English Interregnum

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The English Interregnum was the period of parliamentary and military rule in the land occupied by modern-day England and Wales after the English Civil War. It began with the regicide of Charles I in 1649 and ended with the restoration of Charles II in 1660.

This era in English history can be divided into four periods.

  1. The first period of the Commonwealth of England from 1649 until 1653
  2. The Protectorate under Oliver Cromwell from 1653 to 1658
  3. The Protectorate under Richard Cromwell from 1658 to 1659
  4. The second period of the Commonwealth of England from 1659 until 1660


[edit] Life during the Interregnum

Oliver Cromwell was a Puritan and during the Interregnum, he imposed a very strict form of Christianity upon the country. Although a main cause of the English Civil War was oppression under Charles I, England during the Interregnum became oppressive in its own fashion. Cromwell granted religious freedom otherwise previously unknown in England, but other forms of expression were suddenly limited (for instance, theater, which had thrived under the Stuart kings and Elizabeth I, was banned). Cromwell also made certain that his own personal vision of Christianity was enforced upon the masses, with feasts on days of fast disallowed and work on Sundays subject to fine. Many of Cromwell's actions upon gaining power were decried by some commentators as "harsh, unwise, and tyrannical".

His son and successor, Richard Cromwell gave up his position as Lord Protector with little hesitation, resigning or "abdicating" after a demand by the Rump Parliament. This was the beginning of a short period of restoration of the Commonwealth of England.

[edit] Jews in England

See also: Resettlement of the Jews in England

Rabbi Menasseh ben Israel met Oliver Cromwell concerning the admission of Jews into England in 1655 [1]. Cromwell didn't agree to all the rights that ben Israel requested, but the opening of Jewish synagogues and burial grounds was tolerated under Cromwell's Protectorate. The practice of the Jewish faith in England was still not done openly, since Cromwell's move had been controversial and many in England were still hostile toward the Jews. Life for the Jews in England improved in that they could no longer be prosecuted if caught worshipping, but discrimination continued.

[edit] Ireland

See main article Cromwellian conquest of Ireland

Life for both Irish and English Catholics in Ireland became increasingly difficult under Cromwell's rule, and Cromwell remains a despised figure in Ireland to this day.

Cromwell's sweeping campaign in Ireland began in August 1649. He left in May 1650, but the campaign ground on until 1653. Its effects devastated Ireland's Catholic population, roughly one third of whom were killed or exiled by the war. Famine and plague were the biggest killers, produced in large part from the scorched earth tactics used by Parliamentary forces. Some Irish prisoners of war were sold as indentured labours in the West Indies. The Catholic landowning class was dispossessed en masse. Thousands of New Model Army soldiers and the Parliament's creditors were settled on confiscated Irish lands. Those Catholic landowners deemed innocent of rebellion against the Parliament but who had not shown "constant good affection" still had their land confiscated and were forced to re-locate to Connacht, where the soil was poorer. See also Plantations of Ireland and Act for the Settlement of Ireland 1652.

The practice of Catholicism was banned and many of the soldier/settlers set up "dissenting" religious communities, such as Quakers or Baptists under the protection of the Parliamentary forces. The Scottish Presbyterian community was also disadvantaged by the Interregnum regime as most of them had taken the Solemn League and Covenant and had fought with the Scots against the Parliament in the Third English Civil War (1649-50). Charles Fleetwood the parliamentary commander in Ireland from 1652-1655 was viewed as being hostile to Catholics, Presbyterians and the pre-war English Protestant settlers at the expense of the radical new settlers. Henry Cromwell, who replaced Fleetwood in 1655 was seen as a more conservative influence, conciliating the "Old Protestant" landed class and letting the harshest legislation against Catholics (for instance that banning them living in towns) to lapse. Towards the end of the Interregnum, Parliamentarian generals, Charles Coote and Richard Boyle (who were also pre-war English settlers) seized the strong points in Ireland in preparation for the Restoration of the monarchy.

[edit] Historical Analysis

Said Lacey Baldwin Smith on the subject of the English Interregnum:

"When Commons was purged out of existence by a military force of its own creation, the country learned a profound, if bitter, Lesson: Parliament could no more exist without the crown than the crown without Parliament. The ancient constitution had never been King and Parliament but King in Parliament; when one element of that mystical union was destroyed, the other ultimately perished." [2]

The Puritan movement had evolved in rebellion to a real or perceived catholicization of the Church of England. With the Church of England quickly disestablished by the Commonwealth Government, the question about which type of church to establish became a hotly debated subject. In the end, it was impossible to make all the different political factions happy. During the Interregnum, Oliver Cromwell lost much of the support he'd earned prior to ruling the country. Edward Sexby, previously a supporter of Cromwell's, felt disenfranchised by Cromwell's failure to abolish the Aristocracy. In 1657, Col. Silius Titus called for Cromwell's assassination in a co-authored pamphlet "Killing No Murder" under the pseudonym of William Allen. Sexby was captured when he returned to England and attempted to carry out the assassination in Colonel Titus' book. Cromwell coerced Sexby into confessing authorship of the pamphlet and them imprissoned him in the Tower where Sexby was driven to insanity and died less than a year later.

High taxes resulted from the large standing army kept due to the constant threats of Scottish and/or Irish rebellion, adding to the resentment of Cromwell.

[edit] See also

English Interregnum

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