HIST 251: Early Modern England: Politics, Religion, and Society under the Tudors and Stuarts

Lecture 21

 - Regicide and Republic, 1647-1660


In this lecture Professor Wrightson considers the events leading to the execution of Charles I in 1649, and the republican regimes of 1649-60 (the Commonwealth and the Protectorate), with particular attention to the role of Oliver Cromwell. He begins with the unsuccessful attempts to negotiate a settlement with Charles I after the civil war, the intervention of the army in 1647 and the outbreak of the second civil war in 1648, which culminated in Pride’s Purge and the trial and execution of Chares I. He then considers Cromwell’s campaigns in 1649-51, his expulsion of the Rump Parliament in 1653, the nominated parliament of 1653 (Barebone’s Parliament) and the two phases of the Cromwellian Protectorate 1654-8, ending with the instability following Cromwell’s death and the restoration of the monarchy in 1660. Professor Wrightson notes that although the Restoration marked the failure of the revolution, the political landscape had been irrevocably changed. The restored monarchy lived in the shadow of the civil war, the politicization of a large section of society was not reversed, religious dissent was now a permanent reality, and a plethora of new political and religious ideas had been advanced.

Transcript Audio Low Bandwidth Video High Bandwidth Video

Early Modern England: Politics, Religion, and Society under the Tudors and Stuarts

HIST 251 - Lecture 21 - Regicide and Republic, 1647-1660

Chapter 1. Continuing Tensions [00:00:00]

Professor Keith Wrightson: So, we’re in 1646 and, as I explained last time, the development of the war, especially between 1643 and ‘45, had unleashed forces which could not easily be controlled and created aims and expectations which had not originally existed at the outbreak of war, especially the controversy concerning the future organization of the church and the issue of ‘liberty of conscience’. Parliament was now severely divided between those who wanted a Presbyterian church settlement and the so-called Independents who favored liberty of conscience. With the defeat of the King these issues were now prominent in establishing the terms of settlement. And, as they attempted a settlement, the fundamental differences of perception of the nature of the parliamentary cause — what it had been, what it was now — came very much to the fore.

In 1646 to ‘7, the so-called Presbyterian group were the dominant group in parliament. They held the initiative and in July 1646 they put to King Charles — who was now in the north of England held by the Scots in Newcastle — they put to him the Newcastle Propositions. Under those terms the King should take the Covenant; there should be a united Presbyterian church of both England and Scotland; parliament was to control the military for twenty years, which they thought was roughly the King’s expected lifetime); and fifty-eight of the King’s supporters were to be exempted from pardon on the grounds that they had committed various atrocities in the course of the war. Charles, faced with these terms, played for time. He might have lost militarily, but he knew that they still needed him for any settlement. Remember what the Earl of Manchester had said back in 1644: “if we beat the King ninety and nine times, he is king still.” Charles knew that.

In February 1647, the Scots’ army was paid off by the English parliament. They handed over the King into English custody and they withdrew back to Scotland, and the King was brought south and lodged in a country house in Northamptonshire, northwest of London, Holmby House, where negotiations continued. Meanwhile, the New Model Army — which was now for the most part billeted in eastern England near Cambridge — the New Model Army was ordered either to disband or to reenlist for service in Ireland where the Irish confederacy was still in control. This demand provoked an army, many of whom were already worried by the prospect of a settlement which would be intolerant in matters of religion, and the consequences of that provocation were momentous.

In April and May 1647, the cavalry regiments of the New Model elected representatives. They were called “Agitators.” They elected Agitators. And a Council of the Army was formed which consisted of the general officers, the colonels of the regiments, and the representatives of the various regiments. Then on the 4th of June a junior officer, Cornet Joyce, went to Holmby House and seized the King and brought him to the army. There’s a famous story that when Joyce arrived at Holmby House the guard there asked him where his warrant was to remove the King and he drew his pistol and said, “here is my warrant.” Then on the 14th of June the army issued and printed a Declaration. They declared themselves to be “no mere mercenary army,” but an army enlisted to defend “our own and the people’s just rights and liberties.” They demanded an Act of Oblivion to wipe away all acts which had been committed during the war, pardon for all acts committed; they demanded liberty for “tender consciences,” as they put it, in matters of religion. And the army leaders, with the council, began drawing up their own terms for negotiation with the King whom they now held. Then, in late July 1647, demonstrations in London on behalf of Presbyterianism and against the army’s actions, led to the Independent members of parliament fleeing the city. They fled to the army and asked for its protection. On the 6th of August the army marched south and occupied London, restoring them to parliament, from which some of their Presbyterian enemies fled.

Now then it was the turn of the army and the Independents in parliament to attempt a settlement with the King, and they put to him terms which were entitled the Heads of the Proposals. They were drawn up by Henry Ireton, a former lawyer who was the Commissary General of the New Model, and John Lambert, one of the cavalry colonels, and they were probably the most generous terms — well they were certainly the most generous terms — ever offered to King Charles; remarkably so in fact.

The army insisted that in future there would be a parliament elected every two years and that control of the militia would be with parliament, but only for ten years, not twenty. They exempted only five Royalists from pardon. They were even willing to permit the reestablishment of a Church of England with bishops and the old prayer book, but it should have no coercive powers over those who preferred other forms of worship: so a reestablished Church of England but with liberty for tender consciences. Charles’ aide in the negotiations, Sir John Berkeley, urged the King to accept these proposals. He said never would a kingdom lost be so easily recovered as on such terms, but the King temporized. Berkeley later recorded in his memoirs that in his view the King would not agree because he didn’t trust Cromwell and Ireton and the reason he didn’t trust them was that they asked for nothing for themselves.

But most likely the King was simply playing for time and secretly opening negotiations at this time with the Scots, who were increasingly alarmed, now that they’d withdrawn from England, at what was happening in England and at the prospect of Independents in power. Meanwhile, while this was going on a further set of proposals began gestating amongst the Agitators in the army council and some of the officers, and these were deeply influenced by the views of the London radical movement, the Levellers.

The Levellers, led by John Lilburne, William Walwyn, Richard Overton, and John Wildman, had emerged initially as pamphleteers on behalf of liberty of conscience. But their experience at the hands of an intolerant Presbyterian-dominated parliament led them to begin questioning the whole basis of government authority and the manner in which the hands of power might be tied in a number of respects. They claimed in their pamphlets to speak on behalf of what they called “the middle and poorer sort of people,” “the hobnails, the clouted shoes, the private soldiers, the leather and woolen aprons and all the laborious and industrious people of England.” A very distinctly populist stance. And they advanced the claim — I’m quoting — “that all power is originally and essentially in the whole body of the people of this nation”: declaration of popular sovereignty. Accordingly, they put forward proposals including a single-chamber parliament — they would abolish the House of Lords; a redistribution of parliamentary seats in order to make them more equitable; elections to be held every two years with a much wider male suffrage — quite how wide is debatable. They probably held a variety of different views at different times. Some appear to have been for full manhood suffrage, others for a more limited suffrage, but certainly a larger one — thorough reform of the legal system, the laws to be simplified and to be printed in English.

Chapter 2. Putney Debates [00:09:18]

Well, in October 1647, much of this was drawn up in a set of proposals called the Agreement of the People, and the Agreement of the People having been debated amongst them and printed was then put forward to the army council in a set of debates which took place in Putney Church and they’re known as the Putney Debates. We have the full transcript of the Putney Debates and it’s a quite remarkable survival. The secretary of the army council took the whole thing down in shorthand and this was rediscovered in the late nineteenth century and is now fully available in print. In the Putney Debates we find fully transcribed the statements not only of the leaders of the army council but also the independent interjections expressing their aspirations of nameless soldiers who had been elected on behalf of their regiments. The secretary of the army council didn’t know their names. He put them down as “Buff Coat,” i.e., a man wearing the thick buff-colored leather coat of a cavalryman, or in one case “Bedfordshire Man,” a man who either had a Bedfordshire accent, perhaps, or perhaps was wearing the sash of the Bedfordshire regiment.

Some of the statements made are most extraordinary ringing declarations. General Ireton, who did most of the talking on behalf of the officers, thought that all men should enjoy liberty under the law, but he took the view conventional for a man of his class that the vote should only belong to people of property, those with “a permanent and fixed interest in the kingdom.” In contrast to that view, Thomas Rainborough, an artillery officer, replied, “the poorest he that is in England hath a life to live as the greatest he, and therefore, Sir, I truly think that every man that is to live under a government ought first by his own consent to put himself under that government.” Ireton appealed to the importance of constitutional tradition in going forward with the settlement. Trooper Sexby urged considering “the reasonableness of the thing” rather than constitutional precedent.

Well, the Putney Debates are well worth reading and they provide an astonishing insight into the ideas which were circulating in London and the army; ideas generated by the experience of the war, by the sense of possibility which had been unleashed among people who had been brought to ask, as several did ask in the Putney Debates, “what hath the soldier fought for?” That’s a phrase that repeatedly comes to the fore in the course of the debates, and they tell us a lot about the army leaders too. The Lord General, Thomas Fairfax, was largely silent. Fairfax was a professional soldier, not a politician. He was famously taciturn and he said little. He merely acted as chairman. Henry Ireton did most of the debating. He was clear-headed, very highly intelligent, sharp. He clearly became exasperated with what he saw as the utopian schemes being put forward by the soldiers. At one point he replied to the question, “what hath the soldier fought for?” by saying, “I [will] tell you what the soldier… has fought for… that one man’s will shall not be law.” [correction: “that the will of one man should not be a law”] That was Ireton’s perception of the conflict, but he also declared himself willing to follow where God might lead. Cromwell was something of a mediating figure. He said comparatively little. It was characteristic of his manner. He tended often when major decisions were to be made to hesitate, to wait, to wait on a sign from God, and then when he was sure of his course of his action to take drastic action.

Well, were the general officers seriously negotiating with the representatives of the regiments or were they just humoring the troops to maintain order and coherence in the army while pressing ahead with their own negotiations with the King? We’ll never really know because ultimately it came to nothing. The debates broke up inconclusively, and the reason they broke up was because of an action on the part of the King. Charles was very much aware of the possibilities of exploiting potential divisions on the Parliamentarian side. He was also very fearful of the radicals and what might happen if they were to gain the ascendancy in the army council. On the 11th of November he escaped from custody, went south and took refuge on the Isle of Wight off the south coast of England. There he was held by the Parliamentarian governor in honorable custody but he was allowed to receive representatives, and they included representatives from Scotland.

Chapter 3. Renewal of War [00:14:43]

On the 15th of November, faced with this situation, Fairfax and Cromwell called the army to a rendezvous and discipline was re-imposed. Cromwell rode up and down the ranks, plucking copies of the Agreement of the People from the hatbands of some of the soldiers who’d come with copies of the Agreement of the People in their hats. One intransigent soldier was summarily court-martialed and shot. In December 1647, the King, meanwhile, concluded an agreement with Scots representatives. It was called the Engagement. In the Engagement he undertook to accept a Presbyterian church in return for military aid and he also began secretly negotiation — negotiating with the Irish confederacy. Shortly afterwards in the spring of 1648 there were concerted Royalist uprisings in various parts of the kingdom: in Wales, in South Wales, in Kent, in Essex, and in the north in Yorkshire. Meanwhile, Charles’ supporters in Scotland, the Engagers, began assembling an army for the invasion of England to deliver the King and with that the second civil war began.

So, after so much hope of a settlement, so much generosity in the terms which had been offered to Charles in the Heads of the Proposals, this renewal of the war hardened the hearts of the army’s leaders. On the 29th of April, 1648, they called the whole army to a general assembly at Windsor to the west of London for a prayer meeting before they divided into various bodies, each of which was to take on the Royalist threat in different areas of the kingdom. And the mood at Windsor was very different from that at Putney. The mood was one of heightened religious anxiety, anger, and expectation amongst men who had not wanted or expected to fight again. They saw the renewal of the war as being both a judgment from God upon their previous actions and a test of their resolve, and they resolved that Charles was “a man against whom God [correction: the Lord] hath witnessed” — I’m quoting from the declaration which ended the meeting — and therefore “that it was our duty if ever the Lord brought us back to peace to call Charles Stuart, that man of blood, to an account for that blood he hath shed and the mischief he hath done to his utmost against the Lord’s cause and people in these poor nations.”

And in that mood the army departed, Fairfax to the east, Cromwell first to Wales and then to the north where on the 17th to the 19th of July he met and utterly shattered a much larger Scottish-Royalist army at the Battle of Preston, a hard-fought running battle which stretched for miles along the road from Preston to Manchester. Cromwell saw that victory as divinely ordained. In the dispatch he sent back he could see “nothing but the hand of God” in it, as he put it. God had spoken again as far as he was concerned and the army began returning slowly to London in a mood of religious exultation, pausing in Yorkshire to mop up Royalist resistance at Pontefract Castle before proceeding south. At the brief siege of Pontefract, Thomas Rainborough, the Leveller, was killed.

But meanwhile parliament had reopened negotiations with the King. The King was king still. This proved too much for the officers in London. On the 6th of December, 1648, Colonel Thomas Pride stationed troops at the entrance to the House of Commons and conducted what’s known as Pride’s Purge. He refused to allow into parliament anyone who did not sympathize with the army’s cause. Parliament was reduced to only 150 members known as the Rump. While this was going on Cromwell was mysteriously absent. He returned to London only after Pride’s Purge had been completed. Exactly where he was isn’t certain. It’s possible that he’d gone home to Huntingdonshire. That’s one idea. He seems to have been undergoing one of those periods of reflection before deciding on decisive action which were very characteristic of him; but once he came back he was prominent in driving things ahead. On the 1st of January 1649, the Rump, the remaining 150 members of parliament, set up a high court of justice to try the King. The House of Lords refused to participate. The House of Commons therefore declared that its own decisions would have the force of law since “the people are, under God, the original of all just power.” On the 20th of January, Charles I was arraigned. The charge — I’m quoting — declaring him to be “a tyrant, a traitor, a murderer, and a public and implacable enemy to the Commonwealth of England.”

The King with great dignity attended his trial in Westminster Hall but refused to recognize the authority of the court. He was condemned. On the 29th of January, only fifty-nine of the more than 150 members of the court could be prevailed upon to actually sign the King’s death warrant. And then the following day the King was executed on a scaffold outside his banqueting hall in Whitehall Palace. It’s still there today, the Banqueting Hall, the only surviving building of Whitehall Palace. If you visit it, the room that you enter on the first floor is the former banqueting hall itself. The ceiling is decorated with a wonderful painting by Rubens of the apotheosis of King James I. Charles’ father is shown ascending into heaven. It’s a wonderful artistic statement of divine right monarchy, and ironically it was under that painting that Charles walked to step out from the window on to the scaffold, wearing two shirts because it was a cold January day in case he should shiver and people might think he was afraid. He met his death with great dignity, perhaps knowing that this was the best thing he could do for the monarchy, to die well, and so he did. And as his head was struck off one witness says that from the crowd there came “such a groan as I never heard before.”

It’s ironic for those of us who live in New Haven that in Broadway we have a high Anglo-Catholic Episcopalian church which is one of those that recognizes the execution of King Charles I, commemorates it as a martyrdom for the Episcopal church, and we have running from Broadway three streets named after three of the men who signed his death warrant, Goffe, Whalley, and Dixwell. So the fingerprints of these events are here.

Chapter 4. A Commonwealth and Free State [00:22:56]

What next? They had tried and they had failed to reach a settlement with the King. Could they achieve one without him? Well, it was attempted. In March 1649, parliament declared the monarchy and the House of Lords abolished. In May 1649, England was declared “a Commonwealth and Free State.” All writs were to run in the name not of the King but of the “keepers of the liberties of England.” A new great seal was made for the kingdom which bore a picture not of the King but of the House of Commons in session surrounded around the edge with the legend “In the first year of freedom by God’s blessing restored.”

Well, perhaps in time those lofty aspirations might have acquired some real substance, but for the moment the fact was that this was a regime run by a committed minority supported by a somewhat larger body who were willing to conform to its authority out of pragmatism or for the sake of order or out of mere political opportunism. But despite its lofty claims the survival of the regime depended ultimately upon the army and the army of course had an agenda of its own. Above all, defense of liberty of conscience for the godly and the pursuit of a rather vaguely defined ‘godly reformation’ in the kingdom.

These tensions were initially disguised by the fact that there was an immediate need to defend the new regime. In 1649 to ‘50, parliament undertook the re-conquest of Ireland to prevent its use as a base by Charles II, now aged nineteen and in exile — and that re-conquest was brutally initiated by Cromwell himself. Cromwell was now appointed lord general since Sir Thomas Fairfax, after the execution of the King, in which he had no part, was not willing to go any further and retired. Cromwell blundered in to Ireland with very little understanding of the complexities of the Irish situation and blinded by the 1641 propaganda stereotype of the barbarities committed by the Irish rebels. At the fortress town of Drogheda near Dublin in 1649, a massacre of the defenders of Drogheda was committed. This was justified by the laws of war. They had refused to surrender honorably and, under the laws of war at the time, a city taken by assault, with the losses that that involved, would be one which would be permitted no quarter. Nevertheless, it was an act probably partly fueled by religious bigotry and zeal. Cromwell himself in the dispatch he sent back to England after Drogheda appears troubled by what he had ordered. It has a very defensive tone. Nonetheless, it was done and it initiated a bloody pacification of Ireland which continued for two years and culminated in confiscations of land from Irish landowners and the founding of a Protestant ascendancy in Ireland with the land being granted to adventurers, who had given money for the re-conquest, and soldiers. It didn’t create the Protestant Ireland they envisaged. It created a deeply divided society dominated by British landowners and the roots of the subsequent animosity which remains even in the current fragile peace.

Meanwhile, in 1650 Charles II landed in Scotland where he was crowned king. Cromwell moved north to campaign there against Charles. On the 3rd of September 1650, he took on the army of the Covenant at the Battle of Dunbar. Heavily outnumbered, his troops hungry and many of them sick, and nevertheless by a brilliant tactic of attacking the center of the Scottish line and splitting it they won an unexpected victory. Again Cromwell exulted. “The Lord hath done this,” he said in his dispatch. A second Scottish invasion force was formed in the west and moved south. Cromwell then chased it down the east, moved across and met them at Worcester a year after Dunbar where again on the 3rd of September, exactly a year later, they were completely defeated. The Battle of Worcester was described by Cromwell as “the crowning mercy.” Charles II, who had been with that army, fled in to exile again, after the famous incident in which he hid in an oak tree at Boscobel House while Parliamentarian soldiers searched the grounds beneath for him; a story he liked to tell later after he’d been restored to the crown.

By 1653, the Commonwealth of England, Scotland, and Ireland created by these military actions and conquest constituted the first all-British state, and meanwhile in 1652 to ‘4 a victorious naval war was fought against the Dutch. Initially, at the very foundation of the English Commonwealth the idea had been put forward of forming a union with the Dutch republic. That had been rejected and subsequent quarrels, the Dutch sheltering of Charles, and trade rivalry led to a brief naval war in which the Commonwealth was victorious. So, by 1653, the Commonwealth was militarily triumphant. Its forces, now battle hardened and possessed of the extraordinary morale which had come from victory after victory, were apparently invincible.

Chapter 5. Cromwell as Lord Protector [00:29:23]

But with the peace, tensions re-surfaced. This was not the popular regime which had been envisaged by the Levellers. It was not the godly regime which had been envisaged by Cromwell. The Rump had passed a Toleration Act in 1650 granting toleration and religious sects of all kinds proliferated, as you know. Some steps had been taken to improve the financial position of the clergy in the church to get a better quality of clergy and some cosmetic reforms had been made to the law. But apart from that the Rump showed little reforming zeal. There was also a good deal of suspicion in the army that the members of the Rump planned to perpetuate themselves forever. There was talk that when a seat fell vacant they would hold what were called “recruiter” elections for a single constituency rather than holding a general election for the election of an entirely new parliament. The army didn’t like that.

Finally, on the 20th of April 1653, when it appeared that the Rump was about to go ahead with that scheme Cromwell, who had been waiting patiently, precipitously acted. He stood up in parliament, called in troops, and dissolved the Rump, famously declaring as he drove them out of their chamber, “Begone. You have sat here too long for all the good you do [correction: have been doing].” Well, what followed in the next five years was a series of constitutional experiments in which Cromwell, who now held supreme power, attempted to divest himself of that power, but at the same time retained the right to intervene when necessary to defend what he took to be the central cause, which to him meant above all liberty of conscience and rule by men of “godly and honest conversation,” as he put it.

The trouble was that too few others in the nation shared his aspirations and, as he later remarked to Bulstrode Whitelocke, one of his advisers, “I am as much for government by consent as any man but where will I find that consent?” His first attempt was to win consent by establishing a reforming government and a so-called Nominated Parliament of 140 members was established to promote godly reform. The members were simply nominated. Cromwell described this as “a door to usher in those things that God hath promised.” He was quite enthusiastic about the idea. It was the brainchild of one of his officers, Major General Thomas Harrison. This parliament, the Nominated Parliament, sometimes known as ‘Barebone’s Parliament’ after one of its members, sat between July and December 1653 and it did indeed begin to consider radical reforms in the law and the abolition of compulsory tithes in church. But even in a parliament of godly men such steps occasioned too much anxiety for most of the members. In December 1643, while some of the more radical members were attending a prayer meeting more conservative members of the Nominated Parliament seized the moment and dissolved themselves and handed the power back to Cromwell.

Next, between 1654 and 1657, they attempted government under a constitution called the Instrument of Government. This was based on the Heads of the Proposals which had been put to the King in 1647. Cromwell was head of state with the title of Lord Protector. Government was to be in the hands of the Lord Protector advised by a council of state, parliaments were to be elected every three years, and the Lord Protector was denied the power to delay any legislation for more than thirty days. This provided a measure of stability, but when the first parliament met under the Instrument of Government in 1654 it immediately began to attack both the Instrument itself and the religious toleration which was so dear to Cromwell’s heart. Consequently, he dissolved it at the first opportunity.

In 1655, the risk of a royalist uprising and a small attempted uprising in the West Country led to the experiment of appointing regional military governors to govern the country. Major Generals were appointed for a variety of English regions. They were to oversee government and to promote godly reformation. This measure was bitterly resented by the county gentry and when parliament met again in 1656 they violently attacked it as “sword government.” Cromwell gave way. Then in February 1657 parliament presented him with what was called the Humble Petition and Advice, a call upon him to restore the ancient constitution and to accept the crown. He took three months to think about it and then in May 1657 rejected the offer of the crown. He used the phrase “I will not build Jericho again.” “I will not build Jericho again.” But he accepted all the rest. The Protector with a council and triennial parliaments was continued, but the ancient constitution was largely restored including a so-called Other House, a kind of House of Lords of nominated members.

Well, Cromwell’s rejection of the crown when it was actually offered to him is perhaps a test of his personal integrity, but the truth was that as Lord Protector he was king in all but name. He was probably sincere in seeing himself as he described himself as “a good constable set to keep the peace of the parish,” and above all to preserve God’s cause of religious toleration. Domestically, his rule was relatively mild. Roman Catholics were not persecuted. He was much preoccupied with “healing and settling.” He employed many ex-royalists if they would accept his government. Abroad he was successful. The Protectorate took part in a brief war against Spain which involved the capture of Jamaica and also the distinction of the New Model Army defeating the Spanish army at the Battle of Dunkirk. But it was not government by consent and to many of the political nation Cromwell remained an unforgivable regicide. To some of those who had been his former allies he appeared to be a hypocritical opportunist. John Lilburne, the former Leveller, said of Cromwell, he “will weep, howl and call upon the Lord even while he doth smite thee under the first rib.” To still more people in the country he appeared to be the protector not of tender consciences and English liberties but of wild religious sectaries and fanatics who threatened to turn the world upside down and bring confusion in society, above all the Quakers who in their early, more radical phase, caused great alarm as they spread their message across the kingdom. And ultimately everyone knew that the entire regime still depended above all upon the swords of the New Model Army, an army which was increasingly an army of professionals. Only Cromwell himself could hold it all together by the curious blend of pragmatism and militancy which characterized him and by of course the intense devotion which he inspired in his troops. And then on the 3rd of September 1658, aged exactly fifty-nine, he suddenly died.

Chapter 6. Dissolution of Parliament [00:38:20]

Well, the rest of the story can be swiftly told. In 1659, following Cromwell’s death it all collapsed. He was succeeded as Protector temporarily by his inadequate son, Richard. Parliament refused to recognize Richard’s authority. In May 1659, under pressure from the generals, Richard resigned, and the Rump Parliament was recalled. In October 1659, General John Lambert, dissatisfied with its proceedings, dissolved the Rump again. There was the threat of chaos in the kingdom. In December 1659, General George Monck, commander in chief in Scotland, decided to intervene. He marched his troops south to restore authority. That meant first of all, after he arrived in London, restoring the Rump, and then in February 1660 readmitting to parliament all survivors of the Long Parliament of 1640. All of them who were still alive, all those who had been expelled for various reasons, were permitted to resume their seats. By now almost everyone expected the restoration of the monarchy.

In March 1660, the Long Parliament voted to dissolve itself at last, and to hold free elections. In April 1660, Charles II appealed from exile in the Netherlands in an attempt to allay the anxieties of his former opponents and issued the Declaration of Breda, in which he said that if restored he would promise to respect the liberties of parliament, he would rule by the law, he would extend a free pardon to all former enemies, and he would grant liberty of conscience. This seemed to allay all anxieties. In April 1660, the so-called Convention Parliament met, complete with a House of Lords, and on the 8th of May Charles II was recognized as king. A few weeks later on the 25th of May he was brought home on a battleship, the flagship of the navy ironically named the Naseby after the battle at which his father had lost the first civil war. It was swiftly renamed the Royal Sovereign.

So the revolution was over. It had been defeated, or one could say it had defeated itself. But it would never be forgotten and it left a legacy. First of all, the restored monarchy under Charles II lived under the shadow of the events of the 1640s. These could never be forgotten. There were tacit understandings about the acceptable limits of royal authority and the Stuarts would do well to remember them. Secondly, the politicization of a much larger section of society, which had been part and parcel of the dynamic of the dramatic events of the 1640s and 1650s, was not reversed; it remained. Thirdly, the Church of England could never again encompass the sheer diversity of English Protestantism. The Church of England was restored, but religious dissent was an enduring fact throughout the kingdom. And finally there was a fourth legacy, what Professor Lawrence Stone described as “an immensely rich reservoir of ideas that were to echo and re-echo down the ages.” Those ideas, political ideas, religious ideas, generated by the events and the dilemmas of the 1640s and the 1650s, were in a sense what really made the English Revolution the first of the great European and Atlantic revolutions, and of course you will be discussing those ideas in section. As John Davenport put it, observing all this from afar in 1647 at the height of it all, “the light which is now discovered in England… will never be wholly put out though I suspect that contrary opinions will prevail for a time.” He was right.

Okay. Oliver Cromwell’s head; we have time. Following the Restoration, Cromwell’s body was exhumed. He died of course in 1658. The body had been embalmed and he’d been buried in state. His body was exhumed along with that of Henry Ireton and they were gibbeted — the bodies were gibbeted in public — and Cromwell’s head was struck off. It was put on a spike high on the walls of Westminster Hall, where it remained for over twenty years until in a gale in 1684 it disappeared. It’s thought that it was probably blown down and one of the guards took it and sold it. It resurfaced in the eighteenth century in the cabinet of curiosities of a gentleman, then vanished again for a while. It resurfaced again at the end of the eighteenth century when it was put on public exhibition and people paid to see it. Then later on in the nineteenth century it came in to the possession of a scholarly antiquarian clergyman who looked after it and passed it down in his family.

Eventually, in the early twentieth century it was offered to his former college, Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge. Extensive forensic examination was done of the head to see if it was genuine. Well, it was a head — there’s no doubt about that — [laughter] but it was extensively forensically examined and an extensive report was prepared. Well, they decided that the balance of probability was that it was indeed Cromwell’s head. It has a spike through it for a start, which is really [laughter] one clue. It had been embalmed. There are still scraps of skin and hair. The — there was other forensic evidence consistent with Cromwell’s death mask — a plaster mask had been taken of his face after his death — and there was even pitting on the skull in places where his face was famously disfigured by prominent warts. So they decided it probably was Cromwell’s head and it was eventually reburied in — almost 300 years after it had been exhumed — in Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, where it’s still there. Only the master of Sidney Sussex and the dean of the college chapel knows exactly where.

It’s a closely guarded secret. I knew someone who was elected master of Sidney Sussex a few years ago and did suggest that it would be nice to know but I was told very politely to get lost. [Laughter] So it’s a closely guarded secret. It’s still there. So if you go to Cambridge and visit Sidney Sussex College and go in to the chapel area where it’s probably buried you may be walking over Cromwell’s head. Meanwhile, in the hall of Sidney Sussex beside the high table they have a portrait of Cromwell, “warts and all.” He famously told a portrait painter that he didn’t want to be prettied up, paint me “warts and all,” he said. And he is there and the portrait has curtains and if a member of the royal family happens to visit Sidney Sussex, which happens from time to time, they draw the curtains across Cromwell’s portrait in order not to cause embarrassment. But the rest of the time the curtains are open and he looks down on the students of his former college, who probably know little of his career, but there he is and make of him what you will, either a cynical, power-hungry, hypocritical opportunist, or the defender of what people still refer to as the “good old cause,” or, as one biographer described him, “God’s Englishman,” but there we are.

So next week we’ll turn to the Restoration regime.

[end of transcript]

Back to Top
mp3 mov [100MB] mov [500MB]