Sir Charles Firth’s biography of Oliver Cromwell portrays a man who was ‘both soldier and statesman in one’, a man of ‘a large-hearted, expansive vigorous nature’, one who always invokes the might of God to explain his very human acts of revenge and justice.
Frith describes the years which led to Cromwell seizing power. These years included the rise and fall of megalomaniac King Charles I, meetings of the Long Parliaments of the 1640s and the discussions concerning the newer ideas in English Christianity (Presbyterianism, Calvinism and so forth). Then came the Puritan rebellion against Charles following their Nineteen Propositions of 1642.
Throughout the 1640s and 1650s the Royalists, fighting on behalf of the King, were engaged in fighting with the Puritans, and Firth gives excellent and vivid descriptions of battle based on first-hand accounts. Assisted by the Scottish Army, the Battle of Marston Moor was a key point in the conflict, where Cromwell gained the nickname ‘Ironsides’ from his followers and ‘Lord of the Fens’ from his opponents due to his support of the rights of peasants.
In 1648 he joined the army to quell any outbreak of civil war and anarchy, persuading the soldiers to side with him and Parliament. He also formulated ‘The Agreement of the People’.
Then Ireland rose up against its Parliament, leading to Cromwell’s attempt to convert the nation to Protestantism, and England went to war with Scotland and the Netherlands.
After the execution of Charles I in 1649, Cromwell was placed at the head of the English Republic, ‘a perpetual Parliament always sitting’, which became the Little Parliament within a few years. Opposed to him were the Levellers and Presbyterians, which shows that the events had both a political and religious dimension. He also gave kindness to the Quakers and formed an alliance with France against Spain in a move that was much criticised in the years that followed.
Cromwell initially wanted to incorporate the army into how England was governed, but by 1653 civilian rule had been restored. Cromwell was given the title of Protector and set about promoting the separation of powers within government and the reform of law and the English courts system.
He also encouraged education and scholarship, which were linked with his own religious ideals to unite the branches of the English church, and hoped to secure England’s commercial and religious interests within Europe and the colonies.
Right up to his death in 1660, argues Firth in a wide-ranging and brilliant study of Puritanism and the man who stood at its head, no man exerted more influence on the religious development of England.
Charles Firth (1857-1936) was Regius Professor of Modern History at Oxford University and president of the Royal Historical Society. His works concerned seventeenth-century England and included Scotland and the Commonwealth.
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C. H. Firth
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I found this to be a very compelling depiction of Cromwell and the brief rule of the Puritans in 17th century England. The mixture of a man of deep and abiding faith with a surprisingly successful "self-taught" military leader provides an interesting story. This is my first book about Cromwell so I have no sense about any bias the author may have inserted in the work. If you've never read about "The Protector" this is a good place to jump in.
Not quite a 5 star, but well written and it explains what folks were arguing about very well. The situation was much more complex than I thought it was. I had a distinctly negative view of Cromwell, but he comes out much better than I thought he would. In a totally intolerant world, he is one of the more tolerant people around at the time, although not tolerant by modern standards. Good reminder that we usually judge historical figures harsher than they deserve. He was also a great military commander, self taught mostly, but it was a vocation he was meant for. He is was also a talented politician who seemed to have an ability to sway public opinion, at least in the short term and he ran a very effective foreign policy. He wanted a Republic, but given the times, England was not quite ready for it. The study of Cromwell and his time was an important one for our fore fathers when they were debating how to make a Republic work at the Constitutional Convention. We need checks and balances...
In revolutionary Boston there was a tavern called Cromwell's Head. According to Gavin Nathan, "The two-story wooden building had a large sign hanging outside of Oliver Cromwell...It was hung so low that people would cross the street to avoid walking under it." Okay but Gavin Nathan misses the point. Thankfully, Esther Forbes does not: "The 'Cromwell Head' made a good deal of trouble first and last. The sign, a swinging portrait of the Lord Protector, hung so low no one could pass along the north side of School Street without inadvertently bowing low to Oliver Cromwell, which humiliated Episcopalians and Crown officers."
And so for my point: after reading Firth's book, I now understand just how brilliant the 'joke'. Oliver Cromwell, not perfect but not at all the monster he is often portrayed to be. In fact, Oliver Cromwell enters my unofficial "hall of heroes".
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