After the English invasion of 1650, and the defeat of the Scottish armies at the battles of Dunbar, Inverkeithing and Worcester, Scotland was placed under English military occupation with General Monck as military governor of the country. Up to the date of the Act of Grace the English army had been able to suppress the Scottish resistance to the occupation with relative ease and the occupation, with sporadic but ineffective resistance, would continue throughout the Interregnum up until the Restoration in 1660.
Cromwell’s Act of Grace, or more formally the Act of Pardon and Grace to the People of Scotland, was an Act of the Parliament of England that declared that the people of Scotland (with certain exceptions) were pardoned for any crimes they might have committed during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms. It was proclaimed at the Mercat Cross in Edinburgh on 5 May 1654. General George Monck, the English military governor of Scotland, was present in Edinburgh, having arrived the day before for two proclamations also delivered at the Mercat Cross, the first declaring Oliver Cromwell to be the Protector of England, Ireland and Scotland, and that Scotland was united with the Commonwealth of England.
The Act had its origins in the English written constitution of December 1653, called the Instrument of Government. Between December 1653 and the calling of the First Protectorate Parliament that sat for the first time in September 1654, the Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell and his Council of State were granted under the Instrument of Government the power “to make laws and ordinances for the peace and welfare of these nations where it shall be necessary” and on 12 April 1654 the regime passed a number of ordinances pertaining to the government of Scotland: Ordinance for uniting Scotland into one Commonwealth with England, Ordinance of Pardon and Grace to the People of Scotland, Ordinance for erecting Courts Baron in Scotland, and Ordinance for settling the Estates of several excepted Persons in Scotland, in Trustees, to the Uses expressed.
The first and second paragraphs drew a line under Wars of the Three Kingdoms. Oliver Cromwell, ordained that on 1 May 1654, with the exceptions laid out in paragraphs that followed “in this Ordinance”, that the People of Scotland were pardoned for any crimes they might have committed during the preceding wars and that there would be no further financial or other punishments.
The rest of the ordinance proceeded to list the various exceptions to the general pardon and clarification of some of the details.
The third paragraph excepted royal estates and other possessions in Scotland and so allowed for the sequestration by the Commonwealth. The wording also covered royal possessions that might have been passed to others since 1 May 1642.
There were also arrangements for the confiscation of the estates of certain categories of Scots who had opposed the English Parliament since 1648 and were still under arms against the English Commonwealth after 3 September 1650 or were not now considered by Oliver Cromwell to be reconciled to the new regime. Those who could be excluded by this paragraph were Scottish MPs who had not signed the Protestation against the invasion of England in 1648, those men who sat in the Scottish Parliament or were a member of the Committee of Estates of Scotland after the coronation of Charles II (in 1651), or were in the Scottish army after the Battle of Dunbar on 3 September 1650 (which included all those who had taken part in the Worcester Campaign). Claims had to be lodged within 60 days of the proclamation of the ordinance.
Although the ordinance had been issued on 12 April 1654, and then proclaimed in Scotland on 5 May 1654, like the other ordinances pertaining to Scotland issued on 12 April 1654, it did not become enacted until an enabling act, called “Act touching several Acts and Ordinances made since the twentieth of April, 1653, and before the third of September, 1654, and other Acts” was consented to by the Lord Protector on the 26 June 1657, the same day that the enabling bill was approved by the Second Protectorate Parliament.