“One could bear a little with Oliver Cromwell, tho, contrary to his oath of fidelity to the Parliament, contrary to his duty to the public, contrary to the respect he owed that venerable body from whom he received his authority, he usurped the government. His merit was so extraordinary, that our judgements, our passions might be blinded by it. He made his way to empire by the most illustrious actions; he had under his command an army that had made him conqueror, and a people that had made him their general. But, as for Richard Cromwell, his son, who is he? What are his titles? We have seen that he had a sword by his side; but did he ever draw it? And what is of more importance in this case, is he fit to get obedience from a mighty nation, who could never make a footman obey him? Yet, we must recognise this man as our king, under the style of protector, – a man without birth, without courage, without conduct! For my part, I declare, sir, it shall never be said that I made such a man my master!”
Against Richard Cromwell, 1659
Sir Henry Vane (1613-62)
By all accounts of the time, the sole surviving son of Oliver Cromwell was a poor tool, to put it bluntly. Lacking the military prowess, the political skill, charisma, and ability to forcefully debate his case; even the authority of his illustrious name abandoned him in his time of need.
What was this time of need, then?
His father, the Lord Protector, had expired in 1658, leaving a power vacuum that needed to be filled in order to sustain the Commonwealth that Oliver Cromwell had erected on the ashes of the Stuart monarchy and parliamentary ineptitude and corruption.
Richard possessed the name, but as far as everything else required of a head of state, the locker was empty. The English psyche of the time could not wrap it`s collective head around the concept of a republic without a king; there had to be someone in total charge who called the shots. Cromwell assumed the title of Lord Protector as a halfway house towards republic and monarchy.
Modern parliamentary concepts such as collective responsibility of a government directly elected by, and responsible to the general public, would have been incomprehensible to even Oliver Cromwell and his generals.
So, a top man it was; the name of Richard Cromwell was well and truly in the frame, but a famous name does not equal enterprise and talent. The generals decided none of themselves possessed the hubris, chutzpah, ability, call it what you will, to become king of England in all but name, so how about the young Stuart across the water in exile?
The invitation was duly received and accepted by Charles Stuart, and the rest is history. Richard Cromwell was discreetly retired off as a country gent on a state pension, and became derisively known as “Tumbledown Dick”; his old man was dug up, posthumously hanged and beheaded, and the world was back on track.
But of course, nothing is quite what it seems; the newly restored Stuart monarchy was ultimately answerable to the country squires that made up parliament. It was a parliament falteringly on it`s way to modern democracy; the king was the titular top of the power pyramid, but in actuality, was lickspittle to a parliament that held the power and the purse strings.
Meanwhile, the life and name of Richard Cromwell sank beneath the waves of history, forgotten and unlamented as one of those failures that time and place tend to spit out with astounding rapidity.