Oliver Cromwell and the Print Culture of the Interregnum

Oliver Cromwell and the Print Culture of the Interregnum

By Benjamin Woodford

Master’s Thesis, Queen’s University, 2007

Abstract: When the second Protectoral Parliament offered the crown to Oliver Cromwell, he, despite his conservative impulses, rejected it. Why would a man who believed in the ancient constitution and hoped to stabilize the British Isles turn down a traditional title that had the potential to unify the nation? The answer partly lies within the numerous political tracts that were printed in the 1650s. The kingship crisis sparked the creation of many pamphlets and petitions that sought to sway Cromwell one way or the other. Three prominent groups that wrote regarding the possibility of King Oliver I were monarchists, sects, and republicans. Monarchists sought to illustrate the advantages of kingship, the sects wrote of the consequences of kingly rule, and the republicans were divided on the question. An analysis of the language and arguments in both the pamphlets addressed to Cromwell and Cromwell’s own speeches reveals that the sects were the most influential group that wrote to Cromwell. At times, sectarian criticisms of the Protectorate were able to elicit responses in Cromwell’s speeches, a feat accomplished by neither monarchists nor republicans. Employing providential language, the sects were able to convince Cromwell that God had judged against the office of king and that any attempt to reestablish such a government would result in eternal damnation. Cromwell’s own religious convictions rendered him susceptible to reasoning of this sort. Once he was aware of the sects’ arguments, Cromwell believed that he had no choice but to refuse the crown.

Introduction: Oliver Cromwellís forced dissolution of the Rump Parliament on April 20, 1653 ushered in a unique era in Englandís political history. Charles I had been dead for over four years and his sonís attempted invasion through Scotland had failed. With a return to the Stuart monarchy appearing highly unlikely in the near future, a period of experimentation in government began. The republican government, which had ruled from 1649 to 1653, may have been unprecedented in England, but its architects could look to the Netherlands or certain Italian city states as models. When the English republic sank to the bottom of the sea next to the monarchy, England would have to sail unexplored waters as it chartered its political course. The rapid changes in government reflected the uncertainty of the times. After the Rump, England changed from being governed by an assembly of men hand-picked for their godliness, to rule of a single person and parliament, to a military dictatorship, and back to the rule of a single person and parliament. All of these changes in government occurred between 1653 and 1658. Never before had England witnessed so many political alterations in so short a period of time.

Click here to read this thesis from Queen’s University

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