Tension between the Rump and the army 1649-53, and Cromwell’s ejection of the Rump

by Lee Wood

Synopsis by Serrie Meakins

Very clear explanation of why the army lost patience with the Rump. There can be no better preparation for answering questions on why Cromwell ejected the Rump. An excellent article.

The army was the instrument of origin and demise of the Rump. In 1649 the army had been the catalyst for regicide but it had not established a military dictatorship. Instead, army leaders welcomed the Commonwealth and supported it against royalist, Celtic and Leveller insurgents. In return the army hoped that the government would embark on a series of reforms that would provide justice and allow the regime to be based on a wider foundation than just the army support. However, the conservative element within the Rump, who feared power falling into the hands of the army or sectarian radicals, were in consequence reluctant to respond to the army’s ‘pressure’ for reform. Furthermore, given increased army influence within politics, financial weaknesses, the allegations of corruption, and disagreement over social, religious and foreign policies, there developed a growing estrangement between the grandees and the government. Hence, it was this army disillusionment by 1653 that led Cromwell forcibly to dissolve parliament.

Increased army influence within politics embittered and polarised Rump-army relations. Threats to the regime came from the Levellers who were disappointed at the Rump’s failure to accept the Agreement of the People (1647), thus regarding the new government as more tyrannical than Charles Stuart. Indeed Lilburne was thoroughly disenchanted with the new regime, expressing through England’s New Chains Discovered how, ‘the fair blossoms
of hopeful liberty had ripened into bitter fruit’. Revolts at Ware, London and Burford created anxiety for, as Trevelyan states, ‘if the army revolted the new state would fall’. The grandee crushing of these disturbances made the regime stable, though more importantly, increasingly dependent upon army support, thus polarising Rump-army relations. These disturbances blocked the pace of reform, with the dangers of a radical spectre further increasing army dependence and influence within politics. Popularity was also increased by Cromwell’s, Ireton’s and Fairfax’s crushing of the Irish, Scottish and English supporters of Charles II, removing the military threats to the regime. However, though revolts were defeated, MPs feared that the consequences would be power falling into the army’s hands. Though this is true, army influence and support was inevitable for, as Aylmer suggests, ‘without the support of the army, the government’s roots would be shattered’. Hence, it was essentially this lack of army support for the new regime that led Cromwell to dissolve parliament in 1653.

The existence of a large army exacerbated financial difficulties within the regime, further widening the division between the government and the army. Worden believes that ‘finance was the Rump’s greatest political liability, and was the unsolved problem which overshadowed Rump politics from beginning to end.’ Firth has estimated that the Rump years saw an expansion in the army from 47,000 to 70,000 as war was undertaken against the Irish, Scots and the Dutch. Certainly, this issue was to create tensions within the new regime. The Rump found itself in what appears to be perpetual dilemma, where the more unpopular it became, the more it needed army support; the greater the size of the army, the more its financial demands became inevitable, thus enhancing its unpopularity. Indeed, support was poor from London merchants which reflected the lack of confidence in the regime’s durability, and by 1650, the Rump’s deficit was over £700,000 which was half its annual income. Paul has even gone as far as to suggest that in 1652, ‘the Commonwealth was in sad straits’, citing how at the end of a ruinous civil war, it had become involved in an expensive naval war, at the same time as the extraordinary means of revenue, such as the compositions of cavaliers and the sales of delinquents’ lands, church lands and royal property, ‘were rapidly drying up’. Certainly such tactics created tensions, annoying both royalist and army leaders. The General Pardon and Oblivion Act (1652) exemplified discontents, as in the eyes of Desborough, Lambert and Rich, it gave too little protection to defeated royalists and made too many exemptions for conciliation to be achieved. Clearly the Rump needed to win back support, though as Cromwell said, ‘there must be no volition of the public faith for the Parliament and army’s honours’, feeling that the Rump was allowing the army deliberately to become unpopular so as to widen the basis of support for the government in order to disband the threat of the army’s political power. However, in the wake of its perpetual ineffectiveness to deal with finance, it was the Rump’s failure to secure wider support that hindered progress and further polarised divisions, culminating in Cromwell’s dissolution of the Rump.

The belief amongst the army that the Rump was predominately ‘corrupt’ generated tensions, further polarising Rump­ army relations. Indeed many Rumpers made profits out of the administration and government, though it is going too far to agree with Yale that ‘the Rump was an Oligarchy with no positive policy except that of self-interest.’ Sir Arthur Haslerig developed his wealth through the ex-Bishop of Durham’s estate, Wildman became a successful dealer in confiscated property, and Sir Henry Vane was amply pensioned on retiring from the treasureship of the navy. Modern day historians have argued Yale’s viewpoint, taking a more sympathetic line on these allegations of corruption. Underdown has defended the Rump on the grounds that ‘the expectations demanded of MPs were unrealistic and there is little evidence to suggest that they put self-interest before that of the nation.’ Aylmer suggests that ‘many MPs came into office in the years1645-9 and that this takeover created the image of self-interest’: he believes that ‘officials were deliberately paid higher salaries in the hope that they would not recoup themselves at the expense of the public.’ Certainly, one must agree with such interpretations, an must too stress the importance of Leveller, royalist and Presbyterian propaganda in emphasising the self-interest of MPs; press coverage was only further to entrench the belief of ‘corruptness’ within the regime and hence further polarised divisions. Further, army grandees were soon contrasting their experiences in Ireland and Scotland with those of the politicians who had stayed at home. Perhaps the criticism arose because it was felt that the Rump was not embarking on a reforming programme and that self-interest dominated. The solution was possibly to give office to God-fearing men who would fulfil the needs of the nation before self. Paul suggests that ‘the corruption within the Rump rapidly brought Parliament into disrepute with the army officials. It was this disrepute that led to a growing estrangement between the Rump and the army, thus forcing Cromwell to dissolve Parliament in 1653.

The failure of the Rump to effect satisfying legal reforms further alienated the army command. Law procedure was believed to be too complicated and too slow, and lawyers were thought to be more concerned with maintaining their vast profits than with reforming procedure or laws. Levellers stressed the importance of a codification and simplification of the laws, to return to England the freedoms of the Saxon times, which had been initially broken by the Normans and exacerbated by the House of Stuart. The Hale Commission (1651) had represented the establishment of more county courts and land registers in order that more cases could be settled locally. Cromwell sought to ‘reform the abuses of all professions that makes many poor to make a few rich’. However, divisions grew wider as lawyers who were MPs prevented improvement and offered only limited reform: easing the debtors law, and permitting the use of English instead of French and Latin. Underdown has stressed the inadequate legal system, showing that there were 44 lawyer MPs and believing that ‘too many sessions consisted of less than 100 MPs, which allowed lawyers to block reforms’. For example, only three bills on legal reform reached the committee stage; most were forgotten. Woolrych believes that ‘the Rump was too concerned with its constitutional origins [and] that made it sensitive to lawyers’ wishes…Law reform was a guide to the extent of social reform and that many of its proposals [were] blocked …reflected the Rumper’s view that ‘normal’ government must be maintained.’ In the discussion over law reforms, the Rump was eventually obliged to decide between the lawyers on the one hand, and the sectarian radicals on the other. It is not surprising they chose the lawyers. Certainly, it was the Rump’s procrastination to implement satisfactory legal reforms that further polarised the Rump­ army dichotomy, compelling Cromwell in 1653 forcibly to dissolve parliament.

Tensions were also generated through the Rump’s unwillingness to respond to reforms sought by the army. Some of the grandees wanted to achieve a just government and society, based upon the belief that the government should be beneficial to those under their control. Monopolies, pluralities and excessive salaries for public officials were to be controlled, cheating at market stopped and scarce foodstuffs allocated equitably. The unemployed were to be found work, better care was to be provided for those injured in the civil war and for their widows and children. It was the Rump’s failure to solve such grievances that contributed to the army’s growing sense of active involvement within politics, polarising their relationship with MPs, and hence becoming another factor behind the dissolution of April 1653. Rump inadequacies and army discontent have been examined by Hirst, who shows how bills for stopping deer poaching received greater priority than reform of the poor laws. Indeed, Lockyer believes that this lack of legislative reform ‘raised fundamental questions’. And Cromwell himself showed his discontent, directing his anger at what seemed to be efficiency without idealism, government without morality. He could not believe that a great war had been fought and a monarchy overthrown simply to give power to a handful of men who had come to stand for nothing but themselves. At times it seemed as if the Rump was deferring to gentry interests, and perhaps realising that in the long term it would need the support of the gentry; however, by doing so, it raised a fundamental belief of distrust within the army, consequently losing its support. Further, its politics of consensus never really gained the support of the gentry and limited attempts at reform upset the army. Given that the army wanted more innovation, mixed with a hierarchical structure of society, the Rump’s procrastination became evidently more apparent, thus further polarising the division, which by 1653 had reached the point of no return.

The Anglo-Dutch war (1652) exacerbated tensions as army generals were unsure of the Rump’s objectives. War itself against the Dutch was perfectly justifiable for some groups, like Harrison’s Fifth Monarchy Men. Conflicts over trade in the New World, Africa and the Indies, as well as disputes over territorial waters, generated mutual mistrust. The Navigation Acts (1651) further developed tensions. But while the war was popular with people like Maurice Thomson because of his shipbuilding and military contacts, people like Cromwell looked on with concern. Though accepting commercial competition, Cromwell believed that religion should be a key element in the nation’s foreign policy. Thurloe believed ‘he deplored the lamentable state of the Protestant cause whilst the war continues’, and Roots suggests that ‘he was determined to end the Dutch war as soon as it was practicable to give foreign policy a[n]…Anti-Spanish tone.’ Cromwell became disenchanted with the Rump as he disliked its aggressive nationalism and commercialism, seeing it as a divergence away from the main task of internal reform. Certainly, this would seem to accord with what Barnard has implied, in that some officers even suspected that the Rump was deliberately building up the navy as a potential political counterweight to that of the army, and that money earmarked for internal reform was being misused in naval reform. Hence, it was this element of suspicion created through the Rump’s direction of foreign policy that exacerbated the Rump-army dichotomy and so contributed to Cromwell’s actions in spring 1653.

The Rump’s failure to solve the issue of a national church settlement and to ensure Godly reformation added to the tension between MPs and army grandees. Baptists favoured the abolition of a national church supported by tithes; the Independents within the army sought a parliamentary framework of organisation for the protection of a national church. Under this guidance, individual sects would be given toleration, provided their dogma was in the interests of Protestantism and would not endanger the security of the state or provide religious or social unrest. However, through doing this, it seemed that instead of attempting comprehension, the Rump would be accepting religious disorder. In 1650 it had repealed the Elizabethan law compelling attendance at church, and not only did its Blasphemy and Adultery Acts seem incapable of establishing discipline with tolerance, but they also created tensions as army generals feared ‘unacceptable’ sects, like Catholics, Episcopalians, Ranters and Anabaptists re-emerging; fears were raised in 1649 when only the Speaker’s vote had stopped the Rump from
introducing Presbyterianism as England’s religion. Moreover, the Rump’s failure in 1653 to renew the Commissions for the Propagation of the Gospel in Wales and the North further embittered Rump-army relations. Such reluctance to spread religious faith upset generals, who believed that their victories in Ireland, Scotland and England were due to God’s will. Cromwell and Harrison’s Fifth Monarchy Men began to lose faith in the government and its lack of desire to commit itself to religious reform and effect a Godly reformation. Indeed, as Barnard suggests, ‘Cromwell was now thrown decisively against the Rump.’

In 1653 army disillusionment came to a head when Cromwell forcibly removed the Rump. A member of explanations are feasible as to why Cromwell undertook this action. It is possible that the members of the Rump were thinking of recruiting new MPs rather than new elections. The fact that Haslerig was in charge of the bill suggested to Woolrych that ‘the bill would have been unacceptable to the army’. It could well have been part of parliament’s wider scheme of purging the army of its political leaders and preventing all serving officers from becoming MPs. Another explanation is that the Rump sought new elections which the army refused to accept. Worden believes that ‘the new MPs would not be susceptible to the wishes of the army, and that the soldiers suspected that the Rump would allow ‘a Parliament to come into existence which would probably start dismantling what gains the revolution had so far achieved.’ Moreover, what the bill did was to open up wider questions about the years 1649-53. Clearly, many of the army leaders had grown discontented with the Rump and were beginning to consider whether the government was to be permanent or temporary. Lambert wanted to base a regime on civilian gentry support, Harrison on Fifth Monarchy fervour. Cromwell himself was undecided until the last moment over the possibility of using force to remove what he saw as a legitimate government. Possibly, he came to appreciate that after four years of Rump rule very little had been achieved, but what was equally important was a belief that there was little chance of future reforms if the Rump continued. Given the army’s perspective that the regime had achieved little, this may have been the decisive factor in overturning a regime that they saw becoming an oligarchy.

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