The failure of the ‘Good Old Cause’

by Graham E. Seel

Synopsis by Serrie Meakins

Seel argues that Cromwell left behind a stable and internationally respected country in 1658, so there was nothing inevitable about the restoration of the monarchy 2 years later. He goes on to look at the reasons, both negative and positive, why Charles II was able to reclaim his throne in 1660. He also considers Monck’s role and examines what motivated him to take action. This is a useful analysis of the difficult 2 years 1658/60 which are often under-described in history text books.

The collapse of the Interregnum was by any standards spectacular. At the time of his death on 3 September 1658 it appeared as though Oliver Cromwell had fashioned a republic that was internationally accepted. ‘Abroad a King he seems and something more,’ wrote Andrew Marvell. On a smaller scale the ‘crisis of the Three Kingdoms’ appeared solved. Not only this, but there was much to suggest domestic stability. Lambert, Oliver’s erstwhile understudy, had been ousted from the political and military machine, the army appeared cowed and quiescent, as did the royalists, and the succession of Oliver’s eldest son to the title of Lord Protector seemed to suggest that the new written constitution, the Humble Petition and Advice, was working. The circumstances of 1658 thus appear as an unlikely base for the restoration of the monarchy just over two years later. There was certainly nothing inevitable about the events of the spring of 1660 for that was conditional upon a set of circumstances both unforeseen and unprecedented. Nonetheless, Oliver Cromwell’s processes of ‘healing and settling’, particularly with regard to the appointment of ex-royalist Monck as Governor of Scotland in 1654, fatally weakened the longevity of the Interregnum. ‘To this important extent’, as Hutton has written, ‘the Restoration did not happen because Cromwell had died, but because he had lived.’1 Above all else, in at least some respects, the period of rule without a monarch had enjoyed perhaps too much success. The efficient repression of enemies, both internal and external, did much to lessen the efficacy of an already unnatural regime; there was now no longer a common threat against which the disparate elements of the Commonwealth and Protectorate could unite. Religious ‘fanaticism’, most especially in the form of the Quakers, might have served in this role if it were not for the fact that the forms of government of the latter part of the 1650s were tainted by just this. Lucy Hutchinson claims that at the beginning of 1660 the Presbyterian preachers ‘began openly to desire the King, not for good will to him, but only for destruction to all fanatics.’2

The monarchy was not restored for negative reasons alone. Positive forces were at work also. That they needed to be was clear for the failure of Booth’s Rising had shown that the Presbyterian element as far stronger than the cavalier and it was known that the former desired to shackle any restored monarchy with terms similar to those laid out in the Newport Treaty of 1648. Hyde was therefore careful to ensure that Charles Stuart did not make a commitment to any particular party or course of action. It was important that the exiled Stuart should be able to appear to be all things to most men and that he be invited to return. The ‘assiduous and intelligently directed’3 substantial minority of former royalists, or crypto-royalists, who were able to capture and direct proceedings in the Convention Parliament, worked to ensure that Charles was returned to throne with almost no conditions attached. Hyde’s policy reached its apogee on 4 April 1660. The ‘Declaration of Breda was a beautiful package: it seemed to contain something for everyone’.4 Its four main clauses offered a means of bounding up ‘those wounds, which have so many years together been kept bleeding.’ The House of Stuart offered a general indemnity, a ‘liberty to tender consciences’, that the ‘purchases of land shall be determined in Parliament’ and that the army could expect an early payment of its arrears. Payment of the army had proved an insuperable problem to every Interregnum regime. In 1650 the assessment had stood at £120,000 per month, equivalent to eighteen pre-war parliamentary subsidies per annum. Even when at its lowest of £35,000 per month in1657 this was equivalent to five pre-war subsidies per annum. It was no little surprise that Convention MPs resolved on 1 May ‘that the government was and ought to be by Kings, Lords and Commons’ and even less wonder that men cheered when Charles stepped ashore in Kent on 25 May 1660. It seemed likely that monarchy would prove a cheaper option.

In financial terms Oliver Cromwell had bequeathed to the son a damnosa hereditas. By New Year’s day 1659 the Protectorate regime was to have a debt of £2.5 million and the army a legitimate demand for £890,000. This would have been sufficient to destabilise any government but perhaps especially one that had an untried leader at its helm. Nonetheless, whilst Richard Cromwell may have lacked political experience, he was not without ability. His accession did not prove to be the royalists’ playtime. Thurloe noted, ‘there is not a dog that wags his tongue, so great a calm are we in.5 Nor was he destined to become the ‘milksop’ and ‘Queen Dick’ of the textbooks. His very absence from the political scene during the rule of the first Lord Protector may well have served to enhance his appeal for it meant that Richard Cromwell was unsullied with the darker moments of the Commonwealth. Clarendon was aware of this advantage when he wrote that, ‘the dead is interred in the sepulchre of the kings…and his son inherits all his greatness and all his glory, without the public hate that visibly attended the other.’6 He did not carry any political baggage. It quickly became clear that he possessed qualities of decency, sincerity and moderation. Indeed, the new Protector was flooded with loyal addresses. Nonetheless, the notion that the Good Old Cause was in the process of being betrayed had already been fathered and now many a pamphleteer’s pen helped to propagate such a belief. One writer denounced the addresses of loyalty to Richard as emanations of ‘the Spirit of the Beast and false Prophet in the former and present Monarchs of this and other Nations’.7 It was perhaps the submission from the army officers in England, who made their loyalty conditional upon Richard promoting the ‘concernments of the godly’ and the Good Old Cause, that caused the greatest concern.

In his dealings with the army the new Lord Protector was to display not a little acuity. For instance, when faced with a petition that he abdicate control of the army he met with the officers on 18 October, made a speech in support of the aims of the army and then solved the crisis with compromise: Fleetwood was appointed Lieutenant-General of the army whilst Richard retained supreme power and the granting of commissions. An occasion of deeper crisis occurred on15 February 1659 when a pro-republican army petition was presented to parliament requesting, in part, that no officers should be dismissed except by court martial and thus served notice that the army wished to be considered as a fourth estate in the constitution. Richard responded decisively. His surprise visit to Wallingford House – the home of Fleetwood where the army grandees met – defused the situation. ‘He took so firm a line, indeed, that Fleetwood and Desborough drew back from an open breach, made their peace with him and publicly repudiated the proposed remonstrance. ‘8 Yet just over two months later the Protectorate regime was to be overwhelmed by the military men.

One of Oliver’s greatest achievements was that he had always prevented any alliance between the army and republican MPs. That the hopes of the army found refuge in the likes of Scot, Vane, Ludlow and Haselrige was less the result of the inadequacies of Richard than the extraordinarily obtuse actions of the parliament that met on 27 January 1659. The elections of December 1658 and January 1659, based upon the pre-Protectoral franchise, had produced a large (549 MPs) and unwieldy House. About half of those elected lacked any previous parliamentary experience and Thurloe noted that there was ‘soe great a mixture in the house of commons, that no man knowes which way the major part will enclyne’.9 In fact, the majority were conservative gentry, motivated in their actions by antipathy to the army. Already affronted by the unseating of their favourites Colonel Robert Lilburn and Major Packer, the army was deeply offended by parliament’s actions of 12 April when Major General Boteler was attacked for his harsh treatment of those associated with royalists, actions which he claimed that he had undertaken on the orders of Oliver Cromwell. Those who had undertaken similar acts, such as Fleetwood and Desborough, now feared for their own well-being. In this way did the parliament make it ‘…easy for the republicans to blow on the junior officers’ fears that the good old cause was everywhere being smothered’.10 Not only this but financial difficulties were also promoting instability, particularly amongst members of the army. The republican Haselrige had informed parliament that, ‘The army are our children, they are our children, they came from us. We are bound to provide for them.’ And, on another occasion he said that ‘soldiers must not be in want. Necessity will make them break through stone walls.’ Richard’s decision to allow the General Council of the Officers to commence meeting on 2 April was thus a realistic attempt to appease the ambitions of the army rank and file, place some legitimate pressure upon parliament and thwart the brilliant filibustering of the republican MPs. It was, however, already clear to both the officers and rank and file of the army that they could recover neither their authority nor their arrears by constitutional method; to the army grandees it was becoming equally clear that unless they rode the wave of their subordinates’ grievances they risked being swept away by it. Cashiered republican officers such as Okey and Overton but above all Lambert, still young and with a stature enhanced by his period in the political wilderness, were awaiting the call. Thus parliament was dissolved on 22 April, having succumbed to a ‘confederated Triumvirate of republicans, sectaries and soldiers’.11

The destroyers of the Protectorate had no workable constitution with which to replace the Humble Petition and Advice. Over the course of the next year or so various devices were discussed. Some in the army proposed a senate but Haselrige and his followers would never accept such a curb on the authority of parliament. After all, they had just got rid of the Single Person. Nonetheless, that other leading republican, Vane, proved to be in favour. The consequent rivalry did much to damage the Rump. James Harrington, in his book Oceana, had proposed a bicameral rotating parliament and, although the scheme was much discussed, the fact that it would not exclude any of the competing parties rendered it unworkable. Not only had the Rump proved sterile but the army seemed divided, Fleetwood apparently wanting a Protectorate, Lambert an oligarchy and yet others a nominated assembly or some form of Commonwealth. There was no Putney Debate in 1658 and no realistic programme for settlement. The days of the Heads the of Proposals, of the Remonstrance and of the Agreement were long gone. The uneasy bedfellows of 22 April could produce no scheme that would satisfy each one of them, let alone the traditional members of the political nation. The last two years of the 1650s thus witnessed a series of reactionary constitutional devices that did much to undermine stability.

It is usual for the efficacy of a regime to be enhanced by the reaction which a common enemy inspires. Booth’s Rebellion of 1 August thus served to maintain the uneasy alliance between the army and the restored Rump Parliament. By the autumn of 1659, consequent to the enormously efficient repression of Booth by Lambert, the Rump had been undermined by conflict between the civil and military authorities. It had quickly become clear that the attitude of the Rump MPs had changed hardly at all from their previous period of power. In fact this was apparent even before the disturbances in Cheshire. For instance, although they made Fleetwood Commander-in-Chief as the army had requested, on 6 June they ruled that it would be the Speaker, with parliament’s consent, who would sign army commissions. The lamentable failure of Booth at Winnington Bridge signalled the re-emergence not only of Lambert, but of the radical cause in general. This found some focus in the Derby petition of September which, amongst others, demanded that no officer be dismissed without court martial. In its treatment of this petition the Rump showed itself to be the army’s enemy and thus, in October 1659, it met the same fate as in April 1653. Its removal by Lambert permitted the emergence of yet greater fissiparous tendencies.

Fracture lines in the republican camp had been becoming more obvious for some time. The effective repression of the royalist cause now serve to hasten the fragmentation of the political republicans. In this way did the old allies, Haselrige and Vane, develop a yet deeper enmity, the latter opposing the restrictions which the former and the majority of the Rump had inserted in the commissions of the officers. Not only this but there was now an emerging rivalry between Fleetwood, whom the Venetian ambassador thought a man of ‘unexampled frigidity’, and Lambert, a man of spirit . The army now suffered from a number of internal splits, most clearly between those who remained loyal to the restored Rump and those such as Lambert, Fleetwood and Desborough, who remained opposed to it. Into the former category stepped George Monck: ex-royalist, colleague of Cromwell at Dunbar, conqueror of the great Dutch admiral Maarten Tromp and lately commander of the Scottish forces. The political events of February 1660 with which he is associated – notably the re­admission of the Secluded Members on the 21st of the month – were certainly facilitated by the rapid breakdown of the social and economic fabric.

Social and economic dislocation reached new depths in the winter months of 1659-60. Now came the first taste of sheer anarchy. Rising prices and falling trade helped to promote a taxpayers’ strike. Troops were brought in to help but this only resulted in an anti-army riot in London on 5 December. Law enforcement was proving increasingly difficult. In the summer many JPs had refused to take an oath to the Commonwealth and had been dismissed with the inevitable result that the assizes had only one judge in commission. By November the courts of Common Law at Westminster had been forced to close mid-term because judges’ commissions from parliament had expire. ‘The rule of law was visibly in abeyance.’12 Moreover, the institutions of London were now populated by members of a new generation; men who had never worn a russet coat and wondered a great deal what their fathers had fought for. Little wonder that there erupted in the provinces campaigns for a ‘free parliament’. Hutton suggests, however, that ‘compared with the havoc of the civil wars, the disruptions of the later Interregnum were slight.13 Indeed, the consequences of the coup in October had been continuity rather than chaos. For instance, the Michaelmas quarter sessions went ahead as usual and the magistrates and corporations of towns still met. Nonetheless, and despite elements of normality, any regime associated with chaos on the scale that occurred in the last winter of the Interregnum was unlikely to survive.

An earnest desire to restore social and political normality was not the only motivation of George Monck. The delay between his declaration for the deposed Rump Parliament and his advance towards the English border on 5 December has been argued to be evidence of proto-royalist sympathies. There were, however, a number of reasons for his procrastination. It was necessary to undertake a purge of those elements of his army who disagreed with his declaration. Some loyalty, as is usual, was bought. In the year 1659-60 a total of £72,000 was coming in during the last three months of 1659, and in August Monck had been granted £20,000 by the Council of State. He also had to be certain that his action was evincing support south of the border. In this respect his example was proving inspirational: on 13 December 1659 Vice-Admiral Lawson declared for the Rump and on 16 December he sailed into the Thames. Eight days later Haselrige was on the road for London with the garrison of Portsmouth which had also declared for the Purged Parliament. Even Lord Fairfax was persuaded to come out of retirement and was to muster a force on his old stamping ground, Marston Moor. The immediate effect of Monck’s decision was to move the country to the edge of another civil war. Lambert was provoked to march north with a force of about 8,000 men. Badly paid, a long way from home and faced with the onset of winter, this force soon began to melt away. Perhaps the greatest explanation, however, for Monck’s otherwise suspicious delay is that the deposed political republicans sent no evidence of their support: the silence was deafening. Only upon receipt of their endorsement of his actions did Monck begin to move south. Even before his crossing into England, on 26 December, the Rump had reassembled and Fleetwood commented that ‘God had spat in their [the army’s] faces.’ For the first time in twelve years it now appeared that the Commonwealthsmen had real control over the army.

All of this ignores a rather important point. There is little evidence to suggest that Monck disliked the usurpation of government by’ the military for he had supported the army when it had ejected parliaments in 1653 and April 1659. Monck had been prepared to fight against Lambert not because he approved of rule by the Rump but because he feared the religious radicalism that was associated with rule by the army. It seems likely that the greatest determinant of Monck’s action was his urgent desire to save the Church.14 By his expulsion of the Rump on 13 October 1659 Lambert had irrevocably associated himself with the radicals; the restoration of the Purged Parliament would therefore, at least in the short term, appear to be a bulwark against religious radicalism. After all, it had refused to abolish the tithe. Monck’s declaration for the Rump was thus a reaction to the religious chaos that now seemed apparent to all. The ‘Quaker terror’ was also increasingly prevalent and dynamic in Scotland. As one writer recorded, they ‘aboundit and drew themselssis in companyis throw the cuntrie without controlment’.15 A consideration of religious motivation thus helps explain the apparently precipitate urgency of Monck’s reaction to the coup of October. The restored Rump, however, had been associated with the most prolific and prominent of all radicals, the Quakers. Possibly owing to the influence of Vane, parts of the militia were controlled by Quakers whilst over in Ireland Henry Cromwell had been replaced with a commission of five radicals who went on to appoint a number of Quaker and Baptist JPs. All of this served to create an atmosphere akin to the Popish Plot fear, manifest most especially in the early years of the Long Parliament. The occasion of a Fifth Monarchist meeting in West Sussex was sufficient to make a royalist agent ‘daily expect a massacre’.16 In Oxford, when the strength of the wind lifted the tiles off St Martin’s tower the congregation believed that the sects had risen. The decision to retain the tithe had served to enhance the efficacy of the Quaker movement for they now organised themselves with an efficiency and sense of purpose that could only make the army men jealous. Quaker gatherings in southern England now began to benefit from shared funds and common records. Reasoned reflection would suggest that the restoration of the Rump would be insufficient to restore religious harmony. In fact, it was increasingly unlikely that it would be able to restore any sense of normality.

The Rump’s attempts to do so, or rather their absence, alienated their greatest protector. In the famous letter of 11 February, shortly before the readmission of the Secluded Members, Monck scolded the Rump for encouraging the demands of the sectaries. It would be false, however, to suggest that Monck was working to a blueprint that dictated that he should save the purged House or restore the monarchy. What he did desire was political and economic, but especially religious, stabilisation – if the former could not provide this, then the latter was the other realistic choice. The restored House undertook a substantial purge of the army in January 1660: three eighths of the entire corps were replaced, half of the field officers and two thirds of the captains. A similar process was applied to the parliament. Those who had been removed were replaced by conservatives and as such it now appeared that reform and the cause of the army would indeed be ill-served. Moreover, despite declarations to the contrary, the suspicion grew that the Rump intended to perpetuate itself beyond 7 May. It was increasingly clear that rather than act as a bulwark against radicalism the very intransigence and conservatism of the House was promoting it. In removing the chains and posts which the City had set up in protest at the restoration of the Rump it became clear to Monck and his men that they were contributing to that intransigence and that they were being asked to defend a cause with which they possessed no emotional sympathy. As Hutton has written, ‘it seems reasonable to suppose that the whole corps, including its commander, shared neither the past experiences nor the ideals of the Commonwealthsmen, and therefore failed to support their policies.’17 In February 1660 Monck therefore acted to secure the re-admission of those MPs secluded by Colonel Pride in 1648, an act that is often perceived as the moment when the Stuart Restoration became an inevitability.

Eikon Basilike, a volume which purported to contain the prayers and meditations of the dead king, proved to be a runaway best seller throughout the 1650s; Milton’s rebuttal of it, Eikonoklastes, never made it to a second edition. This perhaps suggests that rather than seeking to explain reasons for the Restoration it would be more appropriate to attempt an explanation of why the Interregnum lasted so long. Much of the vigour of the regimes of the 1650s was sustained to a very significant degree by the requirement of fighting against a greater common enemy, whether this be Ireland, Scotland or Spain or some internal malignancy such as Papists or cavaliers. By the end of 1658 it was increasingly clear that the former was lessening and the latter was insignificant. The failure of Booth’s Rebellion made manifest the extraordinary weakness of the royalist cause and unleashed the self­ destructing forces of the Interregnum. In this way, paradoxically the very weakness of the royalist cause hastened the return of the monarchy. The Interregnum simply imploded. It has been said of Monck that ‘he would never have betrayed the Protectorate but when its destroyers divided their own supporters – officers, radical Independents, sectaries, Commonwealthsmen – with such meaningless quarrel that the soldiers threatened to make a ring for their officers to fight in, he decided he must act.’18 The recrudescence of religious radicals, particularly the spectacular growth of the Quaker movement, might have become the force which held the processes of government together. That it did not do so as because government had come to be associated with such radicals, whether this be the Rump, the Committee of Safety or the rule by Commission in Ireland. ‘Quakers…were so aggressive and successful that mere tolerance on the part of the government appeared to be a betrayal to conservatives.’ Increasingly reactionary forms of government, which appeared tainted and subverted by the radicals, eventually produced the biggest reaction of all, the return of the Stuart Monarchy.

1 R Hutton, The Restoration (Oxford, 1987), p. 120.
2 Quoted in The Open University, Seventeenth-Century England : A Changing Culture. Block 8. The Restoration (Milton Keynes, 1981), p. 8.
3 J R Jones, Court and Country (London, 1978), p. 131.
4 B Williams, Elusive. Settlement (London, 1984), p. 115.
5 Quoted in R W Harris, Clarendon and the English Revolution (London, 1983), p. 259.
6 Quoted in ibid, p. 259.
7 Quoted in A H Woolrych, ‘The Good Old Cause and the Fall of the Protectorate‘, Cambridge Historical Journal 13 (1957) p140.
8 Quoted in ibid, p. 139.
9 Quoted in G B Nourse, ‘Richard Cromwell’s House of Commons‘, Bulletin of the John Rylands Library 60 (1977-8) p. 98.
10 Quoted in ibid, p. 146.
11 Prynne, quoted in A H Woolrych, ‘The Collapse of the Great Rebellion‘, History Today 8 (August 1958), pp. 606-7.
12 ibid.
13 Hutton, Restoration, p. 83. .
14 See B Reay, The Quakers and the English Revolution (London, 1985).
15 Quoted in Hutton, Restoration, p. 71.
16 Quoted in ibid, p. 53.
17 Quoted in ibid, p. 94.
18 Woolrych, ‘Collapse of the Great Rebellion’, p. 615.
19 Hutton, Restoration, p. 53.

See also:

  • R Hutton, The British Republic (Basingstoke, 1990).
  • F M S McDonald ‘Timing of General George Monck’s March into England, 1 January 1660‘, English Historical Review 105 (1990).
  • IA Roots, ‘The Short and Troublesome Reign of Richard IV‘, History Today 30 (March 1980).
  • IA Roots ‘Tactics of the Commonwealthsmen in Richard Cronwell’s Parliament’, in D H Pennington & K V Thomas (eds), Puritans and Revolutionaries (Oxford, 1978).
  • A H Woolrych, ‘Last Quest for Settlements 1657-60, in G E Aylmer (ed); The Interregnum (Basingstoke, 1974).

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