The First Protectorate Parliament

The First Protectorate Parliament was summoned under the terms of the Instrument of Government and consisted of a single chamber of 400 English and Welsh MPs with an additional 30 each from Scotland and Ireland. It was the first Westminster Parliament in which Scotland and Ireland were represented.

Cromwell had been Lord Protector for nine months when the Parliament was called. During this time, he had worked with the Council of State to draft a large number of ordinances to present to Parliament for ratification. These ranged from financial, legal and religious reforms to highway repair and the establishment of traffic regulations in London. Cromwell had high hopes for this Parliament, but the free elections held during the summer of 1654 returned a House that included presbyterians, republicans and even royalist sympathisers, all of whom were hostile to the Protectorate and resentful of the continuing political influence of the Army.

Although Cromwell reminded MPs that their first duty was to provide the nation with "good and wholesome laws", bitter differences between the priorities of the Army leaders and civilian politicians soon emerged. Members drew up a series of amendments to the Instrument of Government aimed at strengthening Parliament's powers, reducing the strength of the Army and restricting moves towards religious toleration. Cromwell insisted that all MPs who wished to continue sitting should sign a "Recognition", declaring their acceptance of the Instrument of Government, but the debates continued even after several of the government's severest critics had withdrawn. It was claimed that Cromwell's dissolution of the Rump Parliament had been illegal; a committee discussing finance recommended reducing the size of the standing army; an attempt was made to reduce the Protector's powers with a new constitutional bill; control of the armed forces was to be transferred to Parliament alone. None of the eighty-two ordinances that Cromwell had prepared for ratification were passed.

Angered and frustrated, Cromwell dissolved the First Protectorate Parliament in January 1655, which was the earliest opportunity allowed under the terms of the Instrument of Government. (The Instrument specified that Parliament should sit for a minimum period of five months; in his impatience to dissolve the First Protectorate Parliament, Cromwell interpreted the period as five lunar months rather than five calendar months).

Following a Royalist uprising in the spring of 1655, Cromwell abandoned his attempts to co-operate with civilian politicians and imposed direct military government on England and Wales under the Rule of the Major Generals.


Sources:

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

Ronald Hutton, The British Republic 1649-60 (Basingstoke 2000)

Links:

Cromwell's opening speech at the 1654 Parliament