Rule of the Major-Generals
Get Rule of the Major-Generals essential facts below. View Videos or join the Rule of the Major-Generals discussion. Add Rule of the Major-Generals to your topic list for future reference or share this resource on social media.
Rule of the Major-Generals

The Rule of the Major-Generals, was a period of direct military government from August 1655 to January 1657,[1] during Oliver Cromwell's Protectorate.[2] England and Wales were divided into eleven regions,[3] each governed by a major-general who answered to the Lord Protector.

The period quickly "became a convenient and powerful symbol of the military nature of the unpopular Interregnum state".[4]


The Rule of the Major-Generals was set up by Cromwell by his orders to the army, and was not supported by parliamentary legislation. His goal was threefold: to identify, tax, disarm and weaken the Royalists, whom he saw as conspirators against his rule. The system was also an economical measure because the military budget had been cut. The major generals would take control of incumbent civilian administrations, which would not require an expansion of local military forces. As well, he sought "a reformation of manners" or moral regeneration through the suppression of vice and the encouragement of virtue, which he considered much too neglected.[] The historian Austin Woolrych, using 21st-century terminology, said that the Puritans did not consider it inappropriate to "employee senior military officers as vice squad chiefs".[5]

In March 1655, there were ineffectual-but-concerted Royalist uprisings in England.[6] In late July, news of the defeat of the expedition to Hispaniola, commanded by William Penn and Robert Venables, reached London in 1655. Cromwell felt that the defeat was his punishment from God for not trying to make England a more religious, godly place.[7][8]

In August, a scheme was proposed to introduce the Rule of the Major-Generals, but prevarication and other delays delayed its introduction to October.[6]

Like Cromwell, the Major Generals were committed Puritans, Congregationalist reformers with Calvinist leanings. Part of their job was to try to make England more godly. They clamped down on what they considered to be rowdy behaviour like heavy drinking, music, dancing and fairs. They even tried to stop Christmas celebrations. Their rule was unpopular.[7]

The Rule of the Major General is regarded by a large number of authors as a military dictatorship,[9][10][11][12][13] with the exception of Austin Woolrych. The argument of Woolrych against such definition is that the Major Generals remained within the boundaries of the law, they had minimal or no long-term influence in local government and their authority only lasted for less than two years.[14]

Historical legacy

Patrick Little wrote an article on the Major-General (2012) in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography:

The religious zeal of the major-generals, coupled with their attempt to impose godly rule on England and Wales, has given them a lasting reputation as po-faced puritans and killjoys, and this reputation has attached itself to the Cromwellian regime as a whole. Few have addressed the subject without emotion.... Others have traced back to this period the English love of freedom and hatred of standing armies and military rule. Modern historians tend to portray the major-generals either as the gauleiters of the Cromwellian military state or as misguided religious zealots.[6]

In March 2020, Antony Beevor wrote in an article about the COVID-19 pandemic:

Unlike those countries with the ethos of a thoroughly centralist state, we have long had a gut instinct in [the United Kingdom] against excessive governmental controls. Most historians believe that this stretches back all the way to the 17th Century and the rule of the major-generals under Cromwell and the Protectorate.[15]


There were ten regional associations covering England and Wales administered by major-generals. Ireland, under Major-General Henry Cromwell,[a] and Scotland, under Major-General George Monck, were in administrations that had already been agreed upon and were not part of the scheme.[16]

Name Period Region Deputies Notes
James Berry Appointed in 1655 Herefordshire, Shropshire, Worcestershire and Wales John Nicholas in Monmouthshire;
Rowland Dawkins in Carmarthenshire, Cardiganshire, Glamorgan, Pembrokeshire.
William Boteler (Butler)   Bedfordshire, Huntingdonshire, Northamptonshire and Rutland   Zealous and uncompromising in his hostility to his religious and political enemies, Boteler was a severe persecutor of Quakers in Northamptonshire; in 1656 he advocated that James Nayler should be stoned to death for blasphemy. Boteler was also aggressive in his persecution of Royalists in his area, unlawfully imprisoning the Earl of Northampton for failing to pay his taxes.
John Desborough   Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Gloucestershire, Somerset and Wiltshire    
Charles Fleetwood Appointed in 1655 Buckinghamshire, Cambridgeshire, Essex, Hertfordshire, Isle of Ely, Norfolk, Oxfordshire and Suffolk George Fleetwood (a distant kinsman) in Buckinghamshire;
Hezekiah Haynes in Essex, Cambridgeshire, Isle of Ely, Norfolk, Suffolk;
William Packer as military governor of Hertfordshire and Oxfordshire
Owing to his other responsibilities on the Council of State, day to day matters in his region were overseen by Fleetwood's three deputies.[16]
William Goffe October 1655 Berkshire, Hampshire and Sussex    
Thomas Kelsey   Surrey and Kent    
John Lambert   Cumberland, County Durham, Northumberland, Westmorland and Yorkshire Charles Howard in Cumberland, Northumberland, Westmorland;
Robert Lilburne in County Durham, Yorkshire
Owing to his other responsibilities on the Council of State, day to day matters in his region were overseen by Lambert's two deputies.[16]
Philip Skippon   Middlesex; including the cities of London and Westminster Sir John Barkstead Skippon was by now elderly, and on the Council of State, so most of the day to day matters in his region were largely undertaken by Barkstead.[16]
Edward Whalley   Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire, Warwickshire,  
Charles Worsley;
Tobias Bridge
1655–June 1656;
June 1656–January 1657
Cheshire, Lancashire and Staffordshire   Appointed in October 1655 Worsley was extremely zealous in carrying out his instructions. No one suppressed more alehouses, or was more active in sequestering royalists, preventing horse-races, and carrying on the work of reformation. Worsley died on 12 June 1656,[17] and Tobias Bridge replaced him.


  1. ^ Cromwell was nominally under the Lord Deputy of Ireland, Charles Fleetwood, but Fleetwood's departure for England in September 1655 left Cromwell the ruler of Ireland for all practical purposes.
  1. ^ Little 2007, p. 15.
  2. ^ Bremer & Webster 2006, p. 452.
  3. ^ Royle 2006, p. 698.
  4. ^ Durston 2001, p. 231.
  5. ^ Woolrych 2004, p. 625.
  6. ^ a b c Little 2012.
  7. ^ a b The National Archives.
  8. ^ Durston 2001, p. 21.
  9. ^ Barnard (2014), p. 50
  10. ^ Little (2007), p. 452
  11. ^ Hill (1985), p. 76
  12. ^ Smith (2006), p. 79
  13. ^ Wolf (1962), p. 272
  14. ^ Smith (2008), p. 61
  15. ^ Beevor 2020.
  16. ^ a b c d Royle 2006, pp. 698, 699.
  17. ^ Firth 1900, p. 33.


  • Barnard, T. C. (2014) The English Republic 1649-1660. Routledge. ISBN 1317897269
  • Bremer, Francis J.; Webster, Tom (2006), "Major-Generals", Puritans and Puritanism in Europe and America, ABC-CLIO, p. 452, ISBN 978-1-57607-678-1
  • Beevor, Antony (March 2020), I fear mankind is facing a turning point,
  • Durston, Christopher (2001), Cromwell's Major-Generals: Godly Government During the English Revolution, Manchester University Press, p. 21, ISBN 978-0-7190-6065-6
  • Hill, Christopher (1985) The Collected Essays of Christopher Hill. Harvester Press. ISBN 0710805128
  • Little, Paterick (1 January 2007), "Putting the Protector back into the Protectorate", BBC History Magazine, 8 (1): 15
  • Little, Patrick (2012), "Major-generals (act. 1655-1657)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.), Oxford University Press, doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/95468 (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  • Royle, Trevor (2006) [2004], Civil War: The Wars of the Three Kingdoms 1638-1660, Pub Abacus, ISBN 978-0-349-11564-1
  • Smith, David Lee (2008) Cromwell and the Interregnum: The Essential Readings. John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 1405143142
  • Smith, Lacey Baldwin (2006) English History Made Brief, Irreverent, and Pleasurable. Chicago Review Press. ISBN 0897336305
  • Wolf, John Baptiste (1962) The Emergence of European Civilization: From the Middle Ages to the Opening of the Nineteenth Century. Harper.
  • Woolrych, Austin (2004), Britain in Revolution: 1625-1660, Oxford UP


  This article uses material from the Wikipedia page available here. It is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.



Music Scenes