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The Protectorate was established on 16 December 1653 when Oliver Cromwell became head of state as lord protector. Since his power rested on a formidable army, whose officers had devised the Protectorate's constitution, the Instrument of Government, his regime has often been called a military dictatorship. The description needs to be qualified. The restraints imposed by the Instrument were considerable, and Cromwell welcomed them. Serving officers were always outnumbered by civilians on his council, and formed only a tiny minority among the justices of the peace, to whom local government had been restored.

Cromwell's first Parliament refused to ratify the constitution and proceeded to frame one of its own; he dissolved it in January 1655. Shortly afterwards, Penruddock's rising gave his military councillors a temporary ascendancy, and the result was the regime of the major‐generals. These officers were much resented, not least for their inferior birth.

The second Protectorate Parliament (1656–8), from which the council excluded over 100 elected members, reflected a growing division between conservative civilians and supporters of the military. Led by the former, it presented Cromwell with a new constitution, the Humble Petition and Advice, naming him as king and restoring other more traditional ways. His senior officers strongly opposed it, but despite them Cromwell accepted it, though without changing his title of Protector. Cromwell died on 3 September 1658. His son Richard's Protectorate lasted only eight months, not so much because he was personally inadequate as because the disgruntled military ‘grandees’ were bent on recovering their old political influence. By bringing Richard down, they wrecked the ‘Good Old Cause’ that they professed to serve.

Subjects: British History.

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