The Great Trust and Commission

After Oliver Cromwell's death in September 1658, the Royalists were dismayed at the smooth transition to power of his successor Richard Cromwell. In November, the conspirator John Mordaunt wrote to Charles II proposing that new powers should be granted to supplement or replace the discredited Sealed Knot. With the approval of Sir Edward Hyde, Charles granted Mordaunt a viscountcy in March 1659 and issued warrants for a new conspiracy ring, known as The Great Trust and Commission.

Initially, the Trust was intended to invigorate the Sealed Knot and to clarify its objectives. With the exception of Colonel Villiers, all the original members of the Knot were re-commissioned, and Viscount Mordaunt was added to their number. However, the Trust was also intended to forge links with Presbyterians and moderates disillusioned with the Protectorate régime. The cavaliers of the Sealed Knot objected to the inclusion of other parties and were unwilling to co-operate with Mordaunt. Undeterred, Mordaunt proceeded to recruit new members, as authorised in his commission. By August 1659, he had enlisted the old Royalists: James Compton, Earl of Northampton, William Legge and William Rumbold; Sir Thomas Peyton, Sir John Grenville and Andrew Newport of the old Action Party; the moderate Parliamentarian Job Charlton and the Presbyterian peer Lord Willoughby of Parham. Others associated with the Trust included the Kentish Royalist Sir John Boys and Presbyterians Sir William Waller, Edward Massie, Sir George Booth and Silius Titus.

The Trust's main function was to organise a local command structure in preparation for a Royalist-Presbyterian uprising against the government. It was also empowered to offer a royal pardon and rewards commensurate with their service to any former Parliamentarians prepared to support the restoration of the monarchy, with the exception of surviving regicides. Mordaunt pressed ahead with plans for an uprising, eager to take advantage of the instability of the government during the summer of 1659 after the fall of Richard Cromwell and the revival of the republican Commonwealth. However, Mordaunt's arrogant, abrasive personality and his rapid rise to favour with the King annoyed many of his fellow conspirators, in particular Alan Brodrick, former secretary of the Sealed Knot. Brodrick petitioned Sir Edward Hyde on behalf of a small group that included Lord Falkland, the Earl of Oxford and Sir Allen Apsley to receive orders directly from the King rather than through the Trust. Further divisions were caused by the Sealed Knot's refusal to co-operate, which discouraged the nobility from supporting the Trust.

Despite these difficulties, Mordaunt's preparations went ahead. On 9 July, Mordaunt met Lord Willoughby, Edward Massie, Sir John Grenville, Captain Titus and others to finalise their plans. The uprising was scheduled for 1 August 1659. It came to be known by the name of its most effective leader as Booth's Uprising.

The failure of the 1659 uprising discredited Mordaunt. His unpopularity was highlighted in the recriminations that followed and Sir John Grenville began to play an increasingly important role in negotiations to bring Royalist noblemen into the Trust and to better organise its command structure. The Earl of Northampton and Lord St John were recruited towards the end of 1659 and Lord Belasyse was the first member of the Sealed Knot to join. In January 1660, the Trust was ordered to arrange the counties of England into associations, with two commissioned commanders for each county. Although the work of re-organisation proceeded quickly, it came too late. Public opinion in England clearly favoured a restoration of the monarchy; during the early months of 1660, it became apparent that it could be achieved by political negotiation rather than through an armed uprising.


Sources:

Godfrey Davies, The Restoration of Charles II 1658-60 (San Marino 1955)

David Underdown, Royalist Conspiracy in England 1649-60 (New Haven 1960)