Discuss key issues that impacted Cromwell’s rule as Protector and how he dealt with them

6 June 2017

Discuss key issues that impacted Cromwell’s rule as Protector and how he dealt with them The stability of Parliament was a key issue throughout the reign of Oliver Cromwell as Protector. From the opening of the first Procterate in 1654 Cromwell faced continual struggles in parliament. Cromwell faced strong opposition, which can be most clearly seen by attacks upon the whole Procterate edifice hoping to destroy the system and the head of state by Republicans and other opponents of the state.

Historian Gaunt attributes this dissatisfaction to ‘a failure of Parliament to act as Cromwell had hoped’ much needed reforms had been lost and other ill-thought-out measures were pushed through. He attributed this failure to both the ‘strength of the opposition to the existing system within the house itself’ and also claims that Cromwell also might share the responsibility as the Protector had failed to ‘guide and to control the session’.

The latter of these points seems to be the most significant; as there is evidence that Cromwell had misjudged the mood of parliament and overall there was a theme of bad planning. Cromwell sought to deal with this trouble initially by using troops to temporarily close the house after the Republicans attacked. He then tried to quell the opposition within parliament by trying to prove his legitimacy as leader, firstly by seeking to show that his elevation had not come through personal ambition.

Secondly, he attempted to demonstrate that a large number of individuals and institutions had already given ‘explicit’ or ‘implicit’ consent to the regime in general and his office in particular. In order to do this he took the drastic action of dissolving parliament and made all the MP’s wishing to return to the house sign a ‘Recognition’ of his constitution. Only eighty of the four hundred and sixty Mp’s refused to sign this, a clear majority signed, so in effect Cromwell had proved his legitimacy.

There was hostility by most members of the first Procterate parliament to the regime’s constitution. Following the dissolution of the rump Parliament there was a belief that through Cromwell’s regime the protestant parliamentarians faced a major security threat from royalist conspirators from both at home and abroad whilst also trying to reduce the very expensive standing army. As Coward notes ‘maintaining the security of the government remained a high priority, but the problem facing the government was keeping military expenditure at the reduced level. In order to deal with this problem, Cromwell appointed a number of major generals in 1655 to take command in the provinces of England and Wales. Cromwell’s reasoning behind inaugurating the major generals according to Coward was to deal with the ‘siege mentality, which continued to grip those at the centre of power in the government’ that security was still paramount but so was cutting costs. The major generals were brought in to help oversee the cuts in the standing army from thirty thousand men to twenty one thousand and the formation of the new volunteer militia of six thousand five hundred and twenty men.

The grandees and generals were also introduced by Cromwell to act in another way; they were also to be agents in the cause of Godly reformation. As Coward writes, this was born out of a ‘commitment of its leaders to that cause and particularly their determination to advance it by an alliance with godly people like themselves in the localities’. It appears that Cromwell saw security and reformation as separate issues, which would be unlikely to be achieved if pursued independently.

Therefore Cromwell looked to appoint the major generals who shared similar religious views to him, in order to further both the security and the advancement of reformation. In order to enable them to carry this out Cromwell made amendments to the major generals instructions, putting laws into effect against things such as drunkenness and blaspheming. The major generals shared the same characteristic that the commissioners appointed to secure the peace had, a commitment to the same godly cause, that championed by the Protector.

Because of this Cromwell was able to use them to pursue his goals of security and godly reformation at the same time. Both Gaunt and Coward agree that one of the key issues that impacted Cromwell’s rule, as protector was to do with parliament. They both recognize the hostility of radicals within parliament towards the Protector, such as those who were opposed to godly reformation. As Gaunt recounts ‘Parliament became divided, growing signs of opposition brewing outside as well as inside Parliament added to the Protectors worries. Coward agrees with this view by noting the divide between the Protector and Council, and the MP’s; ‘by Mid November 1654 the gulf between most MP’s and the Protector and Council was already so great that Cromwell refused to cooperate with a commons committee. ’ It is therefore clear that both historians agree that hostility within Parliament was a key issue. Both Historians also show how Cromwell used the military when he felt it was necessary to secure his position and indeed that of the country.

As Gaunt notes Cromwell used troops to close the house following the Republican uprisings, this is significant because it shows that Cromwell still has the support of the military and is still using it as a tool to maintain his position. Coward talks about his use of the military in a different way, the promotion of the major generals in order to aid security for large parts of the nation, shows how Cromwell used the advantage of the military support he had in order to deal with a situation.

Therefore there is a trend of Cromwell using the military as the first port of call in dealing with problems in his regime, an approach that was not always popular with parliament, which had large anti-army factions in it who felt there was no need to have such a large standing army with no war on. There is disagreement between the historians on the issue of why Parliament was dissolved by Cromwell, with Gaunt arguing that Parliament was dissolved so as to ‘defended himself against accusations of ambition’ towards his role as protector.

From this perspective it would seem that he wanted to prove his legitimacy through a ‘Recognition’ signed by all MP’s. However, coward believes that when discussing reasons for the dissolution of Parliament, cites Parliaments ‘hostile attitude towards the army’ due to them still having such a large standing army in a time of no direct conflict and also parliaments dislike of how much influence was exerted in parliament by the military leaders, as the reason for him taking the decision to dissolve it so quickly.

Taking this into consideration there are also many other factors that can be put forward to explain the Protector’s rash action such as his and the councils disappointment of hope that it would continue the work of godly reformation begun so energetically by the protector and council before it met.

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