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RETHINKING THE ENGLISH REVOLUTION OF 1649*

  • JONATHAN FITZGIBBONS (a1)
Abstract
Abstract

It is generally assumed that the kingless Commonwealth established in 1649 was the unforeseen consequence of the regicide: an expedient taken hesitantly and nothing more than a stop-gap. ‘Republicanism’ was a minority position even among those who remained at Westminster during the dramatic events of 1648–9: the majority remained committed to monarchical forms of government. By reappraising the surviving evidence, this article proposes a radically different account of the genesis of the Commonwealth regime. Not only were preparations already underway in the weeks before Charles I's death that helped to pave the way for government without a king, but also the decision to abolish kingship after the regicide was itself taken relatively quickly, with no discernible signs of hesitation. Even if few who defended or served the Commonwealth were republican, this need not mean that the majority were attached to monarchy. Rather, many of those who supported the regime, drawing upon the experiences and ideas of 1640s parliamentarianism, claimed that the form of government was only ever of secondary importance in comparison to its substance. They did not think kingship was inherently unlawful, but they did not believe it was absolutely necessary either.

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Christ's College, Cambridge, cb2 3bu jonathan.fitzgibbons@gmail.com
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*

The author wishes to express his gratitude to Clive Holmes and John Morrill for reading and commenting upon drafts of this article. Thanks also go to the anonymous reviewers of this journal for their incisive comments and advice. All pre-1800 works were published in London unless otherwise stated.

Footnotes
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1 Roots I., The great rebellion, 1642–1660 (London, 1966), p. 138 ; Worden B., The Rump Parliament, 1648–1653 (Cambridge, 1974), p. 185 .

2 Worden B., God's instruments: political conduct in the England of Oliver Cromwell (Oxford, 2012), pp. 270–1.

3 Worden, Rump Parliament, pp. 172–3; Worden, God's instruments, p. 263.

4 Worden, Rump Parliament, pp. 172–3.

5 Journals of the House of Commons (CJ), vi (1648–51), p. 99.

6 CJ, vi, p. 100.

7 Whitelocke's ‘memoirs’ is used here as shorthand for a number of manuscripts. These include the ‘Annales’, which is contained in seven volumes now at the British Library (BL), Add. MSS 4992, 37343, 37344, 37345, 37346, 37347, 53726; and the so-called ‘Diary’, which is among the private collection of the marquess of Bute and is fully transcribed in Spalding Ruth, ed., The diary of Bulstrode Whitelocke, 1605–1675 (Oxford, 1990). After Whitelocke's death, these manuscripts were edited and printed in late 1681 under the title of Memorials of the English affairs. Two expanded editions followed in 1732 and 1853. However, none of the printed editions of the Memorials faithfully reproduce the text of Whitelocke's manuscript ‘Annales’ or the ‘Diary’. As such, throughout this article I have chosen to cite the manuscript ‘Annales’ and ‘Diary’ rather than the Memorials. For more on the complex relationship between Whitelocke's manuscripts and the Memorials, see Worden B., ‘The “diary” of Bulstrode Whitelocke’, English Historical Review, 108 (1993), pp. 122–34.

8 BL, Add. MS 37344, fo. 236r–v; Spalding, ed., Whitelocke's diary, p. 226.

9 Spalding, ed., Whitelocke's diary, p. 226; BL, Add. MS 37344, fo. 237r.

10 BL, Add. MS 37344, fo. 237r; Spalding, ed., Whitelocke's diary, p. 226.

11 BL, Add. MS 37344, fo. 237r; Spalding, ed., Whitelocke's diary, p. 226.

12 BL, Add. MS 37344, fo. 237r–v.

13 BL, Add. MS 37344, fo. 237v.

14 BL, Add. MS 37344, fo. 237r. Of course, this silence is not proof positive that the meeting did not occur.

15 BL, Add. MS 37344, fos. 237v–238v.

16 BL, Add. MS 37344, fos. 237v–238v.

17 BL, Add. MS 37344, fo. 237v, emphasis added.

18 BL, Add. MS 37344, fos. 237v–238r.

19 BL, Add. MS 37344, fo. 237v.

20 BL, Add. MS 37344, fos. 237v–238r.

21 CJ, vi, pp. 102–3 (23 Dec. 1648); Spalding, ed., Whitelocke's diary, p. 227; BL, Add. MS 37344, fo. 238r. Understandably, after the Restoration, Whitelocke was particularly keen to prove that his appointment to this committee was no reflection of his sympathy for the king's trial. The excuses he tendered to the Convention Parliament on this count can be found in Spalding, ed., Whitelocke's diary, pp. 592–6 (2 June 1660).

22 CJ, vi, p. 105.

23 CJ, vi, p. 108.

24 CJ, vi, pp. 109–10.

25 CJ, vi, p. 111.

26 CJ, vi, p. 113; Gardiner S. R., ed., Constitutional documents of the puritan revolution, 1625–1660 (3rd edn, Oxford, 1906), pp. 357–8.

27 Worden, God's instruments, pp. 278–9.

28 M. Nedham, A plea for the king and kingdome; by way of answer to the late remonstrance of the army (1648), pp. 24–5.

29 The rumour concerning putting the duke of Gloucester on the throne reached its zenith in late Dec. but faded thereafter. The opaque reference about a quarrel over ‘drinking to Harry the Ninth’ in a letter of 6 Jan. 1649 from clerk of the Commons Ralph Darnell to Whitelocke suggests the incident occurred in the recent past. But Darnell also reports how a resolution on 6 Jan. that the trial commissioners should next meet in the Painted Chamber – the alleged scene of the quarrel – was taken by some to mean that attitudes towards the trial and its outcome had since changed. See Underdown D., Pride's Purge (Oxford, 1971), p. 183 , for Darnell's letter.  By 8 Jan., Nedham reported that should those pursuing the king's trial ‘ridd their hands of his Majesty’ they would ‘guilt their designe’ upon Gloucester too and would instead ‘assert (though not declare) themselves (yet) in the posture of free states’. He also added that the plan to crown Gloucester had not been helped by the fact that ‘divers of that fackcion that have forborne sitting in the house’ since Pride's Purge ‘declared they would not submitt to the D. of Glouc.’. See Bodleian Library, Oxford, Clarendon MS 34, fo. 72v.

30 BL, Add. MS 37344, fo. 238r.

31 CJ, vi, p. 105.

32 CJ, vi, p. 109.

33 CJ, vi, p. 111.

34 CJ, vi, p. 116.

35 CJ, vi, p. 117. These resolutions had already been foreshadowed on 9 Jan. when the Commons ordered that that oath to be taken by the new sheriff of Norfolk was to ‘be dispensed with’, CJ, vi, p. 115. The acts establishing the Oaths of Allegiance and Supremacy were eventually repealed by the Commons on 9 Feb. 1649, CJ, vi, p. 136.

36 CJ, vi, p. 110.

37 CJ, vi, p. 112.

38 CJ, vi, p. 114.

39 CJ, vi, p. 114.

40 CJ, vi, p. 115; BL, Add. MS 37344, fo. 243r–v.

41 CJ, vi, p. 122 (19 Jan.).

42 CJ, vi, p. 123.

43 CJ, vi, p. 123.

44 CJ, vi, p. 123; BL, Add. MS 37344, fo. 248v.

45 BL, Add. MS 37344, fo. 250r; Spalding, ed., Whitelocke's diary, p. 229.

46 BL, Add. MS 37344, fos. 250v–251r; CJ, vi, p. 123.

47 CJ, vi, p. 123.

48 Firth C. H. and Rait R. S., eds., Acts and ordinances of the Interregnum, 1642–1660 (3 vols., London, 1911), i, pp. 1262–3; CJ, vi, p. 124.

49 A further ‘Act for better settling of proceedings in courts of justice’ was eventually passed on 17 Feb. 1649. Firth and Rait, eds., Acts and ordinances, ii, pp. 6–9; CJ, vi, p. 144.

50 CJ, iii, pp. 86, 129–30, 155, 306–7.

51 BL, Harley MS 164, fo. 389r.

52 W. Prynne, The opening of the great seale of England (1643), p. 25.

53 Ibid., p. 24.

54 CJ, vi, pp. 112–13, 115 (6, 9 Jan. 1649).

55 CJ, vi, p. 115 (9 Jan.).

56 CJ, vi, p. 111.

57 CJ, vi, p. 133.

58 This is on the assumption that Simon began the work only after receiving the Commons’ authorization on 26 Jan. In 1643, Simon was appointed to create the seal in mid-July and delivered it in late Sept. CJ, iii, pp. 174, 257. The speed with which the seal was made can also be inferred from its inferior quality: the matrices soon wore out, prompting the Commons to order a replacement seal, to the same design, less than three years later. Wyon A. B. and Wyon A., eds., The great seals of England, from the earliest period to the present time (London, 1887), pp. 90–2; CJ, vii, p. 51 (17 Dec. 1651).

59 CJ, vi, pp. 138, 140 (12, 14 Feb.); Whitelocke notes that new patents to the judges were sealed on 12 Feb., see BL, Add. MS 37344, fo. 260v.

60 CJ, vi, p. 142 (15 Feb.).

61 BL, Add. MS 37344, fos. 257r–259v.

62 CJ, vi, pp. 125–6 (30 Jan. 1649); Firth and Rait, eds., Acts and ordinances, i, pp. 1263–4.

63 Firth and Rait, eds., Acts and ordinances, i, pp. 1263–4, emphasis added.

64 Worden, God's instruments, pp. 280–1.

65 Bodleian Library, Oxford, Clarendon MS 34, fo. 73v: John Lawrans to Edward Hyde, 12 Jan. 1648/9.

66 CJ, vi, pp. 114–15; Bodleian Library, Oxford, Clarendon MS 34, fo. 72r.

67 Bodleian Library, Oxford, Clarendon MS 34, fo. 73v.

68 CJ, vi, p. 115; Bodleian Library, Oxford, Clarendon MS 34, fo. 73v.

69 CJ, vi, p. 115.

70 CJ, vi, p. 119; BL, Add. MS 37344, fos. 245v–246r; Spalding, ed., Whitelocke's diary, p. 228.

71 BL, Add. MS 37344, fo. 246r; CJ, vi, p. 121.

72 BL, Add. MS 37344, fo. 246r.

73 CJ, vi, p. 121.

74 The Moderate: Impartially Communicating Martial Affaires to the Kingdom of England, 30 (30 Jan. – 6 Feb. 1649), sig. HH1v.

75 BL, Add. MS 37344, fos. 254v–255r; CJ, vi, pp. 127–9; Journals of the House of Lords (LJ), x (1648–9), pp. 649–50 (1, 2, 5 Feb. 1649). The incident is also recorded in Blencowe R. W., ed., Sydney papers: consisting of a journal of the earl of Leicester, and original letters of Algernon Sydney (London, 1825), pp. 61–3.

76 CJ, vi, p. 128 (1 Feb. 1649).

77 CJ, vi, p. 129.

78 CJ, vi, p. 132; Whitelocke notes in his entry for 5 Feb. that the Lords sent another message but it too was ignored, BL, Add. MS 37344, fo. 255v; see also The Moderate, 30 (30 Jan. – 6 Feb. 1649), sig. HH2v.

79 BL, Add. MS 37344, fos. 255v–256r; Spalding, ed., Whitelocke's diary, p. 230; The Moderate, 30 (30 Jan. – 6 Feb. 1649), sig. HH2v; Blencowe, ed., Sydney Papers, pp. 61–3.

80 Spalding, ed., Whitelocke's diary, p. 230; BL, Add. MS 37344, fo. 256r.

81 Infuriatingly, or perhaps conveniently, Whitelocke claimed he was unable to provide any details because his notes for those speeches had been borrowed and subsequently lost. BL, Add. MS 37344, fo. 256r; Spalding, ed., Whitelocke's diary, p. 230. In his memoirs, Whitelocke suggests that he ‘had declared my opinion ag[ainst]’ the abolition of the Lords, but this is not easily reconciled with the awkward fact that he was entrusted by the Commons with the ‘especial Care’ of drafting the act for abolishing the Lords. See BL, Add. MS 37344, fo. 256v; CJ, vi, p. 132 (6 Feb. 1649).

82 CJ, vi, pp. 121, 132 (18 Jan., 6 Feb. 1649); The Moderate, 31 (6–13 Feb. 1649), p. 298.

83 BL, Add. MS 37344, fos. 256r–256v. Intriguingly, it does not seem that rising attendances in the House necessarily disadvantaged the ‘radicals’. On 18 Jan., the ‘Noes’ accounted for 58 per cent of total votes cast. On 6 Feb., despite 30 more MPs voting, the proportion of ‘Noes’ actually increased to 60 per cent. CJ, vi, pp. 121, 132.

84 CJ, vi, p. 132.

85 BL, Add. MS 37344, fo. 256r–v; CJ, vi, p. 132.

86 CJ, vi, p. 133.

87 CJ, vi, p. 133.

88 The key evidence is usually provided by Whitelocke's memoirs, not least his account of a meeting between Cromwell and several MPs that reputedly took place shortly after the battle of Worcester in 1651. I intend to address more closely the issue of Whitelocke's attitude towards kingship and the veracity of his account of the 1651 meeting in a future article.

89 For definitions of ‘republicanism’ as a constitutional principle, see Worden B., ‘Republicanism, regicide and republic: the English experience’, in Van Gelderen M. and Skinner Q., eds., Republicanism: a shared European heritage (2 vols., Cambridge, 2002), i, pp. 307–27.

90 A notable exception is the Rump's Declaration of the parliament of England expressing the grounds of their late proceedings and of setling the present government in the way of a free state (1649), p. 16.

91 Worden, God's instruments, pp. 277–8.

92 Sharpe Kevin, ‘“An image doting rabble”: the failure of republican culture in seventeenth-century England’, in Sharpe K., ed., Remapping early modern England: the culture of seventeenth-century politics (Cambridge, 2000), pp. 223–4.

93 Janelle Greenberg, ‘Bacon, Nathaniel (1593–1660)’, Oxford dictionary of national biography (ODNB).

94 N. Bacon, An historicall discourse of the uniformity of the government of England: the first part from the first times till the reigne of Edward the third (1647), p. 111.

95 Ibid., pp. 49–50, 51–3.

96 Ibid., p. 111.

97 N. Bacon, The continuation of an historicall discourse of the government of England, untill the end of the reigne of Queene Elizabeth (1651), p. 303.

98 Ibid., pp. 306–7.

99 CJ, vi, p. 115.

100 CJ, vi, p. 166 (17 Mar. 1649).

101 Declaration of the parliament…expressing the grounds of their late proceedings, p. 6.

102 Ibid., pp. 6, 13.

103 Gardiner, ed., Constitutional documents, p. 385, emphasis added.

104 F. Thorpe, Sergeant Thorpe judge of assize for the northern circuit, his charge, as it was delivered to the grand-jury at Yorke assizes the twentieth of March, 1648 (1648), pp. 2–3.

105 Ibid., pp. 3–4.

106 Ibid., p. 7.

107 J. Parker, The government of the people of England precedent and present the same (1650); although the work of a lawyer, there is uncertainty over which ‘John Parker’ this tract should be attributed to: see S. M. Jack, ‘Parker, John (fl. 1631–1680)’, ODNB.

108 Parker, Government of the people of England, p. 9, emphasis added.

109 Ibid., p. 9.

110 Ibid., pp. 1, 7.

111 Ibid., p. 9.

112 Declaration of the parliament…expressing the grounds of their late proceedings, p. 16.

113 Thorpe, His charge, pp. 2–3.

114 Gardiner, ed., Constitutional documents, p. 385.

115 Declaration of the parliament…expressing the grounds of their late proceedings, pp. 23–4.

116 Worden, Rump Parliament, pp. 172–3; Worden, God's instruments, p. 271; CJ, vi, p. 133, emphasis added.

117 Worden, Rump Parliament, pp. 172–3.

118 See for example the speeches made by Nathaniel Fiennes and Lord Broghill in Monarchy asserted, to be the best, most ancient and legall form of government, in a conference had at Whitehall, with Oliver late Lord Protector (1660), pp. 66–7, 72–3.

119 Thorpe, His charge, p. 11.

120 Ibid., p. 9.

121 Cromartie A., ‘The constitutionalist revolution: the transformation of political culture in early Stuart England’, Past and Present, 163 (1999), pp. 76120, at pp. 117–18. Unlike Cromartie, however, I do not think it follows that adherence to Common Law principles in the 1650s made inevitable the return to kingly forms.

122 Worden, God's instruments, p. 58.

123 See Skinner Q., ‘Conquest and consent: Hobbes and the engagement controversy’, in Skinner Q., ed., Visions of politics, iii: Hobbes and civil science (Cambridge, 2002), pp. 287307 .

124 Gardiner, ed., Constitutional documents, pp. 386–7.

125 Parker, Government of the people of England, pp. 1, 7.

126 See, for instance, Nedham's editorials in the government newsbook, Mercurius Politicus, from Oct. 1651 to Aug. 1652, later recycled in his critique of the Protectorate, M. Nedham, The excellencie of a free state (1656).

127 Bacon and Whitelocke both appear in a list of those who voted for Cromwellian kingship in A narrative of the late parliament (so called) (1657/8), pp. 22–3.

* The author wishes to express his gratitude to Clive Holmes and John Morrill for reading and commenting upon drafts of this article. Thanks also go to the anonymous reviewers of this journal for their incisive comments and advice. All pre-1800 works were published in London unless otherwise stated.

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