English soldier and politician
Charles Fleetwood third son of Sir Miles Fleetwood of Aldwinkle, Northamptonshire, and of Anne, daughter of Nicholas Luke of Woodend, Bedfordshire, was admitted into Gray's Inn on the 30th of November 1638. At the beginning of the Great Rebellion, like many other young lawyers who afterwards distinguished themselves in the field, he joined Essex's life-guard, was wounded at the first battle of Newbury, obtained a regiment in 1644 and fought at Naseby. He had already been appointed receiver of the court of wards, and in 1646 became member of parliament for Marlborough. In the dispute between the army and parliament he played a chief part, and was said to have been the principal author of the plot to seize King Charles at Holmby, but he did not participate in the king's trial.
In 1649 he was appointed a governor of the Isle of Wight, and in 1650, as lieutenant-general of the horse, took part in Cromwell's campaign in Scotland and assisted in the victory of Dunbar. The next year he was elected a member of the Council of State, and being recalled from Scotland was entrusted with the command of the forces in England, and played a principal part in gaining the final triumph at Worcester. In 1652 he married Cromwell's daughter, Bridget, widow of Ireton, and was made commander in-chief in Ireland, to which title that of lord deputy was added, The chief feature of his administration, which lasted from September 1652 till September 1655, was the settlement of the soldiers on the confiscated estates and the transplantation of the original owners, which he carried out ruthlessly. He showed also great severity in the prosecution of the Roman Catholic priests, and favoured the Anabaptists and the extreme Puritan sects to the disadvantage of the moderate Presbyterians, exciting great and general discontent, a petition being finally sent in for his recall.
Fleetwood was a strong and unswerving follower of Cromwell's policy. He supported his assumption of the protectorate and his dismissal of the parliaments. In December 1654 he became a member of the council, and after his return to England in 1655 was appointed one of the major-generals. He approved of the Petition and Advice, only objecting to the conferring of the title of king on Cromwell; became a member of the new House of Lords; and supported ardently Cromwell's foreign policy in Europe, based on religious divisions, and his defence of the Protestants persecuted abroad.
He was therefore, on Cromwell's death, naturally regarded as a likely successor, and it is said that Cromwell had in fact so nominated him. He, however, gave his support to Richard's assumption of office, but allowed subsequently, if he did not instigate, petitions from the army demanding its independence, and finally compelled Richard by force to dissolve parliament. His project of re-establishing Richard in close dependence upon the army met with failure, and he was obliged to recall the Long Parliament on the 6th of May 1659. He was appointed immediately a member of the Committee of Safety and of the Council of State, and one of the seven commissioners for the army, while on the 9th of June he was nominated commander-in-chief.
In reality, however, his power was undermined and was attacked by parliament, which on the 11th of October declared his commission void. The next day he assisted Lambert in his expulsion of the parliament and was reappointed commander-in-chief. On Monk's approach from the North, he stayed in London and maintained order. While hesitating with which party to ally his forces, and while on the point of making terms with the king, the army on the 24th of December restored the Rump, when he was deprived of his command and ordered to appear before parliament to answer for his conduct. The Restoration therefore took place without him. He was included among the twenty liable to penalties other than capital, and was finally incapacitated from holding any office of trust. His public career then closed, though he survived till the 4th of October 1692.
Being the entry for FLEETWOOD, CHARLES in the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica, the text of which lies within the public domain.