Richard Cromwell

Richard Cromwell
Richard Cromwell
2nd Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland
In office
3 September 1658 – 25 May 1659
(264 days)
Preceded by Oliver Cromwell
Succeeded by Council of State
Personal details
Born 4 October 1626(1626-10-04)
Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire
Died 12 July 1712(1712-07-12) (aged 85)
Cheshunt, Hertfordshire
Nationality English
Spouse(s) Dorothy Maijor
Relations Oliver Cromwell (Father)
Elizabeth Bourchier (Mother)
Religion Puritan (Independent)

Richard Cromwell (4 October 1626 – 12 July 1712) was the third son of Oliver Cromwell. He was the second ruling Lord Protector of England, Scotland and Ireland, serving for just under nine months, from 3 September 1658 until 25 May 1659.


Early years and family (1626–1653)

Richard was born in Huntingdon on 4 October 1626, the third son of Oliver Cromwell and his wife Elizabeth. Little is known of his childhood. He and his three brothers were educated at Felsted School in Essex close to their mother's family home. There is no record of him attending university. In May 1647, he became a member of Lincoln’s Inn. He may have served as a captain in Thomas Fairfax’s lifeguard during the late 1640s, but the evidence is inconclusive.

In 1649 Richard married Dorothy Maijor, daughter of Richard Maijor, a member of the Hampshire gentry. He and his wife then moved to Maijor’s estate at Hursley. During the 1650s they had nine children, four of whom survived to adulthood. Richard was named a Justice of the Peace for Hampshire and sat on various county committees. During this period Richard seems to have been a source of concern for his father, who wrote to Richard Maijor saying “I would have him mind and understand business, read a little history, study the mathematics and cosmography: these are good, with subordination to the things of God. Better than idleness, or mere outward worldly contents. These fit for public services, for which a man is born”. He fought in none of the English civil wars.

Move into political life (1653–1658)

In 1653, Richard was passed over as a member of Barebone's Parliament, although his younger brother Henry was a member of it. When his father was made Lord Protector in the same year, he was also not given any public role; however, he was elected to the First Protectorate Parliament as M.P. for Huntingdon and the Second Protectorate Parliament as M.P. for Cambridge University.[1] Under the Protectorate’s constitution, Oliver Cromwell was required to nominate a successor, and from 1657 he involved Richard much more heavily in the politics of the regime. He was present at the second installation of his father as Lord Protector in June, having played no part in the first installation. In July he was appointed Chancellor of Oxford University, and in December was made a member of the Council of State.

Lord Protector (1658–1659)

Oliver Cromwell died on 3 September 1658, and Richard was informed on the same day that he was to succeed him. Some controversy surrounds the succession. A letter by John Thurloe suggests that Oliver nominated his son orally on 30 August, but other theories claim either that he nominated no successor, or that he put forward Charles Fleetwood, his son-in-law.

Richard was faced by two immediate problems. The first was the army, which questioned his position as commander given his lack of military experience. The second was the financial position of the regime, with a debt estimated at £2 million. As a result Richard Cromwell's Privy council decided to call a parliament in order to redress these financial problems on 29 November 1658 (a decision which was formally confirmed on 3 December 1658). Under the terms of the Humble Petition and Advice, this Parliament was called using the traditional franchise (thus moving away from the system under the Instrument of Government whereby representation of rotten boroughs was cut in favour of county towns). This meant that the government was less able to control elections and therefore unable to manage the parliament effectively. As a result, when this Third Protectorate Parliament first sat on 27 January 1659 it was dominated by moderate Presbyterians, crypto-royalists and a small number of vociferous Commonwealthsmen (or Republicans).

The 'Other House' of Parliament – a body which had been set up under the Humble Petition and Advice to act as a balance on the Commons – was also revived. It was this second parliamentary chamber and its resemblance to the 'House of Lords' (which had been abolished in 1649) that dominated this Parliamentary session. Republican malcontents gave filibustering speeches about the inadequacy of the membership of this upper chamber (especially its military contingent) and also questioned whether it was indicative of the backsliding of the Protectorate regime in general and its divergence from the 'Good Old Cause' for which parliamentarians had originally engaged in Civil War. Reviving this House of Lords in all but name, they argued, was but a short step to returning to the Ancient Constitution of King, Lords, and Commons.

Royal styles of
Richard Cromwell
Lord Protector of the Commonwealth
Arms of the Protectorate (1653–1659).svg
Reference style His Highness
Spoken style Your Highness
Alternative style Sir

At the same time, the officers of the New Model Army became increasingly wary about the government's commitment to the military cause. The fact that Richard Cromwell lacked military credentials grated with men who had fought on the battlefields of the English Civil War to secure their nation's liberties. Moreover, the new Parliament seemed to show a lack of respect for the army which many military men found quite alarming. In particular, there were fears that Parliament would make military cuts to reduce costs, and by April 1659 the army’s general council of officers had met to demand higher taxation to fund the regime’s costs.

Their grievances were expressed in a petition to Richard Cromwell on 6 April 1659 which he forwarded to the Parliament two days later. Yet Parliament did not act on the army's suggestions; instead they shelved this petition and increased the suspicion of the military by bringing articles of impeachment against William Boteler on 12 April 1659, who was alleged to have mistreated a royalist prisoner while acting as a Major General under Oliver Cromwell in 1655. This was followed by two resolutions in the Commons on 18 April 1659 which stated that no more meetings of army officers should take place without the express permission of both the Lord Protector and Parliament, and that all officers should swear an oath that they would not subvert the sitting of Parliament by force.

These direct affronts to military prestige were too much for the army grandees to bear and set in motion the final split between the civilian-dominated Parliament and the army, which would culminate in the dissolution of Parliament and Richard Cromwell's ultimate fall from power. When Richard refused a demand by the army to dissolve Parliament, troops were assembled at St. James's Palace. Richard eventually gave in to their demands and on 22 April, Parliament was dissolved and the Rump Parliament recalled on 7 May 1659.

In the subsequent month Richard did not resist and refused an offer of armed assistance from the French ambassador, although it is possible he was being kept under house arrest by the army. On 25 May, after the Rump agreed to pay his debts and provide a pension, Richard delivered a formal letter resigning the position of Lord Protector. "Richard was never formally deposed or arrested, but allowed to fade away. The Protectorate was treated as having been from the first a mere usurpation".[2] He continued to live in Whitehall Palace until July, when he was forced by the Rump to return to Hursley. Royalists rejoiced at Richard's fall and many satirical attacks surfaced in which he was given the unflattering nicknames 'Tumble Down Dick' and 'Queen Dick'.

Later years (1659–1712)

During the political difficulties of the winter of 1659, there were rumours that Richard was to be recalled as Protector, but these came to nothing. In July 1660 Richard left for France, never to see his wife again. While there he went by a variety of pseudonyms, including “John Clarke”. He later travelled around Europe, visiting various European courts. As a visiting Englishman he was once invited to dine with the prince of Conti who was unaware of who he was. At dinner the prince questioned Richard about affairs in England and observed - "Well that Oliver, tho' he was a traitor and a villain, was a brave man, had great parts, great courage, and was worthy to command; but that Richard, that coxcomb and poltroon, was surely the basest fellow alive; what is become of that fool? " Richard replied "He was betrayed by those he most trusted, and who had been most obliged by his father." Richard departed the following morning.[3] During this period of voluntary exile he wrote many letters to his family back in England; these letters are now held by Cambridgeshire Archives and Local Studies at the County Record Office in Huntingdon.

In 1680 or 1681 he returned to England and lodged with the merchant Thomas Pengelly in Finchley in Middlesex, living off the income from his estate in Hursley. He died on 12 July 1712 at the age of 85 years, 282 days (31,327 days). This makes him the longest-lived "ruler" of Great Britain, although his nine-month reign was one of the shortest.

Fictional portrayals

Richard Cromwell has been depicted in historical films. They include:

  • Cromwell (1970). Portrayed by actor Anthony May [4]
  • To Kill a King (2003). Portrayed by actor John-Paul Macleod.[5] The film was considered "the first intelligent movie treatment of British history for many a year" but received an extremely limited release. The film deals with the consequences of regicide, revolt and "the failure of revolutionary movements". James Chapman argues that the general public would be more interested in "narratives of national greatness" instead of a close look at the English Civil War. [6]



  1. ^ Cromwell, Richard in Venn, J. & J. A., Alumni Cantabrigienses, Cambridge University Press, 10 vols, 1922–1958.
  2. ^ Jones, J.R. Country and Court: England 1658-1714 Edward Arnold (1978) 120
  3. ^ The Life of Oliver Cromwell Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland, and Ireland published 1743 p406
  4. ^ Munden (1971), p. 214-215
  5. ^ "To Kill a King (2003)". Retrieved 2011-05-04. 
  6. ^ Chapman (2005), p. 317-318


External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Oliver Cromwell
Lord Protectorate of England, Scotland and Ireland
3 September 1658 – 25 May 1659
Succeeded by
Council of State
Academic offices
Preceded by
Oliver Cromwell
Chancellor of the University of Oxford
Succeeded by
Duke of Somerset

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