Exiting the English Republic, part 1: political flux in early 1660

Continuing the series on the turmoil of 1659-1660, which saw a retreat from radicalism and political experiment, Dr Vivienne Larminie, assistant editor of the Commons 1640-1660 section, looks at the manoeuvrings of politicians and army officers in a period of great tension and uncertainty…

By late January 1660 the English republic had entered its last days – although its imminent extinction was probably not inevitable, and certainly not apparent to all contemporary observers.  The ‘interruption’ of Parliament forced by dissident army officers in October 1659 had ended when their alliance crumbled from within and was assailed from without.  In early December forces led by Sir Arthur Hesilrige and Harbert Morley, who weeks earlier had mounted unsuccessful resistance to the military coup in Whitehall, captured strategically significant Portsmouth.  On 14 December they issued a strongly-worded condemnation of coup leader Charles Fleetwood and his colleagues, asserting that the army officers were not ‘competent persons to judge of governments, and to break Parliaments, and put new fancies of their own instead thereof, as they please’ [Thurloe State Papers vii. 795].  Regiments based in Scotland and Ireland, naval commanders and the common council of London were among those who endorsed the return of Parliament.  On 24 December troops in London gathered outside Speaker William Lenthall’s house, apologised for their actions in October and ‘professed their resolution to live and die with the Parliament, and never more to swerve from their fidelity to it’ [Clarendon, History, vi. 140].  On the 26th Lenthall led a procession of MPs to the Palace of Westminster and the Rump Parliament reassembled.

Speaker Lenthall and assembled MPs (detail from An Exact Collection of All Remonstrances, 1643)

Briefly all, or almost all, was sweetness and light.  Hesilrige and Morley made a triumphant entry to Westminster, and received the thanks of the House of Commons.  Informed of the new developments, General George Monck, commander-in-chief in Scotland, assured Lenthall that he blessed ‘the Lord that hee hath restored you to your just and lawfull authority, and these Nations [i.e. England, Scotland and Ireland] to their rights and freedomes’.  Monck, whose precise stance at this point is a mystery, ventured the optimistic comment that ‘I knowe that all the officers and souldiers heere doe looke upon itt as a rich mercy, and doubt nott but you will improve itt to the glory of God and the good and happines of these three Nations’ [Clarke Papers, iv. 238].  A newsletter writer predicted that ‘We are neere an end of our troubles; all parts are uppe for the Parliament’.  Not only had Fleetwood conceded defeat but he had also acknowledged that God was not on his side, telling Lenthall that ‘the Lord had blasted’ him and his colleagues ‘and spitt in their faces, and witnessed against their perfidiousness, and that hee was freely willing to lie att [MPs’] mercy’ [Clarke Papers, iv. 220].  One who had thrown in his lot with the army officers in the vain hope of effecting legitimacy and reconciliation faced ‘daily hazards’.  Bulstrode Whitelocke, commissioner of the great seal, heard that two leading civilian republicans, the regicides Henry Neville and Thomas Scot, ‘and others, had threatened to take away my life; and Scot said, That I should be hanged wth the great seal about my neck’.  Responding fearfully to a summons from Lenthall to attend the House, he ‘found many of my old acquaintance … very reserved to me’ [Whitelocke, Memorials, 690-2].

William Lenthall (artist unknown)

But cracks soon appeared in the coalition that had secured the return of the Rump. Victory exposed divisions between those MPs who espoused republicanism for its own sake, those for whom parliamentary sovereignty was paramount, those for whom this was just a stage along the route to the restoration of the monarchy, and those who simply sought order or survival.  Dissension stymied political settlement.  Seeking to consolidate their position, Hesilrige and Scot introduced an oath requiring members of the new council of state to renounce the ‘pretended title of Charles Stewart and the whole line of the late King James and of every other person, as a single person, pretending … to the crown of these nations’ [Journal of the House of Commons vii. 806b]; this excluded another protectorate as well as monarchy.  Morley, of whom the royalists had high hopes, refused to take it, but hung on to key military positions and remained an MP.  Sir Anthony Ashley Cooper, who had co-operated closely with Hesilrige and friends the previous autumn, and who, in command of Fleetwood’s former regiment, was a significant military force in London, worked with Morley to oppose the republicans in the House and to undermine radicals like Edmund Ludlowe, commander in Ireland.

Meanwhile, through January 1660 General Monck marched south from Scotland with his army.  Cultivated by all political and religious factions, he was in turn careful to keep in touch with leading MPs, but his intentions were the subject of intense speculation.  On 23 January the Rump, which had already voted for by-elections rather than the reinstatement of Members excluded in 1648 at Pride’s Purge, issued a declaration affirming the commonwealth, as established without a king or House of Lords.  But following Monck’s entry into London on 3 February, the clamour for the re-admission of the purged Members and the return of the Long Parliament became overwhelming.  Amid popular celebrations, the Rump was symbolically ‘roasted’ as meat was barbecued in the streets in anticipation of that body’s demise.  On 21 February, with the general’s support, 73 of the excluded MPs still alive reclaimed their seats.  A day of thanksgiving was held a week later.  What would happen next, however, was unclear.  Hampshire landowner Richard Norton, previously close to the protectorate, was reported to have responded to Monck’s earlier offer to ‘procure’ the admission of the secluded Members ‘if they would only promise not to bring in the king’ with an ominous comment.  ‘Freedom of Parliament’, he had apparently said, ‘was the just right and interest of the nation, and if [MPs] thought it fit to bring in the Turk, they ought not to be imposed on the contrary’ [Mems. of the Verney Fam. iii. 462].  The final outcome was not as startling as that, but, as will be seen in the next blog in our series, the influence of individual MPs waxed and waned, and successive deals foundered, before a resolution emerged.


Further reading:

Thurloe State Papers, vol. ii (accessed at https://www.british-history.ac.uk/thurloe-papers/vol7

Clarendon, earl of [Edward Hyde], History of the Rebellion ed. W.D. Macray (1888)

Whitelocke, Bulstrode, Memorials of the English Affairs (1732)

The Clarke Papers, vol. iv, ed. C.H. Firth (Camden Society, new series 62, 1901)

Memoirs of the Verney Family, vol. iv, ed. M.M. Verney (1899)

Journal of the House of Commons, vol. vii (accessed at https://www.british-history.ac.uk/commons-jrnl/vol7 )

Biographies or further biographies of Sir Anthony Ashley Cooper, Charles Fleetwood, Sir Arthur Hesilrige,William Lenthall, Edmund Ludlowe, George Monck, Harbert Morley, Henry Neville, Richard Norton and Bulstrode Whitelocke are being prepared by members of the House of Commons 1640-1660 section.

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