Oliver Cromwell and the Print Culture of the Interregnum
Cromwell , Protectorate
When the second Protectoral Parliament offered the crown to Oliver Cromwell, he, despite his conservative impulses, rejected it. Why would a man who believed in the ancient constitution and hoped to stabilize the British Isles turn down a traditional title that had the potential to unify the nation? The answer partly lies within the numerous political tracts that were printed in the 1650s. The kingship crisis sparked the creation of many pamphlets and petitions that sought to sway Cromwell one way or the other. Three prominent groups that wrote regarding the possibility of King Oliver I were monarchists, sects, and republicans. Monarchists sought to illustrate the advantages of kingship, the sects wrote of the consequences of kingly rule, and the republicans were divided on the question. An analysis of the language and arguments in both the pamphlets addressed to Cromwell and Cromwell’s own speeches reveals that the sects were the most influential group that wrote to Cromwell. At times, sectarian criticisms of the Protectorate were able to elicit responses in Cromwell’s speeches, a feat accomplished by neither monarchists nor republicans. Employing providential language, the sects were able to convince Cromwell that God had judged against the office of king and that any attempt to reestablish such a government would result in eternal damnation. Cromwell’s own religious convictions rendered him susceptible to reasoning of this sort. Once he was aware of the sects’ arguments, Cromwell believed that he had no choice but to refuse the crown.