Heads, You Win Charles and Oliver. Cavalier and Roundhead. Monarchist and Republican. the Defining Opposites of English Constitutional History. So What Were Their Spin Doctors Up to When They Commissioned These Engravings?
Fraser, Antonia, The Independent (London, England)
Merely one tyrant eliminating another by means of execution: that was Robespierre's dismissive judgement on the death of Charles I at the will of Cromwell. He refused to see any parallels with the impending execution of Louis XVI at the hands of the noble, democratic French Revolutionaries. Louis XVI himself, on the other hand, had always been presciently fascinated by the character of Charles I. As a small boy at Versailles he had recited a prepared speech to the historian David Hume; later, Hume's account of the unfortunate British monarch became one of his favourite studies and, in preparing himself to die in January 1793, he took as his model Charles I's conduct on the scaffold nearly 150 years previously.
At the beginning of the 19th century, however, William Hazlitt reported a conversation among his friends in which all agreed that OliverCromwell "with his fine, frank, rough, pimply face, and wily policy" was the only statesman in history they would wish to have seen. Towards its end, Sir Richard Tangye, a rich industrialist, admired Cromwell so much on grounds of his religious principles and his integrity that he dedicated much of his wealth to forming a private Cromwell museum, packed with books, pictures and artefacts, at his estate in Cornwall.
All these attitudes indicate how far the reputations of both Charles I and Cromwell have always been adapted to suit the purposes of the time - or the individual. Long before there were spin doctors, there were propaganda warriors: reds (the royal colour), greens (the Leveller colour), and infinite shades in between. Now, by historical coincidence, the 350th anniversary of Charles I's execution (30 January) is found to occur within a few months of the 400th anniversary of Cromwell's birth (25 April). Two new exhibitions, the Queen's Gallery with Charles I: King and Martyr, and the Museum of London with Cromwell: Warts and All commemorate the respective events. And, in a sense, the propaganda war is continued. The position of the Queen's Gallery is significant: it is tucked in beside Buckingham Palace and you reach it by what I always think of as a servants' entrance - although "subjects" may be a more appropriate word. The interior, however, houses a rich jewel of an exhibition which no one interested in the connection of art to politics should miss. It is also a fascinating exposition of the uses of propaganda. (You can't help noticing, in this connection, that the official copyright line on the excellent catalogue by Jane Roberts, Keeper of Prints and Drawings at Windsor, is "Royal Collection Enterprises Ltd".) The position of the Cromwell exhibition at the Museum of London is also significant. London, as the visitor quickly learns at the entrance, was always heavily - and influentially - in favour of the parliamentary side in the Civil War. We are encouraged to think of Cromwell as London's local hero (no doubt planned events at Huntingdon, his birthplace, and Cambridge, which he represented as MP, will stress their own connections). This is an excellent, well- planned exhibition in which a great deal is interestingly displayed in a small space, having as its kernel that Cornish Tangye collection, handed over to the Museum of London in 1946. It does not have - how could it? - the sheer quality of the pictures and objects from the Royal Collection, such as Van Dyck's relatively small version of his equestrian portrait of Charles I, let alone the famous Van Dyck triple heads which alone make the Queen's Gallery worth a visit. Yet there are objects of great interest, such as the music manuscript of Cromwell's cousin Anne - music she played to him herself. Cromwell: Warts and All does have its bull point, and this too is announced to the visitor. Cromwell has been more written about than any of our other rulers. We are at least half-way towards Sir Richard Tangye's conviction that "the nation" …
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Publication information: Article title: Heads, You Win Charles and Oliver. Cavalier and Roundhead. Monarchist and Republican. the Defining Opposites of English Constitutional History. So What Were Their Spin Doctors Up to When They Commissioned These Engravings?. Contributors: Fraser, Antonia - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: February 3, 1999. Page number: 1. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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