Oliver Cromwell and Republican parliaments
The Rump consisted of 80 MPs after the purge of December 26th 1648. It governed England for the majority of the Commonwealth years. Cromwell was attempting to create an inclusive government (healing and settling).
He aimed to do so by
- urging unity between Independents and Presbyterians
- trying to prevent the abolition of the House of Lords
- instigated an amended oath acceptable to dissenting members of the new Council of State
After returning from military expeditions in Ireland (most famous for his actions in Drogheda and Wexford) and Scotland (particularly with his victory at Dunbar , which had strengthened Cromwell’s belief in the need for Godly Reformation, Cromwell was disappointed with the lack of progress that the Rump had made towards a Godly Reformation. One must also note Cromwell did not seek personal ambition with his victories, but handed them to the work of God claiming them as "God's crowning mercy".
In terms of religious toleration, only the Toleration Act was passed, which did not go far enough for Cromwell. Due to the self-interest of MPs, limited progress had been made in terms of social justice and legal reform. Plus, parliament developed a reputation for repressive measures (i.e. Blasphemy and Adultery Acts) which was the result of the Ranter Scare.
They appeared to go against Cromwell’s desire for a godly reformation, e.g. continued to exclude Royalists. They also appeared to be pursuing their own interests, e.g. Navigation Acts, and made no plans for its self-dissolution. So, on April 16th 1653, Cromwell forcibly dissolved the Rump like Charles I had tried some years before hand.
After the dissolution of the Rump, Cromwell immediately looked to pass power onto others. He went with General Harrison’s idea of a Nominated Assembly by churches, since an elected parliament would be too hostile to the army.
Some Barebones MPs jeopardised Cromwell’s hopes of healing and settling because they were too radical. They wanted to abolish Court of Chancery. Some wanted to introduce Mosaic Law. Such law was based on the 10 Commandments and such a radical change threatened the stability of the legal skeleton of society.
Some MPs were also very intolerant of other Protestants groups, such as the Presbyterians. This went against religious toleration. Cromwell’s defence of Presbyterians strengthens the interpretation that he was sincere as Cromwell has previously attacked Presbyterians and does discredit the view he was a tyrant.
Barebones also tried to abolish Tithes (attacked gentry) and the Excise Tax (which threatened army). The self-dissolution of the Barebones Parliament was accepted by Cromwell, although he can be implicated in it.
The First Protectorate Parliament
The make-up of this parliament was more conservative (land-owning gentry). These MPs were opposed to the army and feared radical religious groups. Due to the composition, this parliament was unlikely to make progress with the godly reformation (similar to the Rump). Republicans MPs were still outraged by the dissolution of the Rump. They attacked the Instrument of Government. They did not favour the idea of a single person sharing power with parliament and believed that supreme authority should lay with parliament alone. Cromwell’s claims that he ruled with God’s blessing were dismissed. Cromwell had forced MPs to sign a “Recognition”, which 100 Republican MPs did not and thus were excluded. The remaining MPs attacked the religious policies of the Protectorate. They did not grant religious toleration and appeared to be arguing for religious uniformity. Plus, they were very intolerant of Biddle and Cromwell thought such intolerance could easily be turned against those religious groups with whom he did sympathise. MPs also attacked the army. They hated the influence of the army in English politics, e.g. Pride’s Purge, dissolution of the Rump, etc. The army was maintained through high taxation. So, MPs demanded a reduction in monthly assessments, used to maintain the army, from £90,000 to £30,000. They also wanted parliamentary control of the army after Cromwell’s death. Many conservative MPs viewed Cromwell in the same league as the army, and therefore reducing army influence would be reducing Cromwell’s influence. In January 1655, Cromwell dissolved the parliament earlier than constitutionally correct. On this occasion and the dissolution of the Rump, Cromwell appears to be dissolving parliament because it had failed to provide the godly reformation.
The Second Protectorate Parliament
The Council of State excluded about a hundred MPs following the parliamentary elections. This reduced the opposition to Cromwell, the army and the Instrument of Government. Parliament proved to be more co-operative
- Parliament granted subsidies for the war against Spain.
- Proposals were made to regulate alehouses – reformation of manners was no being undertaken.
- MPs approved of proposals for a court of law in York – legal reform.
The Nayler case implied that parliament was still very intolerant. Cromwell disliked this as parliament appeared to treat Nayler in the same fashion as other peaceful protestant groups, e.g. Baptists. Thus, Cromwell wanted an “Upper House”, made up of co-religionists, to check the power of the House of Commons. Parliament also wanted constitutional reform to reduce the influence of the army. Thus, this provided a unique opportunity for collaboration between Cromwell and parliament. This was helped by the influence of the New Cromwellians. So, the Humble Petition and Advice was presented to Cromwell, which was very reminiscent of the Heads of Proposals. The Humble Petition and Advice also offered the Crown to Cromwell. However, after considerable thought, Cromwell did not accept the Crown, because he did not want his drive towards reformation to be limited by the constitution. The second session of the Second Protectorate parliament proved to be more hostile to Cromwell as many of his supporters from the first session were moved to the Upper House. Plus, the excluded MPs of 1656 were allowed back into parliament. After, rumours that Republicans and the army were plotting to create a single chamber sovereign parliament again, Cromwell moved to dissolve parliament.