The King is dead. Long live the Republic!
Depending on how you interpretative matters the Kingdom of England came into existence sometime between 886 when Alfred the Great ruled all parts NOT controlled by the Vikings and 927 when Aethelstan conquered the Viking lands and formally united all of England under one King. Taking the later date, then, one can say that there has been a Kingdom of England for 1084 years. In all that time the nation has spent just 11 as a republic. This was the time of the Commonwealth of England (later of England, Scotland and Ireland).
In 1649 Charles I was tried and found guilty of High Treason and executed. But he did not die under the name King Charles. His death warrant stated that a certain Charles Stuart was to die, for the Rump Parliament had already started passing laws that formulated a republic.
The Rump Parliament – Christmas is banned!
The army – which by this point was answerable to Oliver Cromwell – had ejected most of the members of the Long Parliament which Charles had originally summoned. The only members allowed to stay on where republicans and puritans whom the army could rely on to first put Charles on trial and then rule the way THEY wanted.
The first acts of the Rump were to take steps to transform England into a republic. The House of Lords was abolished along with the Privy council and now a council of State governed. The Rump then passed laws doing away with bishops and enforcing attendance of church on Sundays. A law had already been passed by the Long Parliament banning the celebration of Christmas and this was enforced under the Commonwealth. Soldiers were ordered to seize food being cooked for Christmas. Traditional Christmas decorations like holly were banned. Women were also forbidden to use make up at this time.
In all these changes Parliament did not take steps to determine who could call and dissolve parliament. Constitutionally this was – and still is – the role of the monarch. This failure would soon cause problems.
Wars in Ireland (1649 to 52) and in Scotland (1650 to 1651)
Cromwell once said “I had rather be overthrown by a Cavalierish interest than a Scotch interest; I had rather be overthrown by a Scotch interest than an Irish interest and I think of all this is the most dangerous”
In the years 1649 to 1651 he had to deal with all three – Ireland, Scotland and Royalists.
Firstly came Ireland.
Cromwell saw the Irish rebellion as a huge danger and in particular was bias against Roman Catholicism which he saw as raising human authority – that of bishops and popes – above that of the bible and of God. Intervention there actually started in 1649. By this point The Irish Catholics and the Protestant Royalists had forged an alliance against theÂ Parliamentary forces who were restricted to small enclaves including Dublin. Cromwell took an army there in August 1649. What followed was a bloody campaign of suppression of his enemies. There were several massacres including the notorious sieges of Droghedra and Wexford where over 3000 people were killed in each case including many civilians. Gradually the country was brought under his authority. When he left in May 1650 it would still be 2 years before a Settlement of Ireland ended the war. In this settlement the Catholics lost almost all land. Priests and Catholic churches were also banned. It was the darkest of time for the Catholic majority who were firmly under the boot of Cromwell’s Commonwealth.
Next: Scotland and the Royalists – Charles’ son tried to retake the throne.
Charles’ I son – also called Charles (the future Charles II) made an attempt to seize his throne in 1650 and 51 . Landing in Scotland in June 1650 he started gathering an army of Scottish Presbyterian Covenanters and Royalists.
Cromwell having returned from Ireland was soon back on the road and joined General Monck – the Parliamentarian commander and an important figure in the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660. Cromwell appealed to theÂ Covenanter forces toÂ abandonÂ Charles.Â Â When they refused he smashed their army at the Battle of Dunbar.
Winter 1650 passed with Charles and Cromwell’s armies wintering in Scotland. In 1651 the war continued. Whilst Cromwell steadily brought more of the country under Parliament’s rule, Charles decided to try his luck else where and in the summer of 1651 he advanced into England gathering a following along the way. However the response was poor and he was only able to gain 14,000 men to his colours. Leaving Monck in charge in Scotland, Cromwell was able to pursue and catch up with Charles at Worcester with 32,000 men. In the battle of the 3rd September the Royalist Army was destroyed. 3000 were dead and many thousands more deported or drafted into the NewÂ Model Army for service in Ireland.
Prince Charles evaded capture and at one time even had to hide in a now famous oak Tree at Boscobel House (you can see the grandson of this famous tree in the same spot today) before fleeing overseas. His gamble had failed and it would be 9 long years before he was able to return as king.
First Anglo Dutch War
At this time Holland was a powerful trade nation. Under the excuse of hampering Royalist effort, English ships began to board Dutch ships searching for Royalists. This antagonised the Dutch and relations deteriorated. Between 1652 and 1654 the two nations fought a series of large sea battles as well as seizingÂ eachÂ others ships. The motivation was all about trade rivalry. Cromwell eventually negotiated peace but there would be war again in the next decade.
1653 – Cromwell dismisses Parliament
The Rump governed England from 1649 to 1653 when Cromwell decided to dissolve it. It may be that the Rump had suggested elections. This would possibly mean new MPs being admitted, some of which might be opposed to the republic. For whatever reasonÂ Cromwell, marched into parliament with an armed guard and evicted the members. This was seen as illegal under the same rules that Parliament had brought in to prevent Charles I dissolving them.
Barebone’s Parliament 1653
Cromwell now had a problem. He had no parliament but neither was their any clear mandate to summon parliament, call an election etc. Such actions were Royal Prerogatives which as yet had not been reorganised. So since there was no King no one call call Parliament.
Not wishing to become a dictator, Cromwell decided that the temporary solution was to rule through a ‘nominated assembly.’ Army officers were asked to suggest members of parliament. The problem was that the assembly ended up being made up of a mix of radicals who wanted to be rid “earthly government” and any state control of religion, moderates who wanted to reform the existing system and Conservatives who wanted to keep the status quo. Cromwell wanted this assembly to legislate a constitutional framework for government but they proved unable to do this.
In December 1653 Cromwell dismissed the assembly and elected to set up a protectorship.
The Protectorate established: 1653
An Instrument of Government was written which created the role of Lord Protector. Cromwell was sworn into a post which carried with it most of the rights of Kings – although there was provision for votes by parliament to approve his actions.
Cromwell set about trying to heal the nation after all these years of war and strife. He also wished to bring in moral and spiritual reforms. Unfortunately, the First Protectorate Parliament that he called did not help with these altruistic goals, as they turned out to be full of radical republicans who wished to push through even more extreme republican measures. He dissolved it in 1655.
Rule by Major Generals
In 1655 there was yet another Royalist uprising – this time in Cornwall. It did not last long and after it Cromwell decided to turn to his true power base – the Army. He brought in direct military rule by a system of 15 Major Generals who governed their pats of the country and would enforce his decrees and also raise taxes. This strict military rule proved deeply unpopular and was abandoned in 1656.
1657 – The Protector becomes even more like a king
It is a great irony that the one man who more than any other brought about the execution of a King and the dissolution of the monarchy was the same who in effect finally took on the trapping of kingship. In 1657 Parliament re-endorsed the Protector-ship in what amounted to a coronation ceremony. Yes it is true that Cromwell declined the title of King but he wore an ermine cloak and sat in Edward the First’s chair in which all monarchs of England have been crowned in. In the end he even brought back a second house of Peers (in effect of Lords) and started creating barons.
In 1658 Cromwell died. He was buried in great ceremony – in effect a Royal Funeral. His son – Richard – inherited the role of Lord Protector but he did not have the same political backing and in particular lacked the support of the Army.Â Richard Cromwell was deposed by an officers’ coup in April, 1659. Â The officers then re-summoned the Rump Parliament to sit. The Rump clashed with the army and in the end the Rump was forcibly dismissed by Parliment under the command of Lambert – one of Cromwell’s officers.
It now seemed that a period of military rule would ensue. Fearing anarchy and motivated by the need for stable government General Monck – Cromwell’s Viceroy in Scotland began the march south. Upon that march would depend the future of England. Â I will cover what happened in the next of these blogs.
Next week: the Return of the King
One could argue – and it certainly seemed the case that in the mid 17th century England needed rule by a head of state. Parliament it proved to be the case can only do so much. A single man or woman has to be imbued with the power of head of state – of monarch in effect. Someone has to be in charge. Later experiences with republics would do this by creating Presidents. England’s experiment ended by bringing back Kings and Queens. Next week I will cover how that happened in 1660.
Coming next week: 1660 to 1665
This article is one of a series connected with the release in August of the new paperback of The Last Seal my historical fantasy set during the Great Fire of 1666. The book is also available on Kindle