In the militia ordinance of March 5, 1642, the houses of Parliament declared an emergency and “ordained” a solution. The emergency was the “imminent Danger” posed to king, Parliament, and kingdom by the “Rebellion and Insurrections” of “Papists, and other ill-affected Persons.” The solution was the selection of suitable county lieutenants, who were authorized to appoint deputies and officers and otherwise perform their duties.
Charles rejected the ordinance, ensuring a double confrontation: an arms race and the public exchanges known as the “war of words.” The Civil War—the predictable outcome of the rattling of words and swords—was bound intimately to the defense or attack of the three propositions stated or implied by the militia ordinance: that there was an emergency, that to address it the two houses required control of the militia, and that an “ordinance” was the appropriate constitutional strategy for the occasion.
The third matter is the focus of this study. But the genius of the militia ordinance and, more generally, the central constitutional assertion of the two houses on the eve of civil war was that the emergency, the mobilization of force, and the ordinance were intertwined beyond untangling. It was not merely that the militia ordinance was a response to an emergency situation beyond the reach of exact precedent. It was equally true that the constitutional thinking of parliamentary leaders, developed well before the militia ordinance and the train of events to which it specifically refers (the Irish rebellion of October 1641 and the attempt upon the five members of January 1642), more or less obliged them to produce an emergency as the grounds for the type of action they took.