Was Cromwell’s inability to work with Parliament the greatest irony of the English Revolution?


David Smith:  The question of the link between Cromwell’s death and the Restoration of Charles II raises very important issues about the nature of the Interregnum and indeed of the Republic itself.

Cromwell had held the ring between the civilian politicians and the Army leaders and, following his death, there was really no-one else who could fulfil the same role.  His death revealed the fundamental tensions that had existed throughout the Interregnum.  It was as though a fault-line existed within the Republic which can be traced right the way back to the circumstances of the Republic’s birth during the winter of 1648-9.

During that winter with the coup against Parliament, then with the trial and execution of Charles I, then the abolition of the monarchy, the radical civilian politicians and the Army leaders needed each other but, ultimately, found that they could not work well together.  Only Cromwell had enough prestige in both camps to hold them together.  His death raised the question of who could succeed him.  He had nominated his son Richard to take over as Lord Protector and outwardly that accession of Richard as the next Lord Protector seemed to proceed very smoothly.


Yet already, at the time, there were concerns being voiced within the Army that Richard was not one of their own.  The Secretary of State, John Thurloe, wrote – the Secretary of State John Thurloe wrote to Richard’s brother, Henry Cromwell, just four days after Oliver’s death, on 7 September 1658 informing him:

“It has pleased God hitherto to give his highness your brother a very easy and peaceable entrance upon his government. There is not a dog that wags his tongue, so great a calm are we in … But I must needs acquaint your excellency, that there are some secret murmurings in the army, as if his highness were not general of the army, as his father was; and would look upon him and the army as divided, and as if the conduct of the army should be elsewhere, and in other hands.”

As we hear there, there were these underlying concerns with the Army that Richard was not actually going to serve their interests.  Ironically, Richard actually probably had more civilian support than his father had done.  In religious terms, he was a Presbyterian, actually a more common viewpoint than his father’s independent views, and the possibility exists that Richard might, if he had time, have built up more civilian support than Oliver had had.

Sadly, for him, that was at the cost of the Army’s support and Richard Cromwell fell victim to an Army coup before he had enough civilian support to disband the Army.  In the spring of 1659, the Army launched a coup against him and, ultimately, this brought down the Protectorate.


After that, the Army restored the old Rump Parliament, which had been disbanded in 1653, and it made its demands clear in a petition to the Rump of May 1659.  It stressed the importance of liberty and of religious toleration, and the petition made this particular call to the Rump:

“We have judged it our duty to represent what was chiefly and unanimously upon our hearts when we engaged in that which made way for your return, which we humbly, as becomes us, lay before you … That the liberty of the persons and property of the estates of all the free people of these nations be maintained, preserved and kept inviolable, according to law, under the government of a free state and Commonwealth, without a single person, kingship or House of peers … That all persons who profess faith in God the Father and in Jesus Christ His eternal Son, the true God, and in the Holy Spirit God co-equal with the Father and the Son, one God blessed for ever and do acknowledge the holy scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the revealed or written word or will of God shall not be restrained from their profession.”

Now in fact, the Rump proved no more successful this time round than it had earlier on and, by the end of the summer, the Army felt as frustrated as it had in 1653.  So in October 1659, the Army disbanded the Rump.  By this point, the Republic really faced the problem that there was no coherent or united Republican voice.  There were different groups, the Levellers made a comeback at this point, the Cromwellians were trying to make themselves felt, the old Rumpers were trying to keep going: there was no single, united Republican voice and the Republic essentially imploded over the months that followed.

By contrast, the Royalist option came to seem increasingly attractive.  It was certainly much more united, there was a single leader, the future Charles II, a single option which seemed far more coherent, far more clear-cut to most people than this fragmenting Republic.


At this point, we encounter an individual whose contribution to the Restoration was really crucial.  This was General George Monck who was in charge of the Army in Scotland.  Monck really plays a crucial role in facilitating the Restoration of Charles II.  His motives have always remained enigmatic.  Monck, at the beginning of the Civil War, had actually been a Royalist.  Then he had been captured and, as was not uncommon in the English Civil Wars, he had changed sides and joined his captors; he had become a Parliamentarian. There is a theory that perhaps he was reverting to his true and original Royalist colours by supporting the Restoration of Charles II in 1660.

Alternatively, he may have felt that a Royalist Restoration was really the only possible option and, indeed, the one that was best for the country and, by this point, probably best for the Army’s interests.


At any rate, he marched South and arrived in London at the beginning of 1660 where he insisted that the Long Parliament should be restored.  At the same time, he opened up communications with the exiled Stuart court, which, at this point, was at Breda in the Spanish Netherlands, what we would know as Belgium today, and Monck began to correspond with moderate Royalist advisors – and Monck began to correspond with moderate Royalist advisors like Edward Hyde, Earl of Clarendon.

Clarendon was another important advisor for the King at this point.  He assisted in the drawing-up of a declaration from Breda in which Charles promised that there would be a magnanimous settlement.  Charles plays his hand very skilfully at this point.  In these opening months of 1660, Charles consciously presents himself as a moderate, forgiving sort of figure.  He wanted, above all, to reassure people that he was not going to be vindictive, he was not going to be simply the King of the Royalists but the King of the whole nation.  He wanted, in particular, to reassure those people who had fought for Parliament in the English Civil Wars that they would be forgiven so long as they laid down arms and surrendered completely.


In 1660 Charles issued a Declaration of Breda, much of which is written for him by Clarendon but which, no doubt, reflected the King’s own basic position.  In this declaration, he made a number of very magnanimous statements, including the following:

“We do grant a free and general pardon…to all our subjects, of what degree or quality soever, who, within forty days after the publishing hereof, shall lay hold upon this our grace and favour…Let all our subjects, how faulty soever, rely upon the word of a King…that no crime whatsoever, committed against us or our royal father…shall ever rise in judgement…against any of them,…we desiring and ordaining that henceforth all notes of discord, separation and difference of parties be utterly abolished among all our subjects, whom we invite and conjure to a perfect union among themselves, under our protection, for the re-settlement of our just rights and theirs in a free Parliament, by which, upon the word of a King, we will be advised.

And because the passion and uncharitableness of the times have produced several opinions in religion, by which men are engaged in parties and animosities against each other…, we do declare a liberty to tender consciences, and that no man shall be disquieted or called in question for differences of opinion in matter of religion, which do not disturb the peace of the kingdom.”

Now as you can hear there, Charles is very keen to be as generous and magnanimous as possible.  He is promising that he will be advised by a free Parliament and he is promising that there will be a general pardon and liberty to tender consciences.  In other words, people will not be punished for what they had done in the Civil Wars and they will not be punished for their religious beliefs.  There will be a general religious toleration.

Although that turned out, ultimately, to be a promise that Parliament did not allow Charles to keep, the fact that he made it as this point in April 1660 was very important in reassuring enough people that they would not suffer from a Restoration of the King.


At about this time, the Long Parliament decided to dissolve itself and to order fresh elections to Parliament and in the spring of 1660, there were free elections to Parliament for the first time since 1640.  The combination of this and the moderate promises that Charles had made in the Declaration of Breda led to the return of a pro-Royalist Convention Parliament, and this body was overwhelmingly in favour of the Restoration of the King.

Early in May, the Convention recognised Charles II as having been King since his father’s death.  Remarkably, they did not say that they were going to restore Charles II.  Rather, they were recognising him as already King since January 1649, since the moment that his father had been executed.


And in this declaration, passed by both Houses of Parliament on 8 May 1660, the Houses declared:

“It can no way be doubted but that His Majesty’s right and title to his Crowns and Kingdoms is and was in every way completed by the death of his most royal father, of glorious memory, without the ceremony or solemnity of a proclamation.  We, therefore, the Lords and Commons now assembled in Parliament, do, according to our duty and allegiance, unanimously acknowledge and acclaim: that immediately upon the decease of our late Sovereign Lord King Charles, the Imperial Crown of the Realm of England, and of all the Kingdoms, Dominions, and Rights belonging to the same, did, by inherent birthright and lawful and undoubted succession, descend and come to his most excellent Majesty Charles II, as being lineally, justly and lawfully next Heir to the Blood Royal of this Realm.  And he is, of England, Scotland, France and Ireland, the most potent and undoubted King.”

That declaration paved the way for the Restoration of the King.  Charles returned later that month and, at the end of the month on 29 May 1660, he entered –

At the end of that month on 29 May, Charles entered London on what was in fact his 30th birthday.  There was, by all accounts, mass public rejoicing and Charles was warmly welcomed back as King.


So I think, in many ways, the Restoration of the King owed as much to the failure of the Republic as to the inherent advantages of the monarchy.  The problem with the Republic had been that there was always within it this fault-line between the civilian leaders and the military leaders.  Oliver Cromwell, as a distinguished politician and a distinguished soldier, had enough status and influence within both camps to be able –

Oliver Cromwell, as a distinguished soldier and a pre-eminent politician, had enough influence within both camps to hold the ring between them, to preserve at least some kind of equilibrium between the civilians and the military leaders but there was really no-one else capable of performing that role.  Nobody else had the power in both those spheres to hold them together and the result was that, when he was removed from the scene, his successor, his son Richard, was identified so much more with the civilians than with the soldiers that, as a result, after less than a year the Army overthrew him.


And the Royalist option had come to seem like the most coherent, the most simple, the most clear-cut and, ultimately, the most legitimate option.  As we heard in that declaration of the two Houses of Parliament recognising Charles as having been King ever since his father’s execution, that had a fundamental simplicity.  It meant that constitutionally the Republic had never existed – it was simply airbrushed out – and the way in which the Republic essentially imploded after Oliver Cromwell’s death suggests to me that there is a very important respect in which Cromwell’s death made the Restoration of the Monarchy inevitable.  The structural flaw within the Republic, the tension between the civilian and military worlds, was so profound that, once you took Oliver Cromwell out of the equation, it was almost inevitable that this would just implode and fall apart.  So I think there is a very real sense in which Oliver Cromwell’s death in September 1658 made a Royalist Restoration inevitable.