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The Instrument of Government is the first written constitution of Great Britain and created the Cromwellian Protectorate . It was succeeded by a later constitution in 1657 known as The Humble Petition and Advice.

The founding of the Protectorate

16 December 2003 sees the 350th anniversary of the establishment of the Protectorate. The new form of government founded on 16 December 1653 proved to be the most durable and stable regime of the entire republican or commonwealth period (1649-60). At home, it provided stability and orderly civilian rule, restored many of the traditional forms and, with its peaceable and inclusive approach, began the process of healing the divisions of the war years; but it also provided the platform for further reforms, with attempts to advance godly reformation and to bring about a fairer, purer and less sinful society. Abroad, the regime was strong and interventionist and won international respect.

The dismissal of the Long Parliament, April 1653, by Benjamin West. Courtesy of the Montclair Art Museum, New Jersey, USA.

The Protectorate is important in other ways. It was a British, not an English, regime, uniting England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland under a single system of government and, for the first time, giving all the component nations seats in a single, new, elected British parliament. It was also the first (and, to date, only) government in this country to be established and to operate under the terms of a detailed written constitution, which set out the composition and powers of the government. The constitution established an assured succession of elected, single-chamber parliaments, exercising extensive though not unlimited legislative powers, and set up a permanent, largely independent council, exercising extensive though not unlimited executive powers. It provided for a large and potent army and navy and guaranteed extensive religious liberty for most Protestant faiths. 

The constitution also appointed a single head of state, who was to act with, and to coordinate the work of, both parliament and council, but who was to exercise only very limited powers alone and in his own right. The head of state was to be called a Lord Protector, not a king, and hence the regime as a whole became known as the Protectorate. The constitution appointed Oliver Cromwell as head of state for life, and he remained Protector until his death in September 1658. Although the office was not hereditary, he was in fact succeeded by his elder surviving son, Richard Cromwell, who served as Protector for around eight months, until an army coup in spring 1659 led to his ejection and to the collapse of the Protectorate as a whole. Roughly a year later, in spring 1660, the Stuart monarchy was restored.


Cromwell's address to the Nominated Assembley, made at its opening on 4th July 1653. This Parliament only lasted until 12th December when it resigned its power to Cromwell.Under the Protectorate ordinances were issued and legislation enacted without parliamentary approval.  The ban on cock-fighting was implemented to prevent unruly gatherings rather than to lessen cruelty to animals. Protectoral Ordinance of 2nd September 1654 allowing former Parliamentary soldiers to practise a trade. This Ordinance was issued the day before the first meeting of the Protectoral Parliament.

 

 

 

Click on the above documents to view them full size

 

For detailed 
discussion 
and analysis of 
the significance 
of the Protectorate 
see below:


Developments 
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 
assessed


The protectorate 
praised


Conclusions

 

Picture of Richard Cromwell

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