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Oliver Cromwell: Nasty military dictator or great parliamentarian?

This is the place to discuss the past, its study, and those who study it. Discussion about events that happened less than twenty years ago should go go in Politics instead.
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DMB
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Oliver Cromwell: Nasty military dictator or great parliamentarian?

Post by DMB » Sun Feb 12, 2017 2:17 am

This statue stands outside the Houses of Parliament in Westminster. So its status is a memorial to a great parliamentarian.

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Not far away is the statue of an undoubted great parliamentarian, though also a politically controversial one, Winston Churchill.

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This article explains some of the controversy about Cromwell's statue:

(Wikipedia)Statue of Oliver Cromwell, Westminster.

My own opinion is that Cromwell, like most great men, was a flawed individual, but he was very important in the struggle for democracy. Ultimately he was as important for Americans as for Britons. Without him, Charles I might not have lost his head. If he had not been executed, we should have continued with relatively powerful and tyrannical kings. Who knows if the French or American revolutions would then have happened?

Short term, Cromwell's rule wasn't very benign, but once one king had lost his head, his successors had to take more care. The coup d'état that replaced his son by William and Mary happened because a king had already been deposed. And that introduced the Bill of Rights.

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Post by Roo St. Gallus » Sun Feb 12, 2017 5:24 am

Ollie put the kibosh to the idea of 'divine right'.

He was a determined leader with an agenda which worked with so many others also alienated from the crown. I would say that he started as a first amongst equals until a New Model Army was needed to enforce the directives of an alienated Parliament. Once put in the position of heading the Army, he used that to reinforce his position among his parliamentarian colleagues who elevated him to 'Lord Protector'. I'd say that the circumstances made for the advancement of the appropriate personality...which Cromwell was.
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Post by Pierrot » Sun Feb 19, 2017 9:49 pm

The spoof history of Britain 1066 and all that nailed it: in the Civil War, the Cavaliers were wrong but wromantic, while the Roundheads were right but repulsive.

Society needs both Roundheads and Cavaliers. You need the former for social progress, but without the latter society is joyless and humourless, as was England in the 1650s. Also Roundheads tend to substitute one autocracy for another - after all, they know they are right, anyone who opposes them has to be evil.

The ideal outcome is a revolution that partially fails, and Cavaliers and Roundheads have to come to a compromise. After a further bout in 1688, that's is what happened in England, which thereafter after avoided both reactionary and revolutionary autocracy.

Cromwell was indeed a nasty military dictator, and his army behaved appallingly in Ireland, where the inhabitants stubbornly remained Papists who were thus untermensch who could be slaughtered at will... but he kept the revolution going long enough that it was only a partial failure. In France at the same time, by contrast, the Fronde failed totally and royal autocracy was thereafter completely unchecked.

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Post by MattShizzle » Sun Feb 19, 2017 9:57 pm

[quote=""Pierrot""] In France at the same time, by contrast, the Fronde failed totally and royal autocracy was thereafter completely unchecked.[/quote]

Well, for a bit over a century anyway...

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Post by Roo St. Gallus » Mon Feb 20, 2017 4:52 am

So...In contrast, the English regicides took one head, while the delayed French response led to the decapitation of legions.
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Post by Hermit » Mon Feb 20, 2017 6:48 am

[quote=""Roo St. Gallus""]So...In contrast, the English regicides took one head, while the delayed French response led to the decapitation of legions.[/quote]
Not counting the lives lost during the three civil wars that took place between 1642 and 1651? The royalists in England lost 50,000 soldiers killed, the parliamentarians 35,000, and at least 100,000 civilians died as a result of them. Then there are the deaths in Ireland and Scotland...

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Post by Roo St. Gallus » Mon Feb 20, 2017 6:58 am

[quote=""Hermit""]
Roo St. Gallus;664947 wrote:So...In contrast, the English regicides took one head, while the delayed French response led to the decapitation of legions.
Not counting the lives lost during the three civil wars that took place between 1642 and 1651? The royalists in England lost 50,000 soldiers killed, the parliamentarians 35,000, and at least 100,000 civilians died as a result of them. Then there are the deaths in Ireland and Scotland...[/QUOTE]

And after the paroxysm of the Revolution, the French response unleashed Napoleon upon the continent.
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Post by Roo St. Gallus » Mon Feb 20, 2017 7:10 am

With regards Ireland....Am I missing something?

Cromwell has a wretched reputation there, but I fail to see how rule in Ireland by Parliament and the New Model Army was significantly different from the rule rendered by the likes of the minions of Elizabeth, James, or William and Mary. Repression was pretty much the Anglo response to all native Irish initiative....Jimmy Two at one point thought he could use that resentment to his own ends and ended up fleeing to exile with his sponsor and subsidy source in France....'abdicating'.
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Post by Hermit » Mon Feb 20, 2017 7:35 am

[quote=""Roo St. Gallus""]
Hermit;664950 wrote:
Roo St. Gallus;664947 wrote:So...In contrast, the English regicides took one head, while the delayed French response led to the decapitation of legions.
Not counting the lives lost during the three civil wars that took place between 1642 and 1651? The royalists in England lost 50,000 soldiers killed, the parliamentarians 35,000, and at least 100,000 civilians died as a result of them. Then there are the deaths in Ireland and Scotland...
And after the paroxysm of the Revolution, the French response unleashed Napoleon upon the continent.[/QUOTE]
...who since May 1804 was the French emperor.

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One could say the French revolution had well and truly ended in total failure by the time Napoleon closed the Directoire in November 1799, which had taken over government from the Comité de salut public (The Terror) in 1794.

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Post by Samnell » Fri Feb 24, 2017 5:32 am

There's a school of thought, to which I'm slightly sympathetic, that in Napoleon the revolutionaries got what was really wanted to start with: an enlightened despot with the power to sweep away the thicket of self-defeating, irrational customs and patchwork laws of the old order.

Personally I find it hard to get excited about the guy either way, but even knowing what little I do about what a mess Ancien Regime France was it makes perfect sense that they'd want that first and all this stuff about rights is a much more situational thing that largely arose as a response to royal resistance. This has some affinities with, but isn't quite the same as, some recent thought about the American temper tantrum that ought to have been put down.

Of course then you get on the justified-but-still-paranoia death spiral that takes everything sideways.
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Post by Hermit » Fri Feb 24, 2017 9:38 am

[quote=""Samnell""]There's a school of thought, to which I'm slightly sympathetic, that in Napoleon the revolutionaries got what was really wanted to start with: an enlightened despot with the power to sweep away the thicket of self-defeating, irrational customs and patchwork laws of the old order.[/quote]
Well, that school is right in so far the French revolutionaries aimed to sweep away rule by divine right. It is also right that they did not aim for governance along democratic principles as we know them today. That said, there is no evidence that they wanted to replace a despot who ruled by divine right by one who ruled on any other basis. Despots - benign or not - are not accountable to anybody. No revolutionary wanted that.

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Post by DMB » Fri Feb 24, 2017 11:05 pm

[quote=""Hermit""]
Samnell;665331 wrote:There's a school of thought, to which I'm slightly sympathetic, that in Napoleon the revolutionaries got what was really wanted to start with: an enlightened despot with the power to sweep away the thicket of self-defeating, irrational customs and patchwork laws of the old order.
Well, that school is right in so far the French revolutionaries aimed to sweep away rule by divine right. It is also right that they did not aim for governance along democratic principles as we know them today. That said, there is no evidence that they wanted to replace a despot who ruled by divine right by one who ruled on any other basis. Despots - benign or not - are not accountable to anybody. No revolutionary wanted that.[/QUOTE]

But how much of this is also applicable to Cromwell? Apart from religious freedom, what were the English revolutionaries fighting for? Why was Cromwell asked to take on a regal role?

http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-enter ... 90461.html
Royal ritual, pomp and ceremony reached a high point at Cromwell's second investiture in June 1657. Having refused Parliament's offer of the crown he nevertheless agreed to occupy the office of king but with his existing title of Lord Protector. His second investiture was therefore a king-making ceremony - a coronation without the crown. Vested with royal robes and girded with a kingly sword, he was enthroned in the Coronation Chair, holding a solid gold sceptre as a symbol of his sovereign power. Little wonder some of his contemporaries now referred to Cromwell as "protector royal". Cromwell's protectorship royal did not, however, constitute a return to traditional monarchical rule for his was a new model monarchy with the Protector owing his title to Parliament.
A short summary of the Protectorate:

https://faculty.history.wisc.edu/sommer ... omwell.htm

More details here

http://www.olivercromwell.org/index.htm

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Post by Samnell » Sat Feb 25, 2017 7:57 am

[quote=""Hermit""]
Samnell;665331 wrote:There's a school of thought, to which I'm slightly sympathetic, that in Napoleon the revolutionaries got what was really wanted to start with: an enlightened despot with the power to sweep away the thicket of self-defeating, irrational customs and patchwork laws of the old order.
Well, that school is right in so far the French revolutionaries aimed to sweep away rule by divine right. It is also right that they did not aim for governance along democratic principles as we know them today. That said, there is no evidence that they wanted to replace a despot who ruled by divine right by one who ruled on any other basis. Despots - benign or not - are not accountable to anybody. No revolutionary wanted that.[/QUOTE]

I'm sure there were some thinkers who admired enlightened despots as a good in themselves, but I'm probably thinking of people who weren't principals in the Revolution. All this Early Modern Europe stuff blurs together quickly. :)
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Post by Roo St. Gallus » Sat Feb 25, 2017 3:28 pm

[quote=""DMB""]
Hermit;665337 wrote:
Samnell;665331 wrote:There's a school of thought, to which I'm slightly sympathetic, that in Napoleon the revolutionaries got what was really wanted to start with: an enlightened despot with the power to sweep away the thicket of self-defeating, irrational customs and patchwork laws of the old order.
Well, that school is right in so far the French revolutionaries aimed to sweep away rule by divine right. It is also right that they did not aim for governance along democratic principles as we know them today. That said, there is no evidence that they wanted to replace a despot who ruled by divine right by one who ruled on any other basis. Despots - benign or not - are not accountable to anybody. No revolutionary wanted that.
But how much of this is also applicable to Cromwell? Apart from religious freedom, what were the English revolutionaries fighting for? Why was Cromwell asked to take on a regal role?

http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-enter ... 90461.html
Royal ritual, pomp and ceremony reached a high point at Cromwell's second investiture in June 1657. Having refused Parliament's offer of the crown he nevertheless agreed to occupy the office of king but with his existing title of Lord Protector. His second investiture was therefore a king-making ceremony - a coronation without the crown. Vested with royal robes and girded with a kingly sword, he was enthroned in the Coronation Chair, holding a solid gold sceptre as a symbol of his sovereign power. Little wonder some of his contemporaries now referred to Cromwell as "protector royal". Cromwell's protectorship royal did not, however, constitute a return to traditional monarchical rule for his was a new model monarchy with the Protector owing his title to Parliament.
[/QUOTE]

It seems to me that parliament had yet to come to grips with the transition of power when parliament is selecting the premiere leadership. In the press of a crisis brought on by a rampant 'divine rule' king attempting to rule without parliament, taxing without consent (Ship Money), and intimidating his own justices at his, or his favorite's, whims. Chuckie boy finally had to give in to calling a session to get money to stave off the angry Scots. Acting too slow, the Scots, up in arms about Archbishop Laud and his presumptions, had grabbed Chuckie boy in an ill-conceived border scuffle and held him ransom. After buying him back, Chuckie boy was so ungrateful as to go on a rampage again, including personally invading chambers to have members arrested. Parliament lost all patience with yet another civil war, and when they finally got ahold of the miscreant, they beheaded him....for good reason, in my reckoning. He had sold out his inheritance just not to be answerable to his own countrymen and brought his nation to anarchy and the brink of ruin.

Any way...Cromwell seems to have been keenly aware that he himself would die and was not comfortable with any other than family to follow in his steps (having had to deal with several variations of the Rump, and then the Barebones Parliaments, I'm not surprised). He seems to have assented to having his son named as heir apparent, although I would think that he would understand that Parliament should self-select its own leadership, rather than depending upon inherited succession. I guess it took Fairfax and other 'conservatives' (aka social elites) to figure that out when Jimmy Two went off the tracks, only they opted to 'limit' the existing power structures and replace actors with claimants based upon the 'polite fiction' of abdication, rather than replace it system wholesale with something more 'republican'.

It did put Parliament out front in terms of final determination of national policy, up to and including the inheritance of the title of royalty in the land. This would be sealed by the subsequent events of the 'Revolution of 1688' which brought William & Mary to the throne after the unseemly 'abdication' of James II. Parliament dictated and set the terms. It had become the final arbiter.

IIRC, 'Rotten Boroughs' would come next...after Napoleon and that distasteful continental situation was dealt with.
Last edited by Roo St. Gallus on Sat Feb 25, 2017 3:52 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Post by Hermit » Mon Feb 27, 2017 4:02 am

[quote=""DMB""]
Hermit;665337 wrote:
Samnell;665331 wrote:There's a school of thought, to which I'm slightly sympathetic, that in Napoleon the revolutionaries got what was really wanted to start with: an enlightened despot with the power to sweep away the thicket of self-defeating, irrational customs and patchwork laws of the old order.
Well, that school is right in so far the French revolutionaries aimed to sweep away rule by divine right. It is also right that they did not aim for governance along democratic principles as we know them today. That said, there is no evidence that they wanted to replace a despot who ruled by divine right by one who ruled on any other basis. Despots - benign or not - are not accountable to anybody. No revolutionary wanted that.
But how much of this is also applicable to Cromwell? Apart from religious freedom, what were the English revolutionaries fighting for? Why was Cromwell asked to take on a regal role?[/QUOTE]
Briefly, a paragraph for each question. If you want more details I'll be happy to provide them. Having studied the fall of the ancien regime in 1977 and the English civil wars in 1978 I'll just dust off and peruse such notes as I have kept first, though I'll not have the time to reread the books by Clarendon, Hutchinson, Burke, de Toqueville, Trevelyan, Soboul, Hexter, Hill, Cobban et al.

(1) There are considerable differences between the French and the English revolutions. To start with, no parliamentarian was after the king's head until after Charles I started a civil war for the second time. In fact, until then nobody wanted to abolish the monarchy at all. Cromwell's fame as a military leader obscures the fact that he was not the commander of the parliamentary army during the first two civil wars. That role fell to Thomas Fairfax, who was a constitutional monarchist, and that he resigned his commission when Charles was put on trial for treason.

(2) You seem to be overestimating the role of religion. True, religion was a motivating force, but the crucial factors leading to the conflict were power and money. Even the apparently religious issues, such as the fight over Episcopalian and Presbyterian church structures were essentially about power. The Bishops Wars prove this. People always backfill their actions and desires with noble principles, and frequently they sincerely believe that those beliefs guide them.

(3) Apart from the Levellers and Diggers - who only briefly had their moment of major influence, but even then not of decisive magnitude - there were no factions who wanted to abolish the monarchy altogether. And everybody desired stable government, St John, Whitelocke, Lambert and Cooper among them. The Long Parliament was reduced to the Rump, then to the Barebones Parliament, which was followed by the first Parliament of the Protectorate. Each time opponents were weeded out. And finally there was the second Parliament of the Protectorate. So what was left? 140 members. The Long Parliament consisted of over 600. So, not a great many of the original parliamentarians who opposed the conduct of Charles I were left (and none of the troublesome Levellers). And they wanted a monarchy as they always did. The Stuarts were either dead or unacceptable. So what other option did they see?

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Post by Hermit » Mon Feb 27, 2017 4:07 am

[quote=""Samnell""]
Hermit;665337 wrote:
Samnell;665331 wrote:There's a school of thought, to which I'm slightly sympathetic, that in Napoleon the revolutionaries got what was really wanted to start with: an enlightened despot with the power to sweep away the thicket of self-defeating, irrational customs and patchwork laws of the old order.
Well, that school is right in so far the French revolutionaries aimed to sweep away rule by divine right. It is also right that they did not aim for governance along democratic principles as we know them today. That said, there is no evidence that they wanted to replace a despot who ruled by divine right by one who ruled on any other basis. Despots - benign or not - are not accountable to anybody. No revolutionary wanted that.
I'm sure there were some thinkers who admired enlightened despots as a good in themselves, but I'm probably thinking of people who weren't principals in the Revolution. All this Early Modern Europe stuff blurs together quickly. :) [/QUOTE]
Thomas Hobbes's Leviathan comes to mind. Reaching back much further there is Plato's Republic. Later on Schiller dealt with the problem in his play The Robbers, and I'm sure there were many others.

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