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  Charles Fleetwood (c.1618–1692), by unknown artist Charles Fleetwood (c.1618–1692), by unknown artist
Fleetwood, Charles, appointed Lord Fleetwood under the protectorate (c.1618–1692), army officer, was the third son of of Aldwincle, Northamptonshire, and Anne, daughter of Nicholas Luke of Woodend, Bedfordshire. His father was a prominent office holder, being receiver-general of the court of wards. , who took service in the Swedish army, was his elder brother. Charles Fleetwood may have been at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, before entering Gray's Inn on 30 November 1638.

War and politics, 1642–1651

It was on the basis of the latter connection that in 1642 Fleetwood, in company with others from the inns of court, enlisted as a trooper in the life guards of the earl of Essex, parliament's commander. He first achieved prominence when Essex had him carry an offer of peace to the earl of Dorset in September 1642. By May 1643 he had been promoted to a captaincy, and he was wounded at the first battle of Newbury on 20 September 1643. In May 1643 he had been empowered to seize assets from the sequestered royalists in the eastern counties. Already he was associated in this task with such future comrades as Oliver Cromwell and John Desborough. His services secured him the reward from parliament in May 1644 of the receivership of the court of wards, formerly held by his father and recently removed from his royalist elder brother. He had secured command of a cavalry regiment in the eastern association under the leadership of the earl of Manchester. In this capacity he ran up against the hostility of the county committees of Norfolk and Suffolk. His regiment was soon noted for its large complement of sectaries whom he encouraged. Given the command of a regiment of horse in the New Model Army, he fought at Naseby on 14 June 1645. Thereafter he saw service in the west country and in the midlands around Oxford. On 26 April 1646 he received the surrender of Woodstock Manor.

In May 1646 Fleetwood was returned to parliament for the borough of Marlborough in a recruiter election. This confirmed his growing importance among the army officers as one, like Fairfax, Cromwell, and Ireton, whose role was not limited to fighting. In the unfolding crisis of 1647, in which the soldiery confronted a seemingly hostile parliament, Fleetwood and his regiment were to the fore. They unanimously declined to serve in Ireland, as the parliament had ordered. On 30 April 1647 he was selected as one of the four commissioners sent by parliament to explain its actions to the army. He joined with Cromwell in conveying the soldiery's response on 20 May. For the moment he concurred with the other grandees that an open rift between army and parliament was to be avoided if possible. On 1 July he was again one of those deputed by the army to set out its thinking to parliament. At the same time he may have been implicated in the intrigues which led soldiers from his regiment to seize the king at Holdenby, thus strengthening the army's hand in negotiations.

After the excitements of 1647 Fleetwood vanished from public view. He was compensated to the tune of £2250 when, with the abolition of the court of wards, his office as receiver disappeared. He is not recorded as fighting in the second civil war or as present at the king's trial in January 1649. However, on 14 August 1649 he was named as governor of the Isle of Wight. He had not accompanied Oliver Cromwell and his expeditionary force to Ireland that summer, but joined him the following year on his Scottish campaign. With many of the most experienced commanders detained in Ireland, his opportunity for rapid promotion had come. He now enjoyed the rank of lieutenant-general of the horse, in which capacity he fought at Dunbar in September 1650. His distinction and apparent closeness to Cromwell helped secure his election by the Rump Parliament to the council of state in February 1651. Recalled from Scotland, he was entrusted with command of the army in England. In this exposed position he had to prepare to repel Charles II's likely invasion from the north. On 24 August 1651 he rendezvoused with Cromwell at Warwick and together they planned the defensive campaign. He contributed materially to the royalists' defeat at Worcester in the following month. He was thanked formally by parliament and re-elected to the council of state. In parliament he associated with those members keen to provide better for preaching the gospel and to reform the law. Some time between September and December 1651 he participated in the discussions at the speaker's house on the future settlement of the country.

Governing Ireland

Fleetwood's advancement continued in 1652. The post of commander in Ireland had been vacated when Ireton died at the end of November 1651. Parliament had intended as Ireton's successor John Lambert, but—in an excess of republicanism—withheld from him the title of lord deputy, which Ireton (in common with most English governors in Ireland) had enjoyed. Needing to find a substitute for the lordly Lambert, who refused the diminished post of commander-in-chief, on 8 July 1652 the council of state and parliament hit on Fleetwood. On 10 July Cromwell, as captain-general, commissioned him as commander-in-chief in Ireland, and the following month he was added to the parliamentary commissioners responsible for the civil government of the island. He landed near Dublin in September 1652, without previous experience of the troubled territory now devastated by warfare, pestilence, and famine. The rebellious country had been largely reconquered, with only a few outposts in the west still to be reduced. Thus, the tasks which faced him as commander were less military than political and administrative. There remained the threat of possible invasion by foreign powers sympathetic to the Stuarts and of domestic disturbances. A more urgent risk came from the occupying army itself. It contained radical veterans of the 1640s who, as campaigning slackened, grew restless. As in the past, their discontent related principally to material grievances: the accumulating arrears of pay; delays in allocating them confiscated Irish properties in lieu of that pay; and uncertainty when they would be free to return to England. In addition, some officers and men minded the religious and constitutional issues of the day. Those who adopted the tenets of the Independents, Baptists, and (after 1654) Quakers resented efforts to circumscribe their meetings for worship. Also, they acted aggressively towards their sectarian rivals, so threatening to disturb the fragile peace within the small but divided protestant communities of Ireland. Nor were radicals happy when they learned of the changes in England, with first the remnant of the Long Parliament expelled in April 1653 and then, at the end of the same year, Cromwell installed as protector. One high-ranking officer and parliamentary commissioner in Dublin, Edmund Ludlow, openly dissented from the alterations. Others were suspected of doing so. In addition, there were officers who took seriously their duties towards Ireland itself. Customarily this manifested itself in contempt and antagonism towards the native Irish and Catholics. The English, Scots, and Welsh who found themselves in or responsible for Ireland traditionally thought that its inhabitants needed to be brought into closer conformity with the religion and habits of Britain. By the 1650s this belief was overlaid by a wish to punish those Irish who had risen in 1641 and supposedly murdered many thousands of protestant settlers.

Fleetwood seems wholeheartedly to have subscribed to the hostile English view of the indigenous Irish. On the other questions which divided his army and administration he was more delphic. He was reluctant to upset partisans, hoping thereby to quieten the acrimonious controversies. In the event his passivity enabled numerous potentially subversive opinions to spread through protestant Ireland. Worries about the disruptive results of his approach reached England. In March 1654 the protector sent his younger son, Henry Cromwell, to investigate the nature and extent of disaffection in Ireland. The astringent analysis that followed did not spare Fleetwood, whose indulgence was felt to have worsened if not caused the difficulties. In practice, no governor in Dublin had much latitude to initiate or vary policies. The financial difficulties which let army pay fall heavily into arrear were hardly of Fleetwood's making. Furthermore, in regard to the main task which came to preoccupy him in the era of reconstruction, the confiscation and redistribution of lands, the essentials of the settlement had been decided by the Westminster parliament in a series of acts and ordinances between 1642 and 1654. In 1654 he and his fellow councillors authorized the surveys which formed the necessary preliminary to allocating estates to civilian creditors and the soldiery. However, it was a complex process unlikely quickly—or uncontentiously—to be completed. The impatience of likely beneficiaries to receive their Irish lands added to the agitation over Irish affairs. The government in Dublin, under Fleetwood's direction, was empowered to settle the details of how those involved in the Irish wars of the 1640s were now to be treated. The bulk were to be transplanted west of the River Shannon, where the lucky would be allocated small portions of generally poor land. This ambitious but vindictive scheme, approved by the authorities in England and Ireland, was backed by Fleetwood. A few in Ireland, however, did question its justice and wisdom. Such opposition angered the lord deputy, as it did most radical officers in the army. Fleetwood encouraged one of the latter, Richard Lawrence, to defend the transplantation project. Yet, as the time by which the transplanters were to uproot themselves approached, it had become clear that all would not do so. Also, the feeling had grown that such a measure would impoverish and unsettle the country.

In the face of local hostility to this proposed action Fleetwood had drawn yet closer to the sectaries and radical officers. This dependence, in turn, dismayed those who hoped that Ireland might revert to a more traditional system of government, in which those protestants settled before the outbreak of the wars would serve alongside newcomers and in which the more grandiose schemes of moving peoples would be abandoned. Moreover, as the protectorate preferred a more conservative approach to legal and religious issues, seeking to heal old wounds and reconcile former adversaries and to lessen the power of the army, Fleetwood's style of rule looked increasingly anachronistic. It could also be blamed for the slow and uncertain pace at which Ireland was recovering. Yet, despite the worrying reports emanating from Dublin, the protector was reluctant to dismiss him. Since the end of 1652 the two had enjoyed a closer relationship. Cromwell's daughter Bridget [see ], left a widow by the death of her first husband, Ireton, married Fleetwood as his second wife, following the death of Frances (née Smith) in November 1651. But for Cromwell, always anxious to avoid charges of dynasticism and nepotism, this new closeness was not of itself a reason to treat Fleetwood gently. It was clear that he was held in strong affection by the army and the godly congregations. Cromwell may have been wary about upsetting these groups further by sacrificing him. Already they were perturbed by the growing conservatism of the protectorate. Moreover, Cromwell shared some of his attitudes, although, in contrast to the latter, the protector was hostile to those who advanced worldly ambitions under cover of an assumed godliness.

Cromwell adopted an unsatisfactory compromise over the government of Ireland. Already, in August 1654, the parliamentary commissioners had been replaced as civil governors of Ireland by a lord deputy assisted by a council. At this date Fleetwood became lord deputy, so acquiring the dignity to which Lambert had vainly aspired. These dispositions indicated the more conservative tone of the protectorate. On 25 December 1654 Oliver Cromwell named his abrasive and energetic son Henry as a member of the Irish council and major-general of the Irish forces. He was sent to Dublin to discharge the offices only in August 1655. In September 1655 Fleetwood was recalled to England. Effectively, he had been superseded by his brother-in-law. But he kept his position as lord deputy, retaining it until his commission expired in September 1657. Then, after an interval of two months, Henry Cromwell replaced him. The awkward arrangement ensured that for two years between 1655 and 1657 there were rival rulers of Ireland. Henry Cromwell, on the spot, altered some of Fleetwood's priorities. Malcontents within the army and sects were handled more roughly; well-affected civilians in the local protestant communities were wooed. The scheme to corral the defeated Irish in Connaught and co. Clare was silently modified. Yet, Fleetwood, back in London, took his seat on the protector's council, to which he had been appointed in December 1654. He was henceforward deferred to as the resident expert on Ireland. Also, as lord deputy, he retained useful patronage. He listened patiently to the disgruntled, and relayed their grumbles about Henry Cromwell to the protector.

Later career

Fleetwood, nominally still in charge of Ireland, gained extra responsibilities in England. He had accepted the largely honorific lieutenancy of Wychwood Forest in Oxfordshire, apparently as a substitute for the hereditary lieutenant who was a minor. When the system of major-generals was introduced in September 1655, he was given the care of the counties of Buckingham, Cambridge, Essex, Hertford, Norfolk, Oxford, and Suffolk, and the Isle of Ely. This unusually large territory, although one with which he was familiar through his service in the 1640s and where he had property, would have been a challenge for even the most assiduous. He hardly attempted to reinvigorate the government of the region. Responsibility was largely delegated to two deputies. One, Hezekiah Haynes, had been a major in his regiment. The other was William Packer. The major-generals came to an end in 1656, and provoked a reaction in favour of more traditional civilian rule, which culminated in the kingship movement. Fleetwood was identified as one of three leading officers (with Desborough and Lambert) opposed to the plan. It was rumoured that they might incite disaffection in the army were Cromwell to become king. They also played on Cromwell's own doubts: in the end, successfully. Yet, Fleetwood meekly acquiesced in the settlement when ‘The humble petition and advice’ was adopted in June 1657. He swore the new oath required to continue as a councillor of state. In January 1658 he also accepted nomination to the ‘other house’, another innovation of the settlement. During the last year of the protectorate he was much involved in public duties, such as the reception of foreign ambassadors.

So long as Oliver Cromwell lived, Fleetwood was inhibited from any aggressively independent action. When an angry Cromwell decided to rid himself of the troublesome parliament on 6 February 1658, after it had sat for only sixteen days in its second session, Fleetwood tried to dissuade him. For his pains he was mocked by the protector as a ‘milksop’. To a large degree his eminence, after Cromwell the senior officer in the army, had come about fortuitously. Potential competitors, like Lambert, Ludlow, and Harrison, had disabled themselves by their open dissent from the Cromwellian regime. Following the protector's death and the succession of Richard Cromwell in September 1658, he was suspected of encouraging the army to intervene in politics. How far he initiated and how far he simply acquiesced in the army's renewed activism is hard to ascertain. His residence at Wallingford House in London became a centre for the disaffected. Within the army and among sectaries he continued to be regarded as a powerful patron. Before the spring of 1659 he tended to exert himself on behalf of individuals rather than causes. Moreover, he seems to have restrained the headstrong in the army from offering violence to the parliament. Only in April 1659 did he join his junior officers in promoting ‘the good old cause’, an amalgam of religious liberty and army autonomy, against an apparently unsympathetic parliament and protector. In the resulting crisis the army was the stronger and parliament was dissolved on 22 April 1659. He still professed loyalty to his brother-in-law, the protector, but his inability to rein in the more outspoken republicans among his subordinates meant that he was soon overborne. The protectorate ended early in May 1659. Under the newly reinstated Commonwealth, he was appointed to the committee of safety and council of state. The following month he was made commander-in-chief. His powers derived from and were limited by the Rump Parliament, which had been recalled in May 1659. When his supporters within the army sought to free him of these restraints, parliament retaliated by cancelling his commission and instead vested control of the army in seven commissioners. Of these, he was to be one. But long-standing opponents were also included.

The growing tension between army and parliament led to the violent expulsion of the latter on 12 October 1659. Again Lambert, not Fleetwood, had been the principal in this act. Indeed, in the triumvirate which effectively directed the army—consisting of Fleetwood, Desborough, and Lambert—the temporizing Fleetwood looked the feeblest. But because he was malleable, he retained considerable popularity. Furthermore, in his concern with the causes of the godly and of reform, he saw the army and its allies still as the best custodian. On 18 October he was once more declared commander-in-chief. In practice he was merely one in a committee which now ran the forces. Left to oversee London while Lambert journeyed north, he played his favourite role as conciliator. But, as in past attempts, the jarring interests were too strong to be quietened. Once more, as in Ireland between 1652 and 1655, his indulgence may have created more problems than it solved. When, in the autumn of 1659, confusion enveloped the country, he stuck close to Lambert and the other officers. He repulsed the feelers extended by royalists, including his exiled elder brother. The restoration of the Rump on 24 December 1659 ended his commission as commander-in-chief, and his horse regiment was given to another. Out of favour with the returned parliament, he was likely to be in even worse odour with the restored king. Although not a regicide, he was originally designed to be among the twenty excepted from the benefits of the Act of Indemnity in June 1660. Thanks to the intercession of friends in the House of Lords, headed by the earl of Lichfield, he escaped this punishment. Instead he was simply disabled for life from holding any office of trust.

Fleetwood lived quietly thereafter. On 14 January 1664 he married his third wife, Mary (d. 1684), daughter of and widow of Sir Edward Hartopp. After 1664 he resided at Stoke Newington in Middlesex. His continuing sectarian affiliations were shown by his membership of Dr John Owen's congregation. Owen, whom he had known during the interregnum, in the 1680s expressed affection for Fleetwood and his family. In 1683, during the tory reaction, the Northamptonshire grand jury named him as one who should be required to give security for good behaviour. However, he did nothing to alarm the authorities, and so remained undisturbed for the rest of his life. His will, made on 10 January 1690, suggested comfortable circumstances and a lasting attachment ‘to the poor distressed people of God’, whose society he still kept. On 1 July 1652 he had purchased the Suffolk manor of Borrow (or Borough) Castle, which he later bequeathed to his eldest surviving son, Smith Fleetwood. He died on 4 October 1692 at Stoke Newington and was buried at Bunhill Fields.

Only the sectarian affiliation survived from his years of eminence in the 1650s. As an army officer he had regularly displayed courage and skill. Nevertheless, his eventual promotion to commander-in-chief owed much to chance, with the more experienced and senior unavailable. The same could be argued about his appointment to govern in Ireland: Lambert had been the first choice. Neither as lord deputy in Dublin nor as major-general of a large tract of East Anglia did he reveal particular dynamism or authority. In each place he was hampered by limited powers to initiate new measures. But in Ireland his hesitancy about disciplining the troublesome because they belonged either to the English army or to the religious congregations allowed too much energy to be dissipated in introspective quarrels when more urgent problems demanded attention. Finally, in 1659, the moment at which he enjoyed pre-eminence, he veered to whichever option his military companions inclined. Decisiveness was not his forte.

Toby Barnard


Thurloe, State papers · BL, Lansdowne MSS 821–823 · T. C. Barnard, Cromwellian Ireland: English government and reform in Ireland, 1649–1660 (1975) · C. H. Firth and G. Davies, The regimental history of Cromwell's army, 2 vols. (1940) · B. Worden, The Rump Parliament, 1648–1653 (1974) · TNA: PRO, PROB 11/412, fols. 51–2 [will of J. C. Fleetwood] · The correspondence of John Owen (1616–1683), ed. P. Toon (1970), 159–60, 172–4 · R. L. Greaves, Secrets of the kingdom: British radicals from the Popish Plot to the revolution of 1688–89 (1992), 207 · A. I. Suckling, The history and antiquities of the county of Suffolk, 1 (1846), 336 · M. Ashley, Cromwell's generals (1954), 181–98 · The memoirs of Edmund Ludlow, ed. C. H. Firth, 2 vols. (1894) · Greaves & Zaller, BDBR, 287–9 · DNB


BL, corresp. and papers, Add. MS 4165 |  BL, letters to Henry Cromwell, Add. MS 43724


R. Dunkarton, mezzotint, pubd 1811 (after unknown artist), BM, NPG · R. Cooper, stipple (after R. Walker), NPG · J. Hoskins, miniature, repro. in Ashley, Cromwell's generals · J. Houbraken, line engraving (after R. Walker), BM, NPG; repro. in T. Birch, Heads (1740) · line engraving, BM · oils, S. Antiquaries, Lond. [see illus.]