The Lord Protector: Religion and Politics in the Life of Oliver Cromwell

By Robert S. Paul | Go to book overview

CHAPTER ELEVEN
THE BEGINNINGS OF THE COMMONWEALTH MILITARY AND POLITICAL PROBLEMS (February-August 1649)

I
General Considerations

IN the execution of Charles, what Cromwell deemed to be morally right very conveniently coincided with what he regarded as politically expedient; but with the death of the King, the leaders of the rebellion knew that they had closed the door to compromise, and that they would be forced to provide alternative government: they dared not allow the new State to fail. This fact really dominates the rest of Cromwell's life.

There were three practical problems with which those who were now left at the head of affairs had to deal immediately: first they had to establish stable administration in the midst of the chaos left by the civil wars; secondly, they had to defend the new State against almost universal hatred at home and abroad, and thirdly, related to these previous factors, they must take steps to make their government more representative. In this situation the governing remnant in the House of Commons soon found itself in a dilemma, for the Levellers were blindly pressing for a new election when the country was decidedly royalist in sympathy.

However, an interim government could hardly be regarded as definitive. On January 29, 1649 an "act" was passed which exchanged the authority of "the King in Parliament" for that of "Custodes Libertatis Angliae, Auctoritate Parliamenti"1-- a conveniently vague title to describe conveniently unspecified persons. Those who had voted on December 5 in favour of further negotiation on the basis of the King's reply to the Commons were excluded from their seats;2 a committee was set up to

____________________
1
Whitelocke, 374.
2
Those who had been absent from the division were not allowed to resume their seats until they had expressed their disapproval of the previous resolution.

-196-

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