Charles Fleetwood, c.1618-92

Oliver Cromwell's son-in-law, he led the military junta that brought down the Protectorate but was powerless to prevent the Restoration of the monarchy.

Portrait of Charles FleetwoodBorn at Aldwincle in Northamptonshire, Charles Fleetwood was the third son of Sir Miles Fleetwood, a prominent official at the Court of Wards, and Anne, the daughter of Nicholas Luke of Woodend in Bedfordshire. Charles probably attended Emmanuel College, Cambridge, then went to London in 1638 to study law at Gray's Inn.

The English Civil War broke out in 1642. Like other young gentlemen of the Inns of Court, Fleetwood volunteered to fight for Parliament and joined the lifeguard of the Earl of Essex.

Military & Political Career

By May 1643, Fleetwood had been promoted to captain. He was commissioned by Parliament to seize assets from the confiscated estates of Royalists in East Anglia, where he first became acquainted with Oliver Cromwell and John Disbrowe. In May 1644, he was appointed receiver of the Court of Wards, a post formerly held by his father and removed from his Royalist elder brother. Also in 1644, Fleetwood took over command of Colonel Russel's regiment of horse in the Eastern Association army under the Earl of Manchester. Fleetwood's regiment was noted for its religious radicalism, which he encouraged. He retained command when the regiment was transferred to the New Model Army, fighting at Naseby in 1645 and on the campaigns in the West Country and against Oxford in 1646.

In a recruiter by-election in May 1646, Fleetwood was elected to the Long Parliament as MP for Marlborough in Wiltshire. He was active in the disputes between the Army and Parliament in 1647 and was rumoured to be behind the plot to seize King Charles at Holmby House, in which soldiers from his regiment were prominent. However, Fleetwood played no direct part in the King's trial and execution.

In August 1649, Fleetwood was appointed governor of the Isle of Wight but returned to active military service in 1650 as lieutenant-general of horse on Cromwell's campaign in Scotland, during which he participated in the great victory at Dunbar. Recalled from Scotland in 1651, Fleetwood was appointed to the Council of State. He took command of Parliament's forces around London, which he mobilised to join with Cromwell and other Parliamentarian commanders to inflict a crushing defeat on Charles II and his Scottish allies at the battle of Worcester in September 1651, during which Fleetwood led the attack on the Royalist defences to the south of the city.

Governor of Ireland

Following the death of his first wife in 1651, Fleetwood married Cromwell's daughter Bridget, the widow of Henry Ireton, in 1652. Around the same time, he was appointed commander-in-chief in Ireland in place of John Lambert, who refused to accept any title lower than that of Lord Deputy—an office which the republican Commonwealth had decided to abolish. By the time Fleetwood arrived at Dublin in September 1652, the military conquest of Ireland was virtually complete. His role was to secure Ireland's defences against the threat of internal disturbances and of possible invasion by foreign powers sympathetic to the Stuarts. He also set in motion the administrative processes for the Cromwellian settlement of Ireland.

Following the passing of the Act of Settlement in August 1652, English policy in Ireland was to settle speculators and disbanded soldiers on confiscated Irish estates and to transplant the original owners to the relatively barren western province of Connacht. Fleetwood was ruthless in attempting to enforce the transplantations. He was a fierce persecutor of Catholics and tended to favour Baptists and the religious radicals amongst his officers rather than moderates. His administration caused deep discontent amongst the native population of Ireland.

The establishment of Cromwell's Protectorate in 1654 angered many radicals amongst Fleetwood's officers, notably Lieutenant-General Edmund Ludlow who refused to acknowledge the new régime or to surrender his commissions when ordered to do so by the government in London. Fleetwood's hesitation to enforce the order against Ludlow or to root out disaffection amongst his officers prompted the Protector to send his son Henry Cromwell to Ireland to report on the political and religious allegiances in the army. Henry was bitterly critical of Ludlow and also criticised Fleetwood for his toleration of the radicals. The severity of Fleetwood's administration was also beginning to be regarded as counter-productive. Although Fleetwood was officially appointed lord deputy of Ireland in August 1654, thus gaining the office that had eluded Lambert, he was recalled to England in September 1655 before his term had expired. He was replaced as Lord Deputy by Henry Cromwell.

Army Grandee

Upon his return to England, Fleetwood was appointed Major-General to three large provinces during the Rule of the Major-Generals. As an important member of Cromwell's council, however, he left the day-to-day administration of the regions under his jurisdiction to his deputies, Hezekiah Haynes, George Fleetwood and William Packer. After the ending of the Rule of the Major-Generals early in 1657, Fleetwood, along with Lambert and Disbrowe, led the opposition to the faction that wanted Cromwell to rule as King. When the offer was modified under the revised version of the Humble Petition and Advice of 1657, Fleetwood accepted a place in the newly-constituted Upper House and swore the new oath required to continue as a member of the Council of State. He protested at Cromwell's abrupt dissolution of the Second Protectorate Parliament in February 1658 but was angrily dismissed by Cromwell as a "milksop".

When Cromwell died in September 1658, Fleetwood initially gave his support to Richard Cromwell whom Oliver had nominated to succeed him. Richard stood firm against an army petition that Fleetwood should be appointed commander-in-chief and instead made him lieutenant-general under the Protector's authority. Fleetwood's residence at Wallingford House in London soon became a centre of opposition to Richard's administration.

In April 1659, supported by officers eager to restore the republican Commonwealth, Fleetwood successfully challenged Richard's authority over the army and forced him to dissolve the Third Protectorate Parliament. Fleetwood intended to re-establish Richard as a figurehead leader dependent on the Council of Officers, but he was unable to resist army demands for the return of the Commonwealth and was obliged to reinstate the Rump Parliament, which Oliver had dismissed in 1653. Richard was forced to resign in May 1659, bringing the Cromwellian Protectorate to an end. Although Fleetwood was appointed commander-in-chief in June 1659, the re-established Commonwealth Parliament was determined to break the power of the army Grandees and imposed new restrictions on his authority. The attempts by Fleetwood and his supporters to remove these restraints resulted in Parliament cancelling his commission and vesting control of the army to a seven-man commission.

The Military Junta

After the suppression of the Royalist rebels of Booth's Uprising in August 1659, John Lambert became the dominant figure among the army leaders. However, when Lambert's officers petitioned Parliament for a number of reforms, including the establishment of a Senate to regulate the power of the House of Commons, MPs demanded Lambert's dismissal. The confrontation resulted in Lambert marching troops to Westminster and expelling Parliament on 13 October 1659. Fleetwood supported Lambert's action and was re-appointed commander-in-chief and nominal leader of the military junta that took over the government.

Lambert's expulsion of Parliament proved deeply unpopular. General Monck, commander of the army in Scotland, declared his support for Parliament and threatened to march south to uphold its authority. While Lambert marched north against Monck, Fleetwood stayed in London and attempted to maintain order. Sir Arthur Hesilrige seized the Portsmouth garrison and also demanded the return of Parliament. Vice-Admiral John Lawson sailed the Channel fleet to Gravesend and threatened to blockade London and riots broke out in the city against the military régime. Faced with almost universal opposition, the junta collapsed and Fleetwood was obliged to recall the Rump Parliament, which resumed its sitting on 26 December 1659.

Fleetwood was deprived of his command and ordered to appear before Parliament to answer for his conduct. He was powerless to oppose the Restoration of the monarchy in May 1660. Excluded from Charles II's Act of Indemnity and Oblivion as one of twenty individuals liable to penalties other than the death sentence, Fleetwood was finally barred from holding any public office or position of trust. He lived quietly at Stoke Newington in Middlesex until his death in October 1692.


Maurice Ashley, Cromwell's Generals (London 1954)

Toby Barnard, Charles Fleetwood, Oxford DNB, 2004

Christopher Durston, Cromwell's Major-Generals (Manchester 2001)

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