The English Interregnum: Definition & History

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Explore the period known as the English Interregnum. Learn about its origins and attempts to restructure England, and test your understanding of 17th-century English politics, culture, and history.

Long Live the King?

On January 30, 1649, Charles I, King of England, was executed. After a difficult reign, during which he had to continually give more and more power to Parliament to finance his war with Spain, Charles and Parliament began to fight over control of the army. This led to the English Civil War in 1642. Charles was captured, but kept trying to continue the war, so the Long Parliament (so-called because it stayed active for so long) voted to put the king on trial in 1648. This had never been done before in English history. You can guess how the trial turned out for Charles.

Charles I, with head still attached
Charles I

After the death of Charles, a new king did not assume power until 1660. The period from 1649-1660, when England was without a king, is called the English Interregnum. England was instead controlled by the Rump Parliament, those who remained in Parliament after Charles' supporters were kicked out of office.

Periods of the Interregnum

Commonwealth of England

The English Interregnum is divided into four periods. The first, lasting from 1649-1653, was the Commonwealth of England. In 1649, the Rump Parliament declared England a Commonwealth, a free collection of people ruled by Parliament and not a king. Parliament got rid of the Privy Council and House of Lords, as well as other branches of government, so that it had complete control. It was an unstable group of men who could not agree on exactly what form the new English republic should take. It also argued over land reforms, class issues, and control of the army.

Etching of Parliament

The Protectorate

With a need for stability, Parliament appointed a man named Oliver Cromwell 'Lord Protectorate for Life' over the commonwealth in its first written constitution, 'The Instrument of Government'. Cromwell's rule over England is called the Protectorate, and lasted from 1653-1658.

Cromwell was a very powerful man due to his control over Parliament's army and was part of the council established by the Rump Parliament to manage England in 1649. After being made Lord Protector, Cromwell dismissed Parliament and ruled alone with the army. He officially incorporated Scotland into the Protectorate and opened up England to religious freedom, although he pushed his Puritan beliefs. Cromwell was both liberator and dictator who enforced some freedoms but oppressed others.

Oliver Cromwell dissolving Parliament
Oliver Cromwell

Second Protectorate

Oliver Cromwell died of Malaria in 1658, and his oldest surviving son, Richard, became Lord Protector. This was the Second Protectorate, lasting eight months from 1658-1659. Richard had no confidence in his father's army and didn't want to rule England. Rump Parliament was re-installed, and Richard gave up his power at the request of the army.

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