The protectorate inaugurated, 16
The new Protectoral government began work on the morning of Friday 16 December, when ten Councillors gathered to conduct their first formal, minuted meeting; according to the records, Cromwell himself did not attend this meeting. It was probably quite brief, for the only recorded decision was to order the circulation of a proclamation announcing the new government: “that the Proclamation printed and now read be sent forthwith to the severall sheriffs, accompanied with a letter, the forme whereof was also now read, and same to be signed by Mr Thurloe”, who was already acting as principal secretary to the Council. The proclamation itself, which was quite brief, was subsequently circulated as a printed broadsheet, but its text was also carried in most of the newspapers which went to press during the third week of December:
“Whereas the late Parliament dissolving themselves, and resigning their Powers and Authorities, The Government of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland, by a Lord Protector and successive triennial parliaments, is now established; And whereas Oliver Cromwell, Captain Generall of all the forces of this Commonwealth, is declared Lord Protector of the Nations, and hath accepted thereof; We have therefore thought it necessary (as we hereby do) to make publication of the Premises, and strictly to charge and command all and every person and persons, of what quality and condition soever, in any of the said three Nations, to take notice hereof; and to conform and submit themselves to the Government so established, and all Sheriffs, Maiors, Bayliffs, and other Publick Ministers and Officers whom this may concern, are required to cause this Proclamation to be forthwith published in their respective Counties, Cities, Corporations and Market-Towns, to the end none may have cause to pretend ignorance in this behalf. Given at Whitehall this 16 day of December 1653.”
The new regime was then inaugurated in a fairly simple, low-key ceremony held during the afternoon of Friday 16 December. It was a public ceremony, but only in the sense that members of the public who happened to be out and about around Whitehall, Westminster and Westminster Hall had a chance to see something of the proceedings; it had not been announced and publicised in advance, so most people, even Londoners, had little opportunity to make a conscious decision to attend, and many who happened to witness some of the events probably had no real grasp of what was occurring. None the less, all the newspapers carried full and detailed accounts of the ceremony. One of the most detailed appeared in Severall Proceedings of State Affairs.
Severall Proceedings of State Affairs, 15-22 December
“His Excellency the Lord Generall Cromwell about one of the clock in the afternoon, went from Whitehall to Westminster in his Coach, foot soldiers being on both sides the streets all along, and in the Palace of Westminster were more soldiers both Horse and Foot; His Excellency was attended by the Lords Commissioners of the Great Seal of England, the Judges and Barons of the severall Benches in their Robes, and after them the Councell of the Common-wealth; And the Lord Mayor and Aldermen of the City of London, in their Scarlet Gowns, with the Recorder and Town Clerk, all in their Coaches, who passed before his Excellency; and last of all came his Excellency in a black suit and cloak in his Coach, with his life-guard, and divers bare before him; and many of the chief officers of the army with their cloaks, and swords, and hats on, passed on foot before and about his coach.
In this equipage his Excellency, and Attendants, came to Westminster Hall, where was a Chair, placed in the High Court of Chancery; where being come, the Lords Commissioners of the Great Seal of England stood next to the chair, the one on the one side, the other on the other side, and next to the Lord Commissioner Lisle who stood on the left hand of the chair, stood his Excellency (all being bare, and his Excellency also) on every side of the chair; in the next place stood all the Judges and Barons on both sides; and the Lord Mayor and Aldermen on the right side of the Court, next unto the Judges and the Councell, and the chief officers of the army on the left side of the Court.
The Rules for this new Government were then read, which consist of many particulars, expressed in an Instrument; the Instrument is large, which took up above half an hours reading, and was read by Mr Jessop, one of the Secretaries of the Councell. After which, the Lord Commissioner Lisle read a parchment in the nature of an oath, to engage his Excellency to perform on his part, according to the Government before mentioned; During which time his Excellency held up his hand, and having heard it read, accepted thereof, and subscribed thereto in the face of the Court. Then the Lords Commissioners of the Great Seal, and the Judges, etc, invited him to take possession of the Chair, as Lord Protector of England, Scotland, and Ireland, which he did and sat down with his head covered, the Court continuing all bare. The Lords Commissioners delivered up to His Highness the Purse and Seals, and the Lord Mayor of London his Sword, which were presently delivered to them back again by his Highness; and then after a salute, the Court rose.
First came the Aldermen and Councell before his Highness, from the Court to Westminster Hall Gate, where the coaches were; after them the Judges, then came the Lords Commissioners of the Great Seal, one of them bearing the Purse and Seals; and before his Highness came the Life-Guard, then 4 Serjeants-at-Arms with their Maces, one being the Mace of the City of London, the second of the Chancery, the third of the Councell, and the other of the Parliament, born by the sword-bearer, Serjeant Middleton, Serjeant Dendy, and Serjeant Berkstead; and the Lord Mayor of London went before his Highness with the sword, and the officers of the army about his person; and in the Palace they took coach at the Hall Gate, and returned to White-Hall in the same equipage they went; the Lord Major rode bare with the Sword in the Boot of the coach with his Highness; and there were great acclamations and shoutings along the streets as they passed.
His Highness the Lord Protector being returned to Whitehall, he went with his Attendants to the Banqueting House, where they had an exhortation made by Mr Lockier, Chaplain to his Highness; which being ended, they were dismissed with 3 vollies of shot between 4 and 5 o’clock at night.
There is more than ordinary joy in and about London (both by the Inhabitants and the Souldiery) for this happy day.”
The reports in the other newspapers generally carried much the same information, sometimes following this account word for word, sometimes rephrasing certain sections, though sometimes adding a few details. Thus The Weekly Intelligencer of 13-20 December prefaced its account of the ceremony by noting that since the resignation of the Assembly Cromwell had been meeting with “a Councel of Officers, where advice was taken with some other persons of Eminence, how the great Burthen of Governing the Three Nations should be born” and reporting that the final shape of the new government had been agreed after “three days Councell, and prayers unto God to direct the councel”. Of the ceremony itself, The Weekly Intelligencer stressed that Cromwell “was apparel’d in black, without any formality of Robes at all” and added that as the new Protector rode back from Westminster “the soldiers in Westminster Hall and the Pallace Yard made acclamations of joy, and the great guns afterwards did go off at the Tower, and some great ships that lay not far off from thence”. Another very pro-Protectoral account of the events of 16 December was contained in a pamphlet, published on 21 December, entitled A Declaration Concerning the Government of the Three Nations, which adds that after agreeing to and signing the oath as Protector, Cromwell made a short speech: “That seeing it was the will of God, and the pleasure of the council, that he should be invested with so great an honour as to be Lord Protector, that he desired to rule and govern the three Nations no longer then it might have a perfect dependencie on the great work of the Lord; that so the Gospel might flourish in its full splendour and purity; and the people enjoy their just Rights and Propriety. His speech being ended, he sat down in the chair covered…”
Several contemporary sources also give the text of the oath which Cromwell took, accepted and signed during the ceremony on 16 December:
“Whereas the Major part of the last Parliament (judging that their sitting any longer, as then constituted, would not be for the good of this Common-wealth) did dissolve the same, and by a writing under their hands, dated the twelfth day of this instant December, resigned unto Mee their Powers and Authorities; And whereas it was necessary thereupon, That some speedy recourse should be taken for the settlement of these Nations upon such a Basis and foundation, as, by the blessing of God, might be lasting, secure Property, and answer those great ends of Religion and Liberty, so long contended for; And upon full and mature Consideration had of the Form of Government hereunto annexed, being satisfied that the same, through divine assistance, may answer the Ends afore-mentioned; And having also been desired, and advised, as well by several persons of Interest and Fidelity in this Commonwealth, as the Officers of the Army, to take upon mee the Protection and Government of these Nations in the manner expressed in the said Form of Government, I have accepted thereof, and do hereby declare my acceptance accordingly. And do promise in the presence of God, That I will not violate or infringe the matters and things contained therein, but, to my power, observe the same, and cause them to be observed. And shall in all other things, to the best of my understanding, Govern these Nations according to the Laws, Statutes and Customs, seeking their Peace, and causing Justice and Law to be equally administered.”
The French and Venetian ambassadors and other dignitaries reported back on the change of government and gave accounts of the ceremony on 16 December, but the latter appear to be based on the newspaper reports rather than eye-witness accounts and generally added nothing to those newspaper reports. However, we possess at least one account which, although brief, may have been written by someone who had witnessed the event. Samuel Percivall wrote to his kinsman John Percivall from London on 17 December, mixing a breathless account of the ceremony with a summary of some of the key elements of the new written constitution:
“Yesterday…the grand solemnization of the General’s Protectorship was performed, with no less state and magnificence than any former Kings have used. From Whitehall to Westminster, a lane of soldiers being made, his Excellency, seated in a rich coat, the Lord Mayor in one boot, Major General Lambert and another in tother, advanced leisurely, attended with a multitude of coaches, the colonels, officers and lifeguard all on foot bareheaded (as were all from My Lord Mayor to the meanest). Coming to the Hall, in the Court of Chancery, Lord Commissioner Lisle gives him the Oath, and he ratified (I know not what to call it) an instrument of three or four skins of parchment, covenants, I suppose, for his government.
Among other particulars of this stipulation, tis covenanted that a Parliament, to be chosen as heretofore, shall be assembled at or before September next, that the ministry, laws and properties of every man shall be maintained as heretofore until the Parliament sit, that all titles and honours shall be in his dispose; he shall have £200,000 per annum out of the three nations for maintenance of his court and the honour of the nations, besides all forests, chases, houses and crown lands not yet disposed of. A thousand other particulars are contained, but variously reported; they will shortly appear in print. This being ratified, the Lord Mayor, Lord President, Lord Commissioners and the late Speaker deliver to him their maces; he returns them again, to be held during pleasure, charging them and the Judges to be careful in their places, and see justice impartially distributed to all. And so being proclaimed Lord Protector and Conservator of the three nations, returned in the same pomp, all the street uncovered. They say Lambert hath the generalship, but that’s not believed by many, and that a peace with the Dutch is already made, and shall be the prologue to his future happy government.
Twenty one are to be of the Privy Council; he to have a negative voice there and in Parliament. This is all the certainty I can pick out of the confused discourses among men in a maze, as are most, and possibly I may err in many relations; when time hath better informed, expect more.”