Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Order! Order! - Cromwell loses it, and dissolves Parliament

by Deborah Swift

'Depart I say, and in the name of God, go!'

On this day - 20th April  - 1653, Cromwell had finally had enough of Parliament and dismissed them all. So incensed was he, that he returned with a band of armed musketeers who were ordered to clear the chamber. Later, a notice was posted by an amused citizen, it read; 'This house is to be let; now unfurnished.'

It was the moment Cromwell arguably became a dictator, and undisputed ruler of England.

Cromwell dissolves the Rump Parliament

The Parliament that was sitting at the time was known as the 'Rump' - the rump being the back end of an animal, in other words the remnants. The remnants in this case were those Members of Parliament who in 1648 had not been purged from the Long Parliament. This was known as Pride's Purge, after Colonel Pride who carried out the orders to remove or arrest members hostile to the idea of Charles I being tried for high treason.

This left a core of about two hundred members -  a determined body of men who ignored the vote of the small number of peers still sitting in the Lords, and eventually pushed through an Act which would enable the judiciary to sentence the King to death for treason. Charles I was beheaded outside the Banqueting House in Whitehall in 1649.

Afterwards the Rump passed Acts abolishing the monarchy and the House of Lords and declared England a 'Commonwealth'. 

Most of the members of the Rump were Puritans, who wanted to restrict what they regarded as dissenters - the more extreme sects such as Quakers or Ranters. To stop these groups from preaching, they formed a Committee for the Propagation of the Gospel, which issued licenses to preach, so that Parliament would have more control over the religious activities of the people. During this time the Rump Parliament also introduced the Adultery Act in 1650, which imposed the death penalty for adultery. These measures of restrictive law-giving were designed to replace the role previously held by church (Anglican or Catholic) morality, but merely made for an atmosphere of fear and mistrust. The general malaise was not helped by the fact that when civil unrest was finally ended in 1651, confiscated Royalist estates were broken up and the proceeds spent by the new government, something that did nothing to heal the wounds of the recent Civil Wars.

The misdeeds of the Rump Parliament were popularly represented on these playing cards, The Knavery of the Rump, first published in 1679. The cards are a wonderful visual insight into the times, showing the people of London about their daily tasks. Click on the link to take you to a page with more information.

So why was Cromwell so angry with Parliament? The Rump was only intended as an interim measure, so perhaps he thought it had outlived its usefulness. It is uncertain, but it also appears from the few records we have, that their deliberations over policy had taken too long - the event is recounted by Thomas Salmon in 1723 in his Chronological Historian:

[Cromwell] commanded the Speaker to leave the Chair, and told them they had sat long enough, unless they had done more good, crying out, 
"You are no longer a Parliament, I say you are no Parliament". 
He told Sir Henry Vane he was a Jugler [sic]; Henry Martin and Sir Peter Wentworth, that they were Whoremasters; Thomas Chaloner, he was a Drunkard; and Allen the Goldsmith that he cheated the Publick: Then he bid one of his Soldiers take away that Fool's Bauble, the mace, and Thomas Harrison pulled the Speaker of the Chair; and in short Cromwell having turned them all out of the House, lock'd up the Doors and returned to Whitehall.

It appears Cromwell had really lost his temper!

A month after these events, realizing that governing alone put him in a rather awkward position, and on the advice of the Army, Cromwell sent a request to the recognized churches in every county, asking for nominations for a new Parliament. This new government was nicknamed the tongue-in-cheek "Assembly of Saints" or Barebones' Parliament (named after Barebones, one of its members).

Find out more about my novels set in this period on my website

Goodreads Giveaway Shadow on the Highway
Goodreads Giveaway Spirit of the Highway

Chat to me on Goodreads this Thursday as part of the Virtual Historical Fiction Festival.

BCW Project
British Parliament Website
Stuart England by Blair Worden
Early Modern England - J A Sharpe
The English Civil War - Maurice Ashley


  1. Cromwell the Dictator is an excellent example of how power corrupts. Thanks for the post.

  2. Fun post. But just to clarify, the remnant (or Rump) were not those purged, but those that remained as MPs AFTER Pride's purge

  3. As American we do not know that. In the English speaking world there are three faiths that one can believe in.
    1. These are only three possibilities .
    a) The Established (by Henry VIII) church in UK the Queen and her government, commonly known as C of E's
    b) The Holy Roman Catholic Church,. commonly known as RC's
    c) Non-conformist, Puritan's and all others (in USA the first presidents and the early government). Washington (son of a C of E minister) and many others at the time were more in revolt against the King as head of church and government than against him as King himself.

    Thank you for the article,

  4. The Rump Parliament and Puritanism!? No wonder London welcomed back Charles II in a delirium of ecstasy! lol!

    Fascinating time! Thanks

    1. Hi Anne and John, thank you for stopping by and commenting. I think some welcomed him back with ecstasy, and some with the determination to assassinate him as soon as possible!!

  5. Deborah, I had endless fun at that playing card site, thanks for the link!

  6. Excellent post, I really enjoyed that.


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