James 1st   1603-1625

Born in Edinburgh 1566 the son of Mary Queen of Scots and Lord Darnley and the great great grandson of Henry 7th King of England via his daughter Margaret. Queen Elizabeth had paved the way for this Scottish monarch to succeed her 17 years earlier with the Treaty of Berwick. James was 37 years old when crowned King of England and had ruled as King of Scotland virtually from birth. (Initially under regents). He was no Elizabeth who had paved the way for England’s colonial expansion and naval supremacy (partly by being directly financially involved with pirates and thugs) but was more of an intellectual, noted for his contribution to the re-writing of the Bible into an English we still favour today and his direct support for the likes of William Shakespeare.

James 1st Chronological Events

1566  James born in Edinburgh the son of Mary Queen of Scots and Great Grandson of Margaret, daughter of King Henry 7th of England.

1567  James becomes King of Scotland after his mother is forced to abdicate following various scandals and rules with the concept of  “The divine right of kings” giving him a dictatorial authority over all other persons. Initially Scotland was ruled by regents because of his age.

1568  James’ mother Mary flees to England to escape scandals but is imprisoned by her cousin Elizabeth because of her Catholic supporters.

1586  Treaty of Berwick between envoys of James and Elizabeth 1st outlining friendship and support against Catholic aggressors and in return the promise of the English Throne to James on the death of Elizabeth plus an annual salary from England of £4000

1587  Mary is executed by Elizabeth 1st for plotting with others to take the English throne for the Catholics

1589  At 23 James marries Anne of Denmark who eventually produces him 9 children even though he is considered by many to be gay.

1592  James makes Presbyterianism (similar to Puritanism and Lutherism) the official religion in Scotland.

1603  James is crowned King of England and Ireland at Westminster on the death of Elizabeth. James is 37.

The Puritan branch of the Church of England petitions James to bend the C of E  more towards the fundamental Puritan practices like; no singing in church, no bishops, hard work and support of the poor. This dispute goes on for a year and is not resolved which causes some Puritans to emigrate and for James to commission his new English Bible translation. James had declared “I will make the Puritans conform or harry them out of the land.”

Not surprisingly English colonisation of North America commences in earnest under James

So James has inadvertently hugely contributed  to the English colonisation of North America by making it impossible for Puritans to live and worship in England. The first group of Puritans first flee from Boston England to Holland but after some 15 years they decide they will lose their identity if they stay and resolve to brave the transatlantic passage and in 1620 they set up an English Puritan Colony in North America.  (The Founding Fathers) and hence Boston in” New England” in North America.

Earlier, in 1606 James had set up “The London Company” with the sole purpose of making money out of colonizing the more southerly east coast of North America,(the only part known to the English as potential good farming country and well away from the Spanish in the south and the French in the north). The immediate result is the colonisation of Sir Walter Raleigh’s Virginia and the building of Jamestown. The two Englishmen whose leadership guaranteed the success of this venture were John Smith and John Rolfe

See also History Empire America

First plot to replace James with a Catholic.

Even though Elizabeth 1st created a compromise religion half way between Catholicalism and Protestantism now called the Church of England there was a significant number of English who wanted to return to the Roman Catholic faith. (Also a significant number who wanted to follow Lutherism, viz Puritans.)

Sir Walter Raleigh  allegedly had plans to put another great great grandchild of Henry 7th on the throne rather than the Scottish and protestant James. This cousin is Lady Arabella Stuart, a Catholic 6th in line to the throne and born in England. Arabella reported this to King James and Raleigh is thrown into the Tower where he remained for 13 years only to be released when James, being short of money needed him to search for gold.

1604  James makes peace with Spain (smart move!).

The manufacture of Silk is commenced in England. Previously imported at vast expense from China.

1605  2nd major plot to rid England of the Protestant leaders. The Gun Powder Plot and Guy Fawkes. The idea was to kill the protestant King and as many parliamentarians as possible by blowing up the houses of Parliament when they were all in session and replace them with Catholic supporters. The plot thankfully failed when an anonymous letter was received by an MP called Monteagle suggesting he did not attend. James ordered a search of the building and found Guy Fawkes ready to light 36 barrels of gun powder. This act of terrorism made Catholics even more unpopular in England and did not help the cause of the Puritans either.

During this year Shakespeare who is well supported by James writes the play King Lear.

1606  James introduces a new flag to represent England, Scotland and Ireland the Union Jack, still in use to day. (Union of Jacobus)

But a full union between England and Scotland is rejected by the English Parliament even though Scottish and English people born after the accession of James to the English throne are given common citizenship.

1607  The Colonisation of Northern Ireland (Ulster).

The serious colonisation of Ireland had begun under Elizabeth but the Gaelic stronghold of Ulster had been powerful force against the English until 1603 when the O’Neil clan was finally conquered under Elizabeth. In 1607 James was persuaded to fund a massive ethnic cleansing of local Irish in favour of a 50/50 split of English and Scottish imported farmers. Unfortunately for the English the number of suitable people available to totally populate Ulster and remove all the Irish was reduced by the colonisation of Virginia which was going on at the same time. This resulted in the English protestant “planters” employing some catholic Irish labour to fully occupy the land.  The result was an explosive mix of religion, class and culture which has lasted to this day.

See also similarity with the British treatment of Palestine (1919-1948) when the British tried to mix the diverse cultures of Jews and Muslims in the same country.

Colonisation of North America:

1608  Quebec on the St Lawrence Sea Way in Canada is founded by Frenchman Samuel de Champlain

1609  Englishman Henry Hudson, sailing under a Dutch flag recommends the south tip of ManhattanIsland (Now New York) for the first Dutch settlement in America

At the same time Spaniard Juan de Onate establishes Santa Fe in New Mexico.

Science and the Church:

Galileo Galilei the Italian priest, astronomer  and mathematician shatters the Christian world by proving that the Earth is not the centre of the universe which priests have been preaching for centuries. Instead the Earth orbits the Sun and the Earth is not the only planet with a moon. (Viz Jupiter). The Church in Rome immediately put him under permanent house arrest.

1610  Henry Hudson sailing under an English flag discovers Hudson Bay in present day northern Canada and sets the area up as a trading post for firs under an English flag.

1611  The James 1st Authorised Bible is first published. Still a favourite today.

James also is beginning to show his contempt for the English parliamentary system and dissolves it in disgust thus putting back all the good work done by Elizabeth 1st. James opinion that Kings rule by divine right and are above all other nobles is the problem and he refuses to be overruled by the elected members.

1612  Henry the eldest son of James dies and son Charles aged 12 becomes next in line to the throne.

This year is the last time in Britain that Heretics (religious dissenters) are “burnt at the stake”.

Also in 1612 the English settlers around Jamestown in Virginia start to plant tobacco with seeds from South America at the suggestion of John Rolfe who discovered their taste was better liked by the English. The settlement prospers for the first time and Rolfe celebrates by marrying the local Native American beauty Pocohontas.   

1613  James marries Elizabeth, his eldest daughter aged 17, to protestant Frederick Henry who becomes King of Bohemia in 1619. (The western part of the Czech republic bordering Germany).

1616  James ruling without parliament becomes seriously short of money so he releases Sir Walter Raleigh from the Tower and finances him to lead an expedition to South America (Guiana) to find gold so long as he does not fight the Spaniards. Raleigh returns empty handed and having engaged the Spaniards so James had him beheaded. Raleigh was then 66 but a sad ending for one of Queen Elizabeth’s most successful pirates also a poet and Irish landowner.

1619  Start of 30 years war. When James son in law, the protestant Fredrick became King of Bohemia the Roman Catholic Emperor Ferdinand considered this a step to far for the upstart Protestants and a major battle commenced which involved most of Europe. James kept England neutral even though Fredrick had married his eldest daughter and James was a Protestant. James made the right decision as the death total was huge some countries loosing 50% of their population and many becoming bankrupt.  James’ daughter and son in law became permanent political refugees.

Also in 1619 the English continue the profitable trade of shipping native black Africans as slaves and the first ship load arrives in Virginia to work on the tobacco plantations

1620  The English Pilgrim Fathers leave for Virginia in North America having set sail from Holland and changed ships at Plymouth. Strong winds blew them north and they eventually strike land 100s of miles north of Jamestown at present day Cape Cod were the able bodied male survivors try to build shelters and find food. Coming from relative civilisation they are ill equipped for survival but being Puritans they are dedicated to hard work in Gods name. With out the help of the native Americans who acted as guides through the forests, showed them how to trap game, make maple syrup, deer skin shoes, introduced them to eating turkeys, grow native maize and build birch bark canoes they would not have survived.  

In 10 years time the population of English in this area, now called Massachusetts, is 16,000 largely the Puritan refugees who have been forbidden by James to practice their religion in England.

1625  Death of James 1st. He is succeeded by his eldest surviving son Charles.

Charles 1st 1625-49

Charles Stewart was the wrong king during these turbulent religious years when his father, brother and the current MPs had all nearly been assassinated in the Catholic Gun Powder Plot. Neither Catholics nor the ultra “back to basics” Puritans were permitted to follow their preferred form of worship.

Charles first of all

  • married the Catholic French princess, sister of the French king who openly arranged for her own Catholic mass. Parliament were horrified.
  • Secondly he appointed William Laud, a nearly Catholic religious thug as Archbishop of Canterbury in a supposedly Protestant England. This did not please parliament either.
  • Thirdly following to views of his father he believed absolutely in the “Divine Right of Kings” which he took to mean that he was accountable to nobody other than God and hence he was not prepared to discuss the war taxes he needed or other issues with parliament.

This resulted in a deepening crisis between King and the now powerful English parliament climaxing in a civil war which parliament forces under Oliver Cromwell won and the beheading of King Charles for treason.

Charles reign ran concurrently with the “30 years war” in Europe 1618-1648 which was triggered by the people of Bohemia (Czech Republic) preferring Fredrick, the Protestant brother in law of Charles as King, rather than the Catholic Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand 2nd as their ruler. This war, although mainly taking place in Germany, involved most European nations and reduced the population of many of them by as much as 50% and bankrupting them in the process.

Charles’ father James tried to avoid the battle but Charles was reluctantly involved both because of his sisters problems as the wife of Fredrick and because of his friend Buckingham who wanted a direct assault into the fray but was a useless general. This further split parliament from the King as firstly they did not like Buckingham and secondly suggested different and more profitable military aims which the King over ruled.

Chronological events in Charles’ reign

1600    Charles born in Fife, Scotland as the second son of James 1st.

1603    Charles at 3 years old, could neither walk or talk.

1612    Charles’ elder brother Frederick a strapping and popular lad was killed in a swimming accident. The pathetic Charles was now next in line to the throne   and his father schooled him in the arts of kingship particularly in their Divine Rights.

1613    Charles’ sister, 17 year old Elizabeth, who he adores leaves England to marry the protestant German prince Fredrick, Elector of Palatine

1619    30 Years War commences in Europe.  Fredrick is made King of Bohemia (Western Czech Republic) which sparks the European 30 year religious Wars. Sister Elizabeth and brother in law Fredrick become fugitives.  

1620    Charles at 20 was only 5 feet 3 inches tall and afflicted with a stammer but was well educated, a good horseman who loved hunting and as his fathers mental health declined he became more and more involved with ruling the country.

1624    England enters 30 years war and declares war on Catholic Spain in an attempt to weaken the Catholic armies in their battles with the Protestants; Holland, Bohemia and the French Huguenots.

1625    King James, his father dies in March.  To the horror of the country and parliament Charles marries the Catholic sister of the King of France, Henrietta Maria aged 15. Charles himself although nominally a Protestant prefers High Church with services very similar to the dreaded and outlawed Catholics. The English parliament has a high proportion of Puritans who also cannot freely worship in England so there is tension from the start.

1625    Charles calls his first parliament to raise taxes to continue the war with Spain.  Parliament who are against war in Europe, refuse to give the King what he wants and under funded, the war missions are failures.

1626    Charles is crowned king but Henrietta Maria refuses to take part as a Catholic can’t attend a Protestant event.   He needs friends and initially relies on “Steenie” (George Villiers, the Earl of Buckingham)  one of his fathers apparently homosexual favourites.  Buckingham steers Charles towards more anti Catholic campaigns in Europe.   

Taxes need to be raised to support these wars so Charles calls his second parliament. To ensure he gets his money Charles immediately promotes any possible dissenters as sheriffs who then cannot vote. The rest of parliament see through this and refuse to proceed. Charles’ favourite, the unpopular Buckingham is impeached so Charles dissolves parliament and raises his      money from forcing higher contributions from the “privileged kings” tax base.

1627    War is declared on France to enable Buckingham to rescue some persecuted Huguenots. It fails.

1628    Buckingham is assassinated mysteriously while preparing for another invasion of France.

Point to return to from the later section on Oliver Cromwell

Wentworth and Pym, two leading parliamentarians, in response to Charles’ cavalier method of ruling the country draw up some new rules of kingship.

  • No man can be compelled to pay a loan, benevolence or tax without the consent of parliament.
  • No person can be imprisoned without cause
  • No person to be tried by a military court.

These “Petition of Rights” are seen as being second only in importance to Magna Carta. Note the improvement in Human rights.  The King being very short of cash was forced to agree.             At this point the crafty Sir Thomas Wentworth swapped allegiances and became the kings chief advisor along with the equally shrewd William Laud.

1629    Charles now commences total dictatorial rule, without calling parliament, for 11 years.

1633    Charles appoints William Laud, a High Churchman (close to Catholicasism) as Archbishop of Canterbury. Charles continues to raise taxes illegally.

Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Stafford is appointed Lord Deputy of Ireland where by 1640, 100,000 Scottish Presbyterians  are resident in Northern Ireland.

1637    War with Scotland. Laud decrees that all Scotland must use the English Book of Common Prayer. This is an anathema to the Scots who are Presbyterians which is close to Puritanism.  When Charles threatened to enforce the adoption of the English Prayer Book almost every man in Scotland signed a petition and an army of 16,000 men was assembled under Alexander Leslie to defend their rights.

1639    Charles formed an army of 20,000 to suppress these Scots but realising that he could not count on any of this English army to support him he was forced to sign a treaty with Leslie at Berwick on Tweed. The Scots were to be allowed to choose their on version of Christianity and settled on Presbyterianism rather than Episcopacy. (Elizabeth’s Church of England)             This is called the First Bishops War.

1640    Being desperately short of money Charles was forced to call back parliament but it lasted only 3 weeks as MPs refused to discuss taxes with the king if he did not get rid of his two thugs Wentworth in Ireland and Archbishop Laud and re-engage with parliament.

In the mean time the Scots invaded England again (the Second Bishops War) and easily defeated Charles Armies in Northumberland and occupied Newcastle. Charles in his weakness could only get rid of the Scots by paying them £850 a day sufficient to maintain their standing army.

Charles now desperate called a “Great Council” similar to medieval Great Councils but even his cronies advised him to recall parliament and so he did.  The so called “Long Parliament” lasted 20 years until 1660.

1640-42  For 2 years Parliament tried to negotiate with Charles a working relationship and rules and responsibilities between the two parties Parliament and King. But it was impossible to talk to a man who was convinced all his actions were guided by God. Wentworth continued with the colonisation of Ulster and Laud was not the man to favour peace between Catholics, Puritans and the Elizabethan Church of England. Eventually Parliament under the leadership of  Pym supported by Cromwell and others impeached and arrested both Laud and Wentworth (the Earl of Stafford) and the King left London and set up his new power base in Oxford.

In Ireland the removal of Wentworth gave encouragement to the native Irish and the original Norman English settlers to attack Dublin but the plot was leaked. Instead these two parties attacked the settlers in Ulster and gleefully  massacred some 30,000 Protestant farmers.   

1642-49  Civil War

A 7 year period of war between the King’s followers called the Cavaliers because of their alleged superior horsemanship and Roundheads because of their short haircuts. The King with obvious Catholic leanings had the support of the Catholic French and the Catholic Irish. Parliament who enjoyed a Puritan majority had the support of the Presbyterian Scots.

The first battle was at Edgehill, Warwickshire in ‘43 and the last and 14th  was at Naseby, Northamptonshire in 1645 and decisively won by Parliament under the leadership of Oliver Cromwell who had taken it upon himself to study ilitary tactics, set up a standing army and train them. (The Model Army) Charles fled to his sanctuary at Oxford.

In 1646 Charles persuaded the Scots to invade northern England on his behalf but they were severely beaten by Cromwell who returned to London and clamoured for the King to be brought to justice. Cromwell had to exclude some 100 parliamentarians leaving only a “Rump” of 53 to get the vote for the Kings execution for crimes against his own kingdom. Charles was beheaded in January 1649. This was the first time in the history of England that a King had been tried in a court of law by his people. Charles’ French wife fled to Paris with three royal sons including the eldest Prince Charles, the next inline to the throne.

England was now to be ruled without a hereditary king but as a republic by a parliament. Oliver Cromwell was not initially the leader but only an elected parliamentarian and head of the cavalry division in the New Model Army. 


  • John Pym was the  leader of the opposition to Charles
  • Irish Uprising 1641 to1653 were started by hatred of Thomas Wentworth (Earl of Stafford) and brought under control by Oliver Cromwell.
  • William Laud’s efforts to unify Scotland and Ireland under his version of C of E brought about the Bishops wars in Scotland and the Irish uprisings of 1641-50
  • Laud also tried to unify the Churches in America. Laud was a friend of the King’s favourite Buckingham
  • Laud wanted to return some of the Church land seized by Henry 8th which obviously made landlords very nervous.
  • Battle of Benburp in Ireland in 1646 (against the English) was financed by the Pope
  • “Pride’s Purge” got rid of the Presbyterian supporters of Charles 1st in the Long Parliament.
  • Religion. Charles 1st was a Hi Churchman his wife a Catholic his parliament was mainly Puritan with some Presbyterians and a few Catholics. England was more than 50% Protestant mainly C of E but the Nobles were generally Catholic as were the House of Lords. Scotland was mainly Presbyterian and Ireland was staunchly Catholic. 

cromwellOliver Cromwell 1653-1660

Oliver Cromwell ruled England as a military dictator following a bloodless Coup in 1653. Historians and other informed commentators are split between those who see Cromwell as an animal, worse than Attila the Hun and Genghis Khan combined (the Irish view) and those like Winston Churchill or Cromwell’s contemporary, the poet and academic Milton who put Cromwell on a pedestal along side (in Churchill’s case)  the Dukes of Marlborough and Wellington.  

Quote Milton; “He was a terror to all evil doers but he fostered compassion for outcasts including the poor and even Jews”. “He supported learning even though he was not an educated man and if there was a man in the land who excelled in any capacity or science Cromwell would find him and reward him according to his merit.”

Abroad he was feared by all the Kings in Europe including the French and the Spanish but in Ireland where he was sent to quell an uprising in England’s oldest colony he reduced the population by 50% so ruthless were his ways. Following the lead of Elizabeth 1st his aim was to put England at the head of all Europe’s Protestant countries in their fight against “Popery”. (The Catholics). This is the reason his military actions in Ireland were so ruthless which being a devout Catholic country was both a stepping stone for Catholic countries to invade England and the people being Catholics were seen as “ barbarous wretches who had imbrued their hands with so much innocent Protestant blood.”

In today’s world he would have been seen as worse than Saddam Hussein. The Irish Catholics today view him as Mexicans view the Catholic Spanish conqueror Herman Cortez killer of the Aztecs. (1521)

Oliver Cromwell was a Puritan that is a Protestant fundamentalist, devout Christians, even further wishing to remove corruption from the Church than Luther.      

Chronological History

1599   Oliver Cromwell was born in Huntington Cambridgeshire into a middle class family (Gentry class) and was related to the Thomas Cromwell, Earl of Essex who 70 years earlier had worked for Henry 8th to separate the English Church from Rome. (Thomas was Oliver’s Great, Great, Great uncle.)

1615   Cromwell goes to CambridgeUniversity studying in the newly formed college, Sidney Sussex which had strong Puritan leanings. A year later he was forced to leave as his father died and he was needed at home to support his mother and 7 unmarried sisters.

1620   Oliver marries a Elizabeth Bourchier and they had nine children. His father in law Sir James Bourchier was a wealthy London leather merchant with extensive estates in Essex. The Bourchiers and their friends were staunch Puritans

1628   Cromwell is elected the MP for Huntingdon but King Charles 1st soon dissolves this Parliament for a full eleven years.

1631   Oliver suffers a mental breakdown (depression?) is forced to sell up and move to a small farm in St Ives.

1636   Cromwell inherits land from his uncle on his mother’s side and could move back into the Gentry class.

1638   Cromwell has a spiritual awakening, looses his depression and becomes a staunch Puritan with a mission to get rid of the Roman Catholic elements in the Church of England (like hierarchical priests, the Alter,  communion with wine and bread, singing and religious paintings and ornaments) with a more back to basics feel than even Luther or Calvin.

Remember the Pilgrim Fathers who emigrated to the Boston area of North America in 1620 were Puritans as they could not practice their religion under either James 1st  or Charles 1st. Cromwell as a Puritan also contemplated emigration.

1640   A rebellion in Scotland (the Bishops Wars) forced Charles 1st to recall parliament to raise military funds. Cromwell is now recalled as MP for Cambridge. In these days MPs were sponsored rather than elected and Cromwell’s sponsoring group were largely powerful Puritans. This Parliament lasted only 3 months before the King dissolved it because he could not get the MPs to agree with him. The so called Short Parliament.

King Charles was forced to recall Parliament again in an attempt to get his war taxes and Cromwell was again there as MP for Cambridge supported by his powerful Puritan friends. (The Long Parliament). Cromwell was part of a powerful cleek of Puritan MPs and members of the House of Lords including, the Earls of Essex, Warwick and Bedford who in 1641 put a Bill forward to abolish the Episcopalian hierarchical structure of the Church of England and establish the flat Puritan structure. (This is rule of the Church by the people or the congregation to eliminate bishops who were prone to become corrupt).

For further reading on the deterioration of relations between the King and Parliament, under Pym and Cromwell and others, see Charles 1st

The build up to civil war in England

1642 A total impasse between Parliament and the King. The King needs to raise taxes, which he must do through parliament to fight the Scots, who have invaded England and also to quell riots in Ireland over the continued planting of Scottish Presbyterians in their Catholic country. The Parliament led by Pym and supported by the majority who are Puritans refuses to talk to the King unless he gets rid of both Archbishop Laud who is trying to get England and Scotland theologically closer to Catholic Rome, (hence the riots in Scotland) and Wentworth who resident in Ireland is causing problems by getting in too many Presbyterians.

Civil War 1642-48

This was a class, religious and political war triggered by a powerful Parliament disagreeing with a dictatorial King. On one side was the King who was supported by his nobles who were largely Catholic plus those who worked for the nobles. They were nicknamed the Cavaliers because they were good at fighting on horseback. (Horses in those days were expensive) On the other side were the so called Round Heads named because of their short hair cuts. Round Heads were headed by Parliament and supported by Yeomen farmers and their fighting arm were picked because they were Puritan Protestants and hence could be relied on the fight Catholics who they considered a decadent religious underclass. Their military arm included the Earls of Essex, commander in chief, Manchester, Fairfax and Cromwell. London and the Home Counties supported Parliament and much of the rest of England supported the King.

The King makes the first move by gathering a small army of supporters to steal silver from Cambridge University collages. This move was prevented by quick action from Oliver Cromwell who raised a small militia of Puritan volunteers. He followed this with raising a troop of 60 horsemen who effectively secured Cambridgeshire for Parliament. Cromwell had no military experience before 1642 but by 1646 was considered the best general in all of the British army which won the Civil War for the Parliamentary forces-(Roundheads) against the King’s army-(Cavaliers) who were largely Catholics . Cromwell’s formula was to initially recruit dedicated anti Catholics including of course Puritans, training them both as foot soldiers and Cavalry and using this group of permanent or permanent “professionals” to train the rest of the parliamentary army who were generally part time volunteers.  Cromwell’s army eventually became known as the New Model army and was considered the best fighting force in Europe at the time.

1644   Battle of Marston Moor. First battle against the Kings Cavalry where Cromwell’s horsemen were obviously superior.  The King’s army was lead by his nephew Prince Rupert who had gained considerable military experience in Europe’s “30 Years War”.

1645   June, Battle of Naseby. Cromwell had been promoted to Lieutenant General of Horse in the newly created “Model Army” under Sir Thomas Fairfax and they were now the two suprimos of the Parliamentary forces. A total victory against the King ended the First Civil War. King Charles eventually ended under house arrest .

1648   The Second Civil War. The Scots, as requested secretly by the King’ invaded England but were quickly defeated by Cromwell and his now ruthlessly trained New Model Army who then clamoured for the execution of the King who was brought to London Whitehall to stand trial.

Anybody in Parliament who considered the King was not guilty were excluded from attending Parliament leaving only a “Rump” of 53 members who voted for a trial unanimously.

1649   The King was tried by the High Court of Justice and executed, having being found guilty of waging a war against his own kingdom.

The Commonwealth 1649-53

England now became an effective republic governed by a “Council of State” with 41 members who voted for and persuaded John Bradshaw, a judge, to become its President and the famous poet and scholar John Milton to act as a Foreign Secretary or “propagandist” because of his ability to write ably in Latin, the then language of international discussion.

The Commander in Chief of the military was Thomas Fairfax ably supported by Oliver Cromwell. Both were soon in  action to quell the immediate uprisings in England, Ireland and Scotland against the new Republic and its leaders.

Firstly the Levellers against the Commonwealth in England. The Levellers were an extreme Puritan sect drawn mainly from the lower ranks of the army who, under John Lilburn and well ahead of their time wanted to “level” the huge differences between the rich and the poor by improving the rights of poor people which was not being addressed by the new Commonwealth. The movement was well organised across the length and breadth of the country and notably included women in their ranks and with their military background rose up against the Commonwealth. Fairfax and Cromwell rapidly responded, sort out and executed their leaders and the movement collapsed.


This is the best remembered part of Cromwell’s “reign” especially in Ireland but also across Europe. After his victorious but ruthless campaign in 1649/50 he was considered the best and most feared military leader in Europe ably supported by the best Admiral and real founder of the English Navy, Robert Blake. The population of Ireland, before he landed in Dublin was just over one and a half million and some two years later had been reduced by about 600,000 as a result of his policies of murder of those who did not surrender, scorching the farm land to deprive the enemy of food and a simultaneous outbreak of Bubonic Plague. About 20,000 Irish Catholics were deported or sold to the Caribbean settlements as slaves and some 200,000 fled to America to start a new life.

In 1641 in the reign of Charles 1st when the King had mishandled the Irish colony angry Irish Catholics had attacked the Protestant settlements in Ulster and murdered some 200,000 English and Scottish farmers. When Cromwell landed eight years later he was determined to put the fear of the Puritan God into the hearts of any Irish revolutionary, hence his ruthless agenda.

(Historians today are split down the middle between those who claim this level  butchery was not unusual in the 17th Century and those who place him amongst the worse perpetrators of war crimes.)

Cromwell’s task was made all the more difficult because the Irish Catholic “Confederates” had been financed by France, Spain plus a huge sum of money and arms directly from the Pope. The Confederates had joined forces with the standing English army stationed in Ireland who were royalists and supporters of the restoration of Charles 2nd and thus against a republic.

1649 Cromwell landed in Dublin (with the help of the fleet under Robert Blake), the only remaining Irish port in English hands. His pre campaign strategy was to secure all the main ports on Ireland’s east coast to land men and materials from England. He immediately marched 30 miles north up the coast to the port of Drogheda at the mouth of the river Boyne. (Now the largest town in Ireland). Some 3000 plus men were holed up in a well fortified castle consisting of about 1500 “confederate Irish” and some 1500 Royalist English, the remainder being priests and civilians. Cromwell had brought with him from Dublin about 12,000 superbly trained men from his “New Model Army” and eleven 48 pounder siege cannon. This formidable force was augmented by Blake’s warships also with heavy cannon blockading the mouth of the river Boyne. When the holed up Irish and Royalist English rebel forces rejected Cromwell’s offer of surrender, his artillery easily breached the defensive walls and his troops went in for  the kill. That is, it was quite normal in those days to put to the sword, anybody who turned down the offer of surrender. His troops massacred the occupants of the castle almost in totality and then turned on the town to continue the slaughter of unarmed civilians particularly any catholic priests. Any able bodied soles left alive were sent to the English colony of Barbados as slaves.

Cromwell now marched south to attack the fortified towns of Wexford (a key port) and then Waterford and Duncannon. He takes Wexford port relatively easily but his army was out of control to the extent that not only do they murder innocent civilians but also wreck the harbour making it useless for Cromwell’s supply ships.

Cromwell then set out to crush the Irish Confederate forces across southern Ireland which involved some 10 more fortified towns. Half, quickly surrendered and the remainder fell after only a few hours of battle. Irish resistance then was subject to two major blows.

  • Prince Charles son of Charles 1st  living in France suddenly withdrew financial and arms support to the Irish Confederates and transferred his allegiance to the Scottish Covenanters
  • The Irish based Protestant English Royalists who had been supporting the Confederates put down their arms  and Ireland was left to the mercy of Cromwell’s Model Army

However Cromwell was ordered to Scotland to eliminate the new Scottish-Royalist alliance and mopping up duties in Ireland was left to Henry Ireton. “Mopping up” lasted until 1653 after which following orders from Cromwell, land ownership for the Catholic Irish fell from 60% to 8%, the population had fallen by some 50% as a result of the war, forced and voluntary emigration, many as slaves to Barbados, starvation and Bubonic Plague and a bounty was put on the head of all Catholic Priests resulting in numerous lynchings.

Cromwell’s reasoning behind these butcheries was firstly because they were Catholics and hence similar to heretics in the eyes of a Puritan and secondly in response to the Catholic massacres of Protestants in Ulster a decade earlier.

Oliver Cromwell in Scotland

The Scots were understandably very unhappy with the execution of Charles 1st who was a Stuart  descended from a long line of Scottish Kings so they invited Charles 1st son, prince Charles, who was in exile in France with his mother, to come to Scotland.   

He was crowned King of Scots at Scone on 1st Jan 1651 aged 21. This highly provocative act showed once again that Scotland was a threat to England and Parliament ordered the English Model Army north, to quell the uprising before it took hold. Fairfax, head of the army refused to go because he, like the Scots, was a Presbyterian, thus Cromwell although still mopping up in Ireland was redirected to Scotland.

Cromwell’s view of the Scots was totally different to the Irish mainly because of their religion. Cromwell claimed the Scots were OK as they worshipped “his God”. (The Irish like the majority of Europe was staunchly Catholic, which made them untrustworthy, in receipt of Papal war funds and a landing ground for Catholic armies.) Hence his original move with the Scots was an attempted reconciliation, but the Scots would have none of it and hence battle commenced. Initially things went badly for the New Model Army as they were stretched (many still in Ireland), tired and short of munitions. Indeed he was about to pull out of Scotland until at Dunbar, where the discipline and superior tactics under Cromwell routed the Scots, their entire army of 4000 being killed, and the uprising was over. Prince Charles fled south with a small force with the idea of taking London but was caught by Cromwell at Worcester and his men scattered. Prince Charles once again escaped to France.

The Protectorate 1653-1660

Cromwell, a Puritan, was now the most feared and respected general in the whole of Europe and that included the royal might of Catholic France under Louis 14th and the second most powerful country, Catholic Spain. Winston Churchill ranked Oliver Cromwell along side the British military greats like the Dukes of Marlborough and Wellington and Cromwell’s naval commander Admiral Robert Blake equal to Lord Nelson. Blake has been called the father of the British Navy.

1653 Cromwell was appointed in sole command of the country with the title of Lord Protector. He was offered the title of King but he rejected it. Parliament agreed that:

  • The supreme authority should be vested in the Lord Protector.
  • The Office of Protector should be for life. (Like a king)
  • A Council of State of 15 members was appointed with the powers of a modern day government.
  • A Parliament of 400 elected members should be called every three years and not sit for less than 5 months. The first Parliament was fairly elected but naturally for the time excluded all Catholics and supporters of the Royal Family.
  • A standing army of 30,000 men should be created and trained.

Cromwell also had bold objectives for England both at home and Abroad:

At Home:

  • England was almost ungovernable because so many were unhappy with the concept of a republic even though the Stuart Kings had been such a disaster. He therefore divided the country into 12 military districts each controlled by a major-general. Basically marshal law was imposed.
  • He imposed strict Puritan values by closing all pubs, and theatres and banning singing, dancing and all fun sports including football and cricket. Christmas became a day for fasting not feasting.
  • To pay for the local military forces he imposed a tax on all royalists
  • However he respected religious freedom, with the exception of Catholics of course, and even permitted Jews to return to England where they had been banned for more than 300 years. His reasoning was both because they were being cruelly persecuted in Europe but perhaps more importantly because he saw in Holland how they had improved the countries finances.


  • Cromwell’s reputation as a general put the fear of God into the minds of the European leaders who queued up to sign peace treaties with England. These were duly signed with the majority of countries with the exception of Spain which Cromwell saw as the powerhouse of the Catholic Church and hence needed to be destroyed.
  • He even signed a peace treaty with Louis 14th of France including a clause which forced Louis to stop persecuting Protestants in his territories.
  • Following the ideas of Elizabeth 1st he set out to head up all the Protestant countries in Europe against the Catholic enemies.
  • With the help of Admiral Blake, England became the dominant force in the Mediterranean. For the first time in years the Islamists (mainly Algerian pirates) who had ruled without hindrance were eliminated.
  • In Ireland  which was ruled by England exactly as Wales and Scotland, Cromwell, in 1652, organised the ethnic cleansing of any remaining Irish landowners in Ulster and offered  their farms to English Protestants who moved in alongside previous English and Scottish Protestant settlers sent by the Tudors and James 1st.

Oliver Cromwell Ruler of England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland

Brief chronological summary of Cromwell’s dictatorship

1653    20th April. Oliver Cromwell aged 54 enters Parliament accompanied by 100 or so Musketeers. He declared the Members as corrupt and unjust and not fit to rule. He removed the Speaker and dismissed the Members.

He then declared himself ruler following this bloodless “Coup” but immediately formed a new list of MPs from a list of pious Puritans but they proved equally useless and in December they handed back total power to Cromwell. (Simply both parliaments seemed incapable of putting through the reforms required by Cromwell.)

1654    Cromwell enforces military rule by dividing England into 12 parts each under the leadership of a Major-General and a standing army of 30,000 men. Military rule was necessary because there were many supporters of Prince Charles the son of Charles 1st who was waiting in the decadent luxury of Louis 14th French Court for the right moment to return to England as King.

1655   Rule was also by Marshal Law in the troublesome countries of Scotland and Ireland.

In Scotland law and order was maintained under the very competent  General George Monk. In Ireland rule was maintained and Cromwellian plantations enforced under Charles Fleetwod one of Cromwell’s most loyal and competent supporters and one of those in line to rule England after Cromwell. There were no uprisings in either country. When Fleetwood returned to England, rule in Ireland was maintained fairly and compassionately by Cromwell’s forth son Henry.

At Sea, Cromwell was blessed with another top performer Admiral George Blake and Blake’s abilities allowed Cromwell to declare war on Catholic Spain.

1656   Cromwell declares war on Spain. The objectives were twofold.

  • To eliminate their navy and open up trade for English shipping in South America
  • To open up the seas to the Mediterranean to sink Muslim Pirates and then to trade with the Levant.

Jamaica was taken from the Spanish and Blake sunk the Spanish fleet off Cadiz. Algerian pirates were then also eliminated.

Cromwell forces Louis 14th to stop persecuting Protestants and more importantly France joins England in land battles against Spain.

1658   Dunkirk in France is made over to England. Oliver Cromwell dies on the third of September aged 59. Possibly poisoned by his Doctor George Bate.