The Protectorate, 1654-59

Cromwell's régime proceeds from religious idealism to martial law and reversion to a quasi-monarchy.

Protectorate coat-of-armsProtectorate coat-of-arms with the motto, "Peace is sought through war."

Following the expulsion of the Rump Parliament and the abdication of the Nominated Assembly in 1653, a written constitution known as the “Instrument of Government” was enacted under which executive power passed to an elected Lord Protector in consultation with a Council of State. Oliver Cromwell was appointed Lord Protector for life. The Protector was also obliged to call triennial Parliaments but the First Protectorate Parliament was critical of the influence of army officers on the government and attempted to reduce the Protector's powers. Cromwell dissolved this Parliament at the earliest opportunity.

After the suppression of a Royalist uprising during the spring of 1655, Cromwell imposed direct military government on England and Wales under the Rule of the Major-Generals. This proved deeply unpopular and was abandoned early in 1657. During the Second Protectorate Parliament, a group of MPs proposed the offer of the crown to Oliver Cromwell in an attempt to move back to traditional forms of government. Cromwell declined the offer in the face of strong opposition from the army, republicans and religious radicals. However, he was reinstated as Lord Protector under a new written constitution, known as the “Humble Petition and Advice”, which granted him de facto powers equivalent to (or even greater than) those of the King.

Oliver Cromwell died in September 1658 and was succeeded as Lord Protector by his eldest son, Richard. The succession passed smoothly and Richard summoned the Third Protectorate Parliament in 1659. However, he was unable to reconcile the mutual antagonism between army officers and civilian politicians. Richard was forced to dissolve Parliament when senior officers seized power in a coup. He formally resigned from office after army republicans insisted upon reinstating the pre-Protectorate Commonwealth government.

Explore the the Protectorate in depth through the sidebar links above
or move on to the next overview in the Church and State thread: the Restoration