Calendar of State Papers Domestic: Interregnum, 1655. Originally published by Her Majesty's Stationery Office, London, 1881.

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'Preface', in Calendar of State Papers Domestic: Interregnum, 1655, (London, 1881) pp. vii-xxiv. British History Online [accessed 12 April 2024]



The most important historical point in the present volume of Domestic State Papers is the development, detection, and frustration of a wide-spread plot for the restoration of monarchy, called, from the locality of the principal rising, the Salisbury insurrection.

The first notice of it occurs on 15th February 1655, when an order was issued to the Lord Mayor and sheriffs of London, and numerous other officers and gentlemen, to form themselves into a Militia Commission, to raise men, and to appoint officers, subject to the Protector's approval, "lest this great city should be left naked and exposed to "the rage of wicked men," whilst the army has to march to those parts of the kingdom in actual rebellion (p. 43).

In the fear that the troops still remaining in London might yield to discontent on account of their unpaid arrears, 100l. was ordered at once to each regiment, from moneys provided for the contingencies of Council, to be repaid later out of the Army assessments (p. 83).

On 24th February, horse races, in any part of England or Wales, were forbidden for six months, lest use should be made of the confluence of people to raise troubles (p. 53).

On 10th March, the rumour of "some desperate design on foot," caused orders to the officers of ships at Portsmouth to keep a strict watch for the preservation of the ships, and to stop all boats passing at night, and the officers—cautious about exercising coercion without due authority—requested a warrant to fire on the boats if they would not submit. Soldiers were sent on board such ships as were not well manned, for their protection.

At Chatham, the guards on board the men-of-war were doubled, and a requisition was sent to the Ordnance office to supply arms to some hundreds of men on the works, who would be faithful and secure the Navy there. A boat with musketeers was sent up and down the river, to apprehend suspicious persons passing about Queensborough, where were many concerned in the last rising. The Mayor of Rochester was ordered to secure the Malignants about that town, and the officers of Upnor Castle were quickened to attend to their duty, and prevent the escape of prisoners (pp. 73, 75, 81).

Meanwhile rumours were rife of a gathering of 2,000 or 3,000 armed horse in Wiltshire, with a design to seize Southampton and other places, and of the seizure of the commissions of the judges who were sent down on the Western circuit (p. 74). A foot company was at once sent to Southampton at the request of the inhabitants, to secure the threatened town (p. 81).

Militia Commissioners were now appointed in 15 counties and 3 cities or towns of England and in South Wales, to raise a militia force, with instructions to enquire into conspiracies and secret meetings, disarm Papists or abettors of Charles Stuart, enquire after suspicious strangers, and see to the safe keeping of arms and ammunition. The providing of horses and arms was to be charged on the estates of the disaffected, but the horses and arms were to be given to the well-affected, who were to be formed into regiments and trained; those refusing to appear to be fined 20l., and mutineers or disobedient persons imprisoned. In the lists of these Militia Commissioners appear the names of most of the prominent military men of the times, e.g. Sir Geo. Booth, Col. Rob. Lilburne, Major-Gens. Lambert and Desborow; also several peers and baronets, and Lawrence, President, and Thurloe, Secretary of Council (pp. 77-8).

The alarm next arose that foreign forces were to aid the internal rising, and that all along the sea-coast of France, large bodies of horse and foot had been brought down to the frontier towns and garrisons (p. 81). It was even rumoured that several coast towns of England were to be handed over to the French, as the guerdon for their assistance (p. 344). Major-Gen. Sir Jos. Wagstaff, sent over as the leader of the movement for Charles II. in the West, boasted not only that it would be aided there by French troops under the Duke of York, but that the King himself would land in the North, and that the whole nation was prepared to rise in arms (p. 99).

To repel the insurrection, Major Butler was sent down with 4 troops to Salisbury, and Gen. Desborow into Wiltshire and Somersetshire; they kept up correspondence with each other, and the enemy, headed by Wagstaff, retreated in trepidation before them, but were followed and routed at South Molton in Devonshire (pp. 84, 88, 365). Such a panic appears to have seized the Royalist party, that they were "like a hare started," and, "hurried on by their fears and guilt," hardly remained 3 hours in one place, but dispersed at the approach of the repelling forces (p. 87).

General Desborow made a triumphant entry into Exeter, and was received with grateful enthusiasm by the well-affected, and he immediately proceeded to the trial of the prisoners taken in battle or pursuit, of whom 140 were already lodged in Exeter gaol (p. 87).

For the more rapid settlement of the business, they were first examined in four different places, by eight persons, as to their guilt (pp. 89-91). Capt. Hatsell writes on March 26th advising speedy trial of those committed, because now the country is much set against them, lest in time pity should arise, and efforts be made on their behalf. He reports 20 or 30 of them as worthy of the halter, and some of banishment to the plantations (p. 99).

Two commissions of Oyer and Terminer were accordingly issued, one for the trial of those in the Western counties, and the other for the North, where disturbances had also been suppressed (pp. 90, 91, 106, 112-4, 116-7).

The Sheriff of Exeter, Col. John Copleston, was fearful lest the Cavalier party should endeavour to corrupt the jury, and sent a warrant to prevent it, by ordering summonses to be issued only to such as would not be likely to favour them (p. 120). On this account probably, John Penruddock, one of the accused, challenged 22 jurymen, though without showing cause, before the required 12 could be sworn in (p. 131). He was, however, condemned and executed, although he and another, named Grove, had surrendered themselves to Col. Umpton Crook, the Parliamentary general, on articles of war, which were thus violated, and their estates were forfeited (pp. 85, 131, 306, 365, 381).

Such of the prisoners as escaped death were sent to the foreign plantations, or permitted to serve in the fleet, where men were much wanted for the Western expedition, on taking the oath of fidelity to Government (pp. 249, 253).

Desborow visited Tiverton, Taunton, Wincanton and other places, in person, and remained in the West several months, for the settling down of the disturbed districts. Amongst the soldiers at least he was very popular, but he was recalled to town by the illness of his wife. He still, however, retained the direction of affairs in the West (pp. 99, 114, 187, 233, 241, 244, 255).

In other parts of the country the rising was equally unsuccessful. One of the places upon which hopes were built was IIull. The King had written to the masters and seamen of the Trinity House there, and they were forward in his cause, as were the town's people generally, to whom he had promised free pardon, and an Act of Indemnity. There were rumours that he would reside there for some time (pp. 338–9), and it was even reported that he had actually landed.

The strength of his party in Hull was doubtless increased by the influence of Major-Gen. Overton, who had long been Parliamentary general there, but had now declared for the Royal cause, and was marching, with part of the troops under his command in Scotland, to its assistance (pp. 102, 408).

It had been given out that Burlington, Scarborough, Newcastle, and other places in the North, were already secured "for an old thing, called a King" (p. 88). Lord Wilmot, recently created Earl of Rochester by Charles II., actually landed in the North, where a body of 8,000 men was reckoned upon as certain to rise, with whom he intended to surprise York; but the failure of the design in the West broke the spirits of the party elsewhere, and rendered their dispersion easy by the Protector's troops, who came down upon the places appointed for their rendezvous, of which Government seems to have had due notice.

From Berwick garrison 300 foot marched to baffle an attempt to surprise Newcastle, and other parties in North Wales, Shropshire, Nottinghamshire, Staffordshire and Cheshire, were similarly dispersed (pp. 88, 409–10).

Although many gentlemen were imprisoned in the North, they were only fined by the judges for riots and misdemeanours, and then released on bail (p. 325).

A list is given of 72 persons taken in the Eastern counties, and sent prisoners to Yarmouth, Mersey, Lynn, and London, who were all ordered to be released on bond (pp. 367–9).

As early as 24th March, the Protector was able to announce that the insurrection was suppressed, and thus the whole design disappointed of an "enemy who, had he prevailed, would have made us the most miserable and harassed nation in the world" (p. 92).

Still precautions were kept up some time longer; ships fitted up and victualled guarded the coasts; a strict account was ordered to be taken of all strangers and loose persons landing, and dangerous meetings to be prevented. Letters to this purport were sent to the newly appointed Militia Commissioners, and also to the justices of peace throughout the country (pp. 92–94). Letters of thanks were also issued to the Lord Mayor and Militia Commissioners of London, for their forwardness in execution of their trust (p. 96). In spite of the precautions used and the strict searches made, however, Lord Wilmot managed to escape from a port in Essex, landed at Flushing, and rejoined the King at Cologne, and Major-Gen. Wagstaff and O'Neale were equally fortunate (pp. 127, 192, 212, 215, 245, 409).

On July 6th, all those who had been of the party of the late King and his sons were ordered to remove out of London and Westminster before 12th July, on pain of proceedings, and to return to their usual dwelling, or place of birth, or parents' residence (p. 233).

The mismanagement of this insurrection was the cause of profound regret and vehement indignation among the Royalists. It was said that had their troops but held their ground at Salisbury a little longer, 10,000 men would have joined them; but that the reason of so small a gathering at first was that the King had twice postponed the day fixed for the rising, and therefore many feared they should be fooled in the end, and never rose at all (pp. 246, 250).

In the North also, Sir Marm. Langdale, who had very extensive influence there, was expected to head the rising, and the King so calculated upon him as to give him 500 guilders to prepare for the expedition; but he was not of Hyde's cabal, then powerful at the Court of the exiled King, and therefore he was kept back, though his absence was a serious detriment to the cause (pp. 216, 221).

In the early part of this disturbance, it seemed to be the interest of Government to make as light of it as possible, and especially to preclude suspicion of any general or wide spread dissatisfaction; but later on, a different policy was adopted. It was pronounced a "bold and dangerous insurrection," and was made a pretext for extending a network of military government all over England and Wales. The country was divided into 11 districts, over each of which was appointed a majorgeneral, and a number of "Commissioners for securing the peace of the Commonwealth," to act under him. These major-generals were, of course, Cromwell's tried and trusted adherents; Desborow being selected for the Western counties, where his previous management had been so successful, and ordered to return thither (pp. 265, 275, 387). Their instructions bore almost entirely on the suppression of the Royalist party; their powers were extensive, and they had full ability to put them into execution, as the militia troops were placed entirely at their disposal (pp. 296, 344, 395).

The expense of this new military organization was, however, a very serious question to a Government already labouring under heavy embarrassments. The quelling of the insurrection had involved a considerable expenditure in the raising of country troops on the sudden emergency, in places where disturbances were expected, as Leicestershire, Devonshire, Dorsetshire, Somersetshire, Shrewsbury, &c.; but these were chiefly met by local contributions, or by arrears of former militia moneys (pp. 149, 209, 244, 252, 259).

The continued support of an organized force throughout the entire country was a much more important concern. The Protector determined that it should be met by a decimation tax on the estates of all Royalists, whether tangibly connected with the late conspiracy or not.

Now the large proportion of these Royalists had already compounded for their previous delinquencies, and sued out and obtained their pardons, which were very comprehensive as to the freeing them from any future payment for their past offences. Some special reason had therefore to be found for the violation of this pledge. The plea urged was, that so widespread a conspiracy, and so general an expectation of a rising, could not have existed without strong moral support in promises, of which circumstances had prevented the fulfilment, for that the great sums raised could not have come out of a few hands. Therefore those even suspected of Royalist tendencies, on account of previous sequestrations or fightings against Parliament, were doomed to pay a tax yearly of 10 per cent. on landed income, and 10l. a year or 100l. total per 1,500l. for personalty. "It may seem great severity," says the Protector in his Proclamation, to tax the whole party, when few have been convicted or detected, in which case their whole estates had been confiscated, but we appeal to all indifferent men whether the party was not generally involved in this business" (pp. 237, 347, 410).

Many of the Royalists appealed, by petition to the Protector, against this tax, but their petitions were almost invariably referred back to the Major-General and Commissioners of their respective counties. Some of these petitions will appear in the succeeding volume of this Calendar. Those of persons who have already compounded will be found with their respective cases in the Composition Calendar, shortly to be printed.

A similar hardship had already been inflicted on the Channel islands of Guernsey and Jersey. Here, during the civil wars, Royalty had one of its strongest holds, and though several of the more important delinquents had already paid fines to Major Heane, then governor, Commissioners were appointed to exact a composition from the inhabitants, at 2 years' value of their landed estates, and 1/10th of their personalty, exempting only those worth less than 7l. a year or 100l. personalty. Those who had been included in the articles of war granted to Mont Orgueil and Elizabeth Castles were to compound according to the terms thereof.

This proceeding called forth a vehement complaint of hardship (pp. 305–6), and an entreatry that all should not be prosecuted as traitors and rebels through the misdeeds of a few desperate delinquents, especially as many had acted only on compulsion.

In response to this, it was conceded that such only as had really assisted the enemy should be obliged to compound, and all others be freed from trouble (pp. 335–6); but the previously appointed rates were maintained for such as on examination should be proved to be delinquents; all rigorous proceedings to be forborne meantime (pp. 345–6).

The prosecution of these orders by the Commissioners was said to be moderate, yet the total of the fines imposed was 11,730l., from which the fines already paid to Major-Gen. Heane, being nearly 4,000l., were to be abated (p. 403).

The real cause of these severe proceedings is to be found in the impecuniosity of Government (p. 384). Complaints of the want of money abound in the present volume. Officers and soldiers, and their families, petition for unpaid arrears and compensation for losses (pp. 231, 306, 318, 320, 331–2, 344). Tradesmen for payment of long-deferred bills for Government stores (pp. 307, 317). Government employés and workmen for payment of salaries, some of which are 6 years in arrears (pp. 67, 230, 306, 313, 320, 379).

Individual claims were generally met by grants of the sum petitioned for, out of the moiety of such discoveries of concealed estates or debts due to the State as should be made by the petitioners. Thus the very payment of debts was converted into a source of income; but this system was fruitful of espionage, placed the interests of the petitioners in opposition to those of their neighbours and friends, and encouraged the employment of informers, who benefitted themselves by making discoveries to those who had obtained grants of this character.

Public necessities could not, however, be met in this way. The Navy Commissioners complain that they stand charged with a vast debt for wages of seamen and provisions; that the stores are exhausted, and cannot be replenished without ready money, the State's credit being so weakened by failures of payments on former contracts that nothing can be had on trust (p. 147).

The brewers and bakers supplying the Navy note to their "exceeding grief and distraction" that the prize moneys appointed for payment of nearly 8,000l. due to them are assigned to others, and urge their claims in piteous terms (p. 223).

The Admiralty Commissioners were so urgent in their demands that the Protector was advised to order them 100,000l. on account, but this could not be accomplished (p. 34).

The soldiers, both in England and Scotland, were greatly in arrears, yet part of the money set aside for their payment had to be diverted to more pressing needs (pp. 24, 25).

Attempts were made to borrow money from the East India Company (p. 240, 267) and from the treasurers at war (p. 267), and also to lessen expense by reducing the standing army both in England and Scotland, especially as the regular establishment of a militia force rendered it less needful. Here again a difficulty arose. The officers and soldiers could not be disbanded without payment of arrears, and there was great trouble to find the necessary funds (pp. 229, 251–2, 256, 265, 292, 309).

A like difficulty occurred in reference to the fleet. The ships which had been fitted out at great expense (p. 297) and successfully employed under General Blake in clearing the Mediterranean of pirates (pp. 337, 363) returned home; and to save the expense of their retention during the winter, the money appointed for the Navy had to be appropriated to their payment (pp. 359, 372, 382), and this diversion of the funds plunged the Navy Treasury into still greater embarrassment.

The outburst of indignation which arose in England on the barbarous persecutions of the Waldenses, under the authority of the Duke of Savoy, finds expression in the present volume. On 17th May, the elders and brethren of congregations in and about London petition the Protector for a "speedy course for the precious remnant" of those who have borne their testimony "against the innovation of the Man of Sin," and for "a solemn mourning for their sufferings and our sins." The result was the appointment of a general fast, the proclamation for which detailed in the strongest terms the cruelties perpetrated on the helpless people (pp. 165, 182–3).

Collections were ordered in all the churches on behalf of the sufferers, and were freely made on board ships, in the outburst of a genuine sympathy (pp. 184–5). The churchwardens were also enjoined to go from house to house in their several parishes, and receive contributions, setting down the names in a schedule to be signed by the housekeeper.

Sir Christopher Pack, Lord Mayor, and Alderman Thomas Vyner, were appointed treasurers, with an efficient committee, to see to the collection and distribution of the money (pp. 196–7).

The response to this appeal was liberal in many quarters, whilst in others no effort was made. On 12th July, therefore, a second proclamation was issued, urging the collection upon those parishes where it had not been made, and its paying in when this had not already taken place (pp. 239, 240.)

On 16th August 15,000l. was sent beyond seas, of which 5,000l. was to be paid at Geneva to John Lodowick Calandrin, "to be disposed according to his Highness's orders" (pp. 290, 371).

A rumour was circulated by the Royalists that the money so collected and sent to Switzerland was employed by Cromwell, not for its destined purposes, but to hire a Swiss life guard of 3,000 men, become needful to him because those of his own army disapproved his despotic designs. It was added that, to conceal the design, many Swiss families were brought in to reside in London (pp. 316, 375, 384). That if he make show of calling a Parliament, it will be to gain time till he can get over the Swiss guard and purge his army, for he knows he can only be secure by the power of an army, and an army and a Parliament are not compatible (p. 375). But a little later, we are told that he has probably laid aside the idea of this Swiss guard, as "it was discovered to some chief officers of the army" (p. 384).

It is unfortunate for impartial truth that the notices of Cromwell himself, excepting so far as they can be gathered from his own letters and proclamations, are chiefly found in the letters of his adversaries, and are therefore to be received with caution. In the correspondence of Secretary Nicholas, we are informed that he is "becoming every day more and more odious to all sorts of people in England" (p. 316). That "as sure as he is a mortal, he is extremely hated by all sorts of people, and in great want of money" (p. 348). That if he is compelled by want of money "to call a Parliament, which nothing but the greatest extremities will make him adventure on, he must submit to what it imposes, and then the Presbyterians will yoke him as they please" (p. 336). But that the rulers of the rebels' army will never consent to a triennial or other Parliament that shall have power over them," lest they themselves be dissolved (p. 341).

A false rumour of the death of Cromwell on 9/19th September of colic or convulsions, the result, as was supposed, of grief at his loss in the West Indies (pp. 338, 341), was received with caution, which was well-timed, as it proved a fable. One of the writers who circulated it expresses regret at its falsehood, adding, "I think with you that he will die a violent death, to which all honest and loyal subjects are bound to contribute their utmost endeavours," adding that the writer knows an "honest, sober, and resolute man," who, for 1,000 guilders in hand, will undertake it, as being the only means to restore the King without bloodshed (p. 355).

The Royalists gathered some consolation, however, from Cromwell's state of health. On September 7th, his Council refused an invitation to dine with the Lord Mayor of London, on the ground that his Highness's indisposition occasioned an addition of business which made them less at leisure (p. 324). On October 2nd, we hear from Cologne that a traveller lately come from England declares that he is so indisposed in mind and body that he cannot livelong (p. 365).

An order in Council was issued 28th August for executing the laws already in being against the printing of unlicensed and scandalous books and pamphlets, and also restraining entirely the printing or publishing of books of news, except as authorized by the Protector and Council. This was the subject of much adverse comment. It was reported that his strict prohibition of "the printing of news is a sure sign that his affairs at home and abroad go not well" (p. 384).

Any external marks of disrespect to the Protector or his Government were, however, kept in strict check. Wm. Beck, a shipwright of Stepney, was committed to Newgate for saying that he hated the Protector as a perjurer, for vowing to maintain the right of the people without King or House of Lords, and, now that he has got the power into his own hands, punishing the godly and letting the wicked go free. However, after two months' imprisonment, he was released, on security to do nothing to the prejudice of the present Government (p. 154).

John Norbury, a lawyer, on behalf of his clients entitling themselves "the freeholders and well-affected of England," penned a broad sheet, which was printed and distributed in the form of a petition to the Protector, requesting him to undertake certain reforms, and to summon a Parliament. Norbury was censured severely, and bade to call in all the undisposed copies, and have the type broken up. This was done, although the petition fully recognized the Protector's powers as chief magistrate in place of the late King (pp. 277–8, 281–2).

Sergeants Twisden and Maynard and Wadham Windham incurred censure for defending as counsel one Cony, who was summoned before the Upper Bench on a writ of Habeas Corpus for non-payment of customs. Twisden urged that no customs were due by Act of Parliament after March 1653, and that the Star Chamber being abolished, no subjects should now be imprisoned, nor their goods taken away, but on a legal trial by jury.

For this bold language the Attorney-General reprimanded him in court, and he and his fellows were called severally before Council, and all three lodged in the Tower, where, in spite of their petitions and protestations of innocence of intention, they were detained for some time (pp. 167–8, 179, 196). A naval officer observes that "lawyers, who heretofore played their game on all sides, begin to have their part in suffering," and adds, "the Lord, who can catch the wise in their own craftiness, make it of use to us all; but gold will make them speak anything" (p. 173).

In regard to the Protector's foreign policy, we are told that he countenances the Swedish King's designs against Poland, in order to divert the States of Holland, and prevent their forces from looking towards England (p. 281); and again that the King of Sweden and Cromwell have agreed on the invasion of the West Indies and Poland, and the two will fill Europe with trouble unless prevented (p. 316), both being "full of ambition, and too far off to cross each other's designs" (p. 357), and Cromwell's greatest hopes lying in a conjunction with that King (p. 358).

This rumour of his close affinity with Sweden gathered strength from his great familiarity with the Swedish Ambassador in England. He had him as a frequent visitor, and often played at bowls with him (p. 316), and treated him with more honour than he had ever vouchsafed to an ambassador before (p. 348).

In favour of Sweden he also "wrote soundly, requiring the States General or those of Holland to forbear sending any ships of war into the Baltic to disturb the Swede's proceedings against Poland," and, writes Sec. Nicholas, "the States have most gallantly submitted to his rebellious worship's order, and laid aside their preparations to assist their friends in Dantzic" (pp. 365, 374).

Two fleets had lately been sent out from England, one under General Blake, which had successfully performed its mission of freeing the Mediterranean Sea from pirates, especially about Algiers and Tunis. The other had been sent to the West Indies under Admiral Penn and General Venables, and Cromwell's policy as regards Spain hinged greatly on the issue of Penn and Venables' expedition. In May 1655, we are told "that he will not conclude with France till assured of Penn's success in the West Indies, and will amuse both France and Spain with a treaty, and to prevent a peace between the two, will gain such an advantage over one that that crown will not dare to make peace without his consent;" and surprise is expressed that both parties do not appeal to the Pope's intervention to procure a peace rather than expose themselves to his "notorious insults" (p. 174), and "to basely crouch and creep to such an upstart fellow and rebel as Cromwell, who keeps them all in awe, and makes them tremble for fear of his power and displeasure" (p. 221).

On May 10th, we hear that he amuses the King of Spain with hopes of reconciliation, to his further ruin (p. 281).

But the mask was soon thrown off, for Penn and Venables succeeded in the capture of Jamaica from Spain; they failed, however, in Hispaniola, and returned home without orders, thereby incurring the displeasure of the Protector, who thus was enabled to throw upon them the blame of the partial failure of the expedition (pp. 312, 343, 356–7, 364–5, 389, 396, 402–3).

On September 14th, surprise was expressed at the tardiness of the Spanish King in declaring war with England, as he must know what has been done against him in the West Indies (p. 335), but it was accounted for because, though overt acts of hostility had been committed within the tropics, Blake's Mediterranean fleet had refrained from any attack on the Spanish fleet there (p. 347).

A few days later, however, an order was issued in Spain to seize all the English ships in Spanish ports, and all the English estates in Spain (pp. 356, 358).

Hopes were entertained by the Royalists that, if the war should be declared in Flanders as it had been in Spain, Blake himself, or at least a portion of his fleet, might come into the ports of Flanders, to offer their service to Charles II. (pp. 365, 389). It was surmised that Blake, having failed to intercept the Spanish plate fleet, might be doubtful as to his reception, after hearing of the treatment of Penn and Venables, and might hesitate to trust himself in the Protector's power; but these doubts were soon set at rest by his arrival with his entire fleet at Portsmouth, and thence in the Downs (pp. 374, 548–9).

Meantime a rumour was diligently spread in England that Cromwell was preparing a fleet of 120 sail for the West Indies. This did not obtain ready credence, as the winter was approaching, and his want of men and money was well known, and it was considered a mere boast to cover the consciousness of defeat (pp. 385, 389).

An order was really issued on 19th October, so secretly that it was not permitted to appear on the Council order books, for the preparation and dispatch of 8 ships to the West Indies (p. 610).

The sequence of the contest with Spain belongs, however, to the two following years, and will be noticed in the succeeding volumes of this Calendar.

M. A. E. G.

100, Gower-street,
18th October 1881.