Commonwealth of England: Council of State: 1649-1660

President of the Council of State (also routinely styled Lord President)
17 Feb 1649 - 12 Mar 1649 vacancy; praeses pro tempore: Oliver Cromwell
12 Mar 1649 - 29 Dec 1651 John Bradshaw
29 Dec 1651 - 26 Jan 1652 Bulstrode Whitelock(e)
26 Jan 1652 - 23 Feb 1652 Sir Arthur Hesilrig (or Hesilrige, Haselrig)
23 Feb 1652 - 22 Mar 1652 Philip Sidney, viscount Lisle [from 1677 earl of Leicester, viscount Lisle, baron Sidney of Penshurst]
22 Mar 1652 - 19 Apr 1652 John Lisle
19 Apr 1652 - 17 May 1652 Henry Rolle
17 May 1652 - 14 Jun 1652 Sir Henry Vane, Jr
14 Jun 1652 - 12 Jul 1652 Philip Herbert, earl of Pembroke and Montgomery, baron Herbert of Shurland
12 Jul 1652 - 9 Aug 1652 Dennis Bond
9 Aug 1652 - 7 Sep 1652 William Purefoy
7 Sep 1652 - 5 Oct 1652 Sir James Harrington
5 Oct 1652 - 25 Oct 1652 Sir William Constable
25 Oct 1652 - 22 Nov 1652 Sir William Masham
22 Nov 1652 - 1 Dec 1652 Sir William Constable
1 Dec 1652 - 29 Dec 1652 unknown
29 Dec 1652 - 26 Jan 1653 Henry Rolle
26 Jan 1653 - 23 Feb 1653 John Bradshaw
23 Feb 1653 - 23 Mar 1653 Thomas Chaloner (or Challoner)
23 Mar 1653 - 20 Apr 1653 Dennis Bond
1 May 1653 - 6 May 1653 John Lambert
6 May 1653 - 13 May 1653 Sir Gilbert Pickering, baronet
13 May 1653 - 27 May 1653 unknown
27 May 1653 - 10 Jun 1653 John Desborough (or Disbrowe)
10 Jun 1653 - 24 Jun 1653 unknown
24 Jun 1653 - 5 Jul 1653 Philip Jones
8 Jul 1653 - 21 Jul 1653 Sir Gilbert Pickering, baronet
21 Jul 1653 - 4 Aug 1653 Edward Montagu [from 1660 earl of Sandwich]
4 Aug 1653 - 17 Aug 1653 unknown
17 Aug 1653 - 31 Aug 1653 Sir Anthony Ashley Cooper, baronet [from 1661 baron Ashley of Wimborne St. Giles, from 1672 earl of Shaftesbury, baron Cooper of Pawlett]
31 Aug 1653 - 14 Sep 1653 Robert Tichborne
14 Sep 1653 - 28 Sep 1653 unknown
28 Sep 1653 - 14 Oct 1653 Charles Howard
4 Oct 1653 - 3 Nov 1653 acting: Samuel Moyer
14 Oct 1653 - 3 Nov 1653 Samuel Moyer
3 Nov 1653 - 6 Dec 1653 Edward Montagu [from 1660 earl of Sandwich]
6 Dec 1653 - 12 Dec 1653 Walter Strickland
Dec 1653 - May (?) 1659 Henry Laurence (or Lawrence)
19 May 1659 - 25 Oct 1659 Members of the Council known to serve as president in this period in alphabet order:
  Josiah Berners (or Barnes)
  Sir James Harrington
  Sir Arthur Hesilrige, baronet (or Haselrig)
  Sir Archibald Johnston, lord Warriston (Lord of Session)
  Richard Salwey
  Thomas Scot
  Sir Henry Vane, Jr
  Bulstrode Whitelock (or Whitelocke)
30 Dec 1659 - 23 Feb 1660 unknown
23 Feb 1660 - 28 May 1660 Arthur Annesley
History:

The Council of State provided the executive government of the Commonwealth directing home and foreign policy and carrying out the orders of Parliament. The members of the first Council of State were appointed by the Commons on 14 Feb 1649 and 15 Feb 1649 [1], with further annual elections. The Council held its first meeting on 17 Feb 1649 "with Cromwell in the chair". This meeting was quite rudimentary, "some 14 members" attending, barely more that the legal quorum of 9 (out of 41 members). In full formal style the Council was "Council of State appointed by Authority of Parliament," and sometimes "Keepers of the Liberties of England by the Authority of Parliament." After the dissolution of the Rump Parliament (20 Apr 1653), Cromwell told the Council that it no longer existed and together with the Council of Officers, instituted a new Council of State (30 Apr 1653). Following the dissolution of the Nominated Assembly (16 Dec 1653), the Council of State was modified under the Instrument of Government, 1653, the first written Constitution of the Commonwealth. Between 13 and 21 councilors were elected by Parliament to advise the Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell. The Council was modified again under the Humble Petition and Advice 1657, another constitution, which granted almost monarchical powers to Cromwell and which authorized him to choose 21 Privy Councilors himself. Being legally invested with exercising executive authority on instructions from the Parliament, the Council of State remained a sole bearer of constitutional power when the Parliament was prevented from sitting at Westminster by the military (13 Oct 1659); temporarily restored public order by sending orders to the troops to return to their quarters (13 Oct 1659); due to the confrontation with the Council of Officers and amidst general anarchy, ceased to administer political affairs with degrading attendance at meetings; was dissoled and superseded by the Council of Safety, consisting of army officers and civilians nominated by the Council of Officers (25 Oct 1659). As the Parliament was allowed to meet again on 26 Dec 1659, it decided to elect a new 31-member Council of State to hold the offices from 1 Jan 1660 to 1 Apr 1660. The election followed on 30 Dec 1659 and 31 Dec 1659 and the names of the members were publicly announced during the sessions of 31 Dec 1659 and 2 Jan 1660. The authority of the Council was derived from an Act, with Instructions to be given to the Council of State (passed 2 Jan 1660). The restoration of the Long Parliament by General Monck (21 Feb 1660) prompted passing of a resolution for suspension of the powers given to the Council of State (21 Feb 1660). The Parliament proceeded with elections (23 Feb 1660) and passed an An Act for constituting a Council of State (25 Feb 1660), which was elected for the period "until the Parliament take further Order." The Council was authorized to exercise executive authority between the dissolution of the Parliament (16 Mar 1660) and meeting of a Parliament at Westminster (25 Apr 1660) in accordance with an Act for giving Power to the Council of State, during the Interval, in Order to publick Safety (passed 15 Mar 1660). The Council of State continued to sit during the Convention Parliament, which first met on 25 Apr 1660. President of the Council, Arthur Annesley, participated in solemn ceremony of the proclamation of Charles II (8 May 1660). The Council was engaged into proceedings against the regicides and was not dissolved until 28 May 1660 when the king entered London to assume the government in person.

Presidents (1649-1660)

A proposal for appointing a Lord President of the Council of State was rejected by the Commons (16 in favor; 22 against) on 15 Feb 1649 [1, p. 143]. Oliver Cromwell signed the Council documents from 17 Feb 1649 to 12 Mar 1649 as praeses pro tempore. However, there were sessions of the Council at which Cromwell was absent; e.g., on 27 Feb 1649 Denbigh was in the chair and was acting for Cromwell. The Commons passed a resolution on 26 Nov 1651 "That no Person of any Committee of Parliament, or of the Council of State, shall be in the Chair of that Committee, or Council, for any longer Time, at once, than one Month" (Commons Journal, 7:43-44). As a result, the presidency in the Council of State was put in rotation with one-month intervals. In 1659, presidents served for very brief periods and the evidence from signatures as president seems to be quite confusing. It is known that Bulstrode Whitelock served as President at the "closing" of the Parliament by the Army 13 Oct 1659 and until the Council was dissolved 25 Oct 1659.


[1] "House of Commons Journal", Volume 6: 14 February 1649 (1802). PP. 140-143.
Last updated on: 13 Mar 2010 01:46:39