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  • Parliaments and Politics during the Cromwellian Protectorate
  • Stanford Lehmberg
Patrick Little and David L. Smith . Parliaments and Politics during the Cromwellian Protectorate. Cambridge Studies in Early Modern British History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007. xiii + 338 pp. index. append. tbls. bibl. $99. ISBN: 978-0-521-83867-2.

Despite the numerous writings about Oliver Cromwell and about Parliament in the seventeenth century, the Parliaments of the protectorate have received little scholarly attention. The present volume effectively fills this gap. Its authors are Patrick Little, a senior research fellow at the History of Parliament Trust in London, and David L. Smith, fellow and director of studies in history at Selwyn College, Cambridge. After planning the book together they divided up its chapters, each author writing half of them. They also collaborated on the research, which [End Page 1372] was extensive, including numerous manuscript sources in Scotland and Ireland as well as England and rare early printed materials. They are in close agreement about organization and style; the reader is not aware of the joint authorship.

Three Parliaments met during the protectorate, two under Oliver Cromwell and the last under his son Richard. The Parliament of 1654 was elected according to the new constitution, the Instrument of Government. The House of Commons was reduced from 507 to 460 members. Seats were redistributed: rotten boroughs were disenfranchised and representation was granted to rising industrial towns. Thirty seats were allocated to Scotland and Ireland, twenty-five to Wales. The House of Lords was abolished. The Instrument recognized the role of Cromwell as protector and commander of the army, and it created a council of state to assist in government. Its members were named by the protector and included a number of army officers. The council was given power to exclude from Parliament royalists and others who were not "of known integrity, fearing God, and of good conversation." Only about ten were removed, but more than fifty withdrew in protest. As the session began members questioned the validity of the constitution and disagreed with Cromwell about religion. He then insisted that they sign a resolution accepting the form of the protectorate. As many as eighty refused to do so and were thus excluded. Cromwell finally determined to terminate Parliament: the Instrument said that it could not be dissolved until it been in session for five months, but the protector turned members out at the end of five lunar rather than calendar months.

A second Parliament was summoned in 1656. A larger number of those elected opposed Cromwell's rule. Again there were exclusions: just over a hundred were turned out by leaders of the army, the major-generals, and up to sixty withdrew in protest. Parliament desired to return to the old form of government and offered Cromwell the crown, which he finally rejected, largely because of opposition by the army. But Parliament did create a second house, not the old House of Lords but an "Other House" with members named by the protector, mainly taken from the army and the Commons. Disputes continued and Cromwell dissolved the Parliament in February 1658 after its second session had met for only two weeks. The protector was already in poor health and died in September.

Oliver's son Richard succeeded him as protector and called a Parliament to meet in January 1659. Now no members were excluded, and the young Cromwell's relations with the Commons were cordial, in part because Richard held more conservative religious views than his father and was willing to cooperate with the Presbyterians who dominated the Commons, but a breach between Parliament and the army erupted and Richard dissolved the Parliament in April. He abdicated in May.

Although none of the Parliaments passed a significant amount of legislation, they did hold important discussions of legal reform, religion, taxation, and foreign policy. Little and Smith hold a more positive view of the gatherings than has been common among historians. The attitude of members, they believe, was generally [End Page 1373] constructive and there was a growing desire to establish a long-term form of government. There was a dramatic shift away from army rule to civilian leadership. Local interests were supported...


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