The execution of Charles I and the abolition of the monarchy were, obviously, events of profound significance. It was an inauspicious beginning for the Republic, however, that the period of the 'Commonwealth'— 649 to 1653—was marked by the government of the Rump, a minority element of the Long Parliament. This proved to be strikingly unpopular (although its corruption was exaggerated), and not overly dedicated to the current revolutionary sentiments. And from its very inception, the morale of the Republican regime was low. The Rump ruled as the Long Parliament had done, by committee, whether of the house or of the localities. The elective Council of State, successor to the Committee of Both Kingdoms, acted as the executive, and was largely civilian in make-up. The successful campaigns in Ireland and Scotland conducted under the aegis of the Commonwealth, were in fact the victories of the army and, in particular, of Cromwell, who generally sympathised with the religious policies of the Rump—mild Presbyterianism within the State Church and the flourishing of sects. In foreign policy, the Rump was aligned very closely with the commercial interests of the City of London, occasioning the Navigation Act of 1651 and the prosecution of a costly war with a potential ally, the United Provinces of the Netherlands, arising from colonial rivalry. The army viewed the civilian regime with increasing suspicion, fed partly by the Rump's unwillingness to arrive at a constitutional settlement, and partly by the propaganda of Levellers, disenchanted religious radicals and royalists. Increasing confrontation between the Rump and radical religious elements in the army headed by Major General Thomas Harrison contributed to the Rump's downfall in 1653, dissolved by Cromwell whose authority lay in the mailed fist of the force he commanded. Succeeded briefly by the Nominated Parliament, the Rump was eventually replaced in December 1653 by the Protectorate. The Nominated Parliament, mouthpiece of radical puritans in the army and known popularly as Barebone's Parliament, was an experiment that failed, but one that was apparently dear to Cromwell himself. The Protectorate itself rose upon a written constitution, the Instrument of Government, framed by John Lambert, and intended to restrict the potential for Cromwell's personal authority to develop into despotism. Cromwell may have enjoyed a marginally wider power base than had the Rump, despite being opposed by most ex-Rumpers as well as the Republic's conventional enemies.
The radical puritan element in the army needed to be suppressed, and 'purges' extended to members of the Parliaments of 1654 and 1656. The rule of the Major Generals, instituted in 1655, was a response to royalist activism but also an acknowledgement of the difficulty of reconciliation which Cromwell clearly desired. The Major Generals disappeared once Parliament pronounced against them and after 1656 there was a move towards a more civilian regime, coupled with Cromwell's rejection of the offer of a crown made by Parliament. Cromwell's reasons for refusing the crown have always been unclear but were probably partly due to his fear of the consequences, and partly due also to his concept of how the country ought in future to be governed. In 1657, however, the acceptance of the Humble Petition and Advice turned the restrictive Council of State into a subordinate body reliant upon the person of the Protector for its authority. At
Cromwell's death in 1658 the government was in serious debt as a result of heavy military expenditure, the country was involved in an increasingly unpopular war with Spain, and the army had had to be purged of restive elements. On the credit side, the national standing was high abroad, in that European countries entertained a healthy respect for the young Republic, but internally the country was unstable, not only because of rival elements within it, but chiefly because there had been no satisfactory constitutional settlement following upon the abolition of monarchy. The fall of Richard Cromwell and the return of the Rump signified this. Reconciliation of conflicting views and loyalties had proved impossible to achieve.
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