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Blair Worden professor of history at the School of English and American Studies at the University of Sussex answered your questions about Cromwell.


How did the Puritans' and Cromwell's 'personal relationship with God' differ from that of more conservative members of the Church of England? What implications did this have in terms of the Civil Wars to come?

Broadly speaking, there were two kinds of Protestants in pre-Civil War England: 'Anglicans' (though the term was not in common usage) and 'Puritans' (though the term was a disparaging one, not used by those to whom it was applied).

Anglicans believed that the Reformation of the 16th century, though right in itself, had gone too far, and that the place of order, ceremony and ritual in religion was now inadequately respected, especially by grasping landlords who had acquired much control of the Church and who now gave its buildings and clergy too little support.

What to Anglicans seemed decent observance seemed to Puritans idolatry. The set rhythms of the Prayer Book dulled the soul; man-made images polluted it; and the sacramental stature given by Anglicans to the clergy was another wicked human invention. Those evils cut off the lifeline of salvation between God and the individual believer. For Puritans, the proper centre of worship lay not in forms or rituals but in fervent sermons, which should smite the hearers with a sense of their own wickedness and open their souls to the strenuous process of conversion. Cromwell's commitment to preaching and his revulsion at the High Church policies of the 1630s were the formative influences of his career.

Religion was by no means the only source of the divisions that led to war. There were constitutional issues, too. Besides, there were many divisions within both Anglican and Puritan camps. Nevertheless the Civil Wars were essentially between defenders and opponents of the Anglican Prayer Book. And it was the intensity of their Puritan faith that steeled Cromwell and those close to him to carry out revolutionary deeds.

Suggested reading

English Puritanism by Patrick Collinson (Historical Association, 2nd rev ed 1987)
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English Puritanism 1603-1689 by John Spurr (Palgrave, 1998)
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Many unusual occurrences in the 17th century including fires in London and lightning bolts in churches were blamed on Catholic plots. Were there any real plots at this time or were they just figments of the popular imagination?

Fears about Catholicism fed on one memory above all: the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. From then on, Catholicism was associated with combustion especially in the crowded streets of London, where wooden buildings easily caught fire.

Five years after the plot, the assassination by a Jesuit of the Protestant convert Henry IV of France intensified the sense that the lives of England's leaders were at permanent risk. After all, the papacy had ordered English Catholics (to the embarrassment and dismay of most of them) to kill Elizabeth I. In an age of uncertain communications, stories about the underground infiltration of Catholic priests and Jesuit missionaries were easily believed.

Anti-Catholicism had its paranoid aspect, never more so than in the year or two before the outbreak of the Civil Wars. The forging of English national identity since the Reformation, and especially under Queen Elizabeth, had thrived on the identification of popery as an imminent external threat, backed by the great monarchies of Spain and France. As Lord Protector, Cromwell would play on the same sentiment in urging Parliament to finance his war with Spain.

But in one sense, anti-Catholicism was rational enough. In the 1630s and 1640s, Charles I, and more particularly his Catholic French wife, were in close touch with papal agents who dangled prospects of military and financial aid in return for England's conversion to Catholicism, or at least for the toleration of English Catholics. There were many Catholics or crypto-Catholics at court and at high levels of society.

So while it was unjust of the Puritans to label the High Church Anglicanism of the 1630s 'popish', and they were mistaken in their belief that there was a deep-laid conspiracy to reduce the country to popish despotism, the mistrust provoked by Charles I among men who had no direct knowledge of his thinking is understandable.

Suggested reading

The Outbreak of the English Civil War by Anthony Fletcher (Hodder Arnold, 1981). Out of print.

Charles I and the Popish Plot by Caroline Hibbard (University of North Carolina Press, 1983). Out of print.


In October 1641, there was a rebellion in Ireland. Many atrocities by Irish Catholics including the massacre of 300,000 or more Protestants were reported, which enraged the English. Was there any truth behind these reports?

Yes, there was, but it is not easy to pick out the grisly truth from the exaggerations of the anti-Irish and anti-Catholic propaganda that the rising provoked.

Perhaps hundreds, maybe thousands of English settlers were butchered, and a much larger number may have been stripped of their clothes, evicted from their homes and left to wander naked and penniless in the cold autumn nights, though many of them at last found refuge in Dublin. The families of crown officials and clergymen were in special danger. But the massive estimates of the dead that circulated in the 1640s one of them endorsed by the poet John Milton were sometimes higher than the overall number of settlers.

The massacre confirmed the English view of the native Irish as savages. In 1649, Cromwell would justify his massacre at Drogheda as 'a righteous judgement of God upon these barbarous wretches, who have imbrued their hands in so much innocent blood'.

Suggested reading

The Outbreak of the English Civil War by Anthony Fletcher (Hodder Arnold, 1981). Out of print.

Ireland from Independence to Occupation, 1641-1660, edited by Jane H Ohlmeyer (Cambridge University Press, 2002)
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Before the outbreak of civil war, Parliament wrung quite a few compromises out of Charles I. What were some of these?

Charles I did make substantial concessions in 1641, though the hope that he would do the same when war approached in 1642 and in the peace negotiations held during and after the First Civil War proved illusory. He agreed to the execution of Strafford, the man identified by the Puritan leaders as the king's most dangerous adviser. He agreed to the abolition of the prerogative courts of Star Chamber and High Commission. Star Chamber was hated for its role in the suppression of political dissent, though most of its work had been uncontroversial and benign. High Commission was the supreme ecclesiastical court and had been a key instrument in the enforcement of the High Church Anglicanism of the 1630s.

Charles's two other main concessions concerned Parliament. He agreed to the Triennial Act, which required him to call parliaments at least once every three years, so that henceforth there could be no repeat of the non-parliamentary rule of the 1630s. He also agreed to the measure which was justified by MPs as an emergency step but which immensely strengthened its hand that Parliament could not be dissolved without its own consent. The king's concessions were large, but to his bewilderment and exasperation, they failed to reduce the momentum of Parliament's attacks on him.

Suggested reading

The English Civil War: Conservatism and revolution 1603-1649 by Robert Ashton (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, rev ed 1997)
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Rebellion or Revolution? by Gerald Aylmer. Out of print.


Cromwell is said to have had a remarkable talent for warfare. How was this demonstrated on the field of battle?

Cromwell's contribution to Parliament's victory in the First Civil War is often exaggerated. Not until the great battles of Marston Moor (1644) and Naseby (1645) did he have a decisive effect on the fortunes of the war, and even in the case of Marston Moor, his importance is disputed. It was during the Second Civil War, in those rapid and dramatic campaigns in Wales and the north of England, that his supreme talents became evident. Even then, accident played its part: the role he acquired in that war might have been given to his fellow-commander Thomas Fairfax, who has his own claims to military greatness. Then came the crowning triumphs: Cromwell's brutal campaign in Ireland (1649-50) and the protracted one in Scotland (1650-1).

For all his achievements in battle, Cromwell was not a great military strategist or innovator. Perhaps the scale of the Civil Wars was too small for epic strategic achievement. Unlike many commanders (especially among the Scots) who had fought in continental wars in the 1620s and 1630s, he seems to have had no experience of fighting before the Civil Wars, and he had to learn as he went along.

His great gift, alongside his own lightning powers of resolution, was his capacity to instil discipline in his men and to sustain their morale against the most daunting of odds and difficulties. There were brave soldiers on both sides of the Civil Wars, especially among the Royalists at Marston Moor. However, the sense of mission and belief and the habits of rapid obedience that Cromwell bred in his men an aptitude evident from the early stages of the war when he raised and trained his 'Ironsides' in East Anglia turned the course of the Puritan Revolution.

Suggested reading

Cromwell: Portrait of a Soldier by John Gillingham (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1976). Out of print.

'Cromwell as a Soldier' by Austin Woolrych, in Cromwell and the English Revolution, edited by John Morrill (Longman, 1990)
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Cromwell is said to have believed in the 'spiritual equality' of all men. What stopped him from extending this to political equality?

Equality was not an idea of much appeal or interest to Cromwell. He did believe in the direct relationship of the individual believer before God, and he did oppose man-made hierarchies in the Church that interfered with that relationship. But Puritans hardly thought of people as 'equals': they thought that some were predestined by their maker to eternal life, others to eternal hellfire.

We tend to think of equality as a 'right'. We think of freedom of belief and worship, too, as a 'right'. Cromwell wanted a large degree of such freedom, but he was scarcely interested in human rights. What he was concerned about were God's rights the right of God's name to be known in the world, and the right of the Gospels to shine forth and bring believers to salvation.

Cromwell's attitude to social organisation and social structure was conventional and traditional. He had nothing against hierarchy in the state or society. He was easily persuaded that the proposals of the Levellers would lead to anarchy. He did not share few Puritans did the notion of the Fifth Monarchists, who thought that God wanted his elected 'saints' to seize power and subjugate the unregenerate. His views were in harmony with those of the country gentlemen who filled the benches of mid-17th-century parliaments.

Suggested reading

The Lord Protector by R S Paul. Out of print.

The Crisis of the 17th Century: Religion, the Reformation and social change by Hugh Trevor-Roper (first published 1967; Liberty Fund Inc, 2001): Chapter 7.
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What impact did the new growth of journalism have on the Parliamentarian cause?

The collapse of government in 1640-2 transformed the world of publishing. The disintegration of the system of censorship, which hitherto had restricted the circulation of printed news, and the public excitement generated by revolutionary events, created a new mass market that printers and journalists were quick to exploit.

They saw the benefits of a simple, direct, earthy prose, in which information could be imparted, alongside comment and propaganda, in cheap formats. Weekly newsbooks, which pioneered methods of reporting from Parliament or from the military front, competed for readership. Controversial pamphlets appeared in their thousands, debating the political, religious and social issues of the time.

The best journalism of the Civil Wars was the wittiest, and can be found in the Royalist newsbook Mercurius Aulicus and its Parliamentarian rival Mercurius Britanicus. Both works had a populist tinge. Royalists, it is true, were sometimes torn between their desire to win the public to their cause and a disdain for the vulgar methods needed to do so. Parliament's control of London and its presses gave it an advantage in the propaganda war. Still, even after the Cavaliers' defeat, Royalist publications remained a lively force.

The new genre of publication brought great polemical works before the public in accessible form, among them Milton's prose works and the tracts of the Levellers and Diggers. This was the first age of journalism, and although some fresh curbs were placed on the press after the Restoration, popular publishing was here to stay.

Just how many readers the newsbooks and pamphlets attracted and how far they converted people to their causes is very hard to say, though the appetite for them is evident enough. Often printed works seem to have been read aloud in taverns or other elsewhere, and so could be followed by those who could not read easily or at all.

Suggested reading

The Beginnings of the English Newspaper, 1620-1660 by Joseph Frank (Harvard University Press/Oxford University Press, 1961). Out of print.

Sir John Berkenhead by P W Thomas. Out of print.


Why did Parliament ally with the Scots in 1643 and then fall out with them?

In normal circumstances, there was little love lost between the English and the Scots. The two countries were separate sovereign states, though they happened to be ruled by the same dynasty. It was Charles I's attempt to anglicise Scottish religion that set off the train of events that led to civil war in England. However, although the English Parliamentarians sympathised with the Scottish rebels, they had no longing to involve themselves in Scottish affairs.

In 1643, at the darkest hour of the English Parliamentarian cause, Parliament reluctantly agreed to a treaty the Solemn League and Covenant that brought the forces of their Scottish co-religionists into England on their side. But the alliance was fraught with tension. The English hated the Scottish soldiers and their alleged tendency to plunder. The Scots came into the English war to prevent a repeat of the anglicising policies of Charles I north of the border. To that end, they were determined to impose on England a Puritan (or Presbyterian) Church and faith of such rigidity that the zeal and intolerance of English Puritans paled beside it.

The Scottish contribution to the Parliamentarian war effort won little gratitude from the English, and once the war was won, the Scottish presence seemed a burden. The Scots in any case had to contend with the survival of Royalist feeling in their own land and could scarcely afford the absence of their forces from their homeland. Their bargaining hand in England was strengthened in 1646, when Charles I chose to surrender into Scottish hands. However, despite this, they were unable to achieve their religious goals, and in 1647, Parliament bought the king from them for £400,000 and the Scottish army headed home.

Henceforth the English would experience incursions not from their former Scottish allies but from Scottish Royalists in the invasion of 1648, which Cromwell defeated at Preston, and in the further invasion of 1651, which he defeated at Worcester.

Suggested reading

The Scottish Revolution 1637-44 by David Stevenson (first published 1973; John Donald Publishers, 2003)
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The Crisis of the 17th Century: Religion, the Reformation and social change by Hugh Trevor-Roper (first published 1967; Liberty Fund Inc, 2001): Chapter 8.
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Why did the demands of the Levellers for increased democracy as seen at the Putney Debates of 1647 fail? Why wasn't there a resurgence of these demands during the Commonwealth?

The demand for an extension of the vote the 'franchise' was not a central aim of the Levellers, and they were divided over it. Just before the Putney Debates, some of them produced a document The Case of the Army Truly Stated calling for a widespread expansion of the electorate, and during the debates, there were those who argued that 'the poorest he that is in England' was entitled to the vote. But others saw dangers in the idea: they feared that the tenants of Royalist landlords would vote as they were told, or that demagogues might whip up reactionary feelings among a populace tired of the Long Parliament and resentful of military occupation.

The Levellers did not place the issue of the franchise on the agenda at Putney. The subject was actually raised by the army officer Henry Ireton, who wanted to expose what he thought of as the hidden radicalism of the Leveller demands. In reading the Putney Debates, it is worth remembering that the Levellers had not expected the subject to be introduced and had not come prepared with arguments supporting it.

Two other omissions in the Levellers' demands may strike modern readers: first, they did not call for a secret ballot in elections; and second, they did not call for votes for women.

What the Levellers did want, and did agree about, was the need to redistribute the parliamentary constituencies. The system of representation had grown up in a haphazard way. Some thinly populated counties and regions were much better represented than heavily populated ones. For instance, Cornwall had 44 seats, Essex only 8.

This hadn't seemed to matter before the Civil Wars, when Parliament met only occasionally and had a limited political function. It did matter in the 1640s, when the Long Parliament became, in effect, the government and acquired huge executive powers. Parliament fought the wars as the 'representative of the people', but was plainly geographically unrepresentative.

The issue of redistribution was much less controversial than the franchise. The army officers agreed with the Levellers about it; so did the Rump Parliament, which ruled from 1649 to 1653. Cromwell's Protectorate overhauled the system of representation along lines close to those the Levellers had planned. It was a change as extensive as that of the Great Reform Act of 1832, though, like most of the Puritan reforms, it did not long survive Cromwell's death.

Suggested reading

'The Levellers and the Franchise' by Keith Thomas, in The Interregnum, edited by Gerald Aylmer. Out of print.

Puritanism and Liberty: Being the Army debates (1647-49) from the Clarke Manuscripts, edited by A S P Woodhouse (first published 1950; Phoenix, 1992). Out of print.
Contains the text of the Putney Debates.

The Rump Parliament, 1648-53 by Blair Worden (Cambridge University Press, 1977): Chapter 8.
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Why didn't Parliament get other parts of the army to remove the troops under Colonel Thomas Pride, who purged Parliament of those opposed to the king's trial to form the 'Rump'?

At the end of the First Civil War in 1645, the Parliamentary armies were a miscellany. The New Model Army, formed in the winter of 1644/5, had been the chief instrument of victory, but there were other Parliamentary armies in the field, too. The New Model itself contained officers and soldiers of varying political views. As in Parliament, there were some in the armies who wanted to impose a harsh settlement on the defeated king, which would make it impossible for him to resume his pre-war powers and policies. Others wanted a negotiated settlement that would restore him with a degree of honour.

By the end of 1647, the situation had changed. The New Model was the only Parliamentary army still in being, Parliament having disbanded the others. It had tried, in the spring of 1647, to disband the greater part of the New Model, but had encountered insuperable resistance from men determined to have their arrears of salary paid and other grievances met.

Over the spring and summer, the New Model was radicalised. The politically more moderate of the officers were driven away, and Cromwell and his allies secured control of the regiments they left behind. Although there was strain between Cromwell and the Levellers and other dissenting groups, the Second Civil War in 1648 brought the New Model together. The Levellers continued to agitate but had lost their influence, though they would regain it for a time after the execution of the king.

In the summer of 1647, the parliamentary moderates tried to create an alternative army from regiments outside the New Model and from the local militia regiments in the City of London, but the army's march on London in August 1647 thwarted that plan. So in December 1648 at the time of Pride's Purge the armed forces were pretty well united, and the parliamentary majority that wanted to restore the king had no forces behind it.

Suggested reading

The Nature of the English Revolution: Essays by John Morrill (Longman, 1993): Chapter 17.
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Pride's Purge: Politics and the Puritan revolution by David Underdown (HarperCollins, 1985). Out of print.


At his trial in January 1649, was there any chance that Charles I could have been found innocent of the charges against him or at least avoided the death sentence?

It is hard to tell, for the proceedings of Cromwell and others behind the scenes of the trial are scantily recorded. Cromwell himself had been a slow and reluctant convert to the plan to bring Charles to justice. He had not been involved in Pride's Purge, which permanently fractured that unity of the Parliamentary cause that Cromwell had struggled to retain, and he wanted to bring back as many of the purged MPs as possible into the Commons. There are stories of negotiations between Cromwell and Charles, and of a plan to replace Charles with his young son, Henry, Duke of Gloucester, who unlike his elder brothers, Charles and James, had not been involved in the war.

But the feeling in the army in favour of the king's execution was overwhelming. First, the series of risings that had constituted the Second Civil War in 1648, and the strength of Royalist feeling that persisted after it, had pointed to a grim conclusion. However many victories the New Model Army won, its cause could never be safe as long as Charles remained alive. There is a parallel with Charles's grandmother Mary Queen of Scots, to whose execution Elizabeth I had finally agreed to preserve the security of her realm.

Second, the army leadership had become convinced that God had marked out for vengeance the king that tyrant and 'man of blood' whose wicked policies had brought untold slaughter to his country and that his captors had a duty to execute him. They were particularly impressed by Genesis 9: 6 'Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed.'

By the time he was brought to trial, Charles's fate was probably sealed. The procedures of 17th-century treason trials were heavily weighted against the accused, and he would have had no chance of arguing his way to safety or of being found innocent.

Suggested reading

Pride's Purge: Politics and the Puritan revolution by David Underdown (HarperCollins, 1985). Out of print.

The Trial of Charles I by C V Wedgwood (first published 1964; Penguin, 2001)
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On 20 April 1653, Cromwell and the New Model Army dissolved the Rump Parliament. Why did Cromwell do this? What were his objections to the way that Parliament was operating?

After the defeat of Charles II and the Scots at the battle of Worcester in September 1651, which concluded the last of his military campaigns, Cromwell returned to civilian politics. He had an unrivalled personal authority, but constitutionally he was only one of the hundred and more MPs active in the House of Commons, and he and the army had to deal with a Parliament suspicious and resentful of the army's claim to a say in its decision-making. MPs did not think they had defied the tyranny of Charles I in order to experience military rule in its place.

Cromwell wanted two things from Parliament: godly reform and political settlement. First, reform. He wanted a godly commonwealth, where godly magistrates and godly clergy would ally to secure the preaching of God's word, liberty of conscience for Puritans of all shades, the suppression of vice, and a legal system freed from corruption. He commissioned detailed proposals to implement these aims and was infuriated by Parliament's resistance to them.

Second, settlement. Here Cromwell was less sure of what he wanted. He was never a republican, and those who were republicans suspected him of an ambition to make himself king. For the time being, at least, Cromwell did accept the sovereignty of Parliament, but if it were to rule, it must be accountable. The Rump must dissolve and make way for regularly elected parliaments. Parliament's reply was that, until the new regime had won the nation's hearts and minds, fresh elections would be suicidal. Cromwell saw the point, but was exasperated by the vacillations and the worldly conduct and calculations of MPs. Pushed on by radical groups in and outside the army, he forcibly dissolved the Rump Parliament in an astonishing fit of anger.

It was Cromwell's belief that, in the Civil Wars, God had marked out England for a role in the divine scheme of history equivalent to that of the Israelites of the Old Testament. He and his soldiers, as their seemingly miraculous run of victories had confirmed, were 'instruments of providence'. There had been massive obstacles to overcome, but finally the Royalists and papists had been defeated in the three kingdoms. Now at last, Cromwell hoped, the land could be made fit for God's eyes. Instead he encountered godlessness not among his enemies but among his former friends. The government remained in the hands of those who seemed to be, not agents of God's will, but politicians observing the ordinary rules of political behaviour.

Suggested reading

Commonwealth to Protectorate by Austin Woolrych (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, new ed 2000)
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The Rump Parliament, 1648-53 by Blair Worden (Cambridge University Press, 1977): Chapter 8.
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Cromwell became Lord Protector in December 1653. How did his powers differ from those of Charles I?

The main difference was that, whereas Charles I had ruled by an unwritten constitution, Cromwell ruled by a written one. Before the Civil Wars, arguments about the constitution had been conducted (as they are now) mainly on the basis of custom and precedent. An action had been legal if it had conformed to past practice. Charles I's rule had shown his opponents the limitations of that outlook. There had been two main difficulties: the problem of 'evil counsel' and the problem of securing regular meetings of Parliament.

First, evil counsel. Except in the unusual circumstances of the later 1640s, 17th-century politicians were careful not to voice criticisms of the monarch. They blamed disasters not on the king but on his advisers or counsellors, who, they said, had misled him. The difficulty was to identify those advisers and hold them accountable. The answer seemed to be to make the king's council a fixed body whose membership was known and whose advice to the king could, if necessary, be made public.

Second, regular parliaments. Charles I was constitutionally entitled to summon and dissolve parliaments entirely at will.

The Instrument of Government the constitution that made Cromwell Lord Protector addressed those problems. It provided a named council that could check any arbitrary tendencies in the ruler. It also provided for regular parliaments of fixed duration. And, finally, it arranged a series of checks and balances among Protector, council and Parliament.

Suggested reading

Cromwell and the Interregnum: The essential readings, edited by David L Smith (Blackwell, 2003)
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Oliver Cromwell by Peter Gaunt (Blackwell, 1997)
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Cromwell protested against the hypocrisy of fellow Puritans who, once in power, persecuted others for their religious beliefs. How did the Puritans react to Cromwell's support for religious tolerance?

Liberty of conscience was the principle to which Cromwell was most intransigently committed and the one that caused him most problems. He did not want an unlimited toleration. Although, for pragmatic reasons, he sometimes turned a blind eye towards Catholic or Anglican worship, his goal was liberty only for the Puritan godly, who worshipped in varying ways.

Cromwell was not alone in that aim, but he was outside the Parliamentarian mainstream. Most Puritans were shocked by diversity of religious belief. They thought that a uniform basis of worship and belief had been laid down by God and that any deviation from this was an affront to him and certain to provoke divine retribution. In particular, the Presbyterians, the Puritan group that had commanded the widest support in the Long Parliament, were horrified by the proliferation of outlandish sects and heresies in and outside the New Model Army.

As in politics, so in religion Cromwell as Lord Protector wanted to reunify the Parliamentary cause. He strove for a Church settlement that would bring together the three main Puritan groupings the Presbyterians, Congregationalists and Baptists. However, the Presbyterians were appalled by the teachings of the other two groups, and they exerted constant pressure on the Protector to curtail the degree of liberty of conscience permitted by the Instrument of Government.

Yet despite the extremes of religious radicalism in the 1650s, the contempt in which the Puritan clergy were largely held and the disastrous effect of Puritan divisions on campaigns to 'puritanise' the nation drove some, especially among the younger generation, to think they might gain more from working with Cromwell than against him. By the later Protectorate, many of the more hard-line Puritans were making concessions to the principle of liberty of conscience, which helps to explains why, in the Humble Petition and Advice of 1657, Parliament, to Cromwell's delight, gave constitutional sanction to the principle.

Suggested reading

'Cromwell's Religion' by J C Davis, in Cromwell and the English Revolution, edited by John Morrill (Longman, 1990)
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'Toleration and the Cromwellian Protectorate' by Blair Worden, in Studies in Church History, 1984


The New Model Army continued in existence throughout the Commonwealth, unlike previous armies that had stood down once a crisis was over. How did the army manage to continue? How were they paid?

Cromwell had no wish for permanent military rule and he did succeed in reducing the size of the army, but he dared not disband it. The Puritan regimes were unpopular, and his army was an essential bulwark both against rebellion at home and against invasion headed by the exiled Charles II, perhaps in alliance with France or Spain. It was also his own power base. Without it at his back, his policies of godly reform stood little chance. Finally, the army, together with Robert Blake's navy, could transform England's standing in international relations, which under the early Stuarts had been so feeble.

A standing army of around 50,000 men was a massive presence in the community and it required together with the navy huge levels of taxation. The irony of the Puritan Revolution that protest against, among other things, centralisation and new and arbitrary taxes was that it greatly increased the powers and revenues of the central government.

One hated Puritan innovation was the excise, a commodity tax. Most of the burden, however, fell on the land, which was taxed by the 'assessment'. Under the Rump Parliament, the assessment rose at one point to £120,000 a month. Cromwell succeeded in reducing it to £60,000, a politically astute but financially risky and perhaps even disastrous move.

The Rump had found another major source of revenue in the confiscation and sale of Royalists' lands. By the time of the Protectorate, however, that source had been largely exhausted. To finance the rule of the major-generals in 1655-6, Cromwell infuriated the Royalists and antagonised many of his own supporters by imposing a 10% tax (the 'decimation') on the income of those who had supported the king in the Civil Wars. The move contravened the Act of Pardon and Oblivion of 1652, which, with Cromwell's support, had called an end to retrospective punishment of the Royalists. In any case, the yield of the decimation failed to meet the costs of the major-generals' regime.

Suggested reading

Cromwell's Major-Generals: Godly government during the English Revolution by Christopher Durston (Manchester University Press, 2001)
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Cromwell's Army: History of the English soldier during the civil wars, the Commonwealth and the Protectorate by Sir Charles Harding Firth (Greenhill Books, 1992). Out of print.

The New Model Army: In England, Scotland and Ireland, 1645-1653 by Ian Gentles (Blackwell, 1994). Out of print.


How did Cromwell come to be succeeded as Lord Protector by his son Richard?

The Humble Petition and Advice, the parliamentary constitution accepted by Cromwell in 1657, left the nomination of Cromwell's successor to him. Parliament had been careful to avoid making the Protectorate automatically hereditary, a move that would have been bitterly opposed by the army. It is possible that Cromwell considered other candidates besides Richard. But those MPs who promoted the Humble Petition saw Cromwell's naming his son as successor as a step towards the restoration of the ancient constitution and expected the hereditary principle to be restored with time.

Cromwell faced a dilemma. He was very sensitive to the charge that, for all his talk of godly reformation, he was merely replacing the House of Stuart with the House of Cromwell. But he knew that a return towards the old constitutional forms might be essential if Puritan rule were to acquire roots and permanence.

His characteristic response was to postpone a decision. Some of those at his deathbed claimed that, in his final illness, he had nominated Richard, but whether they told the truth is a matter of debate. It suited the more conservative of his counsellors to assume that Richard had been named, and the more radical of the army officers grudgingly went along with the claim. Both groups told themselves that Richard's rule might suit them better than Oliver's, the conservatives because Richard had no following in the army and was instinctively in favour of civilian rule, the radicals because they thought they could control him as they had never been able to control his father.

It would have taken an exceptional successor to match the elder Cromwell's personal authority. Richard had no exceptional qualities and the army officers toppled him in the spring of 1659.

Suggested reading

Oliver Cromwell and the Rule of the Puritans in England by Sir Charles Harding Firth (first published 1900; University Press of the Pacific, 2003)
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'Last Quests for a Settlement' by Austin Woolrych, in The Interregnum, edited by Gerald Aylmer. Out of print.


What happened to Cromwell's remains after his corpse was ordered by Charles II to be hanged at Tyburn in January 1661?

On 30 January 1661, the 12th anniversary of the execution of Charles I, Cromwell's body was exhumed from its resting-place in Westminster Abbey, together with those of his son-in-law Henry Ireton and the president of the regicide court John Bradshaw. The corpses were dragged to Tyburn and hanged on scaffolds. A large crowd, reportedly running into thousands, came to look.

At sunset, the bodies were taken down. The corpses were buried in a pit nearby, but the heads were taken to Westminster Hall, where Charles had been tried, and placed on spikes. Cromwell's memory would be vilified for decades to come.

[Editor: It is said that Cromwell's head was buried in the chapel at his alma mater Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, in 1960 (no one knows where it had been kept during the intervening 299 years).]

Suggested reading

Constructing Cromwell: Ceremony, portrait and print 1645-1661 by Laura Lunger Knoppers (Cambridge University Press, 2000): Chapter 6.
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How many of Cromwell's officers came from country towns like he did?
Robin, Ilford

I wonder if, by 'country towns', you mean 'county towns' or perhaps 'towns outside London'? Of the very many officers who served under Cromwell, we don't know the family and geographical backgrounds of a high proportion. Among the officers who were fairly close to him, the only one who comes to mind as originating from a county town or a large provincial one is Colonel Matthew Thomlinson, who came from York.


In the programme, mention was made of a Puritan preacher by the name of Tookey. I would appreciate any information that you might have on him and details of his influence on Cromwell.
John, Redhill

John Tookey was a Puritan 'lecturer' at St Ives (then in Huntingdonshire, now in Cambridgeshire) where Cromwell lived. Lecturers were different from the main body of the clergy in that their jobs were not attached to a particular church building. Instead they were financed by voluntary contributions from people who wanted them to preach God's word. Puritans Cromwell among them saw in them a vital means of religious conversion. In the 1630s, under the regime of Archbishop Laud, they were suppressed, and Tookey's lectureship was stopped by authority in 1635.

The evidence for Cromwell's early life when no one knew he would be famous, so people didn't write down much about him is scanty, and we cannot be sure about his relationship with Tookey. It's been speculated that it was Tookey who won Cromwell over to Puritanism, but we can't tell. Puritans tended to form close-knit communities, and once Cromwell had been converted, it is likely that the two men were close. For more, see Oliver Cromwell and the English Revolution, edited by John Morrill (Longman, 1990), pages 34-9.


How would things be different now if Cromwell had not existed?
Rod, Buffalo, New York, USA

Alas, we could never know! One slight change in the sequence of history if, say, Cromwell had died of illness, as he was in danger of doing in 1647 and 1651 and all manner of things would have been different.

He didn't make much impact on the course of events until well into the Civil Wars, and it's possible that, without him, Parliament would still have won, but what would have happened afterwards is anyone's guess. There were plenty of people in the army and in Parliament who wanted the same sorts of things that he did. However, it is doubtful whether any of them could have been so dominant and forceful an influence on events, or would have been able to hold the revolution together during and after the execution of Charles I, or could have created a regime as effective as the Protectorate was while he lived. The collapse of the Protectorate under Cromwell's son Richard suggests how much hung on Oliver's own personality.

Cromwell's rule gave the English the experience of liberty of conscience, and it gave England a might abroad that it hadn't had since the Middle Ages and wouldn't regain until after the Revolution of 1688. But following his death, the Puritan cause fell apart, and you can argue that the most lasting consequence of Puritan rule was the reaction against it. In 1660, monarchy and the Church of England came back with a vengeance, and for a century and a half, Cromwell's name was vilified. Only in the 19th century did he come to seem a heroic figure.


I am interested in the part Judge John Bradshawe played in Parliament after the execution of Charles I. His name is the first one on the execution warrant of the king. Was he, as I have read, the first and only president of England? VB, Manchester

Although the lawyer John Bradshaw of Cheshire was not 'president of England', he was, first, president of the court that tried Charles I, and then, from 1649 to 1651, president of the Council of State, the executive arm of the Parliament of the Commonwealth (of which he was not a member, so he did not have to attend debates in the Commons and had time to concentrate on council business). He chaired the meetings in which the council discussed the principles and details of military, naval and foreign policy and the security of the regime.

One of his critics said that, as chairman, he talked too much, and Cromwell was said to be among those eager for his removal. In the end, Parliament decided to rotate the chairmanship monthly, so Bradshaw lost his post.

He fiercely opposed Cromwell's dissolution of Parliament and his rule as protector. He enjoyed great respect among republicans and was praised by the poet John Milton (in Latin) as 'a name which liberty itself, wherever she is respected, has commended for celebration to everlasting memory'.

I don't think there has been a biographical study of him (which is a pity), but you could find out more about him in his entry in the Dictionary of National Biography.

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Do you have examples of how ordinary people contributed to the 'war effort' on either side?
MD, Kent

The obvious way in which people contributed to the war effort was by fighting. The armies were a mixture of people, some of whom fought from conviction some with great bravery and others who fought for pay: sometimes the captured soldiers of a defeated army simply went over to the other side.

But there were many other ways of contributing (from whatever motive) to the war. There were the makers of ammunition and clothing, the suppliers of food, the people who built fortifications to defend towns. What would today be called 'working class' people played a huge role in all of this.

In 1647, the Levellers articulated the feeling that ordinary soldiers had been used by upper-class officers for their own purposes. Thomas Rainsborough's plea in the Putney Debates for the right of 'the poorest he that is in England' to vote in parliamentary elections reflects that mood.

Within the armies, the cavalry, who often supplied their own horses, tended to come from better-off backgrounds than the infantry, which is where you would have found the humbler men.


Is there specific evidence of families being divided on different sides in the civil wars?
Claire, Birmingham

Nothing did more to make people think that the civil wars were 'unnatural' than to see families divided. We have to remember that among the upper classes for whom we have the most evidence of behaviour and attitudes family networks spread widely, and even loose family connections were taken seriously. People were conscious of a whole range of cousins and more distant relations, often in other parts of the country. Inevitably, these large family affiliations were often divided in the wars. On the victorious Parliamentary side, men sometimes used their influence to try to get their Royalist relations spared from punishment. Oliver Cromwell intervened to get his uncle, after whom he'd been named, released from the confiscation of his estates.

More painful, though, was the experience of fighting on the opposite side from a father or brother or son. This was rarer, but it did happen. The best documented, because the letters of the family survive in large numbers, is the division within the Verney family of Claydon in Buckinghamshire. The Royal standard was committed to Sir Edmund Verney's keeping at the start of the war, but his son Sir Ralph fought for Parliament.

However, allegiances in the civil wars weren't always straightforward. Sir Edmund (who died early in the conflict) followed Charles I reluctantly and wished that the king would make concessions to Parliament. Sir Ralph was firmly for Parliament, which he thought was fighting for 'our liberties', but after the wars, he became disenchanted by his cause, and was imprisoned under the Protectorate after being wrongly suspected of plotting for the Royalists. You can find out more about these two men from their entries in the Dictionary of National Biography; the family letters can be found in The Verney Memoirs, published in four volumes in 1892-9.

The Neville family of Billingbear Park near Windsor provides a case of brothers divided by the conflict. Henry Neville, though he did not fight in the civil wars, was elected to Parliament after the execution of the king and became a leading theorist in favour of republicanism. His brother Richard had commanded a Royalist regiment. Perhaps that helps to explain why Henry's attitude to the Royalists was never vindictive.


In what ways did Cromwell limit the freedom of Roman Catholics?
Janet, Edinburgh

The treatment of Catholics under the Protectorate may seem surprisingly mild. There was ferocious anti-Catholic sentiment in the lead-up to, and during, the civil wars, which was largely blamed on Catholic conspirators at Charles I's court. However, in the 1650s the various Protestant groups seemed more intent on contending against each other than against Catholics.

That doesn't mean that life was easy for the Catholics. They were believed to be mainly Royalist in their sympathies (though historians argue about whether this was true), and so were vulnerable when the government tried to round up Royalist conspirators. Puritans remained profoundly hostile to the Catholic faith and profoundly fearful of Catholic and especially Jesuit infiltration. The Protectorate sometimes became nervous about what it took to be a recent increase in Catholic numbers and conversions. In 1657, Cromwell signed an Act tightening the procedures (which went back to Tudor times) for detecting and punishing Catholics and requiring all suspected Catholics to take an oath renouncing the pope and a number of Catholic doctrines and practices. In 1655 Cromwell's major-generals had tried to achieve something similar. But passing government orders and parliamentary legislation was one thing; enforcing them another.

On the whole, Catholics seem to have felt less threatened in the 1650s than in the 1640s. One reason for this was Cromwell's desire for an alliance with France, a Catholic country with a Protestant minority. Cromwell was eager to secure liberty of conscience for continental Protestants and saw that he was unlikely to succeed unless he showed at least some mildness to England's Catholic minority.


What was the reaction of the public to the execution of Charles I?
JM, Leeds

This, we have to remember, was an age without opinion polls, and so we do not know what most people thought. We do know, however, that the republic that replaced the king sensed itself to be highly unpopular and knew that it needed a standing army to protect it.

After the king's death, a work was published in Charles's name Eikon Basilike, or The King's Book though at least most of it had probably been 'ghosted' for him. It presented the king's case in the civil wars and portrayed Charles himself in idealised terms. The book sold extremely well, whereas the reply to it commissioned by the republic, Eikonoklastes, written by the poet John Milton, won very little enthusiasm.

It's hard to know how much of the hostility to the republic was caused by the execution of the king, just as it's hard to know how to interpret the great groan that went up among the crowd when his head was cut off. The cause of Parliament and its army was probably already very unpopular even before the execution. The Second Civil War in 1648, which was really a series of Royalist risings put down by the New Model Army, showed how much moderate opinion had gone over to the king.

But from 1649, the image of Charles as martyr provided a rallying point for Royalist sentiment. In 1650, a wonderful poem by Andrew Marvell 'An Horatian Ode upon Cromwell's Return from Ireland' (available in many anthologies of English poetry, especially of the 17th century) has a vivid description of the king's execution and of the dignity of the king's bearing at it. It probably conveys a good impression of public sentiment about the regicide.


Do you agree with the argument that the English Civil Wars were a rebellion rather than a revolution?
Chris, Epsom

Historians' choice of terms to describe upheavals of the 1640s and 1650s can be revealing. The word 'revolution' has changed its meaning since the 17th century, when it meant the revolving of a wheel or, when used in a looser sense, what in some forms of football is now called a turnover. So the restoration of the monarchy in 1660 rather than the events of the 1640s and 1650s was called a 'revolution', for it was then that the wheel came full circle.

Since the French Revolution, and still more since the rise of Marxism and the Russian Revolution, the word has acquired a less neutral tone. In the later 19th century, historians began to refer to the 'Puritan Revolution', but it was not until the 20th century that the term 'English Revolution' became widespread. On the whole, the modern historians who have used the term 'revolution' think that the Parliamentarian cause was, at least in the main, a good and progressive thing.

The term 'rebellion', by contrast, has been favoured by Royalist sympathisers, among them Charles I's adviser, the Earl of Clarendon. His work, The History of the Rebellion, published after his death, has been the most widely read and influential account of the conflict.

The civil wars did have some consequences that can be called revolutionary. The running of the wars and, after them, of the army and navy increased the resources of the state and especially its power to tax, though that was not an outcome the victors had fought for. The civil wars may also have done something to remove the sense of awe and divinity surrounding kingship. And they created a degree of diversity of religious worship and belief that no one would be able to suppress afterwards.

Yet you can argue that the main legacy of the wars was a negative one: they produced a profound reaction against sectarian and military rule. The fear that civil war might come again would also be an enduring force in English politics.

'Revolution' or 'rebellion'? In the end, it's a matter of words. The difficulty historians have always had is to find a term that seems neutral. Perhaps the fact that they've not found one shows how strong is the legacy of the divisions of the wars.


Of all the radical sects, which group was the largest and which group the smallest?
Alex, Paisley

This is the sort of question historians would love to be able to answer, but can't. We just don't have the evidence to calculate numbers of particular sects. In the reign of Charles II, the government, wanting to know the number of Puritans or 'Dissenters', commissioned a numerical survey the 'Compton Census' but we don't have anything similar for the civil war period.

There's the difficulty, too, that people tended to be labelled as members of sects by the opponents of religious toleration, and words such as 'Ranter' and 'Quaker' were used pretty freely. A lot of what we know about the sects comes from their enemies, who may have exaggerated both their numbers and the extremity of their opinions. (One hugely influential work of 1646 Gangraena by Thomas Edwards provided an enormous list of heresies that, to his horror, he believed were spreading like wildfire.) Another problem is that membership of sects tended not to be static. People seem to have often experimented with one sect before moving on to another.

But to judge by what contemporaries thought, and by the amount of attention given to various groupings in the press and in religious controversy, it does look as if the main sect in the 1640s was the Baptists (people who opposed the baptism of infants and thought that baptism, which admits people to God's church, should be a matter of adult choice). It appears that, in the 1650s, they lost ground to the Quakers, a group that would later become known for its pacifism but which was very different in the 17th century, when its members roamed the land, broke up church services and refused tokens of respect to magistrates.

There was probably far less support for such groups as the Muggletonians (follower of the eccentric thinker Lodowick Muggleton). The anti-Trinitarians (or 'Socinians') were also probably a very small group.


Was Oliver Cromwell a freemason?
DS, Cumbernauld
No.


On the monarchy's restoration, Cromwell's memory was clearly vilified. When was the favourable image that most of us have now of a strong but tolerant leader born?
BL, Northumberland

The basic answer is: in Victorian times. Cromwell did have his admirers before then, however. In the later 17th century and in the 18th, there were religious Nonconformists (heirs of the Puritans) who gratefully remembered the liberty of conscience he had provided for them. There were also people who, particularly at times of national weakness or humiliation, looked back to the vigour and might of the Protectorate's achievements abroad. But from the later 17th century to the early 19th, Cromwell was regarded essentially as a ruthless and hypocritical fanatic whose Puritanism had been a mask for personal ambition, and who had introduced the evils of military, republican and sectarian rule.

A main reason for the emergence of kinder assessments was, as you indicate, his policy of religious toleration. The 19th century achieved toleration and saw Cromwell as a pioneer of it. At the same time, the swelling of Nonconformity, especially in the northern industrial towns and cities, increased the scope of enthusiasm for him. He was admired in other ways, too: as a key figure in the emergence of the British empire; as a friend of the oppressed and the poor; and as again you indicate as a strong leader who had held the nation together in difficult times. A work that converted huge numbers of people to a favourable view was Thomas Carlyle's edition of Cromwell's Letters and Speeches in 1845, a work that is, in effect, a biography.

By the end of the 19th century, Cromwell had become a cult figure. The year 1899, the tercentenary of his birth, brought great celebrations, and also the erection of the statue of Cromwell that stands outside the Houses of Parliament.

If you want to follow up this subject, I've just published a book Roundhead Reputations: The English Civil Wars and the passions of posterity (Penguin) which is largely about the development of Cromwell's reputation down the centuries.

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How far were the developments in Scotland and Ireland (1637-42) responsible for the outbreak of civil war in England in 1642?
Catherine, Norfolk

If the two crowns of England and Scotland had not been united under the Stuarts in 1603, or if Ireland had remained at peace in 1641, it is hard to imagine anything like the English civil wars of the 1640s taking place.

Until the king's attempt to impose an English prayer book on Scotland, his opponents in England seemed in decline and his government looked secure. It was Charles's need for money to get the Scots out of England that placed him at the Long Parliament's mercy in 1640. It was the same crisis that led Charles to recall Thomas Wentworth, earl of Strafford from Ireland, and without Strafford's removal and death, one can't imagine the Irish rebellion of 1641, or at least not in such a form. The rebellion raised the political temperature in England by intensifying fears of popery. It also posed a fundamental question of sovereignty: if the king was allowed to raise an army and lead it to Ireland, might he not then turn it on his English subjects?

That doesn't mean that there weren't issues within England about which people felt and over which they were bitterly divided merely that an appreciation of the British context is necessary to understand why things in England happened as they did.

A good place to read more on this subject is Conrad Russell's book The Causes of the English Civil War. C V Wedgwood's vivid narratives, The King's Peace and The King's War, do justice to the British dimension.

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Puritan depiction of children murdered by Royalists

Puritan depiction of children murdered by Royalists
(Mary Evans Picture Library)



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