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Commonwealth Council of State (Cromwell the Great)

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Lord President of the Commonwealth Council of State
Timeline: Cromwell the Great

Arms of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland
Coat of Arms of the Commonwealth

Anthony Ashley-Cooper, 1st Earl of Shaftesbury

Anthony Ashley-Cooper 1st Earl of Shaftesbury

Since: 1678

Style His Highness the Lord President
Seat Palace of Whitehall,
Appointer Named by the Lord Protector
Term length At Lord Protector's pleasure
Formation 1653

Let your own discretion be your tutor: suit the action to the word, the word to the action. (W. Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act III, scene 2, line 18.)

The Commonwealth Council of State is the direct advisor to the Lord Protector and acts as the executive of the country's government in place of the King and the Privy Council. It directs domestic and foreign policy and ensures the security of the English Commonwealth. Also in a state of war the Lord Protector-in-Council has supreme executive powers.

It was formerly known as Council of State (1649-1653) and Protector's Privy Council (1653-1660).

Functions and role

The chief role of the Council of State in brief words is coordinating authorities and advising the Lord Protector in the exercise of his executive powers. The members of the Council (13 to 21) are nominated by the Protector and approved by Parliament.

By custom and convention the Council of State issues: Orders in Council (by Order of the Lord Protector and Council, Lord Protector exercises authority on advice of the Council), Orders of Council (by Order of the Council, secondary legislation drafted by the Council for government regulations and appointments) and Commonwealth Charters (special status granted to corporation and incorporated bodies). All above mentioned deal with a wide variety of matters and issues.

Foreign relations are dealt by the Council’s (Foreign) Secretary of State under instructions Council and advises the Lord Protector.

The Council of State delegates part of its executive and administrative powers in Scotland and Ireland by means of two separate councils. Its Isle of Mann and Channel Islands Affairs Committee deals with legislation and executive orders of the said territories.

Meetings and procedures of the State Council

The State Council meets at large on a regular basis, usually once or twice a week to discuss the most important issues of government policy, and to make decisions. Its full member meetings are chaired by the Lord President of the Council, with or without the Lord Protector attending them. The State Council has numerous committees which focus on particular areas of government and coordinates their work. There may be permanent committees or ad hoc committees set up for a short duration to look at particular issues.

Ingo Jones plan for a new palace at Whitehall 1638

Palace of Whitehall

The Palace of Whitehall, with over 1500 rooms, functions as the administrative center of the Council and also has the venue for the state and ceremonial meetings of the Lord Protector. A large staff of secretaries, clerks, courier, archivists,and accountants provide the necessary administrative services. Civilian courtiers that serve as secretaries, advisors or agents of the Protector and Council, are also part of the staff. However, the transactions or matters discussed or verbatim reports of the full sessions of the Council are not available nor published and are kept in secret. To its meetings or committees the Council can invite or demand the assistance of other state officials. It usual to for the Lord Chancellors to attend meetings and the committees when the Council is dealing with constitutional or legal matters.

The committees

Council of State had several standing and ad hoc committees and commissions. The main ones are:

  • Treasury commissioners
  • Board of Customs
  • Board of Excise
  • National Estate Board
  • Army Council
  • Admiralty Committee
  • Navy Commission
  • Board of Ordnance
  • Commissariat
  • Council for Foreign Plantations
  • Council of Trade

Administration of the Home Countries

The Council of State delegates part of its executive and administrative powers in Scotland and Ireland by means of two separate councils and a Committee of the Isle of Mann and Channel Islands.

The Council of State for Scotland with nine members (starting 1655), named by the Council of State and at least half of its members must be scotsmen. The Lord President chairs the Council. The seat of Council and main government offices are at Palace of Holyroodhouse (Edinburgh, Scotland). In addition to ensuring the continuance of the Union and the establishment of good government, the Council were directed to encourage the preaching of the Gospel; encourage the growth of Universities and schools; purge the burghs of disaffected magistrates; administer justice; to approximate the judicial system to that of England; encourage trade and foster the revenue. Important measures of the Council are the ones that allowed The burghs to elect their own magistrates and Justice of the Peace courts were set up in all of Scotland.

The Irish Council of State (or Irish Council) with six members and the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland (named by the Protector-in-Council) administers the island. The seat of Council and main government offices are at Dublin Castle.

The Isle of Mann and Channel Islands Affairs Committee deals with legislation and executive orders of the said territories.

Lord President

The role of the President of the Council of State (usually addressed as "Lord President") was originally intended to simply preside over the Council of State. However, its role became more powerful as successive Acts of Parliament delegated to it the power to issue ordinances and designations with the the approval of the Lord Protector. Initially these acts provided the means to administer all overseas dominions, colonies and territories. From 1651 to 1658 Parliament had limited the chair of the Council to one month.

Portrait Name (Born-Died) Mandate (Start-End) Political affinity/faction/party Notes
Henry Lawrence (1600-1664) December 1653 - November 1658 Cromwellian Lord President of the Protector's Privy Council
John Lambert (1619 - 1685) November 1658 - July 1672 Cromwellian
Edward Montagu
Lord Edward Montagu 1st Earl of Sandwich (1619 - 1687) July 1672 - March 1678 Cromwellian (Civil/Court party)
Anthony Ashley-Cooper, 1st Earl of Shaftesbury
Anthony Ashley-Cooper 1st Earl of Shaftesbury (1621 – 1695) March 1678 - ... Cromwellian (Civil/Court party)

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