Hello, and welcome to Revolutions.
Today, we conclude our run of episodes on the English Revolution. Since the death of King Charles, we’ve seen numerous attempts to cement a Republican Constitution for Britain, but none of them have succeeded. Here now, at the very end, we’ll witness the last round of squabbling between the army and the Rump Parliament for control of the Commonwealth. But of course, watching these two universally despised institutions wrestle for political dominance simply convinced everyone else that maybe bringing the King back wasn’t such a bad idea. It certainly can’t be worse than this.
With Richard Cromwell’s de facto abdication in May 1659, the Rump Parliament was back in power. By this point, there were only 78 members left, and their base of political support was so narrow it didn’t even cast a shadow. But both the army and Navy pledged their support, so the Rump was insulated from its manifest unpopularity.
The task facing the returning MPs was, first, govern the country adequately. Second, think up a method of political succession because nobody is going to be able to tolerate the Rump sitting indefinitely. And third, keep the army and navy happy. But when they reconvene, they basically decided to do none of these things, because that’s how the Rump Parliament does it.
Now, the Rump was not totally insensible to their weaknesses and they took up the question of succession as soon as they sat. It was quickly decided that they would dissolve themselves by May 1660, setting a hard deadline for calling new Parliamentary elections. But that was as far as the plan got, because nobody could agree on how the new Parliament would be constituted. The army wanted some kind of Upper House, but Arthur Haselrig wasn’t going to have that. Other ideas started sprouting up in the press, including a major push from James Harrington to implement the plan that he had laid out in his Magnum Opus, Oceana, which I don’t have time to explore in detail, but if you’re interested, Google James Harrington Oceana. It’s a classic of first wave utopianism.
Unfortunately, most of these unsolicited plans were premised on free and full elections, which the Rump, frankly, was scared to death of. For most people, the experiment with Republicanism had brought nothing but instability, oppression and a crushing great load of taxes. So disillusionment with the Commonwealth was now an all time high. And free elections meant only one thing: the Restoration of the monarchy.
While the Rump debated the political future of Britain, they also took up items designed to keep the army happy. But they just couldn’t help shooting themselves in the foot. For example, it took them seven weeks to pass the Indemnity Bill that they had promised when the army put them back in power. Then they decreed that all officers had to come to London to personally receive new commissions, which was a transparent attempt to purge the ranks of malcontents. These slights ticked off the Grandees, but the Grandees held their fire. Many of the junior officers seemed to genuinely support Rump style republicanism, and ever since the death of Cromwell, the threat of a Royalist uprising once again started to heat up. So presenting a unified front with the Rump still had its advantages.
In August 1659, that anticipated Royalist uprising finally broke out. But when it did, it turned out to be not just the work of diehard Cavaliers, but also old moderate Parliamentarians like Sir William Waller, who were sick of the Rump and sick of the army. The two sides found common rhetorical ground on the popular issue of free and full elections, though both clearly knew exactly what that meant in practice.
But while the Restoration was now less than a year away, Booth’s Uprising, as this particular uprising is called, wound up playing out like a slightly larger version of Penruddock’s uprising from a few episodes back. The return of the King was nigh, but it was not quite nigh enough.
The uprising was set to begin on August 1, but well before then the Commonwealth’s intelligence network was able to disrupt the various branches of the conspiracy. But though most of the branches were disrupted up in Cheshire and Lancashire, an ex parliamentary man named Sir George Booth managed to raise 4,000 men. By August 7, he was occupying Manchester, but overnight momentum in the movement drained away, because it soon became clear that Booth’s was the only uprising going. The small army managed to hold out for another two weeks, but when John Lambert led a force north, they scattered. Booth himself dressed up like a woman to escape, but he was betrayed a few days later by a suspicious tavern keeper. He was thrown in the Tower, but by February the political temperature of the nation will have changed so drastically that Booth will not only be released, but handsomely rewarded for all his noble efforts.
The immediate upshot of Booth’s Uprising, though, was that it freed the army from its concern over a potential uprising, because that uprising has now come and gone, which means that there was now less of an imperative to maintain that unified front with the Rump. So if the Rump decided to keep stomping on their toes, the Grandees would now be happy to stomp back, and that mutual stomping got going almost immediately.
General Fleetwood tried to get Lambert reelevated to his old rank of major general. But Arthur Haselrig suspected, not without good cause, that Lambert was angling to get himself made Lore Protector, and he refused the commission, something Lambert’s allies in the army were none too happy about. Then disagreements over the next Parliament spilled out into the open.
In September 1659, the Rump formed a committee to hammer out the terms of the new Parliament, but it soon leaked that Haselrig was back to pushing for recruiter elections, elections that would allow the Rump to extend itself indefinitely while closely guarding who would get in and when. This was unacceptable to the army. In mid September, Lambert’s own regiment rode up and submitted the Derby Petition so called because they were stationed in Derby at the time. The petition made the by now standard issue soldierly demands for back pay and pensions, but they also demanded a reorganized general staff that would make Lambert the number two man behind General Fleetwood. Now Lambert was in London when the petition was drawn up, and there is good reason to believe him when he says that he had nothing to do with it. But still, can you blame Haselrig and the Rump for thinking that Lambert was currently masterminding a plot to get himself made Lord Protector?
In a misbegotten attempt to defuse the situation, Fleetwood obtained an advanced copy of the Derby Petition and showed it to Haselrig, but rather than help quietly kill it, Haselrig marched it down to Westminster, read it to his fellow MPs, and then demanded Lambert be arrested and thrown in the Tower. But this was a bit much, even for the Rump, and all they demanded was that Lambert be reprimanded. But even in leniency they managed to shoot themselves in the foot by concluding with a statement that they considered any new promotions to the general staff dangerous to the health of the Commonwealth at this time, which the rank and file of the army took to mean we don’t like or trust any of your officers, you know, the ones that you not only love, but would happily follow into hell. It was an ill advised declaration, to say the least.
By the beginning of October, officers were meeting and letting it be known that they considered it their duty to oppose tyranny in whatever form tyranny takes, to catch our drift. A petition that had been requested to halt the momentum of the Derby Petition wound up not only endorsing the Derby Petition, but going even further and saying that the Rump had better not try to sack any more officers or there would be trouble.
This new petition continued to be passed around by Lambert and eight other senior commanders even after it had been submitted to Parliament, which was a serious breach of protocol, not that Lambert probably cared.
With the army clearly making its move, the Rump decided to go all crazy drastic and passed a bill declaring that all laws, all of them passed since April 1653 that is, since Cromwell dispersed them the first time were null and void. Then they passed a bill that said taxes could not be collected without express Parliamentary authority. What that meant in practice was that if the army launched a coup, there would be no legal or political framework for them to operate in, nor would they have any means of raising money.
The game of constitutional chicken picked up speed a few days later when General Monck sent a secret note down from Scotland to Arthur Haselrig, saying, in essence, look, if you’re really going to take on Lambert you’re going to need my help. Now, maybe this was an implicit offer, maybe it was just pointing out the obvious. But Haselrig leapt to the conclusion that Monck was with him. So Haselrig pushed through a bill cashiering Lambert and the eight other officers who had been circulating the army petition. Then the Rump stripped General Fleetwood of his Commander in Chief title and formed a Parliamentary committee to run the army, a committee dominated by Haselrig.
That very night, the new committee attempted to use their new military powers by ordering regiments in London to come to Westminster and physically defend Parliament. But the majority of the soldiers ignored this order and instead looked to Lambert for instructions. Lambert surveyed his options and told the men to surround the few companies who had actually obeyed the committee’s order. The troops protecting Parliament soon realized that they were on the wrong side and started defecting over to Lambert in droves. Barricaded inside Westminster, Haselrig, his few remaining allies refused to discuss terms, believing that even if they lost this round, Monck would soon be marching south to restore them once again. They were sort of right about that last bit. That was no deterrent for Lambert. On October 13, 1659, he forcibly dissolved the Rump again! He then organized a Committee of Safety to take over executive functions until he was able to grapple with the full ramifications of the Rump’s vote abolishing every law passed in the last five years.
Up in Scotland, General Monck now found himself in the driver’s seat of history. His weight would essentially tip the scales in any direction he chose. Would he back the coup? Come down and restore the Rump? Or would he do, you know, the other thing? I mean, everyone knew that Monck had been a Royalist once upon a time, even if he had given no signs of disloyalty the Commonwealth since. But on the off chance that he was ready to start showing signs of disloyalty, agents of Charles II dispatched a letter promising Monck £100,000 a year for life if he declared for the King. Monk was no dummy, though, and, having been told what was in the unopened letter, refused to even accept it. He didn’t want to lock himself into anything and he didn’t want people to know what he was really thinking. Something he entirely succeeded at What he was aiming for and when he started aiming for it is as much a mystery to us as it was to his contemporaries.
But one thing did become quickly clear. He did not approve of the army coup, and in its wake he purged officers from his own ranks suspected of being sympathetic to Lambert. This freaked out the new Committee of Safety enough that they sent Lambert up north at the beginning of November to personally gather a force that could take on Monck should he decide to start marching south. Pretty soon, Lambert had some 12,000 men under arms comfortably outnumbering the 4,000 Monck had at his disposal, but as we will see, disparities in pay, morale and commitment would prove far more decisive than raw troop counts.
A standoff ensued for the rest of November and into December. Lambert insisted Monck accept elections for a new Parliament under terms to be decided by the Council of Officers. But Monck said no, first restore the Rump, and then we’ll talk about the next round of elections, which Lambert, of course, could not accept. Haselrig, meanwhile, had managed to escape down to Portsmouth, where a friendly governor turned over control of the city. So it looks like we’re about to have another civil war on our hands, except this time it’s between the army, who everyone hates and the Rump who everyone also hates.
This is the point when pamphlets and petitions calling for full and free elections really started flooding off the presses. No restrictions, no oversight, no vetoes over membership. Just call the free elections already and we’ll see what we see.
The standoff finally started to break Monck’s way in late December, but mostly because the army was finding it extraordinarily difficult to drum up the cash it needed to pay their men. The generals wanted to pay their men, they needed to pay their men, they just didn’t have the money to pay their men, and they couldn’t raise the money to pay their men.
The standoff also started breaking Monck’s way because he was soon joined by the one man whose name carried more weight with the soldiers than everyone else’s put together, Sir Thomas Fairfax. Monck had put out feelers to the old general in November and was surprised to discover that Fairfax was open to an alliance. Fairfax was totally opposed to the army coup, both because it was an affront to Republican government and because it made his beloved army look really, really bad.
So he agreed to coordinate an uprising in York that would help pin down Lambert militarily, to say nothing of pinning him down politically. By the end of December, riots in London, coupled with dissatisfaction in the rank and file, turned the army basically against their own generals. Two regiments stationed at Whitehall defected to the Rump’s side, and then the navy decided to sail 20 warships up the Thames.
On December 23, the speaker of the House ordered Fleetwood to surrender the keys to Westminster and then ordered the army to parade under his that is, the Speaker’s authority. The army complied, if for no other reason than Parliament might actually be able to pay them.
The Rump hastily reconvened and then sent a letter up to Monck expressing their gratitude and telling him his services, though, would not be required after all. Monk replied by saying, hey, no problem, but I think I’m going to come down anyway, which is when you can really start suspecting that his real plan was not to restore the Rump at all, but to restore the monarchy, even as he publicly denied that this was anywhere close to his real plan.
On January 1660, General Monck’s army started moving south. As promised, Fairfax rallied nearly 2,000 men on Marston Moor to threaten the rear of Lambert’s army. But though Lambert’s army was still technically in the field, it was hemorrhaging deserters and defectors so fast that the very next day, Lambert gave up and submitted to Parliament’s authority, ordering his garrison in York to surrender to Fairfax.
Moncks forces then marched south at a leisurely pace. Meanwhile, down in London, the Rump was trying desperately to cling to the power it had just retaken by declaring that it was going to go ahead with recruiter elections come hell or high water. Then they sent orders to Monck, telling him to come to London, hoping to make it look like Monck was marching south because they had ordered him to, which fooled exactly no one.
When Monck finally got to the outskirts of London, he formally requested that the regiments stationed outside the city, all led by men loyal to the Rump, please be sent elsewhere to make room for my men. He tried to make this sound as routine as possible, and the Rump even tried to resist for a bit. But I mean, who are they kidding? The allied regiments moved, and Monck set up camp.
But even as he seemed to be working against the Rump when the General entered the city on February 3, he very publicly met with their leaders and seemed to be embracing the idea of allowing them to run the country. But then he threw in another twist by declining to take an oath, swearing that he would ever support the Restoration of the House of Stuart. Monck claimed a temperamental dislike for oath taking, and if you recall, he did get into hot water with Charles I for refusing to take essentially the exact opposite oath. But still, it did nothing to convince the Rump that their supposed savior was actually on their side.
It was tension with the City of London, though, that finally killed the Rump, that beast that wouldn’t die. Shortly after Monck’s arrival, the City Common Council started debating whether or not they should continue to comply with the Rump’s tax requests, which said more about the effects of the oppressive tax burden than the city’s political agenda. But the Rump panicked, thought a city revolt was imminent, and ordered Monck to lead troops into London, arrest the Council ringleaders, and then systematically destroy all of London’s defenses, including the gates.
Now Monck had no interest in doing any of this, but he decided to play along for the moment and do what the Rump requested. Slowly and halfheartedly the army started dismantling all the various gates. At the end of the first day’s work, Monck asked the Rump if the point had been made, and can I stop doing this now, please? Whereupon the Rump said, hell, no! Not only that, we’re dissolving the Common Council and need you to back us up on that, too.
This is the point where a Monck really starts to tip his hand. He had his officer sign a letter to Parliament stating that this business with the city was upsetting them all mightily. After ticking off a few other complaints, the petition got to the real kicker: We’ve been talking about it and decided that you need to call for new elections by next week. For the Rump to meet this deadline, they would have to either give up trying to control who could run and who could sit and who could vote, or they could rush through some half baked scheme that everyone else would find deeply offensive. If they took the former route, hey free and full elections. If they took the latter route, Monck would have grounds to overrule them and call the elections anyway. He was letting them choose, basically, if they wanted to do this the easy way or the hard way.
The Rump, of course, chose the hard way, and on February 18, they produced an electoral plan that included way too many restrictions. This gave Monck his excuse to step in and switch up the rules of the game.
The day after the Rump produced their unacceptable electoral plan, Monck announced that he was in favor of reinstating to Parliament all the members who had once upon a time been purged by Colonel Pride, and with his favor came men with guns. Monck had been in secret contact with representatives of the purged members for a while now, and they had all agreed to a legislative package that they could ram through the minute they walked through the door.
On February 21, soldiers escorted about 100 former MPs into the House of Commons. The days of the Rump Parliament were over. Blessedly over. The Rump is dead. Long live the restored Long Parliament.
Now, though, as I said, there were only about 100 of these ex-MPs, they easily outnumbered the 40 odd Rump members still left. In a flash, they voted that Monck be made Commander in Chief. They reorganized the officer roles to Monck’s liking and then ordered free elections to be held immediately for a Parliament that would meet at the end of April.
Upon taking care of some other business, like letting Sir George Booth out of the Tower and putting John Lambert into the Tower, the members looked around and said, okay, we’ve done what we came to do. And then they voted to dissolve themselves.
And so it was that on March 16, 1660, the Long Parliament, which had first met on November 3, 1640 finally, finally, finally went away. For as many early deaths to Parliament as we have seen, I think we can all agree this one was long overdue.
The elections for the next Parliament were as free and open and contentious as any election anyone could remember. But the issue on the table was not whether to invite the King back or forge ahead with the Republican experiment. It was whether to invite the King back with strings attached, or to invite him back unconditionally.
Almost to a man, the people of England were done with the factions and the coups and the power grabs and the rapid fire regime changes. King, Lords, Commons. We’d like that back now, please! The only question left was how restricted the new monarchy would be.
Charles II, currently watching all of this with the light on the continent, moved up to Breda in the Netherlands to await his call.
With the end of the Commonwealth in sight, though, John Lambert made one last play to save it. He escaped from the Tower on April 10 and ran around attempting to rally support for Richard Cromwell and the Restoration, not of the monarchy but of the Protectorate. But time, sentiment and history were no longer on Lambert’s side. Two weeks after he escaped, he met up with four loyal cavalry troops at Edgehill, site of the first battle of the First Civil War, but those four troops is all he could raise. His little band was easily outgunned, outmanned and outskirmished. On April 22, John Lambert was taken into custody. He managed to survive the Restoration, but he lived as a prisoner for the remaining 23 years of his life, eventually winding up in a castle on Drake’s Island. After his wife died in 1676, Lambert started to lose touch with reality, and by all accounts, by the time he died in 1684, he had been completely insane for years. It is a sad end for a man who I think probably had both the military and political chops to lead the Protectorate to solid ground. Had he not fallen out with Cromwell, it is entirely possible that the British Commonwealth would have survived.
When the newly elected Parliament met on April 25, it was first of all not technically a Parliament, since only a King can call Parliament, so it was referred to as a Convention, which is how we come to call it the Convention Parliament. The few extremist members of the Rump who tried to get in were mostly defeated. Arthur Haselrig, for example, had gone into terminal depression and begged Monck to allow him to retire peacefully from public life. Monck demanded Haselrig pay him two pence for such consideration and then sent him on his way. After the Restoration, Haselrig was thrown in the Tower, but good to his word, Monck arranged for the old Parliamentarian’s life to be spared. Not that it mattered much. Haselrig died in captivity within the year.
Now everyone knew that the Convention Parliament was there to do one thing and one thing only: restore the House of Stuart. But still, there was that little question about what strings, if any, would be attached. In a brilliant piece of political maneuvering, Charles II answered their question for them by writing up the Declaration of Breda, which announced his intention to unilaterally impose restrictions on himself, both as a show of good faith and because it was the right thing to do.
The Declaration was read on May 1 and promised full pardons for all ex Parliamentary men, religious toleration, parliamentary jurisdiction over land disputes, and after 20 years of confiscation, seizures, and forced sales, there are quite a few of those, I can tell you. On top of that, Parliament would control the army purse.
The Declaration was met by unconcealed joy. Here was a King we can do business with. No one apparently noticing that Charles, with the help of his trusted Secretary of State, Edward Hyde, who you will notice, has just received his own little supplemental, have just pawned off on Parliament all the thorniest problems posed by the Restoration, problems that would no doubt require unpopular solutions. But for now, no one cared.
On that day, May 1, 660, Parliament passed a bill that stated, quote, “According to the ancient and fundamental laws of this Kingdom, the government is and ought to be by Kings, Lords and Commons“. The monarchy was back!
The next week, a Commission of twelve representatives, including Sir Thomas Fairfax, sailed to The Hague to officially invite Charles to London. Charles accepted and sailed for Dover, where he was met by Monck, whom the King kissed and called Father.
On May 29, King Charles II entered London to thunderous applause. It was all over. The cycle of the English Revolution had finally come full circle.
So let’s wrap this up by looking back a little and then forward a little to get a handle on what the heck has just happened. I think we can all agree that the last two decades have been tumultuous. The 1640s were consumed by a series of civil wars. The 1650s saw the attempt to build a Republican government constantly stymied by intransigence and incompetence and ego. But was it a revolution?
Now some point to the simple fact of the Restoration has enough of a reason to not call it a revolution. But that seems to miss the point. More persuasively, you could argue that Parliament did not go to war to abolish the monarchy, that the vast majority of people did not support the execution of Charles, and then in just a few years later, a majority of MPs were begging Cromwell to take the Crown. So this was not about some group of dedicated revolutionaries getting it in their head to topple the monarchy and establish an entirely new sociopolitical system in its place, as you’d get with, oh let’s say, the Bolsheviks.
But that said, whatever anyone’s intentions were, half the country did take up arms against their King. And not because they were supporting some rival claimant to the throne, but because they thought that Parliament, as the representative of the people, ought to wield some kind of independent sovereignty.
Religious factionalism exploded during the period, leading to an entirely new conception of religious Liberty. The Leveler movement, short lived as it was, turned out to be at least a century ahead of its time.
Men who in earlier days would have not been allowed within a hundred miles of real power suddenly found themselves running the country. And of course, even though no one planned any of it, the revolutionary results speak for themselves. The King was executed. The monarchy in the House of Lords were abolished. Written Republican constitutions were introduced for the first and only time in English history.
Had the Commonwealth not been driven into the ground by the successors of Cromwell and had the Restoration never taken place, we would not be debating whether the period constituted a revolution because it would have been so obvious that it was. Oh, the English revolution? You mean when they overthrew the monarchy and Britain became a Republic? How can you not call that a revolution?
But with the advent of the Restoration, the period turned out to be just a wave that crashed up on the beach and then retreated. Permanent gains were made, arbitrary Royal taxation, for example, is now dead and buried.
But those of you who know a little English history know that the really permanent gains were won in the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and 1689. That was when Parliament revolted against James II, son of Charles I and brother of Charles II, and invited William of Orange in to be King. Sensing that the country was against him, James put up hardly any fight at all. And pretty soon, William and Mary were signing the so called Revolutionary Settlement, which defined the scope of a now fully constitutional monarchy with its vastly more powerful Parliament. The Glorious Revolution essentially birthed modern Britain. And some historians considered to be the first truly modern revolution.
But looking ahead even further to the American Revolution, I very much enjoy a little anecdote that will serve to defend our English revolution.
When John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were serving in England as Ministers for the new United States of America, they made a point to visit the battlefields of both Edgehill and Worcester. And I’ll close something that John Adams wrote in his diary:
Edge Hill and Worcester were curious and interesting to us as scenes where free men had fought for their rights. The people in the neighborhood appeared so ignorant and careless at Worcester that I was provoked and asked: Do Englishmen so soon forget the ground where liberty was fought for? Tell your neighbors and your children that this is holy ground. Much holier than that on which your churches stand. All England should come in pilgrimage to this hill once a year.
Okay, so with that, I will go dark for four weeks and get myself prepared to explain the American Revolution. And when we come back on February the 9th, we’ll find ourselves right back where we started with a bunch of dudes ticked off about their taxes.
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