Cromwell and the Western Design

During the 1650s England had ambitions to capture and settle overseas colonies in the Caribbean which were controlled by the Spanish. Fleets were sent by sea to islands such as Barbados and Jamaica but these met with limited success and were unpopular.


The fleet in the Downs is very mutinous. Blake and Montague were sent by Cromwell to pacify the seamen, who are angry because Lawson is not Vice-admiral. Cromwell took his commission from him, suspecting him to have had a hand in last year’s mutiny. Badiley takes his place, but is not so well beloved as the other. The discontent among seamen is so general that, if they had known they would have security in the King of Spain’s ports, by his having made a fast conjunction [joined] with our King, many, nay most of the fleet would have abandoned Cromwell, who is said to be most odious among the seamen. You will have heard of the orders for pressing 2,000 young women in England to be sent to the West Indies; 400 are already put into 10 ships that are soon to be sent with provisions for Jamaica. This is an excellent expedient [appropriate solution for now] to pay the godly women for their silver thimbles and bodkins, lent the rebellious State at the beginning of the rebellion, for in those Indies, they may have wedges and ingots of silver, to make thimbles and bodkins for all the holy sisters in England. Capt. Carey has brought into Dunkirk 3 English prizes, worth 2,000 l. [£2,000] or 3,000 l. [£3,000]

« Return to Christmas is cancelled!

Extract from a letter to Secretary Nicholas, March 1655

  1. According to this letter, do you think the men who went to sea for the Western Design supported Cromwell?
  2. What is going to happen to ‘2,000 young women of England’?
  3. The author writes that these women had ‘lent the rebellious State’ their ‘silver thimbles and bodkins’ because many women gave their family silver to the Parliamentarian war effort in the 1640s. What do you think the writer of this letter thought of that?