Richard Cromwell was born in Huntington, the third son of Oliver Cromwell and became the second ruling Lord Protector of England, Scotland and Ireland, serving for just under nine months; he had served in the parliamentary army during the First Civil War but his military career was brief and undistinguished; with the death of his elder brother Oliver in 1644, Richard became the eldest surviving son.
In 1649 Richard married Dorothy Maijor, daughter of Richard Maijor, a member of the Hampshire gentry; he and his wife then moved to Maijor’s estate at Hursley, where he was named a Justice of the Peace for Hampshire and sat on various county committees; he was later elected to the First Protectorate Parliament as M.P. for Huntingdon and the Second Protectorate Parliament as M.P. for Cambridge University.
Under the Protectorate’s constitution, Oliver Cromwell was required to nominate a successor and from 1657 he involved Richard much more heavily in the politics of the regime; Richard was present at the second installation of his father as Lord Protector in June, but played no part in the first installation; in July he was appointed Chancellor of Oxford University and in December was made a member of the Council of State; when Oliver Cromwell died Richard was informed the same day that he was to succeed him; the succession passed smoothly and was generally well received around the country and in Europe, although, some controversy surrounded the succession; a letter by John Thurloe suggested that Oliver nominated his son orally on the 30th August, but other theories claim either that he nominated no successor, or that he put forward Charles Fleetwood, his son-in-law.
Richard was faced by two immediate problems; the first was the army, which questioned his position as commander given his lack of military experience; the second was the financial position of the regime, with had a debt estimated at £2 million; as a result Richard Cromwell's Privy council decided to call a parliament in order to redress the financial problems on the 29th November 1658, a decision which was formally confirmed on the 3rd December 1658.
Under the terms of the Humble Petition and Advice, this Parliament was called using the traditional franchise, thus moving away from the system under the Instrument of Government whereby representation of rotten boroughs was cut in favour of county towns; this meant that the government was less able to control elections and therefore unable to manage the parliament effectively; as a result, when this Third Protectorate Parliament first sat on the 27th January 1659 it was dominated by moderate Presbyterians, crypto-royalists and a small number of vociferous Commonwealthsmen, or Republicans.
The 'Other House' of Parliament, a body which had been set up under the Humble Petition and Advice to act as a balance on the Commons, was also revived, it was this second parliamentary chamber and its resemblance to the 'House of Lords', which had been abolished in 1649, that dominated this Parliamentary session; republican malcontents gave many filibustering speeches about the inadequacy of the membership of this upper chamber, especially its military contingent, and also questioned whether it was indicative of the backsliding of the Protectorate regime in general and its divergence from the 'Good Old Cause' for which parliamentarians had originally engaged in Civil War; reviving this House of Lords in all but name, they argued, was but a short step to returning to the Ancient Constitution of King, Lords, and Commons.
At the same time, the officers of the New Model Army became increasingly wary about the government's commitment to the military cause; the fact that Richard Cromwell lacked military credentials grated with men who had fought on the battlefields of the English Civil War to secure their nation's liberties; moreover, the new Parliament seemed to show a lack of respect for the army which many military men found quite alarming; in particular, there were fears that Parliament would make military cuts to reduce costs.
This led to a meeting in April 1659 of the army’s general council of officers to create petitions to demand an appointment of a soldier as commander-in-chief rather than the new Protector, who unlike Oliver had not won their trust and loyalty in battle and to demand higher taxation to fund the regime’s costs because the army had not been paid for a while; the two most important officers in the army at that time were Charles Fleetwood, who was generally compliant to the wishes of the soldiers, and John Disbrowe, who openly disliked Richard.
The 13-man Council of State, which Richard had inherited from Oliver, was divided between a military group headed by Fleetwood and Disbrowe and a civilian group headed by John Thurloe; the army officers were suspicious of Thurloe's influence over Richard and there were clashes over the possible appointment of new councillors, though in fact Richard made no new appointments to the Council during his Protectorship.
The army's grievances were expressed in a petition to Richard Cromwell on the 6th April 1659 which he forwarded to the Parliament two days later; however, Parliament did not act on the army's suggestions; instead they shelved this petition and increased the suspicion of the military by bringing articles of impeachment against William Boteler on the 12th April 1659, who was alleged to have mistreated a royalist prisoner while acting as a Major General under Oliver Cromwell in 1655; this was followed by two resolutions in the Commons on the 18th April 1659 which stated that no more meetings of army officers should take place without the express permission of both the Lord Protector and Parliament and that all officers should swear an oath that they would not subvert the sitting of Parliament by force.
These direct affronts to military prestige were too much for the army grandees to bear and set in motion the final split between the civilian dominated Parliament and the army, which would culminate in the dissolution of Parliament and Richard Cromwell's ultimate fall from power; Parliament began debating the re-organisation of the army and the formation of a new militia; under this provocation, Fleetwood and Disbrowe demanded Parliament's dissolution and when Richard refused troops were assembled at St. James's Palace; Richard eventually gave in to their demands and on the 22nd April, Parliament was dissolved.
Richard was held under house arrest at Whitehall Palace; Fleetwood and Disbrowe had intended to maintain the Protectorate under army control, but they were unable to resist the demands of junior officers and republicans for the recall of the Rump Parliament, which Oliver Cromwell had dismissed in 1653.
Parliament re-assembled on the 7th May 1659 and voted to abolish the Protectorate; with no clear lead from Richard, the English armies stationed in Scotland, Ireland and Dunkirk and the fleet all accepted the change of régime; on the 25th May, after the Rump agreed to pay his debts and provide a pension, Richard delivered a formal letter resigning the position of Lord Protector; Richard's renunciation of the Protectorship was read in Parliament on the 25th May 1659; Richard was never formally deposed or arrested, but allowed to fade away; the Protectorate was treated as having been from the first a mere usurpation.
He continued to live in Whitehall Palace until July, when he was forced by the Rump to return to Hursley; royalists rejoiced at Richard's fall and many satirical attacks surfaced in which he was given the unflattering nicknames 'Tumble Down Dick' and 'Queen Dick'; during the political difficulties of the winter of 1659, there were rumours that Richard was to be recalled as Protector, but these came to nothing; in July 1660 Richard left for France, never to see his wife again; while there he went by a variety of pseudonyms, including 'John Clarke'; he later travelled around Europe, visiting various European courts.
As a visiting Englishman he was once invited to dine with the prince of Conti who was unaware of who he was; at dinner the prince questioned Richard about affairs in England and observed "Well that Oliver, tho' he was a traitor and a villain, was a brave man, had great parts, great courage, and was worthy to command; but that Richard, that coxcomb and poltroon, was surely the basest fellow alive; what is become of that fool? ", Richard replied "He was betrayed by those he most trusted, and who had been most obliged by his father."; Richard departed the following morning.
During this period of voluntary exile he
wrote many letters to his family back in England; these letters are
held by Cambridgeshire Archives and Local Studies at the County Record
Office in Huntingdon; around 1680 he returned to England and lodged
with the merchant Thomas Pengelly in Finchley in Middlesex; although,
due to being regarded as a dangerous person by the Restoration government,
he lived under the assumed name of John Clarke and lived off the income
from his estate in Hursley; he died on the 12th July 1712 at the age