"Tumbledown Dick" alias Richard Cromwell

Rosemary Bennett

Quite recently it was in a national paper that Oliver Cromwell was followed by Charles II as ruler of this country, which is not the case. For between them was Oliver’s son, Richard. This unfortunate person was also nicknamed by contemporary satirists – ‘Queen Dick’, ‘The Meek Knight’ and ‘Poor Idle Triviality’. His was a sad case of one who had fame thrust upon him when at heart all he wanted was to live an undemanding life, away from public acclaim.

Richard was born on 4 October, 1626 and is thought to have been educated at Felstead School in Essex. In 1649 he married Dorothy Mayor, an heiress whose family lived at Hursley in Hampshire and they had three daughters. His father wrote to Dorothy’s father urging him to give Richard plenty of sound advice – “I would have him mind to understand business, read a little history, study the mathematics and cosmography; these are good with subordination to the things of God: better than idleness”. He also urged Richard to endeavour to manage his own estates. However, hapless Richard failed in all these – he overspent, seriously into debt and failed to notice that his estate bailiff was defrauding him.

Richard served in the Parliamentary Army and in 1654· became Member of Parliament for Hampshire. A year later he was appointed to the Committee of Trade and Navigation and in 1656 was elected the member for Cambridge. Unfortunately for Richard his older brother Oliver predeceased him – had that not happened Richard would have enjoyed the quiet life he craved.

John Green in his ‘Short History of the English People’ writes:- “The new Protector was a weak and wordless man, but the bulk of the nation was content to be ruled by one who was, at any rate, no soldier, no puritan and no innovator. Richard was known to have been lax and godless in his character and was believed to have been conservative and even a royalist at heart”.

In 1657, a new constitution made it possible for Oliver Cromwell to select his own successor and he promptly began grooming his son to take over. Yet, less than two years earlier, he had rejected the suggestion that government leadership should be hereditary. “Men should be chosen to govern for their love of God, to truth and to justice; not for their worth”.

That same year Richard was appointed to succeed his father as Chancellor of Oxford University. In the following December he became a member of the Council of State and entered the House of Lords. Many thought him unworthy but the majority of the population accepted him as Oliver’s natural successor. Oliver died in September, 1658, and just three hours later Richard was proclaimed Protector.

Richard was incompetent and achieved very little during the nine months of his protectorate. He had little control over the country and was easily manipulated by politicians. After a few months it was believed that an attempt would be made to capture Richard at Whitehall. The motion to capture and deal with the senior army officers, who were the chief conspirators, led Richard to proclaim “I will not have any drops of blood spilt for the preservation of my greatness which is a burden to me”.

Hopeless when it came to dealing with finances Richard got deeply into debt and in May, 1659 senior army officers demanded that his debts “be satisfied” and that an income of “10,000 a year should be settled upon him and his heirs with an “additional £10,000 during his life to the end”. This was to be a mark of the “high esteem this nation hath of the good service done by his father, our ever renowned general, may remain to posterity”. Even so his creditors sent the bailiffs into Whitehall.

Four public acts were passed during Richard’s brief reign. Two ordered ‘A day of fasting and humiliation’; a third was for the ‘better encouragement of godly ministers’, and the fourth commanded the ‘All papists were not to remove more than five miles from their homes’. In 1659 Richard wanted to take complete control of the army ignoring senior officers’ request for the appointment of an experienced senior officer to take overall command. This led to a conflict resulting in the senior officers setting up a Council to get rid of Richard. When Parliament forbade the Council to meet without Richard’s permission it seized power forcing him to dissolve Parliament. A month later, in May 1659, Richard resigned and the monarchy was restored.

Richard then sought anonymity and the undemanding life so desperately wanted. He jettisoned his very large debts by going first to Paris and then Geneva travelling under the name of John Wallis. Using the name Richard Clarke he returned to England in 1680 and tried to regain Hursley where one of his daughters was living. To do so he retained a well known lawyer, Baron Thomas Pengelly. This failed and Pengelly offered Richard a home in his country house, ‘The Old Parsonage’ in Churchgate, Cheshunt. Richard would have known the area well as he would have had access to Theobalds when in power. Richard spent the remaining years of his life there living with Pengelly’s wife and son. Ideally suited to the life of a country gentleman – Richard was often seen with his shotgun under his arm or riding his horse.

He died in 1712 and was buried at Hursley.

It is said he kept a chest full of addresses presented to him when proclaimed Protector. These he said “contain the lives of the good people of England”.

This page was added on 11/01/2022.

Add your comment about this page

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Start the ball rolling by posting a comment on this page!