The years between 1640 and 1660 witnessed in England a greater outpouring of printed material than the country had seen since the first printing press had begun operating in the 1470s. 1 The breakdown of government and Church censorship in the early 1640s was almost total until the mid-1650s when Oliver Cromwell as Lord Protector reimposed some controls. Not until the return of the Stuarts and their royal censors did the flow of pamphlets cease.
This tumultuous period of English history therefore became a crowded arena for free expression of radical religious, social, and political ideas. This fact, coupled with the euphoria surrounding the victories of the New Model Army, the uninhibited exchange of ideas, and the general millennial atmosphere, especially following Charles Is execution, led many Englishman to see their nation as the emerging leader of the Protestant world. A recurring theme among these pamphlets, sermons, and broadsides was the idea that Oliver Cromwell was the man to lead England into this new age.
Like the second coming of the Swedish soldier-king Gustavus Adolphus, Cromwell would champion the Protestant cause wherever it was in need. As a Civil War hero, conqueror of the Irish and Scots, and later as Lord Protector, the devoutly religious Cromwell certainly had the background to fit the role. Yet in practical terms, England of the 1640s and 1650s was not the military juggernaut that many writers pictured it to be. The nation was not capable of wiping out the Turkish menace, unseating the Pope, and defending persecuted Protestants on the Continent all in one fell swoop.
Thefinancial difficulties of the Stuarts did not disappear with the execution of Charles, and though the navy was strong, it was not logistically feasible for the army to get involved in a large Continental war. Despite this, even Cromwell himself had some occasional delusions of religious and military grandeur. A well known quote has him saying that, were he ten years younger, there was not a king in Europe I would not make to tremble. 2 In moments of religious fervor Cromwell might have seen himself and England in a millenial light, yet he was first and foremost a pragmatic politician.
His genuine belief in the need to aid and protect his co-religionists took a secondary position to the day-to-day realities of English society and politics. His alliance with the Catholic French against the Spanish and his acquiescence to the war agaist the Protestant Dutch provide ample evidence of his heeding realpolitik considerations over any Pan-Protestant ideology. Why then was Cromwell cast by the pamphleteers as a Protestant champion? The answer lies in the fact that the world view of the average Englishman was limited to either what he read or what was read to him, either at informal gatherings or in church.
Thus, the power of the printed word is hard to exaggerate in this time of upheaval and millennial anticipation. How and why Oliver Cromwell was cast in the role of English savior is directly related to the outlook of his contemporaries as shaped by the literature of the era. After distinguished service in the early years of the Civil War, Cromwell was firmly thrust into the limelight following his participation in the Battle of Naseby on 14 June 1645, the conflicts decisive engagement.
Having only recently rejoined the army following his exemption from the Self Denying Ordinance, he was to play a major role in this Parliamentary victory. Despite an overwhelming numerical advantage (14,000 vs. 7,500), the Parliamentary forces were on the verge of collapse following a Royalist charge against one end of their line. Cromwell, however, led the better disciplined Parliamentary horse on a charge against the opposite flank and succeeded in getting behind the Royalist infantry and thus swinging the victory toward Parliament.
Though the King held out for another year, Naseby effectively crushed the Royalist cause. 3 Cromwells letter to the Speaker of the House William Lenthall following the battle set the tone for future Cromwellian victory announcements. In its two paragraphs, the letter, which was read to Parliament as well as in the Churches in and around London,4 credited the victory to God no less than six times. He wrote, This [victory] is none other but the hand of God; and to him alone belongs the glory, wherein none are to share with him.
Cromwells giving credit for his triumphs to divine providence is a recurring theme throughout his life. Two months later, from the town of Bristol, Cromwell sent more good tidings to Parliament. Having just concluded a storming of the town, Cromwell wrote, This is none other than the work of God. He must be a very atheist that doth not acknowledge it. After thanking God several more times, Cromwell described his soldiers joy as being in the knowledge that they are instruments of Gods glory and their countrys good. 6 Following Naseby, the New Model Army ran off a string of victories.
An atmosphere of invincibility and a sense of divine backing began to permeate the army and its supporters. Hugh Peter, an army chaplain and Independent minister, preached a sermon before Parliament in April 1645 (which was revised and printed in 1646) in which he spoke of seeing Gods hand in Parliaments victory. Peter made special mention of Cromwell as a decisive player in the victory at Naseby. He also saw an expanded role for England, saying that the Lord hath made us warlike, awaked us thoroughly out of our effeminacy and we are becom[ing] formidable to our neighbors.
Going even further, Peter saw the Palatinate, Germany, France, Ireland, and the Netherlands all looking to England fr leadership. 7 Along with the growing pubic praise for the New Model Army as it continued its dominance over the Royalist forces was the increased stature enjoyed by Cromwell following Naseby. A Parliamentary newspaper in 1646 was full of praise for the active and gallant commander Lieutenant General Cromewell when he visited London. It described his great willingness to advance the Great Cause in hand for the Reformation of Religion, and the resettling of the peace and government of the kingdom.
The article goes on to describe the awe in which the other MPs viewed him as well as to state, [Cromwell] had never brought his colors from the field but he did wind up victory within them. 8 It should be recalled that Europe was still embroiled in the Thirty Years War, which the Stuarts had avoided despite the fact that James Is daughter (Charles Is sister) was married to the Elector of the Palatinate. England remained neutral due to the financial crisis at home, as well as to allow James to play the role of mediator in the conflict.
For many Englishmen, the refusal to aid the Protestant cause on the Continent was an embarrassment. Hugh Peters reference to England getting over her effeminacy and becoming warlike is an example of Puritan disappointment with Stuart foreign policy. As Christopher Hill writes, It was with burning shame that such patriots saw the supine or hostile attitude of their government whilst these great issues were at stake. 9 In May 1646, the King fled to the Scottish army and with the surrender of the Royalist capital of Oxford in July, the Civil War seemed over.
Cromwell returned to his home following the signing of the terms of capitulation. In the succeeding months the army became increasingly radicalized by Parliaments refusal to address the soldiers material grievances and its rejection of the armys right to petition. 10 Negotiations with the King had become fruitless and the chances for a settlement with him looked bleak. When a group of soldiers seized Charles in June 1647, Cromwell threw in his lot with the army radicals. 11 With the outbreak of the second Civil War in March 1648, Cromwell again was in the field at the head of an army.
After easily suppressing a Royalist uprising in Wales, Cromwell hurried to help repel the invading Scottish army from the North. In a series of battles from 17-19 August Cromwell shattered the dispirited and divided Scots at Preston. In his dispatch to Parliament, General Cromwell again credited the victory to the Lords providence. Surely, Sir, he wrote, this is nothing but the hand of God. The victory did on the surface seem miraculous considering the Scots superiority in numbers.
As Cromwell wrote, Only give me leave to add one word, showing the disparity of forces (21,000 Scots vs. 600 English) . . . that you may see and all the world acknowledge the hand of God in this business. 12 In truth, the English victory was much more dependent on Scottish ineptitude than divine intervention, but the effect on public opinion of a success against such a numerically superior force was undoubtedly tremendous. The defeat of the Royalist threat in the Second Civil war was followed by the well known events of the Army entering London on 2 December 1648 and Colonel Prides purge of the Parliament on 5 December.
The Army was now in control of the government and ready to push through its own agenda. No solution involving the king now seemed possible and talk of his being put on trial and removed was circulating the capital. Early in December one London news sheet openly questioned what sort of government should replace the monarchy. It read, For (say the Saints) shall not we be happy when we ourselves make choice of a good and upright man to be king over us? The article described an elected king as one who esteemeth of Religion and Virtue, [more] than of all other worldly things.
Two men who were deemed to possess the necessary traits were honorable and victorious Fairfax or Cromwell, in whom God hath miraculously manifesed his presence. 13 This article was important not only because its author considered Cromwell suitable material for kingship, but also because it demonstrated the view of Cromwell as a godly man and one whose actions God had blessed. A sermon preached before the House of Commons on 22 December 1648 by Hugh Peter is another example of the extreme views which had emerged.
Comparing the Army leaders (of whom Cromwell was one) to Moses, Peter urged that the army must root up monarchy, not only here, but in France and other kingdoms round about. By doing so, he asserted that the army would lead the English people out of their Egyptian religious and ideological enslavement. Monarchy was seen as a demonstrated evil and the eradication of it elsewhere would be a godly cause.
Drawing from the Book of Daniel, Peter also saw the army as that corner stone cut out of the mountain which must dash the earth to pieces. The actions of the radicals, who on 30 January 1649 executed Charles I, horrified the rest of Europe (and much of England). As Cromwellian biographer Charles Firth wrote, There was indeed no prospect of the general league of European potentates to punish regicide, for which Royalists hoped, but both governments and people were hostile. 15 While the real threat of foreign invasion may not have been great, the ominous possibility of it created a siege mentality among the English people.
A declaration in the name of Louis XIV published in Paris on 2 January and republished in England in translation, warned the Rump Parliament against any action towards the person of the King. Louis considered it his Christian duty to either redeem from bondage the injured person of our neighbor King or to revenge all outrages already done or hereafter which may happen to be done against Charles. Louis vowed vengeance not only against the perpetrators of the crimes but also their wives and children.
The French Kings diatribe concluded by urging all other Kings, Princes, and States to make similar proclamations and to join together for the safety of their brother sovereign. 16 In the event that official proclamations against England were not effective enough in creating an air of paranoia, Royalist propagandists were also willing to contribute. In April 1649 Ralph Clare published a fabricated declaration by several monarchs, real and imaginary, condemning Englands regicidal actions.
The pamphlets stated purpose was [a] detestation of the present proceedings of the Parliament and Army, and of their [the monarchs] intentions of coming over into England in behalf of King Charles II. 17 Up to this point one can see the background developing for identifying Cromwell as Englands religious and martial defender. His popularity with the general population, and especially with the army, coupled with the nations growing sense of isolation, pushed him further into the role of bulwark against the enemies of England.
Yet it was his acceptance of his next military assignment which would propel him into the image of English and Protestant champion–the suppression of Ireland. The Irish rebellion which broke out in October 1641 initially was directed against Protestant English settlers and landholders, large numbers of whom were murdered and abused. The reporting in England of the massacres brought the normal disdain for the uncivilized Irish to a fever pitch of hatred. Streams of pamphlets, some highly fictionalized, concerning the revolt poured forth and it is obvious that many people accepted them wholly as truth.
In London the pamphlets were absorbed with fascinated horror. All the news and speech is here of the rebellion, wrote one city resident. 18 In the Commons, Speaker of the House Pym inflamed fears of an Irish invasion and Catholic uprising in England. Pyms fears were real and he took every revelation of a plot, no matter how far fetched, with equal seriousness. e honestly believed that there had been common counsel at Rome and in Spain to reduce us to popery. 19 With a leader of the nation so paranoid and frightened, it is no wonder that the people at large were able to believe so easily any story they heard.