The Open Door Web Site
17th Century England Index
Introduction : Constitutional Government
BRITAIN : ISLAND STATE TO EMPIRE
17th Century England
The English Republic (1649 - 1660)
The Commonwealth (1649 - 1653)
Once Charles I had been executed, the Rump Parliament took control of England. Rebellions had to be crushed in Ireland and Scotland.
In Ireland, Cromwell's troops massacred the garrisons of all towns which refused to surrender. This meant that other towns quickly gave in to the occupying forces. When the fighting was over land was taken from the rebellious Catholic population and given to those Protestants who were loyal to England. In this way the fertile north-east of Ireland (which is still part of the United Kingdom today) came to be mostly Protestant, while the poorer parts of the west and south, (today the Republic of Ireland), remained Catholic.
The Scots were furious with the English for the execution of their king, Charles I. They promptly crowned his son, Charles II, who led an invasion of England. Cromwell allowed them to come as far south as Worcester and then destroyed the Scots army. The young Charles II, after many adventures, managed to escape to Louis XIV's France.
The Rump Parliament
Cromwell abolished the House of Lords and only tolerated a handful of Puritan MPs, those who were friends of the army, in the House of Commons. There were many ideas about how England should be governed.
The Royalists simply wanted Charles II on the throne, to rule as had his father. General Harrison, a religious fanatic, preferred an assembly of 'Godly' men to run the country 'until Christ returned'. A group called the Levellers, led by John Lilburne, wanted to try something completely new. They wanted all men to have a vote to elect MPs to the Commons which would then rule the country. A movement which developed within the New Model Army, created a group called the Independents. This group demanded free elections and total religious toleration. Some people, called Diggers, even wanted to abolish private property and hold land communally.
Cromwell did not like any of these ideas. He just wanted England governed in a firm, Godly manner. It is said that he had no personal ambition or desire for power. He was, however, the only man able to control the army.
Cromwell's Government (1653-1658)
In 1653 even the remaining Rump Parliament was dismissed. For the next five years, England was effectively a military dictatorship called the 'Commonwealth' and was under Cromwell, 'The Lord Protector'. The country was divided up into military districts with a military commander in charge of each. Military rule was expensive and taxes went up. Cromwell was even offered the Crown, but he refused. He did, however, nominate his son, Richard, to succeed him as Protector upon his death.
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