Wednesday, 21 January 2015

The British Republic: II The Protectorate (1653-60)

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 this period 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, perhaps the story would have been different!

Barebone's Parliament

In July 1653 an assembly was summoned known as the Nominated Parliament, or more colloquially as Barebone’s ParliamentThis was a surrogate (and temporary) British assembly of 138 men ‘of approved fidelity and honesty’ (121 from England, 6 from Wales, 5 from Scotland, 6 from Ireland) with supreme authority to make a constitution.

However, one of the first acts of the Assembly was to vote itself a Parliament, to sit in the traditional Commons Chamber, and to elect a traditional Speaker. Far from being the mad assembly of religious fanatics of royalist propaganda it spent most of its brief life discussing much-needed reforms in the law and taxation. But it could not overcome the fact that it was not an elected Parliament, and although religious radicals such as Fifth Monarchists were in the minority, they were well-organised and aroused the fierce hatred of traditionalists.

In December the moderates took advantage of the absence of the radicals and voted to hand power back to Cromwell. Later in the day he received the mace and the Parliament rolls.

The Protectorate

With Barebone’s Parliament gone, there was only one practicable way of filling the constitutional hiatus short of bringing back the king. A document known as the Instrument of Government set up the Protectorate. On 16 December 1653 Cromwell was installed at a ceremony staged in Westminster Hall as Lord Protector of the British Republic. At his installation he wore a plan black outfit with grey worsted stockings in an attempt to refute the charge that he was king in all but name.

Cromwell had proved no more successful than anyone else in finding a constitution to replace the one overthrown in 1640. His relationships with his two parliaments (see here and here) were as bad as Charles I’s had been with his.  His fundamental contradiction was that he continued to rely on the army to enforce ‘godly reformation’. Yet by 1655 the traditional rulers of England were at one in seeing the army as the prime danger to every thing they held dear. 

The Major-Generals

Cromwell never lost sight of his fundamental agenda: to solve the problem of the army, and to promote ‘godly reformation’.  In 1655 his solution to his dilemmas was a military one: to combine policing and tax gathering (those two essential functions of the state) by creating Major-Generals to carry out these functions. In doing so, he hoped to find a cheaper alternative to a standing army and also (perhaps) finally bring about the reformation which God demanded. 

The nation was divided into 10 (then 11) administrative districts, each with a major-general supported by a core of seasoned soldiers, and with the task of recruiting and training new regional militias totalling 6,000 horse which would enable the disbandment of some 10,000 men of the New Model Army.  The militias were to be paid for by a Decimation Tax levied on royalists who had not demonstrated their change of heart (‘malignants’, ‘delinquents’): This looked less like devolved government and more like extreme centralisation. Charles I had never attempted anything like it.

The Humble Petition and Advice

 On 25 March 1657 Parliament voted 123/62 to offer Cromwell the crown. On 31 March they presented him with the Humble Petition and Advice offering him the crown. The Petition provided for a two-chamber legislature, with the other House composed of between 40 and 70 life peers appointed by the Protector and Council, approximating more to a Senate than the old House of Lords. The Protector would have the power to name his successor.  

In many ways the proposals were attractive to Cromwell. The  establishment of a second chamber would provide a safeguard against religious intolerance. But the great stumbling block was the offer of the crown, and he spent five weeks agonising over it. While he hesitated, a number of army officers informed him that they would not serve under a monarch. Following this, he turned down the offer of the crown. But on 25 May he was offered an amended version of the Humble Petition and Advice by which he was to retain the title of Protector. On 26 June he was installed as Lord Protector in Westminster Hall in a ceremony that reeked of regal pomp, with the Speaker of the Commons taking the role of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Cromwell’s whole style became more regal. He received ambassadors at the Banqueting House; ambassadors had to come into his presence cap in hand and address him as Highness; he insisted that in formal letters of state monarchs should call him brother.  Though his household was run at a fraction of the cost of Charles I’s, his court at Hampton Court began to look more like a conventional court. He was an enthusiastic patron of music. In the country at large, puritan austerity was relaxing.

By now it was clear that the regime was held together by Cromwell alone. On 4 February 1658, he dissolved Parliament abruptly and angrily because of attacks from republican members.

The end of the Protectorate

Cromwell died on 3 September 1658, the anniversary of Dunbar and Worcester. The office of Lord Protector was transmitted peacefully to his son Richard, aged 31. On 23 November (some time after his burial) he was given a magnificent state funeral. 

There was little enthusiasm for the Stuarts but when Richard Cromwell soon showed himself incapable of ruling, there was a growing acceptance that there was no alternative to a return of the monarchy.

In May 1659 Richard was ousted from power and the Rump (dissolved in 1653) was recalled. It now had only forty-two members. It was dissolved by the Army on October. However, from his headquarters in Edinburgh General George Monck demanded its recall, and prepared to march into England. On 26 December three regiments reinstated the Rump. 

On 1 January 1660, Monck crossed into England with 7,000 soldiers. By the time he arrived in London on 3 February civil government was in a state of confusion. On 11 February he dissolved the Rump Parliament. That night saw the ‘roasting of rumps’ witnessed by Samuel Pepys. On 21 February the members of the Long Parliament excluded by Pride’s Purge were reinstated.

By this time Monck was in touch with the exiled court in the Low Countries and on 4 April at his suggestion Charles Stuart issued the Declaration of Breda promising a monarchy that would respect parliament, a ‘free and general pardon’ to all his subjects (except for a few named individuals) and ‘liberty to tender consciences’ – a promise that would return to haunt him.

On 8 May a new Assembly, the Convention Parliament, passed a motion that a fleet should be sent to bring Charles Stuart back to England. Charles landed at Dover on 25 May. However, the fundamental issues that had caused the Civil War were unresolved.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.