Saturday, 25 November 2017

The Protectorate (2)


A 1658 issue Cromwell half-crown, with the Latin inscription
OLIVAR D G RP ANG SCO ET HIB &c PRO,
 translated as "Oliver, by the Grace of God
of the Republic of England, Scotland and Ireland etc. Protector".
Public domain


Penruddock’s Rising

In January 1655 Cromwell dissolved his first Parliament. So far he was proving no more successful than Charles I in managing his parliaments. The situation became still more tense in March-April 1655 when the Protectorate faced the first serious royalist conspiracy to confront the regime since the Second Civil War. 

The rising led by Colonel John Penruddock was a royalist revolt in the west of England. Cromwell was to be assassinated (though the plans for this were intercepted by his secretary John Thurloe,  the highly efficient head of the security operation. The general rising planned for March failed to come off, but Penruddock captured Salisbury and proclaimed Charles II. The rebellion was suppressed by Major-General John Desborough in command of the militia. The rebels were convicted of treason. About fourteen, including Penruddock, were executed and about seventy sent to Barbados. The rebellion had been put down quite easily but it revealed a worrying apathy among the population. There was no popular support either for the royalists or for the Protectorate.  


Foreign policy: the 'Western Design'

The regime's successful war against the Dutch left Cromwell over-confident, leading him to make the biggest military mistake of his career. 

Although the Thirty Years' War had ended in 1648, the war between the two European superpowers, France and Spain, was continuing. England could have stayed out of this war but, in a mood of bellicose providentialism, Cromwell and the majority of his Council took the decision to relive the glories of the Elizabethan age by attacking the Spanish Empire in what came to be known as the 'Western Design'. 

In December 1654 a fleet of thirty ships left England for the Caribbean under the command of Admiral William Penn carrying an army of about 3,000. In March the expeditionary force left Barbados to attack the valuable colony of Hispaniola and landed on the island on 14 April. The attack was a predictable disaster as the English were repulsed at San Domingo. On 4 May Penn re-embarked what was left of his men and transported them to the undefended island of Jamaica, which surrendered on 17 May. The 1500 Spanish settlers were forced to leave. 

When the news of the defeat at Hispaniola reached Cromwell in July he experienced a deep crisis of self-doubt. He shut himself in his room for the whole day and inaugurated a series of exercises in national humiliation and self-scrutiny that went on until September 1656.  At the time the failure to take Hispaniola overshadowed the occupation of Jamaica, though this was to have huge long-term implications for British history. (Spain finally surrendered Jamaica by the Treaty of Madrid, 1670.)  

In October 1655 England formed a defensive alliance with France and declared war with Spain. This forced Charles Stuart to take refuge in Bruges.

England was punching above her weight and grave mistakes were made in the war, but Blake continued to organize the navy, and pirates and royalists were swept from the seas. England’s diplomatic standing had never been higher.

Friday, 17 November 2017

The Protectorate (1)

The statue of Cromwell, erected in 1899,
 the three-hundredth
anniversary of his birth. 

Note that he is
outside the Houses of Parliament, not inside!

The key theme of the 1650s is the unsuccessful search for a lasting political settlement to replace the government of the king. The failure of this search made the restoration of the monarchy inevitable. However, if Cromwell had lived longer, or been succeeded by a son of equal ability, the story might have been different!


Barebone's Parliament

Although the dissolution of the Rump looked like a military coup, Cromwell’s primary aim was to get governing authority back into safe, and preferably reforming, civilian hands. This shows the cautious conservative side of his baffling character. Some historians have seen the dissolution of the Rump as a transitional moment for him: the shift from holy warrior to cautious pragmatist and conciliator - though one could argue that the holy warrior was always there beneath the surface..

For the Fifth Monarchists these were ‘Overturning days'. Many 'godly' congregations saw the expulsion of the Rump as the moment when God’s people might leave the wilderness behind and achieve the Promised Land – and they wrote to Cromwell to tell him so. Thomas Harrison wanted to see an assembly of seventy godly men, based on the Sanhedrin, to fit the land for the imminent coming of Christ. Cromwell had some sympathy with this view, but he repeatedly declared his belief that the kingdom of Christ would be realized spiritually in the hearts of men, not physically on earth; the way to it was through liberty of conscience and the elimination of evils. 

The compromise solution was to summon a surrogate (and temporary) British assembly of 138 men ‘of approved fidelity and honesty’ (121 from England, six from Wales, five from Scotland, six from Ireland) with supreme authority to make a constitution. This parliament, which met in July 1653, is officially known as the Nominated Parliament because it was not elected but nominated by Cromwell and the Council of Officers collectively. However, it was derisively known as ‘Barebone’s Parliament’ after one of its members, the Baptist leather-seller, Praise-God Barbon, a warden of the Leathersellers’ Company and lay preacher to a congregation of his own. 


Praise-God Barbon
Public domain

Far from being the mad assembly of religious fanatics of royalist propaganda, this was in the main a thoughtful body with radical ideas for reforming society. It spent most of its brief life discussing much-needed reforms, and in the space of five months it passed over thirty acts and had other major ones in preparation. In order to fill the vacuum created by the abolition of church courts, it established machinery for the probate of wills, and for registering births, marriages and deaths. Civil marriages solemnised by JPs were legalised (though were probably not popular). Measures were taken to abolish the excise. Acts were passed for the relief of creditors and poor prisoners, and to regulate the conditions under which lunatics were held. Discussions were held on how to replace tithes by salaries. 

Saturday, 4 November 2017

The British Republic: the Commonwealth

Oliver Cromwell
Public domain


The Commonwealth proclaimed

The putting to death of an anointed king was a shocking event, and no-one, either in Britain or Europe knew what was to happen next.  The king had been executed by the orders of a minority of parliamentarians, probably against the wishes of the great majority of the people. To its enemies the new republic was a betrayal and a military tyranny. To its supporters such as the poet John Milton, it was a commonwealth whose achievements which would rival those of Greece and Rome. To others it was the beginning of true godly reformation. 

On 6 February the Commons abolished the House of Lords. In March two acts of Parliament gave statutory force to the abolition of the monarchy and the Lords. In May an Act of Parliament declared England a Republic or Commonwealth 
‘governed by the representatives of the people in parliament … without any king or House of Lords’. 
This was untrodden ground and the propaganda war began early. Ten days after Charles’s execution, the royalist Eikon Basilike was published illegally and went into thirty editions within the year. On 13 February John Milton published The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates. In it he argued that kings derived their power from the people and that men were born free. In October he responded to Eikon Basilike with Eikonoklastes, which helped ruin his failing eyesight.


Title page of Milton's Eikonoclastes



The Council of State

From 7 February the government was in the hands of a Council of State, an executive body of forty-one members chosen by Parliament and set up to run the new Republic. On 10 March John Bradshaw was nominated president of the Council, a position he held until November 1651, when his office went into rotation. The Council was under the overall control of Parliament - the ‘Rump Parliament’ left over from the Civil War and Pride’s Purge (December 1648).  It consisted of two hundred MPs, many of whom were readmitted after their expulsion in December 1648.

Saturday, 28 October 2017

The Second Civil War and the execution of the king

The return of the king 

The Putney debates continued during the following days but made little progress. On 11 November Charles escaped from Hampton Court
The gateway of
Carisbrooke Castle
and fled to Carisbrooke castle on the Isle of Wight.  Two days after his arrival he re-opened negotiations with Parliament on the basis of a three-year trial period for Presbyterianism.


In the face of a renewed threat by the king, the army closed ranks. Discussions of religious and constitutional issues were suspended, and on 15 November a Leveller-inspired mutiny in two
regiments near Ware was easily crushed. 


On 26 December Charles concluded a secret ‘Engagement’ promising to establish Scottish Presbyterianism in England for three years; in return the Scots recognized the king’s right to control the militia, veto legislation, appoint officers of state and promised to invade England and restore him to the throne. These were far better terms than those offered by parliament.  Inevitably it meant war. 


The Second Civil War

News of the agreement soon leaked out. On 3 January 1648 parliamentary radicals pushed through a vote (majority 50) that they would no longer negotiate with the king.  During the debates Cromwell ominously warned the Commons not to break its trust to ‘the honest party of the kingdom’ or else ‘the godly’, especially in the army ‘might take such courses as nature dictates to them’.  The meaning of these words would become clearer later in the year.  

At first the king benefited from a Royalist backlash. In April, May, and June 1648 this desire for a return to traditional forms of government exploded into rebellion in south Wales, Essex, and Kent, a series of uncoordinated risings that hardly deserves to be called a war.

Monday, 16 October 2017

The Civil War: radicalism

Title page of Thomas Edwards'
Gangraena
Public domain


The cost of war

The Civil War caused immense suffering. At any given moment in the summers of 1643, 1644 and 1645 between 120,000 and 140,000 adult males (roughly one in eight out of a population of c. five million) were in arms in England. It has been estimated that c. 62,000 died in England and Wales in the First Civil War, either on the battlefield or later.  War-related diseases, such as typhus and dysentery, carried off at least 100,000. 

In England the Midlands and the Welsh borders were the worst affected areas. There was no serious military action east of a line through King’s Lynn, Cambridge, London, and Arundel, though all parts of the country suffered from high taxation. One in ten inhabitants of provincial cities and towns were made homeless. The cultural losses at Lichfield and Ely cathedrals were irreparable. 


Religious radicalism

Between 1643 and 1646 Parliament overturned the existing Church of England, abolished episcopacy, cathedrals, church courts, the prayer book, and Christmas and Easter. These measures coincided with renewed iconoclasm. 

In place of the old Church, Parliament tried to establish a Presbyterian Church modelled on the Scottish kirk. A new service book, the Directory for Public Worship, was established. 

Saturday, 14 October 2017

The Civil War: the victory of Parliament

Representation by an unknown artist of the
parliamentary victory at Naseby, 14 June 1645
Public domain


1643: was anyone winning?

By the end of 1643 it looked as if the war was being fought to a stalemate, with neither side delivering a knock-out blow. If anything, the psychological advantage lay with the king: Parliament had to win, he had only to fight for a draw. Parliamentary leaders like the earls of Essex and Manchester, the commander of the Eastern Association, believed that in the end there would have to be a negotiated settlement with the king.

However, in retrospect, it can be seen that three factors favoured Parliament:

  1. Pym’s excise tax was unpopular but successful.
  2. The Scots alliance had added 20,000 soldiers to the parliamentary forces.
  3. The Eastern Association under the earl of Manchester was proving an efficient military force.


The Eastern Association

The most effective of the parliamentary armies was the Eastern Association under Edward Montagu, 2nd earl of Manchester.  In January 1644 Manchester he his cavalry commander, Oliver Cromwell, pushed through Parliament a financial ordinance increasing by 50 per cent the monthly assessments levied on the individual counties of the Eastern Association and putting the money in the hands of a committee at Cambridge under Manchester’s control. In February Cromwell was appointed Lieutenant-General of the Association.

Sunday, 8 October 2017

The Civil War: the first phase, 1642-3


Among the books I have consulted, the following have been especially useful: 
Barry Coward, The Stuart Age. England 1603-1714 (Longman, 2nd edition, 1994)
Royle, Trevor, Civil War: The Wars of the Three Kingdoms 1638-1660 (Abacus, 2004)
David L. Smith, A History of the Modern British Isles 1603-1707. The Double Crown (Blackwell, 1998)
Austin Woolrych, Britain in Revolution (Oxford University Press, 2002)
John Wroughton, The Longman Companion to the Stuart Age 1603-1714 (Longman, 1997)

The period between 1640 and 1660 is the most momentous in British history. It saw a series of dramatic events, all of them with major constitutional implications:



  1. The creation of the New Model Army and the rise of religious and political radicalism within the Army
  2. The trial and execution of the king and the setting up of a republic (the Commonwealth)
  3. The brutal conquest of Ireland
  4. A series of parliamentary experiments that saw the dissolution of the Long Parliament and the establishment of Cromwell as Lord Protector
  5. The growth of religious dissent in the 1650s.


'Cavaliers and Roundheads'

Both sides applied derogatory terms to the other. ‘Cavalier’ was taken from the Spanish cabelleros and was used to mock the court’s continental ways. ‘Roundhead’ derived from the craze among apprentice boys for cutting their ‘love-locks’. In fact, the leaders of both armies had similar hairstyles. You can't necessarily tell a man's allegiance from his portrait!