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The English Interregnum was the period of parliamentary and military rule under the Commonwealth of England after the English Civil War. It began with the regicide of Charles I in January 1649, and ended with the restoration of Charles II in 1660.

This era in English history can be divided into four periods.
  1. The first period of the Commonwealth of England from 1649 until 1653
  2. The Protectorate under Oliver Cromwell from 1653 to 1658
  3. The Protectorate under Richard Cromwell from 1658 to 1659
  4. The second period of the Commonwealth of England from 1659 until 1660

Life during the Interregnum

After the Parliamentarian victory in the Civil War, the Puritan views of the majority of Parliament and its supporters began to be imposed on the rest of the country. The Puritans advocated an austere lifestyle and restricted what they saw as the excesses of the previous regime. Most prominently, holidays such as Christmas and Easter, which were thought to have pagan origins, were suppressed. Pastimes such as the theatre and gambling were also banned. However, some forms of art that were thought to be 'virtuous', such as opera, were encouraged. These changes are often blamed upon Oliver Cromwell, though they were originally introduced by the Commonwealth Parliament; and Cromwell, when he came to power, was a liberalising influence.

His son and successor, Richard Cromwell, gave up his position as Lord Protector with little hesitation, resigning or "abdicating" after a demand by the Rump Parliament. This was the beginning of a short period of restoration of the Commonwealth of England.

Jews in England

Rabbi Menasseh ben Israel met Oliver Cromwell concerning the admission of Jews into England in 1655. Cromwell did not agree to all the rights that ben Israel requested, but the opening of Jewish synagogues and burial grounds was tolerated under Cromwell's Protectorate. The practice of the Jewish faith in England was still not done openly, since Cromwell's move had been controversial and many in England were still hostile toward the Jews. Life for the Jews in England improved in that they could no longer be prosecuted if caught worshipping, but discrimination continued.


Life for both Irish and English Catholics in Ireland became increasingly difficult under Cromwell's rule, and Cromwell remains a despised figure in Ireland to this day.

Cromwell's sweeping campaign in Ireland began in August 1649. He left in May 1650, but the campaign continued until 1653. Its effects devastated Ireland's Catholic population, roughly one-third of whom were killed or exiled by the war. Famine and plague were the biggest killers, produced in large part from the scorched earth tactics used by Parliamentary forces. Some Irish prisoners of war were sold as indentured labourers in the West Indiesmarker. The Catholic landowning class was dispossessed en masse. Thousands of New Model Army soldiers and the Parliament's creditors were settled on confiscated Irish lands. Those Catholic landowners deemed innocent of rebellion against the Parliament but who had not shown "constant good affection" still had their land confiscated and were forced to re-locate to Connacht, where the soil was poorer.

The practise of Catholicism was banned and many of the soldier/settlers set up dissenting religious communities, such as Quakers or Baptists, under the protection of the Parliamentary forces. The Scottish Presbyterian community was also disadvantaged by the Interregnum regime, as most of them had taken the Solemn League and Covenant and had fought with the Scots against the Parliament in the Third English Civil War (1649-50). Charles Fleetwood the parliamentary commander in Ireland from 1652-1655 was viewed as being hostile to Catholics, Presbyterians, and the pre-war English Protestant settlers at the expense of the radical new settlers. Henry Cromwell, who replaced Fleetwood in 1655, was seen as a more conservative influence, conciliating the "Old Protestant" landed class and allowing the harshest legislation against Catholics (such as a ban on their living in towns) to lapse. Towards the end of the Interregnum, Parliamentarian generals Charles Coote and Richard Boyle (who were also pre-war English settlers) seized the strong points in Ireland in preparation for the Restoration of the monarchy.

Historical analysis

The Interregnum was a relatively short, if important, period in English history. It saw a number of political experiments without any stable form of government emerging. It is open to dispute whether this proves that republicanism was an impossibility in England.

The Puritan movement had evolved in rebellion to a real or perceived "Catholicisation" of the Church of England. With the Church of England quickly disestablished by the Commonwealth Government, the question about which type of church to establish became a hotly debated subject. In the end, it was impossible to make all the different political factions happy. During the Interregnum, Oliver Cromwell lost much of the support he had gained during the Civil War. Edward Sexby, previously a supporter of Cromwell's, felt disenfranchised by Cromwell's failure to abolish the aristocracy. In 1657, Silius Titus called for Cromwell's assassination in a co-authored pamphlet Killing No Murder under the pseudonym of William Allen. Sexby was captured when he returned to England and attempted to carry out the assassination described in Colonel Titus' book. Cromwell coerced Sexby into confessing authorship of the pamphlet and then imprisoned him in the Tower, where Sexby was driven to insanity and died less than a year later.

High taxes resulted from the large standing army kept due to the constant threats of Scottish or Irish rebellion and added to public resentment of Cromwell.


  1. In Scotland where Charles II was proclaimed King of Scots in February 1649, the period de facto began with the defeat of Charles II at the Battle of Worcester in September 1651, see the article Tender of Union] for details
  2. Cromwell, Our Chief of Men by Lady Antonia Fraser, ISBN 0753813319.
  3. "Cromwell and the Jews", The Oliver Cromwell Association.

See also

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