The Five Knights' Case and Debates in the Parliament of 1628: Division and Suspicion Under King Charles I

The Five Knights’ Case and Debates in the Parliament of 1628: Division and Suspicion Under King Charles I

Willms, Sarah ( Illinois Wesleyan University )

Constructing the Past: Vol. 7: Iss. 1, Article 11 (2006)


In 1628, Parliament faced a difficult question regarding sovereignty: had King Charles I overstepped his bounds as King with his actions surrounding the Five Knights’ Case? The Members of Parliament (MPs) debated this question in an attempt to come to a conclusion about royal prerogative and how far it should extend. The debate centered on the issue of arbitrary imprisonment and whether or not King Charles could imprison his subjects by royal command with no cause shown. These debates regarding arbitrary imprisonment following the Five Knights’ Case shed light on the realities of Parliament under the rule of King Charles-these debates can also help resolve the debate between modern Revisionist and Whig historians. On one side are Revisionist historians, such as Conrad Russell and Kevin Sharpe, whoclaim there was no clear division within Parliament, especially prior to 1640. However, it is Whig historians, including S.R. Gardiner, and neo-Whig historians, such as Richard Cust and L.J. Reeve, who report the truth in their works by identifying and discussing a division that was present in Parliament under the rule of King Charles I.

Another important discussion that the Five Knights’ Case created was the questioning of whether ornot the records from the case were manipulated by Charles or one of his advisors, Attorney General Robert Heath. This accusation affected the historiography of the late 1620’s in England. While Mark Kishlansky disproved the Whig claim that records were manipulated, the questioning is still significant because of the implications this accusation had for the Parliament of 1628 and the subjects’ ideas of their King. The two debates that the Five Knights’ Case produced are important to the study of Stuart history because of the division that they represent within Parliament as well as the suspicion that they sQ.ow towards the King.

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