First Advisor

Caroline Litzenberger

Date of Publication

Summer 1-1-2012

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.) in History






Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658) -- Influence, Great Britain -- History -- Commonwealth and Protectorate (1649-1660), Essex (England) -- Politics and government, Essex (England) -- Militia -- Safety measures, Essex (England) -- Taxation -- Public opinion



Physical Description

1 online resource (vii, 186 p.)


In 1655, Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell's Council of State commissioned a group of army officers for the purpose of "securing the peace of the commonwealth." Under the authority of the Instrument of Government, a written constitution not sanctioned by Parliament, the Council sent army major-generals into the counties to raise new horse militias and to support them financially with a tax on Royalists which the army officers would also collect. In counties such as Essex--the focus of this study--the major-generals were assisted in their work by small groups of commissioners, mostly local men "well-affected" to the Interregnum government. In addition to their militia and tax duties, the men were instructed to see to the implementation and furtherance of a variety of central government policies. Barely a year after its inception, a bill sanctioning the scheme was voted down in January 1657 by a Parliament unconvinced that the work done by the major-generals was in the best interests of the nation. This thesis examines the development and inception of the major-generals initiative by the Council of State, the work the major-generals and their commissioners engaged in, and the nature and cause of the reaction to their efforts in the shires. In the years and centuries following the Stuart Restoration, the major-generals were frequently portrayed as agents of Cromwellian tyranny, and more recently scholars have argued that the officers were primarily concerned with the promulgation of a godly reformation. This study looks at the aims and work of the major-generals largely through an analysis of state papers and Essex administrative records, and it concludes that the Council and officers were preoccupied more with threats to order and stability than with morals. Additionally, by examining the court records and work of the justices of the peace in Essex, this study shows that in regard to improving order the major-generals' work was unremarkable for its efficacy and but little different than previous law- and statute-enforcement activity traditionally carried out by local administrators. Based on this assessment of the major-generals' efforts to improve order as both limited and completely un-revolutionary, this thesis argues that the strongly negative reaction to the major-generals by the parliamentary class was due more to the officers' and government's encroachment on gentry power and local privilege than either the abrogation of the liberties of the people or any modest efforts to foist godliness on the shires. Religion was a major issue during the English Civil Wars, but the demise of one of the Interregnum government's most ambitious attempts to improve security in the localities was rooted not in sectarian distempers but rather in the gentry's preoccupation with keeping central government from meddling in local matters or taxing anyone in their class without parliamentary approval.


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