The Interregnum was the period between the execution of Charles I on
30 January 1649 and the arrival of his son Charles II in London on 29
May 1660 which marked the start of the Restoration. During the
Interregnum England was under various forms of republican government
(see Commonwealth of England; this article describes other facets of
2 Life during the Interregnum
3 Jews in England
4 Radicals vs conservatives
4.3 Religious sects
5 Historical analysis
Main article: Commonwealth of England
The politics of the period were dominated by the wishes of the
Grandees (Senior Officers) of the
New Model Army
New Model Army and their civilian
supporters. They encouraged (or at least tolerated) several republican
From 1649 until 1653 executive powers lay with Council of State, while
legislative functions were carried out by the Rump Parliament.
In 1653 the Grandees, with
Oliver Cromwell in the lead, dismissed the
Rump, and replaced it with a Nominated Assembly (nicknamed the
Parliament of Saints and Barebone's Parliament) made up of 140
nominees, 129 from England, five from Scotland and six from Ireland.
It proved to be as difficult for the executive to work with this
parliament as it had with the Rump, so, after sitting for five months,
members friendly to the Grandees engendered its dissolution on 12
Instrument of Government
Instrument of Government was adopted on 15 December 1653 and the
Oliver Cromwell was installed as
Lord Protector on
the following day. The
Instrument of Government
Instrument of Government granted executive
power to the Lord Protector. Although this post was elective, not
hereditary, it was to be held for life. It also required the calling
of triennial Parliaments, with each sitting for at least five months.
In January 1655, Cromwell dissolved the first Protectorate Parliament,
ushering in a period of military rule by the Major Generals.
Instrument of Government
Instrument of Government was replaced in May 1657 by England's
second, and last, codified constitution, the Humble Petition and
Oliver Cromwell died the next year and his nominated
successor as Lord Protector, his son Richard, proved unable to govern
effectively as various political parties strove to gain power.
The Protectorate came to an end in May 1659 when the Grandees recalled
the Rump Parliament, which authorised a Committee of Safety to replace
Richard's Council of State. This ushered in a period of unstable
government, which did not come to an end until February 1660 when
General George Monck, the English military governor of Scotland,
marched to London at the head of his troops, and oversaw the
restoration of the monarchy under Charles II.
Life during the Interregnum
After the Parliamentarian victory in the Civil War, the
of the majority of
Parliament and its supporters began to be imposed
on the rest of the country. The Puritans advocated an austere
lifestyle and restricted what they saw as the excesses of the previous
regime. Most prominently, holidays such as Christmas and Easter were
suppressed. Pastimes such as the theatre and gambling were also
banned. However, some forms of art that were thought to be "virtuous",
such as opera, were encouraged. These changes are often credited to
Oliver Cromwell, though they were introduced by the Commonwealth
Parliament; and Cromwell, when he came to power, was a liberalising
Jews in England
Main article: Resettlement of the Jews in England
Menasseh Ben Israel
Menasseh Ben Israel met
Oliver Cromwell in 1655 in order to
discuss the admission of Jews into England. Cromwell did not 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 Jewish faith was still not practised openly in
England, since Cromwell's move had been controversial and many in
England were still hostile toward Jews. Life for Jews in England
improved in that they could no longer be prosecuted if caught
worshipping, yet discrimination continued.
Radicals vs conservatives
Parliament had, to a large degree, encouraged the radical political
groups which emerged when the usual social controls broke down during
the English Civil War. It had also unwittingly established a new
political force when it set up the New Model Army. Not surprisingly,
all these groups had their own hopes for the new Commonwealth.
Led by John Lilburne,
Levellers drew their main support from London
and the Army. In the Agreement of the People, 1649, they asked for a
more representative and accountable parliament, to meet every two
years; a reform of law so it would be available to and fair to all;
and religious toleration. They wanted a more democratic society,
although their proposed franchise did not extend to women or to the
lowest orders of society.
Levellers saw the Rump as little better than the monarchy it had
replaced, and they showed their displeasure in demonstrations,
pamphlets and mutinies. While their numbers did not pose a serious
threat to the government, they scared the Rump into action and a
Treasons Act was passed against them in 1649.
Led by Gerrard Winstanley,
Diggers wanted an even more equal society
than the Levellers. They advocated a lifestyle that bore many
similarities to later understandings of communism and anarchism, with
communal ownership of land, and absolute equality for males and
females in law and education. They existed in only very small numbers
and faced a very strong opposition, even from the Levellers.
See also: Religion during the Interregnum
The breakdown of religious uniformity and incomplete Presbyterian
Settlement of 1646 enabled independent churches to flourish. The main
sects (see also English Dissenters) were Baptists, who advocated adult
rebaptism; Ranters, who claimed that sin did not exist for the "chosen
ones"; and Fifth Monarchy Men, who opposed all "earthly" governments,
believing they must prepare for God's kingdom on earth by establishing
a "government of saints".
Despite greater toleration, extreme sects were opposed by the upper
classes as they were seen as a threat to social order and property
rights. Catholics were also excluded from the toleration applied to
the other groups.
Conservatives were still dominant in both central government and local
government. In the former, the Rump was anxious not to offend the
traditional ruling class whose support it needed for survival, so it
opposed radical ideas. In the latter, that ruling class dominated
through the influence of traditional regional gentry.
The Interregnum was a relatively short but important period in the
history of the British Isles. It saw a number of political experiments
without any stable form of government emerging, largely due to the
wide diversity in religious and political groups that had been allowed
to flourish after the regicide of Charles I.
Puritan movement had evolved as a rejection of both real and
perceived "Catholicisation" of the Church of England. When the Church
of England was quickly disestablished by the Commonwealth Government,
the question of what church to establish became a hotly debated
subject. In the end, it was impossible to make all the political
factions happy. During the Interregnum,
Oliver Cromwell lost much of
the support he had gained during the Civil War. Edward Sexby,
previously a supporter of Cromwell's, felt disenfranchised by
Cromwell's failure to abolish the aristocracy. In 1657, 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 described in Colonel Titus' book. Cromwell coerced Sexby
into confessing authorship of the pamphlet and then imprisoned him in
the Tower of London, where Sexby was driven to insanity, dying there
less than a year later.
High taxes required by the large standing army, kept due to the
constant threats of Scottish and Irish rebellion, added to public
resentment of Cromwell.
^ "Instrument of Government". Encyclopædia Britannica.
^ Durston 1985.
^ Cromwell, Our Chief of Men by Lady Antonia Fraser,
^ "Cromwell and the Jews", The
Oliver Cromwell Association.
Durston, Chris (1985), "Lords of Misrule: The
Puritan War on Christmas
1642-60", History Today, 35 (12), History Tod