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In British history, the Protectorate was the period 1653–1659 during which the Commonwealth of England was governed by a Lord Protector.

Background

Prior to the Protectorate, England (and subsequently Scotland and Ireland) had been ruled directly by Parliament since it had declared England to be a Commonwealth in 1649. The Rump Parliament had been forcibly dissolved in April 1653 by soldiers led by Oliver Cromwell, prompted by the perceived ineffectiveness of its rule and its refusal to dissolve itself. Although the replacement, the Barebones Parliament (July–December 1653), was nominated by Cromwell and the leaders of the army, it proved just as difficult to control and was in addition a subject of popular ridicule.

After the dissolution of the Barebones Parliament, John Lambert put forward a new constitution known as the Instrument of Government, closely modeled on the Heads of Proposals. It made Cromwell Lord Protector for life to undertake “the chief magistracy and the administration of government”. He had the power to call and dissolve parliaments but obliged under the Instrument to seek the majority vote of the Council of State. However, Cromwell's power was also buttressed by his continuing popularity among the army, which he had built up during the civil wars, and which he subsequently prudently guarded. Cromwell was sworn in as Lord Protector on 15 December 1653.

Rule of the Major-Generals

The first Protectorate parliament met on 3 September 1654, and after some initial gestures approving appointments previously made by Cromwell, began to work on a moderate programme of constitutional reform. Rather than opposing Parliament’s bill, Cromwell dissolved them on 22 January 1655. After a royalist uprising led by Sir John Penruddock, Cromwell (influenced by Lambert) divided England into military districts ruled by Army Major Generals who answered only to him. The fifteen major generals and deputy major generals—called "godly governors"—were central not only to national security, but Cromwell's moral crusade. The generals not only supervised militia forces and security commissions, but collected taxes and ensured support for the government in the English and Welsh provinces. Commissioners for securing the peace of the commonwealth were appointed to work with them in every county. While a few of these commissioners were career politicians, most were zealous puritans who welcomed the major-generals with open arms and embraced their work with enthusiasm. However, the major-generals lasted less than a year. Many feared they threatened their reform efforts and authority. Their position was further harmed by a tax proposal by Major General John Desborough to provide financial backing for their work, which the second Protectorate parliament—instated in September 1656—voted down for fear of a permanent military state. Ultimately, however, Cromwell's failure to support his men, sacrificing them to his opponents, caused their demise. Their activities between November 1655 and September 1656 had, however, reopened the wounds of the 1640s and deepened antipathies to the regime.

Foreign policy

During this period Cromwell also faced challenges in foreign policy. The First Anglo-Dutch War which had broken out in 1652, against the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands, was eventually won by Admiral Robert Blake in 1654. As the Lord Protector was aware of the contribution the Jewish community made to the economic success of Holland, now England's leading commercial rival. It was this—allied to Cromwell’s toleration of the right to private worship of those who fell outside evangelical puritanism—that led to his encouraging Jews to return to England, 350 years after their banishment by Edward I, in the hope that they would help speed up the recovery of the country after the disruption of the Civil Wars.

Cromwell's role

In 1657, Cromwell was offered the crown by Parliament as part of a revised constitutional settlement, presenting him with a dilemma, since he had been instrumental in abolishing the monarchy. Cromwell agonized for six weeks over the offer. He was attracted by the prospect of stability it held out, but in a speech on 13 April 1657 he made clear that God's providence had spoken against the office of king: “I would not seek to set up that which Providence hath destroyed and laid in the dust, and I would not build Jerichomarker again”. The reference is to Joshua's curse upon any man who would rebuild Jericho and to its fulfillment in Hiel the Bethelite, who according to 1st Kings 16:34 "laid the foundation thereof in Abiram his firstborn, and set up the gates thereof in his youngest son Segub."

Instead, Cromwell was ceremonially re-installed as Lord Protector (with greater powers than had previously been granted him under this title) at Westminster Hall, sitting upon King Edward's Chair which was specially moved from Westminster Abbeymarker for the occasion. The event in part echoed a coronation, utilizing many of its symbols and regalia, such as a purple ermine-lined robe, a sword of justice and a sceptre (but not a crown or an orb). But, most notably, the office of Lord Protector was still not to become hereditary, though Cromwell was now able to nominate his own successor. Cromwell's new rights and powers were laid out in the Humble Petition and Advice, a legislative instrument which replaced the Instrument of Government. Cromwell himself, however, was at pains to minimize his role, describing himself as a constable or watchman.

Post-Cromwell

After Oliver's death in September 1658, his third son and the new Lord Protector, Richard Cromwell, was unable to control the army and resigned in May 1659. After a chaotic short revival of the Commonwealth of England, the monarchy was restored in May 1660, largely through the initiative of General George Monck.

References

  1. Durston, Christopher (1998). The Fall of Cromwell's Major-Generals in English Historical Review 1998 113(450): pp.18–37, ISSN 0013-8266 .
  2. Hirst, Derek (1990). "The Lord Protector, 1653–8", in Morrill, Oliver Cromwell and the English Revolution, p. 137. (Call Number: DA426 .O45 1990)
  3. Roots, p.128.


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