Cromwell's Protectorate is widely viewed as a time of strict, Puritanical rule, with Cromwell as the era's dour supervising figure. In reality, however, Cromwell was not an exceptionally dour or moralistic man. It is true that in the first years of the Protectorate, Puritan social mores exercised considerable influence over English public life. Simple clothes became the fashion, and women who wore make-up of any kind were scorned. The Church of England turned away from its elaborate rituals and décor, and adopted a new austerity instead. Cromwell also supported an extensive public campaign against individual vices like drunkenness, adultery, swearing, and so on.

By 1655, however, English society began to liven up, in part because of Cromwell began encouraging the creation of a new, dynamic social elite in the capital. Entertainment such as dancing and musical performances became socially acceptable at this time, and fashions in dress and even in women's hair and make-up became more vibrant. Cromwell saw this recreation of elite London as a necessary step toward stable government, and his own family became personally attached to individuals who were more Royalist than Puritan. Two of Cromwell's daughters married noblemen, one of whom, Lord Falconbridge, would actually become a close adviser to Charles II when the monarchy was restored in 1660.

Despite these close associations with former supporters of the monarchy, Cromwell's government faced continued opposition from Royalists within the population. In March 1655, Royalist forces rose up in rebellion in an uprising known as Penruddock's Rebellion. The uprising was quickly subdued by the army. Around this time, however, some Royalists began allying themselves with the remaining Levellers. Despite the fact that the Royalists and Levellers came from other sides of the political spectrum, they united over their dislike of Cromwell and his regime. Nonetheless, Cromwell was able to fracture this alliance by frightening each side with the idea of a government run by the other. Cromwell's foreign policy efforts in the first years of the Protectorate also deserve mention. In April 1654, with the support of his Council of State, Cromwell moved to end England's war with the Dutch, and was able to reach a peace treaty with the Netherlands. Afterwards, again with the support of his Council of State, Cromwell ended England's amicable relationship with the Spanish and made amicable overtures toward the French instead. Cromwell also took an interest in England's colonies in the New World. His policy, which he called Western Design, focused on urging greater English settlement of Jamaica and the West Indies, and on strengthening England's navy.

Cromwell also made numerous civic reforms. His Council passed ordinances that brought relief to debtors and to poor prisoners who could not afford bail payments. Cromwell reorganized England's treasury, known as The Exchequer, to make it more efficient. He also supported state subsidies for universities and tried to iron out the complicated English court system. Most notably, Cromwell gave state protection to Baptists, Presbyterians, Independents, and other formerly persecuted Protestant minorities. Cromwell's opinion of Roman Catholics, however, remained low, and they were afforded no such protection.

Popular pages: Oliver Cromwell