Alternative History
Henry Cromwell
Timeline: Cromwell the Great

Henry Cromwell
Portrait of Henry Cromwell

Chancellor of the University of Dublin
1653 – September 1658

Predecessor James Butler, 1st Marquess of Ormonde
Successor Rev. Samuel Winter D.D.
Provost Rev. Samuel Winter D.D.

Member Irish Council
December 1654 – September 1658

Major-general of the forces in Ireland
1655 – 1657

Lord Deputy of Ireland (1657-1658) / Lord Lieutenant 1658–1658)
Nov. 1657 – September 1658

Predecessor Charles Fleetwood
Successor Hardress Waller

Member of the Other House
1657 – September 1658

2nd Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland
September 1658 – March 1696

Predecessor Oliver Cromwell
Successor James Scott, 1st Duke of Monmouth
Born 20 January 1628
Huntingdon, England
Died 23 March 1696 (aged 68)
London, Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland
Spouse Elizabeth Russell (married June 1653, died on 16 Oct. 1687)
Political Party Cromwellian
Religion Puritan (Independent)
Profession Politician, soldier

We can not look, however imperfectly, upon a great man, without gaining something by him.
(Thomas Carlyle)

Lord Henry Cromwell (20 January 1628 – 23 March 1696) was the fourth son of Oliver Cromwell and Elizabeth Bourchier, and an important figure in the Parliamentarian regime in Ireland and 2nd Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland on the death of his father.

Early life

He was born at Huntingdon and educated at Felsted School and Emmanuel College, Cambridge. He served under his father during the latter part of the English Civil War. His active life, however, was mainly spent in Ireland, whither he took some troops to assist Oliver early in 1650, and he was one of the Irish representative; in the Little, or Nominated, Parliament of 1653. In 1653 Henry married Elizabeth (died 1687), daughter of Sir Francis Russell, 2nd Baronet, who went on to bear him five sons and two daughters.


In 1654 he was again in Ireland, and after making certain recommendations to his father, now lord protector, with regard to the government of that country, he became major-general of the forces in Ireland and a member of the Irish council of state, taking up his new duties in July 1655. Nominally Henry was subordinate to the lord-deputy, Charles Fleetwood, but Fleetwood's departure for England in September 1655 left him for all practical purposes the ruler of Ireland. He moderated the lord-deputy's policy of deporting the Irish, and unlike him he paid some attention to the interests of the English settlers. Moreover, again unlike Fleetwood, he appears to have held the scales evenly between the different Protestant sects, and his undoubted popularity in Ireland is attested by Clarendon.

In November 1657, Henry himself, was made lord-deputy; but before this time he had refused a gift of property worth £1500 a year, basing his refusal on the grounds of the poverty of the country, a poverty which was not the least of his troubles. In 1657 he advised his father not to accept the office of king, although in 1654 he had supported a motion to this effect; and after the dissolution of Cromwell's second parliament in February 1658 he showed his anxiety that the protector should act in a moderate and constitutional manner.

The Succession

Under the terms of the Humble Petition and Advice, the written constitution adopted in May 1657, Oliver Cromwell was empowered to name his successor as Lord Protector. There was no requirement to name his eldest son, but Oliver began to promote Richard's interests to a far greater extent than previously.

However several of the Army Grandees, including Charles Fleetwood and John Disbrowe, and soldiers of the New Model Army were adverse at this choice of a person of no previous military command and lukewarm attitude towards religion. A more likely choice for many would have been his other son, Henry, proven soldier and politician in the Irish campaign. Although the idea of changing the succession was alarming similar to making a coup against Oliver Cromwell. The only other institution that backed the Protectorate was the Army and it was more frightened of a royal restoration and return of popery then the Lord Protector's wrath. Meetings went between Henry, army officers and some members of the Protectorate Council.. In the end Henry agreed only if he convinced his father on changing the succession. If the Lord Protector agreed he would guaranteed the state of the Commonwealth but with some reforms to make it more permanent. In parallel secret plans were envisioned if Richard failed in convincing his father that on the death of the Protector the Army would install a Safety Committee to secure the government.

On May 1658 Richard returns to London and talks with his father on the future of the Commonwealth, mainly the settlement of the constitution and reconciliation of the Presbyterians in a national church. At first unsuccessful, however a longer reunion with his brother Oliver is lukewarm in convincing him of the need of the loyalty of the Army and dangers of a royal restoration.

In the 30th August a sealed letter is sent by courier from Oliver Cromwell along strict instructions to be opened only on his death to the Council. At the beginning of September, Oliver Cromwell has not officially proclaimed his successor and his health quickly deteriorated. Although, for many his son Richard is for certain the next Protector. Oliver Cromwell dies at four o'clock in the afternoon of the 3rd of September of 1658 and despite the presence of the Councillors as witnesses there is no key to the name of the successor. The Council assembles and proceeds to open the letter, in which it proclaims Henry Cromwell as his official successor as Lord Protector. The uncertainty is replaced by relief to many. Richard Cromwell, also a member of the Council, publicly acknowledges his brother's proclamation. The 4th of September the Proclamation of Henry Cromwell is issued.

Lord Protectorship

The Commonwealth

Starting the highest office of the Commonweal, Henry Cromwell had to deal with several problems. The foremost of all was the £2.500.000 national debt with an annual shortfall of £300.000, follow by the War against Spain. Contrary to the wishes of the Army he called for a new Parliament in 1659 as one of the steps to normalize politically the Commonwealth. The need of new taxes and loans made it necessary its recall. Aware of the dangers of a animosity if the next parliament was dissolved prematurely has his father had done, the Lord Protector gave a free hand to the Army and Cromwellians to assure that a solid majority was elected. But he also was keen on establishing an alliance with the Presbyterians in Parliament. His choice of John Lambert as member of the State Council ((September 1658)) and later Lord President of it (November 1658) did not fell good with army Grandees like Fleetwood or John Desborough. With the former considering himself has Oliver Cromwell's natural successor to led the Commonwealth.

Learning from previous errors, in the summer campaign of 1659 all means were used to assure that the most recalcitrant and rebellions candidates were not successful or were the least elected. In most cases the Cavaliers were either harassed, compelled to resign or bribed. In Ireland all Catholic candidates were legally barred or had their candidacies nullified or the election itself rigged against them.

When Parliament met for its session it had a majority for the Protector but a powerful minority faction of republican Commonwealthmen, but not large enough to obstruct the normal parliamentary business. On his first address to Parliament Henry Cromwell assured his will to maintain and guard the rights and liberties won in 1549 by Parliament, keep the four fundamentals of September 1654 and to bring peace and welfare in the three nations.

The return of Prince Rupert to England (1660) eased internal tensions and allowed for legitimacy of the moderate Cavaliers in the Commonwealth.

Sharing the same worries of his father and the Old Ironsides he envisioned a permanent constitutional settlement of the Commonwealth. In October 1662 Henry Cromwell's opening speech to the Parliament Principles of our Government of the Commonwealth sketched out the Constitutional Framework of the Commonwealth. The Principles would provided a legal rationale to the political practices after Civil War and soften or remove the more dictatorial elements of it. Working along Parliament, Henry and the Cromwellians in the State Council, passed legislation that although it was not definite it closed the door to a royalist restoration.

Dear to Cromwell, as its former Lord Lieutenants before ascending to Lord Protector, was to settle the place of Ireland within the Commonwealth. The Act of the Irish Union was approved the 24 of March 1663. The thorny issue of landownership and confiscations, a dear demand of Catholic Irish, was solved by the Act of Settlement of 1664. The Act in some ways accommodated the Catholics by one of its key provisions that allowed Catholic landowners to keep their land or be compensated with an equal amount of land elsewhere in Ireland by converting to the Protestant religion (i.e. Church of Ireland).

The unification and establishment of the British Army and Navy in 1664, along the oath of allegiance removed the Army as a political broker in the Commonwealth. However it broke the tenuous unity of the Cromwellian party elevating even more Henry's role and prestige as arbiter and de facto leader of all Cromwellian factions.

However the Cromwellians would definitely split between Whigs and Tories in 1681, having the former the majority in Parliament. For his liking the Whigs, the union of majority of the Civil Party and Presbyterians was more close to his understanding of the present religious settlement and tolerance. However his republicanism, that is to say the preeminence of the Lord Protector over Parliament, led to troubles with the decisions and workings of the Council so he again became an arbiter between Tories and Whigs in Council.

Despite Whig reforms designed to curtail his powers he managed to foil the most significant ones. The joint situation of having the powerful office of Commander-in-Chief and Louis XIV's wars enable him to sacrifice Whig foreign policies in his favour considering directly Dutch interests and the European balance of power that he and his advisers and couriers advocated.

Enacted with a near unanimous votes of Whigs and Tories in Parliament of The Act of the Nonhereditary Character of the Office the Lord-Protectorship and other high offices of the Commonwealth in 1694 ending the campaign of some groups wanting to re-establishing a monarchy under a House of Cromwell and opening the succession of his office to other candidates.

The succession letter, death and funerals

Having defused the hereditary question the succession was disputed by Sommers, Scott and Churchill, all Whig politicians. However Henry's preference were for one of the latter two. In December of 1695 and seeking to avoid a succession crisis and disperse rumours has it happened to him in 1658, he personally wrote, had certified and sealed before a joint meeting of the Council, also attended by the Speaker and Lord Speaker, the succession letter. An oath of secrecy was sworn by all present until the Lord Protector's death.

The 23th of March 1696 Henry Cromwell peacefully died in bed in Hampton Court Palace, accompanied by his family, friends and close advisors. The following day the Council at-large with the Speaker, Lord Speaker, leaders of the main political factions of the Senate and House of Commons, generals and admirals proceeded to unseal and read the succession letter. It named his former advisor and President of the Council James Scott, 1st Duke of Monmouth as Lord Protector.

Foreign affairs

The War against Spain drew his attention in the beginnings of the Protectorship due to its high cost and lack of sympathy by most Englishmen and a source of political opposition by the Presbyterian and Commonwealth parties and the loss of English trade to the Dutch during the war. The participation of the Protectorate in the war had unofficially ended in 1659 with the signing of the Treaty of the Pyrenees between Spain and France, the latter the Commonwealth's ally at that time. Showing a pragmatic approach he directed former loyalists with contacts in Spain to conclude a formal peace. Dunkirk, captured after a siege by Franco-English forces following the battle of the Dunes and awarded to the Commonwealth by the Treaty of the Pyrenees was sold to France in 1662.

In July 1670 after years of negotiations under the direction of Edward Montagu, 1st Earl of Sandwich Sir William Godolphin signed the Treaty of Madrid. By the Treaty, Spain recognized English possessions in the Western Indies and Western Hemisphere. Spain also agreed to permit English ships freedom of movement in the Caribbean. Each country agreed to refrain from trading in the others territory, and both countries agreed to limit trading to their own possessions. England agreed to suppress piracy in the Caribbean. Also the limits of Virginia and Spanish Florida were established at the 36°N latitude, and later across the Savannah river.

The War of Devolution (1667–68) and Franco-Dutch War (1672-1678) saw the formation of the Triple Alliance of the Commonwealth, Sweden, and the Dutch republic. This alliance was specifically created to form and secure a combined army to defend the Dutch Republic and the Spanish Netherlands from the French armies. The main Commonwealth involvement in both wars was sea campaign which provided key help.

After 1678 the Commonwealth was involved in a series of diplomatic and military alliances and treaties in order to keep in check or stop France's hegemony in Europe and keep or regain a balance of power. This idea, balance of power, that no state, or potentate, should be able absolutely to predominate and prescribe laws to the rest gained traction in the Commonwealth and other European powers as a reaction to Louis XIV´s expansionist and military offensive foreign policy after the Franco-Dutch War. The French threat changed the old rivalries of the previous decades of Spain and the Commonwealth into collaboration, joined by Habsburg Austria.

However the alliance with the Dutch Republic was strained on the issue of trade and overseas possessions. Main the main issue were the constrains of the Acts of Navigation that affected the trade of New Netherlands with the Commonwealth colonies in America and Caribbean. It must be remembered that the main Dutch goals since 1650s were freedom of the seas (as regards Dutch shipping) and the principle of "free ship, free goods" and the restriction of the concept of contraband. Already the Commonwealth had allowed, against the restrictions of the Act of Seclusion, the installation of Willem III Prince of Orange in 1672 during the Franco-Dutch War. Even more, the English had pressed for his nomination as Captain-General and Stadtholder.

Cromwell's last major conflict has Lord Protector was the Nine Years' War (1688-1667) that also has its campaign in Scotland and Ireland due to Jacobines uprisings that were swiftly crushed but distracting land forces from Europe and America.

Character of Henry Cromwell

Henry Cromwell had inherited his father's impulsive temper and fierce when it was related to state affairs. However he did not have his father's doubts and hesitation, being more impulsive and self–assured in his actions. From being too sensitive and irritable, his years in governing Ireland had taught him the virtues of reconciliation. His practice of governing on broad basis as possible would be a key factor in consolidating the Commonwealth.

Thought in granting and upholding religious toleration he was inflexible and his religious views were liberal. He shared is father's puritan morality and earnestness but less keen for looking for signs from God which would confirm his decisions.


Henry's 38 years of Protectorship were a watershed moment for the British Commonwealth. At Richard Cromwell's death the survival of the Parliamentary gains of The Wars of the Three Kingdoms opened the possibility of a Royal Restoration. Perhaps a man of lesser skills would have led the end of the Commonwealth, however it prevailed and flourished under Henry.

The General's Republic at the beginning of Henry's Protectorship became near his death a bourgeoisie and aristocratic republic with religious tolerance as a norm. The idea and custom of society with no royals became widespread and commonsense by the 1680s.

Parliamentary posts

Nominated MP for Ireland (1653-1653), Elected MP for Cambridge University (1654-1655) and Huntingdonshire (1656-1657), and Member of the Other House (1657-1659).

Lords Presidents of the Council of State under Henry Cromwell

Lords Presidents of the Commonwealth State Council under Henry Cromwell. All named by the Lord Protector.

Name Mandate (Start-End) Political affinity/faction/party Commonwealth Parliament Legislature
Henry Lawrence December 1653 - November 1658 Cromwellian 1st (1654-1655), 2nd (1656-1656)
John Lambert November 1658 - July 1672 Cromwellian 3rd (1659-1662), 4th (1662-1665), 5th (1665-1668), 6th (1668-1672)
Lord Edward Montagu 1st Earl of Sandwich July 1672 - March 1678 Cromwellian (Civil/Court party) 7th (1672-1677), 8th (1677-1682)
Anthony Ashley-Cooper 1st Earl of Shaftesbury March 1678 - 1682 Cromwellian (Civil/Court party) 8th (1677-1682)
William Russell, Lord Russell 1682 - 1687 Country party 9th (1682-1687)
John Somers, 1st Baron Somers 1687 - 1691 Country party -> Whig Party 9th (1682-1687), 10th (1687-1692)
James Scott, 1st Duke of Monmouth 1691-1695 Moderate Whig 10th (1687-1692), 11th (1692-1697)
John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough 1695-1700 Moderate Whig 11th (1692-1697)