Turbulent parliamentarians; the Cromwell approach

His way was to get the supreme power conferred upon him by Parliament. Therefore he called a Parliament, and gave it the supreme power, to the end that they should give it to him again. Was not this witty?

Thomas Hobbes: Behemoth

In a previous article, Cromwell and the parliaments, I quoted Thomas Hobbes on the end of the Long Parliament and what followed. Hobbes was an eye-witness: he had followed other royalists into exile, but had returned to live in London and was there when Oliver Cromwell drove the parliamentarians out at sword-point. He watched as Cromwell assembled a new, appointed assembly of ‘reliable men’, which promptly named itself a parliament.

However, many of the men whom Cromwell appointed, once they had nominal power, decided they could use it. Cromwell was not amused, and neither was the nation. Hobbes takes up the story again, in his Socratic dialogue, of how Oliver Cromwell found his pocket-parliament:

Harrison, who was the head of the Fifth-monarchy-men, laying down his commission, did nothing but animate his party – against him, for which afterwards he was imprisoned.

This little Parliament in the meantime were making of acts so ridiculous and displeasing to the people, that it was thought he chose them on purpose to bring all ruling Parliaments into contempt, and monarchy again into credit.

 B. What acts were these?

 A. One of them was, that all marriages should be made by a justice of peace, and the banns asked three several days in the next market: none were forbidden to be married by a minister, but without a justice of peace the marriage was to be void: so that divers wary couples, to be sure of one another, howsoever they might repent it afterwards, were married both ways. Also they abrogated the engagement, whereby no man was admitted to sue in any court of law that had not taken it, that is, that had not acknowledged the late Rump.

B. Neither of these did any hurt to Cromwell.

A. They were also in hand with an act to cancel all the present laws and law-books, and to make a new code more suitable to the humour of the Fifthmonarchy- men; of whom there were many in this Parliament. Their tenet being, that there ought none to be sovereign but King Jesus, nor any to govern under him but the saints. But their authority ended before this act passed.

B. What is this to Cromwell?

A. Nothing yet. But they were likewise upon an act, now almost ready for the question, that Parliaments henceforward, one upon the end of another, should be perpetual.

B. I understand not this; unless Parliaments can beget one another like animals, or like the phoenix.

A. Why not like the phoenix? Cannot a Parliament at the day of their expiration send out writs for a new one?

B. Do you think they would not rather summon themselves anew; and to save the labour of coming again to Westminster, sit still where they were?

Or if they summon the country to make new elections, and then dissolve themselves, by what authority shall the people meet in their county courts, there being no supreme authority standing?

A. All they did was absurd, though they knew not that; no nor this, whose design was upon the sovereignty, the contriver of this act, it seems, perceived not; but Cromwell’s party in the House saw it well enough. And therefore, as soon as it was laid, there stood up one of the members and made a motion, that since the commonwealth was like to receive little benefit by their sitting, they should dissolve themselves. Harrison and they of his sect were troubled hereat, and made speeches against it; but Cromwell’s party, of whom the speaker was one, left the House, and with the mace before them went to Whitehall, and surrendered their power to Cromwell that had given it to them.

And so he got the sovereignty by an act of Parliament; and within four days after, December the 16th, was installed Protector of the three nations, and took his oath to observe certain rules of governing, engrossed in parchment and read before him. The writing was called the instrument.

See also



Author: LittleHobb

Solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short