Cromwell's period of personal rule as Protector, which began on 16 December, merely legalised his position as the single most important leader in post-monarchical England. It may be that Cromwell sought to make his authority constitutional, as the Instrument of Government allowed for, and it may also be that his objectives fell far short of dictatorship. However, his power base was narrow, being opposed not only by royalists at home and in exile, but also by the large Presbyterian faction, disillusioned republicans, and radicals within the army command. In a sense, the rule of the Major Generals was a response to the royalist risings of 1655, but it was also the result of a need to reorganise the army which, serving in England, Scotland and Ireland, was a considerable drain on the limited financial resources of the government. The Major Generals, war-hardened professional soldiers, proved themselves efficient in carrying through Cromwell's programme, but their involvement in local government alienated the country at large, and the long-term effects of their activities were felt long after the Restoration.
In the summer of 1655 the decision was taken and implemented to reduce the costs of the armed forces— by cutting both their numbers and their pay, but the standing army was thenceforth to be assisted by a supplementary militia about 6,500 strong organised on a regional basis, similar to the situation which had prevailed in the West Country under John Disbrowe. According to the instructions issued on 22 August 1655, the Major Generals were not only to train and lead the militia troops under them, but were also to be responsible for controlling the activities of royalist suspects and other malcontents, as well as generally assisting the civil authorities, the JPs and their subordinates, in routine matters. A decimation tax was also to be levied on royalists worth £100 a year or upwards to finance the militia. Cromwell's centralisation policy proved far more effective than that attributed to Charles I and his ministers had ever done, and the association of some Major Generals with repressive puritan morality drives and excessive vigour in organising the JPs further undermined the Protectorate's support in the country. At first there were ten regions, later eleven, divided between William Goffe, Thomas Kelsey, John Disbrowe, Charles Fleetwood, John Barkstead, Edward Whalley, Philip Skippon, William Butler, James Berry, Charles Worsley and John Lambert. Since, however, Fleetwood and Lambert were members of Cromwell's Council, they were able to appoint deputies in their regions, the North going to Charles Howard and Robert Lilburn, and Fleetwood's area divided between Hezekiah Haynes and Tobias Bridge, although Bridge was shortly replaced by William Packer, who also acted in Buckinghamshire in consort with George Fleetwood. Early in 1656 South Wales was added to the vast territory, including North Wales, administered by James Berry, and the latter was also empowered to employ deputies, Rowland Dawkins and John Nicholas. Although they might interfere in local government, and proved competent at repressing dissident political activity, the Major Generals' powers were chiefly felt in urban centres, and they had little impact on the influence of country gentry long established in their shires. The election campaign of the summer of 1656 was marked by the Major Generals' efforts to enforce their own choices on voters for the proposed Parliament, and resistance
from former political associates of Cromwell who equated the generals with the court of a new, personal, ruler. The fact that the Council of State had to exclude many elected MPs indicated the Major Generals' failure. At the year's end, efforts in Parliament to have the decimation tax extended failed, and the generals came under severe criticism in January 1657. The system of which they were the instruments was abandoned in that year.
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