|The statue of Cromwell, erected in 1899,|
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 ParliamentAlthough 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.
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.