Parliament Week: A Cromwellian Act and Seal from the Cromwell Museum

By John Goldsmith of the Cromwell Museum | 02 November 2011
a photo of a seal with a man on horseback
The Protectorate Seal, ordered in the spring of 1655, shows Cromwell on horseback with London in the background© The Cromwell Museum
To mark Parliament Week 2011, John Goldsmith of the Cromwell Museum reveals two new artifacts that relate to the story of Parliamentary democracy. The items will be on display at the museum until January 29 2012...

The Cromwell Museum is the only museum to focus on the conflict between king and parliament in the 17th century, a period referred to as the English Civil War (or, more accurately, wars – there actually three!)

a scan of an act for the sale of the late King, Queen and Prince
© The Cromwell Museum
The years between 1640 and 1660 were hugely formative in the way in which politics and society developed subsequently in the UK. The current temporary exhibition at the Cromwell Museum is of recently acquired material – all of it illustrative in some way or another of Oliver Cromwell and his legacy. Two particular items stand out in the context of Parliament Week.

After the execution of King Charles I in 1649, the new Commonwealth was faced with a range of difficulties. Not least was the lack of money after two punishing and expensive phases of war. One way to raise new funds was by the sale of the Crown's assets, and so an act was passed for the sale of the 'late King's goods'.

The sale is sometimes represented as evidence of Cromwell's uncouth Puritanism as it meant the dispersal of the art collection of the king. That is a very crude and inaccurate interpretation, not least as it lays the blame on Cromwell personally for a decision of parliament.

a photograph of a parliamentary seal
The reverse of the seal bearing the coat of arms of the protectorate.© The Cromwell Museum
The title of the act appears above the symbol of the new Commonwealth, that brief period between 1649 and 1653 when parliament governed without either a monarch or a head of state.

The second object represents an aspect of how the new regime developed.  After Cromwell's dismissal of the Long Parliament in April 1653 he was offered the role and title of Lord Protector. He became the head of state.

To mark the new protectorate a new seal was made to replace the Great Seal of the Commonwealth. The new seal was ordered in the spring of 1655 and shows Cromwell on horseback with London in the background. The reverse of the seal bears the coat of arms of the protectorate.

The Protectorate Seal represents the authority of both Parliament and the Protector, but an authority that only lasted six years.

More on the venues and organisations we've mentioned: