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The protectorate praised

The new government, its constitution and head of state were warmly received by many. Thus A Declaration Concerning the Government of the Three Nations of 21 December rounded off its account of the establishment of the new regime with the comment:

“So that now this Commonwealth is become the wonder and emulation of Europe, nay of the whole world; since that the Lord Protector is resolved to defend and maintain our national rights, laws, liberties and privileges, against all sort of persons whatsoever that shall dare to attempt the violation or extirpation thereof. And indeed, deplorable it is unto many to observe the bird-witted opinionators of this age, who already begin to break forth a disowning and dislike of this great and unparallel’d change. Alas! How great a madness are these Antinomies captivated with, who blindly endeavour the ruine of so prudent a Governor, so excellent a Protector. Defend us, O God.”

On 7 January 1654 one of the new Councillors, young Sir Charles Wolseley – son of an active royalist, he was still just 23 and would live to see a Hanoverian on the throne – wrote to the politician and diplomat Bulstrode Whitelock who was on a mission to Sweden and who was newly arrived at Gothenberg:

“My Lord, The state and complexion of affairs are much altered here since you left us and I think very much for the better. The parliament you left sitting, the main part of them delivered up their power to my Lord General from whence they received it. The government now established is by a Lord Protector (who hath much the same power which the king formerly) assisted with a council not exceeding 21 and parliaments to be chosen triennially who have the legislature wholly in them, save for some time till the first parliament be elected when it rests with the Protector and his council. The nation is much generally satisfied with it and providence seems to promise us a great deal of settlement and peace under this government. The present Protector is my Lord General, whose personal worth I think I may say without vanity qualify him for the greatest monarch of the world. The succeeding Protectors are elective by the council.”

In the same batch of correspondence Whitelock would have received a broadly similar letter from the journalist and author Marchamont Nedham, written on 6 January, also announcing the change of government in very positive terms: “we have a new world formed (like the old) out of chaos, by the prudence and industry of that excellent person”, the new Lord Protector. Nedham followed this up with perhaps the greatest and most detailed defence of the new regime to appear in print, his A True State of the Case of the Commonwealth of early February 1654. This eulogy sought not only to praise the Protectorate government but also to justify its advent as the will of God and its structure as a sensible blend of the old and the new which would bring security and stability to the troubled nation. The very positive tone is evident from the opening words:

“Seeing it hath pleased God, after many various and wonderfull Turns of Affairs,…at length to fix the Government of these Dominions in the present Form of Establishment: As it is a matter much beyond the expectation of those whom He hath used as Instruments in the whole course of his Providence, and of admiration to the World; so it affords abundant cause of praise and thanksgiving; that those great Changes and Revolutions which have been in the midst of us, have not engaged us in blood among our selves, nor exposed us for a prey and spoil to the Common Enemy, who watcheth all advantages and opportunities to promote the ruine of that Interest, which the Lord himself hath owned by many glorious Deliverances in the behalf of our Nation: for no other Reason can be imagined of the happy peace and tranquillity which we now enjoy, but that He who stretches out the Heavens, and laid the foundations of the Earth, and formeth the spirit of Man within him, hath brought forth these things, as the accomplishment of his own good will and purpose toward his People; who have been carried on by a Divine hand, through many admirable difficulties and successes, in all the contests they have had with the Enemies of their Peace and Liberty.”

Having stressed that the Protectorate had been established by God and not through mortal hands or secular ambitions, Nedham then embarked upon a lengthy review of the events of the previous decade, demonstrating both the virtue and godliness of the parliamentary cause and the way in which God’s providences had brought down the successive regimes of that decade and had thus led the nation and its people to this point and this new government. In the second half of A True State, Nedham analysed, defended and praised the Protectoral constitution, as offering “a solid and certain course of Settlement”, which guarded against the defects evident in earlier regimes, and restored the people “(as near as may be, with most convenience) to our antient way of Government, by Supreme Magistrates and Parlaments”, while at the same time providing “for the security of those great ends of Religion and Liberty, which were as the blood and spirits running through every vein of the Parlament and Armies Declarations; so that though the Commonwealth may now appear with a new face in the outward Form, yet it remains still the same in Substance, and is of a better complexion and constitution than heretofore.” In his ensuing analysis of the Instrument, Nedham repeatedly stressed that it gave power to the people through an assured succession of elected parliaments and that both Protector and Council exercised limited authority and were ultimately answerable to the people’s elected representatives in parliament – “all the grand Acts of Soveraignty are either immediately, or influentially, lodged in the People.” In line with this, he sought to explain and justify the apparent limitations placed upon parliament in the constitution – the qualifications on those permitted to vote in elections and to stand and serve as MPs, the right of the Protector to veto parliamentary bills running counter to the constitution and both the expectation that there would be significant periods when parliament would not be in session and the provisions for government to continue during these intervals between parliaments. Moving on, Nedham emphasised that key powers in government were shared between Protector, parliament and Council, that religious liberty was secured and guaranteed and that the state was to be defended by a strong army and navy, “such as will not only give us credit and esteem among our Friends abroad, but strike Terror into our Enemies”. Nedham defended the re-establishment of a single head of state, though one possessing strictly limited powers, and he praised the many qualities of Oliver Cromwell which made him an excellent choice as the first Lord Protector. He stressed that in the future Councillors would be chosen from a shortlist drawn up by parliament – he defended the non-parliamentary appointment of the first Councillors by reminding his readers “It must be remembred, that we were in the beginning of a new Government, necessitated to create a little World out of Chaos, and bring Form out of Confusion; so that there was an absolute necessity, that some who are known to be persons of Integrity, and firm for the present Settlement, should at the same instant be taken in, to carry on the work” – so that in due course new Protectors would be elected by Councillors who had themselves been initially shortlisted by the people’s representatives in parliament. Having analysed and defended several specific aspects of the new written constitution, Nedham closed with a broad and ringing endorsement of the new regime:

“Let us ruminate then a little in our hearts touching these things, and behold the great hopes and blessed benefits of Security and Freedom that we have, and may shortly enjoy under the Government, as it is now established. The Quarrel for hereafter is not between two Persons contesting both for a Crown; it is not the Interest of Grandeur of any single Person, or particular Family, that is contended for on our part: But if ever the Enemy should (for our sins) arise to the possibility of a future Contest, remember what it is he fights for, and what must be the wretched Consequents of his prevailing; remember also what we of this Nation are to stand for, the preservation of our Religion, our Liberties, and all that is dear and precious among men, which appear plainly to be imbarqued in the great Bottom of this present Establishment. If we falter, or be mis-led through phant’sie, or if that fail through our default, we are immediately swallowed up by Tyrannie, and have nothing left to do, but to put our mouths in the dust, and sit down in sorrow and silence for the glory of our Nation. Moreover, if on the other side any opposition of malecontent and refractory men should (which God forbid) arise at home here among our selves, the like Confusions will follow, the effect whereof must needs be a straining up the Pins of Power, to spoil the harmony of Government, and a constraining men, for necessary preservation, to fence themselves in such a manner as they never intended.
Having therefore a fair and noble way of Administration provided, under which men may live in a plenary enjoyment of their Liberty as Christians, and their Rights as Men; we do not, we cannot in any measure doubt (though we thus expostulate the matter with our Friends and Countrymen, and lay open those great Inconveniences and dangers before them) but that we shall find a ready and cheerfull concurrence from all sober Persons; and have ground chiefly to expect it from all the People of God, though of different Judgments, seeing equal Liberty is given to them all (without just offence to any) and the principal care is for preserving true Religion, and the countenance of its Professors. We, for our parts, have done our duty, in declaring the grounds of our Judgment, and know we have therein discharged a good Conscience, in answer to all the Ends of our first Principles and Engagements, believing we shall find comfort in it in the day of our Account: For, when we look back upon what is done, we find nothing that stares in our faces; and if there could have been imagined any better way of Settlement, we should have imbraced it with the same spirit of submission: But here we see, our Friends have taken in the good of all the three sorts of Government, and bound them all in one. If War be, here is the Unitive vertue (but nothing else) of Monarchy to encounter it; and here is the admirable Counsel of Aristocracie to manage it: If Peace be, here is the industry and courage of Democracie to improve it. And whereas in the present Constitution, the Legislative and Executive powers are separated; the former being vested in a constant succession of Parlaments elective by the People, the latter in an elective Lord Protector and his Successors assisted by a Council; we conceive the State of this Commonwealth is thereby reduced to so just a Temper, that the Ills either of successive Parlaments, furnished with power both of executing and making Laws, or of a perpetual Parlament (which are Division, Faction, and Confusion) being avoided, on the one side, and the Inconveniences of absolute Lordly power on the other; the Frame of Government appears so well bounded on both sides, against Anarchie and Tyrannie, that we hope it may now (through the blessing of God) prove a seasonable Mean (as for the better defending these Dominions against Enemies abroad, and promoting our Interests in Forein parts, so also) of Peace and Settlement to this distracted Nation; and be of a durable continuance to succeeding Ages, for the glory of the most high God, the advancement of his Gospel, and protection of his People, and the benefit of Posterity.”


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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