(Unusual bust of Oliver Cromwell, Huntingdon museum)
(James’s powerful documentary on the life and death of Cromwell)
As I sit down to draft and prepare my first full-length article in a decade, Britain has today triggered article 50, which officially means she will be leaving the bureaucratic and unelected (not to mention totally unaccountable) European Union. Britain is certainly going through uncertain and unprecedented times with Brexit, plus another potential Scottish independence referendum and Catholic republicanism (Sinn Fein is now the second largest political party in Northern Ireland, with just one constituency-seat difference between them and their Protestant nationalist counterparts, the DUP). So, if there was ever a time for an Oliver Cromwell character to be raised up to promote and defend Britain, now would be it!
With Britain on the precipice of either shrinking or breaking up altogether (Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all wanting more if not full autonomy from London), England especially should now increase her military, diplomatic, and economic footprint in a post-European Union controlled world.
Whether or not the Lord Jesus Christ returns in my lifetime for His true Church is not clear, but one thing that is clear is how England must continue to plan and prepare more than ever before for every possible situation and scenario that comes her way. On top of this, we can only pray for more religious liberty and freedom of speech, something that has continued to sadly evade and erode Bible believers in recent decades.
In Scotland, the party that now runs that nation north of the border is the Scottish National Party (SNP). To the left (perhaps far left) of politics, and dubbed by some as the Scottish “nasty” party is a party that has long wanted full independence from England. Their counterparts in Northern Ireland (also to the far left of politics) are Sinn Finn, who have also long wanted independence from England, but unlike the secular SNP, they are predominantly Roman Catholic.
Both parties in both nations have long hated English Protestantism and have never shied away from publicly stating this. On the other hand, the English are for the most part quite indifferent and oblivious to such religious and secular hostility, and along with the Welsh, are more than happy to rub along together and remain united in the Union, although in recent years a rise in secular Welsh nationalism has been witnessed.
Unlike politicians in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, the vast majority of English politicians are non-patriotic and therefore remain incapable of motivating and inspiring the people, excluding perhaps a tiny minority of others. England tragically remains in a very solitary, sorry and sad state!
Oliver Cromwell, however, was more than capable and willing to fight for God and country, and I believe would certainly have agreed with my bleak assessment and appraisal of my country in her present and precarious state. And yet, as a Bible-believing Christian living in the last days of my nation, I very much doubt such a person will ever arise.
During our June outreach to Cambridge this year, to my delightful and unexpected surprise, we discovered Oliver Cromwell’s home, a free museum set up in his memory, and numerous statues and plaques, all of which I will share in way of pictures throughout this article. I had no idea how much of Cambridge and the surrounding towns and cities in the east of England remain dominated by Cromwell and his lasting legacy.
I was also delighted to hear from a gentleman in America and a lady in Canada, both of whom are Cromwell’s descendants! I very much hope they will enjoy reading this article on Cambridge’s most famous son.
Oliver Cromwell, the man
On the east coast of England, 418 years ago, a man was born who undoubtedly remains one of the most vilified or venerated men that ever travelled the length and breadth of the nation. After Henry VIII and Martin Luther, Oliver Cromwell remains the most despised man in the eyes of the Catholic church. And yet Lenin, Hitler and Stalin, not to mention Charles Darwin, Mao and Richard Dawkins and other notorious and infamous individuals have practically escaped the “wrath” of Rome, but not Cromwell! Why? Because he, along with Luther and Henry VIII, dared to challenge the whore of Rome directly, whereas the other fiends did not! Therefore, with much being penned about Cromwell by friends and foes, I will endeavour to try and separate fact from fiction.
(Cromwell statue, St. Ives)
Oliver Cromwell was born 25th April 1599 to a middle-class farming family in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire. He was the only boy born to his parents, which had ten children in all (three died in infancy).
The English historian Antonia Fraser, whose 774-page book Cromwell, our Chief of Men I highly recommend, suggests Cromwell’s ancestry was Jewish, with some Welsh blood too.
His family owned a brewery business (mainly for home consumption). Cromwell wasn’t a teetotaller and was known to drink ale throughout his life, especially in his dying days.
Oliver’s father was a Member of Parliament for Huntingdon but tragically died young, when Oliver was only eighteen in 1617, leaving Oliver’s mother the difficult and daunting task of raising her seven children alone. Oliver naturally followed his father into Parliament himself, when 29.
Cromwell once said of himself: “I was by birth a gentleman, living neither in any considerable height nor yet in obscurity.”
Oliver would be sent to a free state school in Huntingdon (his children were privately educated) and just before his 17th birthday, he enrolled in Cambridge University, Sidney Sussex, where his skull now resides. However, he would leave Cambridge less than a year in, due to his father’s sudden and tragic death.
His grammar school teacher, a Puritan and reformed preacher, Thomas Beard, heavily influenced young Oliver’s thinking and theology.
Like John Calvin, there seems to be no clear date as to when or how Oliver got saved.
As a Calvinist puritan, he used the Geneva Bible and held to the eternal security of the true believer.
Fraser states Oliver suffered nervous breakdowns throughout his life, not to mention the dreadful recurring problem of three hours of painful indigestion after meals.
When 21, he married Elizabeth Bourchier, the daughter of a wealthy London merchant. They would go on to have nine children. Oliver seriously considered moving with his family to the New World – in America – during the early 1630s.
Along with being a Member of Parliament for Huntingdon like his late father (an occupation that paid next to nothing), he would make his living by farming rented lands, mainly in St. Ives. (From 1629-1640, Charles I suspended Parliament, resulting in civil unrest and uncertainty. Oliver was one of the many disgruntled and displeased Brits during such unpredictable times).
John Bradshaw, president of the High Court of Justice, declared Charles I to be a “tyrant, traitor, murderer, and a public enemy.” Oliver and country certainly echoed such a sentiment!
Standing at just five feet six or five feet seven, most would have foolishly considered Oliver to be insignificant, but like Peter Ruckman, also the same height, both would go on to have major impacts on their peoples and nations.
(Cromwell’s home, Ely)
From 1640 to 1653 Oliver moved from St. Ives to Cambridge proper, where he was elected MP for the city which now acts as custodian of his skull. During his stay in Ely, he was their governor and would worship at the Anglican Cathedral, which still stands to this day.
Around the time of the early 1640s and with Oliver unknowingly waiting in the wings to be England’s future Lord Protector of the nation and Protestant faith, the Catholics in Northern Ireland murdered over 200,000 Protestants.
Generations of Scots, Irish, and English had long lived side by side together in Eire (not yet a divided nation of north and south). Parliament would later order Oliver and his men to go to Ireland and quell the Catholic uprising and insurgency.
It’s hard to believe now, but there was no standing army per se in the 17th century. Whilst nearly all of continental Europe was Catholic and enjoyed their own national armies, Britain seemed somewhat out of step and rather complacent. Such would now have to change, especially with recurring Jesuit interference on the shores of Britain!
Oliver came of age when he turned forty-three. Fraser says of him: “He was born a military genius, not made one.” He was now England’s chief colonel. Incredibly, his army began with just ten men, mainly from his own family.
The Battle of Naseby in 1645 was his first major victory. His professionally trained men met and defeated Charles’ men, including many of his hired Catholic mercenaries from the continent.
In essence, Charles colluded with continental Catholics in a treacherous way to suppress Protestants that naturally wanted freedom from him and his Catholic wife.
Fraser, a Roman Catholic herself (converting in her teens, due to her parents doing likewise late in life) does a fair and impartial job at accessing Oliver and his legacy, and helpfully filtering and processing fact from fiction along the way.
Incidentally, I met Fraser’s father, Lord Longford during the late 1990s at a meeting my father was chairing in South London. Unfortunately, neither Patrick nor I were saved at the time, so we were unable to share the free gospel of God’s grace with him. His surprise and shock conversion to Catholicism came after a nasty bash to the head, due to a serious horse riding accident. His life and politics were forever changed after this.
Fraser is quick to state how accounts of Cromwell “desecrating cathedrals” were highly exaggerated by those with their own hidden “agendas.”
Much Catholic propaganda has been unfairly printed about Oliver over the years. The dean of Westminster Abbey lived during his unexpected rise to power and once said of Oliver concerning Catholic monuments, how he left them “uninjured,” unlike Henry VIII, who never really left the Catholic church.
Oliver would hire Anabaptists in his new army, much to the disgust of his enemies. Due to the shortage of money to pay his men – whom he loved as his own children – he would end up having to pay them himself, when necessary.
(Oliver Cromwell’s hat, Huntingdon museum)
His men of war sung and prayed as they marched into battle. Banners and flags, not to mention some scripture signs too, were proudly displayed for all to see. Speed and surprise on the part of Oliver’s men won him every battle. In fact, after his death and with Charles II being unable to win or sustain any credible battles of his own, a sense of nostalgia swept the nation, with those of long enough memories mourning the loss of Oliver and somehow wishing the likes of him would return to make England great again.
Fraser gives an account of Cromwell once weeping (no doubt, not a one-off thing) due to money not materializing to pay his men. Friends and family sent money to keep his army on the move. Contrast this at the time to wealthy Catholic Europe, along with the papacy’s vast financial assets at the pope’s disposal!
Some of Oliver’s more zealous men attacked and slashed the faces of female camp followers, mistaking them for Irish, when they were probably Welsh. King Charles’s I men were also known to over-react and do even worse. Fraser calls such “a holocaust.”
King Charles I, the closet Catholic
Charles was a tyrannical despot who overtaxed his people, stole their lands for himself and his cronies, penalized the poor, and agreed to pay an Irish Catholic mercenary army to march on Protestant England! Charles also signed a treaty with Irish Catholics, along with secretly negotiating through the Scots (his on-off enemy) with the French.
(Ominous clouds overshadow Cromwell, St. Ives)
In return for Irish Catholic help, he agreed to close Protestant churches in Ireland and expel their clergy. In short, he was desperate to retain his iron grip on the nation and would no doubt have done a deal with the devil if necessary.
Oliver, during one Lord’s Day, upon hearing how one of his soldiers had been caught plundering, put him to death as a lesson to others.
According to Oliver, Ireland had been planned to be a “model state of religious liberty.”
Oliver would write the following touching note to one of his daughters, Bridget: “Dear heart, press on; let no husband, let not anything cool thy affections after Christ. I hope he will be an occasion to inflame them. That which is best worthy of love in thy husband is that of the image of Christ which he bears.”
With civil war pending in Britain, the Presbyterians had planned to arrest Oliver en route to Parliament and then lock him up in the Tower of London. It is unclear whether or not this was a potential power struggle taking place in his beloved army, or more likely, outside mischief-makers causing him maximum problems, with some considering him weak at the beginning of his rise to power towards his handling of the king.
Around the same time, he suffered poor health and recurring depressions.
Catholics in Britain were permitted to exercise their religious beliefs (unlike Protestants in Catholic Europe), but were prohibited from bearing arms, and specifically forbidden from having any relations or communications with foreign powers, such as Rome.
(Another unusual bust of Cromwell, Huntingdon museum)
Cromwell tried and failed to have Charles restored to his throne. He would also warn against the Levellers taking Charles’s life. Fraser suggests Cromwell even aided Charles’s escape. But later, upon learning that Charles had secretly and shamefully been planning and plotting against the Union with foreign and domestic enemies, his obliging tone quickly changed, and his resolve hardened.
On orders from Charles I, the Scottish army (mainly Catholics) would invade England and suppress Protestants, Anabaptists and independents, in order to firm up the failing king. At the time, Cromwell was suffering from gout, resulting in him having to spend much unwanted and yet much needed time resting and recuperating in bed.
Throughout the torturous time and presence of Charles I in England, he was not only a prolonged thorn in the flesh of the nation but was also a perfidious enemy to all true Protestants and Bible believers.
Scotland mobilized a 12,000-strong army to invade England, to aid the ailing king. They managed to reach Preston. When news of this invasion reached Cromwell, he was able to mobilize and move 8,000 of his men from Wales to Wigan in just nine days, an incredible distance of 140 miles!
Subsequent battles took place in Wigan, Darwen, and Lancaster, all of which Cromwell successfully and naturally won.
Around 2,000 Scots were subsequently killed, with many more being arrested. Cromwell graciously ordered any straggling Scots found to be arrested, and not killed. Cromwell successfully pushed the remaining Scots back into Scotland and was given a civil welcoming when he later arrived in Edinburgh. The Scottish army was forced to disband.
Cromwell’s biggest problem and dilemma was how to deal with the king. By 1648, there was no overall consensus about the king and his fate. Cromwell didn’t want Charles executed, so allowed him to remain on the Isle of Wight while further discussions and plans were decided. However, most of Parliament was clear in that they wanted the king tried and executed for treason, but not before clipping his wings by curtailing his power and influence, during his house arrest.
As with the recent Brexit result, a minority of Parliamentarians tried to block the will of the people, along with the House of Lords too. But the mood and elegance of the nation had shifted from the sovereign to the state. It was now just a matter of time: not whether or not the king should die, but when and where!
With Britain being in the grip of the trial of the century, exhibitionists and others spoke out in favour against the king’s detention and almost certain execution.
One lady, an Elizabeth Poole, declared to the world, how she had received a vision and message from God about the king’s fate. Parliament (unlike today’s mainly secular body) took her alleged vision and message very seriously and invited her to address them.
Lady Fairfax also stepped forward with news of her alleged vision and message from heaven, which agreed with Elizabeth Poole’s, saying that God was not well pleased with the king’s potential public execution. (Collusion and conspiracy between both women should not be ruled out.) However, both ladies’ 11th-hour intercessions were to no avail. The king’s trial for treason and espionage was set for January 20, 1649. It would be overseen and supervised by three judges and last ten days.
The king naturally refused to acknowledge the court and trial; when he did speak, it was sparse. King and court had mutual contempt.
With a guilty verdict being reached, the court opted for beheading, which was deemed the most suitable and appropriate for a disgraced monarch. However, some of the signatories had second thoughts, one being Lord Fairfax.
During the trial and its aftermath, Cromwell was reported to have prayed and fasted for Providence to take its course. Once the court had ruled that the king must die, his son, the Prince of Wales (later King Charles II), tried and failed to secure clemency for his father.
The king would be forced to walk from St. James’s Palace to Whitehall where he would be publicly executed.
The French ambassador, who was present, reported it took fifteen minutes to execute him.
Cromwell was no doubt conscious of the potential reprisals that he and his family might face, but remained stoic and unmoved, believing God’s will must and would prevail.
A cardinal Mazarin was busy “sniffing around for artistic acquisition” before Charles was even buried.
With the death of the king, the House of Lords were abolished; the Chancellor of the Exchequer and all secretaries of state were pensioned off. The Speaker of the House was now the most powerful man and politician in the land.
Cromwell, ever compassionate, ordered the king’s head to be sewn back on so as to avoid veneration and also not to be publicly displayed on London’s Bridge, alongside the many other skulls there! Charles II, however, would not reciprocate this compassion concerning Cromwell’s gruesome and sadistic decapitation of his head.
Cromwell and the Irish incident
With the death of the king, a level of calm in England and Scotland was enjoyed, so Cromwell was asked to prepare for his one and only sea crossing, this being the Irish expedition.
For such a task and trip, Parliament promoted him to Commander-in-Chief. He was given 12,000 men for this difficult deployment, with a cost for such an operation being £120,000.
(Cromwell swords, Huntingdon museum)
Cromwell, at times well aware of his limitations, asked God to “take off from him the government of this mighty people of England.”
King James I once said of Ireland: “Plant Ireland with Puritans and root-out the papists.”
Cromwell commented: “A seduced and ignorant people.”
Today, the Jesuits and others have successfully done in Ireland and Britain the complete opposite!
Parliament would pay Cromwell (also called Lord Lieutenant of Ireland) £13,000 for his services to the state.
During Cromwell’s trip to Ireland, which initially involved a 35-ship convoy, he suffered from terrible seasickness and arrived worn out and weak. His deployment lasted 9 months and 14 days and was one of his most unhappy ones.
His wife and son James, much to his delight, would both join him there later, with James fighting alongside him.
(More Cromwell swords, Huntingdon museum)
Fraser suggests Cromwell was more lenient to Catholic laity than clergy. She also records an account concerning the almost certainly spurious account of a Jesuit priest, Nicholas Netterville, boasting about once having a meal with Cromwell, in which he said: “I am a priest, and the Lord General [Cromwell] knows it. And tell all the town of it, and that I will say mass here every day.”
She also concurs with my belief that such is spurious, calling it “probably apocryphal.” She goes on to say: “But it is curious that Cromwell always showed a weakness for the personal company of Roman Catholics, while he denounced them roundly in the whole.”
Yet the official government policy was that death or loss of one’s property awaited anyone guilty of harbouring priests in and around Dublin. Once again, one would be wise to research the fate of Protestants living in Catholic Europe around the same time, to better understand their precarious fate and survival!
At the height of the Irish campaign, 2,000-4,000 Catholics died in Drogheda. Cromwell later affirmed the figure to be 2,000. There was public rejoicing in England over this victory. Fraser suggests Cromwell lost his head during this campaign, yet Catholics and other interested parties made much use of this incident, turning such into useful propaganda, which remains very relevant even today in parts of Ireland!
Fraser also states how Cromwell was “not responsible” for the Drogheda “massacre.”
(Cromwell boots, Huntingdon museum)
Many Catholics in Ireland preferred Cromwell’s reign over others. In fact, to rescue the Irish from Catholicism had long been Cromwell’s and others’ goal. But the priests’ grip prevailed over the people.
With the mass officially remaining illegal in England and Ireland, people, especially in Ireland, were “very greedy to hear the word,” recalled Cromwell.
Fraser correctly dismisses much of the rhetoric and folk law against Cromwell, during his Ireland campaign.
Upon Cromwell’s return to England, there was a day of thanksgiving.
Cromwell and the Scotland situation
No sooner had Cromwell safely returned to England a victor, he was then dispatched back to Scotland, with a 16,000-strong army.
Around this time, his son Richard (Dick) was backsliding and drifting in life.
(Young Oliver, lost in his thoughts)
Scottish propaganda (no doubt initiated by the Jesuits) accused Cromwell of “awful atrocities,” something biased historians continue to be guilty of regurgitating.
Charles II had at his disposal around 23,000 men that would fight and perhaps die for him, should it be needed.
Unlike the Ireland expedition, Cromwell was keen to take Scotland by “persuasion if possible.”
Like other Calvinist Puritans, Cromwell took several Old Testament passages out of context when citing such for inspiration and even validation, in advance of battles.
Cromwell’s first clash with the Scots saw him victorious, with his men chasing the Scots for miles, killing 3,000 and capturing 10,000. Fraser calls this battle “a masterpiece” for Cromwell, who was awarded a medal by Parliament upon the success of this second and final Scotland campaign. True to his word, Cromwell ordered no mass land confiscations.
When his men reached Glasgow, they were on their best behaviour. However, it was reported that the people in Edinburgh were known for lying, swearing, etc, etc.
As during the Ireland expedition which witnessed him suffer another nervous breakdown, so too would he suffer a similar dip during the Scotland expedition. Cromwell was very much a man on a mission, good health or not. He was simply indispensable to England, and everyone knew it.
Cromwell’s much loved and cherished valet, a Frenchmen, Jean Duret, died during his final deployment to Scotland. This was a major shock and setback, not to mention a personal loss for Cromwell, a man who always cherished loyalty and selfless service from those who fought and sometimes died alongside him.
The rumour mill (orchestrated by the Jesuits and others, no doubt) had worked overtime in declaring falsely and perniciously that Cromwell had died north of the border due to suicide. Cheap and cowardly character assassinations are nothing new, of course, with the Jesuits being grand masters of such deplorable tactics as a way of attempting to undermine a superior enemy.
Cromwell’s son Richard (Dick) was continuing to cause him prolonged grief, this time due to heavy debt.
With Cromwell’s health up and down, London dispatched two doctors to travel to Scotland, where they would wait on him. He did not want them or their care and subsequently sent them straight back to London.
Charles II successfully marched into England and was proclaimed sovereign of the nation. He, of course, offered political pardons to all for their “treachery,” excluding Cromwell of course.
Cromwell and his 28,000-strong army chased the king from Scotland all the way back into the heart of England, covering a distance of twenty miles a day; Charles had barely that number of men.
Cromwell’s march from north to south took him three weeks, and along the way, he witnessed hail as big as musket balls, with hours of lightening too. The god of this world certainly never gave Cromwell a day’s rest in all his days.
When the armies of Charles and Cromwell met, it resulted in the death of 2,000 of the king’s men, with only 200 of Cromwell’s. In addition, 8,000-9,000 of the king’s men were captured. Morale became so bad that a ratio of 18 men would happily surrender to just one of Cromwell’s.
Cromwell and the Crown
Due to the Prince of Wales misreading the feeling and support of the nation, and with his army humiliatingly destroyed and defeated, Charles II had no option but to flee to Catholic France for sanctuary.
(Cromwell’s faithful men of war, Huntingdon museum)
According to Fraser, as Cromwell rose in power and prestige, he had no intention of living in poverty. He would also enjoy grace and favour in homes across England, living very comfortably, with servants on tap to wait on him and his family. Like all good godly men, compromise is something that can so easily creep in, and when it does, it is so very hard to reverse.
Cromwell was never a Republican per se and had always hoped and expected the monarchy would eventually return to Britain in some form. There had even been talk of making Oliver king, with his wife cherishing the idea of one day being queen. Some have also affirmed how Cromwell enjoyed royal blood too, so the concept of Cromwell being crowned wouldn’t have been so extraordinary after all!
Cromwell tried to have the death penalty overturned for certain people but failed. This proved he was not only merciful but also not an all-powerful dictator, unlike his counterparts in Catholic Europe, and especially the popes in Rome, of course!
Ireton, Cromwell’s son-in-law, after dying from the plague he contracted in Ireland, received a full state funeral in London, which Cromwell attended. Hardline puritans would no doubt have attacked his attendance, as apostasy and compromise.
By 1650, Catholic membership in Britain was down, and it was no longer mandatory for Protestants to attend church.
Fraser states how Cromwell suffered spiritual loneliness in later years due to being without a “gathered church.”
Around this time, Cromwell decided to use force to dissolve Parliament, due to their incompetence and failure to satisfactorily reform Parliament. He also believed the Holy Spirit led him to such a decision.
Amazingly, around this time it was suggested that one of Cromwell’s daughters might be lined up to marry the bachelor and promiscuous Charles II.
Cromwell is seen mixing and moving in questionable circles with dignitaries and VIPs, in ways Jesus wouldn’t have. Cromwell was more of an Old Testament saint living under the law than a New Testament saint living under grace. Such is the problem of course when it comes to replacement theology and post-millennialism, both of which dominated his entire political and personal life!
(Cromwell’s church, Ely)
Scotland continued to be a problem for England, for what Fraser calls “guerilla warfare” in the Highlands, no doubt orchestrated by the Jesuits.
Cromwell was also an advocate of the tithes systems, resulting in an unscriptural New Testament clergy and laity system.
Due to pressures and enjoyment of luxuries afforded to him via the state, Cromwell once again fell into depression. Spurgeon was also known to suffer with recurring bouts of depression. (One elderly brother once suggested to me that this probably occurred due to him having too much money and time on his hands. He may have been right.)
Due to continued Catholic interference from Rome (known as espionage, of course), English Catholics were forbidden to be Members of Parliament. They simply could not be trusted to serve the nation faithfully, while being in submission to a foreign leader (the pope) in Europe.
(James outside Old Moseley Hall, where Charles II hid from Cromwell’s men)
Cromwell was now, albeit reluctantly, a cross between king and prime minister. His full title was “his highness the lord protector.” One can only wonder what his Puritan counterparts thought of brother Cromwell’s continual rise up the greasy state ladder!
With his continual rise to power, he made good use of his main Whitehall residence, enjoying lavish settings and a large number of paid servants. Different rooms were also allocated to family, servants, and sub servants. His wife was very much the lady of the manor. There were also different dining rooms for three classes of people living and working for Cromwell.
Cromwell and his family also moved into Hampton Court, spending weekends there. One lady wrote to Cromwell, pleading with him to remove semi-naked pagan Greek and Roman statues from the grounds. He refused!
One questionable painting which adorned his walls was that of the fallacious and bogus “assumption of Mary” into heaven.
With Charles I long dead and the monarchy in disarray, Cromwell slowly replaced him and his throne, even having his image embossed onto money, replacing the king’s once image.
Extra land around Hampton Court had to be purchased by the government to allow Cromwell more space to indulge in his hobbies, being hawking and hunting with backhands. He was very much a man who enjoyed such worldly activities, along with music and even dancing at the Court. Cromwell also condoned theatrical entertainment.
Fraser says he was “no killjoy,” contrary to what has long been reported of him. To call him a closet liberal is probably too much and unfair. But what cannot be denied is how during his reign the arts and poets certainly flourished, enjoying a sympathetic and passive protector.
One bogus and continued urban myth about Cromwell banning Christmas is actually incorrect. It was Parliament that banned Christmas, and yet such a feast wasn’t as popular and commercial then as it is now.
Organs were also installed in his residences, at extra cost to the state.
As Cromwell’s kingdom expanded, many of the king’s former tenants that lived in and around Hampton Court were evicted to make room for Cromwell’s extended family members to move in.
One should never forget, however, how things would have been had the king not been executed and Britain subsequently forced back under Catholicism. Reprisals would have been grave and widespread!
Some leading Protestants of the day and ultra-puritans complained bitterly against Cromwell and his perceived worldliness, with some even lambasting him via their pulpits. But all to no avail.
Cromwell’s love of music also saw him enjoying opera, something new to middle-class England.
He would intervene and pardon jailed Royalists and other opponents of him after some had written to him begging for clemency. Much of his tolerance has unfairly gone unreported.
Cromwell also enjoyed smoking and introduced the habit of port drinking. His love of sport would also include watching wrestling in Hyde Park.
Fraser dismantles any false notion of Cromwell being unfaithful to his wife but does suggest he was known to be a charmer to some of his younger and more attractive female friends.
(Cromwell statue, Warrington)
In short, he was a typical man (probably saved) with two natures, something 95% of Christendom either doesn’t believe in or incorrectly fails to understand.
With Jesuitical and other foreign and domestic enemies of the English state becoming more and more brazen, an impressive intelligence service was created, successfully able to monitor all incoming and outgoing mail throughout Britain. Sir Francis Walsingham was the first to create such a spy network during his perpetual struggle against Rome and her attacks on him and Queen Elizabeth.
As the perceived threat of Catholic rule (in the person of Charles II) became less imminent, laws were now changed, with capital punishment only being relevant for murder and treason.
Around this time, Cromwell was becoming more popular with common folk and members of society, while hard-line puritans and staunch Protestants dubbed him the Antichrist! Some even calculated his surname to come to 666! Prison awaited such people; however, Cromwell intervened on numerous occasions, calling for their release.
In fact, Cromwell was a great believer in “freedom of conscience for all” something never permitted or tolerated in the slightest in Catholic Europe!
He showed great leniency towards English Catholics (unlike his Catholic counterparts in Catholic-controlled Europe towards Protestants in their nations) and would befriend the royalist Lady Dysart, along with Sir Kenelm Digby, who had once been in the household of Queen Henrietta of Maria. Cromwell would also intervene on behalf of a Catholic priest, a John Southworth, who had been caught up in the treason law. However, his pleas for clemency were unsuccessful, with the priest later dying in jail.
What was of interest to me especially was how Cromwell initiated secret talks with Rome (the Vatican) to stop them interfering in English matters. In return, he would permit Catholic worship in private to go unchecked. Dating back to Henry VIII, Catholics were not officially permitted to practice their religion, but unofficially they did, with middle and upper-class Catholics almost never being arrested and punished for this. Also around this time, laws against the Jesuits in England were “loosened” probably as a sweetener to help talks go more smoothly in Rome. This did not work, and talks broke down. No surprise there, of course!
Fraser says: “Charles II was shown no affection by the pope.” Maybe they couldn’t control him as their puppet as much as they would have liked.
The French ambassador living in London stated how Catholics “fared better under the Protectorate [Cromwell] than under any previous government.” In fact, Catholic conversions would even rise under his reign!
Cromwell was very much a man of conciliation trying to keep his kingdom together. To be fair to him, he never wanted this responsibility, and nor was he your typical politician, but as we all know, you cannot please everyone all of the time.
One particular assassination plot against him failed. A trial and two executions naturally followed. It also appears news of this plot had been known in advance, no doubt due to Britain’s excellent and successful intelligence agency and, therefore, once Cromwell had been told of this, he, of course, changed his travel plans that day. Some hard-line Calvinists would no doubt have suggested he failed to trust in God, hence amending his travel plans upon news of this. Either way, he had no desire to die prematurely and happily escaped this potential threat on his life. One of the perpetrators was linked to his friend Cardinal Mazarin! No surprise there of course!
When Archbishop James Ussher died, Cromwell allocated state funds to bury him in Westminster Abbey.
(Cromwell with Bible in hand, Warrington)
Fraser spends a few pages looking at England’s involvement in Ireland and rightly comes to the conclusion that London unfairly divided up much of this beautiful country, forcing some Irish citizens to move out and some non-Irish citizens to move in. (Eire had always enjoyed a mixture of English, Scots, Irish and Welsh all living side-by-side. Cromwell had once considered moving there himself with his family.) English troops stationed there, however, were not permitted to marry Irish women (the same rule applied in Scotland too), unless proof of Protestant conversions could be corroborated.
Fraser also and very fairly dismisses any blame at the feet of Cromwell, for London’s policy of plantations and colonization, pre-dated Cromwell. She also doesn’t shy away from stating how the Jesuits were “arriving in droves to ferment England’s troubles.”
One of Cromwell’s great loves were horses. During one riding expedition at Hyde Park, London, he nearly died. News of this near-death incident quickly spread like wildfire, with some people correctly commenting how irreplaceable Cromwell was. He, of course, survived, later remounting his beloved horses.
Around the time of this serious accident, his 89-year-old mother died. He was her only son and they remained close right up to her death. She would be awarded a burial in Westminster Abbey, one Sunday evening.
Fraser says interestingly “unconsciously or otherwise, [Cromwell] strongly identified himself with the prophet [Isaiah].” Calvin also considered himself to be identified with another Old Testament prophet, Ezekiel. Cromwell and Calvin were both reformed Calvinists and like I have already stated, were guilty of taking certain OT passages out of their context.
Fraser gives an interesting account of when Winston Churchill was First Lord of the Admiralty how he had wanted a ship named after Cromwell. However, this was quickly scuttled by interested parties, one being King George V. It seemed grudges continued to go deep within the royal family!
Oliver as Protector was devastated when news reached him of the horrendous massacre of Protestants, known as the Waldenses in Europe by brutal Catholic mercenaries. The Vatican had long despised and persecuted this peaceful Protestant group. Cromwell quickly donated £2,000 of his own money for the surviving victims.
As the level of political and religious skulduggery refused to decline during this post-reformation world, Cromwell made a secret pact with Catholic France, which forced Charles II to be banished from France, where he found sanctuary in Catholic Spain. In return, enemies of France living in Britain were also banished. With Spain being the mutual enemy of Britain and France, this new Anglo-French alliance witnessed both nations dominate Europe.
With Charles exiled in Spain he promised Madrid that if they helped him return to London to be enthroned as king, he would return Jamaica to them (Cromwell’s men had liberated Jamaica from Spanish/Portuguese rule, but the price his men paid was enormous, with thousands dying and others being sold as slaves to barbarous slave traders).
(Cromwell watches guard over Warrington)
One audacious British naval raid against a Spanish treasure fleet anchored in Tenerife resulted in Cromwell rewarding his commander “his own portrait set in diamonds and gold, worth over £500 as a token of his esteem.” This account of Cromwell showering his servant with such an extravagant gift of himself naturally reminds me of the Gideon idol incident that blighted him too in later life!
As I continue to read and research Oliver Cromwell, I am struck at the similarities between him and Solomon. Both were powerful men. Both had two natures. Both led their mighty and diverse nations during difficult internal and external times. And both were much sought after by foreign dignitaries during their reigns.
Fraser states that during Cromwell’s time as Protector, the number of foreign ambassadors living and residing in London increased considerably to 32. In fact, when such found themselves in his presence, they were expected to bow three times! Diplomats from Sweden and Holland retained very good working relations with London (all three being Protestant nations of course), and subsequently, their ambassadors and families regularly enjoyed weekend retreats with Cromwell and his family at his lovely and spacious Hampton Court.
Nations as far away as Russia and Poland would also stand in awe of Oliver and his ever-expanding empire. The lad from Huntingdon had risen to the highest office in the land, and every nation on the face of the earth that had any knowledge of the outside world respected him and his legacy.
Some would even consult Cromwell for his personal advice and help, something Charles I or Charles II never experienced!
Cromwell was also a very shrewd and clever politician, once reaching out to Charles in Spain to attack Austria (for the love of England, no doubt) while he attacked Spain. Such never happened, of course, but it goes some way in understanding the mind of Oliver and his desires to try and somehow be reconciled to the exiled king-in-waiting.
By 1656 the state, with Cromwell’s approval, began clamping down on alehouses, bear-baiting, race-meetings, cock-fights and public performances of plays, all of which Oliver was not only in favour of in principle but was also known to participate in some of these worldly activities himself, but the state considered such places as magnets for dissidents and enemies of the state to plan and plot their attacks against the state.
With Britain continuing to reap the Lord’s blessings with Charles II safely secluded in Spain, the subject of how or when to officially allow expelled Jews back into the country arose, leaving Cromwell (very much a friend to the Jews) the delicate task and balancing act of consulting with many of his wealthy and respected friends as just how to make this happen.
In 1290 AD, Britain had officially expelled the Jews. A tiny and secret remnant remained in Britain (a secret synagogue had long been their place of worship in London, and some Jews even worshipped in Catholic churches), but many had now being forced out of Catholic Portugal and Spain (one report stated how wealthy Jews had brought one and half million in cash to England) and, therefore, it was agreed that the state should now finally and officially allow them back into Britain.
Some Protestants were also of the belief and hope that the millennial reign of Christ would commence once Britain allowed the Jews back. Cromwell, more a pragmatist than a preacher, knew it made good sense to speed up their re-admittance, but he was met with political deadlock and delays.
Some Jews in Europe were also acting in an unofficial and sympathetic manner as spies for Britain. This, in return, was very much welcomed by Cromwell who was always willing to overlook their religious proclivities (along with Catholics) “in view of their peaceful and profitable intentions,” writes Fraser. It would not be until after his death in 1664 that Britain would officially lift their ban and exclusion.
(Sigmund Freud named one of his sons after Oliver, in honour of what he had achieved for English Jewry, concerning their long-awaited return. Cromwell must be credited for what took place in 1664, something not lost on Freud. And when Cromwell’s life-size statue was unveiled outside Parliament in 1899 to mark the 300th anniversary, Lord Rothschild was present alongside other prominent Jews as a mark of respect for everything Cromwell had done and tried to do for British Jewry.)
If Fraser is indeed correct about Cromwell being Jewish, his support of the Jews is clearly obvious.
Oliver continued to overlook English Catholics publicly attending mass at the Venetian (Italian) Embassy in London. Such tolerance on his part would never have been reciprocated in Catholic Europe; much like one never sees in Islamic nations today, in contrast to Israel.
Along with Cromwell rubbing shoulders with kings, queens, princes, and other dignities, he would soon come into contact with George Fox, the pugnacious and charismatic founder of the Quakers. This movement street-preached disrupted apostate church services, witnessed to priests, and so it wasn’t long before they became a thorn in the side of Cromwell’s Calvinist-leaning state. On one occasion Fox, after being arrested (no doubt due to street-preaching or other public activities) was judged by Cromwell. Oliver’s charm on George did not work, with an offer of dining with him being flatly declined.
(Cromwell statue, Wythenshawe Park, Manchester)
Some of Fox’s friends would attempt to witness to Oliver (they obviously considered him unsaved), only to be politely rebuffed. On one occasion after the ice between Oliver and George had thawed, Oliver kindly inquired into the welfare of a leading woman in the Quakers, a Margaret Fell, offering her a financial gift, due to the compassionate work she was known to carry out in Lancashire. Fox would later go on to marry her.
Fraser interestingly cites a source, suggesting that some of the early Quaker members and leaders were “considered by some to be Jesuits in disguise.”
A law was later passed making it illegal to disrupt places of worship. Freedom of conscience, something Cromwell had long and strongly believed in and tried to implement, didn’t actually exist in reality during his reign or others. Yes, times had changed for the better during his governance, but it was impossible to allow everyone, all of the time, to do what they wanted, when they wanted, as they wanted, etc, etc.
People were permitted to some extent to believe in what they wanted to, but not if it threatened the state, either directly or indirectly. The threat of sedition was always in the back of Cromwell’s mind, a fine line for him and others to try and balance even today!
Oliver, the sincere and obliging pragmatist, knew in his heart of hearts that one cannot be all things to all people, and for this, he was unable to meet and please everyone’s unreasonable expectations.
Between 1655-1656, Cromwell suffered from the unendurable agonies of the stone (bladder troubles). A French doctor would only cross the channel to treat the Protector for one thousand pistols (pistoles) in advance. Eventually, a London surgeon (a Royalist of all people) came to his desperate assistance, not because he wanted to, but because he was medically and ethically bound to. Oliver would later send him £1,000 as a way of a thank-you gift, but the doctor refused to accept it, so a note was later attached “in the name of King Charles,” which resulted in its acceptance.
Gout also returned to plague the Protector, along with the discovery of a nasty boil on his chest. Cromwell no doubt compared his sufferings to that of Job, but persevered he did, as the entire nation needed and depended on him more than they probably liked to admit at times. Fraser states how the boil caused him the most agony; he would drink liquor (more than usual) to alleviate the pain. And on one occasion he drove violently on his horse and carriage to “try and stir the stone from his bladder.” Not long after this desperate attempt to free him of his unspeakable pain, he suffered a serious coach accident, on route to Wimbledon, South London, which tragically resulted in three of his six horses drowning, but no human fatalities.
Fraser states Richard (Dick) Oliver’s much troubled and eldest son and also Member of Parliament may have been a homosexual, although he was married with children. He was always in debt, and one cannot help but wonder if he was being blackmailed, due to this being illegal then.
Throughout Oliver’s life, three known assassination attempts were made on his life, and each time the secret service successfully thwarted such and were able to warn well in advance. (One assailant during his trial committed suicide.) Cromwell either couldn’t or wouldn’t believe his friend, cardinal Mazarin, ever had any direct or indirect part in such plots.
One Quaker leader (perhaps an undercover Jesuit stooge), a James Naylor, upon release from Exeter prison was happily serenaded by crowds on the streets of Bristol. Some of his followers demanded his name be changed from “James to Jesus”, with him “sitting at the right hand of the Father to judge the world.” Such flagrant behaviour and blasphemy was not tolerated in those days, and he found himself under arrest again, this time for blasphemy. Cromwell intervened to lessen the punishment (he was publicly whipped and flogged, and suffered other physical blows), but Naylor refused any help or assistance from him.
Fraser dismisses the long-held view by certain Baptists of the day that Cromwell allowed Mary his daughter to marry a Catholic, when in reality he was an Anglican. The confusion to this probably surrounds the fact that he had many wealthy Catholic friends and family.
George Fox personally told Cromwell not to be “distracted by the king’s crown, but the crown of life.” Fox and his associates didn’t consider Cromwell saved, with some of them telling him such to his face. Cromwell laughed it all off.
(Cromwell statue, Wythenshawe Park, Manchester)
Serious talk and consideration amongst the elite in England wasn’t just whether or not to make Oliver king, but emperor! However, the Protector’s health was once again on the decline. One meeting in which he met with his council saw him arrive “half dressed, in his gown, with a black scarf tied roughly around his neck.” Fraser also states how he was “smoking heavily.” After many deliberations, Cromwell declined the office and power of king (unlike his European Catholic counterparts).
The complexity of Oliver Cromwell (like any saved person with two natures) makes it sometimes hard to understand why he would sign a handwritten letter to Cardinal Mazarin (the letter is produced in Fraser’s book, but it’s shaky and difficult to fully read) in which he signs it off as “…affectionate friend Oliver P.”
George Fox continued to be a thorn in the side of Cromwell, complaining bitterly that universities (Christian-based in those days) were teaching their students (some for the ministry) Greek, Hebrew, Latin, “whereas Peter and John, that couldn’t read letters, preached the Word, Christ Jesus.” And he was absolutely right!
Around five million people lived in Britain in the 17th century, and like today, the country was practically bankrupt.
In Oliver’s dying days he suffered not only with insomnia, migraines, vertigo and giddiness, but needed opium leaving him “in a half-dead state for many hours; almost bedroom-bound too, not eating with his family for eight days.” He would also discover a nasty abscess on his back. Once he had felt like Job, now it was Paul too.
On top of his deteriorating health, his favourite daughter Elizabeth was also gravely ill. The stress and strain for both dying father and daughter no doubt sped up their deaths, but as one historian stated, neither allowed the other to be aware of their internal agony and anguish for the other.
Fraser states that the vast financial cost for Elizabeth’s medicines and potions to try and save her life were never fully paid. George Fox would also make a surprise and secret visit to her bedside, where he counselled her to draw closer to Christ for comfort. She appreciated his visit and words of compassion very much. Upon her death, Cromwell collapsed completely and was therefore too grief-stricken to attend her funeral.
She was buried at Westminster Abbey at midnight. One can only speculate why her funeral was conducted so late.
Cromwell took much solace from Philippians 4, having it read to him in the days following her untimely death. Oliver would also suffer from terrible fits. Fraser suggests the underlining cause of his immune system collapsing may have been malaria, which he contracted from the swamps of Ireland. Rumours of poison by secret papists are unlikely. But the infection caused by the stone, believes Fraser, caused his ultimate death.
The following quotes of Cromwell found in Fraser’s excellent book must be shared here:
“Tell me, is it possible to fall from grace?” Cromwell asked a minister waiting on him. The answer was of course, no!
“Faith in the Covenant is my only support; yet if I believe not, He remains faithful.”
“Three times he cried out, “It is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of a living God.”
“Lord, though I am but a miserable and wretched creature, I am in Covenant with Thee through grace.”
(Oliver Cromwell, Britain’s chief defender)
Such poignant statements from Oliver Cromwell are truly sobering. To the end, he remained a Calvinist, yet bouts of doubts and depressions from a man who led England for barely a decade surely reflect the two natures of the believer.
On Friday 3rd September 1658, Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector of Great Britain died in his 60th year. He was buried in haste and initially in secret, due to his embalming going wrong. Unbeknown to the public and the wider society, two effigies were used along with an empty coffin while he lay in state in Westminster Abbey for three months.
The Quakers were shocked at the cost and pomp afforded to Cromwell’s state funeral. Fraser states it cost the government £19,000 compared to James I being £50,000. Either way, like Margaret Thatcher’s almost state-like funeral in 2013, the powers-that-be were always going to give Britain’s finest prince the best send-off the state could possibly offer.
Rightly or wrongly, Richard Cromwell was appointed by London to succeed his father, but it is my belief that Oliver deliberately omitted to name his successor (he had many years to do this) because he believed Providence ‒ and Providence alone ‒ would decide his successor, much as he believed it had done in regards to his own call for the service of a nation he very much loved and cherished.
Within just months of Oliver’s death and with Richard being unable to credibly govern and hold the nation together, he was granted six months of immunity from arrest. However, fearing a royalist assassin or two, he fled to France, where he used numerous aliases, one being John Clarke. Around this time, Parliament was scrutinizing Oliver’s widow’s annual stipend of £20,000.
Charles II returned and was subsequently enthroned (being only age 30). He never harassed Cromwell’s widow or other members of the Cromwell clan, but they would forfeit their lands to him. However, those directly or indirectly responsible for his tyrannical and traitorous father’s death were ruthlessly hunted down and assassinated, no matter how long it took or how far away they lived.
Cromwell’s widow, Elizabeth Cromwell, died peacefully at the home of her son-in-law John Claypole in 1665.
For retribution for Oliver Cromwell and the death of Charles I, the order was given by Charles II to dig up his corpse, drag it through the dirty and busy streets of London for all to see, then the hangman had the gruesome task of trying to decapitate and entirely sever Cromwell’s head from the neck. This took 8 long and frustrating blows, before finally succeeding. If such an awful act wasn’t bad enough, his head was then stuck up high on a pike at Westminster Hall until 1684!
Accounts continue to suggest that Cromwell made arrangements before his death to be buried in secret, so as to avoid such a ghoulish act happening. But contemporaries of Cromwell dismissed such speculation then, and they were probably correct in doing so.
Fraser shares the following and even prophetic statement made by Cromwell before his death: “Pardon such as a desire to trample upon the dust of a poor worm, for they are thy people.”
This prayer is very reminiscent of Jesus dying on the cross and asking forgiveness from His Father towards His executions too, before giving up the ghost.
During the end of our successful summer outreach in Cambridge, we were made aware that the skull of Oliver Cromwell is held at Sidney Sussex, Cambridge University, arriving there in 1960. According to Fraser, the precise location of his skull “is a closely guarded secret” known only to a very select few. The rest of his discarded and jumbled bones probably lie near Marble Arch, beneath commercial and domestic properties, unbeknown to its current occupants. And that is probably where he would have wanted to be buried, in obscurity. He came from obscurity and in death, has returned to such, awaiting the blessed resurrection, of course.
Along with reading Fraser’s mammoth and definitive book and a 16-page booklet sold at the Cromwell Museum in Huntingdon, I also viewed two interesting and informative DVDs, one being the movie Cromwell, 1970, starring Richard Harris as Cromwell (a Roman Catholic in real life) and Alec Guinness as Charles I (also a Roman Catholic in real life). Both performances were excellent, but like all movies made by unsaved actors, producers, and directors, cursing and blasphemy (not to mention artistic license) were unfortunately present throughout this 132-minute movie. Guinness’s stuttering Scottish accent was very good, along with Harris’s coarse Cambridge accent.
The other DVD I viewed was a 68-minute English documentary titled Cromwell’s Head, 2017. It contains much up-to-date and factual information.
31 December 2017
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