History's HEROES? 1599 - 1658

Oliver Cromwell

His world
  • A time of great upheaval and change

    During Oliver Cromwell's life great changes were to take place, which were not just political but commercial and social too. 

    New Worlds and New Trade
    In the early 17th century, the first permanent English settlements in the Americas developed. British Merchants became involved in the Transatlantic Slave Trade after King Charles I granted a licence, allowing a group of London traders to transport enslaved people from West Africa, across the Atlantic Ocean, to the Americas. Here they provided a workforce for the new plantations.

    New Wealth
    London coffee houses started to become places where merchants conducted business and banded together to take on more ambitious ventures. Wealth began to pour into Britain; this would eventually see the arts flourish, cities expand and new economic institutions formed. It was during Cromwell's Protectorate that Jamaica fell into British hands and the 1640s and 50s saw the growth of the British sugar trade, which would transform the economy of Britain forever.

    Old Wealth
    Society, however, was still similar to that of the Tudors, although there was more opportunity for people to advance. A few hundred landowning families, members of the nobility or gentry, still dominated a much larger class of yeoman and tenant farmers. Beneath these came a still larger class of farm labourers. In the cities were the merchants and traders.  

    The Gentry
    Oliver Cromwell's family belonged to that class of landowners in England known as 'the gentry'. The gentry dominated the local communities where they lived. Most magistrates and MPs came from amongst their ranks. Compared with the rest of the population, they were well-off and well-educated. Many attended the great universities of Oxford and Cambridge.  The gentry were often closely related to merchants in London and the other towns, and shared many of their values.  

    Cromwell's Family
    Oliver's family came from Huntingdon in the east of England. They were landowners and, for a time, one of the wealthiest and most influential families in the area, although the social status of Cromwell's family at his birth was relatively low. Oliver Cromwell was the only son of Robert and Elizabeth Cromwell to survive infancy. His father was the younger son of a knight, and so Oliver inherited only scraps of property: barely enough to sustain gentry status. He had seven sisters, three older than him and four younger and, therefore, he grew up in a female-dominated environment.

    Education
    Oliver Cromwell was educated at Huntingdon Grammar School and, as a youth, attended Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge. He had to leave, after the death of his father in 1617, and so did not complete his studies. His widowed mother for a time became head of the household. Oliver would remain very close to his mother for the rest of her life.

    A Minor Landowner
    Cromwell became a minor landowner, with the land he inherited after the death of his father. These lands were not extensive and he was only a very low ranking member of the landowning gentry. His life was not very different from that of a 'yeoman farmer'. Such families often had close links with the merchants of London and Cromwell himself married the daughter of a wealthy London businessman in August 1620, just a few months after his 21st birthday.  The marriage brought him into contact with wealthy merchants and Puritan peers, such as the Earl of Warwick, who were interested in colonial development.

    Farming on a Modest Income
    Cromwell made his living by farming and collecting rents, first in his native Huntingdon then, from 1631, in St. Ives. In 1636, he inherited lands in Ely and a large house near the cathedral, from a maternal uncle. His prospects improved but his income was still modest and he had to support an expanding family - his widowed mother, his wife and, eventually, the nine children the couple had (although only six survived to adulthood: this was typical of many families, as medical knowledge was still poor in the Stuart period).

    Religious Divides
    In the 17th century, English society was divided according to religious beliefs. The Protestant Church of England was split, between the traditionalists (Anglicans) who wanted to keep the whole organisation of the Church as it was, and the reformers, or Puritans, who wanted to change to a much simpler Church organisation.

    The Puritan Movement 
    The Puritans sought a 'purer' type of Church worship, with the practices inherited from the Church of England's Catholic past abolished. They disapproved of bishops appointing Church ministers and wanted the power to elect ministers to be in the hands of the local congregations. They believed that individuals could have direct communication with God, without the need for bishops and elaborate ceremony. (See section on religion.)

    Puritanism in the East of England
    Huntingdonshire and Cambridgeshire, where Cromwell lived, along with other areas in the east of England, were strongholds of Puritanism. Puritanism tended to flourish in parts of the country where trade and industry were important, and particularly in large towns and ports. The east of England was, at this time, one of the wealthiest regions in Britain. It had a thriving wool trade, and on its coast were located several important ports, including Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft. It was also the home of Cambridge University, the leading intellectual centre of Puritanism.

    Life in a Puritan Family
    For the Puritans, the home and family unit were crucial. The husband was in charge of his wife and the wife in charge of the family. His role was to provide for the family, and to protect and teach his children about God and prayer. Childcare was a woman's role and a wife's good name depended upon the behaviour of her children. The Puritan home was plainly decorated and rejected any kind of excess or displays of wealth. The true 'godly way' was one of simplicity and purity that was reflected in the home as well as at Church. In contrast, the homes of the rich Royalists were very different, with rich tapestries, gildings and murals. The Puritans favoured plain dress, whilst the clothes of the Royalists were highly decorated and elaborate. Oliver Cromwell's family was a Puritan family and his marriage appears to have been a happy one. 

    Unsettled Times
    Charles I was married to a Catholic and, in 1633, he appointed William Laud as Archbishop of Canterbury. When the Puritans complained about the reforms Laud introduced, which they believed were trying to make English Churches look like those in Catholic countries, Laud had them arrested. In 1637, when three men, Henry Burton, William Prynne and John Bastwick, wrote pamphlets attacking Laud's views, he had their ears cut off. 

    Religious Freedom and the First British Colonies
    Many of the North American colonies that eventually formed the United States of America were settled in the 17th century by men and women, who, in the face of European persecution, refused to compromise deeply held religious convictions. This included Puritan families from England.  At one point, Cromwell apparently considered emigrating to one of the English colonies in North America, with his family. If he had done so, he would have been typical of many English Puritans seeking to live in a land where they could worship God in the way they believed to be correct.  

    Parliament and the Puritans
    By the time of the reign of Charles I, some form of parliament had been in existence for over 1,000 years. It was expected that parliament would have a say in decisions of state.  It was also a place where many Puritans held influence. They insisted that parliament was necessary for government, providing a place where the grievances of those who were ruled by the king could be redressed and for the granting of tax to the Crown. However, King Charles believed he had the right to rule without parliament. Until the 1640s, parliament existed at the will of the king. He could call or dissolve parliament as he required. The stage was set for conflict. (See section on Political tensions.)

    Cromwell and Parliament
    The Cromwells were one of a group of long-established families in the Huntingdon area. Gentlemen from this group served as MPs, some of whom led the Puritan party within parliament. When Cromwell entered parliament, therefore, it was natural for him to join the Puritan 'party' and he was soon one of its leading lights. This was not just a matter of social and family connections, however; Cromwell had become devoutly religious in his 30s. He was a committed and sincere Puritan and a devout Christian.  He became MP for Huntingdon in 1628 and MP for Cambridge in 1640. However, until 1640 he played only a small role in local administration and no significant role in national politics. It was the Civil Wars of the 1640s which lifted Cromwell from obscurity to power. 

    Puritan Society
    After their victory in the Civil Wars, society became ruled by the Puritans (see sections on Civil Wars and Republic). Many of those who fought during the Wars, including Cromwell, truly believed they had God on their side and that theirs was a religious victory. They wanted a fairer and more just and humane society but also to clamp down on what they saw as drunkenness and sinful activities. Theatres were closed, dancing around maypoles banned, many inns were shut and the popular sports of cock-fighting and bear-baiting were prohibited. If caught swearing, you could be fined. Christmas became a time of fasting rather than celebration. Although Puritans supportedthis, the changes were very unpopular with many ordinary people.


  • The right to rule - by the will of God or the will of the people

    In 1603, Elizabeth I of England died. She was the last of the Tudor monarchs and she had no son or daughter to follow her. Her nearest relative was the king of Scotland, James VI. He, therefore, came south and was crowned king of England as James I. So began the Stuart period - a period of turmoil and change for England.

    The Stuarts
    King James I, who reigned from 1603 to 1625, had been a successful king of Scotland. There, he had managed to control the powerful nobles and impose his firm rule on the land. Unfortunately, he was unfamiliar with the very different situation in England. Here, the real challenge to James' authority came from parliament, not from the nobility, who had already been tamed by the masterful Tudor monarchs.

    The Divine Right of Kings
    James believed in an idea that was then common in Europe, the 'Divine Right of Kings'. European monarchs, especially Catholic ones, had developed the idea that they were appointed, not by man but by God. No man, therefore, had the right to rebel against, or even question, their rule. It was the duty of all Christians to obey their king.

    Maintaining Power
    In the 15th and 16th centuries, in country after country, powerful nobles had challenged the Royal power. The monarchs needed all the help they could get, and an idea such as the Divine Right of Kings gave them religious grounds for claiming supreme power. In a deeply religious age, this was important. In Scotland, the Stuart kings had experienced more than their fair share of noble opposition: two kings had been assassinated by nobles. It was only by a hard struggle that James had been able to gain control of the country and, unsurprisingly, he promoted the Divine Right of Kings with enthusiasm.

    The Importance of Parliament
    What he encountered in England was a challenge which he found difficult to cope with. Over the previous 200 years, parliament had become an important part of the government of England - unlike in most other European countries. This had come about because, in feudal times, the English monarchs had often been short of money - and turned to parliament when they needed more.

    Parliament's Role in Raising Tax
    A medieval king had been expected to meet the ordinary expenses of government out of normal Royal revenues - rents from Royal lands, dues from the Royal customs, fines from the Royal courts, and so on. In times when these revenues could not meet government expenses - especially in times of war, when the monarch had to pay for the upkeep of an Army - kings and queens had asked parliament to agree to taxes being raised throughout the kingdom. Parliament had therefore come to be seen as representing the will of the English people and, if it withheld its approval, taxes could not be raised.

    Obtaining Parliamentary Approval
    Over time, the kings and queens of England had learnt to use parliament to gain support for their policies: if they could persuade parliament that a war was justified, for example, they knew that they had the backing of the country. On the other hand, if they lost the support of parliament, they found it very difficult to get their way. Under the Tudors, the position of parliament had been even more strengthened when the kings and queens sought parliament's approval for their religious policies. Thus, the will of parliament had come to be seen as representing the will of the entire English people, not just in taxation, but in other matters as well.

    A Clash of Beliefs
    By the time James I came to the English throne, therefore, it was widely felt that king and parliament were partners in government; this idea clashed directly with the notion of the Divine Right of Kings. James I, and then his son Charles I, tried to insist on their right to govern the country without the 'help' of parliament: governing was the right and duty of kings, and that was that. 

    King Charles' Early Reign
    From the time King Charles I came to the throne in March 1625, the king and parliament started quarrelling. The Members of Parliament insisted on their right to be consulted on all matters, to criticise waste and incompetence, even of Royal favourites, and to propose measures of their own. The king insisted on his right to carry out any policies he chose, even those which parliament found obnoxious. Parliament reacted by refusing to vote the king the money he needed to carry out these policies. 

    The Problem of Tax
    Problems first arose over the collection of taxes. The king continued to collect customs duties, known as tonnage and poundage, even though parliament voted in 1625 that he could only collect this revenue for one year. Charles also tried to raise money without parliament through a Forced Loan in 1626. Those who refused to pay it were imprisoned without trial. 

    The Petition of Right
    By 1628, MPs had drawn up a list of grievances (The Petition of Right), which they insisted the king accept before granting him the money he needed. The king, being in dire straits, had no choice but to accept. However he granted it by his grace, rather than 'of right' and continued to defy parliament.

    Dissolving Parliament
    On 10th March 1629, three members of parliament, angered by the king's actions, forcibly held down the speaker in his chair until resolutions against Catholicism and poundage and tonnage could be read out. Charles was so angry that he imprisoned eight parliamentary leaders and dissolved parliament, and for 11 years, between 1629 and 1640, he ruled without calling parliament.

    The Ship Tax
    To rule effectively without parliament, the king needed to raise money. So he decided to raise a tax known as 'Ship-money'. This was a tax which monarchs had customarily been allowed to impose on sea ports, in order to pay for coastal defences. However, Charles levied it across the entire kingdom, even in inland areas far from the sea; and he raised it, not just to pay for coastal defence, but also to fund all the expenses of government. The ship-money tax greatly increased tensions between king and parliament.

    The Bishops' Wars
    Charles' attempts to impose his favoured traditionalist religious practices on the Scots (by making them use the English Prayer Book in their services) led to a brief armed clash with the Scots Army in the north, known as the first Bishops' War. In June 1639, an uneasy truce was called. Charles knew that he needed money for the inevitable renewal of war. Charles simply couldn't pay for his policies without the financial help which only parliament could provide.  He was therefore forced to call parliament again in April 1640.

    The Short Parliament
    The Short Parliament, so called because it lasted only three weeks, met on April 13th. It soon became clear that parliament was against the war. Parliament angered the king by debating all the grievances of the past years, such as Ship money, and refused to grant Charles the revenue he needed, unless he agreed to its demands - which basically amounted to 'rule with our agreement or not at all'! Charles approached the House of Lords who were basically in support of him but the Commons objected. The Earl of Strafford, who had taken charge of the war-effort, recommended patience but, on May 5th, Charles dissolved the parliament two days before a scheduled debate on the Scottish question.

    The Etcetera Oath
    Although parliament was dissolved, the Convocation of the Church of England, that met at the same time, continued to meet in London with authority from the king. It legitimised unpopular religious reforms proposed by Archbishop Laud and granted subsidies to the king. It also affirmed the doctrine of the Divine Right of Kings, and the introduction of an oath to be taken by all members of the learned professions, who were to swear never wittingly to subvert established Church doctrine. This oath, known as the 'Etcetera Oath', provoked widespread opposition.

    The Long Parliament
    War broke out again, and the Scottish Covenanters were again victorious over the half-hearted and badly paid English army. The first and second Bishops' Wars had bankrupted Charles and he needed parliament to pass finance bills. There was no way Charles I could avoid asking parliament for money now. On 3rd November 1640, Charles was again forced to call parliament. This was to become one of the most important in English history. This parliament became known as the Long Parliament. It sat from 1640 until 1648, when it was purged, by the New Model Army, of those who were not sympathetic to the Army's concerns. (See section on Civil War.)

    On a Collision Course with the King
    The Long Parliament immediately set itself on a collision course with Charles. It declared the ship tax illegal, impeached unpopular Royal ministers such as the Earl of Stafford and Archbishop Laud (both were later executed), revoked the changes made by Archbishop Laud and demanded the abolition of bishops; it enacted legislation (the Triennial Act of 1641) requiring parliaments to be re-elected every three years, and stating that parliament could not be dissolved without its own consent. This legislation was designed to prevent Charles ruling on his own again. 

    The Grand Remonstrance
    A document known as the Grand Remonstrance was presented to King Charles on 1st December 1641 at Hampton Court. It listed all the grievances with acts carried out by the king's government in Church and State since the beginning of his reign, and outlined the measures parliament had taken to put these right. It did not blame the king but blamed the bishops and "malignant" ministers and advisers for causing the divisions. Hence the House of Commons was presented as the true defender of the king's rights. It demanded that the king's ministers should be approved by parliament, with the right of veto over those it considered unsuitable.

    The Move Towards War
    Oliver Cromwell is reported to have said that if the Remonstrance had not been passed, he would have sold all he had and gone overseas to America. Charles reacted by entering the Commons chamber with an armed guard and trying to arrest five MPs on 4th January 1642. The Speaker, William Lenthall, refused to tell him where they were. These events were the final straw for both king and parliament: both immediately set about preparing for war.

    Trouble in Ireland
    Meanwhile, in Ireland in October 1641, there was an uprising of the native Irish, largely Catholics, against the Protestant English and Scottish settlers. The Irish claimed that Charles I had given them authority for their attacks. For those who felt Charles was trying to destroy Protestantism, this was evidence of a conspiracy with the Catholics. Both the king and parliament wanted to suppress the uprising but neither side trusted the other to raise an Army.

    The Militia Ordinance
    In March 1642, parliament issued the Militia Bill as an ordinance (legislation that has not received the Royal assent) and took the unprecedented step of placing the command of each county's armed forces under parliament's control. At the same time, Charles I issued his own commissions of array (a medieval method of raising troops by which the King grants the lords-lieutenant of counties powers to raise emergency forces). The country was now on the edge of Civil War and obeying the Militia Bill or the Commission of Array became an early test of allegiance. Oliver Cromwell's allegiance, of course, was to parliament.


  • A country separated by deep religious differences

    In the 17th century, England was a country separated by a deep religious suspicion and mistrust. Oliver Cromwell was right at the centre of this growing tension.  

    The Influence of Luther
    Ever since the early 16th century, when a monk named Martin Luther had started a spiritual rebellion against the Catholic Church, Europeans had been bitterly divided over their religion.

    Catholics and Protestants
    Up until Luther's time, the whole of Western Europe had been united under one spiritual leader: the Pope (the title given to the bishop of Rome). Martin Luther's actions were to split Europeans into Catholics, who remained loyal to the Pope, and Protestants (Protesters), who rejected the Pope's leadership.

    Wars and Persecutions
    Terrible wars broke out over this issue, which few countries in Europe escaping. Germany, France, the Low Countries, Poland, Hungary, Bohemia - all these lands experienced dreadful conflicts which killed hundreds of thousands of their people and devastated their economies.

    Turmoil in England
    England was spared outright Civil War under the Tudors. However, the English people had experienced plenty of upheaval and religious persecution. England became a Protestant country under Henry VIII, back in the mid-16th century. Under Henry's successors, the country seesawed between Catholicism and Protestantism, with hundreds of devout men and women being tortured and killed for refusing to go with the religious flow. 

    New Divisions
    Under Elizabeth l, the nation had finally become firmly Protestant, and the mass executions ended. This did not end religious tensions, however. Although most English men and women were Protestant, they had different ideas about religion. By the end of the 16th century, two main groups had sprung up: the Traditionalists, also known as the Anglicans, and the Puritans.

    The Traditionalists or Anglicans
    The Traditionalists had almost the same ideas about Christianity as the Roman Catholics had, except that they regarded the king of England, rather than the Pope in Rome, as the head of the Church. They believed that to have one's soul saved from everlasting damnation, a Christian must take part in Mass, must regularly confess his or her sins to a priest, and must be a loyal member of the Church of England and obedient to its leaders, the bishops.

    The Puritans
    The Puritans, on the other hand, believed that a person could pray directly to God, and did not need the intervention of a priest. They believed that Christians were saved simply by trusting in Jesus Christ, as the Bible taught. Worship should be simple and direct, rather than the extravagant and elaborate rituals favoured by the Traditionalists.

    The Role of the Bishops
    The bishops of the Church of England were the foremost Traditionalists. Puritans came to feel that the bishops stood in the way of the formation of a true Church, and should be removed from their positions of spiritual leadership. The bishops, for their part, blocked the advance of Puritanism within the Church of England.

    Religion and the Stuarts
    Under James l and Charles l, the Royal court was the leading champion of the Traditionalists in the Church of England, and therefore the leading opponent of the Puritans. The Puritans came to regard the court as an obstacle to England becoming a truly Christian nation. The fact that the court was extravagant and corrupt and was dominated by Royal favourites, who had reputations for making themselves rich at the expense of ordinary people, strengthened this feeling.

    Religion under Charles I
    Under Charles, who came to the throne in 1625, the Royal government adopted a more aggressive approach to religious matters. One of Charles' leading advisors was the Archbishop of Canterbury, William Laud. He persuaded the king to impose the Traditionalist way of doing things on the Church of England. The Puritans, therefore, came to distrust the court even more, and strongly opposed the measures Archbishop Laud proposed.

    Religion and Parliament
    Things might have muddled along had it not been that parliament came increasingly under the influence of the Puritans. These men saw the royal court, with its corruption, extravagance, and its support of bishops and traditional religious practices, as an enemy of true Christian government. They led parliament in opposing Royal measures which they thought threatened the spiritual and political welfare of the country at large.

    Religious Conflict
    In these circumstances, calls for moderation and compromise were drowned out by bitter denunciations from both sides. The stage was set for impending conflict. No one in England wanted a Civil War but at some point, with everyone being so busy shouting at each other, war became inevitable. Things were already coming to a head in the late 1620s, when Oliver Cromwell became a Member of Parliament.

    The Root and Branch Bill
    After the dissolution of the Short Parliament and the Church of England's affirmation of the doctrine of the Divine Right of Kings in 1640 and the introduction of the 'Etcetera Oath' (see section on political differences), matters deteriorated. The recalled parliament reacted by reversing the changes made by Archbishop Laud and drawing up a Protestation Oath against popery. The 'Root and Branch Bill' was introduced in May 1641 and called for the removal of the bishops from the Church of England and for the Church to be reformed along Scottish-style Presbyterian lines. Cromwell was a keen supporter and architect of the removal of the bishops. The stage was set for war.

    Presbyterians and Independents
    Religion lay behind the divisions during the Civil War, not only between the Traditionalists and the Puritans but also between the Parliamentarian Puritans themselves. The Parliamentarians were divided into two main groups: the Presbyterians and the Independents. The Presbyterians still wanted a compulsory national Church controlled by the elite in society that enforced a strict doctrine; however bishops would be replaced with synods. The Independents argued for toleration towards non-conformist congregations and the right for all Christians to worship as they believed correct. One such independent MP, who wanted even more radical changes, was Oliver Cromwell.

    Religion and the Civil Wars
    The actions of these groups would have a great influence on events during and after the Civil Wars. Parliamentary politics came to be seen as a struggle between Presbyterians and Independents.


  • The civil wars - for parliament or the king 

    The English Civil Wars are sometimes more accurately called 'The Wars of the Three Kingdoms'. They involved not only England and Wales, but Scotland and Ireland as well. Two main periods of conflict known as the first and second Civil Wars started in 1642 and ended in 1648. A third period of conflict in Ireland and Scotland occurred after the establishment of the Republic, ending in 1651.   

    Preparing for War
    The first thing to bear in mind is that, unlike in most European countries at the time, there was no large Royal Army for the king to count on. Before the outbreak of the First Civil War, the king's forces consisted mostly of a small band of professional troops, little more than a household guard. Both sides, therefore, spent the summer of 1642 trying to gain control of the counties' militia forces - units of amateurs, originally designed to protect their own localities from invasion. Equally important, both sides tried to lay their hands on the local stores of arms, which were scattered throughout the country in the larger towns.

    Taking Sides
    Whether or not a local militia opted for king or parliament depended on the sympathies of the local gentry. Some militias vowed to keep both sides at bay, whilst others divided into two, almost equal, sides. The main Royal Army was formed around troops brought to the king's standard by leading Royalist nobles - the Duke of Newcastle, the Earl of Hertford and others. The main Parliamentary armies were based around the London militia.

    The First Civil War
    On July 10th 1642, the first military action of the English Civil War took place when a Royalist raiding party approached Hull to burn down buildings outside the town walls but was driven away by gunfire from the defenders. On August 22nd, King Charles raised the Royal standard at Nottingham Castle. The king and parliament were now officially at war. The First Civil War was, in fact, a hotchpotch of local and regional struggles, which occasionally overlapped with the main campaigns. These latter were fought between the larger armies.

    A Country Divided
    The headquarters of the Royalist side was at Oxford; for the Parliamentarians, it was London. The port cities and the areas around London tended to side with parliament; the more rural areas, and those to the north and west of England, tended to follow the king. Both armies were led by members of the nobility and gentry, often with no previous experience of war. Men such as Cromwell had to learn military ways almost from scratch, although many would have had experience of rudimentary military training with the militias.

    The Early Years of the War
    On both sides were a few professional soldiers who had seen service on the continent - especially in the terrible Thirty Years War in Germany. The predominant feeling amongst these men was that the English people must be spared the awful suffering of this war. As a result of both these factors - the amateurish nature of most of the officers and the professional soldiers' determination to avoid the worst effects of war - the early years of the war showed a tentativeness and unwillingness to commit to full, all-out war, and resulted in indecisive engagements. This may well have lengthened the war unnecessarily, and prolonged the sufferings of the English people.

    Indecisive Battles
    The first year of the war saw failures and successes on both sides, along with indecisive battles which achieved very little for either side. This stalemate led to the king calling in Irish troops in mid-1643, with parliament responding by forging an alliance with the Scots. The war began to tilt slightly in parliament's favour in the autumn of 1643, when it secured most of the eastern part of the country up to Hull.

    Cromwell Comes to Prominence
    It was in these campaigns that Fairfax and Cromwell came to prominence. Their efforts paved the way for the campaign which led to the Battle of Marston Moor, just outside York, in July 1644. This was the first really decisive battle of the war, effectively securing the north for parliament. This success was counter-balanced by major Parliamentary reverses in the south and west of England, which led to widespread demoralisation amongst Parliamentary forces. 

    Splits in Parliament
    As the Civil War progressed, the splits in parliament became more obvious. The Presbyterians wanted to end the war quickly and were willing to negotiate with Charles I. The Independents believed that the only way forward was to force their terms on a defeated king. Oliver Cromwell, an independent MP, accused the Parliamentarian generals, the earls of Essex and Manchester, both of them Presbyterian members of the House of Lords, of not fighting the war forcefully enough. 

    The Need for a New Army and the Self-Denying Ordinance
    These set-backs persuaded Cromwell and others to push for the formation of a new Army. In February 1645, the Independents pushed through an Ordinance for the reorganisation of the Parliamentarian Army. In April 1645, the Houses also passed the Self-Denying Ordinance, which forced Members to choose between continuing to sit in parliament or retaining their commissions in the Army. All persons concerned were to resign their Army commissions but without prejudice to their reappointment. This ordinance was part of reforms aimed at parliamentarian forces, which resulted in Oliver Cromwell's more unified and efficient New Model Army.

    The New Model Army
    The new Parliamentary Army was trained and disciplined along more rigorous lines than any previous armies. In early 1645, the New Model Army was brought up to battle-worthiness in East Anglia. When it was unleashed on the enemy, it made an immediate impact. It was a force based on lightly armed cavalry. The soldiers wore leather rather than thick armour which slowed down the horses. The Army used speed and surprise. It usually attacked from the flank, as the Royalist's artillery and muskets were always pointing to the front towards the military side of the Parliamentarians. They hit the enemy hard and decisively and then moved on. In June, 1645, it shattered the main Royalist Army at the Battle of Naseby.

    The King Surrenders to the Scots Army
    After the decisive Battle of Naseby, it was just a question of time before the Royalists were defeated, though Royalists forces continued their resistance until well into 1646. Finally, even the king realised his position was hopeless and he gave himself up to the Scots Army at Newark. The Scots handed over Charles to the Parliamentarians and withdrew from England. 

    Charles Plotting
    Charles, although defeated in war, seems to have remained determined not to be defeated in peace. Although a prisoner in the hands of parliament, he never stopped plotting to escape and re-start the war. Whilst the Army Independents and the Presbyterians were trying to negotiate a settlement with him, the king was encouraging divisions between them.

    Opposition to the Army
    The political Independents were strong in the New Model Army, where Cromwell had promoted religious radicals on the basis of military efficiency and dedication - without regard to religious beliefs.  The New Model Army was hated by the religious Presbyterians as a nest of heresy, and by the Parliamentary Presbyterians for the enormous expense of its upkeep and for its low-born officers. When they tried to disband it without pay and remove independent MPs from parliament, the Army marched to London and reinstalled them.

    Suppressing the Agitators
    Oliver Cromwell was in support of the Army but at a series of meetings (The Putney Debates) also had to suppress the more radical elements in the New Model Army influenced by the Levellers, a civilian organisation that supported universal male suffrage (right to vote) and Republican rule.  In the meantime, the king was encouraging uprisings in England and Wales and an invasion from Scotland to regain his throne. And in these he succeeded.

    The Second Civil War
    In 1648, the Scots switched sides and sent an Army to invade England in support of the king. The New Model Army repressed a series of Royalist insurgences in 1648. The Royalists were virtually annihilated at the battles of Preston and Warrington by Cromwell, now parliament's leading general, and the New Model Army. Afterwards parliament tried to negotiate a settlement with the king (The Treaty of Newport) but the Army leaders wanted an end to negotiations with Charles, whom they considered a "man of blood", responsible for waging war on his own people.


  • The execution of a king and the man who refused the throne

    After the defeat of the Royalists in the second Civil War, parliament's Army headed back to London, burning with rage at the needless blood spilt, as a result of Charles' intrigues.

    Pride's Purge and the Rump Parliament
    The soldiers clamoured for the death of the king; however, parliament decided to continue negotiations. On 6th December 1648, Colonel Thomas Pride and his soldiers prevented Presbyterian MPs from sitting in parliament. 45 were temporarily imprisoned and a further 186, unlikely to support its goal of punishing the king, excluded. A further 86 Members left in protest. Those remaining became known as the Rump Parliament. Cromwell was not present but possibly helped plan the coup.

    Establishment of a Court to Try Charles
    Among those left in the Rump parliament, a determined group forced through an Act to establish a court to try Charles I for high treason. When the small number of peers remaining in the House of Lords objected, the House was abolished (despite Oliver Cromwell's objections). On 6th January, an ordinance was declared to establish a High Court of Justice to try the king. Oliver himself was a reluctant supporter in the death of the king, only coming to this opinion when the king refused to abdicate. 

    The Trial and Death of the King
    Charles was tried by a High Court in London and found guilty of high treason and "other high crimes" for having waged war on his kingdom. During the trial in Westminster Hall, Charles I disputed the authority of the court and refused to enter a plea. Regardless of the widespread opposition to the trial, a verdict of guilty was pushed through. The death warrant was signed by only 57 of the 159 commissioners of the High Court originally established by the Rump; the third signature was that of Oliver Cromwell. On 30th January 1649, King Charles I was beheaded outside the Banqueting House on Whitehall.

    The Commonwealth
    After the execution of the king, parliament (purged of those MPs who objected to the execution) became a republic. On 18th May 1639 an Act was passed declaring England to be a Commonwealth, governed by a council of state appointed by parliament. That was the easy bit. Problems then came in thick and fast. First, sections of the Army rose in rebellion, in favour of a true social revolution (which would have deprived most MPs, along with the rest of the landowning gentry, of their wealth!). Second, both Scotland and Ireland denounced the execution of Charles and proclaimed his son, Prince Charles, as king.

    Parliament Turns to Cromwell
    In this crisis, parliament turned to the man who was, by now, their leading general: Oliver Cromwell. He put down the Army rebellion, crushed the Irish Royalists - not without some brutal actions which would sully his reputation to this day - and then utterly defeated the Scots Army which invaded England in support of Prince Charles, culminating in the defeat of the Scottish-Royalist Army of invasion at Worcester in September 1651. Cromwell's conquests in 1649-51 had effectively, and unwillingly, annexed Ireland and Scotland to the regime in Westminster. In the parliaments of 1654-8, up to 30 representatives, from each of Scotland and Ireland, also sat - well before the Acts of Union of 1707 (Scotland) or 1801 (Ireland).

    Oliver Cromwell Dissolves Parliament
    Returning from these 'triumphs', with the Army now firmly under his control, Oliver found that parliament had, meanwhile, done absolutely nothing about reforming the many abuses which they had previously been complaining of. The soldiers, wondering what they had actually been shedding their blood for, were angry at this situation, as was Cromwell. On 20th April 1653, a frustrated Cromwell led an armed force into the Commons chamber and forcibly dissolved the Rump.

    The Barebones Parliament
    After dissolving the Rump Parliament, Cromwell called a new parliament, whose members were elected from Church congregations up and down the land. This became known as the Barebones Parliament or the Parliament of Saints and came into being on 4th July 1653. It was an assembly entirely nominated by Oliver Cromwell and the Army's Council of Officers.

    A Parliament Not Ready to Govern
    This parliament, however, was little better. It became involved in debates about the constitution of the country, but failed to make any headway in making English government fairer and more effective. Parliament was simply not ready to govern. It was geared up to protest about court corruption, or impeach royal ministers, or criticise policies; it was not geared up to actually govern the nation. Firm policies, decisive actions, well-executed measures - these were quite beyond it. 

    The Protectorate
    On the 12th December 1653, General John Lambert and a group of Army supporters gathered together to vote to dissolve parliament. Lambert believed that sovereignty should be placed in "a single person and a parliament". On 16th December 1653, Oliver Cromwell was installed as Lord Protector of the realm.

    The Instrument of Government
    Lambert's new written constitution, the 'Instrument of Government', placed great power in the executive formed by the 'Protector' and the 'Council of State', many of whose members were military commanders. The Protector was to summon parliament at least once every three years and parliament could not be dissolved, without its own approval, before a minimum of five months had elapsed. The Instrument of Government incorporated many of the reforms proposed in 1647-8 by a radical group within the Army and the Levellers. The distribution of seats was reorganised to give preference to county representation rather than borough seats. And the right to vote for county Members was extended to all men who owned land or personal property worth at least £200.

    Cromwell's Policies
    Oliver Cromwell believed that he and his troops had been chosen by God to perform His will. Therefore many of Oliver's political policies were influenced by his religion. As Lord Protector, Cromwell sought 'Godly reformation', a broad program involving reform to make the legal, judicial and social systems more humane. He also clamped down on drunkenness and immorality. One of his most passionate concerns, however, was religious freedom or what he called 'liberty of conscience': the freedom for different faiths to practice their beliefs undisturbed and without disturbing others. There were those, however, who viewed these religious policies as futile, unnecessarily divisive or a breeding ground for heresy.

    The First Protectorate Parliament
    When Oliver Cromwell's first Protectorate Parliament met in September 1654; it was full of former Members of the 'Commonwealth ' parliament. They were angry at the dissolution of their government and, instead of making laws, they spent their time trying to amend the constitution in their favour. They discussed little else. Not one single law was passed in the entire sitting. Cromwell was finding out the hard way the difficulties of obtaining a parliament capable of assisting him to govern the country. Oliver dissolved this parliament in January 1655 and, in an attempt to convert his military power into government authority, he appointed major-generals to govern different areas of the country. The rule of the major-generals proved very unpopular.

    The Second Protectorate Parliament
    Cromwell met with his second Protectorate Parliament in September 1656. Feelings against the Army-dominated Instrument of Government was running so high that, in March 1657, some of Olivers's civilian supporters presented to him the Humble Petition and Advice. This was a constitution which reduced the power of the Council and recommended that Oliver Cromwell proclaim himself king. He declined the offer of the Crown, but the rest of the Humble Petition and Advice was accepted in May. Forced back into relying on parliament, he was no more successful than before. The experience of the English Republic seemed to show that England needed a monarch! This was the reason why, as time went on, Cromwell behaved more and more like one - but he ruled quite fairly.

    The Last Protectorate Parliament
    When parliament convened again in January 1658, Cromwell was faced with stiff opposition to the Humble Petition from a new alliance between the Republican Commonwealth men and segments of the Army. He dissolved this bad-tempered parliament less than two weeks after it had first met.  It was the last parliament during the Protectorate, as Cromwell died just three months later, pushing the country into turmoil and political chaos.

    The Recall of the Monarchy
    On Oliver Cromwell's death, in 1658, his son, Richard, succeeded to his position. However, he had little of his father's force of personality, and, in the power vacuum that had arisen, parliament and Army began quarrelling with one another. England faced the real prospect of complete anarchy. Then General Monk marched down from Scotland, where he had been governor. Parliament and Army factions were overawed by his disciplined Army, and he was able to bring the situation back under control. Monk saw clearly that things could not go on as they were, and he arranged for parliament to call Charles II to the throne. The restoration of the monarchy was greeted with widespread relief by the English people.

    The Return of the Monarchy but not the Divine Right of Kings
    The return of the old monarchical form of government seemed to be a victory for the old theory of the Divine Right of Kings, as promoted by James I and Charles I. In fact, it was nothing of the sort. The period of the Civil Wars had shown very clearly that, if it came to an armed struggle, parliament could win. From now on, the monarch had no choice but to take parliament's will into consideration if they were to keep the throne. This fact was borne out by the events of 1688, when Charles II's brother, James II, fell out with parliament and was forced to flee the country.

    The Development of a Constitutional Monarchy
    The ruler of Holland, William of Orange, was invited to take the throne, on condition that he respected the rights of parliament and the freedoms of the English people. These events, known as the 'Glorious Revolution', ushered in the form of government by which (with many changes) we are still ruled today: Constitutional Monarchy.


E2B® and E2BN® are registered trade marks and trading names of East of England Broadband Network (Company Registration No. 04649057)
Terms and Conditions