English Council of State

The English Council of State, later also known as the Protector's Privy Council, was first appointed by the Rump Parliament on 14 February 1649 after the execution of King Charles I.

English Council of State
Executive government of the Commonwealth of England
In office
14 February 1649  30 April 1653
Preceded byCharles I (as King)
Succeeded byOliver Cromwell (as Lord Protector)
In office
25 May 1659  28 May 1660
Preceded byRichard Cromwell (as Lord Protector)
Succeeded byCharles II (as King)

Charles's execution on 30 January was delayed for several hours so that the House of Commons could pass an emergency bill to declare the representatives of the people, the House of Commons, as the source of all just power and to make it an offence to proclaim a new King. This in effect abolished the monarchy and the House of Lords.


The Council of State was appointed by Parliament on 14 and 15 February 1649, with further annual elections. The Council's duties were to act as the executive of the country's government in place of the King and the Privy Council. It was to direct domestic and foreign policy and to ensure the security of the English Commonwealth. Due to the disagreements between the New Model Army and the weakened Parliament, it was dominated by the Army.

The Council held its first meeting on 17 February 1649 "with [Oliver] Cromwell in the chair". This meeting was quite rudimentary, "some 14 members" attending, barely more than the legal quorum of nine out of forty-one councillors elected by Parliament. The first elected president of the council, appointed on 12 March, was John Bradshaw who had been the President of the Court at the trial of Charles I and the first to sign the King's death warrant.

The members of the first council were the Earls of Denbigh, Mulgrave, Pembroke, and Salisbury; Lords Grey and Fairfax; Lisle, Rolle, Oliver St John, Wilde, Bradshaw, Cromwell, Skippon, Pickering, Masham, Haselrig, Harington, Vane jun, Danvers, Armine, Mildmay, Constable, Pennington, Wilson, Whitelocke, Martin, Ludlow, Stapleton, Heveningham, Wallop, Hutchinson, Bond, Popham, Valentine Walton, Scot, Purefoy, Jones.[1]

When the Rump Parliament was dissolved by Cromwell with the support of the Army Council on 20 April 1653, the Council went into abeyance. It was reconstituted on 29 April with thirteen members seven of whom were Army officers.[2][3] With the failure of Barebone's Parliament, the Council was re-modelled with the Instrument of Government to become something much closer to the old Privy Council advising the Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell. Constitutionally between thirteen and twenty-one councillors were elected by Parliament to advise the Protector, who was also elected by Parliament. In reality Cromwell relied on the Army for support and chose his own councillors.

The replacement constitution of 1657, the pseudo-monarchical Humble Petition and Advice, authorised 'His Highness the Lord Protector'; to choose twenty-one Councillors and the power to nominate his successor. Cromwell recommended his eldest surviving son Richard Cromwell, who was proclaimed the successor on his father's death on 3 September 1658 and legally confirmed in the position by the newly elected Third Protectorate Parliament on 27 January 1659.

After the reinstatement of the Rump Parliament (7 May 1659) and the subsequent abolition of the position of Lord Protector, the role of the Council of State along with other interregnum institutions becomes confused as the instruments of state started to implode. The Council of State was not dissolved until 28 May 1660, when King Charles II personally assumed the government in London.

Lord President of the Council of State

The role of the President of the Council of State (usually addressed as "Lord President") was intended to simply preside over the Council of State.[4]

John Bradshaw, the first president, served in the office longer than any other person to do so (serving for two years and ten months total). The reason no other individual served in the position longer than Bradshaw was due to a resolution passed by the Parliament on 26 November 1651 stating that "That no Person of any Committee of Parliament, or of the Council of State, shall be in the Chair of that Committee, or Council, for any longer Time, at once, than one Month" (Commons Journal, 7:43-44).[4] Even during the Protectorate of Oliver and Richard Cromwell, the position of Lord President of the Council of State, known during this period as the Protector's Privy Council, remained in existence until the re-establishment of the monarchy in 1660.

The following is a list of those who served as the Lord President of the Council of State.[4]

17 February 164912 March 1649vacancyPro tempore Oliver Cromwell
12 March 164929 December 1651John Bradshaw
29 December 165126 January 1652Bulstrode Whitelocke
26 January 165223 February 1652Sir Arthur Haselrig
23 February 165222 March 1652Philip Sidney, Lord Lisle
22 March 165219 April 1652John Lisle
19 April 165217 May 1652Henry Rolle
17 May 165214 June 1652Sir Henry Vane the younger
14 June 165212 July 1652Philip Herbert, Earl of Pembroke
12 July 16529 August 1652Denis Bond
9 August 16527 September 1652William Purefoy
7 September 16525 October 1652Sir James Harrington
5 October 165225 October 1652Sir William Constable
25 October 165222 November 1652Sir William Masham
22 November 16521 December 1652Sir William Constable
1 December 165229 December 1652unknown
29 December 165226 January 1653Henry Rolle
26 January 165323 February 1653John Bradshaw
23 February 165323 March 1653Thomas Chaloner
23 March 165320 April 1653Denis Bond
20 April 165329 April 1653Dissolved along with the Rump Parliament by Cromwell with the support of the Army Council
29 April 1653[lower-alpha 1]6 May 1653John LambertReconstituted with thirteen members of whom nine were Army officers.[lower-alpha 2]
6 May 165313 May 1653Sir Gilbert Pickering
13 May 165327 May 1653unknown
27 May 165310 June 1653John Desborough
10 June 165324 June 1653unknown
24 June 16535 July 1653Philip Jones of FonmonWelsh
8 July 165321 July 1653Sir Gilbert Pickering
21 July 16534 August 1653Edward Montagu
4 August 165317 August 1653unknown
17 August 165331 August 1653Sir Anthony Ashley Cooper
31 August 165314 September 1653Robert Tichborne
14 September 165328 September 1653unknown
28 September 165314 October 1653Charles Howard
4 October 16533 November 1653Samuel Moyeracting
14 October 16533 November 1653Samuel Moyer
3 November 16536 December 1653Edward Montagu
6 December 165312 December 1653Walter Strickland
December 16536 May 1659Henry LawrenceDuring the Protectorate
7 May 165918 May 1659Replaced by a Committee of Safety
19 May 165925 October 1659Josiah Berners (or Barnes)Members of the Council known to serve as president during most of 1659 the first year of the second period of the Commonwealth, which started in May when the Protectorate of Richard Cromwell came to an end.[lower-alpha 3]
Sir James Harrington,
Sir Arthur Hesilrige
Archibald Johnston, Lord Warriston (Scot)
Richard Salwey
Thomas Scot
Sir Henry Vane the younger
Bulstrode Whitelocke
26 OctoberLate DecemberReplaced by another Committee of Safety
30 December 165923 February 1660unknown
23 February 166028 May 1660Arthur AnnesleyAnglo-Irish


  1. The precise date of the reconstitution varies between sources:
    • 29 April 1653 with Lambert chosen as president (Jenkins 1890, pp. 67–68) cites Calandar, vol. v, pp. 300, 301
    • 29 April 1653 (Tanner 1928, p. 168)
    • 29 April 1653 (Emerich & Acton 1934, p. 437)
    • 30 April 1653, with Lambert appointed president of the council a day later on 1 March 1653 (Schultz 2010)
  2. The thirteen members were Captain-General Oliver Cromwell; Major-Generals John Lambert, Thomas Harrison, John Desborough and Matthew Thomlinson; Colonels Anthony Stapley, Robert Bennet, William Sydenham and Philip Jones; and four civilians, Walter Strickland, Sir Gilbert Pickering, John Carew and Samuel Moyer. (Jenkins 1890, p. 67)
  3. The presidents of the council during this period are listed in alphabetic order—as is done by the source (Schultz 2010)—not in the chronological order of the rest of the list.
  1. Hume 1983, Chapter: LX: The Commonwealth: Endnote [a].
  2. Tanner 1928, p. 168.
  3. Emerich & Acton 1934, p. 437.
  4. Schultz 2010.


  • Emerich, John; Acton, Lord Edward Dalberg, eds. (1934), The Cambridge modern history, 5, CUP Archive, p. 437
  • Hume, David (1983) [1778], "Chapter: LX: The Commonwealth: Endnote [a]", The History of England from the Invasion of Julius Caesar to the Revolution in 1688, Foreword by William B. Todd, 6 vols., 6, Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, retrieved September 2013 Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)
  • Jenkins, Edward (1890), The Constitutional Experiments of the Commonwealth: A study of the Years 1649–1660, Cambridge historical essays, III, CUP Archive, p. 67
  • Schultz, Oleg, ed. (13 March 2010), Commonwealth of England: Council of State: 1649-1660, Archontology.org, retrieved September 2013 Check date values in: |accessdate= (help); External link in |publisher= (help)
  • Tanner, Joseph Robson (1928), English Constitutional Conflicts of the Seventeenth Century, 1603-1689 (reprint ed.), CUP Archive, p. 168, ISBN 9780521065986

Further reading

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