Cromwell’s dismissal of the Rump Parliament is one of the Commons’ most famous scenes in its history. Cromwell changed from bully to dictator.

The Republic

NPG 514; Oliver Cromwell after Samuel Cooper
A Miniature of Oliver Cromwell, 1656, by Samuel Cooper.

The abolition of the Monarchy and the House of Lords soon followed Charles I’s execution in 1649. Only the House of Commons remained since 1642—known as the Rump Parliament.

The Rump was both the government and the Parliament of the Commonwealth (republic). It was a legitimate governing body and the supreme power. However, it proved incapable of providing a newly reformed constitution or providing effective leadership.

The army became dissatisfied. It wanted the Rump disbanded, as the Army thought the politicians were “a gang of self-seeking profiteers”.

Cromwell no longer saw Parliament as the supreme power to be obeyed unconditionally. He was convinced the army was God’s chosen instrument in moulding Britain’s affairs.

The Rump’s presumption to dismiss soldiers offended Cromwell, without addressing arrears, pay and pension issues, especially after these soldiers, gave their lives to the nation.

Sir Henry Vane and Sir Arthur Haselrig plotted to replace Cromwell as Commander-in-Chief.

The Rump Parliament agreed on 19 April to dissolve the following day and hand over its power to a caretaker government.

Change of Plans

Cromwell dissolving the Long Parliament, 1907, by Andrew Carrick Gow.

However, on 20 April, the Rump reneged and voted for an adjournment instead.

Cromwell was provoked into action when he heard. He didn’t bother to change. He was accompanied by forty musketeers.

He arrived at 11.15 am still dressed in civilian clothes—a plain black suit with grey worsted stockings.

The musketeers remained in the lobby.

Cromwell took his usual place, as he appeared to respect its conventions. He removed his hat and asked the Speaker’s permission to speak.

Initially, Cromwell commended Parliament for their pains and the care of the public good, before he worked himself into a fury over their treachery and injustice.

Cromwell donned his hat and paced the chamber as he rebuked his fellow members of Parliament and called them drunkards, whoremasters, corrupt and unjust men.

Speaker William Lenthal originally resisted when he was removed from his chair.

Sir Peter Wentworth bravely protested against Cromwell’s inappropriate language.

“You are no Parliament. I say, you are no Parliament. I will put an end to your sittings,” Cromwell shouted.

Members were dispersed and the Mace (“this bauble”) was removed.

Algernon Sidney refused to leave so he was removed by force.

The records of the House were also seized. The whole incident ended at 11.40 am.

Cromwell wanted to establish a “parliament of saints” and devise a constitution reflecting godly values and teach people the responsibility of freedom. He wanted a parliament full of godly men who favoured the army’s ideas for reform.

The Barebones Parliament met on 4 July 1653.

Several members were fanatics belonging to religious sects. They proved more uncompromising than Cromwell. The new parliament failed to deal with England’s complex problems so Cromwell dismissed it also.

Lord Protector

Cromwell became Lord Protector on 16 December 1653. The Protectorate’s first Parliament was elected during 1654.

It consisted of 400 Members in the House of Commons. This time Parliament included Presbyterians, army officers, Republicans and even some Royalists from the West and Wales. Cromwell assured its members it was a free Parliament. A hundred members refused to sign a document promising faithfulness to the Protector and the Commonwealth. It was no more successful than its immediate predecessors so Cromwell dissolved it on 22 January 1655.

The Second Protectorate Parliament met in 1656-58. Parliament was fed up with the Puritans’ restrictions on their freedom so they offered Cromwell the crown. Cromwell refused and re-established the two-house Parliament. Cromwell continued as Protector until his death in 1658.

1899 statue of Cromwell by Hamo Thornycroft outside the Palace of Westminster, London

Sources

Fraser, Antonia, Cromwell Our Chief of Men, Methuen, London, 1985

Mason, James, and, Leonard, Angela, Oliver Cromwell and the Civil War and Interregnum, Longman, Harlow, 1998

Schama, Simon, A History of Britain: The British Wars 1603-1776, BBC Worldwide Ltd, London, 2001

Starkey, David, Monarchy: From the Middle Ages To Modernity, HarperCollins Publishers, London, 2006

Wilkinson, Philip, The British Monarchy for Dummies, John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester, 2006

Young, Peter, Oliver Cromwell, Morgan-Grampion Books Limited, London, 1969

© 2008 Carolyn M Cash

This article was originally published by Suite 101 on 12 September 2008.

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