Thomas Pride was born near Glastonbury in about 1608,
the son of a Somerset farmer. He later moved to London, and by the 1630s had established a thriving brewing business. His lack of education, and background in trade, were later used against him by his Royalist opponents who liked to portray him as a shabby, village simpleton, low-born and ill-suited to command.
Pride’s first clash with Royalism would have occurred through his association with London puritan churches
in the 1630s, whose worshipers were persecuted and frequently imprisoned for refusing to adhere to Church of England polity. As religious and political upheaval intensified in 1640, Pride responded by enrolling in the Honourable Artillery Company, a training ground for London militia officers.
In the autumn of 1642 he raised a company for service in Barclay’s Regiment of Essex’s army and served throughout the first Civil War. His aptitude for soldiering was such that by May 1644 he held the rank of major, both in Barclay’s foot and in the Orange Auxiliary Regiment of the London militia.
During the army mutinies of 1647, Pride was active in asserting his soldier’s demands for conditions of service. The petition he circulated in support of the men’s cause was condemned by his commanding officer, Harley, a notable moderate MP.
Pride was called before the House of Commons to answer for his conduct but, undeterred, he continued his campaign. When the support of the army allowed radical MPs, such as Lord Grey, to gain ascendency over the moderates, Harley was forced to lay down his commission and Pride took command of his regiment as full colonel.
His regiment’s radicalism intensified, and in autumn 1648 they declared Charles I ‘an enemy to the Kingdom’, putting their case more vehemently that either the regiments of Cromwell and Ireton. (1)
Pride applied himself enthusiastically to a purge of Parliament, forcibly excluding moderates under the direction of the radical member for Leicester, Lord Grey; for no reason other than pleasing alliteration the event has become popularly known as “Pride’s Purge”. The MPs remaining in Parliament subsequently voted to bring Charles I to trial. Pride was appointed to the high court established to try the monarch, and signed the death warrant.
Further promotion came with responsibility for army recruitment and the command of a brigade of foot at the Battle of Dunbar, but after 1650 Pride seems to have stepped back from the military. Despite republican elements in his regiment, he became a steadfast pillar of Cromwell’s Protectorate. The benefits he reaped from his position in the 1650s - including a lucrative contract to supply beer to the navy and the acquisition of a former royal estate in Surrey - led to accusations of hypocrisy; that he was 'real before, but now . . . he was grown as bad as the rest'. (2)
It was easy to mock the haughty swagger of a man 'subject to passion and misinformation'. (3) Pride was not averse to using his political weight to benefit his associates; he avoided paying excise on his beer until chased down by the excise commissioners; he happily consolidated his position by marrying his children into the families of Cromwell and General Monk, and accepted a seat in Cromwell’s House of Lords. As sheriff of Surrey and commissioner for the peace in London in the 1650s he was responsible for closing brothels and suppressing bear baiting to maintain public order, which brought him more ridicule. But Pride in fact conscientiously involved himself in politics, became governor of several London hospitals for wounded servicemen and supported a petition to do away with the sentence of capital punishment for theft. (4)
Pride was a successful businessman who emerged from the Civil War as a political radical. He was instrumental in the victory over Charles I, in bringing him to judgment and in shaping the England that followed. His forthright action during the Purge was wryly and referred to as ‘Collonel Pride’s common councill’ by Cromwell, (6) and Cromwell himself was once on the receiving end of the Colonel's overbearing manner: Pride had apparently threatened that if the Lord Protector dared to accept the title of King, 'he would
(if nobody else would) shoot him through the head, the first
opportunity he had for it’. (7)
Modest, well-behaved men seldom make their mark on history.
Robert Hodkinson's biography of Thomas Pride, "Cromwell's Buffoon", is available now from Helion Books, http://www.helion.co.uk/cromwell-s-buffoon-the-life-and-career-of-the-regicide-thomas-pride.html, and from Amazon.
"a ground-breaking piece of work" - Keith Livesay
Hodkinson, R. Cromwell's Buffoon: the Life and Career of the Regicide, Thomas Pride (Solihull: Helion, 2017)
1. “Petition of Pride’s and Deane’s Regiments”, quoted in: The Life of Richard Deane. Deane (1870)
2. Thurlow Papers, iv, 621. Birch (ed.) (1742)
3. Calendar for Committee of Compounding, I, May 1650
4. Chidley, S. “A Cry Against Crying Sin”, in: Harleian Miscellany, VI, 272ff. Park (ed.) (1810)
5. The Obituary of Richard Smith. Ellkis (ed.) (1849)
6. Clarke Papers, II, xxv-xxvi. Firth (ed.) (1894)
7. History of His Own Time, I, 130. Burnet (1850)