When King Charles I’s head fell off the chopping block on January 30, 1649, the Interregnum began. Under the leadership of Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell, the Commonwealth period would last eleven years. While England and Britain as a whole would change significantly during this period as Cromwell’s New Model Army would become the UK’s first standing army and new Parliamentary power would form the basis of the modern Parliament, nothing in London really changed. However, this was not meant to last. While the city had largely avoided the consequences of war, war would nonetheless come to it and the results would be felt amongst London’s populace.
While the Parliamentarians effectively claimed dominion over London in the aftermath of King Charles I’s death, his son, King Charles II, attempted to take the city back in 1651. Marching towards London by way of Worcester, Charles faced Cromwell on September 3. Greatly outmatched, Cromwell’s 31,000 soldiers of his New Model Army faced Charles’s 16,000 Royalists, many of whom were actually Scottish. The result wasn’t pretty as the Parliamentarians lost only 200 men to the Royalists’ 3,000, while another 10,000 were captured. Charles managed to escape, but the result effectively ended the English Civil Wars and any further attempts by the king to retake England’s capital.
Cromwell and the largely Puritanical Parliament then began consolidating their power through the standing army they had formed. In many ways, the army became the means by which Parliament enforced its Puritan values upon the populace. The Puritans preferred a more austere life and style of worship which became reflected in the lives of many Londoners. Parliament often used soldiers to enter homes and ensure that the Sabbath was treated with reverence. Soldiers were also empowered to seize any feasts being prepared for the Christmas holidays. The army sometimes surrounded churches to ensure the parishioners remained for the entire service.
Additionally, leisurely pastimes were heavily limited and regulated, though they were not eliminated entirely. The city’s theaters that were not approved by Parliament were torn down and Sunday sports were banned. Many inns and pubs were also shut or placed under heavy restriction and even swearing could result in a fine and continued swearing with prison time. However, it was during the midst of this period, some music and opera were able to be born. With the theaters closed, any dramatic performance had to be approved by Cromwell and Parliament, who did so in 1656 for the performance of the first English opera, The Siege of Rhodes by William Davenant.
This wasn’t the only positive thing to happen in London under Cromwell’s leadership. While his motivations have been heavily debated, it was in the mid-1650s that Cromwell permitted the resettlement of Jewish people in England and London. In 1656, many Jews resettled to London, ending a banishment of over 360 years. Many moved to the City of London, and the first synagogue was established on Creechurch Lane prior to the construction of Bevis Marks Synagogue, which is the oldest of its kind in the United Kingdom.
However, many were divided about the return of Jews to London and it only added to the common people’s distaste for Cromwell and his government. Both came to an end by 1660. Cromwell himself died in 1658 and his son took over as Lord Protector, but proved to be unsuited for leadership and resigned in 1660. This permitted the request of Parliament for King Charles II to return and assume the throne once more. The beginning of the Restoration period was celebrated by more than 20,000 Londoners who came out into the streets to celebrate the king’s return. Cromwell, who had been buried in Westminster Abbey, was dug up and posthumously tried and executed for his crimes against the Crown. At least, the English Civil War and the dark period of the Interregnum was over for London and a new period could begin.