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John Lambert
Lord Deputy of Ireland
Personal details
Kirkby Malham, England
Plymouth Sound, England
Spouse(s)Frances Lister
ProfessionPolitician, soldier

John Lambert (Autumn 1619 – March 1684) was an English Parliamentary general and politician. He fought during the English Civil War and then in Oliver Cromwell's Scottish campaign (1650–51), becoming thereafter active in civilian politics until his dismissal by Cromwell in 1657. During this time he wrote the Instrument of Government, one of only two codified constitutions ever adopted in Britain, and was influential in bringing about the Protectorate.

He remained inactive from politics until after the resignation of Richard Cromwell, when he was re-appointed to a position in the army in 1659. He prevented the sitting of the Rump Parliament and created a Committee of Safety with which to run the interim government. However, George Monck's march south caused Lambert's army to disintegrate and he was imprisoned in the Tower of London in March 1660. He made one final attempt to resist the Restoration of 1660 after escaping a month later, but his support had dwindled. He spent the remaining 24 years of his life imprisoned, first on Guernsey, and then on Drake's Island where he died in the winter of 1683–84.

Early life

Lambert, born at Calton Hall, Kirkby Malham, near Skipton,[1] of a long-established family, studied law at the Inns of Court in London. In 1639 he married Frances Lister, daughter of Sir William Lister[2] and his wife, Mary Bellasis (Belasyse), who was related to the Fairfaxes.

Civil War

In September 1642, Lambert was appointed a captain of horse in the Parliamentary army of the English Civil War, commanded by Ferdinando, Lord Fairfax. Within a year, he was colonel of a cavalry regiment, and distinguished himself at the siege of Hull in October 1643. Early in 1644 he did good service at the battles of Nantwich and Bradford. At Marston Moor (2 July 1644) Lambert's own regiment was routed by the charge of Goring's horse; but he cut his way through with a few troops and joined Oliver Cromwell on the other side of the field.[2]

When the New Model Army formed in the beginning of 1645, Colonel Lambert was appointed to succeed Sir Thomas Fairfax in command of the northern forces, with the title of commissary-general. Fairfax was soon replaced by Sydnam Poyntz, and under this officer Lambert served in the Yorkshire campaign of 1645, receiving a wound before Pontefract. In 1646 he was given a regiment in the New Model, serving with Sir Thomas in the west of England, and he was a commissioner, with Cromwell and others, for the surrender of Oxford in the same year. "It is evident that he was from the first regarded as an officer of exceptional capacity and specially selected for semi-political employments".[3]

When the quarrel between the Army and Parliament began, Lambert supported the Army's cause. He assisted Henry Ireton in drawing up the addresses and remonstrances issued by the Army, both men having had some experience in law. Early in August 1647 Lambert was sent by Fairfax as Major-General to take charge of the forces in the northern counties. His management of affairs in those parts is praised by Whitelocke. He suppressed a mutiny among his troops, kept strict discipline and hunted down the moss-troopers who infested the moorland country.[2]

At the start of the Second English Civil War Lambert now a young general of twenty-nine, was more than equal to the situation. He had already left the sieges of Pontefract Castle and Scarborough Castle to Colonel Edward Rossiter, and hurried into Cumberland to deal with the English Royalists under Sir Marmaduke Langdale. With his cavalry he got into touch with the enemy about Carlisle and slowly fell back, fighting small rearguard actions to annoy the enemy and gain time, to Bowes and Barnard Castle. Langdale did not follow him into the mountains, but occupied himself in gathering recruits and supplies of material and food for the Scots. Lambert, reinforced from the Midlands, reappeared early in June and drove him back to Carlisle with his work half finished. About the same time the local horse of Durham and Northumberland were put into the field by Sir Arthur Hesilrige, governor of Newcastle, and under the command of Colonel Robert Lilburne won a considerable success (30 June) at the River Coquet.[4]

This reverse, coupled with the existence of Langdale's force on the Cumberland side, practically compelled Hamilton to choose the west coast route for his advance, and his army began slowly to move down the long couloir between the mountains and the sea. The campaign which followed is one of the most brilliant in English history. When the Scottish army under James Hamilton, 1st Duke of Hamilton invaded England in the summer of 1648, Lambert was obliged to retreat; but Lambert continued to harass the invaders till Cromwell came up from Wales and the Scottish army was destroyed in the three days' fighting at the Battle of Preston fought largely at Walton-le-Dale near Preston in Lancashire.[5] After the battle Lambert's cavalry headed the chase, pursuing the defeated army, and finally surrounded it at Uttoxeter, where Hamilton surrendered to Lambert on 25 August 1648. Lambert then led the advance of Cromwell's army into Scotland, where he was left in charge on Cromwell's return. From December 1648 to March 1649 he was engaged in the successful siege of Pontefract Castle; Lambert was thus absent from London at the time of Pride's Purge and the trial and execution of King Charles I.[2]

When Cromwell was appointed to the command of the war in Scotland (July 1650), Lambert went with him as major-general and second in command. He was wounded at Musselburgh, but returned to the front in time to take a conspicuous share in the victory of Dunbar. He himself repulsed a surprise attack by the Covenanters at the Battle of Hamilton on 1 December 1650. In July 1651 he was sent into Fife to get in the rear and flank of the Scottish army near Falkirk, and force them to decisive action by cutting off their supplies. This mission, in the course of which Lambert won an important victory at Inverkeithing, was so successful that Charles II, as Lambert had foreseen, made for England. Lambert's part in the general plan of the resulting Worcester campaign was carried out brilliantly (including his capture of Upton-Upon-Severn), and in the crowning victory of Worcester he commanded the right wing of the English army, and had his horse shot under him. Parliament granted him lands in Scotland worth £1000 per annum.[2]


In October 1651 Lambert was made a commissioner under the Tender of Union to settle the affairs of Scotland, and on the death of Ireton he was appointed lord deputy of Ireland (January 1652). He made extensive preparations; parliament, however, reconstituted the Irish administration and Lambert refused to accept office on the new terms. He then began to oppose the Rump Parliament. In the Council of Officers he headed the party desiring representative government, as opposed to Harrison who favoured an oligarchy of "God-fearing" men, but both hated the Rump of the Long Parliament, and joined in urging Cromwell to dissolve it by force.[2]

At the same time Lambert was consulted by the parliamentary leaders as to the possibility of dismissing Cromwell from his command, and on 15 March 1653 Cromwell refused to see him, speaking of him contemptuously as "bottomless Lambert". On 20 April 1653, however, Lambert accompanied Cromwell when he dismissed the Council of State, on the same day as the forcible expulsion of the parliament.[2]

Lambert now favoured the formation of a small executive council, to be followed by an elective parliament whose powers should be limited by a written instrument of government. As the ruling spirit in the Council of State, and the idol of the army, he was seen as a possible rival of Cromwell for the chief executive power, while the royalists for a short time had hopes of his support. He was invited, with Cromwell, Harrison and John Desborough, to sit in the nominated "Barebones Parliament" of 1653; and when the unpopularity of that assembly increased, Cromwell drew nearer to Lambert. In November 1653 Lambert presided over a meeting of officers, when the question of constitutional settlement was discussed, and a proposal made for the forcible expulsion of the nominated parliament. On 12 December 1653, the parliament resigned its powers into Cromwell's hands, and on 13 December Lambert obtained the consent of the officers to the Instrument of Government, in the framing of which he had taken a lead. He was one of the seven officers nominated to seats in the council created by the Instrument.[2]

In the foreign policy of the Protectorate Lambert called for alliance with Spain and war with France in 1653, and he firmly withstood Cromwell's design for an expedition to the West Indies.[2]

In the debates in parliament on the Instrument of Government in 1654 Lambert proposed that the office of Lord Protector should be made hereditary, but was defeated by a majority which included members of Cromwell's family. In the parliament of this year, and again in 1656, Lord Lambert, as he was now styled, sat as member for the West Riding. He was one of the major-generals appointed in August 1655 to command the militia in the ten districts into which it was proposed to divide England, and who were to be responsible for the maintenance of order and the administration of the law in their several districts.[2]

Lambert took a prominent part in the Committee of Council which drew up instructions to the administrative major-generals. He was the organiser of the system of police which these officers were to control. Samuel Gardiner conjectures that it was through divergence of opinion between the protector and Lambert in connection with these "instructions" that the estrangement between the two men began. At all events, although Lambert had himself at an earlier date requested Cromwell to take the royal dignity, when the proposal to declare Oliver king was started in parliament (February 1657) he at once opposed it.[2]

A hundred officers headed by Charles Fleetwood and Lambert waited on the protector, and begged him to put a stop to the proceedings. Lambert was not convinced by Cromwell's arguments, and their complete estrangement, personal as well as political, followed. On his refusal to take the oath of allegiance to the protector, Lambert was deprived of his commissions, receiving instead a pension of £2000 a year. He retired from public life to Wimbledon; but shortly before his own death Cromwell sought a reconciliation, and Lambert and his wife visited Cromwell at Whitehall.[6]

When Richard Cromwell was proclaimed protector (3 September 1658), his chief difficulty lay with the army, over which he exercised no effective control. Lambert, though holding no military commission, was the most popular of the old Cromwellian generals with the rank and file of the army, and it was very generally believed that he would install himself in Oliver Cromwell's seat of power. Richard Cromwell's adherents tried to conciliate him, and the royalist leaders made overtures to him, even proposing that Charles II should marry Lambert's daughter. Lambert at first gave a lukewarm support to Richard Cromwell, and took no part in the intrigues of the officers at Fleetwood's residence, Wallingford House. He was a member of the Third Protectorate Parliament which met in January 1659, and when it was dissolved in April under compulsion of Fleetwood and Desborough, he was restored to his commands. He headed the deputation to Lenthall in May 1659 inviting the return of the Rump Parliament, which led to the tame retirement of Richard Cromwell; and he was appointed a member of the Committee of Safety and of the Council of State.[7]

When the parliament, in an attempt to control the power of the army, withheld from Fleetwood the right of nominating officers, Lambert was named one of a council of seven charged with this duty. The parliament's evident distrust of the soldiers caused much discontent in the army; while the absence of authority encouraged the royalists to make overt 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 19 August 1659. He promoted a petition from his army that Fleetwood might be made lord-general and himself major-general. The republican party in the House took offence. The Commons (12 October 1659) cashiered Lambert and other officers, and retained Fleetwood as chief of a military council under the authority of the speaker. On the next day Lambert caused the doors of the House to be shut and the members kept out. On 26 October a new Committee of Safety was appointed, of which he was a member. He was also appointed major-general of all the forces in England and Scotland, Fleetwood being general.[7]

Lambert was now sent with a large force to meet George Monck, who was in command of the English forces in Scotland, and either negotiate with him or force him to terms. Monck, however, marched southward. Lambert's army began to melt away, and he was kept in suspense by Monck till his whole army deserted and he returned to London almost alone. Monck marched to London unopposed. The excluded Presbyterian members were recalled. Lambert was sent to the Tower (3 March 1660), from which he escaped a month later. He descended a silk rope and aided by six men was taken away by barge. He tried to rekindle the civil war in favour of the Commonwealth by issuing a proclamation calling on all supporters of the "Good Old Cause" to rally on the battlefield of Edgehill. But he was recaptured on 22 April at Daventry by Colonel Richard Ingoldsby,[8] a regicide who hoped to win a pardon by handing Lambert over to the new regime.[9] He was kept imprisoned in the Tower of London[7] and then transferred to Castle Cornet on the island Guernsey.


On the Restoration Lambert was exempted from prosecution by an address of both Houses of the Convention Parliament to the king, but the Cavalier Parliament in 1662 charged him with high treason.[7] In April 1662 General Lambert was, with Sir Henry Vane, brought to England and tried in June 1662. On 25 July a warrant was issued to Lord Hatton, the governor of Guernsey, to take into his custody "the person of John Lambert, commonly called Colonel Lambert, and keep him a close prisoner as a condemned traitor until further orders". On 18 November following, directions were given from the king to Lord Hatton to "give such liberty and indulgence to Colonel John Lambert within the precincts of the island as will consist with the security of his person".

Later life

In 1662 Lambert was imprisoned in Guernsey.[7] In 1667 he was transferred to Drake's Island in Plymouth Sound, at the entrance to the Hamoaze, and he died there during the severe winter of 1683–84. The site of his grave is now lost but he was laid to rest at St Andrews Church in Plymouth on 28 March 1684.


He was the author of the Instrument of Government, the first written constitution in the world codifying sovereign powers. The Instrument of Government was replaced in May 1657 by England's second, last, and extinct codified constitution, the Humble Petition and Advice.

It has been said that Lambert's nature had more in common with the royalist than with the puritan spirit. Vain and ambitious, he believed that Cromwell could not stand without him; and when Cromwell was dead, he imagined himself entitled to succeed him. As a soldier he was far more than a fighting general and possessed many of the qualities of a great general. He was an able writer and speaker, and an accomplished negotiator and took pleasure in quiet and domestic pursuits. He learnt his love of gardening from Lord Fairfax, who was also his master in the art of war. He painted flowers, besides cultivating them, and was accused by Mrs Hutchinson of "dressing his flowers in his garden and working at the needle with his wife and his maids".[7]


  1. ^ "Calton Hall: Calton - history". cite.citation{font-style:inherit}.mw-parser-output .citation q{quotes:"\"""\"""'""'"}.mw-parser-output .id-lock-free a,.mw-parser-output .citation .cs1-lock-free a{background:url("//")no-repeat;background-position:right .1em center}.mw-parser-output .id-lock-limited a,.mw-parser-output .id-lock-registration a,.mw-parser-output .citation .cs1-lock-limited a,.mw-parser-output .citation .cs1-lock-registration a{background:url("//")no-repeat;background-position:right .1em center}.mw-parser-output .id-lock-subscription a,.mw-parser-output .citation .cs1-lock-subscription a{background:url("//")no-repeat;background-position:right .1em center}.mw-parser-output .cs1-subscription,.mw-parser-output .cs1-registration{color:#555}.mw-parser-output .cs1-subscription span,.mw-parser-output .cs1-registration span{border-bottom:1px dotted;cursor:help}.mw-parser-output .cs1-ws-icon a{background:url("//")no-repeat;background-position:right .1em center}.mw-parser-output code.cs1-code{color:inherit;background:inherit;border:inherit;padding:inherit}.mw-parser-output .cs1-hidden-error{display:none;font-size:100%}.mw-parser-output .cs1-visible-error{font-size:100%}.mw-parser-output .cs1-maint{display:none;color:#33aa33;margin-left:0.3em}.mw-parser-output .cs1-subscription,.mw-parser-output .cs1-registration,.mw-parser-output .cs1-format{font-size:95%}.mw-parser-output .cs1-kern-left,.mw-parser-output .cs1-kern-wl-left{padding-left:0.2em}.mw-parser-output .cs1-kern-right,.mw-parser-output .cs1-kern-wl-right{padding-right:0.2em}
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Chisholm 1911, p. 108.
  3. ^ Chisholm 1911, p. 108 cites Firth 1892, p. 11
  4. ^ Atkinson 1911, 47. Lambert in the north..
  5. ^ Atkinson 1911, 49. Preston Fight..
  6. ^ Chisholm 1911, pp. 108–109.
  7. ^ a b c d e f Chisholm 1911, p. 109.
  8. ^ Greaves 1986, pp. 27–29.
  9. ^ "Sunday 22 April 1660". The Diary of Samuel Pepys.



Further reading

1893 text

John Lambert, major-general in the Parliamentary army. The title Lord was not his by right, but it was frequently given to the republican officers. He was born in 1619, at Calton Hall, in the parish of Kirkby-in-Malham-Dale, in the West Riding of Yorkshire. In 1642 he was appointed captain of horse under Fairfax, and acted as major-general to Cromwell in 1650 during the war in Scotland. After this Parliament conferred on him a grant of lands in Scotland worth L1000 per annum. He refused to take the oath of allegiance to Cromwell, for which the Protector deprived him of his commission. After Cromwell’s death he tried to set up a military government. The Commons cashiered Lambert, Desborough, and other officers, October 12th, 1659, but Lambert retaliated by thrusting out the Commons, and set out to meet Monk. His men fell away from him, and he was sent to the Tower, March 3rd, 1660, but escaped. In 1662 he was tried on a charge of high treason and condemned, but his life was spared. It is generally stated that he passed the remainder of his life in the island of Guernsey, but this is proved to be incorrect by a MS. in the Plymouth Athenaeum, entitled “Plimmouth Memoirs collected by James Yonge, 1684” This will be seen from the following extracts quoted by Mr. R. J. King, in “Notes and Queries,” “1667 Lambert the arch-rebel brought to this island [St. Nicholas, at the entrance of Plymouth harbour].” “1683 Easter day Lambert that olde rebell dyed this winter on Plimmouth Island where he had been prisoner 15 years and more.”

This text comes from a footnote on a diary entry in the 1893 edition edited by Henry B. Wheatley.

7 Annotations

David Gurliacci  •  Link

Here's historian Thomas Macaulay's description of Lambert and his ilk:

"The officers who had the principal influence among the troops stationed near London [in 1659 and early 1660] ... were men distinguished by valour and conduct in the field, but destitute of the wisdom and civil courage which had been conspicuous in their deceased leader [Oliver Cromwell]. Some of them were honest, but fanatical, Independents and Republicans. Of this class Fleetwood was the representative. Others were impatient to be what Oliver [Cromwell] had been. His rapid elevation, his prosperity and glory, his inauguration in the Hall, and his gorgeous obsequies in the Abbey, had inflamed their imagination. They were as well born as he, and as well educated: they could not understand why they were not as worthy to wear the purple robe, and to wield the sword of state: and they pursued the objects of their wild ambition, not, like him, with patience, vigilance, sagacity, and determination, but with the restlessness and irresolution characteristic of aspiring mediocrity. Among these feeble copies of a great original the most conspicuous was Lambert."

-- The History of England From the Accession of James II, by Thomas Babington Macaulay, Vol. I, Chapter 1 (available online from Project Gutenberg)

David Quidnunc  •  Link

Winston Churchill on Lambert in 1659:

"Lambert was a man of high ability, with a military record second only to Oliver Cromwell's and a wide knowledge of politics. He did not attempt to make himself Lord Protector. Far different were the ideas that stirred him. His wife, a woman of culture and good family, cherished Royalist sympathies and family ambitions. A plan was proposed to which she and the General lent themselves, for the marriage of their daughter to Charles II's brother, the Duke of York, as part of a process by which Lambert, if he became chief magistrate of the Republic, would restore the King to the throne. This project was seriously entertained on both sides . . . His [Lambert's] course was secret, tortuous, and full of danger. Already Fleetwood's suspicions were aroused, and a deep antagonism grew between these two military chiefs. At the same time the Army, sensing its own disunity, began to have misgivings about its violent actions against Parliament. . . .

"The schism in the rank and file was beginning to destroy the self-confidence of the troops and put an end to the rule of the sword in England. At Christmas [1659] the Army [at least in the area of London] resolved to be reconciled with Parliament."

-- "A History of the English Speaking Peoples," Vol. II, The New World (1956); Chapter 21, "The Restoration"

Glyn  •  Link

Press the link to see this painting of John Lambert, which is in the National Portrait Gallery in London near that of Samuel Pepys.

Mary Merivel  •  Link

John Lambert was one of the last warriors for "the Good Old Cause", and the man of the noble ideals. His life has been sold to royalists by the person I don't want to mention at all. That man bought his own forgiveness by taking Lambert.

John Lambert, the man of glory and misery, has finished his remarkable life in prison. After the death of his beloved wife Frances, he had lost his will to life but had to suffer eight more years...

Bill  •  Link

LAMBERT, JOHN (1619-1683) soldier; took up arms for the parliament at the beginning of the civil war; commissary-general of Fairfax's army, 1644; in command of a regiment in the new model, 1646; assisted Ireton in drawing up the 'Heads of the Proposals of Army,' 1647; commander of the army in the north, 1647; engaged against the royalist Scottish army, 1648; took part in the battle of Dunbar, 1650, of Worcester, 1651; deputy lord-lieutenant of Ireland, 1652; president of the council appointed by the officers of the army, 1653; was the leading spirit in the council of officers who offered the post of protector to Cromwell, and a member of the Protector's council of state; major-general of the army; a lord of the Cinque ports; retired on account of a breach with Cromwell about the regal title; М.P., Pontefract, 1659; supported Richard Cromwell and recovered his old position; member of the committee of safety and of the council of state, 1659; major-general of the army sent to oppose Monck's advance into England; deprived of his commands, 1660; arrested and committed to the Tower; escaped and collected troops, but without success, 1660; again committed to the Tower, 1661; sent to Guernsey, 1661; tried for high treason and condemned to death, 1662; sent back to Guernsey; imprisoned till death, 1664-1683.
---Dictionary of National Biography: Index and Epitome. S. Lee, 1906.

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Chart showing the number of references in each month of the diary’s entries.