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 RULE OF THE MAJOR GENERALS

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After news of the defeat of the Expedition to Hispaniola reached London in late July 1655, Cromwell thought that God was punishing him for not trying to make England a more religious, godly place. The Major Generals he appointed, were like himself  hard-line Protestants. Part of their job was to make England more godly. They clamped down on what they considered to be rowdy behaviour: heavy drinking, music, dancing and fairs. They also banned the assembly of Royalists, who in particular, resented the prohibitions on their pleasures. They even tried to stop Christmas. Unsurprisingly, the rule of the Major Generals was not popular.

During the early years of Cromwell's Protectorate, Royalist conspirators planned an uprising against the government to restore the monarchy by force. Initially, it was hoped that an insurrection in England could be co-ordinated with Glencairn's Uprising in Scotland but it proved impossible to organise the scattered groups of English Royalists and the insurgency in Scotland was decisively defeated by Protectorate forces in July 1654. Although the Royalist uprising proved ineffective, it had a profound effect on security measures within the Protectorate. Widespread arrests followed and Cromwell's attitude hardened. Tighter restrictions were imposed upon known Royalists and they were obliged to pay the "decimation tax" to finance a new militia to supplement the regular army. Six months after Penruddock's Uprising, Cromwell introduced direct military government in England and Wales under the Rule of the Major-Generals from Penruddick’s Uprising BCW Project.

In 1655, following from Penruddick’s Royalist uprising in March, Cromwell split the British Isles into twelve regions and appointed Major Generals to administer them. Within the ten regions covering England and Wales, the loosely defined East of England region which contained Norfolk, was known as Fleetwood. It was administered by Major General George Fleetwood, who because of his responsibilities on the Council of State, handed over the day-to-day running of Essex, Cambridgeshire, Isle of Ely, Norfolk and Suffolk to Hezekiah Haynes.

Haynes was zealous in imposing the Decimation Tax on Royalists in his region – including his brother Robert who had inherited the family estate at Copford Hall – and he ordered the imprisonment of a number of Royalists  he suspected of plotting against the Protectorate.

Haynes supported Fleetwood in his opposition to Richard Cromwell after Oliver’s death, then backed Fleetwood and Lambert when they forcibly closed Parliament in October 1659. When Parliament reassembled in December, Haynes was dismissed and ordered to stay in his home in Essex. In October 1660 he was arrested on suspicion of plotting against the restored King Charles II and held in the Tower of London for eighteen months. After his release in April 1662, he lived quietly at Coggeshall in Essex until his death in 1693.

Thanks mainly to local commissioners, appointed by the government to assist the Major Generals, such as Haynes, the sports and pastimes of Royalists were interrupted, their movements watched and curtailed. Many supporters, or ex-supporters of the Stuart cause were arrested or ordered to move to less restless parts of the country. Fourteen thousand of them had to give bonds for good behaviour.

With this clampdown went a campaign to Puritanise the land. War was waged on non-Puritan and anti-Puritan culture. Energetic action, sometimes enforced by soldiers, was taken against alehouses, drunkenness, maypoles, neglect of the sabbeth and various forms of what the government called “mirths and jollities” , among them billiards and other bar-room entertainments. Swearing, cursing adultery and fornication were zealously forbidden. They were aware that the frivolities of the alehouse or the racecourse provided meeting-points for the disaffected, who gathered to grumble and conspire. Puritans knew that where there was sin there would be disorder, and where there was disorder conspiritors would exploit it. Anglican worship was forbidden and Anglican pastors chaplins and schoolteachers ordered to leave their posts.

Cromwell had resorted to the rule of the Major Generals, in 1655 for a number of reasons. One was that he desired significant religious reformation, which had not occurred under the First Protectorate Parliament. This feeling of failure was also a contributing factor, as well as other failures such as the Western Design. (Oliver Cromwell's Western Design—the project to conquer the Spanish West Indies that brought Jamaica into the English colonial orbit—marked a signal moment in the development of an English Imperial Vision).

The regime was financially exposed, and Cromwell hoped that the rule of the Major Generals coupled with the Decimation Tax, would reduce the army , by transferring security to a militia. Finally, Penruddock’s rising had shown Cromwell that the Royalists were still a threat and the rule of the major generals was intended to protect against this threat. n.b. the Decimation Tax was a levy of one tenth of the assets of royalist landowners. In the event, it failed in its intention to boost the revenues of the second protectorate. There were concerns over the finance involved, military spending was far higher than it had been previously, and sorting out a financial settlement was one of the biggest issues for the Second Protectorate Parliament. The Decimation Tax also made the defeated Royalists even more resentful of the regime, but since this was only a small minority of people, it failed to raise the funds required to reduce the army and transfer security to a militia.

The aspirations of the Major Generals ran far ahead of their achievements. Hard as they worked and stoutly as they tried, and omnipresent as their exertions must sometimes have seemed, their tasks were beyond the resources of 17th century government, and far beyond those of a regime presiding over a war-torn nation where the customary bonds of local co-operation had broken. Their reforming achievement was restricted to the closing of a few hundred alehouses, the rounding up of a few hundred vagabonds, the ejection of a few ungodly ministers from their livings. The nation’s moral and sexual habits, however, were barely affectedfrom Cromwell’s Major Generals..by Christopher Durston.

The religious radicalism of the New Model (Parliament) also worried people and the protection of religious radicals by the Protector also strengthened this fear. The major generals were also tasked with establishing godly rule, and they would often work with those members of the gentry considered to be more radical. The failure of this reformation reinforced this negative view of military rule. Thus, the Second Protectorate Parliament, became more civilian  and less military influenced.

The Major Generals failed in their attempt to establish godly rule, and moreover, this was impossible given the resources they had at their disposal. It was however, the Decimation Tax that caused the most resentment, and not the rule of the major generals, since it was never likely to provide any kind of long term financial relief. adapted from: “Rule of the Major Generals” and “The English Civil War (and its long-term effects)” - WordPress.com site.