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The Protectorate established, 12 - 15th December

Once the Nominated Assembly resigned on the morning of Monday 12 December 1653, events moved quickly, Cromwell and his army colleagues showed none of the uncertainty which characterised their initial response to the ejection of the Rump earlier in the year and it is clear that planning and tangible preparations had already been put in place during the autumn, presumably as a contingency in case the Assembly collapsed. Indeed, although Cromwell professed to have had no prior knowledge of the Assembly’s resignation – he told a later parliament that he “did not know one title of that resignation, until they all came and brought it” – it is likely that the leading moderates who coordinated the resignation on 12 December were in collusion with key players who then quickly advanced and established the Protectorate. Circumstantial evidence points to the prominent role played in this process by Major General John Lambert, who apparently began drawing up a new written constitution in the autumn, working first at home and then in London, where he probably consulted a wider group of officers about his proposals. Cromwell himself later recalled that at some stage before the Assembly resigned – perhaps in late November – this small group had brought their plans to Cromwell and repeatedly urged him to accept them, but that he had steadfastly refused to go along with their ideas, which at this stage would presumably have involved forcibly ejecting the sitting Assembly. Moreover, Cromwell later alleged that at this stage the draft constitution envisaged calling the new head of state king rather than Lord Protector, something he could not support or endorse. But once the Assembly itself had resigned, the plan and the draft constitution were quickly dusted down and put into operation. 

On the afternoon of 12 December and again on the 13th, Cromwell met with groups of colleagues and advisors, identified variously in the contemporary sources as the Council of Officers or the Council of State, the latter perhaps a reference to the old Council established by the Nominated Assembly. In reality, it is unlikely that Cromwell conferred with either or both of these Councils in full at this stage, but rather with selected military and civilian colleagues, several of whom had held seats in these bodies. Meanwhile, on Tuesday 13 December Lambert convened a large meeting of army officers at Whitehall and there he summarised or read to them the draft constitution upon which he had been working for several weeks. Some officers responded by trying to open up discussion about this document and, more broadly, about the future constitutional settlement of the country, but Lambert responded by preventing debate and telling the officers that it had already been resolved – by whom, he did not make clear – that his draft constitution would serve as the blueprint for the new government. In the face of further mutterings, Lambert rather vaguely agreed that further amendments would be considered, and on that basis the officers seem to have acquiesced in the plan. This led on to more detailed discussions between Cromwell, Lambert and a group of senior officers and civilian politicians, with several meetings on 14 and 15 December. We do not know exactly what was discussed, but it seems that minor amendments were made to the written constitution and that the members of the new executive Council were chosen and agreed around this time. By or at this stage the name of the new head of state was also finalised, for the proposal to revive the title of king was dropped and, although the alternative form Lord Governor was reportedly being considered, the title Lord Protector was selected. By the evening of Thursday 15 December the written constitution was in sufficiently good shape and enough key players were in place – with Oliver Cromwell to serve as the first Lord Protector and a respectable number of new Councillors on board – for the plans to be made public and for the new government to be installed, openly inaugurated and start work. 

The newspapers which went to press during this period were all very cautious in reporting the resignation of the Nominated Assembly and gloriously vague in giving accounts of the negotiations which followed, probably because the editors knew very little about what was going on. The following examples give a flavour of how these developments were being reported:

Severall Proceedings of Parliament, 6-13 December
“Monday 12 December: This Day there was a Debate concerning the Ministers, and their maintenance, for which the Lord General and a great part of the House have much declared themselves, but the House this day not agreeing, and the honour of the Church being of great Concernment; It was thought fit the Parliament should be Dissolved, which accordingly was done.”

Severall Proceedings of Parliament, 6-13 December
“Monday 12 December: It being moved in the House this day, That the sitting of this Parliament any longer as now constituted will not be for the good of the Commonwealth; And that therefore it was requisite to deliver up unto the Lord Generall Cromwell the powers which they received from him; and that Motion being seconded by several other Members, the House rose, and the Speaker with many of the Members of the House departed out of the House to Whitehall; where they, being the greater number of the Members sitting in Parliament, did by a writing under their hands resign unto his Excellency their said powers, and Master Speaker attended with the Members did present the same to Excellency accordingly.”

A Perfect Account, 7-14 December
[12 December: repeats word for word the report in Several Proceedings of Parliament]
“Tuesday 13 December: The Lord General Cromwel and Councel met this day at Whitehall, and his Excellency declares (as formerly) that he will use his uttermost endeavour to defend all honest, peaceable people of this Nation in their just Rights and Liberties, against all the enemies of this Commonwealth.”

The Faithful Scout, 9-16 December
[After a standard account of the resignation on 12 December, adds a note about the short speech made by Cromwell at a meeting with the officers on 12 or 13 December]
“His Excellency the Lord Generall Cromwell and his Councell of Officers met this day, at which meeting, after a most excellent wise, gracious, and pious speech made by his Excellency, full of Religion towards God, prudence towards the State, and love and care towards this distracted Nation, some things were transacted in order to a settlement, and sweet composure; the union of all that fear the Lord is much desired, that so we may sit down comfortably under a safe and well grounded peace.”

Mercurius Politicus, 9-16 December
[Again, repeats the standard account of the events of 12 December which appeared in other newspapers, but then adds a further note]
“Since the Parliament were pleased to put a period to their own Authority, by resigning back the power, there have been very earnest deliberations for a settling of the Government of this Nation in time to come; the result whereof will ere long be made public.”

The Weekly Intelligencer, 13-20 December
“13 December: The Generall had a meeting with his Councel of Officers, where having expressed himself with that zeal and fluency which are natural in him, some things were transacted both here, and afterwards at the Councel of State, for the settling of the Government of this Nation.”

Severall Proceedings of State Affairs, 15-22 December
“15 December: This day his Excellency the Lord General Cromwell by the advice of the Councell of Officers and other persons of Interest and Authority concurred to accept their desires that he should be made Lord Protector of England, Scotland, and Ireland.”


down to
 December 1653

The protectorate established, 
12-15 December

The protectorate inaugurated, 
16 December

The protectorate 
at work, 
17-20 December

The new written constitution

the instrument of government 
– full text

The instrument of government 

The protectorate 



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