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Protector's Privy Council

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Title: Protector's Privy Council  
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Protector's Privy Council

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 by Charles I (as King)
Succeeded by Oliver Cromwell (as Lord Protector)
In office
25 May 1659 – 28 May 1660
Preceded by Richard Cromwell (as Lord Protector)
Succeeded by Charles 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, Salisbury, Lords Grey and Fairfax, Lisle, Rolle, Oliver St. John, Wilde, Bradshaw, Cromwell, Skippon, Pickering, Masham, Haselrig, Harrington, Vane jun, Danvers, Armine, Mildmay, Constable, Pennington, Wilson, Whitelocke, Martin, Ludlow, Stapleton, Hevingham, 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 offices.[2][3] With the failure of the Barebones 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]

Start End Name Note
17 February 1649 12 March 1649 vacancy Pro tempore Oliver Cromwell
12 March 1649 29 December 1651 John Bradshaw
29 December 1651 26 January 1652 Bulstrode Whitelocke
26 January 1652 23 February 1652 Sir Arthur Haselrig
23 February 1652 22 March 1652 Philip Sidney, Lord Lisle
22 March 1652 19 April 1652 John Lisle
19 April 1652 17 May 1652 Henry Rolle
17 May 1652 14 June 1652 Sir Henry Vane the younger
14 June 1652 12 July 1652 Philip Herbert, Earl of Pembroke
12 July 1652 9 August 1652 Denis Bond
9 August 1652 7 September 1652 William Purefoy
7 September 1652 5 October 1652 Sir James Harrington
5 October 1652 25 October 1652 Sir William Constable
25 October 1652 22 November 1652 Sir William Masham
22 November 1652 1 December 1652 Sir William Constable
1 December 1652 29 December 1652 unknown
29 December 1652 26 January 1653 Henry Rolle
26 January 1653 23 February 1653 John Bradshaw
23 February 1653 23 March 1653 Thomas Chaloner
23 March 1653 20 April 1653 Denis Bond
20 April 1659 29 April 1659 Dissolved along with the Rump Parliament by the Cromwell with the support of the Army Council
29 April 1659[lower-alpha 1] 6 May 1653 John Lambert Reconstituted with thirteen members of whom nine were Army officers.[lower-alpha 2]
6 May 1653 13 May 1653 Sir Gilbert Pickering
13 May 1653 27 May 1653 unknown
27 May 1653 10 June 1653 John Desborough
10 June 1653 24 June 1653 unknown
24 June 1653 5 July 1653 Philip Jones of Fonmon Welsh
8 July 1653 21 July 1653 Sir Gilbert Pickering
21 July 1653 4 August 1653 Edward Montagu
4 August 1653 17 August 1653 unknown
17 August 1653 31 August 1653 Sir Anthony Ashley Cooper
31 August 1653 14 September 1653 Robert Tichborne
14 September 1653 28 September 1653 unknown
28 September 1653 14 October 1653 Charles Howard
4 October 1653 3 November 1653 Samuel Moyer acting
14 October 1653 3 November 1653 Samuel Moyer
3 November 1653 6 December 1653 Edward Montagu
6 December 1653 12 December 1653 Walter Strickland
December 1653 6 May 1659 Henry Lawrence During the Protectorate
7 May 1659 18 May 1659 Replaced by a Committee of Safety
19 May 1659 25 October 1659 Josiah 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 October Late December Replaced by another Committee of Safety
30 December 1659 23 February 1660 unknown
23 February 1660 28 May 1660 Arthur Annesley Anglo-Irish


  1. 29 Apil 1653 (Tanner 1928, p. 168)
  2. 29 April 1653 (Emerich & Acton 1934, p. 437)
  3. 30 April 1653, with Lambert appointed president of the council a day later on 1 March 1653 (Schultz 2010)


Further reading

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