December 16, 1653 – Oliver Cromwell Becomes Lord Protector of England, Scotland and Ireland

On this day in history, Oliver Cromwell was named Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland. Unfortunately for Catholics and especially the Irish, he only considered himself Lord Protector of the Protestants.

Portrait of Cromwell by Samuel Cooper, 1656

Portrait of Cromwell by Samuel Cooper, 1656

Cromwell had been one of the signatories of King Charles I’s death warrant in 1649, and, as a member of the Rump Parliament (1649–53), dominated the short-lived Commonwealth of England. (The “Rump Parliament” was the name for what was left of the English Parliament after it was purged of members hostile to the actions taken against the King.)

Cromwell commanded the English campaign in Ireland in 1649–50, and oversaw a series of “Penal Laws” passed against Roman Catholics (a significant minority in England and Scotland but the vast majority in Ireland). These harsh laws stipulated that Catholics could neither teach their children nor send them abroad; persons of property could not enter into mixed marriages; Catholic property was inherited equally among the sons unless one was a Protestant, in which case he received all; a Catholic could not possess arms or a horse worth more than £5; Catholics could not hold leases for more than 31 years, and they could not make a profit greater than a third of their rent. The hierarchy of the Catholic Church was banished or suppressed, and Catholics could not hold seats in the Irish Parliament (1692), hold public office, vote (1727), or practice law. Cases against Catholics were tried without juries, and bounties were given to informers against them. (You can read more about the penal laws in A History of Ireland in the Eighteenth Century by W.E.H. Lecky summarized here.)


In addition, while in Ireland, Cromwell not only confiscated a significant amount of land owned by Catholics, but also he also made a point of destroying only half of towers, castles and churches, so that inhabitants could see, and be reminded of, what happens if Cromwell doesn’t like you.


After Cromwell’s death in 1658 he was buried in Westminster Abbey, but when the Royalists returned to power in 1660 they had his corpse dug up, hung in chains, and beheaded. Considering the miseries he inflicted on the Catholics in Ireland, it was probably too good a fate. Needless to say, Cromwell remains an unpopular figure in Ireland to this day.

Statue of Oliver Cromwell outside the Palace of Westminster. It is in front of Westminster Hall.

Statue of Oliver Cromwell outside the Palace of Westminster. It is in front of Westminster Hall.


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