Cromwell - Lord Protector

Cromwell and the English Civil Wars

Oliver Cromwell’s rule during the English Civil War and the subsequent Commonwealth (1649-1658) saw a significant shift in the religious landscape of England. While the Church of England remained the established church, it faced both challenges and adaptations under Cromwell’s “State Church.” Cromwell believed in a close relationship between church and state, but not in the same way as previous monarchs. He envisioned a State Church focused on moral reform and personal piety, rather than upholding the traditional hierarchies and practices of the Church of England.

Cromwell was a convinced Calvinist, though he believed in religious toleration. Compared to earlier periods, he allowed greater freedom for other Protestant denominations like Presbyterians and Baptists, although Catholics and Quakers faced restrictions. Cromwell’s impact on the Church of England included:

  • Diminished Dominance: While remaining the established church, the Church of England lost its monopoly on religious life. Other denominations gained greater visibility and influence.
  • Shifting Theological Emphasis: The influx of Puritan ministers introduced a more austere and Calvinist approach to church practices and theology, compared to the traditionally High Church Anglicanism.
  • Increased Scrutiny and Pressure: The State Church faced constant scrutiny from the Commonwealth government, enforcing conformity with Puritan ideals and sometimes intervening in internal affairs.

Cromwell's Changes in Government and Church

Oliver Cromwell, a key figure in the English Civil War who became England’s Lord Protector, made drastic changes in the country’s government and church structures during his time in power:

1. Disbanding the House of Lords: In 1649, after the execution of King Charles I, Cromwell’s forces purged the House of Commons of Royalist members and then abolished the House of Lords altogether. This move aimed to consolidate power within the remaining Parliament and eliminate a potential source of opposition to his rule.

2. Eliminating Bishops: Cromwell and his fellow Puritans strongly objected to the hierarchical structure of the Church of England, particularly the role of bishops. In 1642, the Long Parliament passed the Bishops’ Exclusion Act, temporarily removing bishops from the House of Lords. But it wasn’t until 1643 that they were officially abolished from the Church of England, replaced by a simpler system of Presbyterian ministers.

3. Declaring England a Republic: With the monarchy abolished and the House of Lords dissolved, England was effectively a republic under Cromwell’s leadership. He initially held the title of Lord Protector, but his rule became increasingly authoritarian, and he never formally assumed the title of king. This period, known as the Commonwealth, lasted from 1649 until 1660, when the monarchy was restored with Charles II.

The Return of the Monarchy

The Restoration of the monarchy in England after Cromwell’s Commonwealth came about due to a confluence of factors, ranging from discontent with the Commonwealth’s rule to a yearning for stability and a desire for pre-Civil War traditions. Many found Cromwell’s rule increasingly harsh and authoritarian, especially after he dissolved Parliament and ruled as a Lord Protector. The loss of traditional power structures and the crackdown on dissent alienated various groups within society.  The Commonwealth had economic difficulties, leading to dissatisfaction among merchants and traders. Additionally, the land redistribution during the Commonwealth benefitted some but not all, creating inequalities and discontent. Finally, the Puritan-led government of Cromwell restricted certain expressions of faith, leading to frustration among non-Puritan groups.

The English yearned for stability and order following the decades of conflict. The Commonwealth was not a unified entity. as different factions vied for power, leading to political instability and uncertainty. Many saw the restoration of the monarchy as a way to unify the country and end internal disagreements. The monarchy, despite its flaws, symbolized a pre-war, settled order that appealed to a significant portion of the population.  The monarchy and the Church of England had deeply ingrained cultural and historical significance. Their absence created a sense of dislocation and a yearning for familiar institutions and traditions.

Charles II fled England after his father’s death and lived in exile across Europe for nearly a decade. While in exile, he cultivated relationships with European monarchs and built ties with various factions within England, including Royalists and moderate Parliamentarians who had grown disillusioned with Cromwell’s increasingly authoritarian rule. These connections paved the way for potential support for his return to the throne.

In 1660, General George Monck, a powerful figure within the Commonwealth, began negotiations with Charles II, promising his support for a peaceful restoration of the crown. In return, Charles II issued the Declaration of Breda, promising religious tolerance (within limits) and amnesty for most involved in the Civil War. This appeased various factions and garnered widespread support for his return. In May of that year, Charles II triumphantly entered London as the new king, marking the end of the Commonwealth and the Restoration of the monarchy. His ascension to the throne was largely welcomed by a population weary of conflict and seeking a return to pre-Civil War traditions.

  • Political maneuvering: General George Monck, a powerful military leader, played a crucial role in orchestrating the return of the monarchy. He negotiated with Charles II and ensured a relatively smooth transition of power, further lessening opposition.

While the path to the Restoration was complex, it reflected a convergence of various desires: a thirst for stability, a longing for old traditions, and dissatisfaction with the existing system. Charles II’s skillful presentation and the efforts of key figures like Monck facilitated the return of the monarchy and a shift back towards pre-Commonwealth customs.