‘that he was very sorry for these three nations, whom he saw in a most sad and deplorable condition’ Thomas Pride (Weekly Intelligencer, 1–8 Nov 1659, 212).
There are still many prominent figures who played major parts in the English Revolution who have not had the academic research and publicity they deserve. Colonel Thomas Pride is one of those persons.To some extent that anomaly has been-been changed in Pride’s case. Robert Hodkinson’s semi-biography of Pride is a valuable contribution to our understanding of how people from very humble backgrounds rose to prominence during the English Revolution.Colonel Thomas Pride is commonly known for being the driving force behind ‘Pride’s Purge,' which saw the mass and very forcible expulsion of MP’s from parliament paving the way for the execution of the King.
Aside from this momentous event, little else is known about this important and pivotal historical figure. In a recent article explaining his approach to researching Pride Hodkinson made this point “Fifteen years ago, reconstructing the biography of a man in this way – almost from scratch – would have been a great deal more difficult. Many of the sources used to research Cromwell’s Buffoon are now readily accessible online or can be located through online databases. Digitised parish registers, searchable through Ancestry.co.uk, were invaluable in retracing Pride’s family tree, which allowed me to unravel its numerous strands and confirm the dynastic links between Pride’s family and those of other dominant figures of the period: by marrying his children to the nieces and nephews of Oliver Cromwell and General Monck, Pride could consolidate his place in the Protectorate establishment”.
Pride’s position within the Cromwellian revolution did not sit well with conservative historians during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Biographies which were few and far between described Pride as “an ignorant, illiterate fellow” and “a useful man to Cromwell in all his projects. A buffoon to him”.
As Hodkinson explains the development of the internet gives the possibility of a more objective account of Pride can be made. Hodkinson believes the internet has revolutionized research especially when looking at figures such as Pride. Online digital resources allow a researcher a lot more thorough study of historical documents than at a reading room.
Hodkinson graduated from the University of Derby in 2010 with an MA in Humanities. He went on to win a prestigious vice-chancellor's prize for his dissertation on the contemporary poetry of the First World War. He is not an orthodox historian. His history is very hands on, and his interest in Pride developed from his role in the Sealed Knot battle re-enactment society going so far to take on the role of Colonel Thomas Pride.
The scarcity of facts about pride’s life precludes an orthodox biography. Despite the absence of information, Hodkinson makes it clear that Colonel Thomas Pride was a prominent figure during the English Revolution and was party to one of the key events of the war.
The arrest and exclusion of 140 Members of Parliament at Westminster in December 1648 was known as Pride’s Purge. The event had no precedent, and no event subsequently has even come close to its impact. The purge of MPs hostile to the revolution paved the way for the execution of the King. It is open to debate whether Pride was acting consciously, but he must have had some political understanding the nature of his act after all Pride sat as a judge at the King's Trial and was one of the 59 signatories of the death warrant
Hodkinson's well-researched book documents Pride’s rise from businessman and brewer. The book is indeed a groundbreaking piece of work.For once the blurb from the jacket cover is correct in that “Cromwell's Buffoon is a ground-breaking examination of why and how a former apprentice boy rose in status to challenge the ruling elite and affect the death of a monarch. The first full-length biography of its subject, it is a fascinating story of a man who, until now, had all but vanished from history”.
Hodkinson’s book is significant in another way in that it challenges current conservative historiography. Hodkinson notes that Marxist Historiography despite having fallen out of favor can explain through the use class conflict theory how someone like Pride can play a pivotal role in history.
The book to some extent relies on the only other piece of significant research on the life of Pride, the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography by Ian J. Gentles Who brilliantly describes how Pride carried out his famous purge “His regiment joined with Richard Deane's and Thomas Harrison's to present a petition demanding that parliament should proceed against the king ‘as an enemy to the kingdom’ (Several Petitions Presented to his Excellency the Lord Fairfax, 1648, 8). It was also part of the 7000–strong force that occupied London at the beginning of December 1648. Although David Underdown has questioned whether Pride was ‘anything more than the obedient instrument of a policy dictated by others’ (Underdown, 141), he was quite possibly a member of the subcommittee of six officers and MPs who, on the night of 5 December, made the arrangements for the purging of the House of Commons of its conservative or Presbyterian members. There is no doubt about his enthusiasm for the policy concerted by Ireton and others, for it was Pride who on the morning of the 6th set a guard around the house. He then stood on the stairs leading to the entrance, flourishing his list of members to be secured. Presently Thomas, Lord Grey of Groby arrived to help him with identifications. About forty-five members were arrested and four times that number were secluded or stayed away. Pride carried out the political cleansing with courtesy except in the case of the lawyer William Prynne. The cantankerous member for Newport tried to force his way past, but Pride with the help of his soldiers pushed him down the stairs and hustled him away to nearby Queen's Court. Prynne is said to have demanded, as he was being carried off, ‘By what authority and commission, and for what cause, they did thus violently seize on and pull him down from the House’, to which Pride and Sir Hardress Waller pointed to their soldiers with swords drawn, muskets at the ready, and matches alight, answering ‘there was their commission’ (The Parliamentary or Constitutional History of England, 18.449). This violence against the House of Commons became known as Pride's Purge. The colonel and his regiment were richly rewarded for their services. Twelve days after the purge the committee of the army ordered that he should be paid £2600 on account for his regiment. During December 1648 and January 1649 warrants totalling £7691 were issued for the pay of his Regiment. Hardly any other regiment was as generously treated at the climax of the English revolution”.
Given the sparsity of information, Hodkinson has done a tremendous job in piecing together a picture of the politics that drove Pride forward. Pride had like a lot of Puritan Independents ties with London's Baptist churches. These churches according to the book were at the forefront of the independent religious movements of the 1630s.
The Baptists had many of the same political and religious characteristics as other radical sects of the English revolution. However, Hodkinson dismisses the notion that Pride had any sympathies with the Levellers. He states that while “Pride and the Levellers may have had certain principles in common, and mutual enemies, the fact that by 1649 Pride was a wealthy and self-interested London businessman meant that any commonality he may have had with the Levellers stopped far short of their other political goals, such as the release of enclosed lands to common ownership”.
Pride it seems was much closer to the Fifth Monarchist movement that gained strength towards the end of the revolution. Hodkinson eastablishes that Pride had connections to some Fifth Monarchist men like William Goffe, whom Pride served with throughout the revolution. Significantly both Pride and Goffe signed the death warrant of Charles 1st.
Despite Thomas Pride’s role as a regicide, Hodkinson does not believe he was a Republican. According to him.“There were certainly Republican elements in the regiment he commanded, which emerged in the Overton Plot of 1654 and after Cromwell's death in 1658. Pride was able to curb his soldiers' republicanism for most of the 1650s. The fact they supported the Rump Parliament against Richard Cromwell following their colonel's death is a testament to the force of Pride's command and strength of his personality”.
Money and Death
It would be a cynical historian who believes that Pride’s action during the revolution was motivated by greed. However, we should not be naïve to think that monetary considerations did not play a part. It is clear that Pride was more than adequately rewarded for his services to the revolution. As Gentles points out somewhat cynically “as a revolutionary insider, he had had no difficulty obtaining redemption of his debts.” His wealth at death was £12,015 or more.
The Restoration period did not treat Pride very well. After death, he was labeled a traitor, and along with other dead regicides, he was to have his body exhumed and hanged at Tyburn alongside Cromwell, Ireton and Bradshaw. In pride's case, this, in fact, did not go ahead because his body could not be found.
Cromwell’s Buffoon is a fascinating account of Thomas Pride. Given the sparsity of information, Hodkinson has managed to bring to life a forgotten participant of the English Revolution. The book combines political, social and military history. It is hoped that this book gets a wide circulation and should be on university reading lists.