Thursday, 15 August 2013

Cromwell versus Walpole Part One: Too much. Too Young, Too fast.

A2 History Coursework: 

Just to prove I'm not dead, here is some coursework for you, presented to you in a glorious four part post. Yes, it's History, not English Literature, shoot me. However, if you have an interest in the development of the office of Prime Minister in comparison to the office of Lord Protector, then one, I must wonder why you have such a specific historical interest, and two, enjoy this poorly expressed, mark hunting argument!

P.S.- I know Walpole wasn't officially recognised as Prime Minister. Shush. I had a word count.

P.P.S- Prepare for a buttload of footnotes in the name of sources.

P.P.P.S- Horrible Histories is a legitimate source.

P.P.P.P.S- This is just getting ridiculous. Feel free to add your own opinions in the arguments, if I can reply, I will, and we shall have a considered, well reasoned debate (JK)


‘The office of Lord Protector failed to survive Oliver Cromwell, whereas the office of Prime Minister has long outlived Robert Walpole’
Why did the death of Cromwell in 1658 lead to institutional change, whereas the fall of Walpole led to institutional continuity?
Consider this problem in light of the constitutional developments between 1649 and 1750

            In 1660, following the death of Oliver Cromwell and the army revolution that drove his successor, Richard Cromwell, to resign, Charles Stuart was called from exile to be crowned King of England. Years of internal conflict and numerous attempts to reform the system of government had all been in vain, the monarchy had been restored. So why did the office of Lord Protector fail? A combination of Cromwell attempting too much, too fast, and questionable legitimacy of the office. In contrast, after Robert Walpole resigned from his multiple offices, the position of Prime Minister remained intact. The increase of ministerial power and constitutional change was steady, and sanctioned by the Monarch, giving it legitimacy and a stability that the office of Lord Protector lacked.

Part 1: Too much. Too young (eh, not really), Too fast.

            Over the course of the Interregnum, Cromwell attempted too many changes, too quickly, to the system of government that dictated the power balance of conservative England. The first of these came after the end of the English Civil War; On the 29th January 1649, Cromwell and his 58 contemporaries signed the disgraced Charles I's death warrant, advocating regicide. The Parliamentarians may not have been the first to commit regicide, but Tumath argues that 'The execution of Charles I was different from those of Edward II, Richard II, and Henry VI. While those three monarchs were done away with in the darkest depths of this or that castle, the execution of Charles was a public event'[1]- Indeed, Charles was executed in a very public beheading. This execution signalled the end of seven years of warfare and uncertainty, the country was exhausted- but that didn't mean that the people of England were willing to see their divinely appointed monarch executed as a criminal. The country was still heavily religious, religion being one of the driving forces behind the English Civil War and would eventually plague the Interregnum. Executing the monarch completely undermined the concept of divine right that the system of government was based on. To execute him was not only a radical course of action, but also an unpopular one amongst the divided country.

            Cromwell's radicalism didn't end with the execution of the monarch. One of his main aims throughout the period of the Interregnum was to establish freedom of religion. This radicalism faced huge opposition within the Parliaments, as it contrasted with the desires of many leading Parliamentary groups throughout the various sessions. In the 1653 Nominated Assembly the moves towards religious toleration were blocked by the Conservatives, despite the idea of religious toleration appeasing the other leading group in the session, the radical Fifth Monarchists, who discussed reform over the treatment of the ill and the law, but came into conflict with the religious conservatives over religious reform. Opposition to the idea of religious toleration was so great that the Conservative members of Parliament met secretly in December 1653 and opted to dissolve themselves. Cromwell displayed one of his many instances of political uncertainty by sanctioning the dissolution, believing that the Fifth Monarchists, who he had previously supported, were too radical. Similarly the Presbyterians of the First Protectorate Parliament (1654-1655) opposed religious toleration, preferring the idea of one unified church, eliminating the threat of extremist religious sects. J.H. Merle  D'Aubigne argued that Cromwell's 'enemies were entirely blind to the spirit of that love which possessed him' [2], implying that Cromwell's radicalism was stemmed in his strong religious beliefs. However, what D'Aubigne neglects to mention is that his 'enemies' were simply gentlemen with different- and often far more stable- political ideologies, and, more importantly, mostly different religious views to him. It was difficult to support Cromwell wholeheartedly because he would move between radicalism and conservatism almost instantaneously, for where he came to loggerheads with Parliament concerning religion, he made no attempt to allow the common man to represent his views in elections, with the vote only being offered to gentlemen with an an annual income of £200. 

            Another set of changes that proved to be unpopular was the transfer of an intimidating amount of power to Cromwell through John Lambert's 1653 Instrument of Government. Despite the ancient title, Lord Protector, being steeped in tradition, the powers that this new form of office granted him led to it being rightly described as 'kingship in all but name'[3]. One of the major causes of discontentment in the First Protectorate Parliament in September 1654 was the controversial nature of the powers Cromwell now wielded, but also the fact that no elected members of Parliament had been consulted about the creation of the office, leading them to refuse to pass any of Cromwell's ordinances when called to session.

            Linked directly to the failure of the First Protectorate Parliament was the conception of the rule of Major Generals between 1655 and 1657. As a whole, the public greatly disliked military influence, associating the profession with violent, drunken ruffians, having been 'reared on the seventeenth century notion of brutal soldiery' [4]. However, it is important to note that whilst this may have been the general opinion, not all of the individual Major Generals were viewed so negatively; being a heterogeneous group, the Major Generals imposed their authority as they saw fit. For example Worsley, who had control over Lancashire, Staffordshire, and Cheshire was renowned for his unwavering attempts to impose central morality on the citizens under his jurisdiction, and was rumoured to have closed over 200 ale houses. On the other hand, Gough, who was assigned Berkshire, Hampshire, and Sussex acknowledged that he was unable to carry out Cromwell's instructions. The idea of a standing army was resented, being expensive to maintain, an expense that would be felt by the royalist citizens of the localities through the new, 10% Decimation tax. Localities were used to running their own areas, consistently rejecting influence from Central Government even before Cromwell. Attempting to impose central authority through figures that the locals would naturally dislike and believing that it would be successful was nothing short of foolishly optimistic. The public outcry to the rule of the Major Generals perfectly highlights the societal reaction to Cromwell's changes. It upset the conservative nature of their local government, it played on the resentment of the army that had only grown over the course of the English Civil War, and the laws imposed of them banning inns and alcohol disrupted the day-to-day life of these insular communities. They didn't want their day-to-day lives disrupted by someone with an ideology that didn't match their rural sensibilities, especially when it was imposed on a politically unaware public without warning.


Part 2: Lessons from Aesop (Not posted)

[1] Tumath, A. Today in History from A New History Podcast, 30th January: The Execution of Charles I
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[2] D'Aubigne, J.H.M. The Protector: A Vindication (1848) Kindle Version- 52%
[3] Lynch, M. In the Interregnum (2008)- Pg 60
[4] Fraser, A. (2008) Cromwell, Our Chief of Men, Kindle Version- 3%


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