The Protectorate, 1653-60

In 1653 while the Nominated Assembly still sat in session (and thus the Commonwealth still in existence) Cromwell considered the course of action he would take, and at some point decided on accepting The Instrument of Government [9]. By 1653, the problem of finding a stable form of government that would gain support in the country was even more acute than in 1649. Cromwell, disillusioned by the failure of the Nominated Assembly to provide the settlement of the religious and political issues he and the Army Council wanted, decided Colonel Lambert's constitutional blueprint was the answer. The Instrument was in part a combination of earlier terms demanded of the king 1641-2 and 1647-8 and politically was a very conservative move away from republicanism to a quasi-monarchical status. Cromwell was not made 'king' however, rather 'Lord Protector'.

[9. Constitutional settlement agreed by Cromwell in 1653. Though Cromwell later claimed he did not know of the Instrument of Government when he dissolved the Nominated Assembly in 1653, as there are signs he was frustrated by its religious radicals and some of its propositions. Further the speed of its implementation suggests Cromwell was fully prepared for the Instrument. Within just four days of ending the Nominated Assembly Cromwell was made Lord Protector. It is certain that Cromwell was fully aware of the Instrument as an alternative constitution drawn up by Colonel John Lambert before the Nominated Assembly was dissolved. This provided for a Lord Protector as head of state, who was to be assisted by a Council of State and a single chamber Parliament of 400 members from England and Wales – the abolition of the House of Lords was maintained by the settlement. The House of Parliament would meet at least once every three years. Also Ireland and Scotland were to be represented in Parliament, sharing 30 MPs. This made the Protectorate parliaments the first truly British parliaments. In direct opposition to Leveller ideas, and a restatement of the conservatism of the political élite, the right to vote was to be restricted to men of property or income over £200. Catholics and Royalists were ineligible to vote or be elected. As for religion, the Instrument declared ambivalently that there would be a national church with 'sound doctrine'. However liberty of conscience would be allowed for 'such as profess faith in God by Jesus Christ' - except Catholics and the most extreme, or licentious, of Protestants. Lastly there was to be a permanent army of 30,000 soldiers. ]

Cromwell has traditionally been seen (for example, Andrew Marvell's allusions to his thirst for power) as gradually aspiring to political power and playing a major role in purging Parliament and forcing the execution of Charles I. In reality that was not the case as Cromwell was politically and socially conservative. The religious toleration in England under Cromwell's regime was the most 'liberal' until the advent modern state.

Cromwell desperately strove to realise his goal of 'healing and settling' the nation, viz. bringing stability, public confidence in the government, and a broad religious settlement that would help propagate the 'godly reformation'. The Cromwellian regime did not attract a wide base of support, though this was largely obscured while Cromwell was still alive as he was adept at managing the various political and religious factions. This was not completely true however as the majority of plots to assassinate the Lord Protector were made, not by Royalists, but by Fifth Monarchists disillusioned at the turn of political-confessional events in England. Cromwell, though his political and social beliefs were reactionary, became frustrated with the parliamentary system and indulged in some of the very criticisms of Stuart government. Attempts were made to shape the Protectorate Parliaments by declaring members to be ineligible and tampering with elections. This was nothing new in English politics, and Cromwell resented his position.

In 1657 he did nothing to prevent Parliament from voting against the decimation tax (the lifeline of the Major Generals) which effectively marked the end of the Major Generals as a feature of government. In its place the Lord Protector, though rejecting the office of 'king', it is thought because he knew and feared the reaction of powerful Army generals, accepted The Humble Petition and Advice. The Protector had deliberated over the matter for some time, which indicates he considered the move to be of value in bringing stability to the English political environment. Bulstrode Whitelocke alleged that as early as 1652 Cromwell voiced such a perspective in a conversation. Both the Instrument of Government and The Humble Petition and Advice [10] as constitutional models were remarkably close to the monarchical system of government that had existed under the early Stuarts and would return under Charles II. Cromwell

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