Who Was the Lord Protector?
Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland was the title assumed by Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658), the man, who above all others, brought about the downfall and execution of Charles I. The title was held by Oliver Cromwell (December 1653 – September 1658) and subsequently his son and designated successor Richard Cromwell (September 1658 – May 1659) during what is now known as The Protectorate.
The 1653 Instrument of Government (republican constitution) stated that—
Oliver Cromwell, Captain-General of the forces of England, Scotland and Ireland, shall be, and is hereby declared to be, Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland, and the dominions thereto belonging, for his life.
The replacement constitution of 1657, the Humble Petition and Advice, gave “His Highness the Lord Protector” the power to nominate his successor. Cromwell chose his eldest surviving son, the politically inexperienced Richard. This was a non-representative and de facto dynastic mode of succession, with royal connotations in both styles awarded, (even a double invocation 16 December 1653 – 3 September 1658 “By the Grace of God and Republic Lord Protector of England, Scotland and Ireland”) and many other monarchic prerogatives, such as that of awarding knighthoods.
The younger Cromwell, who succeeded on his father’s death in September 1658, held the position for only eight months before resigning in May 1659, being followed by the second period of Commonwealth rule until the Restoration of the exiled heir to the Stuart throne Charles II in May 1660.
Cromwell was born at Huntingdon, the son of a Protestant family who had acquired lands at the time of the Reformation. When he was 29 he entered the House of Commons. Sir Philip Warwick gave this description of him at that time: “His stature was of a good size; his sword close to his side; his countenance swoln and reddish; his voice sharp and untuneable; and his eloquence full of fervour.” He proved an active and determined member, remarkable for his Puritan enthusiasm.
When civil war between Charles and Parliament broke out in 1642, Cromwell returned home and set about raising a well-disciplined cavalry regiment of “God-fearing men” who became famous as the Ironsides and proved their worth in the defeat of Prince Rupert at the Battle of Marston Moor on July, 2, 1644. A year later he was second-in-command at the decisive Battle of Naseby when the New Model Army, largely based on the principles of Cromwell’s Ironsides, crushed the royalist forces.
After Charles’s surrender Cromwell was the man chiefly responsible for the trial, condemnation and execution of the King. By his successful military campaigns against the Scots and the Irish, he forced them to submit to Parliament’s authority, but when Parliament quarreled with the Army Cromwell dismissed it in 1653 and assumed the title of Lord Protector.
After Cromwell’s death in 1658, the title passed for a few months to his son Richard, a weak man powerless to resist the tide of reaction then setting in. In 1660 the Stuart dynasty was restored in the person of Charles II. Cromwell’s remains were removed from West-minster Abbey, hung up in chains like the body of a common criminal and buried beneath the scaffold at Tyburn.