Oliver Cromwell is one of the most controversial personalities in England’s history. Many scientists have been arguing about him for centuries. Some of them assert that Cromwell was a hypocritical and selfish tyrant, rebelling only for the sake of money and fame, while others argue that he was a real revolutionary and fighter for wellbeing of the English nation. Who is right? What is a reasonable evaluation of Cromwell today?
“The English bourgeois revolution of the 17th century was the first revolution on a European scale. It gave a fatal crash for the European feudal system” Unquestionably, Cromwell played a very important role in the England’s affairs of that time. As a political and military leader, he had a strong sense of the working of divine providence and incredible strategic thinking. His sincerely held religious views convinced him of the evils of Charles I’s regime and the justness of his cause in the Civil War. Political actions of the man were often hesitant at first, then decisive. A simple country gentleman he rose, in the exceptional circumstances of civil war and revolution, to the highest office in the state. Such success showed him that he had God’s blessing. His Protectorate was marked by an unusual degree of religious toleration. It provided firm and impartial government as well as united the three nations within the British Isles. The union was based on the military conquest, though. Under Cromwell, England acquired a high reputation abroad.
Charles I was very tolerant to Roman Catholics, but not for the increasing number of Calvinism followers. His religious beliefs and persecutions of those, who opposed the Anglican Church, caused dissatisfaction of many people. Charles’ conservative attitudes were also the major contribution towards the revolt of Scots.
The king saw his chance and tried to play the army against Parliament, as well as the Scots against the English. Cromwell grasped the evil intentions of Charles. Finally, in disgust, he put an end to the farce by defeating the Scottish army, purging Parliament of ninety-six Presbyterian members, and seizing, trying and executing the faithless Charles. “Cromwell was more responsible for the overthrow of the Stuarts than any other man, and as the commander of a large, well-trained army, he had power to establish a dictatorship.”
The Lord Protector’s actions were based upon long doubts and considerations. All the actions he made were inspired by God, after long prayers and sleepless nights. “Cromwell repeatedly claimed that God was controlling events, that his own actions were molded or directed by a very interventionist God, that he sought God’s will on how he should proceed and that divine instruction shaped subsequent events.”
Although most of his self-determinations were difficult for him, the decision to support Charles I’s sending to death was probably the most difficult one for him.
Slowly, hesitantly and perhaps unwillingly, Cromwell came round to support
was sending to him personally and to the army in general during 1648. In late
November he was still writing that he and his colleagues were in a waiting
he believed that the Lord required Charles I’s trial and execution, a belief
fueled by God’s word vouchsafed either direct to him or to the army.
Not only Cromwell’s piety and conscientiousness made him a famous political leader, but also an extremely outstanding ability to be a military man. The new army, basically established by Cromwell’s talent and energy, was a truly made popular army, inspired by ideals of freedom and justice. It unified various democratic powers. Hence, the largest Cromwell’s merit was his ability to relate his own interests with this folk movement. He became the revolutionary army commander, lead it to many victories, neglecting the chiefs, which were often tended to find a compromise with the monarchy. “He was prompt and eager when many hung back, recruiting men into his first troops of horse who had, like himself ‘the fear of God and made some conscience of what they did’.”
Cromwell had never been trained in war, but from the very beginning he showed consummate genius as a general. Following P. Gaunt’s ideas, there was a number of reasons, explaining Cromwell’s success as of the military leader. First of all, he mentions the cooperation with various commanders, which had failures in battlefields. Secondly, Cromwell charged his troops and routed them into the still stationary royalists. Moreover, he showed a strong interest in the well being of his men. He repeatedly begged supplies from local and central government. To go further, Cromwell recognized that gentlemen were more likely to make good soldiers than asocial people. He took care that his own officers and troopers were sober, godly men. He imposed a strong discipline, throughout his regime.
To talk about religious freedom during his Protectorate, it should be mentioned, that “Cromwell was likely to ally with those politicians who favored a broad religious settlement.” Religious toleration improved a great deal during his reign.
Just as Cromwell did not care much about worldly forms of government, as long as they facilitated progress towards divine ends, so he was not too concerned about the outward forms of religion and religious organization. What mattered to Cromwell was the people should understand God’s fundamental truths and should earn salvation.
Outside the church he permitted all Christians to practice their own religion so long as they did not create “disorder and unrest.” Lord Protector allowed the use of The Book of Common Prayer in private houses and “even the English Roman Catholics were better off under the protectorate than they had been before.” Heretics were persecuted only for “extreme anti-governmental actions.”
The Lord Protector proclaimed the three kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland, a one political union. His foreign politics brought many benefits to the state. He signed peace with the Netherlands, useful commercial treaties with Sweden and Denmark, which opened the navigation to the Baltic Sea. New agreements between England and Portugal allowed non-charged trade in Asia, Africa, and America. “Numerous and rapid were his victories over Holland, and Spain, and Portugal.” Cromwell achieved obedience at home and “respect and glory abroad” His successes in military sphere and his enhanced standing as a military commander gave him a base, which was to prove vital in post-war politics.
On the whole, Oliver Cromwell was one of the most significant personalities of the 17th century and all English history in general. Whether scholars find Cromwell to be hero or villain, whether they praise or condemn him, surely nobody can deny his greatness and enormous impact upon his times. Religious toleration, profitable commercial treaties, and several successful wars characterize Cromwell’s Protectorate. He was the man of God sent to lead the nation. P. Gaunt depicts the Lord Protector as “a Matchless Prince, a successful soldier, and a courageous politician who, as a second Moses, was leading the nation into the Promised Land of true reformation.”
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