The Corner

More Cromwell

I have no intention of getting in the middle of this Cromwell fight, given that all of this gets pretty far removed from the point of my Theo-panic! column. But here are two e-mails, one from yesterday that I meant to post and didn’t get around to, another responding to Derb:


… I think that emailer’s “as theocracies go, that’s pretty libertarian” is grossly wrong and unfair to all the people Cromwell (or his underlings, e.g. Ireton, Fleetwood, Lambert) killed.

Cromwell was a Dictator and a fanatic, pure and simple. It is just as wrong for Protestants to equivocate on him as it is for someone like Representative Peter King to equivocate on the IRA today. Both Shaftesbury (when he was still Sir Anthony Ashley Cooper) and Denzil Hollis (who was so much not an anti-Catholic bigot that *he voted against his friend Shaftesbury’s Test Act in the 1670′s*!!!), opposed Cromwell’s regime for the entirety of the 1650s (Cooper clandestinely, from the inside, Hollis from the outside), and by the time both were dead, both had clearly led Protestant, in-favor-of-toleration-to-Dissenters, anti-Stuart absolutism, political lives.

There is a reason that these men . . . opposed Cromwell as vigorously as they did in the 1650s. That reason is that they opposed the mass killing of Catholics (the old, twisted Shaftesbury of the Popish Plot got innocent Catholics killed, no doubt, but not 100,000′s as Cromwell’s army visited upon Ireland in the 1650′s) just as they opposed the mass killing of non-Anglican Protestants, just as they opposed the creation of new Caesars for the Island of Britain, and Cromwell threatened all three of those positions, whatever his regime’s propaganda was.

This is why so many of the Whigs (Hollis, Shaftesbury) actually helped bring Charles II and his brother back to the Island, the two absolutist brothers who one day would be their great enemies. They had high hopes for free government through the Stuart brothers in 1660, that had been dashed by 1683-1688.

Cromwell was evil, and he is evil by the very standards laied down by the Whigs who governed with William after 1688; it is precisely Protestants who support the Revolution of 1688 who should condemn Cromwell….


Dear Corner,

Derbyshire is all wet on Oliver Cromwell. A few points. First, Cromwell did seek the formal re-admission of the Jews to England, and when that was resisted by his clerical allies, he allowed them an informal return (on the condition that they keep their heads low). But before Derb gets all excited, he should know that one of Cromwell’s chief motives for this was the millenarian belief that the second coming of Christ would only follow the conversion of the Jews to Christianity. The Lord Protector was not a multi-culturalist.

Derbyshire’s point about the Catholics is even more wildly off base. Cromwell did make sweet talk on occasion about some meager toleration for Catholics, but this was always in the context of diplomatic negotiations with Catholic powers – and in doing this he was doing exactly what the Stuart kings had done. The fact that there were priests in London during the 1650s is irrelevant. There always had been – the priests were attached to foreign embassies. It is true that the condition of English Catholics was no worse under Cromwell than it had been for fifty years (and better than it would be after the Restoration). But keep in mind that the number of English Catholics was, in the mid-seventeenth century, at its lowest ebb. They were largely irrelevant in England. But they were not irrelevant in Ireland, and here is where Derbyshire really flaunts some ignorance.

Excusing Cromwell’s brutality there, he writes:  “The Irish were in rebellion, wild bands of marauders roaming the land, pillaging, raping, and committing acts of mass murder.” Here Derbyshire is channeling the spirit of some priggish Methodist historian from the Victorian era. The Irish ‘rebellion’ was in fact fought, in part, on behalf of the Stuart dynasty, against the regicidal rebellion perpetrated by Cromwell and his band, and on behalf of the man whom a majority of English recognized as their lawful king. As in any early modern war, atrocities were committed on all sides, but Derbyshire’s ‘mass murders’ and ‘wild bands of marauders’ are pure fantasy. Cromwell’s suppression of the rebellion should not be judged by “the standard’s of the Geneva Convention” (dread phrase), but even by contemporary standards he was a brute.  The firing of churches packed with women and children was something he would never have done to Protestant rebels. He did not massacre civilians, for instance, while repressing a similar rebellion in Presbyterian Scotland. Derbyshire should curl up with WC Abbott’s Writings and Speeches of Oliver Cromwell and read the General’s proclamations from Ireland. There had can acquaint himself with Oliver Cromwell’s views on Catholics. For a taste, consider this proclamation to the Irish clergy, made in January 1650: “You are part of Antichrist, whose Kingdom the Scriptures so expressly speaks should be laid in blood . . . and ere it be long, you must all of you have blood to drink; even the dregs of the cup of the fury and wrath of God, which will be poured out unto you.”

But the massacres of 1649-50 were not the worst of Cromwell’s actions. Far more damaging were the Draconian penal laws against Catholic worship, and the mass theft of Irish Catholic land (which was seized indiscriminately and handed over to ‘godly’ soldiers from Cromwell’s army). This greatly accelerated more long-standing policies, anti-Catholic at their heart, that would haunt Ireland (and England) for three centuries thereafter.

Finally, the evidence indicates that Oliver Cromwell was a fervent believer in “Intelligent Design.”


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