Oliver Cromwell and Parliaments

David L Smith explains why Cromwell so signally failed to establish harmony with his Parliaments.


Oliver Cromwell's inability to achieve an effective working relationship with successive Parliaments during the 1640s and 1650s remains one of the greatest ironies of the English Revolution. It was also a crucial reason why the English Republic failed to generate lasting political stability. This article will reconsider this problem and suggest that the principal difficulty lay in Cromwell's desire to use Parliament to reconcile the interests of the English nation as a whole with those of a godly minority (including himself) who embraced a radical religious agenda. He hoped that through Parliaments the nation and the godly people could become one. His refusal to acknowledge the essential incompatibility of these two interests lay at the heart of his failure to find any Parliament that fulfilled his high hopes. Always he searched for a Parliament that would promote his vision of a godly commonwealth, and always it eluded him.

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