British Civil Wars, Commonwealth and Protectorate 1638-1660

The Rump Parliament

The name given to the Long Parliament after Pride's Purge, December 1648. Also known as the "Purged Parliament", it consisted of a small group of Independent MPs. With the support of the Army, the Rump declared itself "the supreme power in this nation" on 4 January 1649, with powers to pass Acts of Parliament without the consent of the King or the House of Lords. One of its first actions was to set up the High Court of Justice, specially convened for the trial of the King. Following the King's execution, the Rump abolished the House of Lords and the Monarchy itself.

The Rump was in an unprecedented constitutional position - for the first time, a parliament was directly responsible for governing the nation. There were no clear administrative guidelines for this new combination of executive and legislative powers. Much of its work was done through committees. This frequently led to problems of co-odination and communication, made worse because the boundaries between the Rump and the Council of State were not clearly defined.


The Rump was generally conservative. Most MPs wanted to promote Puritan "godliness", and to curb the excesses of the various millenarian sects. Acts were passed imposing penalties on adultery and fornication; the Blasphemy Act of 1650 was aimed at curbing religious extremism. Censorship was imposed in order to limit the propagation of millenarian pamphlets and a government journal giving the official version of events was published.

An Act was passed in 1650 repealing the statute that required compulsory Sunday worship. This statute dated back to the reign of Elizabeth I, and had been a mainstay of the power of the Anglican church. In 1652, a "Committee for the Propagation of the Gospel" was formed as a means of controlling the appointment of clergy. In general, the Rump was cautious in implementing church reform, making few concessions to the religious extremists.

The Law

Demands for reform of the law were made by the sectarians, the Levellers and others. Lawyers were widely despised as corrupt; the legal system was over-complex, slow and prohibitively expensive. Radicals regarded the law as the "Norman Yoke" that had oppressed England since the days of William the Conqueror. Reformers called upon the Rump to simplify arcane legal procedures and to curb the power of lawyers.

Of the 211 MPs that sat in the Commons during the Commonwealth period, nearly 50 were from the legal profession. Naturally, they were reluctant to make changes likely to weaken their privileged position. The Rump did nothing to reduce legal fees or to provide easier access to the courts for ordinary people, although more lenient punishments for debtors were introduced and the use of English in the courts rather than Latin was authorised.


The Rump raised revenue through the sale of Crown lands and Church property, through excise levies and through an Assessment Tax on land. Finance was also raised from the proceeds of confiscated Royalist estates, but this proved counter-productive because it caused resentment against the Commonwealth and discouraged reconciliation with the Royalists.

Due to the expense of military campaigns of the Third Civil War 1649-51, as well as the Anglo-Dutch war 1652, the Rump remained short of money. The demands of war and the maintenance of national security diverted the Rump's time and resources from the implementation of many proposed social reforms.

Dissolution of the Rump 1653

The Rump Parliament was never intended to be a permanent body and regarded itself as an interim government only. Up until Cromwell's decisive victory at the battle of Worcester in 1651, it was in the Army's interest to keep the Rump in power. This and other practical considerations delayed the calling of fresh elections.

After 1651, the Rump grew steadily more lethargic in implementing new legislation, but still intended to dissolve itself by the end of 1654. A committee to supervise the drafting of plans for new elections was set up. In April 1653, MPs were debating a bill that would have brought forwards its dissolution by over a year rather than delaying it. The Army was not impressed by the Rump's plans however. The qualifications in the bill suggested that the new parliament would be composed of the same interest groups and much the same MPs as the existing parliament. Radical Army officers, and Cromwell in particular, were incensed that the Rump appeared to be planning to perpetuate itself.

On 20 April 1653, Cromwell marched to Westminster at the head of a body of troops, entered the House of Commons, and told the Members that their sitting was permanently at an end and they must leave. "You have sat here too long for the good you do. In the name of God, go!''

The Rump was replaced by the Nominated Assembly and other constitutional experiments of the 1650s.

The Rump recalled 1659

After Cromwell's death in 1658, his successor Richard Cromwell was forced by Army officers and republican MPs to dissolve the third Protectorate Parliament and recall the Rump, which reassembled on 27 May 1659. By this time, the republicans of the Rump were opposed to the Protectorate and forced Richard Cromwell's resignation, but the Rump was itself expelled by Major-General Lambert on 13 October and replaced by the short-lived Committee of Safety.

At the insistence of General Monck, the Rump was reinstated on 27 December 1659. When Monck entered London in February 1660, he secured the re-admission of MPs excluded since Pride's Purge. The restored Long Parliament voted to dissolve itself on 16 March 1660 and call new elections. The pro-Royalist Convention Parliament assembled on 25 April 1660.


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