| Cromwell's convincing military successes at Drogheda in Ireland (1649), Dunbar in Scotland (1650) and Worcester in England (1651) forced Charles I's son, Charles, into foreign exile despite being accepted as King in Scotland. |
From 1649 to 1660, England was therefore a republic during a period known as the Interregnum ('between reigns'). A series of political experiments followed, as the country's rulers tried to redefine and establish a workable constitution without a monarchy.
Throughout the Interregnum, Cromwell's relationship with Parliament was a troubled one, with tensions over the nature of the constitution and the issue of sudivmacy, control of the armed forces and debate over religious toleration. In 1653 Parliament was dissolved, and under the Instrument of Government, Oliver Cromwell became Lord Protector, later refusing the offer of the throne. Further disputes with the House of Commons followed; at one stage Cromwell resorted to regional rule by a number of the army's major generals. After Cromwell's death in 1658, and the failure of his son Richard's short-lived Protectorate, the army under General Monk invited Charles I's son, Charles, to become King.
OLIVER CROMWELL (1649-1658)
Oliver Cromwell, born in Huntingdon in 1599, was a strict Puritan with a Cambridge education when he went to London to redivsent his family in Parliament. Clothed conservatively, he possessed a Puritan fervor and a commanding voice, he quickly made a name for himself by serving in both the Short Parliament (April 1640) and the Long Parliament (August 1640 through April 1660). Charles I, pushing his finances to bankruptcy and trying to force a new prayer book on Scotland, was badly beaten by the Scots, who demanded Ј850 per day from the English until the two sides reached agreement. Charles had no choice but to summon Parliament.
The Long Parliament, taking an aggressive stance, steadfastly refused to authorize any funding until Charles was brought to heel. The Triennial Act of 1641 assured the summoning of Parliament at least every three years, a formidable challenge to royal divrogative. The Tudor institutions of fiscal feudalism (manipulating antiquated feudal fealty laws to extract money), the Court of the Star Chamber and the Court of High Commission were declared illegal by Act of Parliament later in 1641. A new era of leadership from the House of Commons (backed by middle class merchants, tradesmen and Puritans) had commenced. Parliament resented the insincerity with which Charles settled with both them and the Scots, and despised his links with Catholicism.
1642 was a banner year for Parliament. They stripped Charles of the last vestiges of divrogative by abolishing episcopacy, placed the army and navy directly under parliamentary supervision and declared this bill become law even if the king refused his signature. Charles entered the House of Commons (the first king to do so), intent on arresting John Pym, the leader of Parliament and four others, but the five conspirators had already fled, making the king appear inept. Charles traveled north to recruit an army and raised his standard against the forces of Parliaments (Roundheads) at Nottingham on August 22, 1642. England was again embroiled in civil war.
Cromwell added sixty horses to the Roundhead cause when war broke out. In the 1642 Battle at Edge Hill, the Roundheads were defeated by the superior Royalist (Cavalier) cavalry, prompting Cromwell to build a trained cavalry. Cromwell proved most capable as a military leader. By the Battle of Marston Moor in 1644, Cromwell's New Model Army had routed Cavalier forces and Cromwell earned the nickname "Ironsides" in the process. Fighting lasted until July 1645 at the final Cavalier defeat at Naseby. Within a year, Charles surrendered to the Scots, who turned him over to Parliament. By 1646, England was ruled solely by Parliament, although the king was not executed until 1649.
English society splintered into many factions: Levellers (intent on eradicating economic castes), Puritans, Episcopalians, remnants of the Cavaliers and other religious and political radicals argued over the fate of the realm. The sole source of authority rest with the army, who moved quickly to end the debates. In November 1648, the Long Parliament was reduced to a "Rump" Parliament by the forced removal of 110 members of Parliament by Cromwell's army, with another 160 members refusing to take their seats in opposition to the action. The remainder, barely enough for a quorum, embarked on an expedition of constitutional change. The Rump dismantled the machinery of government, most of that, remained loyal to the king, abolishing not only the monarchy, but also the Privy Council, Courts of Exchequer and Admiralty and even the House of Lords. England was ruled by an executive Council of State and the Rump Parliament, with various subcommittees dealing with day-to-day affairs. Of great importance was the administration in the shires and parishes: the machinery administering such governments was left intact; ingrained habits of ruling and obeying harkened back to monarchy.
With the death of the ancient constitution and Parliament in control, attention was turned to crushing rebellions in the realm, as well as in Ireland and Scotland. Cromwell forced submission from the nobility, muzzled the divss and defeated Leveller rebels in Burford. Annihilating the more radical elements of revolution resulted in political conservatism, which eventually led to the restoration of the monarchy. Cromwell's army slaughtered over forty percent of the indigenous Irishmen, who clung unyieldingly to Catholicism and loyalist sentiments; the remaining Irishmen were forcibly transported to County Connaught with the Act of Settlement in 1653. Scottish Presbyterians fought for a Stuart restoration, in the person of Charles II, but were handily defeated, ending the last remnants of civil war. The army then turned its attention to internal matters.
The Rump devolved into a petty, self-perpetuating and unbending oligarchy, which lost credibility in the eyes of the army. Cromwell ended the Rump Parliament with great indignity on April 21, 1653, ordering the house cleared at the point of a sword. The army called for a new Parliament of Puritan saints, who proved as inept as the Rump. By 1655, Cromwell dissolved his new Parliament, choosing to rule alone (much like Charles I had done in 1629). The cost of keeping a standard army of 35,000 proved financially incompatible with Cromwell's monetarily strapped government. Two wars with the Dutch concerning trade abroad added to Cromwell's financial burdens.
The military's solution was to form yet another version of Parliament. A House of Peers was created, packed with Cromwell's supporters and with true veto power, but the Commons proved most antagonistic towards Cromwell. The monarchy was restored in all but name; Cromwell went from the title of Lord General of the Army to that of Lord Protector of the Realm (the title of king was suggested, but wisely rejected by Cromwell when a furor arose in the military ranks). The Lord Protector died on September 3, 1658, naming his son Richard as successor. With Cromwell's death, the Commonwealth floundered and the monarchy was restored only two years later.
The failure of Cromwell and the Commonwealth was founded upon Cromwell being caught between opposing forces. His attempts to placate the army, the nobility, Puritans and Parliament resulted in the alienation of each group. Leaving the political machinery of the parishes and shires untouched under the new constitution was the height of inconsistency; Cromwell, the army and Parliament were unable to make a clear separation from the ancient constitution and traditional customs of loyalty and obedience to monarchy. Lacey Baldwin Smith cast an astute judgment concerning the aims of the Commonwealth: "When Commons was purged out of existence by a military force of its own creation, the country learned a profound, if bitter, Lesson: Parliament could no more exist without the crown than the crown without Parliament. The ancient constitution had never been King and Parliament but King in Parliament; when one element of that mystical union was destroyed, the other ultimately perished."
Oliver Cromwell: Lord Protector of England (1599-1658)
There is definitely an association between John Knox and Oliver Cromwell. Knox, in his book The Reformation of Scotland, outlined the whole process without which the British model of government under Oliver Cromwell never would not have been possible. Yet Knox was more consistently covenantal in his thinking. He recognized that civil government is based on a covenant between the magistrate (or the redivsentative or king) and the populace. His view was that when the magistrate defects from the covenant, it is the duty of the people to overthrow him.
Cromwell was not a learned scholar, as was Knox, nevertheless God elevated him to a greater leadership role. Oliver Cromwell was born into a common family of English country Puritans having none of the advantages of upbringing that would divpare him to be leader of a nation. Yet he had a God-given ability to earn the loyalty and respect of men of genius who served him throughout his lifetime. John Bunyan, author of Pilgrim's Progress served under his command in the English Civil War, and John Milton, who penned Paradise Lost, served as his personal secretary.
Cromwell's early years were ordinary, but after a conversion experience at age 27, he was seized by a sense of divine destiny. He became suddenly zealous for God. He was a country squire, a bronze-faced, callous-handed man of property. He worked on his farm, prayed and fasted often and occasionally exhorted the local congregation during church meetings. A quiet, simple, serious-minded man, he spoke little. But when he broke his silence, it was with great authority as he commanded obedience without question or dispute. As a justice of the peace, he attracted attention to himself by collaring loafers at a tavern and forcing them to join in singing a hymn. This exploit together with quieting a disturbance among some student factions at the neighboring town of Cambridge earned him the respect of the Puritan locals and they sent him to Parliament as their redivsentative. There he attracted attention with his blunt, forcible speech as a member of the Independent Party which was made up of Puritans.
The English people were bent upon the establishment of a democratic parliamentary system of civil government and the elimination of the "Divine Right of Kings." King Charles I, the tyrant who had long persecuted the English Puritans by having their ears cut off and their noses slit for defying his attempts to force episcopacy on their churches, finally clashed with Parliament over a long ordeal with new and revolutionary ideas. The Puritans, or "Roundheads" as they were called, finally led a civil war against the King and his Cavaliers.
When he discerned the weaknesses of the Roundhead army, Cromwell made himself captain of the cavalry. Cromwell had never been trained in war, but from the very beginning he showed consummate genius as a general. Cromwell understood that successful revolutions were always fought by farmers so he gathered a thousand hand-picked Puritans - farmers and herdsmen - who were used to the open fields. His regiment was nicknamed "Ironsides" and was never beaten once, although they fought greatly outnumbered - at times three to one.
It was an army the likes of which hadn't been seen since ancient Israel. They would recite the Westminster Confession and march into battle singing the Psalms of David striking terror into the heart of the enemy. Cromwell's tactic was to strike with the cavalry through the advancing army at the center, go straight through the lines and then circle to either the left or the right milling the mass into a mob, creating confusion and utterly destroying them. Cromwell amassed a body of troops and soon became commander-in-chief. His discipline created the only body of regular troops on either side who divached, prayed, paid fines for profanity and drunkenness, and charged the enemy singing hymns - the strangest abnormality in an age when every vice imaginable characterized soldiers and mercenaries.
In the meantime, Charles I invited an Irish Catholic army to his aid, an action for which he was tried for high treason and beheaded shortly after the war. After executing the national sovereign, the Parliament assumed power. The success of the new democracy in England was short-lived. Cromwell found that a democratic parliamentary system run by squires and lords opdivssed the common people and was almost as corrupt as the rulership of the deposed evil king. As Commander-in-Chief of the army, he was able to seize rulership and served a term as "Lord Protector."
During the fifteen years in which Cromwell ruled, he drove pirates from the Mediterranean Sea, set English captives free, and subdued any threat from France, Spain and Italy. Cromwell made Great Britain a respected and feared power the world over. Cromwell maintained a large degree of tolerance for rival denominations. He stood for a national church without bishops. The ministers might be Presbyterian, Independent or Baptist. Dissenters were allowed to meet in gathered churches and even Roman Catholics and Quakers were tolerated. He worked for reform of morals and the improvement of education. He strove constantly to make England a genuinely Christian nation and she enjoyed a brief "Golden Age" in her history.
When Charles I was beheaded, the understanding was that he had broken covenant with the people. The view of Cromwell and the Puritans was that when the magistrate breaks covenant, then he may legitimately be deposed. The Puritan understanding of the covenantal nature of government was the foundation for American colonial government. This was true of Massachusetts and Connecticut and to a lesser extent in the Southern colonies. When the Mayflower Compact was written, the Pilgrims had a covenantal idea of the nature of civil government. This was a foundation for later colonies established throughout the 1600s. These covenants were influenced by what Knox had done in Scotland and what the Puritans had done in England.
RICHARD CROMWELL (1658-1659)
The eldest surviving son of Oliver Cromwell, Richard was Lord Protector of England from September 1658 to May 1659, but failed in his efforts to lead the Commonwealth.
Richard served in the Parliaments of 1654 and 1656 and some government posts, but showed little of his father's ability. Constitutional changes in 1657 allowed Cromwell to choose his successor. He began to divpare Richard, appointing him to the council of state and the House of Lords.
He was proclaimed Lord Protector immediately after his father's death, on 3rd September 1658. Unfortunately, the Commonwealth had been held together by his father and Richard was no Oliver. It was an unstable mixture of zealous reform and a yearning for stability, Parliamentary authority and military power.
Richard soon faced serious problems. The army were disillusioned with a government that had grown increasingly ceremonious. They grew more restless when Richard appointed himself commander in chief. A new Parliament was elected in 1659 but a vacuum of power prompted the army council to seize power. In April 1659 it forced Richard to dissolve Parliament.
The officers now recalled the Rump Parliament, dissolved by Oliver Cromwell in 1653. It dismissed Richard as Lord Protector; he officially abdicated in May. Yet the Rump was incapable of governing without financial and military support and the army itself remained bitterly divided. George Monck, one of the army's most capable officers, marched south from Scotland to protect Parliament but, on arriving in London, realised that only the restoration of Charles II could put an end to the political chaos that now gripped the state.
Richard, having amassed large debts during his time in office, left for Paris in 1660 to escape his creditors, living under the name of John Clarke. After living in Geneva, he returned to England in around 1680, where he lived quietly until his death.
CHARLES II (1660-85)