Turmoil in their sovereignty

Richard’s authority and business in town being thus at an end, he retired into the country; where within a few days, upon promise of the payment of his debts, which his father’s funeral had made great, he signed a resignation of his Protectorship.

B.

To whom?

A.

To nobody. But after ten days’ cessation of the sovereign power, some of the Rumpers that were in town, together with the old Speaker Mr. William Lenthal, resolved amongst themselves, and with Lambert, Hazlerig, and other officers, who were also Rumpers, in all forty-two, to go into the House; which they did, and were by the army declared to be the Parliament.

There were also in Westminster Hall at that time, about their private business, some few of those whom the army had secluded in 1648, and were called the secluded members. These knowing themselves to have been elected by the same authority, and to have the same right to sit, attempted to get into the House, but were kept out by the soldiers. The first vote of the Rump reseated was, that such persons as, heretofore members of this Parliament, have not sitten in this Parliament since the year 1648, shall not sit in this House till further order of the Parliament. And thus the Rump recovered their authority May the 7th 1659, which they lost in April 1653.

B.

Seeing there had been so many shiftings of the supreme authority, I pray you, for memory’s sake, repeat them briefly in times and order.

A.

  • First, from 1640 to 1648, when the King was murdered, the sovereignty was disputed between King Charles I and the Presbyterian Parliament.
  • Secondly, from 1648 to 1653, the power was in that part of the Parliament which voted the trial of the King, and declared themselves, without King or House of Lords, to have the supreme authority of England and Ireland. For there were in the Long Parliament two factions, the Presbyterian and Independent; the former whereof sought only the subjection of the King, not his destruction directly; the latter sought directly his destruction; and this part is it, which was called the Rump.
  • Thirdly, from April the 20th to July the 4th, the supreme power was in the hands of a council of state constituted by Cromwell.
  • Fourthly, from July the 4th to December the 12th of the same year, it was in the hands of men called unto it by Cromwell, whom he termed men of fidelity and integrity, and made them a Parliament; which was called, in contempt of one of the members, Barebone’s Parliament.
  • Fifthly, from December the 12th 1653 to September the 3rd 1658, it was in the hands of Oliver Cromwell, with the title of Protector.
  • Sixthly, from September the 3rd 1658 to April the 25th 1659, Richard Cromwell had it as successor to his father.
  • Seventhly, from April the 25th 1659 to May the 7th of the same year, it was nowhere.
  • Eighthly, from May the 7th 1659, the Rump, which was turned out of doors in 1653, recovered it again; and shall lose it again to a committee of safety, and again recover it, and again lose it to the right owner.

See also

Books

Governing locally and its frustrations

Our tiring system of local councils was created in a political accident. Lord Salisbury wished to replace the Metropolitan Board of Works with an elected body like a giant municipal council, but had a minority in the Commons, and the Liberal Unionists would only support him only if he would erect elected councils across the whole country, from Cornwall to Zetland, which was done in 1888-9. They had other ideas to push too – the district councils that followed, just to ensure there is no escape from politics.

The system which preceded this revolution is perhaps better looked at in a separate article, but placed local administration in the hands of justices of the peace. These magistrates when sitting spent most of their time dealing with malefactors, and the rest on roads and bridges, policing and anything that had not been handed to public health boards, poor law unions and so forth. By all accounts, separating government from law enforcement was a tangled task and magistrates still sat as councillors and vice versa often in the same building. The system had been creaking and starting to break for decades so Salisbury’s accident had to happen at some point in some way.

It was not the first time the national government has tried to reform local government and found it created a monster. Hobbes recounts a reform by Cromwell:

The Protector, being frustrated of his hope of money at Santo Domingo, resolved to take from the royalists the tenth part yearly of their estates. And to this end chiefly, he divided England into eleven major-generalships, with commission to every major-general to make a roll of the names of all suspected persons of the King’s party, and to receive the tenth part of their estates within his precinct; as also to take caution from them not to act against the state, and to reveal all plots that should come to their knowledge; and to make them engage the like for their servants. They had commission also to forbid horse-races and concourse of people, and to receive and account for this decimation.

… Between the beginning of this year and the day of the Parliament’s sitting, which was September 17, these major-generals, resided in several provinces, behaving themselves most tyrannically. Amongst other of their tyrannies was the awing of elections, and making themselves and whom they pleased to be returned members for the Parliament; which was also thought a part of Cromwell’s design in their constitution.

– Thomas Hobbes: Behemoth

You can almost feel Cromwell’s frustration at lack of control. It is the eternal tension between needing to give power to local bodies, and then being annoyed that they are not your clones, and keep they making their own decisions. Legislation even today goes in a yo-yo between praising localism and then cursing and stopping it. The major-generals have not been called back, to ensure puritan rule, but Whitehall is pretty effective at the same job  nevertheless.

(The next ruler who tried to muzzle local magistrates was James II in 1688, and that was a move against established local power which saw him driven from the throne.)

The modern system is a frustration to central bureaucrats, but I think that is the point.

Voters may thinks Whitehall’s inner Cromwell is right to try to abolish councils wherever it can, as the constant elections are a bore. The weary electorate may wish the old system of unelected magistrates had continued. It  would make for unresponsive, distant administration with little care for the interests of those they are meant to serve, but it would mean we are no bothered by village politicians hammering on our doors. Those trudging endless streets with leaflets and a forced smile may agree.  In the cold as it is getting dark and yet another letterbox is hidden behind a bush or jammed, know that the Liberal Unionists are to blame.

See also

Books

Ireland: spark and anvil of the war

Ireland was not an afterthought for Cromwell, but his urgent necessity since the very beginning. The Civil War began in Ireland, and it was finished here. History books following a linear narrative look at the Cromwellian invasion as a secondary campaign after the shouting but they miss the point: Cromwell fought all through England in order to get to Ireland.

The order of events and motivations gets jumbled as the ages pass. Lives, deaths, votes, decrees, battles – all can be put in strict chronological order, but the motivation is muddled. Those who were there, as Thomas Hobbes was, could provide a view of how it all unfolded.

The first rebellion was against Scottish bishops in 1639, but Ireland touched off the convulsion of the three kingdoms, in 1641. Rebels descended upon Protestant towns and slaughtered all they found: in Westminster, Parliament demanded action and for its own appointees to be put in command, as they did not trust the King – after all, the rebels claimed to be acting in his name and Queen Henrietta was after all a Papist. We can imagine the rising desperation in the Commons at fears that day by day more blood was being shed and nothing done; within months the breach was made.

Hobbes however looks further back: the breach between the rising middle classes and the King had been going on for years. In Behemoth he identifies several classes of men and their motivations – Papists, Protestant radicals, educated men misreading Greek and Roman ideas, the City merchants envying Holland, and men with nothing to lose. It weakened the authority of the Crown, and this weakness, Hobbes says, emboldened the Roman Catholic Irish lords to rise up. When they did, it burst open the breach in the other kingdoms.

From 1642, bloody war raged across England and Wales, a war each side had expected to be brief but which lasted for years. In all those years the Confederates controlled most of Ireland, doing their will, which to the imagination of the Protestant English, and possibly in reality, was a bloody one. By the end of the war in England in 1649, Cromwell was in undisputed command, and he turned at once to the business which had been tormenting for eight long years: Ireland.

Perhaps Cromwell thought the Irish campaign would be brief too, but it was two years of blood. Vengeance is an ugly word but unavoidable. Cromwell set foot in an Ireland divided by language and cultural attachment, and in territory as the Romanist Confederates had been kept out of much of Ulster, County Dublin and Cork, though the rest of the island was theirs.

The slaughters of 1641 were very much in mind, and the rolling back of English-inspired culture.  He set out to terminate the illegitimate government of a cardboard cut-out state that was ruling what naturally is part of the single British-Irish nation, to defeat genocide (as we would now call it) and to de-Catholicise the island. It is a familiar motivation. That the majority still clung to the Church of Rome could only have been put down to  the waywardness of the local lords, who would therefore be extirpated for the better edification of the people. Those still stubborn, not accepting the Gospel, would be driven beyond the Shannon and their places given to sounder men. In the event, more were killed by sword and famine and it placed a vital spark in a determination to resist reformation.

All that followed, followed logically. In our day it looks like vicious persecution and murder, and it felt like that at the time, but it was considered necessary by those who did it.

The war was brief compared to many that had torn at Ireland and brought a brutal peace after centuries of continual turmoil. The collective memory kept it running for centuries though: Flanders and Swann were not far wrong when the sang over-jovially “They blow up policemen, or so I have heard, and blame it on Cromwell and William The Third”. The retelling of grievance over generations, expanded with each telling, is a danger to conquerors and may blow up even three hundred years later.

In our day maybe it can subside.  It is all seems so distant: the unleashing of deadly fury with religious zeal to defend, and then defeat, the Roman religion in Ireland – when that religion is now being freely abandoned by the descendants of those same Irishmen. What another generation will think, I cannot tell.

See also

Books

How the war began

B.: “But how came the people to be so corrupted? And what kind of people were they that did so seduce them?”

A.: “. . . . . .

Fourthly, there were an exceeding great number of men of the better sort, that had been so educated, as that in their youth having read the books written by famous men of the ancient Grecian and Roman commonwealths concerning their polity and great actions; in which books the popular government was extolled by that glorious name of liberty, and monarchy disgraced by the name of tyranny; they became thereby in love with their forms of government.  And out of these men were chosen the greatest part of the House of Commons, or if they were not the greatest part, yet by advantage of their eloquence, were always able to sway the rest.

Fifthly, the city of London and other great towns of trade, having in admiration the prosperity of the Low Countries after they had revolted from their monarch, the King of Spain, were inclined to think that the like change of government here, would to them produce the like prosperity.

Sixthly, there were a very great number that had either wasted their fortunes, or thought them too mean for the good parts they thought were in themselves; and more there were, that had able bodies, but saw no means how honestly to get their bread.  These longed for a War, and hoped to maintain themselves hereafter by the lucky choosing of a party to side with, and consequently did for the most part serve under them that had greatest plenty of money.”

– Thomas Hobbes: Behemoth

See also:

Books

Fall of the House of Cromwell

In the year 1658, September the 3rd, the Protector died at Whitehall; having ever since his last establishment been perplexed with fear of being killed by some desperate attempt of the royalists.

Being importuned in his sickness by his privy-council to name his successor, he named his son Richard; who, encouraged thereunto, not by his own ambition, but by Fleetwood, Desborough, Thurlow, and other of his council, was content to take it upon him; and presently, addresses were made to him from the armies in England, Scotland and Ireland. His first business was the chargeable and splendid funeral of his father.

Thus was Richard Cromwell seated on the imperial throne of England, Ireland, and Scotland, successor to his father; lifted up to it by the officers of the army then in town, and congratulated by all the parts of the army throughout the three nations; scarce any garrison omitting their particular flattering addresses to him.

B. Seeing the army approved of him, how came he so soon cast off?

A. The army was inconstant; he himself irresolute, and without any military glory. And though the two principal officers had a near relation to him; yet neither of them, but Lambert, was the great favourite of the army; and by courting Fleetwood to take upon him the Protectorship, and by tampering with the soldiers, he had gotten again to be a colonel. He and the rest of the officers had a council at Wallingford House, where Fleetwood dwelt, for the dispossessing of Richard; though they had not yet considered how the nations should he governed afterwards. For from the beginning of the rebellion, the method of ambition was constantly this, first to destroy, and then to consider what they should set up.

B. Could not the Protector, who kept his court at Whitehall, discover what the business of the officers was at Wallingford House, so near him?

A. Yes, he was by divers of his friends informed of it; and counselled by some of them, who would have done it, to kill the chief of them. But he had not courage enough to give them such a commission. He took, therefore, the counsel of some milder persons, which was to call a parliament. Whereupon writs were presently sent to those, that were in the last Parliament, of the other House, and other writs to the sheriffs for the election of knights and burgesses, to assemble on the 27th of January following. Elections were made according to the ancient manner, and a House of Commons now of the right English temper, and about four hundred in number, including twenty for Scotland and as many for Ireland. Being met, they take themselves, without the Protector and other House, to be a Parliament, and to have the supreme power of the three nations.

…..

the government, which by the disagreement of the Protector and army was already loose, to fall in pieces. For the officers from Wallingford House, with soldiers enough, came over to Whitehall, and brought with them a commission ready drawn, giving power to Desborough to dissolve the Parliament, for the Protector to sign; which also, his heart and his party failing him, he signed. The Parliament nevertheless continued sitting; but at the end of the week the House adjourned till the Monday after, being April the 25th. At their coming on Monday morning, they found the door of the House shut up, and the passages to it filled with soldiers, who plainly told them they must sit no longer.

Richard’s authority and business in town being thus at an end, he retired into the country; where within a few days, upon promise of the payment of his debts, which his father’s funeral had made great, he signed a resignation of his Protectorship.

(from Behemoth)

See also

Books