The Lord Protector: Religion and Politics in the Life of Oliver Cromwell

By Robert S. Paul | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION

THE late W. C. Abbott of Harvard listed nearly 3,700 works dealing with Cromwell,1 and any addition to that list demands a very formidable excuse on the part of the author. The only justification that can be offered is the enigma of Cromwell's character itself.

It fascinates because it is full of paradox, and yet the paradox within his life was not merely political: it was not simply that of a man who began by fighting for individual liberties and ended by becoming an absolute dictator. The issue is complicated by religion, and at its deepest level the contradiction is between the Independent2 who held "democratic" ideas in ecclesiastical matters, and the man who tried to remedy England's political impasse by becoming Lord Protector. To solve the dilemma historians have resorted to a wide variety of theories, the most simple being that of the royalists, who by denying the genuineness of Cromwell's religion are able to present the picture of a black-hearted tyrant who schemed for power from the beginning, while at the other end of the political rainbow there is the answer of nineteenth-century Liberalism--Cromwell the Great Democrat, who was forced by circumstance into absolutism. It would seem that between Clarendon's royalist convention of the "brave bad man" and Carlyle's noble "hero" there is a great gulf fixed, and if this is so, there can be no answer to the dilemma, and one's estimate of Cromwell must be consigned to the arbitration of prejudice.

Although there have been modern attempts to cut the Gordian knot and present a "realistic" view of Cromwell,3 most of the

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1
A Bibliography of Oliver Cromwell ( Harvard University Press, 1929). Also "Addenda to the Bibliography" in The Writings and Speeches of Oliver Cromwell ( Harvard University Press, 4 vols., 1937-47), IV.
2
Where capitalized, the word is intended in its ecclesiastical sense.
3
Cf. G. R. Stirling Taylor, Oliver Cromwell ( 1928); W. C. Abbott, Writings and Speeches of Oliver Cromwell (hereafter abbreviated to W.S. in references). The place of publication is mentioned in first references to books, and where it is not specified it must be presumed to be London.

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