Commonwealth and Protectorate



1. The establishment of the Commonwealth.

19 May 1649, The Rump of the Long Parliament declared that England "shall henceforth be governed as a Commonwealth and Free State by the supreme authority of this nation, the representatives of the People in Parliament … and that without any King or House of Lords".
The Rump appointed a Council of State (largely composed of its own Members) to act as the executive branch of government.

2 January 1650, every adult male was required to take the Engagement:

"I do declare and promise, that I will be true and faithful to the Commonwealth of England, as it is now established, without a King or House of Lords".

Many were unwilling to subscribe; the Rump was widely regarded as illegitimate and survived only because of Army support.

Oliver Cromwell and others did try to increase moderate gentry support for their regime. They suppressed the Levellers and arrested their leaders. They also launched a propaganda campaign to encourage subscription to the Engagement on purely pragmatic grounds - people were encouraged to accept the regime de facto even though they doubted its legitimacy.
Cromwell wanted acquiescence at home so he could turn his attention to the problem of Ireland.


2. Ireland.

 In 1645, Charles I's emissary, Edward Somerset, Earl of Glamorgan, had agreed to freedom of worship for Irish Catholics. This exceeded his instructions and Charles later repudiated the treaty, but it did increase Irish support for Charles' cause.
The Catholics in Ireland, led by the papal nuncio, Cardinal Rinuccini, became so powerful and united that James Butler, Marquess of Ormond, surrendered Dublin to Parliament in 1647, rather than see it fall into Catholic hands and perhaps complete the creation of an independent Catholic state. The Irish Catholics began arguing amongst themselves as to whether to aim for complete toleration or a negotiated compromise.
On Charles I's execution, his son Charles was proclaimed King in Ireland by an alliance of Royalist Protestants and Anglo-Irish Catholics hoping for toleration. Ormond captured Drogheda and Dundalk in June 1649, but was defeated at Rathmines, 2 August 1649, by Michael Jones.
15 August 1649, Oliver Cromwell arrived with an army of  12,000 troops. During the next ten months, Cromwell subdued Ireland entirely in a bloody and successful campaign.
September 1649, Cromwell's army stormed Drogheda Castle and massacred the garrison of 2,000 men.

"I am persuaded that this is a righteous judgment of God upon these barbarous wretches who have imbued their hands in so much innocent blood, and that it will tend to prevent the effusion of blood for the future, which are the satisfactory grounds to such actions, which otherwise cannot but work remorse and regret."

Oliver Cromwell, on the Drogheda massacre.


October 1649, Cromwell's army took Wexford Castle, and his troops killed both the defenders and about 1,500 civilians in the town.
Over the next two to three years, the English army (Edmund Ludlow and Henry Ireton commanded after Cromwell''s return to England in May 1650)  conquered the whole of Ireland, ending with the capitulation of Philip O'Reilly at Cloghoughton, 27 April 1653.
The Act for the the Settlement of Ireland (August 1652) authorized the expropriation of land on a grand scale - eleven million acres of land (out of Ireland's roughly twenty million) were confiscated. Much was given to English soldiers in lieu of wages, who in turn sold it to Protestant settlers. By 1656, four-fifths of Irish land was owned by Protestants.


3. Scotland.


Charles I was also King of Scotland, and the Scots  were unhappy that he had been executed without consulting them. They were equally annoyed to see the New Model Army in control in England.

Soon after Charles' execution, they proclaimed his son Charles, King of England as well as of Scotland.

Charles II had no taste for Presbyterianism but thought that Scotland was worth the Covenant. Charles went to Scotland and subscribed to the Solemn League and Covenant, 23 June 1650. (His coronation was at Scone, 1 January 1651, the last King crowned in Scotland).

The Rump saw this as a casus belli and appointed Oliver Cromwell to command the invading army of 16,000 men.

The Scots were led by David Leslie, 1st Baron Newark (1601-82) - nephew of Alexander Leslie, Earl of Leven, who was too old and ill to take active command. David Leslie was himself an experienced soldier and outmaneuvered Cromwell, forcing him to retreat to Dunbar.

Cromwell's position was precarious - trapped between the sea and the Scots' formidable defenses, naval evacuation seemed the only option.
The Scots, however, managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. 2-3 September 1650, Leslie mounted an attack that was meant to crush the English army entirely, but instead resulted in their own defeat at the Battle of Dunbar.

Oliver Cromwell then marched on Edinburgh, and soon took the city, although Sir Walter Dundas held out in Edinburgh Castle until 24 December 1650.

Those elements of the Scottish army that had survived Dunbar regrouped and invaded England, 5 August 1651. Charles II hoped that Royalists in the North of England would rally to his cause.

Very few recruits came in, but Charles continued to march south pursued by Cromwell's army. 3 September 1651 (the anniversary of the Battle of Dunbar) Cromwell attacked the Scots at the Battle of Worcester.
The Scots were completely defeated. About seven thousand of the surviving Scots soldiers were transported to the West Indies, as "indentured servants" (i.e. virtual slaves).

Charles II managed to escape, although forced to hide up an oak tree at one point. He finally reached France after six weeks on the run.

The Battle of Worcester was "the crowning mercy" in Oliver Cromwell's eyes. It secured the regime, and thereafter Cromwell's rule was never seriously challenged militarily.

 After General George Monck's 1652 campaign, Scotland (like Ireland) was reduced to an English province.



4. The First Anglo-Dutch War: 1652-54.

Flag of the Dutch East Indies Company
(Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie)

By 1648, the Dutch had achieved complete independence from Spain. After 1650, both England and the Netherlands were Protestant republics.
Until 1650 Charles I's son-in-law, William II of Orange was Stadholder of the Netherlands and had wielded great influence. But in 1650, he died two weeks before the birth of his heir  -  son of Mary Stuart, and grandson of Charles I.
The office of Stadholder was abolished, and Holland's merchants gained more power.
Although the two countries had political interests in common, they were rivals in trade and commerce.
In 1623, the Dutch had killed a number of English merchants at Amboyna in the East Indies.
There was also long-standing competition over the carrying trade. In 1650, the Council of State made overtures to settle the problem by compromise. The Dutch saw this "compromise" as an attempt to undermine their sovereignty, and rejected it. So  Parliament passed the Navigation Act, 9 October 1651.

"… that from and after the first day of December [1651] and from thence forwards, no goods or commodities whatsoever of the growth, production, or manufacture of Asia, Africa, or America, or of any part thereof; or of any islands belonging to them …as well of the English plantations as others, shall be imported or brought into this Commonwealth of England, or into Ireland, … in any other ship or ships, vessel or vessels whatsoever, but only in such as do truly and without fraud belong only to the people of this Commonwealth …"

Navigation Act, 1651.


This provoked a naval war between the two countries. The Dutch Admiral Maarten Van Tromp (1598-1653) gained the upper hand over Robert Blake in 1652. But the English won a series of engagements in 1653. The English captured or destroyed four times as many ships as the Dutch.
 In 1654, England made peace with the Netherlands, giving them generous terms in the Treaty of Westminster (5 April 1654). The English hoped to promote good relations with fellow Protestants and to avoid the return to power of the Orange family.


5. The dissolution of the Rump.

The radical officers of the New Model Army had hoped that the purged Parliament would embark on a campaign of political and religious reform. Instead it grew more conservative and - in the view of many - more corrupt.
The Rump, led by Sir Henry Vane the younger (1613-62) and Edmund Ludlow (1617?-1692), began planning to reduce the size of the Army, and to organize elections. Cromwell and the Army alleged that the House intended not to hold elections for a wholly new Parliament, but simply to make up their numbers - i.e. so that the existing c. 150 MPs would automatically retain their seats.
Oliver Cromwell accompanied by General John Lambert surrounded the House with troops, 20 April 1653.

Oliver Cromwell

"… suddenly standing up, made a speech, wherein he loaded the Parliament with the vilest reproaches, charging them not to have a heart to do anything for the public good, to have espoused the corrupt interest of the Presbytery and the lawyers, who were the supporters of tyranny and oppression, accusing them of an intention to perpetuate themselves in power…the General stept into the midst of the House, where continuing his distracted language, he said 'Come, come, I will put an end to your prating'; then walking up and down the House like a madman, and kicking the ground with his feet, he cried out 'You are no Parliament, I say you are no Parliament; I will put an end to your sitting; call them in, call them in'. Whereupon … Lieutenant-Colonel Worsley with two files of musketeers entered the House."

From Thomas Harrison's account of the dissolution.

Cromwell spoke briefly and then closed Parliament down.
The dissolution of the Rump effectively ended England's brief experiment with republican government:  it was replaced by a military dictatorship until (after a brief period of virtual anarchy) monarchy was restored in 1660.
Cromwell seized power when greatly under the influence of religious radicals - especially Thomas Harrison (1606-62) and the Fifth Monarchists. Cromwell tried to use his power to institute a rule of the Saints.

6. Barebones.

"Forasmuch as upon the dissolution of the late Parliament it became necessary that the peace, safety, and good government of this Commonwealth should be provided for; and, in order thereunto, divers persons fearing God, and of approved fidelity and honesty, are by myself, with the advice of my council of officers, nominated, to whom the great charge and trust of so weighty affairs is to be committed; …"

From Cromwell's summons to the Nominated Parliament, 1653


After dissolving the Rump, Cromwell did not organize elections; instead he nominate 144 "godly" men. This "Nominated Parliament" was often called Barebones, after one of its Fifth-Monarchist members, Praise-God Barebones.
The first official action of the assembled nominees was to proclaim themselves a Parliament, but much of the political nation denied any legitimacy to this unelected body.
Although it contained a few rich gentlemen, such as its Speaker Francis Rous (1579-1659), many of the delegates were from lower social ranks than was usual.
Cromwell wanted the Parliament to reform English religion, but it began to attack the social and political establishment. Barebones' most ardent Members advocated the abolition of tithes and of lay presentation to benefices, the closure of the Court of Chancery and the introduction of a simple Law Code in place of Common and Statute Law.
To the established clergy, lawyers, and gentry, these plans looked like a blueprint for social revolution.
A vocal minority of Fifth Monarchists even wanted to re-institute Mosaic Law, and run England on the model of Biblical Israel.
Early on the morning of 11 December 1653, the Speaker, Francis Rous and a few other Members (all friends of Cromwell) convened Parliament, and before the radicals could effectively intervene, resigned their powers to Cromwell.

7. The Instrument of Government and the Protectorate.

"Go and tell your Protector that he has deceived the Lord's people, that he is a perjured villain. But he will not reign long; he will end worse than the last Protector did, that crooked tyrant Richard."

Christopher Feake, Fifth Monarchist, 18 December 1653.


16 December 1653, Cromwell assumed the office of Lord Protector of England, Scotland and Ireland.
The title and powers of Lord Protector were detailed in the Instrument of Government.
It provided for an elected House of Parliament to tax and legislate. The new franchise made the Parliament more representative of large centers of population, but did not extend the franchise to poorer men, as the Levellers had desired.
The new Parliament included representatives from Scotland and Ireland, whose populations had not been consulted on their loss of independence and sovereignty.
The Lord Protector and a Council of State formed the executive branch of government.
Despite the constitutional window-dressing afforded by the Instrument of Government, England remained in reality a military despotism.
Oliver Cromwell established a system of Triers and Ejectors to approve Church ministers. The advocates of complete religious toleration and disestablishment objected to this, but in practice English Protestants were freer to worship as they chose under the Protectorate than they had ever been.


8. The Parliament of 1654

William Lenthall (1591-1662)
Speaker of the 1654 Parliament

Oliver Cromwell convened his first Parliament as Lord Protector on 3rd September 1654 - the anniversary of his victorious battles at Dunbar and Worcester.
Oliver Cromwell did not want the terms of the Instrument of Government discussed, and made this view so clear that a number of committed republicans withdrew at once. Despite Cromwell, the House proceeded to debate the constitution at length.
Cromwell was particularly threatened by the House's attempts to control the army - the basis of his power. As soon as legally possible, Cromwell dissolved the Parliament, 22 January 1655.
Outside Parliament, resistance to Cromwell's rule continued both amongst Royalists and radical (Levellers and republicans) - on occasion even in alliance.
The Fifth Monarchist army commander, Robert Overton was arrested for planning a military uprising against Cromwell, and the radical republican, Major John Wildman soon joined him in prison.

A Protector! what's that? 'Tis a stately thing,
That confesseth itself but the ape of a king …
A counterfeit piece, that woodenly shows
A golden effigy, with a copper nose* …
In fine, he is one, we may Protector call,
From whom the King of kings protect us all.

A verse in Overton's handwriting, found amongst his papers on his arrest, January 1655.
(*Cromwell famously had a big red nose)

March 1654, John Penruddock (1619-55) organized a royalist uprising in Salisbury. It was easily suppressed and Penruddock was beheaded in May. Seventy other Royalists were shipped to the West Indies and sold as slaves.


9. The rule of the major-generals

General Charles Fleetwood (1618-92)
Husband of Cromwell's daughter, Bridget, and one of his Major-Generals.

In August 1655, Cromwell revolutionized local government. He divided England and Wales into ten districts (later eleven) each under a major-general. The major-generals  wielded enormous power over local affairs - displacing the gentry's traditional control as Justices of the Peace.
The Major-generals cracked down on Royalist sympathizers, closet Anglicans, bear-baiters, ale-drinkers, cock-fighters, horse-racers and many others - partly because they posed a threat to order, and partly because of puritan fervor. Naturally, they became extremely unpopular.
A new 10% tax on royalists, called "Decimation" - was raised to pay for the Major-Generals' rule, and its illegality (it had no Parliamentary approval) increased the regime's unpopularity.

10. Cromwell's foreign policy

Cromwell carried on Charles I's policy of strengthening the Navy. He posted squadrons to the Mediterranean and Caribbean, and used them to help an active -even aggressive - foreign policy.
Cromwell aimed to strengthen England's economic position and to advance the cause of the Protestant religion.
Cromwell regarded Spain - the world's leading Catholic power - with distaste and tried to force it to accept humiliating terms to avoid war. When Spain refused these he attacked their possessions in the West Indies and the Netherlands.
May 1655, a joint expedition under Admiral William Penn (1621-70) father of the founder of Pennsylvania, and General Robert Venables (1612-87) failed to capture the Spanish territory of Hispaniola, but did take Jamaica.
In September 1656, the Navy intercepted the Spanish treasure fleet, and in April 1657 virtually destroyed the Spanish battle fleet.
March 1657. England allied with France. Together, they defeated Spain's army in the Netherlands at the Battle of the Dunes, 14 June 1658. The port of Dunkirk was surrounded, blockaded, and taken. (Charles II sold it to France in 1662).
Cromwell was successful in undermining Spanish power, but at a high cost to English trade. Furthermore, he helped France towards European domination that was later to become England's major problem.

11. The Humble Petition and Advice.

War was expensive, and Cromwell summoned Parliament (17 September 1656) to raise the money. His first action was to purge about a quarter of its Members; the remainder voted him the taxes he needed. In exchange for the money, Cromwell ended the rule of the Major-Generals.

Parliament returned to the constitutional problems and drew up the Humble Petition and Advice. Its key points were that:

Cromwell should take the title of King, with the right to name his own successor
An upper House of Parliament was to be created; its members to be appointed by Cromwell and his successors
Members of the lower House of Parliament should not be excluded by Cromwell
The lower, elected House would have the power to veto membership of the Council of State
Religious toleration was to be restricted
The constitutional arrangements of the Humble Petition and Advice were clearly conservative and radicals in the army disliked them. Cromwell compromised by refusing the crown, but basically accepting the other terms.
During the 1650s, the number of Quakers increased dramatically from a handful in 1653 to about 40,000 in 1660.
The Quakers rejected the whole apparatus of the established Church and looked to divine inspiration just as in biblical times. They held that any Christian could and should preach publicly, and subordinated biblical exegesis to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. This naturally outraged the clergy (Anglican, Presbyterian, and even Independent) who all restricted Christian ministry to officially-ordained graduates.
The two first leaders were George Fox and James Nayler, who together developed and taught Quaker beliefs.
In 1656, James Nayler rode into Bristol on a donkey, preceded by women spreading palm leaves. This reenactment of Christ's entry to Jerusalem seemed the height of blasphemy to the local authorities, as did one woman's claim that Nayler had brought her back to life. They arrested Nayler and sent him to London.
Parliament took an immediate interest in the case, because Quakers were feared as a threat to religious, political and social order. Many wanted Nayler executed, but others doubted the legality of this, and so Nayler was sentenced to flogging, branding on the forehead with the letter B (for blasphemer), and boring through the tongue.
Cromwell did nothing to protect Nayler, but he was concerned that other religious dissidents might be punished by Parliament. This was one of the reasons why he supported the creation of an Upper House of Parliament - made up of his friends and supporters - that could  curb such action by the Lower House.
Oliver Cromwell agreed to the revised  Humble Petition and Advice, 26 June 1657.
20 January 1658, the two Houses of Cromwell's new Parliament met.
To fill the Upper House, Cromwell had needed to take some of his most influential supporters out of the Lower House. (Even so, one of the few real noblemen summoned to the Upper House refused to attend "in the same assembly with Hewson, the cobbler, and Pride, the drayman"). The Lower House not only contained less of Cromwell's friends but more of his enemies, that he was no longer able to exclude. In particular, the republican, Arthur Haselrig attacked the whole system erected by the Humble Petition and Advice, and especially the Upper House.
3 February 1658, the House of Commons refused to recognize the "House of Lords".
4 February 1658, Cromwell dissolved Parliament.

3 September 1658, the anniversary of the battles of Dunbar and Worcester, Oliver Cromwell died.


"It is not my design to drink or sleep, but my design is to make what haste I can to be gone".

Cromwell's last words.


Richard Cromwell
Cromwell's associates said that he had appointed Richard Cromwell his successor, but no written evidence of this survives. Richard was a placid, conservative country gentleman, popular with the social elite. Oliver's other son, Henry was an officer with the army in Ireland, who might have shown more sympathy to the religiously radical officers.
3 September 1658, Richard Cromwell (1626-1712) was proclaimed Lord Protector of the Realm.


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