The doctrines of Cartwright had risen into popularity under the persecution of Laud, and Presbyterianism was now a formidable force among the middle classes. Its chief strength lay in the eastern counties and in London, where a few ministers such as Calamy and Marshall had formed a committee for its diffusion; while in Parliament it was represented by Lord Mandeville and some others. In the Commons Sir Harry Vane represented a more extreme party of reformers, the Independents of the future, whose sentiments were little less hostile to Presbyterianism than to Episcopacy, but who acted with the Presbyterians for the present, and formed a part of what became known as the "root and branch party," from its demand for the extirpation of prelacy. The attitude of Scotland in the great struggle against tyranny, and the political advantages of a religious union between the two kingdoms, as well as the desire to knit the English Church more closely to the general body of Protestantism, gave force to the Presbyterian party. Milton, who after the composition of his "Lycidas" had spent a year in foreign travel, returned to throw himself on this ground into the theological strife.
He held it "an unjust thing that the English should differ from all Churches as many as be reformed." In spite of this pressure, however, and of a Presbyterian petition from London with fifteen thousand signatures to the same purport, the Committee of Religion reported in favour of the moderate reforms proposed by Falkland and Pym; and a bill for the removal of bishops from the House of Peers passed the Commons almost unanimously. Rejected by the Lords on the eve of the King's journey to Scotland, it was again introduced on his return. Pym and his colleagues, anxious to close the disunion in their ranks, sought to end the pressure of the Presbyterian zealots, and the dread of the Church party, by taking their stand on the compromise suggested by the Committee of Religion in the spring. But in spite of violent remonstrances from the Commons the bill still hung fire among the Peers. The delay roused the excited crowd of Londoners who gathered round Whitehall; the bishops' carriages were stopped, and the prelates themselves rabbled on their way to the House. The angry pride of Williams induced ten of his fellow bishops to declare themselves prevented from attendance in Parliament, and to protest against all acts done in their absence as null and void.
The protest was met at once on the part of the Peers by the committal of the prelates who had signed it to the Tower. But the contest gave a powerful aid to the projects of the King. The courtiers declared openly that the rabbling of the bishops proved that there was " no free Parliament," and strove to bring about fresh outrages by gathering troops of officers and soldiers of fortune, who were seeking for employment in the Irish war, and pitting them against the crowds at Whitehall. The brawls of the two parties, who gave each other the nicknames of " Roundheads" and " Cavaliers," created fresh alarm in the Parliament; but Charles persisted in refusing it a guard. " On the honour of a King," he engaged to defend them from violence as completely as his own children, but the answer had hardly been given when his Attorney appeared at the bar of the Lords, and accused Hampden, Pym, Hollis, Strode, and Haselrig of high treason in their correspondence with the Scots. A herald-at-arms appeared at the bar of the Commons, and demanded the surrender of the five members.
If Charles believed himself to be within legal forms, the Commons saw a mere act of arbitrary violence in a charge which proceeded personally from the King, which set aside the most cherished privileges of Parliament, and summoned the accused before a tribunal which had no pretence to a jurisdiction over them. The Commons simply promised to take the demand into consideration, and again requested a guard. " I will reply to-morrow," said the King. On the morrow he summoned the gentlemen who clustered round Whitehall to follow him, and, embracing the Queen, promised her that in an hour he would return master of his kingdom. A mob of Cavaliers joined him as he left the palace, and remained in Westminster Hall as Charles, accompanied by his nephew, the Elector-Palatine, entered the House of Commons. "Mr. Speaker," he said, "I must for a time borrow your chair!" He paused with a sudden confusion as his eye fell on the vacant spot where Pym commonly sate: for at the news of his approach the House had ordered the five members to withdraw. " Gentlemen," he began in slow broken sentences," I am sorry for this occasion of coming unto you.
Yesterday I sent a Sergeant-at-arms upon a very important occasion, to apprehend some that by my command were accused of high treason, whereunto I did expect obedience, and not a message." Treason, he went on, had no privilege, " and therefore I am come to know if any of these persons that were accused are here." There was a dead silence, only broken by his reiterated " I must have them where soever I find them." He again paused, but the stillness was unbroken. Then he called out, " Is Mr. Pym here?" There was no answer; and Charles, turning to the Speaker, asked him whether the five members were there. Lenthall fell on his knees; " I have neither eyes to see," he replied, "nor tongue to speak in this place, but as this House is pleased to direct me." " Well, well," Charles angrily retorted, " 'tis no matter. I think my eyes are as good as another's! " There was another long pause, while he looked carefully over the ranks of members. " I see," he said at last, " all the birds are flown. I do expect you will send them to me as soon as they return hither." If they did not, he added, he would seek them himself; and with a closing protest that he never intended any force, " he went out of the House," says an eye-witness, "in a more discontented and angry passion than he came in".