To say that Richard Cromwell was not the man his father was is probably a gross understatement. His father, Oliver Cromwell, had been suffering from a bout of malaria and a kidney infection and over a period of a few days, his condition had worsened. Eventually, it had turned into septicaemia. At the age of 59, as thunder roared and lighting flashed, the skies had opened up and Cromwell died.
It seemed somehow befitting that his death should come in the middle of a howling storm on 3rd September. It was the anniversary of the Battles of Dunbar, Worcester and of the siege of Drogheda. It was when Elizabeth had first contracted the cold that had turned into pneumonia and it was one month after the death of his own daughter.
To depose, well actually murder, a monarch whose family believed in familial transfer and then embrace that exact same concept yourself is incredible, even hypocritical. But that’s exactly what Oliver Cromwell succeeded in doing. Under the Protectorate’s constitution devised in the first few months of his rule, Oliver Cromwell was required to nominate a successor and although his eldest son Richard had only a minor role as member of the Council of State, it was Richard he chose to succeed him.
But it wasn’t the lucrative job that Richard thought he was inheriting. He was going to find out that filling his father’s shoes would be very difficult, especially since he had also inherited an economy in debt of £2 million.
From Richard Cromwell’s first day, he was faced with two problems. Firstly, the fact that he had no military experience, or more to the point, had never even participated in any of his father’s wars, had grated on most members of Parliament. Most of them had fought on the battlefields of many of the English Civil Wars and his apparent lack of respect for the army was alarming, not to mention insulting. And secondly, the rate which money slipped through his fingers astonished everyone. If he couldn’t even control his own finances, how could he be expected to control a country with a debt of over £2 million? From their point of view, he had been handed the job on a silver platter without actually earning it and he was certainly not the man for the job. In their disappointment at the turn of events, the phrase ‘Good Old Cause’ began to be bantered around by Parliamentarians and every second or third pamphlet in bookshops had the phrase as its title. The phrase was open to interpretation but to its supporters, it meant that their Commonwealth had been based on Regicide and Cromwell’s dictatorship had been an interruption of the natural course of things. They left off cleverly at the question of whether it had been necessary or justified along with any effectiveness Cromwell had, but the insinuation was clearly evident.
Within barely six months, the debt had doubled to £4 million and when Richard’s Parliament refused to pass a vote for increased taxation for crucial revenue, there were fears that, out of desperation, he had begun formulating plans to make cuts to the military to reduce costs. To the army’s way of thinking, cutting back on their army was like shooting yourself in the foot. You had to support and pay for your army somehow, and if higher taxation was the only way to fund the government’s costs, then so be it.
Watching closely from Scotland was Cromwell’s lieutenant, General Monck. For the past eight years, he had practically been the ruler of Scotland, commanding an army of 10,000 men and acting as the linchpin. Richard Cromwell’s popularity had reached an all time low by then, (he was even being called ‘Tumbledown Dick’) when Monck realised that it was time for someone to step in and deal with the deteriorating state of affairs. Things were going from bad to worse and he’d finally had enough.
He had only meant to go to London to help set up a more stable government. But in the short time it took for him to make the trip, Parliamentary members were resigning at an alarming rate and there were less than forty members sitting in the ‘Rump’ Parliament. London was in a mess. He held an emergency council meeting and with the approval of his officers, he sent a writ to Richard demanding that he pack his things and leave. And of course, Richard refused.
When Monck began massing his troops threateningly in Westminster, Richard realised he had no other choice but to listen. He was duly summoned and given an ultimatum. They would treat him honourably and pay off all of his debts as well as give him a pension, but on one condition. All he had to do was resign.
To a man in Richard’s sorry position, the idea must have been very tempting indeed. He had virtually no supporters, no money and contempt was evident on everyone’s face. He didn’t need to be a genius to know his time was up. He signed the document and by April, he had the money in his pocket and he was preparing to make his way to France. In his rush to leave on 25th May, he forgot to take his wife and family with him.
The whole messy business of getting rid of the Cromwells had gone far easier than England could ever have hoped for. Richard was gone without too much of a fuss and it had seemed like a godsend as they watched him sail away through the growing thunderstorm on his way to France.
The question of who would take over must have been lurking in the back of Monck’s mind even as he travelled down from Scotland. The solution would have started to formulate and he would have voiced his thoughts at the general meeting. These were men who were planners and strategists and they never left anything to chance. They would have known exactly what they were doing. They were tired of constitutional experiments and the resultant upheaval the dictatorship had produced. What they wanted was the return of a monarchy and a return to their previous way of life. What they wanted were the Stuarts to return home.
Luckily, that was exactly what the Stuarts wanted as well.