Dissolution of the Rump Parliament, 1653

You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!Cromwell dismisses Parliament

The so-called Rump Parliament was not intended to be a permanent body. It regarded itself as an interim government with responsibility for preparing the way for a new representative to govern the English Commonwealth. Oliver Cromwell's decisive victory at the battle of Worcester in September 1651 ended any direct Royalist military threat to the Commonwealth and it was expected that elections would soon take place. However, Parliament was divided over the form that the new representative should take. Sir Henry Vane and his supporters proposed a redistribution of constituencies but with sitting members of the Long Parliament retaining their seats and further "recruiter" elections to fill the vacant places; Oliver Cromwell and the Council of Officers criticised Vane's scheme for promoting the self-interest of sitting MPs and demanded a general election for an entirely new Parliament.

A committee to supervise the drafting of plans for new elections was set up soon after Cromwell's return to Parliament after Worcester. A date was finally set for Parliament's dissolution, but MPs were easily distracted from further preparations for the new representative, particularly after the outbreak of the Anglo-Dutch War in May 1652.

Dissolution of the Rump Parliament, April 1653

During the early months of 1653, tension between Parliament and the Army increased. At a conference between Army officers and MPs at Whitehall on 19 April 1653, Cromwell proposed that the parliamentary system be temporarily suspended and replaced with an interim council to govern while final preparations for an election were put in place. The MPs present agreed to suspend discussion of the new representative at least until Cromwell's proposal had been debated. The following day, however, Cromwell was incensed to learn that discussion of the new representative was continuing in Parliament regardless.

At 11 o'clock in the morning of 20 April 1653, Cromwell led a company of musketeers to Westminster. Having secured the approaches to the House, he addressed the Members, calmly at first, then with rising anger as he told them that their sitting was permanently at an end and they must leave. At Cromwell's signal, Lieutenant-Colonel Worsley marched in with the musketeers to drive out the MPs. Major-General Harrison is said to have personally pulled the Speaker of the House from his chair. After the Members had departed, the doors of the Parliament House were sealed and a wit pinned up a notice outside reading: "This House is to be let: now unfurnished."

Cromwell's exact reasons for expelling Parliament at this time are unclear. The traditional view is that he had come to believe that Parliament was planning to perpetuate itself by adopting Sir Henry Vane's scheme to allow sitting MPs to remain and to fill vacant places with "recruiter" elections. This view has been questioned by historians in recent times, but no clear explanation of his actions has emerged. There were no plans for an alternative government in place and Cromwell made no attempt to take power himself.

The Rump Parliament was replaced by the Nominated Assembly and other constitutional experiments of the 1650s.


S.R. Gardiner, History of the Commonwealth and Protectorate vol. ii (London 1903)

Austin Woolrych, Commonwealth to Protectorate, (London 1982)

Blair Worden, The Rump Parliament (Cambridge 1974)