English soldier, and later statesman, Oliver Cromwell delivered this speech when forcibly dissolving the so-called Rump Parliament in 1653, prior to replacing it with his own assembly of 140 men – the Barebones Parliament – to whom he resigned all his power.
Born in Huntingdon, Cromwell was educated at Cambridge University and as a result of a strong conversion experience was a lifelong Puritan. In 1628 he was elected to Parliament for Huntingdon and in 1640 represented Cambridge in the Long Parliament. Here he made strong attacks on the Church of England bishops and urged the purification of the Church. As conflicts grew between Charles I and Parliament and sides began to be drawn up, Cromwell first raised a troop and then a cavalry regiment in Huntingdon.
During the first English Civil War Cromwell helped to win most of East Anglia for the Parliamentarian cause and was appointed Lieutenant General. He helped defeat the Royalists at the Battle of Marsden Moor and then took a major role in the Battle of Naseby as second in command to Sir Thomas Fairfax.
This speech demonstrates Cromwell’s characteristic beliefs: that God had been behind his victories in the Civil Wars and that he had been chosen to enact God’s will on earth. To establish a godly society in England he believed he needed to get rid of the current Parliament. This had been called ‘the Rump’ because it was what remained after the Long Parliament had been forcibly purged by Cromwell’s army in 1648. Cromwell felt it was dragging its feet in producing political and religious reforms and so took decisive action to replace it.
However, the Barebones Parliament was just as divided and by the end of the year it was dissolved. Cromwell was made Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland, a position he held for five years enjoying many of the powers King Charles had once had.
On Cromwell’s death in 1658 the foundations of constitutional government had been laid and England was wealthy. He did not, however, produce a constitution for the country and his system of government did not last. He is widely remembered for the bloody and brutal methods he used to achieve and maintain his rule, rather than his godly intentions.
It is high time for me to put an end to
your sitting in this place, which you have dishonoured by your contempt of all virtue, and defiled by your practice of every vice, ye are a factious crew, and enemies to all good government, ye are a pack of mercenary wretches, and would, like Esau, sell your country for a mess of potage, ‘Is there a man amongst you that has the least care for the good of the Commonwealth?’
And like Judas betray your God for a few pieces of money, is there a single virtue now remaining amongst you? Is there one vice you do not possess? Ye have no more religion than my horse, gold is your Cod, which of you have not barter’d your conscience for bribes? Is there a man amongst you that has the least care for the good of the Commonwealth? Ye sordid prostitutes, have you not defiled this sacred place, and turrr’d the Lord’s temple into a den of thieves, by your immoral principles and wicked practices? Ye are grown intolerably odious to the whole nation, you were deputed here by the people to get grievances redressed, are yourselves become the greatest grievance. Your county therefore calls upon me to cleanse this Augean stable, by putting a final period to your iniquitous ‘Make haste! Ye venal slaves be gone!’
Proceedings in this House, and which by God’s help, and the strength he has given me, I am now come to do, I command ye therefore, upon the peril of your lives, to depart immediately out of this place, go, get you out! Make haste! Ye venal slaves be gone! Go! Take away that shining bauble there, and lock up the doors. In the name of God, go!
After the King’s alliance with the Scots in the second Civil War failed, Cromwell argued that Charles I was personally responsible for renewing civil war and brought pressure for him to be tried for treason. Many people believe Cromwell was responsible for the execution of the King, although 59 others also signed the King’s death warrant. Cromwell described the King’s death as a ‘cruel necessity’.