The last time a monarch entered the House of Commons was on this day in British History, 4 January 1642. King Charles I had competed against Parliament for much of his reign, but tensions escalated during the Long Parliament. Essentially, Charles believed that Puritans, encouraged by five MPs (infamous as the Five Members) had encouraged the Scots to invade England in the recent Bishops’ Wars and that they were intent on turning the London mob against him. The Five Members, by name, were John Pym, John Hampden, Denzil Holles, Arthur Haselrig and William Strode.


Speaker Lenthall Asserting the Privileges of the Commons Against Charles I when the Attempt was made to Seize the Five Members, a painting by Charles West Cope. (1866)

In response, Charles entered Parliament and took the speaker’s chair, intent on arresting the Five Members. Upon seeing that they were absent, Charles simply said “I see the birds have flown.” He then turned to William Lenthall, the Speaker of the House, who stood below and demanded of him whether any of those persons were in the House, whether he saw any of them and where they were. Lenthall fell on his knees and famously replied: “May it please your Majesty, I have neither eyes to see nor tongue to speak in this place but as the House is pleased to direct me, whose servant I am here.” Lenthall, then, had defied the king and defended the privileges of Parliament.

In response, Charles I fled London for Oxford, leaving the capital in the control of Parliament. His attempt to arrest the Five Members had cemented the divide between the two, and was a direct contributing factor to the start of First English Civil War, which began in mid-1642.