Barebone's Parliament

Last updated

Barebone's Parliament, also known as the Little Parliament, the Nominated Assembly and the Parliament of Saints, came into being on 4 July 1653, and was the last attempt of the English Commonwealth to find a stable political form before the installation of Oliver Cromwell as Lord Protector. It was an assembly entirely nominated by Oliver Cromwell and the Army's Council of Officers. It acquired its name from the nominee for the City of London, Praise-God Barebone. The Speaker of the House was Francis Rous. The total number of nominees was 140, 129 from England, five from Scotland and six from Ireland (see the list of MPs). [1]

Commonwealth of England Historic republic on the British Isles (1649–1660)

The Commonwealth was the political structure during the period from 1649 to 1660 when England and Wales, later along with Ireland and Scotland, were governed as a republic after the end of the Second English Civil War and the trial and execution of Charles I. The republic's existence was declared through "An Act declaring England to be a Commonwealth", adopted by the Rump Parliament on 19 May 1649. Power in the early Commonwealth was vested primarily in the Parliament and a Council of State. During the period, fighting continued, particularly in Ireland and Scotland, between the parliamentary forces and those opposed to them, as part of what is now referred to as the Third English Civil War.

Oliver Cromwell 17th-century English military and political leader

Oliver Cromwell was an English military and political leader. He served as Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland, and Ireland "and of the dominions thereto belonging" from 1653 until his death, acting simultaneously as head of state and head of government of the new republic.

The Protectorate Republican period of Britain, 1653–1659

The Protectorate was the period during the Commonwealth when England and Wales, Ireland, Scotland, and the English overseas possessions were governed by a Lord Protector as a republic. The Protectorate began in 1653 when, following the dissolution of the Rump Parliament and then Barebone's Parliament, Oliver Cromwell was appointed Lord Protector of the Commonwealth under the terms of the Instrument of Government. In 1659, the Protectorate Parliament was dissolved by the Committee of Safety as Richard Cromwell, who had succeeded his father as Lord Protector, was unable to keep control of the Parliament and the Army. This marked the end of the Protectorate and the start of a second period of rule by the Rump Parliament as the legislature and the Council of State as the executive.


After conflict and infighting, on 12 December 1653 the members of the assembly voted to dissolve it. It was preceded by the Rump Parliament and succeeded by the First Protectorate Parliament.

Need for a parliament

Oliver Cromwell Oliver Cromwell by Samuel Cooper.jpg
Oliver Cromwell

Following the execution of King Charles, the Rump Parliament was the last remaining element of the English government. It had little or no claim to representation of the populace and held elections only to replace members. The mood of the country was for long-needed reforms to be carried out but the Rump made little progress. The enactment of a Navigation Act to aid merchants led to the First Anglo-Dutch War in 1652. There was an expectation that a new parliament should be called, however the Rump made no moves towards its dissolution.

Rump Parliament political body in the time of the English Revolution

The Rump Parliament was the English Parliament after Colonel Thomas Pride purged the Long Parliament, on 6 December 1648, of those members hostile to the Grandees' intention to try King Charles I for high treason.

First Anglo-Dutch War conflict

The First Anglo-Dutch War, or, simply, the First Dutch War, (1652–1654) was a conflict fought entirely at sea between the navies of the Commonwealth of England and the United Provinces of the Netherlands. Caused by disputes over trade, the war began with English attacks on Dutch merchant shipping, but expanded to vast fleet actions. Ultimately, it resulted in the English Navy gaining control of the seas around England, and forced the Dutch to accept an English monopoly on trade with England and her colonies. It was the first of the Anglo-Dutch Wars.

Debate over form of assembly

The forced dissolution of the Rump Parliament on 20 April 1653 left a gap in the legislature, with no blueprint to fill it. Cromwell and the Council of Officers announced that they would be guided by God's providence in doing so: "as we have been led by necessity and Providence to act as we have done, even beyond and above our own thoughts and desires, so we shall... put ourselves wholly upon the Lord for a blessing". [2]

On 29 April Cromwell set up a small Council of State of thirteen members, responsible for foreign policy and administration of the country. [lower-alpha 1] Its establishment was announced the next day. The Council of Officers remained responsible for decisions about the new form of government. John Lambert argued in favour of lodging power in the hands of ten or twelve men. Thomas Harrison, drawing on his Fifth Monarchist beliefs, argued that their duty was to accelerate the coming of the kingdom of Christ by putting power into the hands of godly men. He put forward the idea of a larger assembly, preferably numbering seventy based on the Jewish Sanhedrin. The Council of Officers agreed on Harrison's model, raising the number of representatives to 140 to allow members from across England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland. [3]

The English Council of State, later also known as the Protector's Privy Council, was first appointed by the Rump Parliament on 14 February 1649 after the execution of King Charles I.

John Lambert (general) English Parliamentary general and politician

John Lambert was an English Parliamentary general and politician. He fought during the English Civil War and then in Oliver Cromwell's Scottish campaign (1650–51), becoming thereafter active in civilian politics until his dismissal by Cromwell in 1657. During this time he wrote the Instrument of Government, one of only two codified constitutions ever adopted in Britain, and was influential in bringing about the Protectorate.

Thomas Harrison (soldier) English Fifth Monarchist and regicide of Charles I of England

Major-General Thomas Harrison sided with Parliament in the English Civil War. During the Interregnum he was a leader of the Fifth Monarchists. In 1649 he signed the death warrant of Charles I and in 1660, shortly after the Restoration, he was found guilty of regicide and hanged, drawn and quartered.

The Council of Officers then settled the question of how to select the group's representatives, agreeing that members should be chosen by the Council, all of whom were free to put forward nominations. Power would be vested in each member by Cromwell in his role as commander-in-chief of the army. Although there was negative reaction from some churches, with a member of a congregation in London declaring "the question is not so much now who is Independent, Anabaptist, etc., as who is for Christ and who is for Cromwell", most of the sects welcomed the decision. [4] S. R. Gardiner conjectured that the Council of Officers consulted congregational churches in each county, asking them to send names of suitable candidates for the new assembly. [5] However, no copy of any letter of consultation survives, and although some churches did send in nominations, there is no evidence that a mass consultation took place. By 3 May the Council of Officers had had over a hundred names submitted by its members. By 23 May an initial list of nominations was ready, which was then added to and refined over the next few weeks.

In English church history, Independents advocated local congregational control of religious and church matters, without any wider geographical hierarchy, either ecclesiastical or political. Independents reached particular prominence between 1642 and 1660, in the period of the English Civil War and of the Commonwealth and Protectorate, wherein the Parliamentary Army became the champion of Independent religious views against the Anglicanism or the Catholicism of Royalists and the Presbyterianism favoured by Parliament itself. The Independents advocated freedom of religion for non-Catholics.


John Lambert JohnLambert.jpg
John Lambert

The assembly met for the first time on 4 July in the council chamber at Whitehall. Cromwell opened proceedings with a speech around two hours long. [6] He began by summing up the "series of Providences" that had brought them to this point, starting with the Short Parliament and singling out 1648 as the "most memorable year that ever this nation saw". [7] In a much-analysed passage, Cromwell is supposed to have declared: "God doth manifest it to be the day of the Power of Jesus Christ". [8] This has sometimes been adduced as evidence that Cromwell shared Harrison's Fifth Monarchist beliefs, welcoming the assembly as the start of Christ's kingdom on earth. However, the first published version of the speech records this sentence as "God doth manifest it to be a day of the Power of Jesus Christ", considerably softening the impact, and implying that he merely thought it to be a spiritually joyful occasion. [lower-alpha 2] Cromwell then asked a written 'instrument' to be read out, drawn up by the Council of Officers and investing power in the assembly.[ citation needed ]

Whitehall road in the City of Westminster, in central London

Whitehall is a road in the City of Westminster, Central London, which forms the first part of the A3212 road from Trafalgar Square to Chelsea. It is the main thoroughfare running south from Trafalgar Square towards Parliament Square. The street is recognised as the centre of the Government of the United Kingdom and is lined with numerous departments and ministries, including the Ministry of Defence, Horse Guards and the Cabinet Office. Consequently, the name 'Whitehall' is used as a metonym for the British civil service and government, and as the geographic name for the surrounding area.

Short Parliament Parliament of England that was summoned by King Charles I of England

The Short Parliament was a Parliament of England that was summoned by King Charles I of England on 20 February 1640 and sat from 13 April to 5 May 1640. It was so called because of its short life of only three weeks.

The assembly then adjourned before sitting in full on the following day. On that day they elected Francis Rous, initially as chairman (he was not known as Speaker until a month later). Henry Scobell was appointed as Clerk. Cromwell and four other officers – Lambert, John Desborough, Harrison and Matthew Tomlinson – were then co-opted as members. On 12 July, the assembly published a declaration declaring itself to be the parliament of the Commonwealth of England. This was the first time that it had been formally described as a parliament.[ citation needed ]


The parliament became a subject of ridicule very quickly after its establishment. A newswriter called them "Pettifoggers, Innkeepers, Millwrights, Stockingmongers and such a rabble as never had hopes to be of a Grand Jury". [9] In particular, its members were singled out for their alleged low social status, their puritanism and their relative lack of political experience. These criticisms were seen to be encapsulated by one of its members, Praise-God Barebone, a leather seller, Fifth Monarchist and lay preacher from Fleet Street in London. Before its dissolution the assembly had become known as Barebone's Parliament.

Despite contemporary slanders, the assembly's members were mainly drawn from the richest five per cent of the population, and few tradesmen were represented. [10] Nor was it solely composed of Fifth Monarchists, despite the impression that hostile contemporary pamphlets give. Twelve or thirteen members can be identified as Fifth Monarchists, some of whom had served with Harrison. These were contrasted with about fifteen of the more active members of the assembly, who were more moderate Independents. Although it is misleading to divide the assembly into two parties, an analysis of its entire membership along moderate and radical lines identifies 76 members as religious moderates and 47 as radicals, with a further 21 either impossible to identify or not participating in the assembly. [11]

Only four regicides, Anthony Stapley, John Carew, Thomas Harrison, and Cromwell himself, were appointed. Thomas Harrison was the leader of the Fifth Monarchists and John Carew was also a Fifth Monarchist. [12]

The rise of conflict

Praise-god Barebone Praise-god Barebone.jpg
Praise-god Barebone

On 13 July, the assembly began debating tithes – which were objected to by many sects on the grounds that they were a remnant of Catholicism, that they supported a professional rather than voluntary clergy, and that their economic burden fell unequally. There was general consensus that tithes were objectionable, but little agreement about what mechanism for generating revenue should replace them. Debate within the assembly was quickly echoed by petitions from churches around the country. [13] Another contentious issue the assembly debated during its early weeks was the trial of John Lilburne, which again did little to unite opinion. A third issue, reform of the legal system, again split the members, with Fifth Monarchists arguing that only laws contained in scripture should be reflected in the temporal legal system, while former members of the Rump's Hale Commission pushed for progressive reform. [14]

By early September, Cromwell was already said to have been growing frustrated with the assembly's in-fighting between different groups. A newswriter reported him saying to a confidant that he was "more troubled now with the fool than before now with the knave". [15] He also wrote to his son-in-law Charles Fleetwood complaining that the members "being of different judgements, and of each sort most seeking to propagate their own, that spirit of kindness that is to them, is hardly accepted of any". [16] Attendance also began to fall. Over one hundred members were present at most votes in July, dropping to an average turnout of 70 by October. [17] Various bills inflamed conflict between the radical and moderate members – bills to abolish the Court of Chancery, regulate legal fees, and speed up settlement of cases in the Court of Admiralty all became bogged down in conflict. At this point, however, radical members were still mainly outnumbered in votes by moderate and conservative members.

Dissolution and aftermath

This changed during November and December when debate returned to the question of tithes. On 6 December the committee of the assembly appointed to consider the question presented their report, covering the question of how unfit ministers were to be ejected, naming commissioners who would have the job of enacting this, and retaining support for tithes in prescribed circumstances. The first clause of the report was voted against by 56 votes to 54 in a defeat for the moderates. Two days later, moderates came to the House and demanded that the assembly abdicate its powers, criticising radical members for threatening the wellbeing of the Commonwealth by fomenting disagreement. Rous and around 40 members walked out and went to Cromwell at Whitehall, presenting a document signed by nearly 80 members that declared: "Upon a Motion this day made in the House, that the sitting of this Parliament any longer as now constituted, will not be for the good of the Commonwealth". [18] Those left in the house were soon confronted by troops requesting that they leave.

The collapse of the radical consensus which had spawned the Nominated Assembly led to the Grandees passing the Instrument of Government in the Council of State which paved the way for Cromwell's Protectorate.

See also


  1. The members were Lambert, Harrison, Cromwell, Desborough, Strickland, Pickering, Sydenham, Carew, Stapley, Bennett, Tomlinson, Jones and Moyer.
  2. See discussion and particularly n.17 (Woolrych 1982, pp.148–149).
  1. staff 2010.
  2. Woolrych 1982, p.105.
  3. Woolrych 1982, pp.106–110.
  4. Woolrych 1982, pp.112–113
  5. Gardiner, History of the Commonwealth, Vol. II, p.224.
  6. Cromwell 1653, speech .
  7. Abbott (1937–47), iii, pp. 53–5.
  8. Abbott (1937–47), iii, p.63
  9. Woolrych 1982, p.165.
  10. Woolrych 1982, p.193.
  11. Woolrych 1982, p.232.
  12. Woolrych 1982, p.105.
  13. Woolrych 1982, pp.236–244.
  14. Woolrych 1982, p.264.
  15. Woolrych 1982, p.274.
  16. Abbott (1937–47), iii, p.89.
  17. Woolrych 1982, p.189.
  18. Woolrych 1982, p.345.

Related Research Articles

Fifth Monarchists Apocalyptic Puritan group

The Fifth Monarchists or Fifth Monarchy Men were an extreme Puritan sect active from 1649 to 1660 during the Commonwealth, following the English Civil Wars of the 17th century. They took their name from a prophecy in the Book of Daniel that four ancient monarchies would precede the kingdom of Christ. They also referred to the year 1666 and its relationship to the biblical Number of the Beast indicating the end of earthly rule by carnal human beings. They were one of a number of nonconformist dissenting groups that emerged around this time.

Richard Cromwell English politician Lord Protector

Richard Cromwell was an English statesman who was the second Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland.

Praise-God Barebone English politician

Praise-God Barebone was an English leather-seller, preacher and Fifth Monarchist. He is best known for giving his name to the Barebone's Parliament of the English Commonwealth of 1653.

William Lenthall 17th century speaker of the English House of Commons

William Lenthall (1591–1662) was an English politician of the Civil War period. He served as Speaker of the House of Commons for a period of almost twenty years, both before and after the execution of King Charles I.

Francis Rous English politician

Francis Rous or Rouse was an English politician and a prominent Puritan. He wrote several theological and devotional works and was also Provost of Eton.

Interregnum (England) period between the execution of Charles I on 30 January 1649 and the start of the Restoration

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.

Jonathan Goddard (1617–1675) was an English physician, known both as army surgeon to the forces of Oliver Cromwell, and as an active member of the Royal Society.

Events from the year 1653 in England.

Tender of Union

The Tender of Union was a declaration of the Parliament of England during the Interregnum following the War of the Three Kingdoms stating that Scotland would cease to have an independent parliament and would join England in its emerging Commonwealth republic.

Richard Salwey was an English politician who sat in the House of Commons variously between 1645 and 1659. He was a republican in politics and fought on the Parliamentary side in the English Civil War.

Instrument of Government United Kingdom legislation

The Instrument of Government was a constitution of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland. Drafted by Major-General John Lambert in 1653, it was the first sovereign codified and written constitution in England.

Christopher Feake (1612–1683) was an English Independent minister and Fifth-monarchy man. He was imprisoned for maligning Oliver Cromwell in his preaching. He is a leading example of someone sharing both Leveller views and the millenarian approach of the Fifth Monarchists. His violence was exclusively verbal, but he wrote against the Quakers.

Edmund Chillenden was an English soldier, known as an agitator and theological writer. At different times he was a Leveller and a Fifth Monarchist.


Further reading