The Greatness of Oliver Cromwell

The Greatness of Oliver Cromwell

The Greatness of Oliver Cromwell

The Greatness of Oliver Cromwell

Excerpt

The Zen Buddhists believe that it is impossible for one human being to know another, however intimate they may be, and that is confirmed by common experience. How much more difficult therefore it is to understand a statesman who had been dead for 300 years and about whom the historical evidence is far from complete. In a recent book another great statesman, Sir Winston Churchill, referred to Oliver Cromwell as a 'smokey soul'. But aren't we all?

I have been reading, writing, and lecturing about Oliver Cromwell now for more than a quarter of a century, and I certainly would not pretend to be able to describe the precise workings of his mind. The most I try to do in this book is to measure his place in history, as I see it after years of study. I would venture to affirm that he is not a figure who lends himself to an immediate judgment, any more, say, than the first Duke of Marlborough. With all deference to Sir Winston Churchill, to whom I personally owe much, I feel strongly, for example, that in condemning Cromwell, as he does, for his military conduct in Ireland, he is merely reasserting a popular historical opinion, which needs to be critically re-examined and not repeated every generation. I have attempted to do that in Chapter 15. But the main question that I have asked myself in writing my new biography is that suggested by its title: in what did Oliver Cromwell's historical greatness really consist?

I am indebted to Mr A. H. Woolrych of Leeds University for reading the book in manuscript, to Mr C. K. Adams, C.B.E., Director of the National Portrait Gallery, and Mr Oliver Millar, M.V.O., Deputy Surveyor of the Queen's Pictures, for their advice about illustrations, and to my colleague, Miss Patricia Entract for invaluable assistance.

MAURICE ASHLEY

London, April 1957 . . .

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