‘THE DARK BLACK CLOUD OF NIGHT SHALL FLEE BEFORE THE BRIGHT MORNING STAR’

A collection of 33 Parliamentary Acts and Declarations.

London, various printers, April–December 1653.

6 broadsides and 27 pamphlets (one 4to, the rest folio), plus two more imperfect; mostly printed in black letter, some with drop-head titles, most with with the woodcut arms of the Commonwealth; the first six items are separately paginated, the following 22, though printed individually, are part of a through-paginated set, near-complete up to p. 284; five of the broadsides now loose, the bound acts thumbed at the edges, some dampstains; bound in contemporary calf, very worn, spine defective; foliated in a contemporary hand.

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A fine contemporary assembly of Parliamentary acts and declarations, many rare, issued by Cromwell’s interim Council of State and its successor, ‘Barebone’s Parliament’, which governed between the dissolution of the Rump Parliament in April 1653 and the declaration of Cromwell as Lord Protector in December the same year. The topics covered are diverse, including tobacco, highwaymen, the High Court and the Admiralty, public debt, recusants, and the remuneration of Cromwell’s Irish army. There is also an unrecorded act appointing new naval commissioners.

The collection opens with A Declaration … shewing the Grounds and Reasons of the Dissolution of the late Parliament which bears the imprimatur date 22 April, only two days after the Rump Parliament was formally dissolved. It describes the Rump’s members as guilty of ‘corruption … jealousie … non-attendance and negligence’, and announces the appointment of a new group of ‘men fearing God, and of approved integrity’. The next Declaration, a broadside of 31 April, announced the appointment of an interim Council of State: over the next weeks a body of 140 representatives was nominated and chosen, and the new Parliament (soon satirically christened ‘Barebone’s Parliament’ after a fanatic member, Praisegod Barbon) sat for the first time on 4 July. In the meantime the Council of State issued a number of official documents, of which three are included here, mostly to do with lands seized by Parliamentary forces in Ireland.

The first declaration of the new Parliament, dated 12 July, is an idealistic and poetic proclamation of its aims, announcing the ‘Birth of Peace’ after ‘bitter pangs and throws’. ‘And although we do not see it fully brought forth, yet we do not dispair but in Gods due time it shall be so; and that the dark black Clouds of the Night shall flie before the bright morning Star, and the Shakings of Heaven and Earth make way for the desire of all Nations … we see the Clouds begin to scatter, and the dark shadows flie away; streams of light and appear, and the Day is surely dawned’.

The following declarations and acts are a near-complete record of Parliament’s work until its dissolution on 12 December. Its ambitious aims are evident in a number of pieces of legislation here – At the Council of State at White-Hall (12 November, 1653) ensures freedom of religious assembly for all Christians, as long as they are neither ‘Popish or Idolatrous’; and there are acts for the Relief of Credtors and Poor Prisoners and for the sale (or return to common land) of royal forests.

Among the other acts is one imposing a tax of three pence on every pound of tobacco; another offers a reward of ten pounds for the apprehension of thieves, highwaymen, and especially ‘Moss-Troopers’ (brigands who operated on the Scottish border). Among the acts appended to An Act for the Establishing an High Court of Justice is the 1648/9 Act ‘prohibiting the proclaiming of any person to be King of England or Ireland, or the Dominions thereof’, especially ‘Charls, commonly called, The Prince of Wales’, originally promulgated on the same day as the execution of Charles I. In general the Parliament was beset with infighting and failed to achieve any radical reform, a situation that made Cromwell increasingly frustrated.

An Act for constituting Commissioners for ordering and managing the Affairs of the Admiralty and Navy (dated the 3 December, only twelve days before Cromwell was officially appointed Lord Protector) is an addendum to a previous act of 28 July (also collected here) appointing new naval commissioners. Several commissions are renewed, including those of including those of John Desborough, who was instrumental in the dissolution of Barebone’s Parliament, and Richard Monck, who had distinguished himself in the wars against the Dutch that year. Richard Salway’s commission is not renewed (earlier that year he had withdrawn from all dealings with Cromwell’s interim state council); neither is that of the regicide John Carew – he would later be imprisoned for his opposition to Cromwell’s protectorate. Among the other documents relating to the Commonwealth navy is a declaration of a ‘time of Publique Thanksgiving … for the great Victory’ achieved over the Dutch fleet at the Battle of Scheveningen, which was the final, conclusive battle of the Anglo-Dutch War and resulted in the Dutch capitulating to several of the Commonwealth’s demands. An Additional Article to the Laws of War and Ordinances of the Sea, issued two months later, in October, warns recently discharged sailors that any attempts at mutiny or sedition will be met with death.

A full list of the contents is available on request.

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