Cromwell’s Failed State and the Monarchy, Timothy Venning

Cromwell’s Failed State and the Monarchy, Timothy Venning

Looks at the political and military history of the period between the end of the First Civil War and the establishment of Cromwell’s Protectorate, largely to ask if the Protectorate or something similar was an almost inevitable result, or if there had ever been a possibility of an agreement with Charles I or another Stuart, or that Parliament in some form might have stayed in power.

The book is a bit ramshackle in its structure. There is no introduction and no conclusion, so we never get a clear explanation of the author’s purpose. Some sections feel like a well constructed narrative of events, and others like slightly rambling thoughts and ‘what ifs’. It isn’t even entirely clear what time period the book covers at first – the title and the jacket text might lead one to expect that it covers the entire period from the end of the First Civil War to the fall of the Commonwealth after Cromwell’s death, but it actually focuses on the first part of that period, ending with the establishment of the Protectorate. However the discussion of the issues that are examined is interesting and nicely balanced, giving us a look at each side’s approach to each issue before coming to any conclusions.

It must be said that the various factions in this period all come across as rather hard to like. Charles I comes across as unreliable and untrustworthy. On the Parliamentarian side the main difference between the factions seems to be which other religious groups they want to persecute – all of them are anti-Catholic, some are almost as anti-Anglican, and we end up with a debate between two sets of irritatingly self righteous Protestants – the Presbyterians and the Independents, neither of which is willing to risk elections, in case the ‘wrong’ people are elected. We thus get a series of negotiations in which Charles makes promises he has no intention of keeping (and on occasion even attempts a military uprising against the people he is actually negotiating with!), or in which one religious group or another makes entirely unreasonable demands. These negotiations and their failures are traced, and their impact on the military situation is examined, and the resulting campaigns are followed in some detail. The decisive element in each of these campaigns is the discipline of the New Model Army, something none of their opponents could match. The various Royalist uprisings almost always failed to coordinate with each other, while the Scottish Presbyterians had a self destructive habit of expelling any competent soldier who didn’t completely share their religious views.

This book could have done with at least a brief introduction to explain its purpose and the method of writing, which would have made the start of it seem a bit less abrupt. However it does look at an interesting subject, and one that is often swept over quite quickly in accounts of the Civil Wars, which tend to dash from the First to Second Civil Wars then to the Protectorate. As a result this fills some interesting gaps, and actually works rather well. 

Part I: 1646-8: Aborted Settlements
1 – Potential Resolutions After the Civil War: Did Any of Them Stand a Chance?
2 – The Second Chance for a Settlement: The King’s Prospects of an Agreement with Parliamentarians, Winter 1847-8. Why Did this End in the Second Civil War, and was the Fault only Charles’?

Part II: 1649-53: The Commonwealth, Military Triumph, Political Disunity?
3 – Facing Down the Major Challenges: 1649-51
4 – The Crisis Come to a Head; Invasion of England
5 – Deadlock and Resolution: From Military Triumph to Military Coup
6 – The Army Remodels the State? The Nominated Parliament and Protectorate


Author: Timothy Venning
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 362
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military
Year: 2020

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