Extensive records survive of Cromwell’s speeches during his years as Lord Protector (1653-58), and they tell us much about both the man and the age in which he lived. They reflect his intense religious faith and his grappling with the issues and dilemmas of the English Revolution. We know that he spoke either from notes or extempore, rather than from prepared texts, but it was usual for him to authorise the versions published shortly afterwards. This means that they genuinely capture Cromwell’s ‘voice’.
Many of Cromwell’s longest speeches were to the Parliaments that met periodically during his Protectorate. One of the greatest ironies of his career was that this figure, who had played such a crucial role in Parliament’s armies during the English Civil Wars, then found it extremely difficult to establish a stable working relationship with Parliaments when he was Lord Protector. This was above all because so many members did not share his commitment to liberty of conscience and felt that extending religious toleration ran the risk of unleashing ‘errors, heresies and blasphemies’. They were anxious lest liberty turn to licence.