Friday, September 09, 2011

Oliver Cromwell




1599 - 1658

OLIVER CROMWELL, the leader of the English Revolution, died on 3rd  September 1658. Cromwell, the MP for Huntingdon, was the leading Parliamentary commander during the English Civil War, which began in 1642 and ended in1649 with the trial and execution of Charles Stuart and the abolition of the monarchy. The Republic of England, or Commonwealth as it was styled in English, was proclaimed soon after.
The fighting had taken a fearful toll in lives and property in England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland. The death toll, including civilians, came to around 870,000, some 11.6 per cent of the pre-Civil War population. Material damage was immense, particularly in Ireland. In 1653, Oliver Cromwell became head of state, the Lord Protector.
Royalist hopes of a counter-revolution were smashed with the defeat of their forces at the Battle of Worcester in 1651. Cromwell represented the most militant elements amongst the Puritan bourgeois gentry. While in favour of reform they feared social upheaval that could overturn their own exclusive right to private property.
The democratic movement born from the New Model Army, the Levellers, was crushed by Cromwell’s supporters and the most militant regiments sent to Ireland. Attempts to set up farming co-operatives by the Diggers, many of whom were also former soldiers, were also suppressed.
The republic Cromwell led included England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland, the port of Dunkirk and colonies in New England and the Caribbean. During its brief life the Commonwealth became a force in Europe. Culturally it inspired the great poetry of Milton and Marvell and other radical and pacifist religious movements like the Quakers who are still with us today.
Oliver Cromwell was succeeded by his son, Richard. Richard was neither a politician nor a soldier. Unable to reconcile republican generals with the demands of the rich merchants and landowners to curb the influence of the New Model Army, Richard Cromwell resigned the following year. The government collapsed and the monarchy was restored in 1660. Oliver Cromwell’s death invoked genuine mourning. His funeral, modelled on that of the King of Spain, was the biggest London had ever witnessed.
Two years later his body was dug up and ritually hanged in public at Tyburn. All those still alive who had signed Charles Stuart’s death warrant, apart from a handful that managed to flee the country, were hanged, drawn and quartered. And the “good old cause” they had fought for was buried with them. It was clear that a great revolution had taken place. It is equally clear that it was incomplete.
For communists the English Revolution is a paramount importance. It influenced the thinking of the American revolutionaries. The Victorian utopian socialist and co-operator, Robert Owen, embodied some of the ideas of the Digger philosopher, Gerrard Winstanley, in his writings. And even today the question of the monarchy and the House of Lords is still unresolved.