The Protectorate

Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland
‘The Protectorate’
Flag of the Protectorate
(Protectorate Flag) (Protectorate Coat of Arms)
(Latin: Peace is obtained by war)
Location of the Commonwealth
Capital London
Head of State Lord Protector
Parliament First, Second and Third Protectorate Parliaments

The Protectorate in British history refers to the period 165359 during which the Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland was governed by Lords Protector.

Prior to the Protectorate, England (and subsequently Scotland and Ireland) had been ruled directly by Parliament since it had declared England to be a Commonwealth in 1649. The Rump Parliament had been forcibly dissolved in April 1653 by soldiers led by Oliver Cromwell, prompted by the perceived ineffectiveness of its rule and its refusal to dissolve itself. Although the replacement, the Barebones Parliament (July–December 1653), was nominated by Cromwell and the leaders of the army, it proved just as difficult to control.

The post of Lord Protector was formally established by the Instrument of Government, a constitution passed by the Council of State in December 1653. Cromwell was appointed to the position for life. Although the constitution divided power between the Lord Protector, the Council of State and Parliament, in practice it restored the strong executive power that had been absent since the abolition of the monarchy. Indeed, Cromwellian government has been branded as ‘one of the first experiments in (de facto) military dictatorship’ (Abbott). This power was entrenched when Cromwell used a royalist uprising as a pretext to sweep away the traditional shire governments in 1655, replacing them with military districts administered by army officers, the so-called ‘Rule of the Major Generals’.

The Protectorate is associated with rigidly enforced puritan legislation. Religious toleration was extended to Jews and most Protestants, but not to Episcopalians or Roman Catholics.

The Instrument of Government was replaced in 1657 by the Humble Petition and Advice, which reinforced the similarities between the Lord Protector and a monarch: for example, Cromwell was addressed as ‘His Highness’; his subsequent re-installation as Lord Protector was not dissimilar to a coronation; and he was given the right to nominate his successor—he chose his eldest surviving son, Richard.

After Cromwell's death in September 1658, the new Lord Protector, Richard Cromwell, was unable to control the army and resigned in May 1659. After a chaotic ‘interregnum’, the monarchy was restored in May 1660, largely through the initiative of General George Monck.


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