1648, the Knights, Gentry, Clergy and Commonalty of Kent petition for Parliament to make peace with Charles I

The knights, gentry, clergy and commonalty of Kent subscribed by the grand jury. SP 16/516 f. 65 (1648)

To the honourable the Lordes and Commons assembled in Parlament at Westminster

The humble petion of the knightes gentry clergy and commonalty of the countie of Kent subscribed by the grand jury the 18th of May 1648 at the sessions [offe?] the judges upon an especiall comission of oyer and terminer there executed at the old castell of Canter berry for the said countie

Sheweth that first wee are deeply sencibly of our owne miseries with a fellow feeling of the discontent of other counties exposed to the like sufferings as which intend with us, thus humbly to present to the your honours these our ardent desires

1 That our most gratious soveraigne Lord King Charles may with all speed bee admitted with saftie and honour to treat in person with his two housses of Parlament for the perfect setling of the peace both off church and common wealth as also of his owne just rights togeather with those of Parlament.

2 That for prevention and remoovall of the many fold inconvenyences occacioned by the continewance of this present army under the command of the Lord Fairfax, their arreares may forthwith be audited and they disbanded.

[3?] That accordinge to the fundamentall constitutions of this common wealth we may for the future be governed and judged by the English subjectes undoupted birth right the knowen and established lawes of the kingdom and not otherwise.

4 That accordinge to the petion of right our property may not be in vaded by any tax or imposition whatsoever and particularly that the heavy burthen of excise may noe longer be continewed or heereafter be imposed upon us.

All which our most earnest desires wee humbly comend to your grave and serious considerations not doubting of that speedy satisfaction theirin, which the cause requires and wee humbly exspect therby that we may well hope to see, what otherwise wee can not but dispaire of a speedy and happy end of these sad and heavy presures and distempers, whose continewance will inevitably ruine both our selves and our posterities, the timely prevention wherof in a chearfull condisent to what wee have propound in order therunto shall obleige us ever to pray.

It is desired that all coppies and superscriptions to this petion be brought to Rochester on Munday the 29th of this month of Maye and that all who intendes to accompany this petion doe meete at Blacke Heath the day following by nine of the clocke in the morninge.

Report by Sarah Harris

The petition is an appeal to Parliament to settle the peace with the King, disband Lord Fairfax’s army, re-establish the laws of the Kingdom and that taxes and excise duties should cease. According to the Calendar of State Papers, it dates to 11 May 1648.[1]

Political Situation in England in 1648

The end of the First Civil War in 1646 left a strong power vacuum in which none of the three main English factions – Royalists, Independents of the New Model Army, and Presbyterians of  the English Parliament – could prove strong enough to dominate the rest. Despite being a prisoner, Charles I was considered by himself and his opponents as necessary to ensure the success of whichever group he could come to terms with. He was passed from the Scots to the Parliament and then to the Army.  On 3 June 1647, George Joyce of Thomas Fairfax’s horse seized the King for the Army, after which English Presbyterians and the Scots prepared for a fresh Civil War, against the Independents in the Army.

The opponents of the Army wished to disband it, send it on foreign service and cut off its arrears of pay. Parliament and Presbyterians favoured army disbandment and the New Model Army, where the Officers were Congregationalists, and the Independents, sought a more political role.

From 1646 to 1647, the breach between Army and Parliament widened until the Presbyterian Party, combined with the Scots and remaining Royalists, felt strong enough to begin a Second Civil War.[2]

The four key points of the petition were as follows…

  1. Negotiating with the King

In June 1647, King Charles was seized by the Army. Many months of negotiations and popular disorder followed. On 11 November 1648, Charles fled to the Isle of Wight and appealed to the Parliamentary Governor, Colonel Robert Hammond, whom he believed to be sympathetic to his cause.

However, on Boxing Day 1647 Charles signed an Engagement with the Scots by which, in return for the aid of a Scottish Army, he agreed to restore Presbyterianism in England for three years, to suppress the ‘opinions and practices of Independents and all such scandalous doctrines’ and to appoint to the English Privy Council ‘a considerable and competent number of Scotsmen’. Two days later Charles ended the protracted discussions with the Army.  He attempted to escape again but this failed.  His intrigues being discovered, he was now kept a close prisoner for the next nine months.[3]

At the outbreak of the Second Civil War, there were uprisings in Kent, Essex and Cumberland and a rebellion in South Wales. These were put down by the New Model Army and with the defeat of the Scots at the Battle of Preston in August 1648, the Royalists lost any chance of winning the war. However, in May 1648, the Royalists were still hoping Parliament could arrive at a settlement with the King.

  1. Disbanding the Army

Many wanted the Army disbanded because of its cost and its role in public life. However, paying the arrears owed to the soldiers would be necessary before they could be disbanded.

  1. Rule of Law

This was asking that the citizens of this country be ruled by the established laws rather than new rules promulgated by Parliament without the King.

  1. Heavy Taxation

They wished to be released from the burden of taxes enforced on many necessities of life, including clothing.


Background to presentation of petition

There were civil disturbances in London and Canterbury during December 1647 over Parliament’s attempt to ban traditional Christmas festivities.  At Canterbury, the mayor was thrown out of the city, along with several magistrates and clergymen. The Kent county committee mobilised the trained bands to restore order. Widespread rioting broke out in April 1648 in several places round the country, including London, Norwich and Bury St Edmunds, with participants demanding King Charles be restored to power. In combination with the Royalist uprising in South Wales, the threat of invasion from Scotland and a revolt in the Navy, Parliament was presented with an increasingly threatening situation.[4]

The petition was signed by 200 gentlemen of Kent, but within a few days the signatories had grown to 20,000. The petitioners planned to gather in Rochester on the birthday of the Prince of Wales, 29 May 1648.  They said they would march on Blackheath, where they would be joined by other counties.

Subsequent Events

Parliament pronounced the petition “feigned” “scandalous” and “seditious”.  They ordered the Committee of Kent to act against it.  The deputy lieutenants forbade anyone to take part in the march and to hand in any copies of the petition.  The ban was to be read out in all churches and evidence provided it had been done. Action would be taken against those who failed to do so. This aroused an angry reaction from the Kentish men who were determined to march to Westminster, petition in one hand, sword in the other.  They said, “And the manner of our intentions to prosecute the same shall be so peaceable in our parts as we shall not give occasion to tumults or public disturbance”.[5]

The Royalists called forth loyal troops to join in the march to London. A force of about 1,000 soldiers and 5-6,000 foot was raised by the Royalists under Edward Hales and the Lieutenant-General was Sir Thomas Peyton.  They seized Canterbury, Rochester, Sittingbourne, Faversham and Sandwich on 21 May 1648.  On 22 May a meeting of local gentry proposed an armed gathering of Royalist troops at Blackheath on 30 May. Dartford and Deptford were seized by the Royalists on 26 May. The fleet on the Downs declared for the King. The Vice-Admiral and most of the officers were put off from the ships. The forts at Deal, Sandown and Walmer surrendered to the Royalists. Dover Castle was besieged by Royalist troops.  Parliament decided to send General Fairfax and his troops into Kent to sort out the insurrection.

When some thousands reached Blackheath on 29 May they were confronted by Lord General Fairfax with 7,000 troops.  The Royalists asked that 10 out of their number be allowed to present the petition to Parliament. Fairfax replied in a letter written to Sir Thomas Peyton to the effect that that request was not going to be allowed. In response the Royalists said, “We have taken up arms to defend ourselves, we invade not your right, but stand firm to secure our own”. With the threat of Lord Fairfax, the Royalists abandoned Dartford and Deptford. They proclaimed the Earl of Norwich as their leader. The Earl concentrated forces at Maidstone with 3,000 troops.

The Earl intended to attack the town on 30th May, but a skirmish broke out between the defenders and Parliamentary troops.  So, Fairfax decided to launch a general attack. The Royalists fled, leaving 300 men killed and 1,000 taken prisoner.

The Earl of Norwich had remained outside Maidstone with his troops. He decided to head for London but found it strongly defended. With Parliamentary troops in pursuit, most of Norwich’s troops deserted. The Earl of Norwich crossed the Thames with those remaining loyal, with the intention of joining Sir Charles Lucas and his Essex Royalist troops at Chelmsford.

Fairfax retook the forts that had fallen to the Royalists and he lifted the siege of Dover Castle.[6] 1300 Royalists prisoners were allowed to return home after the surrender. The remaining Royalist Force of 6,000 on Burham Heath started to disperse with the bulk retreating northwards to London. When they found the city gates closed, the Royalist force moved on to Essex with Fairfax in pursuit.

They decided to make their defence from the Earl of Norwich’s home on 13 June where they were besieged and surrendered in late August after 10 weeks of deprivation and famine.

The Royalist cause was finally lost with the execution of the King on 30 January 1649.


[1] ‘Charles I – volume 516: May 1648’, in Calendar of State Papers Domestic: Charles I, 1648-9, ed. William Douglas Hamilton (London, 1893), pp. 54-89. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-state-papers/domestic/chas1/1648-9/pp54-89.

[2] ‘The Second English Civil War’, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_English_Civil_War

[3] Chris Skingley, ‘The Kentish Rebellion 1648’ published by the U3a https://u3asites.org.uk/files/c/canterbury/docs/kentishrebellion1648.pdf

[4] ‘The Second Civil War: Kent & Essex’, British Civil War Project, http://bcw-project.org/military/second-civil-war/kent-essex

[5] Matthew Carter, A Most true and exact Relation of that as honourable as unfortunate Expedition of Kent, Essex, and Colchester. By M. C. i.e. Matthew Carter, a loyall actor in that engagement, anno dom. 1648 (n.d.), pp. 9-10, https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=NrpXAAAAcAAJ&pg=PA9#v=onepage&q&f=false

[6] ‘The Battle of Maidstone’, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Maidstone.


This report is part of a series on ‘Petitioners in the reign of Charles I and the Civil Wars’, created through a U3A Shared Learning Project on ‘Investigating the Lives of Seventeenth-Century Petitioners’.