Petitioners in the Interregnum, 1649-1660

The monarchy was abolished in England from 1649 to 1660, but hundreds of people continued to submit petitions to the central authorities every year. While previously they had been addressed to the King or his Privy Council, petitioners in the 1650s mostly sent their requests to the new Council of State or later the Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell.

As part of ‘The Power of Petitioning’ project, we have transcribed and published almost 400 of these manuscripts from across the seventeenth century on British History Online. We also completed a six-month Shared Learning Project with a large group of amateur researchers from the London Region of the University of the Third Age.

Each of these researchers wrote one or more reports about the petitioners and their requests or complaints. The introduction to this U3A project includes much more information, including important caveats about accuracy and interpretation. This set of 20 reports mostly cover the 1650s, beginning shortly after the execution of Charles I in 1649.

For example, in 1649 Richard Shakerly sought help from the Council of State because his ship had been seized at Falmouth four years before. As Sandra Linger shows, Shakerly had been seeking redress for years without little success despite having ‘allways testified a faithfull and cordiall affection to the Parliament’. A more dramatic petition came from the Merchant Adventurers who complained of ‘oppression and neglect’ in Hamburg in 1651, as investigated by Wendy Lewis. These merchants suggested the Parliament needed to do more to help them because they were being targetted by Royalists and their allies overseas. Even more sensational was the petition from Thomas Billingsley in 1652, which sought long-overdue compensation for the ‘horrible massacre’ of English merchants in Amboyna carried out by the Dutch East India Company thirty years earlier. As Janet Osbourne explains, Billingsley’s uncle was one of the Englishmen killed at the time, so the petition was an attempt to push the government to recompense the loss of his estate, according to their ‘sacred love to justice’.

The humble petition of the governor, deputy assistants and fellowship of the Merchant Adventurers of England, 1651. Image courtesy of The National Archives, SP 46/96 f. 44.

These reports together show that people continued to seek favour or mercy from the central authorities through petitions, despite England’s abrupt shift from monarchy to republic.

The Petitions and the Reports

For further petitions and reports from the rest of the seventeenth century, return to the main ‘Investigating Petitioners’ page.