Fleetwood, Charles (d. 1692), soldier and lord deputy of Ireland, was third son of Sir Miles Fleetwood of Aldwincle, Northamptonshire, England, and his wife Anne, daughter of Nicholas Luke of Woodend, Bedfordshire. After being admitted to Gray's Inn (30 November 1638), he became a supporter of parliament and entered the life guard of the earl of Essex at the outbreak of the English civil war in 1642. Thereafter his martial prowess led to rapid promotion: he was made a captain by the time he took part in the battle of Naseby (September 1643), and head of a regiment of horse on the formation of the New Model Army (1645). He entered parliament as MP for Marlborough in May 1646 and played a prominent role in the dispute between the army and parliament in 1647, being popular with the radicals in the army. His men were involved in the capture of Charles I in that year but he played no role in the king's subsequent execution.
After a period of obscurity, he was appointed governor of the Isle of Wight (14 August 1649) and then played a key role in the Scottish campaign of Oliver Cromwell (qv) in late 1650, in which he served as lieutenant-general of the horse and fought with distinction at the battle of Dunbar. He was elected to the council of state for the first time on 17 February 1651 before assisting Cromwell in destroying an invading army of Scottish royalists at the battle of Worcester in September. On 10 July 1652 he became commander in chief of the forces in Ireland and, accordingly, de facto governor of the island, also being made commissioner for the civil government of Ireland. Later in the same year he married Cromwell's eldest daughter, Bridget, widow of Henry Ireton (qv). He had previously been married to Frances (d. November 1651), daughter of Thomas Smith of Winston, Norfolk.
His colleagues commented unanimously on his religiosity and affability, and he had few enemies within the army or republican administration. His ascent owed much to this, but also to luck: he had only emerged to play a leading role in the Scottish campaign because most of Cromwell's best generals were fighting in Ireland, while he had been parliament's second choice for the governorship of Ireland. Throughout his career he deferred to his apparent military subordinates, many of whom were of a radical political and religious persuasion. However, this made him poorly qualified to cope with the pressures of high office during the 1650s when the republican regime, having won the war, needed desperately to legitimise itself by casting off its sectarian mindset and reaching out to a far more conservative British and Irish society, and thereby also win the peace.
Lord deputy of Ireland: repression and land redistribution Fleetwood arrived in Ireland in September 1652 to find the catholic rebels all but subdued; the surrender of the final rebel army took place in spring 1653. Therefore, the main priorities of his government were to consolidate this military victory by systematically expropriating catholic landowners and installing English protestants in their stead, and to inflict various forms of communal punishment on the catholics of Ireland for the massacres of protestants at the outset of their uprising in 1641. One of his first acts was to set up courts of justice to try those who had taken part in the 1641 massacres. These courts executed some hundreds, but wound down their activities in autumn 1654 due to the difficulties in securing reliable convictions years after the event. Similarly, between 1652 and 1655 many thousands, if not tens of thousands, of catholics were forcibly transported to Barbados as indentured labour. Although catholics were not compelled to attend protestant services, the ban on the mass was upheld, and from 6 January 1653 all catholic clergy had twenty days to leave the country, after which they would be liable to execution. In practice, the government often preferred to exile captured catholic priests.
The most extreme manifestation of protestant vengefulness emerged in July 1653, when the English parliament appeared to decree that virtually every catholic in Ireland was to be banished to the west of the Shannon on pain of death by May 1654. This order focused primarily on the treatment of catholic landowners, who were to lose two-thirds of their property and were definitely to be transplanted to the west, where they would receive the equivalent in value of one-third of their former holdings; it was rather unclear in relation to the fate of landless catholics, causing widespread confusion and incredulity in Ireland. The confiscated catholic property was to be distributed among the government's soldiers (in lieu of arrears in pay) and among its creditors. Even disregarding the mass population transfer implied in this order, the assignment of property alone represented a monumental administrative challenge, given the lack of reliable land surveys of much of the country, the difficulties inherent in valuing land accurately in a country devastated by war, the complications associated with resettling catholic landowners in Connacht, and the shortage of land to meet the demands of the soldiers, state creditors, and transplanted catholics. Moreover, Fleetwood was under pressure to proceed immediately with this revolution in Irish landownership in order to improve the government's parlous finances, and to proceed with a reduction in the size of the army. As a result, he presided over a chaotic land transfer, often seeing his attempts to supervise the process undermined by corruption at a local level and by high-level lobbying in London.
Political and religious factionalism Despite his government's efforts to safeguard Ireland for the protestant interest, his relations with the established protestant community in Ireland (the ‘Old Protestants’) were adversarial. The Old Protestants had, albeit rather half-heartedly, supported the king in the late 1640s and generally practised a more conservative form of protestantism than their new political masters. The Ulster presbyterians provided the most obdurate protestant resistance to the government; as a result of which, Fleetwood persecuted their clergy and contemplated transplanting a number of lay presbyterians to Tipperary. However, by 1655 he had come to an uneasy accommodation with the presbyterians. The Old Protestants in the rest of Ireland grudgingly accepted the new regime, but disliked the military nature of Fleetwood's governorship as it entailed high taxes, religious extremism, and their total exclusion from power. His response to Old Protestant criticism was to fall back on his pre-existing supporters in the army. In doing so, he was basing his regime on very narrow and uncertain foundations.
His dependence on the army is unsurprising, given his own popularity among the rank and file, the republic's lack of supporters in Ireland, and the continuance of catholic guerilla resistance. However, the army was itself not wholly reliable, being a hotbed of political and religious radicalism. It became more so under his stewardship, when many soldiers and officers converted to the baptist faith. Although he remained a congregationalist, he facilitated this process and allowed baptist preachers and soldiers to amass a wholly disproportionate share of political power. The strength of the baptists, combined with their controversial teachings, caused great divisions within the army and the government, as baptist and Independent factions vied for dominance. As a result Fleetwood's regime, while having virtually no support in Ireland, still felt free to engage in bitter infighting over esoteric theological doctrine. He deplored, while doing nothing to remedy, this situation because he was unwilling to persecute any godly protestants who did not aspire to an ecclesiastical monopoly. One important consequence of this state of affairs was that little was done to evangelise the catholic majority (and at a time when the catholic clergy were a negligible presence in the country), because the protestant clergy largely turned on one another.
The army in Ireland, already restless over poor pay and delays in the distribution of confiscated land, became even more so after Cromwell suppressed the rump parliament in London and was inaugurated as protector (December 1653). Edmund Ludlow (qv), a leading military official in Ireland, openly opposed the protectorate, but Fleetwood took no action against him and even let it be known that he sympathised with his views. Alarmed at the power of the republican dissidents in Ireland, Cromwell contemplated replacing Fleetwood with a more authoritative figure. In March 1654 he sent to Dublin his son Henry (qv), who immediately formed links with Fleetwood's critics within the government and within the Old Protestant community. It was widely expected that Henry would be appointed to replace Fleetwood, but in April Henry was abruptly recalled to London. Cromwell was reluctant to humiliate his fundamentally loyal son-in-law and recognised that Fleetwood's influence had prevented serious unrest within the Irish army after the inauguration of the protectorate. Nonetheless, Cromwell's apparent lack of confidence in his lord deputy encouraged Fleetwood's enemies in Ireland to redouble their efforts, particularly as elections for the union parliament were to be held that summer. Fleetwood unsuccessfully tried to have these elections called off for Ireland but was overborne, and nineteen of the thirty MPs returned for Ireland in July were Old Protestants.
Controversy over transplantation By then the struggle between Fleetwood and the Old Protestants was manifesting itself most openly over his government's alleged plans to expel all catholics to the west. The Old Protestants opposed this scheme as it would deprive them of tenants to work their lands and presage total economic collapse in Ireland. This was of little concern to Fleetwood's state-salaried supporters in the army, who were suspicious of any backsliding where catholics were concerned. As this debate raged throughout 1654–5, Fleetwood and his proxies recognised that the mass transplantation of the catholic population was not enforceable, while refusing formally to disown this policy. Instead, he couched his statements on this matter in deliberately vague terms, thereby intensifying the uncertainty and insecurity felt by both catholic labourers and protestant landowners alike. Presumably, he believed that the threat of execution would at least stimulate a significant number of catholics to remove themselves across the Shannon.
During 1654 these clearances were carried out haphazardly. Although some parts of the country appear to have become totally depopulated due to mass departures to Connacht and Clare, most catholics appear to have stayed put. Hopes of replacing the catholics with a sizeable class of protestant smallholders, composed of disbanded soldiers, gradually faded as most of these soldiers opted to sell their land debentures to their officers and to the Old Protestant landowners. Despite its patent impracticality, Fleetwood clung to his original policy as a token of his regime's commitment to pursuing the total refashioning of Irish society.
In August 1654 Oliver Cromwell appointed Fleetwood lord deputy of Ireland and appointed a council to advise him. It was hoped that the council would act as a brake on Fleetwood's authority in Ireland. Soon afterwards, Cromwell authorised him to grant exemptions to catholics from the transplantation law. Fleetwood later complained that this encouraged catholics to defy the transplantation process. More immediately, he refused to take the hint and on 30 November 1654 declared that all catholics who were implicated in the 1641 rebellion were to be banished to the west by 1 March 1655. This could be interpreted as requiring a near-universal removal of catholics.
His unwillingness to compromise on this issue undoubtedly stimulated the Old Protestants to proceed in a concerted attempt to remove him from power during late 1654. Irish MPs in the union parliament at London alternately called for Henry Cromwell to be made lord deputy or proposed a union of Ireland with England, which would have rendered Fleetwood's post redundant. Meanwhile in Ulster and Munster, petitions were circulated decrying Fleetwood. In December, Cromwell appointed his son Henry a member of the Irish council and major-general of the Irish army; he was hoping to balance the conservative and radical factions against each other. To Fleetwood's fury, in January 1655 a pamphlet was published anonymously in London condemning his governorship and in particular his transplantation policy. In early 1655 he spread false rumours that Irish catholics had been involved in the massacre of protestants in Piedmont in order to rally support in the army for his harsh transplantation proposals, and had his supporter Richard Lawrence (qv) publish a rebuttal of the criticisms voiced by the author of the aforementioned pamphlet, Vincent Gookin (qv).
Recall from Ireland and later career By then, Oliver Cromwell had concluded that his regime had to establish a broader support base within Ireland, and was no longer prepared to countenance Fleetwood's designs. In July Henry Cromwell landed in Dublin; shortly after, Fleetwood accepted Oliver Cromwell's invitation to return to England. Although he remained lord deputy, he did not return to Dublin, and in his absence Henry shelved the transplantation scheme and wooed the Old Protestant interest. Nonetheless, as lord deputy he retained considerable powers of patronage, which he deployed to uphold his supporters in Ireland in their opposition to Henry Cromwell. During 1655–7 the baptists demanded Fleetwood's return to Ireland, while the Independents and Old Protestants worked to have Henry made lord deputy. This struggle climaxed in late 1657 as Fleetwood's commission was due to expire on 1 September. After prevaricating for two months Cromwell made his son lord deputy on 17 November.
Despite Fleetwood's embarrassing and painfully prolonged removal from the governorship of Ireland, he remained a leading member of Cromwell's government in England, taking up his position there as member of the protector's council in 1655 and acting as major-general of a vast territory comprising the counties of Buckingham, Cambridge, Essex, Hertford, Norfolk, Oxford, Suffolk, and the Isle of Ely in 1655–6. He continued to represent the interests of the army radicals and, although unable to halt the conservative drift of Cromwell's rule, did mitigate it somewhat. During 1657–8 he thwarted Henry Cromwell's plans to erect a state church in Ireland, while in England he helped to dissuade Oliver Cromwell from claiming the title of king.
After Oliver Cromwell's death in September 1658 and the resulting succession of Richard Cromwell, Fleetwood attempted to mediate between Richard and his opponents in the army. However, the army successfully demanded the overthrow of the Cromwell dynasty in May 1659, after which he was appointed commander in chief. During the second half of 1659 he appeared outwardly to be the leading figure in the republican regime and poised to become military dictator. However, to a large extent he had been pushed into this position of eminence by his officers, and the growing disunity of the republican regime rendered obsolete his preferred role as an honest broker between radicals and conservatives.
Unable and unwilling to impose his will on events, he was dismissed as commander in chief by the restored rump parliament on 24 December 1659 as the royalist reaction gathered momentum, and could count himself lucky to avoid execution following the restoration of the monarchy in summer 1660. He spent the rest of his life in obscurity, residing north of London at Stoke Newington, Middlesex. After his second wife's death (1 July 1662), he married (14 January 1664) Mary (d. 17 December 1684), daughter of Sir John Coke of Melbourne in Derbyshire and widow of Sir Edward Hartopp. He died 4 October 1692, and was buried in Bunhill Fields cemetery, London, leaving a son and a daughter from his first marriage and a son and two daughters from his second. There is a portrait of Fleetwood by J. Honbraken in the NGI.