John Lambert - Protectorate to Death.
In October 1651 Lambert was made a commissioner to settle the affairs of Scotland, and succeeded Ireton as Lord Deputy of Ireland on Ireton’s death in January 1652. Parliament soon afterwards reconstituted the Irish administration, and Lambert refused to accept office on the new terms.
Henceforward he began to oppose the Rump or Long Parliament of 50 Independent MPs who effectively ruled the country. In the Council of Officers Lambert headed the party desiring representative government, as opposed to Harrison, who favoured a selected oligarchy of "God-fearing" men, but both joined in urging Cromwell to dissolve the Long Parliament by force.
At the same time Lambert was consulted by the Parliamentary leaders as to the possibility of dismissing Cromwell from his command, and on the 15th March 1653, Cromwell referred to him contemptuously as "bottomless Lambert."
On the 20th April however Lambert accompanied Cromwell when he dismissed the Council of State, on the day of the forcible expulsion of the Parliament.
Lambert now favoured the formation of a small executive council, to be followed by an elective parliament with powers limited by a written instrument of government. Some looked on him as a possible rival of Cromwell for the chief executive power, while the Royalists for a short time had hopes of his support. He sat, with Cromwell, Harrison and Desborough, in the Nominated Parliament of 1653. When the unpopularity of that assembly increased Cromwell drew nearer to him.
In November 1653 Lambert presided over a meeting of officers to discuss the constitutional settlement and the forcible expulsion of the Nominated Parliament. On the 1st December he unsuccessfully urged Cromwell to assume the title of King. On 12th December the Parliament resigned its power to Cromwell, and on the 13th the officers consented to the Instrument of Government, drafted by Lambert.
In the foreign policy of the Protectorate he advocated alliance with Spain and war with France. Lambert also strongly opposed an expedition to the West Indies. In the parliamentary debates on the Instrument of Government in 1654, Lambert’s proposal that the office of Protector should be made hereditary was defeated. Lord Lambert, as he was now known, represented the West Riding in the parliaments of 1654 and 1656.
In August 1655 he organised the militia who were to keep order in the ten districts of England, and was one of the major-generals appointed to a command. It is suggested that the instructions to the major-generals were the origin of the divergence of opinion between Lambert and Cromwell.
In February 1657 Lambert, who had previously urged Cromwell to take the title of King, opposed this proposal when it was made by Parliament, and with Fleetwood, headed a deputation of officers to persuade Cromwell to stop the proceedings. There followed a complete rift between the 2 men and Lambert refused to take the oath of allegiance. He was deprived of his army commission and numerous official appointments, but received a pension of £2,000 a year, with which he retired to his home at Wimbledon.
Here he devoted his time to his family, his garden and the cultivation of flowers, which he greatly enjoyed, and his other many and varied pursuits. Lambert acquired numerous paintings from the royal collection for his homes whilst in London. His circle of friends and acquaintances during his post war period reflects Lambert’s wide range of interests and is reputed to have included the likes of John Baptist Gaspars (artist), Jeremiah Shakerley (astronomer), Sir William Petty, ( physician and economist - reputed to be a “genius” ), Robert Morison (botanist) and Thomas Killigrew (dramatist and courtier). Cromwell sought a reconciliation with Lambert before his death.
When Richard Cromwell was proclaimed Protector his chief difficulty lay with the army, over which he exercised no effective control. It was very generally believed that Lambert, who was popular with the army, though holding no military commission, would install himself in Oliver's seat of power. Richard's supporters tried to reconcile Lambert and the Royalist leaders made approaches to him, even proposing that Charles II. should marry Lambert's daughter. Lambert at first gave lukewarm support to Richard Cromwell.
Lambert was elected a the Member of Parliament for Pontefract under the title of John Lord Lambert and was a Member of that Parliament which met in January 1659. He was restored to his commands and named upon all public committees. At this time he vigourously defended the Constitution which he had worked so hard to establish. He headed the deputation to the Speaker of the Commons, William Lenthall, in May inviting the return of the Rump Parliament. This led to the retirement of the ineffective Richard Cromwell into obscurity.
Lambert was then appointed a member of the Committee of Safety and the Council of State and was one of the “Council of Seven” charged by the Parliament with the duty of nominating officers. Parliament’s distrust of the soldiers caused discontent in the army, and the Royalists were encouraged to make open attempts to restore Charles II., the most serious of which, under Sir George Booth and the Earl of Derby, was crushed by Lambert near Chester on the 19th August. Parliament awarded Lambert a jewel said to be of £1000 value and a letter of thanks for this service.
The republican party in the House took offence at a petition from Lambert’s army that Fleetwood might be made Lord-General and himself Major-General.
On the 12th October 1659 the Commons dismissed Lambert and other officers from the army but retained Fleetwood as head of a military council under the authority of the Speaker. On the next day Lambert forcible prevented the Members from entering the House.
On the 26th a "Committee of Safety" was appointed, of which Lambert was a member. He was also appointed Major-General, and Fleetwood General, of the forces in England and Scotland.
Lambert was sent, with a large force to meet Monck, who was in command of the English forces in Scotland and had advanced into England in support of the Restoration of the Monarchy, either to negotiate with him or force him to terms.
Against his advice a treaty was projected between Monck and the Council of State which eventually led to the restoration of the Stuarts to the throne. Lambert’s army broke up before Monck's southern advance, and Monck marched to London unopposed.
Lambert returned to London. The "excluded" Presbyterian members were recalled and Lambert was sent to the Tower on the 3rd March 1660. He escaped a month later, it is said disguised in woman’s clothing, and tried to rekindle the civil war but was recaptured on the 24th April by Colonel Ingoldsby.
On the Restoration he was exempted from execution by an address of both Houses to the King but kept in close confinement in the Channel Islands. He was conveyed to Guernsey in October 1660 and confined in Castle Cornet. His wife, Frances, petitioned the King and was allowed to join her husband with 3 of their children. Whilst at Castle Cornet he was permitted to have a small garden where he indulged his passion for gardening and flowers. He still had many influential friends on both sides and this must have greatly helped to alleviate his unfortunate predicament.
In 1662 the next Parliament charged Lambert with high treason. He was first kept in custody in Guernsey but his health was declining. He was later moved to St. Nicholas's Island, Plymouth Sound. Frances Lambert took a house in Plymouth and continued to visit her husband when permitted. Her death, aged 54, brought an end to 37 years of marriage and must have been a massive blow to Lambert but he lived on for 8 more years. He was allowed another garden and had occasional visitors, amongst them the prominent Quaker, Miles Halhead, Samuel Pepys and the King himself. In the hard winter of 1683/84 after 23 years imprisonment he caught a chill and passed away.
John Lambert was laid to rest in St Andrews church yard at Plymouth. Sadly his grave is lost and there is no fitting memorial for one of the outstanding soldiers, administrators, politicians and thinkers of his time who was so influential during the Civil Wars and the days of the Protectorate. He was a man of great courage, honesty, integrity and many talents with immense intellect and vision which he brought into effect in so many ways.
In the village church at Kirkby Malham where John Lambert was raised is a modest plaque to commemorate this great man. It reads :-
“This tablet is dedicated to the memory of
General John Lambert 1619 - 1683
a native of this parish who, in the Civil Wars,
laboured for the good of this nation in the Parliamentary cause
and was buried in
St Andrew’s Church Plymouth.”