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

By Robert S. Paul | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TWELVE
THE IRISH CAMPAIGN AND ITS MORAL ISSUES (August 1649--May 1650)

I

THE battles of Cromwell's earlier career were important because they helped to build up in him the all-important conception of a divinely-appointed vocation. Doubtless the successes in Ireland added further to the strength of his conviction, but the attitude with which he accepted the Irish command suggests that a sense of mission had already taken shape in his mind, and if this was the case then it is likely that he would see in the sequence of future events only those things which would support the theory.

The Irish expedition is important for another reason, namely, the moral issues raised by Cromwell's treatment of the Irish, particularly at Drogheda and Wexford. Certainly these massacres appear as the blackest deeds of his career.1 The incidents of the Irish campaign, however, cannot be considered apart from the rest of Cromwell's career. A man does not suddenly become barbarous, except through madness, or because circumstances unexpectedly bring to life dormant passions; and there are certain factors which had become part of Cromwell's character and which became roused while he was in Ireland--distorted history, religious and national prejudices, and antagonisms created or accentuated by the civil wars. Undoubtedly first among these factors was the horror which had been engendered in England by the exaggerated accounts of the Irish massacre of English Protestant settlers in 1641. The evidence of Richard Baxter, Lucy Hutchinson and Edmund Ludlow shows how the massacre

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1
S. R. Gardiner, one of Cromwell's staunchest champions, has pointed out that in England, except at Basing House, Cromwell had been uniformly merciful, but "he now treated Irishmen worse than he treated Englishmen". Comm. & Prot., I, 125, n. 2.

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