Cromwell Through the Media of His Day
The years between 1640 and 1660 witnessed in England a
greater outpouring of printed material than the country had
seen since the first printing press had begun operating in
the 1470s.1 The breakdown of government and Church
censorship in the early 1640s was almost total until the
mid-1650s when Oliver Cromwell as Lord Protector reimposed
some controls. Not until the return of the Stuarts and
their royal censors did the flow of pamphlets cease. This
tumultuous period of English history therefore became a
crowded arena for free expression of radical religious,
social, and political ideas. This fact, coupled with the
euphoria surrounding the victories of the New Model Army,
the uninhibited exchange of ideas, and the general
millennial atmosphere, especially following Charles Is
execution, led many Englishman to see their nation as the
emerging leader of the Protestant world.
A recurring theme among these pamphlets, sermons, and
broadsides was the idea that Oliver Cromwell was the man to
lead England into this new age. Like the second coming of
the Swedish soldier-king Gustavus Adolphus, Cromwell would
champion the Protestant cause wherever it was in need. As a
Civil War hero, conqueror of the Irish and Scots, and later
as Lord Protector, the devoutly religious Cromwell
certainly had the background to fit the role. Yet in
practical terms, England of the 1640s and 1650s was not the
military juggernaut that many writers pictured it to be.
The nation was not capable of wiping out the Turkish
menace, unseating the Pope, and defending persecuted
Protestants on the Continent all in one fell swoop.
Thefinancial difficulties of the Stuarts did not disappear
with the execution of Charles, and though the navy was
strong, it was not logistically feasible for the army to
get involved in a large Continental war.
Despite this, even Cromwell himself had some occasional
delusions of religious and military grandeur. A well known
quote has him saying that, were he ten years younger,
"there was not a king in Europe I would not make to
tremble."2 In moments of religious fervor Cromwell might
have seen himself and England in a millenial light, yet he
was first and foremost a pragmatic politician. His genuine
belief in the need to aid and protect his co-religionists
took a secondary position to the day-to-day realities of
English society and politics. His alliance with the
Catholic French against the Spanish and his acquiescence to
the war agaist the Protestant Dutch provide ample evidence
of his heeding realpolitik considerations over any
Why then was Cromwell cast by the pamphleteers as a
Protestant champion? The answer lies in the fact that the
world view of the average Englishman was limited to either
what he read or what was read to him, either at informal
gatherings or in church. Thus, the power of the printed
word is hard to exaggerate in this time of upheaval and
millennial anticipation. How and why Oliver Cromwell was
cast in the role of English savior is directly related to
the outlook of his contemporaries as shaped by the
literature of the era.
After distinguished service in the early years of the Civil
War, Cromwell was firmly thrust into the limelight
following his participation in the Battle of Naseby on 14
June 1645, the conflicts decisive engagement. Having only
recently rejoined the army following his exemption from the
Self Denying Ordinance, he was to play a major role in this
Parliamentary victory. Despite an overwhelming numerical
advantage (14,000 vs. 7,500), the Parliamentary forces were
on the verge of collapse following a Royalist charge
against one end of their line. Cromwell, however, led the
better disciplined Parliamentary horse on a charge against
the opposite flank and succeeded in getting behind the
Royalist infantry and thus swinging the victory toward
Parliament. Though the King held out for another year,
Naseby effectively crushed the Royalist cause.3
Cromwells letter to the Speaker of the House William
Lenthall following the battle set the tone for future
Cromwellian victory announcements. In its two paragraphs,
the letter, which was read to Parliament as well as in the
Churches in and around London,4 credited the victory to God
no less than six times. He wrote, "This [victory] is none
other but the hand of God; and to him alone belongs the
glory, wherein none are to share with him."5 Cromwells
giving credit for his triumphs to divine providence is a
recurring theme throughout his life.
Two months later, from the town of Bristol, Cromwell sent
more good tidings to Parliament. Having just concluded a
storming of the town, Cromwell wrote, "This is none other
than the work of God. He must be a very atheist that doth
not acknowledge it." After thanking God several more times,
Cromwell described his soldiers joy as being in the
knowledge "that they are instruments of Gods glory and
their countrys good."6
Following Naseby, the New Model Army ran off a string of
victories. An atmosphere of invincibility and a sense of
divine backing began to permeate the army and its
supporters. Hugh Peter, an army chaplain and Independent
minister, preached a sermon before Parliament in April 1645
(which was revised and printed in 1646) in which he spoke
of seeing "Gods hand" in Parliaments victory. Peter made
special mention of Cromwell as a decisive player in the
victory at Naseby. He also saw an expanded role for
England, saying that "the Lord hath made us warlike, awaked
us thoroughly out of our effeminacy and we are becom[ing]
formidable to our neighbors." Going even further, Peter saw
the Palatinate, Germany, France, Ireland, and the
Netherlands all looking to England fr leadership.7
Along with the growing pubic praise for the New Model Army
as it continued its dominance over the Royalist forces was
the increased stature enjoyed by Cromwell following Naseby.
A Parliamentary newspaper in 1646 was full of praise for
the "active and gallant commander Lieutenant General
Cromewell" when he visited London. It described his great
willingness "to advance the Great Cause in hand for the
Reformation of Religion, and the resettling of the peace
and government of the kingdom." The article goes on to
describe the awe in which the other MPs viewed him as well
as to state, "[Cromwell] had never brought his colors from
the field but he did wind up victory within them."8
It should be recalled that Europe was still embroiled in
the Thirty Years War, which the Stuarts had avoided despite
the fact that James Is daughter (Charles Is sister) was
married to the Elector of the Palatinate. England remained
neutral due to the financial crisis at home, as well as to
allow James to play the role of mediator in the conflict.
For many Englishmen, the refusal to aid the Protestant
cause on the Continent was an embarrassment. Hugh Peters
reference to England getting over her "effeminacy" and
becoming warlike is an example of Puritan disappointment
with Stuart foreign policy. As Christopher Hill writes, "It
was with burning shame that such patriots saw the supine or
hostile attitude of their government whilst these great
issues were at stake."9
In May 1646, the King fled to the Scottish army and with
the surrender of the Royalist capital of Oxford in July,
the Civil War seemed over. Cromwell returned to his home
following the signing of the terms of capitulation. In the
succeeding months the army became increasingly radicalized
by Parliaments refusal to address the soldiers material
grievances and its rejection of the armys right to
petition.10 Negotiations with the King had become fruitless
and the chances for a settlement with him looked bleak.
When a group of soldiers seized Charles in June 1647,
Cromwell threw in his lot with the army radicals.11
With the outbreak of the second Civil War in March 1648,
Cromwell again was in the field at the head of an army.
After easily suppressing a Royalist uprising in Wales,
Cromwell hurried to help repel the invading Scottish army
from the North. In a series of battles from 17-19 August
Cromwell shattered the dispirited and divided Scots at
Preston. In his dispatch to Parliament, General Cromwell
again credited the victory to the Lords providence.
"Surely, Sir," he wrote, "this is nothing but the hand of
God." The victory did on the surface seem miraculous
considering the Scots superiority in numbers. As Cromwell
wrote, "Only give me leave to add one word, showing the
disparity of forces (21,000 Scots vs. 8,600 English) . . .
that you may see and all the world acknowledge the hand of
God in this business.12 In truth, the English victory was
much more dependent on Scottish ineptitude than divine
intervention, but the effect on public opinion of a success
against such a numerically superior force was undoubtedly
The defeat of the Royalist threat in the Second Civil war
was followed by the well known events of the Army entering
London on 2 December 1648 and Colonel Prides purge of the
Parliament on 5 December. The Army was now in control of
the government and ready to push through its own agenda. No
solution involving the king now seemed possible and talk of
his being put on trial and removed was circulating the
capital. Early in December one London news sheet openly
questioned what sort of government should replace the
monarchy. It read, "For (say the Saints) shall not we be
happy when we ourselves make choice of a good and upright
man to be king over us?" The article described an elected
king as one who "esteemeth of Religion and Virtue, [more]
than of all other worldly things." Two men who were deemed
to possess the necessary traits were "honorable and
victorious Fairfax or Cromwell, in whom God hath
miraculously manifesed his presence."13 This article was
important not only because its author considered Cromwell
suitable material for kingship, but also because it
demonstrated the view of Cromwell as a "godly man" and one
whose actions God had blessed.
A sermon preached before the House of Commons on 22
December 1648 by Hugh Peter is another example of the
extreme views which had emerged. Comparing the Army leaders
(of whom Cromwell was one) to Moses, Peter urged that the
army "must root up monarchy, not only here, but in France
and other kingdoms round about." By doing so, he asserted
that the army would lead the English people out of their
"Egyptian" religious and ideological enslavement. Monarchy
was seen as a demonstrated evil and the eradication of it
elsewhere would be a "godly" cause. Drawing from the Book
of Daniel, Peter also saw the army as "that corner stone
cut out of the mountain which must dash the earth to
The actions of the radicals, who on 30 January 1649
executed Charles I, horrified the rest of Europe (and much
of England). As Cromwellian biographer Charles Firth wrote,
"There was indeed no prospect of the general league of
European potentates to punish regicide, for which Royalists
hoped, but both governments and people were hostile."15
While the real threat of foreign invasion may not have been
great, the ominous possibility of it created a siege
mentality among the English people. A declaration in the
name of Louis XIV published in Paris on 2 January and
republished in England in translation, warned the Rump
Parliament against any action towards the person of the
King. Louis considered it his "Christian duty" to either
"redeem from bondage the injured person of our neighbor
King" or "to revenge all outrages already done or hereafter
which may happen to be done" against Charles. Louis vowed
vengeance not only against the perpetrators of the crimes
but also their wives and children. The French Kings
diatribe concluded by urging all other "Kings, Princes, and
States" to make similar proclamations and to join together
for the safety of their brother sovereign.16
In the event that official proclamations against England
were not effective enough in creating an air of paranoia,
Royalist propagandists were also willing to contribute. In
April 1649 Ralph Clare published a fabricated declaration
by several monarchs, real and imaginary, condemning
Englands regicidal actions. The pamphlets stated purpose
was "[a] detestation of the present proceedings of the
Parliament and Army, and of their [the monarchs] intentions
of coming over into England in behalf of King Charles II."17
Up to this point one can see the background developing for
identifying Cromwell as Englands religious and martial
defender. His popularity with the general population, and
especially with the army, coupled with the nations growing
sense of isolation, pushed him further into the role of
bulwark against the enemies of England. Yet it was his
acceptance of his next military assignment which would
propel him into the image of English and Protestant
champion--the suppression of Ireland.
The Irish rebellion which broke out in October 1641
initially was directed against Protestant English settlers
and landholders, large numbers of whom were murdered and
abused. The reporting in England of the massacres brought
the normal disdain for the "uncivilized" Irish to a fever
pitch of hatred. Streams of pamphlets, some highly
fictionalized, concerning the revolt poured forth and it is
obvious that many people accepted them wholly as truth. In
London the pamphlets were absorbed with fascinated horror.
"All the news and speech is here of the rebellion," wrote
one city resident.18 In the Commons, Speaker of the House
Pym inflamed fears of an Irish invasion and Catholic
uprising in England. Pyms fears were real and he took every
revelation of a plot, no matter how far fetched, with equal
seriousness. e honestly believed that there had been
"common counsel at Rome and in Spain to reduce us to
popery."19 With a leader of the nation so paranoid and
frightened, it is no wonder that the people at large were
able to believe so easily any story they heard.
A typical example is one piece published in December of
1641 entitled The Rebels Turkish Tyranny:
. . . taken out of a letter sent from Mr. Witcame, a
merchant in Kingsdale to a brother of his here: showing how
cruelly they [the Irish] put them to the sword, ravished
religious women, and put their children upon red hot spits
before their parents eyes: threw them in the fire and
burned them to ashes: cut off their ears and nose, put out
their eyes, cut off their arms and legs, broiled them at
the fire, cut out their tongues, and thrust hot irons down
their throats, drown them, dash out their brains and such
like other cruelty not heard of among Christians.20 And
this is only the introduction to the pamphlet.
Another illustrated broadside of the same month by Anthony
Rouse told of drunken Irish soldiers killing each other to
celebrate the birthday of a rebel leader. "Each man slew
his friend to the number of three thousand," wrote the
author.21 To the English mind the Irishman seemed capable
of any atrocity.
While the gross exaggerations of Irish ruthlessness seem
almost comical today, this sort of propaganda was common
and its effects on naive readers should not be discounted.
It was especially easy to swallow when the perpetrators
were Catholics and the victims Protestant. News accounts
from the Continent during the Thirty Years War were full of
detailed accounts of the torture and barbarities practiced
by the Catholic soldiers of Tilly and Wallenstein against
Protestants in Germany. Protestants having their eyes
"twisted out" or their faces "planed with chisels" were
Because of the Civil War in England and the subsequent
unrest in the army, no troops could be sent to put down the
insurrection in Ireland until 1649. The delay in sending
forces did not diminish the flow of pamphlets concerning
the plight of the Protestants in Ireland. A Royalist
newspaper in 1644 printed a story entitled "The Clergys
Lamentation" which was a martyrology of dozens of "godly"
Protestants killed through the "unparalleled cruelties and
murders exercised by the inhumane Popish rebels."23 In June
of the same year Morely Gent published A Remonstrance of
the Barbarous Cruelties and Bloody Murders in which he
decried the feeding of newborns to dogs and the burning of
a fat Scotsman, whose grease was used to make candles.24
Other titles of these inflammatory pamphlets include The
Impudence of the Romish Whore and A New Remonstrance from
Ireland,25 both of which are replete with shocking stories
of Irish depravity.
Quite obviously these stories stirred up passions in
England and brought about calls for a rapid suppression of
the "barbarous rebels." There were also practical reasons
in 1649 for desiring a quick re-establishment of English
authority over the Irish. Charles II had made known his
intentions of soon traveling to Ireland and using it as the
staging area for an eventual invasion of England. There was
a Royalist Army in the field there and several of the rebel
armies were negotiating with Charles to assist in restoring
him to the throne in exchange for various concessions.26
This is the situation Cromwell faced as he accepted the
command of the 12,000 man expedition to Ireland. It was not
only the political and military importance of his mission
which motivated Cromwell. He had a fierce prejudice against
the Catholic Irish and seems to have accepted every tale of
atrocity. He once wrote, "I had rather be overrun by a
Cavalierish interest than a Scotch interest, I had rather
be overrun by a Scotch interest than an Irish interest, and
I think that of all, this the most dangerous . . . for all
the world knows their barbarism."27 Cromwell meticulously
planned the strategy and provisioning of the campaign,
arriving in Dublin on August 15, 1649.
The brutality of Cromwells first two victories all but
decided the outcome of the war. The Duke of Ormonde,
commander of the royalist army in Ireland, wrote, "It is
not to be imagined how great the terror is that those
successes . . . have struck into this people. They are so
stupefied, that it is with great difficulty that I can
persuade them to act anything like men towards their own
On 11 September 1649 Cromwells forces stormed the town of
Drogheda and slaughtered the nearly 3,500 soldiers and
civilians inside. Cromwell himself personally ordered his
men to "put all to the sword." In his victory announcement
to Parliament he spoke proudly of the massacre. "I am
persuaded that this is a righteous judgement of God upon
these barbarous wretches, who have imbrued their hands in
so much innocent blood." Cromwell went on to add that he
believed all but two of the Friars in the town were killed
by blows to the skull, or as he wrote, "knocked on the head
A month later Cromwell took the stronghold of Wexford by
assault as well, killing more than 2,000 Irish soldiers.
Though Cromwell did not order that the whole garrison be
put to the sword, his soldiers got out of hand and did so
on their own initiative. Cromwell expressed no regret over
the episode, but rather said that "God in his righteous
justice, brought a just judgement upon them." His message
of triumph to England asserted that the Irish had gotten
their just desserts. "[Gods will] causing them to become a
prey to the soldier who in their piracies had made preys of
so many families, and with their bloods to answer the
cruelties which they had exercised upon the lives of poor
These two victories broke the back of the Irish rebellion.
By the time Cromwell returned to England in May of 1650 to
deal with another Scottish threat, the success of the
English conquest was assured. It is hard to understate the
impact of Cromwells victories on the Irish people. W. C.
Abbot writes that the "conditions of the Cromwellian
conquest and settlement left a heritage of hate among the
defeated people `scarcely equalled and seldom, if ever,
surpassed in history."31 Several times in the months
following Wexford Cromwell was rumored to have been killed.
Against these false hopes a contemporary Irish poet wrote:
Cromwell is dead, and risen; and dead again and risen the
third time after he was slain: No wonder! For hes a
messenger of hell: And now he buffets us, now posts to tell
Whats past: and for more game new counsel takes Of his good
friend the devil, who keeps the stakes.32
If for the Irish Cromwell was a "messenger of hell," for
the English he wasa savior. The Poet Andrew Marvell
published a tribute to Cromwell in June 1650 entitled An
Horatian Ode Upon Cromwells Return from Ireland. The poem,
though it subtly chasted Cromwell for his inability to be
satisfied by the "inglorious arts of war," was full of
praise for Cromwells exploits. And despite a doubting
attitude by Marvell towards Charles Is execution, he
declared that much to Cromwell "is due." He stepped out of
obscurity to "cast the kingdoms of old into another mold."
In what battle of the Civil War were "[Cromwells] not the
deepest scars?" asked the poet, who also admonished the
Irish who "see themselves in one year tamed" by Cromwell.
Marvell honored Cromwell for selflessly giving his
victories to England:
[He] forbears his fame to make it theirs:
And has his sword and spoils ungirt,
To lay them at the publics skirt.
Finally, the author denigrated the rebellious Scots valor,
as he unabashedly compared Cromwell to Caesar and predicted
that the Scots will "Shrink underneath the plaid [their
kilts]" in reaction to Cromwells coming invasion.33
The victories in Ireland were only the beginning of what
some thought Cromwell might accomplish. The Fifth
Monarchist movement had viewed the execution of Charles I
as making way for the earthly reign of Jesus Christ
Himself. One member of the sect, New Model Army veteran
John Spittlehouse, published a pamphlet in 1650 which
attacked the aristocracy and endorsed the Kings execution.
Spittlehouse warned the Papacy to "beware of Nol Cromwells
army, lest Hugh Peter come to preach in St. Peters
chair."34 To him and other Fifth Monarchists, England (and
the Revolution) represented a precedent of what God
intended to do elsewhere.35 Cromwell had originally been
recalled from Ireland in order to assist General Fairfax in
defeating the Scottish revolt. Fairfax, however, refused to
involve himself in a war against the Presbyterian Scots, so
the command was given to Cromwell alone. The Scots had been
appalled by the execution of Charles, a Scottish King, and
they conditionally proclaimed Charles II king six days
after the execution. The young king arrived in Scotland in
the Spring of 1650 and raised an army.
In the last week of July Cromwell led an English force into
Scotland. The Lord Generals approach to the quelling of the
Scottish revolt was thoroughly different from the course
taken in Ireland. Cromwell published in Scotland A
Declaration of the Army of England upon his march into that
country. He appealed to the Scots as fellow Covenanters to
realize the error of their ways. He justified the invasion
as a self defense "of English religion and liberty."36 This
policy of moderation by Cromwell stands in stark contrast
to his behavior in Ireland where he was bent on the
destruction of "popish interests."
At Dunbar on September 4, 1650 Cromwells 11,000 man army
routed a Scottish army twice its size. In his report to
Parliament he described the battle in detail and related
the English armys dramatic battle cry, "the Lord of Hosts!"
The Lord General saw the army as comparable to the
"chariots and horsemen of Israel." The victory would not
only be a benefit to England but also an example which
"shall shine forth to other nations who shall emulate such
a pattern."37 The 12 September issue of the government
newspaper Mercurius Politicus described the Stuarts as
being asdespotic as the Roman Tarquin, and it praised
Cromwell not only for his triumph but for his mercy towards
Scottish wounded, whom the Lord General had ordered to be
The Scottish forces never fully recovered from the rout at
Dunbar; however, they were still strong enough to create
problems for the English. On 3 September 1651, the one year
anniversary of Dunbar, Cromwell won a decisive victory at
Worcester, deep in English territory. Charles II himself
led the Scots into the battle and only barely escaped
capture. The Scottish-Royalist movement was thus
exterminated for the near future. In bulletins sent to
England in the days following the battle, which were read
"from all London pulpits," Cromwell thanked the Lord for
what "He hath wrought for this Commonwealth and for his
people." He viewed the victory as divine approval for the
"[English] Nation and the change of government" brought
about by the revolution.39 A published account by an
English eyewitness to the battle saw things in the same
light as the Lord General. He said that the the "Lord hath
clothed us in white garments, our enemies in bloody
garments." To him, the victory was the "beginning of their
fall [Englands] before appearance of the Lord Jesus [i.e.
His Scottish victories earned Cromwell still more glory
from pamphleteers. In 1652, Payne Fisher published a
tiresomely long poem dedicated to Cromwell entitled
appropriately enough Veni, Vidi, Vici. It declared the Lord
General to be an "Instrument of God used to destroy the
Scots." In endless comparisons Fisher set Cromwell
alongside virtually every noted military figure in Greek
and Roman antiquity. He was the equal of Ulysses and
Aeneas, as well as Priam and Agamemnon in the poets eyes.
Because he fought for "liberty and religion," God was on
his side. The idea that the Lord Generals conquests had
brought Gods blessings upon the English people was the main
thrust of the work.41
In 1653, the self-proclaimed prophet Arise Evans printed a
compilation of his visions. In one of them he claimed to
have seen himself carried from France to Rome and heard "a
voice come to me saying, `So far as thou art come, so far
shall Cromwell come."42 Considered insane by the
authorities, Evans had been a court prophet to Charles I
and was to be one later for Cromwell, despite the fact that
he continually predicted the restoration of the Stuarts.43
The respect accorded to Evans is attested to by the
tolerance given him, and his predictions, by both the Kings
and Protectors courts.
The forcible dissolution of the Long Parliament (the Rump)
in April 1653 by Cromwell and the army, and the
establishment of a nominated (Barebones) parliament was
seen by many religious extremists as a step towards a "new
age." This was especially true for the Fifth Monarchists
with whom Cromwell was associated closely at this time.
This association was the result of Cromwells friendship
with General Harrison, a known Fifth Monarchist, as well as
the Lord Generals appointing of several members of the sect
to the Barebones. His speech on 4 July 1653 to the first
assembly of the Barebones Parliament gave encouragement to
beliefs of the coming of a new age of "godly rule."
Cromwell had "surrendered himself to millenarian
enthusiasm" according to Barry Coward, as he told the
Truly you are called by God to rule with Him and for Him, I
confess I never looked to see such a day as this when Jesus
Christ should be so owned as He is, at this day... this may
be the door to usher in the things that God has promised;
which have been prophesied of . . . we have some of us
thouht, that it is our duty to endeavor this way; not
vainly to look at that prophesy in Daniel.44
Cromwells euphoria soon dissipated as the Barebones
Parliament became a thorn in his side just as the previous
parliaments had been to the Stuarts. A conservative
backlash, joined by Cromwell himself, also swelled up
against some of the more radical ideas espoused by the
Parliament, especially those concerning property. As
Cromwell later told his officers, "Ministry and property
were like to be destroyed . . . Who could have said
anything was their own if they [the barebones] had gone
On 12 December 1653 the moderate majority of the Barebones
resigned and four days later Cromwell accepted the
Instrument of Government and was installed as Lord
Protector. To most radicals, Cromwell was seen as a traitor
to the Revolution. Some however held on to the hope that he
would use his new power to enact reforms and pursue the
crusading pro-Protestant policies which the Barebones had
been unable to do. Among these men was John Rogers, an
Independent minister and Fifth Monarchist who still
believed Cromwell to be a champion of reform.46 In 1654 he
published Doomsday Drawing Nigh, a book he dedicated to
Cromwell, "the Peoples Victorious Champion." He wrote, "His
Excellency the Lord Jesus hath sent out his summons to
other nations also, and the blade of the sword (whose
handle is held in England) will reach to the very gates of
Rome." Rogers called upon England to help her Protestant
neighbors in Bordeaux and Germany. In his mind, all
Protestants were bound together and should join together
their armies and navies. "The peoples eyes and cries are
directed to the Lord General," according to Rogers, "as the
interest by whom they are [to be] recovered out of the
Norman tyranny." The characterization of the "Norman
Tyranny" as a "yoke" was a reference to the equal rights
and privileges believed to have been lost by the average
Englishman through the Norman conquest.47 Oliver Cromwell
was the peoples champion in Rogers eyes because he
conquered "not for himself but for the people," in contrast
to the selfish William the Conqueror. The author finished
out his work by quoting and interpreting numerous
prophesies of his own and others. One prophecy, which he
credited to the French astrologer Nostradamus, had England
beginning a Reformation by destroying Rome with her armies.
The Turk too would be vanquished by the English, in league
with the Venetians according to the predictions.48 Like
others, Rogers picked up upon the theme of England emerging
as a power to be reckoned with, led by Cromwell.
Andrew Marvell wrote a poem in 1655 to the Protector to
commemorate the first anniversary of Cromwellian rule.
Marvell, a protege of Milton, was not only unperturbed by
Cromwells assumption of one man rule, he rather seemed to
grow in his fondness for the Protector. The poem opened
with almost fifty lines praising the vigor of the Lord
Protector as a ruler. The next sixty lines were a testament
to his construction of such a harmonious state. Marvell
then bemoaned the fact that mans sins had delayed the
millennium. He decried those who still worshiped "the
whore" (Rome) and those who subjugated the Indian and
burned the Jew (Spain), when instead they should have been
trying to convert them in anticipation of the millennium.
The poet pictures Cromwell rooting out Catholicism by using
the image of the scarlet beast of the Apocalypse.
Till then my muse shall hollo far behind Angelic Cromwell
who outwings the wind, And in dark nights, and in cold days
alone Pursues the monster thorough every throne: Which
shrinking to her Roman den impure, Gnashes her gory teeth;
nor there secure.
Marvell demonstrated his desire for Cromwell to become king
by comparing him favorably to Gideon and Noah. He was
critical of the Fifth Monarchists, whose prophesies were
"fit to be [put in the] Koran." Marvells final plea to
Cromwell, "the angel of our Commonwealth," was to continue
healing yearly the "troubling water" around England as he
had done thus far.49
Some of the literature of this period which applauded
Cromwell or cast him in the role of religious crusader was
either outright government-sponsored propaganda or, at the
least, encouraged by the government. An example of this is
in the 1656 translation of Bartolomeo De La Casas book The
Tears of the Indians. The translator, John Phillips, wrote
the books dedication to "Oliver, Lord Protector of the
Commonwealth," asking the Protector to avenge the Spanish
slaughter of the twenty million Indians of whom De La Casas
wrote. Phillips suggested that the Indians cries would
cease "at the noise of Your [Cromwell] great transactions,
while you arm for their revenge." The translator saw divine
virtues in Cromwell which would rightfully allow him to
punish "the bloody and popish nation of the Spaniards,"
whose crimes were "far surpassing the popish cruelties in
Ireland." Phillips timely translation and dedication were
used to help rouse up support for the coming war with
Spain. As Phillips was the nephew of John Milton (Cromwells
first official censor and propaganda minister), Phillips
work was surely encouraged, if not authorized, by the
Another example of Cromwellian propaganda can be seen in
the governments response to the public outcry to help the
persecuted Protestants in the French regions under the Duke
of Savoy. News sheets from the Continent had described in
depth the persecution suffered by the Protestants in that
area. An account of the atrocities against Protestants in
Savoy was printed in April of 1655. It described people
being nailed to trees, babies being eaten, and "abuses upon
women as are not to be named, so that it was a favor to be
cut into pieces." The account was accompanied by pictures
"so that the eye may affect the heart."51 Another 1655
pamphlet by a Frenchman recounted the history of one
hundred and fifty years of suffering endured by Savoy
Protestants. His narrative reportedly was "sent to his
highness the Lord Protector" and "published by his
The government of the Protector published a series of
letters in 1656 from Cromwell to Foreign princes and states
"for the strengthening and preserving of the Protestant
religion." The letters asked the rulers of Sweden, United
Provinces, Denmark, and Transylvania to pressure France and
join England in a Protestant league.53 It is obvious the
letters were a government-backed public relations ploy to
drum up support for the regime. While it is certain that
Cromwell did sympathize with his Protestant brethren, the
Anglo-French alliance signed in March 1657 casts doubt on
his sincerity in proposing a Protestant league against
On the whole, Cromwells reversion to one-man rule
disillusioned most radicals. Tracts concerning Cromwell now
tended to dwell on betrayal and missed opportunities.
Quakers James Nayler and George Fox in 1655 wrote a piece
critical of Cromwell for not carrying out the reforms which
they felt he had promised, denouncing any move towards the
abolition of lay preaching. To them Cromwll had surrounded
himself with less "godly" men than previously. They wrote
that the "Lord has set the army above all your enemies," on
the one hand, but, "[you must] choose men of God to bear
the Sword of God" on the other.55
Some writers even went farther in their solutions to the
Protectors problems. Walter Gostello in his pamphlet
Charles Stuart and Oliver Cromwell United urged Cromwell to
ask Charles IIs forgiveness and restore him. Claiming his
message to be "declared from God Almighty to the
publisher," Gostello predicted Romes downfall. His message
to Cromwell was to "stay the Sword," convert the Jew and
the Irish, and restore Charles II along with the peers.56
While he is obviously a prophet with Royalist leanings,
Gostellos pleas to Cromwell to change his course are
typical of this period.
The most impassioned admonition to Cromwell was written by
George Fox. The Protector had always been friendly to the
Quakers on a personal level and they had felt he was on
their side. But by 1657 it was apparent that the desired
changes were not forthcoming. But Fox still believed it was
Cromwells sinfulness, not his intentions, which had ruined
Englands chance for greatness.
O Oliver, hadst thou been faithful and thundered down the
deceit, the Hollander [could] had been thy subject and
tributary, Germany had given up to have done thy will, and
the Spaniard had quivered like a dry leaf wanting the
virtue of God, the King of France should have bowed his
neck under thee, the Pope should have withered as in
winter, the Turk in all his fatness should have smoked,
thou shouldst not have stood trifling about small things,
but minded the work of the Lord as He began with thee
Ending with Fox is appropriate in more ways than one.
First, he summed up the wide range of expectations
concerning Cromwell and England. Secondly, and more
importantly, the quote is full of irony: Fox was bitter
towards Cromwell for not living up to the very image which
pamphleteers like himself helped to create. The facade of
Protestant Champion was a result of many
factors--international events, the millennial atmosphere
created by the Revolutions upheaval, and the martial skill
of the New Model Army and Cromwell. However, the key to the
pamphleteers motivation lay in the utterances and writings
of Cromwell himself. His deep religious convictions and
belief in Gods hand as the controlling force in his own
life were transferred into his public character. Oliver
Cromwell unintentionally projected the image of a millenial
crusader, though he was not above exploiting this
reputation for political benefit. The explosion of
pamphlets fostered and encouraged this image, but by the
mid-1650s it was clear that Cromwell was unfit for the
role. The fatal flaw for Cromwell was that his military and
political pragmatism made him both unsuitable and unwilling
to fulfill the wilder aspirations of the popular media.
1. G. E. Aylmer, Rebellion or Revolution (Oxford, 1986), 65.
2. Christopher Hill, Gods Englishman (New York, 1970), 155.
3. Barry Coward, The Stuart Age (London, 1980), 188-190.
4. In Stows 1603 survey of the city, he counts 123 parish
churches, along with St. Pauls and St. Peters, in London
and the immediate suburbs. John Stow, A Survey of London
(Oxford, 1908), 2:143.
5. Thomas Carlyle, ed., Oliver Cromwells Letters and
Speeches (London, 1857), 1:173.
6. Ibid., 1:187.
7. Hugh Peter, Gods Doings and Mans Duty (London, 1646),
8. Mercurius Civicus (London, 30 April 1646), 1-2.
9. Christopher Hill, Puritanism and Revolution (New York,
10. Mark Kishlansky, The Rise of the New Model Army
(Cambridge, 1979), 180.
11. Charles Firth, Oliver Cromwell (New York, 1908), 163.
12. Carlyle, Letters and Speeches, 1:295.
13. Mercurius Elenctius (London, 6 December 1648).
14. Clement Walker, The History of Independency (London,
15. Firth, Oliver Cromwell, 238.
16. Louis XIV, The Declaration of the Most Christian King
of France and Navarre (Paris, 2 January 1649).
17. Sir Ralph Clare, A Declaration to the English Nation
(London, 28 April 1649), 1-7.
18. Anthony Fletcher, The Outbreak of the English Civil War
(New York, 1981), 136.
19. Ibid., 138-139.
20. W. R. The Rebels Turkish Tyranny (London, 1641).
21. Anthony Rouse, Gods Vengeance Upon the Rebels (London,
14 December 1641).
22. Barbarous and Inhumane Proceedings (London, 1655),
23. Daniel Harcourt, "The Clergys Lamentation," Mercurius
Aulicus (London, 1644).
24. Morely Gent, A Remonstrance of the Barbarous Cruelties
and Bloody Murders (London, 1644).
25. The Impudence of the Romish Whore (London, 1644).
Thomas Emitie, A New Remonstrance From Ireland (London,
26. D. M. R. Esson, The Curse of Cromwell (London, 1971),
27. Firth, Oliver Cromwell, 257.
28. Ibid., 267.
29. Carlyle, Letters and Speeches, 2:49-55.
30. Ibid., 70.
31. W. C. Abbot, Writings and Speeches of Oliver Cromwell
(New York, 1937).
32. Carlyle, Letters and Speeches, 2:71.
33. Elizabeth Donno, ed., Andrew Marvell: Complete Poems
(England, 1985), 55-58, 238-241.
34. John Spittlehouse, Rome Ruind by Whitehall (London,
35. B. S. Capp, The Fifth Monarch Men (London, 1972), 151.
36. Oliver Cromwell, A Declaration of the Army of England
37. Carlyle, Letters and Speeches, 2:193.
38. Mercurius Politicus (London, 12 September 1650).
39. Carlyle, Letters and Speeches, 2:296.
40. Robert Stapylton, Letter To Parliament (London,
September 1651), 1, 6-7.
41. Payne Fisher, Veni, Vidi, Vici (London, 1652), 8-26,
42. Arise Evans, An Echo to the Voice from Heaven (London,
43. Christopher Hill, The World Turned Upside Down (London,
44. Barry Coward, The Stuart Age, 222.
45. Hill, Gods Englishman, 140-43.
46. Robert Zaller and Richard Greaves, Biographical
Dictionary of British Radicals in the Seventeenth Century
(Sussex, 1982), 76.
47. Hill, Puritanism and Revolution, 50-55.
48. John Rogers, Sagir, or Doomsday Drawing Nigh (London,
1654), 14-17, 89, 132.
49. Donno, Andrew Marvell, 126-137, 268-273.
50. Bartolomeo De La Casas, The Tears of the Indians
(London, John Phillips, trans., 1656), intro. Hill, Gods
51. Barbarous and Inhumane Proceedings, 46-48.
52. Jean Paul Perrin, History of the Vaudois (London,
53. Oliver Cromwells Letters to Foreign Princes (London,
54. Aylmer, Rebellion or Revolution, 239-240.
55. Jaes Nayler and George Fox, To Thee Oliver Cromwell
(London, 1655), 2-3.
56. Walter Gostello, Charles Stuart and Oliver Cromwell
United (London, 1655).
57. William Braithwaite, The Beginnings of Quakerism
(Cambridge, 1970), 440.