, which could hardly be, unless he was detained by his parliamentary duties), he lost his mother.
In the parliament of 1621 Pym again sat for Calne. In the earlier part of the session his name begins to appear on committees; but it is not till after the summer adjournment that he stands forth as one of the leading speakers. His first appearance in this year was in the committee appointed to consider the state of religion and to prepare a petition against ‘papists.’ In his speech on this occasion (Proceedings and Debates, ii. 210) Pym laid stress, in the first place, on the Elizabethan doctrine that ‘papists’ were not coerced because of their religion, but because it was right ‘to restrain not only the fruit, but even the seeds of sedition, though buried under the pretences of religion.’ ‘The aim of the laws in the penalties and restraints of papists was not to punish them for believing and thinking, but that they might be disabled to do that which they think and believe they ought to do.’ In the second place, Pym recommended that an oath of association should be taken by all loyal subjects for the defence of the king's person, and for the execution of the laws in matter of religion. This falling back upon voluntary popular action was no doubt suggested to Pym by the association in defence of Elizabeth against the machinations of Mary Queen of Scots and her accomplices, but it was none the less characteristic of his habits of political thought. Popular opinion, he held to the last, must not be allowed to remain a vague sentiment. It must be organised in support of a government proceeding on the right lines. It was this practical turn which made Pym a power in the land. There is no trace in his speeches of that imaginative oratory which marks those of his contemporary Eliot.
In the struggle over the right of petition which marked the close of this parliament Pym did not take a prominent part; but he was sufficiently identified with it to be ordered to confine himself to his house in London. On 20 April 1622 he was allowed to return to Brymore. In the parliament of 1624, when he again sat for Calne, though he took part in the business of the house, he did not often make himself heard in the public debates, nor did he at any time speak at length. In 1625, in the first parliament of Charles, Pym, who now sat for Tavistock, once more took up the subject which he had made his own—the execution of the penal laws against the catholics. On 27 June he was appointed by the sub-committee on religion to draw up, in conjunction with Sandys, the articles against papists, which were ultimately adopted with some modifications (Commons' Debates, 1625, p. 18, Camden Soc.). On 9 Aug. he appeared as a reporter of the lord treasurer's financial statement, but he does not appear to have taken part in the subsequent attacks on Buckingham in the course of the Oxford sittings. In 1626 Pym, who again represented Tavistock, appeared on 17 April as the reporter of the charges against Richard Montagu [q. v.] (ib. p. 179). The ability and persistency with which Pym had carried on the campaign against the catholics commended him to the house, and on 8 May he took his place as one of the managers of Buckingham's impeachment. The articles entrusted to him were the ninth, tenth, and eleventh, dealing with the sale by the duke of titles of honour and places of judicature, and with the lavish distribution of honour among his own kindred (Rushworth, ed. 1721, ii. 335). Pym's handling of the financial questions involved finally established his reputation as a man of business.
During the interval between the second and third parliaments of Charles I nothing is heard of Pym. He seems to have adopted Wentworth's principle, that it was not well to contend with the king out of parliament. At all events, his name does not occur among those who suffered for refusing to pay the forced loan. In the third parliament of Charles I, which met in 1628, Pym again sat for Tavistock. At a conference of the leading members, held before the opening of the session, he seems to have declared against reviving Buckingham's impeachment (Forster, Life of Eliot, ii. 1, from a memorandum at Port Eliot). During the earlier part of the session, when Wentworth was attempting to bring about a compromise between the king and the House of Commons, Pym was not a frequent speaker (Nicholas's ‘Notes,’ State Papers, Dom. vol. xcvii.). On 6 May, when Wentworth's leadership had broken down, Pym was one of those who took objection to Charles's offer to renew Magna Charta and six other statutes, together with a general assurance of good intentions, in the place of an act for the redress of grievances. ‘They did not want the king's word,’ said Pym, ‘for it could add nothing to his coronation oath. What was wanted was a rule by which the king's action should in future be guided.’ Later in the session Pym warmly supported the petition of right. On 20 May he opposed the addition of a clause, sent down from the lords, with the object of safeguarding the king's sovereign power. His interest in the constitutional questions now opening out did not lead him to neglect those matters of religion in which he had formerly taken so deep an interest. On 9 June he carried up to the Lords the articles of impeachment against Roger Manwaring [q. v.], who was accused of enforcing in a sermon the duty of obeying the king on pain of damnation. On 14 June Pym, in conducting the case against Manwaring, laid down his own constitutional principles. History, he argued, ‘was full of the calamities of nations in which one party sought to uphold the old form of government, and the other part to introduce a new.’ His own solution of the difficulty was that, though from time to time reformation was necessary, it could only be safely conducted according to the original principles under which the government of each nation had been founded. The remedy for present evils, therefore, was the acknowledgment by the king of ‘ancient and due liberties,’ implying thereby that it was not by the establishment of an arbitrary power in the king for the redress of grievances. In estimating Pym's mental position it is well to compare this utterance with that which he gave in 1621 on the recusancy laws. In both of them appears the philosophising statesman rather than the political philosopher. Pym starts with a recommendation which he deems practically advisable, and strives to reconcile it with general considerations. He does not seek to defend his view against the objections of his antagonists. His eyes were opened to the value of a system which enthroned parliaments in the seat of judgment in ecclesiastical matters. He was not sufficiently in advance of his age to deprecate the infliction of penalties for such differences of opinion as appeared likely to lead to practical evils.
In the final attack on Buckingham, Pym bore his share. He had given his voice in the last parliament, he said, on 11 June, ‘that the Duke of Buckingham is the cause of all these grievances, and hath seen nothing ever since to alter his opinion’ (ib. vol. xci.). In the session of 1629 Pym's most notable appearance was in opposition to Eliot's proposal to treat the question of tonnage and poundage as a question of privilege, and to punish the officers who had exacted the duties from a member of the house, instead of joining issue on the main question with the king. ‘The liberties of this House,’ he said on 19 Feb., ‘are inferior to the liberties of this kingdom. To determine the privilege of this House is but a mean matter, and the main end is to establish possession of the subjects, and to take off the commission and records and orders that are against us. This is the main business; and the way to sweeten the business with the king, and to certify ourselves, is, first, to settle these things, and then we may in good time proceed to vindicate our privileges’ (ib. vol. cxxxv.). That Pym took the broader view of the situation can hardly be doubted; but he found no support. In the disturbance which marked the end of this session he took no part, and his name does not therefore occur among those of the men imprisoned by the king. Nor did he, at any time during the eleven years which elapsed before parliament was again summoned, take a public part in resistance to the arbitrary government of Charles.
An anecdote told by Dr. Welwood of Pym's parting with Wentworth, apparently in 1628, is of doubtful authority. Welwood states that Pym took leave of his friend with the words: ‘You are going to be undone; and remember also that, though you leave us now, I will never leave you while your head is upon your shoulders.’ It looks like a tale constructed after the event. At all events, Pym and Wentworth had not been politically in close harmony for some time. Pym was at bottom a puritan, Wentworth an anti-puritan; and the two had certainly not in 1628 ‘gone hand-in-hand in the House of Commons,’ as Welwood asserts (Memorials, vi. 47).
Another anecdote tells how Pym, together with Hampden and Cromwell, embarked with the intention of emigrating to New England, but was stopped by the king's orders. Mr. Forster (Life of Pym, p. 81) has shown that this cannot have taken place in 1638, but it is possible that something of the kind may have happened at an earlier date. Thomas Cave, in a sermon preached in 1642, ‘God waiting to be gracious,’ says: ‘Preparations were made by some very considerable personages for a western voyage—the vessel provided, and the goods ready to be carried aboard—when an unexpected and almost a miraculous providence diverted that design in the very nick of time.’ At all events, there can be no doubt of the interest taken by Pym in America. He was one of the patentees of Connecticut (Palfrey, i. 108), and was not only a patentee for Providence (Patent in P.R.O. Colonial Entry Book, iv. 1), but was treasurer of the company (ib. iii. 7; cf. Strafford Letters, ii. 141).
With the meeting of the Short parliament in 1640, Pym begins to play that part of unacknowledged leader of the House of Commons which was all that the ideas of that age permitted. On 17 April he spoke for two hours, a length of time to which Parliament was then unaccustomed. He summed up the grievances of the nation, both in civil and ecclesiastical affairs. He did not, however, ask at this time that any of the king's ministers should be held responsible, but contented himself with asking the lords to join in searching out the causes and remedies of the existing evils. Pym's moderation, combined with his energy, was the secret of his strength (there is a report of this speech in Rushworth, iii. 113; it was printed at length in 1641, with the title of A Speech delivered in Parliament by I. P., Esq., and is among the Thomason Tracts. Mr. Forster, in his Life of Pym, p. 89, gave long extracts from the latter, arguing that it had been corrected by Pym himself). On 27 April Pym followed up the blow by resisting an immediate grant of supply. On 1 May he carried a motion to send for Dr. Beale for asserting that the king had power to make laws without consent of parliament (Commons' Journals, ii. 18; Rossingham's News Letter, 4 May; State Papers, Dom. cccclii. 20). At a private meeting of the leading members, held on the 4th, it was resolved that on the following morning Pym should bring forward the subject of declaration issued by the Scots, and should ask the king to come to terms with his northern subjects (the evidence is collected in Gardiner's Hist. of England, ix. 116, n. 1). To avert what he regarded as a real catastrophe, Charles dissolved parliament on the 5th.
Pym's study was searched in vain, as well as the studies of his associates, to find compromising evidence of a conspiracy with the Scots. It is likely that he approved and even took part in those invitations to the Scots of which even now so little is accurately known. At all events, on 31 Aug., three days after the rout at Newburn, the council was alarmed by news that a meeting of the opposition, at which Pym was present, had been held in London, and it is probable that this refers to a meeting in which twelve peers signed a petition, calling on the king to redress grievances, and asking for the summoning of a fresh parliament. This petition was drawn up by Pym and St. John; and, containing as it does a demand that the advisers of the measures complained of shall be brought to trial, is evidence that Pym thought the time had come to go beyond the moderate demands made by him in the Short parliament (Petition of the Peers, 28 Aug., State Papers, Dom. cccclxv. 16; cf. Windebank to the King, 31 Aug., Clarendon State Papers, ii. 94; Savile to Lady Temple, November 1642; Papers relating to the Delinquency of Lord Savile, p. 2 in the Camden Society's Miscellany, vol. viii.) When the Long parliament met, on 3 Nov. 1640, Pym took his seat once more as member for Tavistock.
By the coincidence of his point of view with that of the vast majority of the new House of Commons, as well as by his political ability, Pym was admirably qualified to take the lead in the coming attack on the king's government. His belief that the attempt of Charles to set up an arbitrary government was closely connected with a Roman catholic plot to destroy protestantism in England was shared by most of his colleagues. He had himself seen Vane's notes of the speeches of Strafford and others at the meeting of the committee held after the dissolution of the Short parliament, and these had confirmed his views as to the existence of a deliberate design to destroy parliamentary institutions. In a speech delivered on 7 Nov. he pointed to the necessity of punishing offenders, a demand which he had forborne to make in the Short parliament (D'Ewes's ‘Diary,’ Harl. MS. 162, fol. 2b. The speech printed by Rushworth is that in the Short parliament). After again giving a detailed list of grievances, he contented himself with asking for a committee of inquiry. On the same day, in a committee on Irish affairs, a petition from Lord Mountnorris against Strafford having been read, Pym moved for a sub-committee to examine into Strafford's conduct in Ireland. Strafford himself was still in the north, and it is evident that Pym contemplated a deliberate inquiry into his misdeeds which might serve as the foundation of an impeachment at a future time. Strafford's arrival in London on the 9th, together with information conveyed to Pym of advice given by the hitherto all-powerful minister to accuse the parliamentary leaders of treason for bringing in the Scots, changed his plans. On the 11th, Pym, having first moved that the doors be locked, was empowered to carry up an immediate impeachment of Strafford. Strafford having been placed under arrest, and ultimately committed to the Tower, Pym and his associates could proceed in a leisurely way to collect evidence against him. On the 10th his name is found among those of the committee on the state of the kingdom which ultimately produced the Grand Remonstrance, and on the 11th he was placed on another committee to prepare charges against Strafford. During the following weeks he was placed on a considerable number of other committees.
In the collection of evidence against Strafford, Pym took a leading part. On 21 Dec., in a discussion on Finch's guilt, he emitted the doctrine, from which he never swerved, ‘that to endeavour the subversion of the laws of this kingdom was treason of the highest nature’ (D'Ewes's ‘Diary,’ Harl. MS. 162, f. 90). He had already, on the 16th, moved the impeachment of Laud. On the 30th he was placed on the committee on the bill for annual parliaments, which ultimately took the shape of the Triennial Act. On 28 Jan. 1641 he brought up from committee the detailed charges against Strafford.
So strong was Pym's position in parliament, and so hopeless did Charles's cause appear, that the queen attempted to win him over by obtaining his appointment as chancellor of the exchequer; while his patron, the Earl of Bedford, was to become lord treasurer. As far as we can now penetrate into the mysteries of this intrigue of the queen, it would seem that the plan was wrecked, not merely by Bedford's death not long afterwards, but by the incompatibility of the motives of the parties. Pym would doubtless have taken office readily as a pledge of a complete change of system. What the court wanted was to avert such a change by distributing offices among those who were supposed to advocate it for personal ends.
Up to this point the houses had been practically unanimous in demanding political reform. The debates on 8 and 9 Feb. on two ecclesiastical petitions showed a rift in the House of Commons, which afterwards widened into the split which brought on the civil war. Pym's contribution to the debate was ‘that he thought it was not the intention of the house to abolish episcopacy or the Book of Common Prayer, but to reform both wherein offence was given to the people’ (Bagshaw, A Just Vindication, 1660). It can hardly be doubted that, if the times had been propitious, the legislation of the Long parliament would have followed on these lines, and that Pym would have left his impress on the church as well as on the state of England.
For such legislation a time of quiet was needed, and what followed was a time of mutual suspicion. On 23 March Pym opened the case against Strafford, reiterating the opinion which he had expressed in Finch's case, that an attempt to subvert what would now be called the constitution was high treason. This allegation was bitterly resented by Charles, and on 1 April, or soon afterwards, Pym learnt the existence of a project for bringing the northern army up to Westminster, and it may be that he be- lieved Charles to have shown more sympathy with it than was the case. At all events, Pym was more strongly than ever convinced of the necessity of depriving the elements of resistance of a leader so capable as Strafford; and, with his usual instinct for gaining the popular ear, he pushed forward the charge of attempting to bring the Irish army into England, and supported it by the evidence of the notes which had come into Vane's hands. On 10 April, the lords having shown their willingness to treat Strafford with judicial fairness, the commons returned to their own house. Taking cognisance of Vane's notes, they resolved to drop the impeachment, and to proceed by bill of attainder. Pym, anxious to retain judicial forms, would gladly have avoided the change. He was indeed forced to give way at first, but he soon regained his influence; and, though the bill of attainder was formally persisted in, the commons consented to allow its managers to reply on the 13th to Strafford's defence and the legal arguments to be urged for and against him, just as if the impeachment had not been dropped. Pym's speech on the 13th was the principal exposition of the constitutional views which at this time prevailed in the House of Commons. In his anxiety to save Strafford, Charles again held out hopes of promotion to the parliamentary leaders, and before the end of April there was once more talk of making Pym chancellor of the exchequer. Twice in the course of a week he was admitted to an interview with the king (Tomkins to Lambe, 26 April, State Papers, Dom. cccclxxix. 74).
On both sides there was too much heat to allow of such an arrangement. The events of Sunday, 2 May, cost Strafford his life. Movements of armed men were heard of, and an attempt was made by Charles to gain possession of the Tower. On the 3rd there were tumults at Westminster. Pym, in the House of Commons, laid the blame not on the king, but on his counsellors, and asserted it to be the business of parliament ‘to be careful that he have good counsellors about him, and to let him understand that he is bound to maintain the laws, and that we take care for the maintaining of the word of God.’ This speech contained the germ of the Grand Remonstrance. Pym proceeded to suggest a declaration of the intentions of the house (Verney Notes, p. 66), a suggestion on which was based the protestation circulated for subscription in the kingdom.
It was dread of armed intervention which made Pym deaf to all appeals for mercy to Strafford. He had good information on all that passed at court, and everything that he heard convinced him that some desperate measures were projected. That he might carry parliament with him, on 5 May he revealed his knowledge of a design to bring the army up to Westminster. On this the lords took alarm, and passed not only the attainder bill, but another bill forbidding the dissolution of parliament without its own consent. On 10 May the royal assent was given to both bills, and Strafford was executed on the 11th.
As far as law could avail, Pym's policy had made parliament master of the situation. Charles could not get rid of the houses, and, as they took care to grant supplies only for a limited period, he would be obliged to conform his actions to their pleasure. Against force no legal defences could make provision, and it was against the employment of force by the king that Pym's efforts were now directed. A series of measures passed by parliament for the abolition of special powers acquired by the Tudor sovereigns were accepted by Charles, and preparations were made for disbanding both the English and the Scottish armies in the north of England. The prospect of the spreading among his adversaries of dissensions on ecclesiastical affairs was a source of encouragement to Charles. On 8 June the Bishops' Exclusion Bill had been thrown out by the lords, and the Root and Branch Bill, for the abolition of episcopacy, though supported by Pym and his friends in the house, roused strong opposition among those who had joined in the attack on the temporal authority of the crown. As far as we can enter into Pym's thoughts, his original view in favour of a modified episcopal system now gave way to a policy of total extirpation of bishops, because he believed that bishops nominated by the crown would always be subservient instruments of a hostile court. He was, however, as far as Falkland from desiring to establish in England a Scottish presbytery, and the Root and Branch Bill accordingly provided for the exercise of ecclesiastical jurisdiction by lay commissioners.
By the early part of June a second army plot had been concocted, in which Charles undoubtedly had a hand, and it may be presumed that some knowledge of it reached Pym before 22 June, when he carried up to the lords the ten propositions, asking them, among other things, to join in disbanding both the English and the Scottish armies, to remove evil counsellors, and to appoint such as parliament ‘may have cause to confide in’ (Lords' Journals, iv. 285). Charles agreed to disband the armies, but refused to acknowledge the supremacy of parliament by changing his counsellors. For a moment, indeed, towards the end of July, there were rumours that new ministers would be appointed, and Pym was again spoken of for the chancellorship of the exchequer (Nicholas to Pennington, 29 July, State Papers, Dom. cccclxxxii. 96). The rumour soon died away, and when, on 10 Aug., Charles set out for Scotland, there can be little doubt that Pym was aware of his intention to procure armed support to enable him to dictate terms to the English parliament.
To guard against this danger a committee of defence, of which Pym was a member, was appointed to consider in what hands should be placed the command ‘of the trained bands and ammunition of the kingdom’ (Commons' Journals, ii. 257). It was the first indication of the coming civil war.
When, on 21 Oct., Parliament reassembled after a short holiday, the news of the ‘incident’ caused fresh alarm. Pym, who had been chairman of a committee instructed to watch events during the recess, was now regarded by the growing royalist party as the chief in the fullest sense of those whom they were beginning to regard as revolutionists. On 25 Oct. some miscreant sent him a threatening letter, enclosing a plague rag. The policy which he now supported was to send up a second Bishops' Exclusion Bill. On the 26th he carried a vote asking the lords to suspend the bishops from voting in their own case. On the 30th he revealed his knowledge of the second army plot, and showed reasons for suspecting that other plots were under consideration at court. He lived in an atmosphere of suspicion, and in such a temper it might seem as if attack was the most prudent form of defence. On 1 Nov. the news of the Ulster insurrection made an immediate decision necessary. If, as all agreed, it was unavoidable that an army should be raised for its suppression, provision must be made that, after the suppression of the rebellion, this army should not be used by Charles for the suppression of parliament. On 5 Nov. Pym moved an additional instruction to the parliamentary committee with the king in Scotland, to announce that unless he changed his ministers parliament would not be bound to assist him in Ireland. So great, however, was the opposition to his proposal to desert the Irish protestants if the king proved obdurate, that on the 8th he modified it to a declaration that in that case ‘parliament would provide for Ireland without him.’ For the first time the suggestion was made that the executive government might be transferred to the house. Thus modified, the instruction was carried; but 110 votes were recorded against it and 151 in its favour. Parties were now divided on political as well as on ecclesiastical grounds. To give emphasis to this development of policy, the Grand Remonstrance, in the promotion of which Pym took a conspicuous part, was pushed on. After detailing at great length the king's misdeeds, it demanded the appointment of ministers in which parliament could confide, and the settlement of church affairs by an assembly of divines who were to be named by parliament. On 22 Nov., in his speech on the remonstrance, Pym referred to plots which had been ‘very near the king, all driven home to the court and popish party.’ The remonstrance was voted, but Charles was hardly likely to accept it.
On 25 Nov. Charles was enthusiastically received in the city on his return from Scotland. His first act on reaching Whitehall was to dismiss the guard which had been placed at Westminster for the protection of the houses, and to substitute for it a force from the trained bands under the command of one of his own partisans. Among Pym's followers a strong belief was entertained that violence was intended. Pym himself had spies at court, notably Lady Carlisle, and as early as 30 Nov. he had penetrated Charles's design. He told the house that ‘he was informed that there was a conspiracy by some member of this house to accuse other members of the same of treason’ (D'Ewes's ‘Diary,’ Harl. MS. 162, fol. 200). The guard appointed by the king having been withdrawn, Pym carried a motion that the house should be protected by a watch set by two of its own members in their character of justices of the peace in Westminster.
The mutual suspicion now prevailing between the king and the House of Commons was not allayed by subsequent events. On 1 Dec. the remonstrance was laid before Charles, who showed no readiness to accept it. A collision was probably unavoidable, but it was hastened by the necessity of providing an armed force for Ireland. On 6 Dec. an impressment bill, already passed through the commons, was before the lords, who took objection to a clause denying to the crown the right to impress men to service beyond their own county. The obvious intention was to prevent Charles from getting together an army without the consent of parliament. On 7 Dec., without taking heed of the lords' scruples, Hazlerigg brought in a militia bill, placing the militia under the command of a lord general, whose name was not as yet given. It can hardly be doubted that this extreme measure had the support of Pym. On 12 Dec. Charles offered to assent to the Impressment Bill if the question of his right to levy the militia was left open, but his interference only served to irritate the lords, and his appointment of Sir Thomas Lunsford [q. v.] to the lieutenancy of the Tower on 23 Dec., and his rejection of the remonstrance on the same day, threw both houses into opposition. So convinced was Pym that a catastrophe was impending that on the 28th, the day after the bishops had been mobbed in Palace Yard, he refused to throw blame on the disturbers of the peace. ‘God forbid,’ he said, ‘the House of Commons should proceed in any way to dishearten people to obtain their just desires in such a way’ (Dover's ‘Notes,’ Clarendon MS. 1, f. 603). Charles, on his side, surrounded himself with an armed force, and on 30 Dec., the day after that on which the bishops had protested that in their absence all proceedings in the House of Lords would be null and void, Pym moved that the city trained bands should be summoned to guard parliament against an intended act of violence. On the same day he moved the impeachment of the bishops who had signed the protest. His object was probably to secure the absence of the bishops from parliament, in order to get rid of their votes in the House of Lords.
So heated was the feeling on both sides that the only question was whether the king or the majority under Pym's guidance should be the first to deliver the attack. Charles, as usual, hesitated. On 1 Jan. 1642 he sent for Pym, offering him the chancellorship of the exchequer. It is unknown whether Pym rejected the offer or Charles repented. At all events, Culpepper was appointed on the same day, with Falkland as secretary of state. By neglecting to take the advice of his new ministers, Charles justified Pym in his refusal to be made a stalking-horse for a policy he detested, if, as is likely enough, it was Pym who refused office. There is reason to believe that Pym and his confidants meditated an impeachment of the queen as a counter-stroke, and that it was on this that Charles, urged on by his wife, instructed Attorney-general Herbert on the 2nd to impeach Pym, Hampden, Holles, Hesilrige, and Strode in the commons, and Mandeville (Lord Kimbolton in his own right) in the lords. These six were accordingly impeached on the 3rd. They were charged with complicity in the Scottish invasion, as well as with an attempt to weaken the king's government and to substitute an arbitrary power in its place. In order to procure evidence, Charles directed that the studies of Pym and others should be sealed up. The lords took offence, and ordered that the seals should be broken. As no measures were taken for placing the accused members in confinement, Charles, on 4 Jan., came to the House of Commons, followed by a crowd of his adherents in arms, to effect their arrest in person. Warned in time, the members made their escape, and took refuge in the city. The city took up their cause, and on 11 Jan. escorted them back to Westminster, the king having left on the preceding evening to avoid witnessing their triumph. It was especially Pym's triumph, for it was by him that the opposition to Charles had been organised. For some time the royalists had in mockery styled him ‘King Pym.’ His power at this time was in reality far greater than that of Charles himself.
After this there was little to be done except to fight out the question of sovereignty either by diplomacy or by war. For some time the dispute turned on the command of the militia. It was the only way in which the supremacy of parliament could at that time be asserted, and Pym did not doubt that the supremacy of parliament meant especially the supremacy of the commons. Finding the lords lukewarm, Pym told them, on 25 Jan., that he would be sorry ‘that the story of this present parliament should tell posterity that in so great a danger and extremity the House of Commons should be enforced to save the kingdom alone, and that the house of peers should have no part in the honour of the preservation of it.’ In all the wordy war with the king Pym took his full share, but he kept his eye on the probability almost amounting to certainty that the quarrel would not be settled by words alone. On 4 July he was one of the ten members of the House of Commons appointed, together with five peers, to form a committee of safety, which was a rudimentary government acting in the interests of parliament. When, on 22 Aug., Charles erected his standard at Nottingham, this committee had to stand forward as an organiser of military action.
Determined as Pym was to bring the king to submission, he did his best to avoid the appearance of angry excitement. On 27 Aug. he successfully resisted an attempt to forbid Culpepper from delivering to the house a message which he brought from Charles. He was at the same time well aware of the necessity of broadening the basis on which the action of parliament rested, and on 20 Oct., when Charles's advance towards London was known, he proposed ‘that a committee might be appointed to draw a new covenant or association which all might enter into, and that a new oath might be framed for the observing of the said association which all might take, and such as refused it might be cast out of the house’ (D'Ewes's ‘Diary,’ Harl. MS. 164, fol. 40). The idea of a voluntary association which should strengthen the government of a party had still a firm hold on Pym's mind. On 10 Nov., after the battle of Edgehill, he appeared at Guildhall to rouse the citizens to action, pointing out to them the illusory character of Charles's promises. ‘To have granted liberties,’ he said, ‘and not to have liberties in truth and realities, is but to mock the kingdom.’ The demand of the Grand Remonstrance for ministers in whom parliament could have confidence had widened into a demand for a king in whom parliament could have confidence. In placing himself at the head of the war party, Pym gave practical expression to his disbelief that Charles could be such a king, though he did not openly declare that the breach was one impossible to be healed.
Under Pym's leadership the houses grasped the power of taxation, and on 25 Nov. Pym announced their resolution to the city. He was deaf to all doubts as to the extent of the legitimate powers of parliament. ‘The law is clear,’ he said, when it was urged that the assessors of parliamentary taxation could not legally take evidence on oath: ‘no man may take or give an oath in settled times; but now we may give power to take an oath’ (Yonge's ‘Diary,’ Addit. MS. 18777, fol. 92). He had greater difficulty in persuading parliament to widen his proposed association into a league with Scotland, and on 3 Jan. 1643 a suggestion made to that effect was rejected. It is not probable that he regarded an agreement with Scotland enthusiastically. He was zealous in the cause of protestantism as interpreted by the opponents of the Laudian system, but he was not zealous for Scottish presbyterianism, though he accepted it, just as he accepted the war itself, as a less evil than the restoration of the king's authority. If, indeed, it had been possible, Pym would gladly have returned to the region of parliamentary discussion. On 9 Feb., when the negotiations to be opened at Oxford were under discussion, he supported the plan of an immediate disbandment of both armies. On 28 March, when it had become evident that the negotiations would fail, he proposed the imposition of an excise, a financial device employed in the Netherlands, but hitherto unknown in England. On 1 May, true to his design of widening the basis of resistance, he asked that a committee might be sent to Holland to acquaint the states with the true position of affairs in England, and that another committee, with the like object, might be sent to Scotland. To leave no door for a reasonable accommodation closed, he entered at the same time on a secret negotiation with the queen, in the hope that she would influence her husband to make the concessions which he had rejected at Oxford.
Peace on these terms being beyond his reach, Pym did his best to push on the war vigorously. On 6 June he reported on Waller's plot. On the 26th, two days after Hampden's death, he conveyed to Essex the blame of the House of Commons for his dilatoriness. On 11 July, after the defeat of the two Fairfaxes at Adwalton Moor, he persuaded the house to reject Essex's request that a negotiation should be reopened; and on 2 Aug., after Waller's defeat on Roundway Down, he showed himself an able diplomatist in reconciling the claims of Essex and Waller, whose rivalries bade fair to ruin the parliamentary cause at so critical a moment. On the 3rd he induced Essex to agree with the House of Commons in rejecting the peace propositions of the lords, which would have been equivalent to an absolute surrender. Pym's activity in maintaining the war brought on him the anger of all who were eager for peace at any price; and on 9 Aug. a mob of women beset the House of Commons, crying out for the surrender of Pym and other roundheads, that they might throw them into the Thames.
The defeats of the summer impressed on the whole house the necessity of adopting Pym's policy in regard to Scotland. Nothing short of military necessity could have driven even a mutilated parliament to adopt the price of Scottish aid, the imposition on England of an alien system of ecclesiastical discipline. Pym openly acknowledged as much. When others pleaded, on 2 Sept., that modified episcopacy was the best medicine for the church, Pym replied that the church was like a sick man who saw a murderer approaching. In such a case the sick man must either ‘cast away his medicine and betake himself to his sword, or take his medicine and suffer himself to be killed.’ The former choice, ‘to prevent and remedy the present danger,’ was, in Pym's eyes, by far the best (Yonge's ‘Diary,’ Addit. MS. 18778, fol. 29). Pym's argument was accepted, and on 25 Sept. the members, Pym among them, began taking the covenant. The alliance with Scotland was Pym's last political achievement. On 8 Nov. he became master of the ordnance. He had for some time been suffering from an internal abscess, and on 8 Dec. he died (A Narrative of the Death and Disease of John Pym, by Stephen Marshall). The royalists delighted to spread the rumour that he had been carried off by the foul disease of Herod.
On 15 Dec. Pym was buried, with a public funeral, at Westminster Abbey, whence his body was ejected after the Restoration. The House of Commons voted 10,000l. to pay his debts and to provide for his younger children. On 5 Jan. 1646 an ordinance was passed (Commons' Journals, vi. 397) setting aside as chargeable for this purpose the estate of a delinquent, Thomas Morgan of Heyford in Northamptonshire, and, in case of its proving insufficient, that of Sir James Preston of Furness in Lancashire (Commons' Journals, vi. 19, 607; Cal. Committee for Compounding, pp. 1898–1902).
By his wife Anna Hooker or Hooke Pym had two sons—Alexander, who died unmarried, and Charles, who served in the parliamentary army, was created a baronet by Richard Cromwell, and was confirmed in the honour by Charles II in 1663. The latter's only son, Charles Pym, died without issue in 1688, when the baronetcy became extinct, and the estates passed to his sister Mary, wife of Sir Thomas Hales of Bekesbourne. Pym's seat at Brymore eventually passed to the Earls of Radnor through the marriage of William, first earl, to Anne, dowager lady Feversham, and daughter of Sir Thomas Hales (Burke, Extinct Baronetage; Burke, Peerage, s.v. ‘Radnor;’ Notes and Queries, 3rd ser. viii. 206, 278, 342).
Two anonymous portraits of Pym belonged in 1866 respectively to Sir Henry Wilmot, bart., and the Marquis Townsend; an engraving by Glover after Bower was prefixed to his funeral sermon, 1644; other engravings are by Hollar and Houbraken.[The only full modern biography is Mr. John Forster's, in the series of British Statesmen in Lardner's Cabinet Cyclopædia. Cf. Gardiner's Hist. of England, 1603–42, and Hist. of the Great Civil War, and Reports of Parliamentary Proceedings.]