The Cromwellian Protectorate

Graham Goodlad surveys the variety of interpretations offered by historians of Cromwellian rule in the 1650s.

The last two decades have witnessed the growth of an abundant historical literature on the personality of Oliver Cromwell and his rule as Lord Protector. A series of biographies, including those by Barry Coward (1991), Peter Gaunt (1996), J.C. Davis (2001) and Martyn Bennett (2006), has appeared. These have been supplemented by a host of articles and specialised studies, covering different aspects of the Interregnum. It is understandable that students may feel daunted by the volume of published research on this fascinating but difficult period of history. This article aims to pick a path through some of the leading interpretations on offer. Its main focus is the impact of the Cromwellian regime upon England and Wales, although it should not be forgotten that Scotland and Ireland have also received considerable attention from historians in recent years. The article explores three important and inter-related questions:

  • Was the Protectorate a dictatorship?
  • Was the Protectorate evolving into a monarchical regime?
  • Was its downfall unavoidable? 

A Dictatorial Regime? 

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