Cromwell Rules England as Lord Protector

Oliver Cromwell’s ascendancy to political power as lord protector paralleled the English experiment with a republican form of government. Cromwell evolved into an autocrat and the monarchy was restored two years after his death, in 1660.

Summary of Event

Until the English political and religious crisis of the early 1640’s that culminated in the outbreak of the English Civil Wars English Civil Wars (1642-1651) in 1642, Oliver Cromwell was a minor figure who had served as a member of Parliament in 1628-1629 and was elected to the Long Parliament in November, 1640. Cromwell came from a family of modest means in Huntington, where he had spent most of his life. He graduated from Sussex College, Cambridge. Initially, Cromwell merely wanted tolerance for Puritan dissenters and for the monarch to recognize the need to govern alongside Parliament, specifically the House of Commons. [kw]Cromwell Rules England as Lord Protector (Dec. 16, 1653-Sept. 3, 1658)
[kw]Lord Protector, Cromwell Rules England as (Dec. 16, 1653-Sept. 3, 1658)
[kw]England as Lord Protector, Cromwell Rules (Dec. 16, 1653-Sept. 3, 1658)
Government and politics;Dec. 16, 1653-Sept. 3, 1658: Cromwell Rules England as Lord Protector[1780]
England;Dec. 16, 1653-Sept. 3, 1658: Cromwell Rules England as Lord Protector[1780]
Cromwell, Oliver

After hostilities broke out in May, 1642, between the Royalists Royalists and the Parliamentarians Parliamentarians , Cromwell demonstrated that he possessed both a strategic and a tactical understanding of military affairs. At the outbreak of the war, Cromwell raised a cavalry force from among his neighbors in Huntington; that force joined the major Parliamentary army at the Battle of Edgehill Edgehill, Battle of (1642) on October 22, 1642. Through his subsequent successful encounters with the king’s forces at Grantham and Winceby, Cromwell’s reputation as a warrior expanded. During 1643, Cromwell built a new army, the Ironsides, which played a critical role in the Battle of Marston Moor Marston Moor, Battle of (1644) in 1644. In that battle and later at the Battle of Newbury, Cromwell, serving under the earl of Manchester, led his troops to victory. Cromwell then professionalized these forces during 1644-1645 when, with the third baron Fairfax, he formed the New Model Army New Model Army .

Cromwell’s victory over Charles I Charles I (king of England);Cromwell and at the Battle of Naseby Naseby, Battle of (1645) on June 14, 1645, solidified his identity as a major power broker. His success during the later years of the Civil Wars (1645-1651) was based on his control over the New Model Army. Cromwell supported the Pride’s Purge Pride’s Purge (1648)[Prides Purge (1648)] of the Long Parliament on December 6, 1648, which resulted in the removal of 140 members and the formation of the reduced Rump Parliament. In January, 1649, Cromwell led the faction within the Rump Parliament that demanded the trial and execution of Charles I. He argued that Charles could not be trusted to cooperate with Parliament and suggested that England should move beyond monarchy to a new form of government that would be centered in the Parliament.

After Charles I’s execution on January 30, 1649, the Rump Parliament ruled the nation. It was believed that the king’s death was also the death of the monarchy and that a new form of government—the Commonwealth Commonwealth (1649-1660) —would constitute the next major phase in the political development of England. At first, Cromwell occupied himself with military matters. He suppressed (1649-1650) an Irish rebellion and then defeated a Scottish Royalist army at the Battle of Worcester Worcester, Battle of (1651) in 1651, events sometimes referred to collectively as the Third Civil War.

From the fall of 1651 until the spring of 1653, Cromwell attempted to gain the Rump Parliament’s approval for a series of reforms. He proposed measures directed at needed legal, social, and parliamentary reforms. Through political maneuvers and endless debates, however, the leaders of the Rump Parliament managed to stifle all of Cromwell’s reform initiatives. Frustrated with the absence of action, Cromwell used his army to expel that Rump Parliament on April 20, 1653. The Rump Parliament was replaced with the Barebones Parliament Barebones Parliament ; Cromwell hoped that it would develop into a “godly parliament” and result in godly government. This experiment failed in a few months, however, and was replaced by the Protectorate Protectorate (1654-1658) , which was established by the first and only written constitution in the history of England, the Instrument of Government (December 16, 1653) Instrument of Government (1653) .

Based on the work of John Lambert, Lambert, John the Instrument of Government established a partnership between the executive lord protector and the legislative Parliament. The powers of the lord protector were restricted: His role as commander of the armed forces was at the discretion of Parliament, and the lord protector had to convene Parliament regularly. He could not alter or repeal laws unless they were in opposition to the Instrument of Government. The document also specified that the lord protector had to have a council of state, and it established the criteria for voting for the new Parliament.

Cromwell became lord protector on the same day that the Instrument of Government was adopted and held that office until his death on September 3, 1658. The Instrument of Government did not survive as long as Cromwell; it was replaced with the Humble Petition and Advice Humble Petition and Advice (1657) in 1657. Throughout his tenure as lord protector, Cromwell was confronted with threats both from abroad and at home. Catholic powers entered into plots to remove Cromwell and bring about a restoration of a regime that had been more sympathetic to Catholicism and the interests of Catholic powers. Within England, Royalists and conservative Anglicans desired his downfall as well.

Oliver Cromwell is sworn in as lord protector of England.

(Francis R. Niglutsch)

Cromwell was a religious Independent and believed in religious tolerance; during his Protectorate, adherents of several faiths, including Catholics, could practice their religions openly. Cromwell’s principal problem was working with the Parliament; despite his conciliatory efforts, Parliament proved to be as much an obstacle to him as it had been to Charles. In 1655, Cromwell declared a state of martial law; the country was divided into military districts and generals were assigned to manage the affairs of each district. The local general not only maintained law and order but also served to enforce Cromwell’s “reformation of manners”; Cromwell sought to set a moral standard that should be emulated, and he was also eager to eliminate social opportunities for his critics to meet to plot against him.

The lord protector’s social program resulted in the end of dueling, the closing of theaters, the suppression of gambling, limiting the number of alehouses, and the enforced maintenance of the Sabbath. Frequently, Cromwell’s generals pursued these policies with vigor, resulting in mounting popular dislike of the regime and the military. Cromwell pursued an active foreign policy in which Spain was the principal enemy; his Spanish War (1655-1659) proved to be much more difficult and expensive to prosecute than anticipated, however. It also contributed to the growing public criticism of his government.

To his credit, Cromwell developed the British navy and initiated policies that enhanced Britain’s competitive role throughout the world. In June, 1657, the Humble Petition and Advice replaced the Instrument of Government; Cromwell remained as lord protector and had powers that resembled those of a traditional monarch.

Cromwell died on September 3, 1658, and was succeeded as lord protector by his son, Richard Cromwell Cromwell, Richard . Unlike his father in most ways, Richard did not possess the leadership or governing skills to succeed in such a tenuous position; he served from September, 1658, to April, 1659, when he recognized the return the of Rump Parilament. Within eleven months (May, 1660), the Stuart monarchy would be restored with the accession of King Charles II. Charles II (king of England);Restoration of


Cromwell’s tenure as lord protector reflected the inherently conservative nature of British politics in the seventeenth century. The English Civil Wars were fought to address grievances that were based upon violations of traditional English liberties in politics and religion, not to establish new ones. Cromwell’s Protectorate failed to endure because it was too novel: It did not have the support of the Parliament or the people. In a little more than one and one-half years after Cromwell’s death, the son of the beheaded Charles I, Charles II, restored the monarchy peacefully. Cromwell’s achievements in foreign affairs and the building of the British navy were more durable, however, and they paved the way for the growth of the British Empire.

Further Reading

  • Coward, Barry. The Cromwellian Protectorate. Manchester, England: Manchester University Press, 2002. An important synthesis of Cromwell and the Protectorate, with emphasis on comparing the aspirations of Cromwell and his associates with what they accomplished; also examines the international impact of the regime in the mid-seventeenth century.
  • Davis, J. C. Oliver Cromwell. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001. Davis examines the paradox of Cromwell—the transformation from the conservative who sought to sustain traditional rights to the religious/political radical of the 1650’; he concludes that the Cromwell was a great historical figure who understood the changing forces of English history.
  • Gaunt, Peter. Oliver Cromwell. Oxford, England: Blackwell, 1996. An excellent introduction to the life and importance of Oliver Cromwell; a valuable annotated bibliography is provided.
  • Kitson, Frank. Old Ironsides: The Military Biography of Oliver Cromwell. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 2004. Biography of Cromwell focuses on his military achievements; generally sympathetic to Cromwell on military matters; readable and useful documentation.
  • Lynch, Michael. The Interregnum, 1649-1660. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1994. An excellent, student-centered study of this period that includes study/discussion questions and references to current sources. Cromwell emerges as a well-intentioned leader who did not understand the extent and depth of religious and political dissension in England.
  • Sherwood, Roy Edward. Oliver Cromwell: King in All but Name, 1653-1658. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1997. Sherwood argues that not only was Cromwell a “King in All but Name” but that the Cromwellian regime exhibited aspects and practices that were representative of a monarchial government. Illustrated with valuable drawings, useful bibliography.
  • Smith, David L. Oliver Cromwell: Politics and Religion in the English Revolution, 1640-1658. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991. A very useful book for students who have had an introduction to Cromwell, the English Civil Wars and the Protectorate; provides assessments by historians of different aspects of Cromwell’s life and work.
  • Venning, Timothy. Cromwellian Foreign Policy. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1995. Venning argues that Cromwell’s active foreign policy, while being pursued with very limited success, was successful because of Cromwell’s power, which was based upon his view of his position; Cromwell’s foreign policy accomplishments stand up favorably when compared to those of Charles II during the 1660’.
  • Wheeler, James Scott. Cromwell in Ireland. Dublin: Gill and Macmillan, 1999. A scholarly account of the background and development of Cromwell’s Irish campaign during 1649 and 1650 and the subsequent impact of its impact on Ireland and Cromwell’s leadership during the Protectorate.

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