Historical Notes: Oliver Cromwell, King without a Crown
Sherwood, Roy, The Independent (London, England)
SUNDAY 25 April 1999 marked the 400th anniversary of the birth of arguably one of the most misunderstood figures in British history, Oliver Cromwell.
Reinforced no doubt by Victorian dramatic representations of events from his life, the popular stereotypical image of Cromwell as Lord Protector from 1653 to 1658 is that of the po-faced military dictator clattering austerely about the ex-royal palaces in dull apparel, riding boots, replete with spurs, and even the odd piece of armour. This in spite of the fact that as Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell not only functioned as a king but also dressed, acted and lived very much in the style of a king, even though he was head of state of what was nominally a republic.
Cromwell and the Cromwellian regime knew that the power, wealth and influence of a nation were, at that time, projected by the clothes a ruler wore, the magnificence of his court, and the symbolism of ceremonial. Shortly after his investiture as Lord Protector in December 1653 Cromwell was entertained by the City of London, as had been the custom following a monarch's coronation. For this public symbolic acceptance of his regime the Protector rode through the streets of the capital resplendently attired in a rich riding coat embroidered with gold lace on a horse equally as resplendently adorned with rich trappings. Likewise, Cromwell opened Parliament with all the ritual and pageantry of a king, travelling to the ceremony in a magnificent state coach accompanied by liveried footmen and yeomen of the guard. This regal splendour was mirrored in his court. It was, according to the Venetian ambassador, the most awe-inspiring and prestigious court in the world, where pomp had reached such a pitch that the ambassador expressed anxiety at the cost of maintaining a presence there. Court life very much resembled life at previous royal courts. This is no more exemplified than by the marriages of Cromwell's two youngest daughters, Mary and Frances. …