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The protectorate at work, 17 - 20 December

The new Protectoral Council gathered again on Saturday 17 December to draw up and sign orders to ensure that the document proclaiming the new government, agreed the day before, would be proclaimed in London on the following Monday. Although the order books have no record of a formal Council meeting on the Saturday, at least one of the newspapers picked up on the meeting, for Severall Proceedings of State Affairs reported under 17 December: “This day his Highness the Lord Protector met with those named of his Council in the Council Chamber at Whitehall…and several things were transacted in order to a settlement”. 

On the morning of Monday 19 December the Council gathered for what appears to have been quite a brief meeting which decided various procedural matters, including the form of address to be used by petitioners, ambassadors and others, and the appointment of Henry Lawrence as chairman and president of the Council. Several Councillors then attended the formal proclamation of the new government in the City of London. The newspapers reported that “this day with sound of Trumpet and great solemnity, his Excellence was proclaimed Protector of the Three Nations…by a Serjeant at Arms at the Exchange in London, the Lord Mayor, Aldermen and Common Councel being present, and in several other places of the City of London and in Westminster”. A slightly different account records that “The Lord Maior and Aldermen…on Monday went in their scarlet gowns to meet the Herauld of Armes and to proclaim the Lord Protector which was accordingly done by 12 Trumpets both in Cheapside and at the Royal Exchange, where the ensuing Proclamation was publikely read, to the end that all men may conform and submit themselves to this present government”. The Venetian ambassador reported that the proclamation met with a very poor response, but how far his sour report genuinely reflected the public mood and how far it was coloured by his antipathy to the new regime is questionable:

“With no Council of State and everything depending on the will of the new Protector, the Lord Mayor and Sheriffs and some officers of the army without loss of time proceeded to proclaim him, preceded in state by 3 heralds in rich tabards, with a cavalry escort and a number of coaches, at the usual thoroughfares, charging all to tender respect and obedience to the actual government. But I noticed that the people seemed rather amazed and dashed than glad, and no shout of public or private satisfaction was heard. Men shrug their shoulders and all admire the address and cleverness by which this man has reached so far as to become the absolute master of the country and to give the law to the people here. These regret the past but cowed by force and spiritless, one may say, they no longer show the courage for determined action and submit tamely to grievances which in the past they would not have tolerated even in imagination, a case of human fallibility, which snatches at the evil in mistake for the good, and spurns the latter for the former. Some have been heard to mutter, We deserve this for our foolish action, putting to death our legitimate king in order to submit to a base born fellow of no standing. This is the opinion of more than one and as it chimes in with the universal feeling it is impossible to say as yet what it may lead to in the course of time, which has brought about these events and is preparing other great changes of which this is the foretaste. It is true that the strength of the army upholds Cromwell in his position, but if this took things ill, or some party were formed in it, that might give a turn to his fortunes and make his fall even more precipitous than his rise has been easy and astonishing.”

Having attended the proclamation of the new government in the City during the morning of Monday 19 December, the Councillors returned to Whitehall to join the Protector at a religious service, with Thomas Goodwin preaching. Then in the afternoon the Protector and his Councillors held an informal, unminuted meeting, at which Cromwell made a brief speech, summarised in Severall Proceedings of State Affairs and other newspapers: “his Highness the Lord Protector and the Council…met in the Council Chamber at Whitehall, where his Highness in a sweet speech to them pressed the Council to act for God and the peace and good of the Nation, and particularly recommended to them to consider and relieve the distress of the poor and oppressed”. 

On Tuesday 20 December the Councillors held their first, full, working session, beginning to tackle some of the realities and intricacies of everyday government. Cromwell again was not present – this was not unusual, for during the Protectorate as a whole he attended just under 40% of formal, minuted meetings – but thirteen Councillors gathered to handle a considerable quantity and variety of business, producing a long list of decisions and orders which were duly entered into the order books. Thus Secretary Thurloe was ordered to draw up a fair copy of the new written constitution to go to the printers and several items of conciliar legislation were initiated, including regulations to renew the excise and the probate of wills, to extend the powers of various financial commissioners and officers and to alter the form and wording of patents and writs to correspond to the new government. The Council also ordered a proclamation drawn up announcing that judicial procedures should continue, despite the recent change of government. It was read, amended, passed and ordered printed the following day:

“A Proclamation of His Highness, with the consent of his Councel, for continuing all Persons being in office for the Execution of Publick Justice at the time of the late change of Government until His Highnesse further declaration.

Oliver, Lord Protector of England, Scotland, and Ireland, considering that whereas the exercise of the chief Magistracy and the administration of Government within the said Commonwealth is invested and established in his Highnesse assisted with a Councel. And lest thereupon the settled and ordinary course of justice in the Commonwealth (if remedy were not provided) might receive interruption, his Highnesse in his care of the state and publick justice thereof (reserving to future consideration the reformation and redress of any abuses of misgovernment upon better knowledge taken thereof) is pleased, and doth hereby signifie, declare and ordain, by and with the advice and consent of his Councel, who have power until the meeting of the next Parliament to make Laws and Ordinances for the peace and welfare of these Nations, which shall be binding and in force until order shall be taken in Parliament concerning the same, That all persons who on the tenth of this instant December were duly and lawfully possessed of any place of Judicature or Office of Authority, Jurisdiction or Government within the Commonwealth, shall be and shall so hold themselves continued in the same offices and places respectively as formerly they held and enjoyed the same, and not otherwise, until his Highnesse pleasure be further known. And all Commissions, Patents and other Grants, and all proceedings of what nature soever in Courts of Common Law or Equity or in the Court of Admiralty or by Commissioners of Sewers shall stand and be in the same and like force to all intents and purposes as the same were on the said tenth day of December, until further order given by his Highnesse therein, And that in the meantime (for preservation of the publick Peace, and necessary proceedings in matters of Justice and for Safety of the State) all the said Persons of whatsoever Place, Degree or Condition, may not fail every one severally according to his respective place, office or charge, to proceed in the performance and execution of all Duties thereunto belonging, as formerly appertained to them and every of them, whilest the former government was in being.
Given at Whitehall, 21 December 1653”

Meanwhile, at the meeting on 20 December the Councillors further ordered that all prisoners committed by the Nominated Assembly were to remain in custody. Two forestry commissioners were appointed to negotiate the repurchase of parks and lands around Hampton Court, which had been designated for the use of the new Lord Protector. The Council assured the late customs farmers that the new government would honour the terms and conditions agreed with them by the Nominated Assembly, including a deal whereby they would gain some ex-forest land in return for advancing £250,000 to the government. This assurance was made in response to a petition which the customs farmers had addressed to the Lord Protector, the first of many thousands of petitions which were to come before the Council during the Protectorate. Business had begun in earnest.


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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