Between 1659 and 1668/69 the main political topics were religion, constitution and the Army. All three were divisive issues that defined the politics of two generations, the one of the Civil War and the one of the Consolidation of the Commonwealth.

On the Third Commonwealth Parliament (1659) as in all elected assemblies the members of the House of Commons organized or gathered in factions or cabals (later clubs or around the debates of the coffeehouses). It must be also considered that in this period allegiance to any grouping tended to be fluid, influenced by individual responses to particular issues. The members of the Other House and later the Senate also organized themselves in the same groups sharing leaderships most of the time with the Commons.

By the late 17th century political factions became more organized and established around, if fluid, set of principles, and adopting more coherent political tendencies as the interests of their power bases began to diverge. These political unions or societies[1] became the basis of modern parliamentarism.

See also Politics Ireland.

The Early political cliques

Cromwellians (Army and Court factions)

The main parliamentary faction from 1659 to 1680s were the Cromwellians made up supporters of the Commonwealth and the Cromwells. In the 1659 election it was the de facto majority due to the management of the elections by the Council and Army. However far from being a coherent group it had two major factions: the Army or Soldier party and the Civil-Courier or Court party. The first one supported the Army-Protector alliance and the Army’s interests such as the failed major-generals scheme of 1655-1657; the second one seeked to move to a normality and the supremacy of civil power over the military and the possibility of a hereditary succession of the Protectorship. Both were committed to the Commonwealth, religious tolerance and to Lord Protector Henry Cromwell, who became a natural referee on the disputes of both factions. However the Court party was more open to deal and negotiate with the Presbyterians. The military party spoke of representing the interest of the saints or interest of the people of God and was against negotiations with the Presbyterians. These actions strained the relations within the Cromwellians and increased the political leverage of Henry.

The first breakage of the Cromwellians and the Lord Protector's full political intervention was the passing of the Second Act of General Pardon and Oblivion (November 1663). Roger Boyle's lobbying in the approval of the Act established his rising leadership in the Court Party and the incorporation of Scottish and Irish interests in Government. The definite political watershed of both factions was the oath of allegiance of the British Army and Navy (December 1664) that unofficiallly created both factions with distinguishable leaderships. It also broke the stalwart unity of the Soldier party. Some correctly saw it as a form of weakening its base and authority over the British Army and for others a form of bringing normality and addressing the soldiers long due arrears and payments. Also the previous designation of members and MPs of the Army and Civil parties to the Other House also cleared the need of new leaderships in the powerful House of Commons. The election and designations of the Senate in 1669 also established more definite leaderships in this chamber of the parliament.

The new Cromwellian members mostly coming from congregations, army councils and officers, new English and Irish gentry, merchants and artisans from all over the Commonwealth came to be important and push for a consensus and consolidation of the institutions and a moderate stance in foreign affairs as long as its did not levy excise taxes on them. The main reforms they seeked were judicial, landownership, trade, religious toleration and the worship openness of the Churches of England and Ireland. Parliamentary management of the Cromwellians by the Protector and Council members in both Houses became an intricate network and coalition of patronage and interests.

Nicknames: Cromwellians, redcoats, buff coats and old ironsides. Colours (unofficial): red and/or buff.
Notable members: Henry Cromwell, Richard Cromwell, John Lambert, Charles Fleetwood, Roger Boyle 1st Earl of Orrery, John Desborough, Henry Lawrence, George Monck, Edward Montagu, Marchamont Nedham, William Petty, Anthony Ashley-Cooper 1st Earl of Shaftesbury, John Thurloe, and Bulstrode Whitelocke.

Presbyterian faction

Unofficial symbol used or identified with the Presbyterian faction
Coa Illustration Cross Bowen 2a.svg
Bowen knot used
in the elections as
identification of candidates slate
and political tracts.

The other important faction was the Presbyterian faction, a loose alignment of conservative and moderate group. Its constituency included the moderate and traditional country gentry and the circles of men cemented by kinship, friendship and religious ties as well as ambiguity towards the Commonwealth and the Protector. In 1659 they became ardent defenders of the Commonwealth not willing to give it to what they considered radical Commonwealthmen or royalist Cavaliers. Most of the times they gave support to the proposals of the Court party. For example they gave the necessary votes for the passing of the Second Act of General Pardon and Oblivion (November 1663) and the establishment of British Army and British Navy and oath of allegiance (December 1664).

If they had any program it was moderation. It included opposition to the religious radicalism of the Cromwellians or at least is most extreme congregationalist proposals. They called on to limit the religious toleration and the establishment of religious uniformity by means of a national church, and the supremacy of Parliament over the Army. In government issues they pushed to limit the power of the Protector and Council.

Notable members: Edward Montagu 2nd Earl of Manchester, Alexander and Charles Pym, Sir George Booth Lord Delamere, Denzil Holles, Sir Richard Browne, Sir William Waller, Sir Bartholomew Frazer and William Russell 1st Duke of Bedford.
Symbols (unofficial): Bowen knot


The republican Commonwealthmen faction, largely made up of old Rumpers and other republicans, were virulent opponents to Oliver and Henry Cromwell which were tyrants on the eyes of the Commonwealthmen. By extension also of anything associated with the Army and its influence. However they also had open support from the more radical soldiers and officers of the Army party. The Commonwealthmen called themselves the true patriots of liberty that in time became a motto used in elections.

They campaign for the establish a civilian republican government with absolute supremacy of Parliament (no executive under a single person) and to bring the army under civilian control. Their political and rhetorical skills compensated their lack of numbers. The Commonwealthmen were constantly filibustering to the nuisance and anger of their opponents in the Commons and after 1669 also in the Senate.

Being the eternal opposition and with the authorities throwing their weight against them they survived as niche group in old radical holdouts. Most of its member would later integrate the radical and republican movements.

Notable members: Arthur Haselrig (1601 – 1670), James Harrington, Edmund Ludlow, Algernon Sidney and Sir Henry Vane.

Cavaliers or Royalists

Badges used or identified with the Cavaliers
Royal Oak
The Royal Oak.
Which King Charles II of England
hid to escape the Parliamentary
forces following the Battle of
Worcester (1651).
Dimidiated Rose and Thistle Badge
Dimidiated Rose
and Thistle Badge.
(Union of England
and Scotland)

The Cavaliers or Royalist faction were champions the exiled Charles II and a royal restoration.They were characterized as the ‘’sons and allies of the old cavaliers with their proselytes’’. It was also the main party of Episcopalians that seeked the return to the former organization and worship of the Church of England. Usually its MPs and Senators were not excluded from the House of Commons and Senate, but were small in their numbers. The emerge of a coherent royalist party evolved rapidly in 1660. The lack of a strict censorship, despite the Publishing Laws of 1664, allowed propaganda and newsbooks of the Cavaliers to be distributed within some limits and Episcopalian religious rituals to be practiced in private halls.

Surprisingly they were a party with overseas sympathizers in the colonies of Virginia, Maryland and the West Indies. These colonies were for many an exodus and temporary refuge during the turmoils of the Civil War. After 1660 kinship and friendship cleaved both groups across the seas, even more after Fendall's coup of 1660 and the Freeholders rebellion of 1663.

The Cavaliers stealthy sided with the Republicans with the purpose to overthrow the Commonwealth. However they differed in a key issue with the Republicans:: union of the three home countries. For the Cavaliers the unity of the Three Crowns under One King is a major point in their political beliefs. Later to be called Unionism, it become in time widely accepted also by Cromwellians and Presbyterians as a form of incipient British nationalism.

In the early 1660s they were split between Moderates and Swordsmen. The Moderates or Old Royalists, that also included the Virginian Cavaliers, subscribed to a parliamentary monarchy as worked out by the Long Parliament. The Swordsmen (originally called Louvre Group) upheld absolute sovereignty of the King (royal autocracy) and the use of force by means of military alliances with foreign powers or conspiracies to overthrow the Commonwealth. They gathered around the exiled Royal Court in the Netherlands and later France and Cologne.

The Cavaliers lost most of their raison d'être with the return of Prince Rupert to England in August 1660 and also most of Moderates and their leaders returned to England thanks to the Second Act of General Pardon and Oblivion of November 1663.

The unity of the Cavaliers was furthered broken by the pro-French and pro-Catholicism of the heir presumptive James Duke of York that further excluded from court the protestant cavaliers from the so called court papists. (See Stuart Pretenders).

Most of its member would later integrate the Tories and Whigs factions.

Nicknames: Cavaliers. Colours (unofficial): blue and gold.
Notable members: Sir Edward Hyde, Prince Rupert, Cecil Calvert 2do Lord Baltimore, Charles Calvert 3rd Lord Baltimore, Sir Edward Massie, William Craven, George Carteret and Sir William Berkeley.

Levellers and other dissidents

Badges used or identified with the Levellers and radicalism
Green ribbon
The green ribbon
symbolized affiliation
with the ideals
of the Levellers
and later with political
and religious radicalism.

The surviving Levellers, Diggers and similar factions, that supported An Agreement of the People, were a revival of these groups after their suppression in 1649 at some counties. The main program of the Levellers was reform of law, religious toleration, free trade and extended franchise as a government answerable to the People, rather than Parliament. Some groups are in favor of the communal ownership of land.

Though they have a small or no representation at all in Parliament they continued to exist thanks to the circulation, by a network of activists, of pamphlets and petitions with regular meetings of supporters and organizers to co-ordinate activity.

The group also includes Various Dissidents, mainly all religious dissents like Socinians (or Unitarians), Anabaptists and Quakers. Most were open to toleration of all Christian groups, including Catholics.

Colours: green.
Notable members: Robert Lilburne, John Lawson, John Wildman and John Okey.

Fifth Monarchists and Millenarists

The Fifth Monarchists, although excluded from the Parliament after 1664, continue to agitate against the Commonwealth with pamphlets and petitions and for the government of the Godly. However many of them became members of Millenarian sects, that only preached and withdraw from politics. Reform of the legal system, complete separation of Church and State, abolition of tithes and lifting restriction on public preaching were the radical platform they espoused.

Notable members: Thomas Harrison, Thomas Venner, John Carew, Christopher Feake, Vavasor Powell and John Rogers.


The Whigs were the main political faction and then a political party between the 1680s and 1850s. The Whigs' origin lay groups of the Cromwellians and Presbyterians that advocated the supremacy of Parliament over the Lord Protector and his Council of State. As firm believers in parliamentarism the office of Protector became elected with less powers than its predecessor (Henry Cromwell and James Scott) but highly influential. The Protector became the prime source of political patronage and also a moderating power and collaborator of the Council of State.

The Whigs played a central role in establishing many of the Parliamentary usages and customs of the Commonwealth. They contested power with their rivals, the Tories. The Whigs thoroughly purged the Tories from all major positions in government, the armed forces, the legal profession, and local offices. The Party's hold on power was so strong and durable establishing in the 18th century the age of the Whig Hegemony (1718-1761) or Whig Oligarchy as its called by its detractors.

The Whig Party slowly evolved during the 18th century. The Whig supported the great aristocratic families, wealthy middle classes and mercantile interests, and toleration for nonconformist Protestants but anti-Catholic and anti-Episcopalian. Far from a disciplined party it had numerous factions and leaderships. They shared ideals of republicanism, radicalism, laissez-faire, classic liberalism and rule of law. In economics they were advocates of free trade and promoters of enclosures, along the Tories, and modernization of agricultural production.

The prevailing established practices of the extinct Whig Junto, along patronage and corruption would led the most critical and those outside government to organize themselves in the Patriot Whigs, later Patriot Party or join the Reform Movement.

Tories, Country Party and the Tory-Country Coalition

The Tories were members of political faction and later party of the British Commonwealth of the 17th century to 1750s. Ideologically they were conservative (i.e. supremacy of social order), unionist, traditionalist and agrarianism. Later after the Whig had adopted laissez-faire, and economical liberalism they economically became protectionist agrarianism with tariffs being imposed at the time for higher food prices, self-sufficiency, and enhanced wages in rural employment.

The so called Country Party was movement that had no formal structure or leaders. It claimed to be a nonpartisan force fighting for the nation's interest—the whole "Country"—against the self-interested actions of the Whigs. Country men believed the Whigs were corrupting Britain by using patronage to buy support and was threatening British liberties and the proper balance of authority by shifting power from Protector to the Parliament. It wanted to fix power in the hands of the landed gentry rather than the government officials, urban merchants or bankers. It opposed any practices it saw as corruption. The Country Party acted many times in alliance with the Tories.

The Tory-Country Coalition was formed in 1750s has permanent coalition of the Tories cliques and Country Party movement. Adhering to Tory and Country criticism of the Whigs it represented the traditional and modern landed gentry, small and locally based merchants, local burghs and guilds interests outside London. It advocated a stronger executive akin to the Protectorship of the Two Lords period.

The Political Unions

Besides allocating parliamentary seats and polling requisites, the Representation of the People Act of 1780 also provided the impulse for a more formal organization of political cliques.

The Irish Patriots were the first to openly organized themselves in a political union (PU). The Irish Patriot PU was an organization that linked and tied to common political cause or program its MPs, local electoral agents, had a common electoral agitation and campaign and a partisan press.

Irish Patriots

The Irish Patriots were primarily supportive of Whig concepts of personal liberty combined with an Irish identity that rejected full independence, but advocated strong self-government within the Commonwealth like the re-establishment of the Irish Parliament and executive responsible to it. Their successful appeal to the public made them an effective voice of Irish concerns and identity. However being economically in favor of free trade and enclosure acts meant that they clashed with interests and demands of the farmers' unions.

National Reform PU

The National Reform Political Union came as the logical step of the Tory-Country Coalition. Their main constituency, traditional and modern landed gentry, small and locally based merchants, local burghs and guilds interests outside London, called simply for reform. Reform of government and its corrupt practices and patronage, more power and influence of local groups. A strong Protectorship with an extended mandate and more power and decision making from the Senate as a body representing the common interests of the Home Countries. Merged during Pitt's Council of All Talents (1797-1806) with the Radicals in the National Unity Coalition in 1803. It later became the National and Civic Fusion.

Radical Alliance

The Radical Alliance was a loosely organized combination of factions associated with the Radical Movement and the majority of Whigs. Formed as a reaction to the National Reform PU they advocated parliamentarianism and more radical political and electoral reforms such as universal male suffrage, representation of urban centers and State sponsored public works schemes. Their main constituency were nascent industrial interests of Middle and North England, Ulster and Scottish lowlands. Split in several groups in the 1800s being the most important ones the Radical Progressives and Radical Industrialists. Some also became part of the Civic PU.

National and Civic Fusion

The National and Civic Fusion was the successor of Pitt's National Unity Coalition a electoral and political merge of National Reform and Radicals established in 1803. Disbanded after the North Sea Disaster and the fall of the Council of All Talents (1797-1806).

Radical Progressives

Radical Industrialists

The Radical Industrialists are characterized by their commitment to free trade, promotion of industry and a managerial, almost technocratic, approach to government and society.

Municipal Reform Political Union

A local government campaigning group and political union. Later it became the local counterpart of the National Constitutional PU and Civic PU.

Civic Political Union

The Civic Political Union was formed from dissent radicals that believe in a more gradualist political reforms and collaboration with the national-conservatives.

National Constitutional Political Union

The National Constitutional Political Union was established as successor of the National and Civic Fusion after the North Sea Disaster. It adheres to the principles of the national-conservatives.

Progressive Reform Association

A local government campaigning group and political union. Created as opposition to the national-conservative Municipal Reform PU.

  1. Irish Gaelic (Gaeilge): aontas polaitiúil
    Scottish Gaelic: aonadh poileataigeach
    Welsh (Cymry): undeb gwleidyddol.
Community content is available under CC-BY-SA unless otherwise noted.