For instance, it was under the absolute rule of a person (Cromwell), and after his death the rule is passed to his son. When was it classified as a republic, as opposed to a monarchy? Was that before, during, or after Cromwell?

  • It's an interesting question, but you should perhaps add a bit more context. E.g. was Cromwell's son chosen as successor because of the direct kinship or because of other (alleged) personal qualities? And what if U.S. voters continue to favor say Clintons or Bushes in elections to come? (Sasha and/or Malia for President, anyone? :)
    – Drux
    Jan 10, 2013 at 12:57
  • Welcome to the site & +1 for interesting question. Jan 10, 2013 at 13:33
  • @Drux - I have one word for you - Kennedy :(
    – DVK
    Jan 10, 2013 at 15:07
  • 4
    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it should have been migrated to politics. It is about political theory, not history. Jul 9, 2015 at 4:08
  • While Mr. Russell is factually correct, I think that an answer to this question can deepen the understanding of history. Most political terms aren't constrained by denotation, and are better understood in the context of history. The real question is why it was important for people at the time to perceive the country as a Republic even if it had the attributes of a Monarchy, and why a Monarchy had to be avoided. (of course much of the answer is "People are irrational"; provide sources and that's an answer)
    – MCW
    Jul 9, 2015 at 11:12

3 Answers 3


In short, because the means of power were dictated by democratic means.

During the time of Oliver Cromwell's rule England was a commonwealth that can be considered a republic because the people were represented in the government by elected officials. After the defeat of Charles I in 1653 the victors drafted the Instrument of Government (full text here), and afterwards Oliver Crowell was declared Lord Protector of the realm. However, the legality of the Instrument of Government was doubted, and in 1657 another group drafted the Humble Petition and Advice (full text here), which declared Cromwell Lord Protector for life, and gave him the ability to name his successor which is how his son, Richard Cromwell, became Lord Protector upon his father's death.

In sum, the "people" of England democratically set up the means by which Oliver Cromwell, and later his son Richard Cromwell, wielded their power. So, although the Cromwells exerted tremendous power they were propped up by England's two written constitutions.

  • 1
    Just put some faint smiley after the word "democratic" each time it appears and you'll have a very good description. :) Jan 10, 2013 at 14:13
  • Yeah. My basic problem with this answer is that you could intensifiy those smileys a bit, and use it to justify the name of "The Democratic People's Republic of Korea".
    – T.E.D.
    Jan 10, 2013 at 14:45
  • A completely valid point
    – ihtkwot
    Jan 10, 2013 at 14:54

A Republic is not the same as a Democracy. It is quite unfortunate that the two main political parties in the United States are named Republicans and Democrats since between them, they have managed to corrupt the meaning of both words almost beyond recognition. A google search for 'define:democracy' gives:

a system of government by the whole population or all the eligible members of a state, typically through elected representatives.

with no mention of 'majority rule', while a search for 'define:republic' will give:

a state in which supreme power is held by the people and their elected representatives, and which has an elected or nominated president rather than a monarch...

with no mention of 'Rule of law'.

The defining featutre of a Republic is that it is governed by rule of law (usually a constitution) and not by majority wishes. Whether or not the lawmakers are elected representitives depends on whether the country is also a democracy so places like GDR (East Germany as was), PRK (North Korea) and PRC (China) are all republics without necessarily being democratic.

A simple example of the difference between the two is that in democracy, a majority can vote banish a minority, but in a republic, that vote would be meaningless because of the protections granted by law.

In answer to the original question, the Commonwealth of England was a republic because it was governed by the laws of the land, regardless of the wishes of its leader.

  • How is the CoE a Republic, if that is the definition of the word?
    – CGCampbell
    Jul 8, 2015 at 15:56
  • I am not so sure about the rule of law angle. You'll notice it does not appear in the definition you quoted. In fact, it seems that by your definition (rule of law) a constitutional monarchy is a republic. Jul 8, 2015 at 17:18
  • @CGCambell - CoE was a republic because the Commonwealth of England was ruled according to a set of laws that we would now call a constitution which could only be changed by means described within those laws. In other words, a dictator or monarch could not make new laws on a whim. That was the whole point of the civil war that put Cromwell in charge in the first place.
    – Paul Smith
    Jul 8, 2015 at 17:50
  • @FelixGoldberg - I explicitly pointed out that the common definition on google did not mention 'rule of law' and was therefore wrong. A constitutional monarchy fails under the secondary part of the definition of elected or nominated leader. In the case of CoE, the government nominated Cromwell as their leader and his son as his successor, so it still counts as a republic.
    – Paul Smith
    Jul 8, 2015 at 17:55
  • @Paul Smith: So how was it not a theocracy, since it consisted of a (probable) minority of religious fanatics imposing their will on the rest through force? How does it differ from say the Islamic 'Republic' of Iran, or ISIS?
    – jamesqf
    Jul 8, 2015 at 20:18

Basically, a state is considered a republic if it has no king (or other type of monarch, i.e. duke, prince, count, atabeg, whatever). That's of course a narrow legalistic definition but that's the definition. As Drux has pointed out, there is no formal reason that the son of a ruler should succeed him, it just "happens", unlike in a monarchy where the line of succession is formally spelt out.

  • Still, IMHO if the important decision about succession is made one guy rather than voters, calling it a Republic (without the word "Bannanna" on the front) is a bit of a stretch.
    – T.E.D.
    Jan 10, 2013 at 14:46
  • @T.E.D.: As you see elsewhere in this thread, we are in substantial agreement. Jan 10, 2013 at 14:48
  • Yes, pretty much. A state without a Monarch is de facto a Republic in which power rests with the people or their representatives. Jan 10, 2013 at 21:01

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