CROMWELL (OLIVER) Letter signed, as Lord Protector ("Oliver P"), to the Commissioners for Securing the Peace of the Commonwealth for the County of Somerset, ordering them to discontinue the Decimation Tax, 1657
Lot 23
£ 6,000 - 8,000
US$ 8,000 - 11,000

Lot Details
Letter signed, as Lord Protector ("Oliver P"), to the Commissioners for Securing the Peace of the Commonwealth for the County of Somerset, ordering them to discontinue the Decimation Tax; the letter opening: "Gentlemen,/ You having been authorized and empowered by orders and Instructions from Us and our Counsell, to assesse and leavy upon the late Kings party, a Tenth of their real and personall Estates, towards the defraying the extraordinary charges of the Commonwealth, and to doe some other things upon the grounds expressed in our Declaration exhibited in that behalfe, Wee have thought fit, to let you know, That these proceedings having been only in a tyme of necessity, and when the Nation was in an unsettled condition, cannot bee now longer continued without consent of parlament, And therefore wee iudge it necessary That You desist from any further acting upon the said orders & Instructions, untill other directions shalbe given therein by Us, and the Parlam.t, who before their recesse had it in their Consideration by what meanes to provide for the further secureing the Nation against the said party, and Wee doubt not, upon their retorne will doe something effectuall therein"; meanwhile congratulating them on their vigilance and care ("...Wee cannot omitt to take notice of the zeale and faithfulnes to the Common Cause which You have shewed in that tyme of emment danger by acting soe cherefully, and soe great diligence upon the said orders & Instructions... Wee shall alwayes have a gratefull remembrance and looke upon You as those who have a truelove to the good of their Country..."); ending: "as for these Forces were raised for the comon safety and carrying on soe good a worke, Wee doe hold our selfe obliged not only to take Care for the payment of their arreares, but to provide for their future security", he concludes by bidding them "heartily farewell" and subscribes himself their "very affectionate Friend"; with integral leaf addressed to "The Commissioners for secureing/ the peace of the Commonwealth/ County of Somerset" with papered armorial seal of the Lord Protector, 1 page, dust-staining and other minor wear, especially at fold and edges, paper-losses to address leaf (detached), but nevertheless overall in sound and attractive condition, folio, Whitehall, 28 July 1657


  • CROMWELL REVOKES THE DECIMATION TAX 'UPON THE LATE KINGS PARTY', AND BRINGS THE MILITARY RULE OF THE MAJOR GENERALS TO AN END – this is one of the most important letters of state by Cromwell to have been offered for sale. It is recorded by Abbott, who points out that copies were presumably sent to other counties (although none survive), but Abbott's summary of our letter is taken from an auction catalogue which reverses its meaning: 'To the Commissioners for securing the peace of the Commonwealth in the County of Sussex/ (Substance only)/ To assess and levy upon the late King's party a tenth of their real and personal estate./ Whitehall, July 28, 1657./ Oliver P.' (Writings and Speeches of Oliver Cromwell, iv, 1947, pp. 587-8; Sotheby's, libraries of E.W. Hope Johnstone and others, 6-7 July 1931, lot 149). The rediscovery of this, the original, could therefore be said, in something of a literal sense, to rewrite history.

    The rule of the Major-Generals was introduced in the autumn of 1655 following the royalist rising under Colonel Penruddock in the west of England. Nineteen Major-Generals and Deputy Major-Generals were appointed to administer ten regional associations: 'In the wake of Penruddock's rising the major-generals' primary task was to provide security against future unrest. To this end they were given wide powers to disarm Roman Catholics and to prevent meetings of disaffected gentry at horse races and other gatherings; and they commanded newly raised militia units paid for by a "decimation" tax levied from the estates of local royalists. They were also given the job of imposing "godly" rule across the country, upholding law and order, and punishing drunkenness, blasphemy, and other moral failings... 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' (Patrick Little, 'Major-Generals', ODNB).

    Each county within an association maintained its nominally civilian administration, in the form of Commissioners for Securing the Peace of the Commonwealth, it being their responsibility – as our letter makes plain – to raise the Decimation Tax and maintain the mounted militia upon which the rule of the Major-Generals depended. Somerset had to maintain two troops of militia and fell within the purlieu of Cromwell's brother-in-law John Desborough, or Disbrowe, who was in command of the south-west of England (Gloucestershire, Wiltshire, Somerset, Dorset, Devon, and Cornwall). It seems however that the Somerset Commissioners may not have been entirely typical: 'At the beginning of 1656, William Orum, a steward to the marquis of Hertford, claimed in a letter to a friend that the Somerset commissioners were keen to "act mildly" towards their royalist neighbours and were accepting without question drastic underestimates of the value of their estates. In the absence of corroborating evidence, it is impossible to know whether or not this was true; but if it was, it certainly did not reflect the situation in other parts of the country, where many of their counterparts were anxious to maximise the yield from the tax and, as one of Sir Edward Nicholas's informants puts it, were "very severe in exacting the tenths"... In Essex the commissioners even decimated their major-general's elder brother, Robert Haynes' (Christopher Durston, Cromwell's Major-Generals: Godly Government During the English Revolution, 2001, p. 105).

    However by the time Cromwell wrote our letter, the experiment had already been abandoned. Our letter closes the door on the ill-fated enterprise. John Desborough – no less – had introduced the Militia Bill into Parliament which would have perpetuated the Decimation Tax on 29 January 1657. It was roundly defeated, very probably with Cromwell's connivance, by a vote of 124 to 88. And having refused the kingship, Cromwell was reinstalled as Lord Protector that June under the terms of the amended Humble Petition and Advice.
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