The Rump Parliament (The Purged Parliament)
The Rump Parliament is the name given to the Long Parliament after Pride's Purge of December 1648 in which those MPs who sought a negotiated settlement with King Charles I were forcibly expelled by the New Model Army. The Rump regarded itself as the lawful Parliament of the Commonwealth of England but the derisive name first used widely in 1660 became its enduring nickname after the Restoration.
After the purge of December 1648, the Rump Parliament consisted of around eighty MPs. Supported by the New Model Army, the Rump declared itself "the supreme power in this nation" on 4 January 1649 with authority to pass Acts of Parliament without the consent of the King or the House of Lords. One of its first actions was to set up the High Court of Justice, specially convened for the trial of King Charles I.
During the weeks between Pride's Purge and the King's execution, approximately 100 MPs who were not on the list of proscribed members stayed away from Parliament in order to avoid involvement in the trial and regicide. Many returned to Westminster when the Commonwealth was established. During February 1649, around eighty MPs were re-admitted upon registering their dissent to the vote of 5 December 1648 to continue negotiations with the King. The re-admitted MPs assumed that their absence during December and January would absolve them of complicity in the regicide. Of the 470 MPs elected to the Long Parliament, around 200 sat in the Rump Parliament between Pride's Purge and Cromwell's dissolution of Parliament in April 1653, including significant numbers of Presbyterians. Sixty or seventy Members attended Westminster regularly during this period.
Within days of the King's execution, the Rump Parliament resolved to abolish both the House of Lords and the institution of monarchy itself. England was declared a republican "Commonwealth and Free State" on 19 May 1649. During the early 1650s, attempts were made to incorporate Scotland and Ireland into the Commonwealth with England. Under the Commonwealth régime, and under Cromwell's Protectorate after 1653, the three nations were ruled by a single government for the first time in British history.
The Rump Parliament had unprecedented legislative and executive powers. It was solely responsible for governing the nation without the traditional hierarchy of nobles, princes and bishops. Much of its administrative work in central and local government was carried out through the network of committees and commissions that had been established during the early 1640s. The Council of State was appointed in February 1649 to implement domestic and foreign policy and to ensure the security of the nation. It was stressed that the executive Council of State was subordinate to the legislature, the House of Commons, which remained the supreme authority in the nation.
Following the trauma of Pride's Purge and the King's execution, the Rump Parliament adopted a conciliatory and cautious approach towards policy and legislation, particularly after the re-admission to Parliament of moderate MPs who had stayed away to avoid involvement in the regicide. Radicalism was discouraged in order to appease moderate and Presbyterian opinion in the nation as a whole, which might otherwise tend to favour the Royalists. After the final defeat of the Royalist cause at the battle of Worcester in 1651, the Rump came under the scrutiny of the Army radicals and quickly grew to resent what it regarded as the Army's unwarranted interference in the political process.
The Rump Parliament was widely expected to introduce immediate and radical changes in the Church but few concessions were made to the radicals who wanted universal toleration for the Protestant sects, and steps were taken to curb the excesses of Millenarians and Ranters. With the disappearance of the old Church courts, moral offences were made into secular crimes. The Adultery Act of May 1650 imposed the death penalty for adultery and fornication (though this was never applied in practice); the Blasphemy Act of August 1650 was aimed at curbing extreme religious "enthusiasm". Censorship was imposed in order to limit the propagation of millenarian pamphlets and the first government journal giving the official version of events was published.
Although observance of the Sabbath was enforced, there were also concessions towards freedom of worship when the statute that required compulsory attendance at Church was repealed in the Toleration Act of September 1650. This statute, which dated back to the reign of Elizabeth I, had been a mainstay of the power of the Anglican bishops.
The process of establishing a Presbyterian church settlement in England, which had started with the Scottish alliance of 1643, slowed to a halt. In an attempt to regulate the clergy and to establish acceptable doctrine, a Committee for the Propagation of the Gospel was proposed to control the appointment of clergy so that only approved ministers were licensed to preach. The propagation scheme was pursued in Wales and northern England, which Puritans regarded as strongholds of Anglican and Catholic influence. Measures for the propagation of the gospel in New England and Ireland were also passed in 1649 and 1650, but discussion of a general propagation Act for the whole of England proceeded slowly. A committee was appointed to consider the proposals for a general religious settlement put forward by the distinguished divine Dr John Owen, but no conclusions had been reached by the time that Cromwell dissolved the Rump in April 1653.
Although a commission was established to review parish livings, the problem of funding clergymen was never settled by the Rump. The ancient and controversial system of tithes, under which parishioners were compelled to pay a portion of their income towards the upkeep of the minister, remained in place despite demands from the radicals for its removal.
Demands for reform of the law were made by sectarians, the Levellers and the Army radicals. Lawyers were widely despised as corrupt; the central courts, especially that of Chancery, were overworked; the entire legal system was over-complex, slow and prohibitively expensive. Radicals regarded the law as the "Norman Yoke" that had oppressed England since the days of William the Conqueror and called upon Parliament to simplify arcane legal procedures and to curb the power of lawyers by excluding them from Parliament.
"Commonwealthsmen" like Ludlow, Ireton and Marten regarded a rationalised legal system as an integral part of their reform programme. In January 1652, a 21-man commission chaired by the distinguished lawyer Matthew Hale was appointed to investigate legal reform. However, despite a wide-ranging set of proposals for the removal of abuses and for a partial reconstruction of the court system, only minor reforms were ever enacted by Parliament that fell far short of the changes envisaged by the radicals. Common-law courts were empowered to grant probate of wills, which had formerly been a function of Church tribunals; more lenient punishments for debtors were introduced; the special privileges of peers and MPs before the law were removed; the use of English in legal proceedings rather than Latin was authorised. Little was done to reduce legal fees or to provide easier access to the courts.
The failure of the reform movement was widely attributed to the malign influence of lawyer-MPs who were reluctant to make changes likely to weaken their privileged position. The conservative Bulstrode Whitelocke MP, one of the commissioners of the Great Seal, was prominent in opposing moves towards radical legal reform.
The Rump inherited a large financial deficit from the Long Parliament and finance remained at the heart of the government's problems throughout the Commonwealth period. The two principal means of raising revenue introduced by the Long Parliament were continued by the Rump: an assessment tax on property owners and a general excise duty on goods and commodities. Both these taxes were extremely unpopular. The government claimed that without them, it would be necessary to impose free quarter of soldiers on the civilian population.
Finance was also raised by continuing the process of "compounding" whereby the former owners of confiscated Royalist estates were allowed to buy their property back from the government. This proved counter-productive because it caused resentment against the Commonwealth and discouraged reconciliation with the Royalists. In order to raise security for loans from the City of London, the government began selling off former Church and Crown lands from April 1649.
Owing to the expense of military campaigns in Ireland and Scotland (1649-51), as well as the Anglo-Dutch war (1652), and the need to maintain a powerful army and navy to defend the Commonwealth, Parliament remained short of money. Taxation reached record levels and was deeply resented. The demands of war and the maintenance of national security diverted Parliament's time and resources from the implementation of many proposed social reforms, to the disgust of radicals outside Parliament.
The execution of King Charles horrified governments throughout Europe. No foreign power was prepared to recognise the Commonwealth and there was every possibility of foreign intervention in helping the Stuarts to regain the throne. In 1649, Parliament controlled only England and Wales; Scotland declared its allegiance to Charles II and most of Ireland was in Royalist hands. Colonial settlements in Virginia, Maryland and Barbados remained Royalist; the Scillies, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man were used as bases for Royalist privateers to prey upon Commonwealth shipping, and a privateering squadron commanded by Prince Rupert began operating from Kinsale in southern Ireland in February 1649.
Leaders of the Rump recognised that the key to the survival of the Commonwealth was a strong navy to complement the New Model Army. The office of Lord High Admiral was abolished and the powers of the Navy Committee were increased. Sir Henry Vane came to dominate naval administration, while command of the fleet was given to joint "Generals-at-Sea" of proven loyalty and dedication to the Commonwealth. From March 1649, a major programme of shipbuilding was undertaken and by the end of 1651, twenty powerful new warships had been built and a further twenty-five had been bought or captured, almost doubling the size of the fleet.
The Commonwealth navy provided vital support for Oliver Cromwell's invasions of Ireland and Scotland during the Third Civil War, which secured the Commonwealth government's control of the British Isles. General-at-Sea Robert Blake chased Rupert's squadron from Ireland to Portugal, and in 1650 Parliament authorised Blake to attack Portuguese shipping, which coerced King John of Portugal to abandon his support for Rupert and to officially recognise the Commonwealth. Spain expelled Royalist envoys and recognised the Commonwealth in December 1650, partly as a result of England's aggressive policy towards Spain's enemies Portugal and France. Outlying Royalist privateer bases were captured during 1651, and General-at-Sea George Ayscue subjugated Barbados and the American colonies early in 1652.
France was slow to recognise the Commonwealth because of close family ties between the Stuart and Bourbon dynasties. Unofficial hostilities broke out between French and English shipping, and Royalist privateers were allowed to operate from French ports. In September 1652, Parliament ordered Blake to intervene in the Franco-Spanish war by attacking and destroying a French fleet sailing to relieve the siege of Dunkirk, which forced the town to surrender to Spain. Alarmed at England's increasing naval power, France came to terms and formally recognised the Commonwealth in December 1652.
Despite apparent ideological similarities between the English Commonwealth and the United Provinces of the Netherlands, the First Anglo-Dutch war broke out in 1652 — largely a result of trade rivalry between the two nations.
The Rump Parliament was not intended to be a permanent body. It regarded itself as an interim government with responsibility for preparing the way for a new representative. Oliver Cromwell's decisive victory at the battle of Worcester in September 1651 ended any direct Royalist military threat to the Commonwealth and it was expected that elections would soon take place. However, Parliament was divided over the form that the new representative should take. Sir Henry Vane and his supporters proposed a redistribution of constituencies but with sitting members of the Long Parliament retaining their seats and further "recruiter" elections to fill the vacant places; Oliver Cromwell and the Council of Officers criticised Vane's scheme for promoting the self-interest of sitting MPs and demanded a general election for an entirely new Parliament.
A committee to supervise the drafting of plans for new elections was set up soon after Cromwell's return to Parliament after Worcester. A date was finally set for Parliament's dissolution, but MPs were easily distracted from further preparations for the new representative, particularly after the outbreak of the Anglo-Dutch War in May 1652.
During the early months of 1653, tension between Parliament and the Army increased. At a conference between Army officers and MPs at Whitehall on 19 April 1653, Cromwell proposed that the parliamentary system be temporarily suspended and replaced with an interim council of godly men to govern while final preparations for an election were put in place. The MPs present agreed to suspend discussion of the new representative at least until Cromwell's proposal has been debated. The following day, however, Cromwell was incensed to learn that discussion of the new representative was continuing in Parliament regardless.
At 11 o'clock in the morning of 20 April 1653, Cromwell led a company of musketeers to Westminster. Having secured the approaches to the House, he addressed the Members, calmly at first, then with rising anger as he told them that their sitting was permanently at an end and they must leave. At Cromwell's signal, Lieutenant-Colonel Worsley marched in with the musketeers to drive out the MPs. Major-General Harrison is said to have personally pulled the Speaker of the House from his chair. After the Members had departed, the doors of the Parliament House were sealed and a wit pinned up a notice outside reading: "This House is to be let: now unfurnished."
Cromwell's exact reasons for expelling Parliament at this time are unclear. The traditional view is that he had come to believe that Parliament was planning to perpetuate itself by adopting Sir Henry Vane's scheme to allow sitting MPs to remain and to fill vacant places with "recruiter" elections. This view has been questioned by historians in recent times, but no clear explanation of his actions has emerged. There were no plans for an alternative government in place and Cromwell made no attempt to take power himself.
The Rump Parliament was replaced by the Nominated Assembly and other constitutional experiments of the 1650s.
After Oliver Cromwell's death in 1658, his successor Richard Cromwell was forced by Army officers to dissolve the Third Protectorate Parliament in April 1659. The officers, led by their commander-in-chief Charles Fleetwood, intended to keep Richard in power but dependent upon the Army. However, republican Commonwealthsmen were determined to bring the quasi-monarchical Protectorate to an end. They gained the support of junior officers and the rank-and-file of the soldiery by issuing tracts and pamphlets acclaiming the "Good Old Cause" and promising arrears of pay and religious liberty. Fleetwood and the Grandees were unable to resist the soldiers' demands for the return of the Commonwealth.
On 5 May 1659, the Council of Officers resolved to recall surviving MPs of the Rump under certain conditions: the Protectorate Council and Upper House would be replaced with a Senate that would include army officers; MPs would grant freedom of worship and undertake to reform the law; Richard Cromwell's safety would be guaranteed. Having provided for new elections, Parliament was then expected to dissolve itself. Around fifty surviving members of the Parliament expelled by Oliver Cromwell in April 1653 duly re-assembled on 7 May 1659. Richard Cromwell made no appeal for support. His formal abdication was read in Parliament on 25 May, bringing the Protectorate to an end.
Although welcomed by republicans and religious radicals, the reinstated Parliament did little to implement the promised reforms. It was determined above all to gain control of the Army. Several officers were appointed to the Council of State, but the Speaker was given power to grant commissions and promotions rather than Fleetwood and a committee was appointed to supervise the nomination of officers. Any officer whose loyalty was suspect could be cashiered without being heard by a court-martial.
John Lambert, who had resigned in 1657 over the terms of the Humble Petition and Advice, was recalled to command of his regiment during the crisis that led to Richard Cromwell's resignation. Lambert quickly regained his former prominence and, as Parliament's most capable commander, led the troops that suppressed Booth's Uprising in August 1659. The following month, Lambert's officers stationed at Derby (possibly at Lambert's instigation) petitioned Parliament to implement the reforms promised in May, to guarantee that no officer would be dismissed without a court-martial and to restore Lambert himself to the rank of major-general. In a deliberate trial of strength, Parliament forbade further petitioning of Parliament, and, when this failed, revoked the commissions of nine senior officers, including Lambert, Disbrowe and Berry. A seven-man commission was appointed to replace Fleetwood as commander-in-chief. In response to this challenge, Lambert and the senior officers resolved to expel the Rump, as Oliver Cromwell had done in 1653.
Two loyal regiments were ordered to guard the Parliament House but on 13 October 1659, Lambert's troops encircled Westminster, blockaded all approaches by land and water and turned back MPs trying to reach the House. In order to avoid bloodshed, the Council of State ordered the guards at Westminster to stand down. The next day, Lambert ignored the Council's order to withdraw his troops from Westminster. The Council continued to sit until 25 October, then dissolved itself. A new Committee of Safety was hastily appointed as an interim government.
Responding to Sir Arthur Hesilrige's call for support against Lambert and the senior officers, General George Monck, the commander-in-chief in Scotland, stepped in to demand Parliament's recall as the only legally constituted government. Lambert marched north to confront Monck in November 1659, but his troops were reluctant to fight their comrades in Monck's army. Hesilrige went to Portsmouth where the garrison mutinied in support of Parliament and vice-admiral Lawson brought the Channel fleet up to Gravesend, threatening to blockade London. Faced with almost universal opposition, the military junta collapsed and Fleetwood was obliged to recall the Rump Parliament, which resumed its sitting on 26 December 1659. MPs grateful for Monck's intervention appointed him commander-in-chief in England as well as Scotland. Lambert's supporters in the army were dismissed.
In January 1660, at the invitation of Parliament, Monck marched for London. When Sir Thomas Fairfax emerged from retirement to declare his support for him, army support for Monck became unanimous. Monck arrived in London in February 1660 against a background of apprentice riots and widespread demands across the country for the return of the MPs expelled by Pride's Purge in December 1648. It was during this tumultuous period that the purged Parliament acquired its derisive and enduring nickname of the "Rump" of the Long Parliament. After initially supporting Parliament's orders to suppress the agitation, Monck agreed to support the re-admission of the excluded MPs under certain conditions: he was to be confirmed as commander-in-chief of the Army; a national Presbyterian church was to be established with toleration of separatist groups; Parliament should dissolve itself and call new elections.
On 21 February 1660, Monck reversed Pride's Purge by securing the re-admission of the excluded MPs and the final session of the Long Parliament began. After some debate, Monck's conditions were met. The restored Long Parliament voted to dissolve itself on 16 March 1660 and to call new elections. The pro-Royalist Convention Parliament duly assembled on 25 April 1660.
Godfrey Davies, The Restoration of Charles II, 1658-60 (San Marino 1955)
S.R. Gardiner, History of the Commonwealth and Protectorate vols. i-ii (London 1903)
Ronald Hutton, The British Republic 1649-60 (Basingtoke 2000)
John Morrill (ed), Revolution and Restoration, England in the 1650s (London 1992)
Austin Woolrych, Commonwealth to Protectorate, (London 1982)
David Underdown, Pride's Purge (Oxford 1971)
Blair Worden, The Rump Parliament (Cambridge 1974)
Origins of the name "The Rump": a biased account from Curiosities of Literature by Isaac D'Israeli (1823)