Birthday: October 4, 1626
Died At Age: 85
Sun Sign: Libra
Born Country: England
Born in: Huntingdon, Huntingdonshire, England
Famous as: Statesman
Spouse/Ex-: Dorothy Maijor (m. 1649–1675)
father: Oliver Cromwell
mother: Elizabeth Cromwell
children: Anna Cromwell, Anne Cromwell, Dorothy Cromwell, Elizabeth Cromwell, Mary Cromwell, Oliver Cromwell, Thomas Pengelly
Died on: July 12, 1712
place of death: Cheshunt, Hertfordshire, England
education: Felsted School
Who was Richard Cromwell?
Richard Cromwell was a British statesman who served as the second Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland, and Ireland, succeeding his father, Oliver Cromwell, the first Lord Protector. Richard was elected to the ‘First Protectorate Parliament’ as a member of parliament (MP) for Huntingdon and to the ‘Second Protectorate Parliament’ as an MP for ‘Cambridge University.’ He succeeded Oliver as the chancellor of ‘Oxford University.’ He also became a ‘Council of State’ member. He was inducted into the committee of trade but was not as successful as his father was. Oliver groomed Richard after a new constitution gave him the power to select his successor. Oliver (possibly) designated Richard as his successor, and upon his death, Richard became the Lord Protector. This, however, did not sit well with the English army. Richard faced serious issues. The high-ranking army officers were furious when he took personal charge of the army, refusing the request to appoint an experienced officer as the commander-in-chief. Moreover, issues between the army and the parliament eventually led the army to seize power and compel Richard to dissolve the parliament. The ‘Rump Parliament’ was recalled, and it dismissed Richard. Richard then officially renounced his power. He left England, returning only after 2 decades. He lived in seclusion till his death at age 85.
Childhood & Early Life
Richard Cromwell was born on October 4, 1626, in Huntingdon, Huntingdonshire, England, to English military and political leader Oliver Cromwell and his wife, Elizabeth. He was the fourth of the nine children (and the third son) of his parents.
He and his three brothers attended the ‘Felsted School’ in Essex, near their maternal family home. Not much is known about his university days. He became a ‘Lincoln's Inn’ member in May 1647. Although there is lack of concrete evidence, some sources mention that during the late 1640s, Richard probably served Thomas Fairfax's lifeguard as a captain.
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A prominent political figure, Oliver Cromwell dismissed the ‘Rump Parliament’ by force on April 20, 1653. In his effort to reform the government, he established an army-nominated assembly called the ‘Barebone's Parliament.’ It was, however, short-lived. Thereafter, fellow leaders of Oliver invited him to rule as the Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland, and Ireland. A written constitution created the position for him. He took over as the Lord Protector on December 16, 1653, and implemented an aggressive and effective foreign policy during his rule.
Although his younger brother Henry became a member of the ‘Barebone's Parliament,’ Richard was neither considered for it nor given a public role after Oliver became the Lord Protector. Nevertheless, Richard was elected to the ‘First Protectorate Parliament’ as an MP for Huntingdon and to the ‘Second Protectorate Parliament’ as an MP for ‘Cambridge University.’
After a new constitution gave Oliver the power to select his successor, in 1657, he began grooming Richard for high office and pushed him to be involved in the political scenario of his regime. In June that year, Richard attended the second installation of Oliver as the Lord Protector. The following month, he succeeded his father to become the chancellor of the ‘University of Oxford.’ He became a member of the ‘Council of State’ in December that year.
As the Lord Protector
After the death of Oliver on September 3, 1658, Richard succeeded his father as the Lord Protector on the same day. The succession, however, created controversy. According to a letter written by John Thurloe, on August 30 that year, Oliver had orally nominated Richard as his successor. Several sources, however, asserted that Oliver had suggested his son-in-law Charles Fleetwood’s name. Others believed he did not nominate anyone as his successor.
Richard encountered two serious issues after assuming office. First, he annoyed the army when, in spite of his lack of military experience, he took charge of the forces, ignoring the request to induct an experienced officer as the commander-in-chief. The second issue was that the regime was under serious financial stress, with debts amounting to £2 million.
To fix right the financial issues, the privy council of Richard resolved to call a parliament on November 29, 1658. The parliament was called applying the conventional franchise, according to the terms of the ‘Humble Petition and Advice,’ thus distancing from the system under the ‘Instrument of Government.’ This signified the government’s inability to control elections and manage the parliament successfully. Consequently, the crypto-’Royalists,’ the moderate ‘Presbyterians,’ and a few vociferous ‘Commonwealthsmen’ managed to dominate this ‘Third Protectorate Parliament’ when it sat for the first time on January 27, 1659.
The "Other House" or “Upper House” of the parliament, established by Oliver, under the terms of the ‘Humble Petition and Advice,’ was also revived. The ‘Third Protectorate Parliament’ included this second chamber. However, the ‘Republicans’ expressed suspicion, as they regarded some of its members as ‘Presbyterians’ and closet ‘Royalists.’
The ‘New Model Army,’ on the other hand, doubted the commitment of the government to the military and worried about the lack of respect of the parliament for the army. On April 6, 1659, the army made a petition to Richard, mentioning its grievances. Although it was placed before the parliament, no action was taken to resolve the issue. the army’s suspicion increased when a few days later, on April 12, the MPs nearly impeached William Boteler. It was alleged that in 1655, while serving as a major-general under Oliver, Boteler had mistreated a ‘Royalist’ prisoner.
This was followed by the passage of two resolutions in the ‘Commons’ on April 18, 1659. These stated that the army officers would not conduct any more meetings without permission from both the Lord Protector and the parliament. It also stated that they would take an oath of never undermining the power and authority of the parliament by force. These and a few earlier developments enraged the army, who demanded that Richard dissolve the parliament. Upon his refusal, the army assembled at the ‘St. James's Palace.’
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Richard eventually gave in to the demands of the army and dissolved the parliament on April 22, 1659. By then, it was conspicuous that the ‘Commons’ were trying to find ways to disband the army. On May 7, 1659, the ‘Rump Parliament’ was recalled. The army possibly kept Richard under house arrest. He formally resigned from the position of Lord Protector by submitting a letter on May 25 that year, after the ‘Rump’ agreed to pay his debts and grant him a pension.
Till July 1659, he stayed in the ‘Palace of Whitehall.’ Eventually, the ‘Rump’ compelled him to return to Hursley. Richard’s fall from power was met with sarcastic remarks and censuring, and he was tagged as “Queen Dick” and “Tumbledown Dick.”
Life after the Protectorate & Death
Although rumors stated that Richard would be recalled as the Protector amidst political difficulties during the winter of 1659, nothing of that sort happened. Richard fled to France in July 1660, leaving his wife behind. He traveled around Europe and visited different European courts during his period of voluntary exile. He wrote several letters to his family back in England during this tenure. The letters presently find place in the ‘Cambridgeshire Archives and Local Studies’ at the ‘County Record Office’ in Huntingdon.
Richard returned to England either in 1680 or in 1681. There, he started living with merchant Thomas Pengelly and his family, in their Finchley home. He earned enough from his own estate in Hursley. After Thomas’s death in January 1696, Richard continued to stay with Thomas’s wife. In 1700, he shifted with her to her property in Cheshunt in Hertfordshire. He lived there till his death on July 12, 1712. Richard’s stay with Thomas’s wife paved way for rumors that Pengelly’s son, Sir Thomas Pengelly, who went on to become a judge and MP from Cockermouth, was actually Richard’s illegitimate son.
Richard’s remains were transferred to Hursley and buried in a vault beneath the ‘All Saints' Parish Church.’ A memorial tablet has been placed there in his honor.
Family & Personal Life
Richard married Dorothy Maijor in 1649. She was the daughter of Richard Maijor, Esq. of Hursley (Hampshire). Following the marriage, the couple stayed at Dorothy’s father’s Hursley estate. Richard became a “Justice of the Peace” for Hampshire and was part of various county committees. The couple had nine children in the 1650s, of whom five survived to adulthood.
Sources mention that Dorothy was present at Richard’s investment ceremony at the ‘Westminster Hall’ and was possibly called the “Protectress” during Richard’s short reign as the Lord Protector. She remained loyal to him throughout her life. After he fled from England, Dorothy waited for his return for 15 years, eventually passing away on January 5, 1675.