1599 - 1658
OLIVER CROMWELL, the leader of the bourgeois 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 in 1649 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.
Royalist hopes of a counter-revolution were smashed with the defeat of their forces at the Battle of Worcester in 1651. 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, another group that came out of the Army, were also suppressed.
In 1653 Oliver Cromwell became head of state, the Lord Protector. By then the republic Cromwell led included England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland as well as 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, who 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. The monarchy was restored in 1660 and the New Model Army was dissolved.
At the time Oliver Cromwell’s death had invoked genuine mourning. His state funeral was the biggest London had ever witnessed and the great poets of his generation, John Milton, Andrew Marvell and John Dryden, followed his coffin to Westminster Abbey.
Two years later his body was dug up and ritually hanged in public at Tyburn on the orders of the vengeful restored Stuarts. All who had signed Charles Stuart’s death warrant, apart from a handful who 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. Though the Stuarts were eventually driven out in the “Glorious Revolution” of 1688 the bourgeoisie relied on the Dutch troops of William of Orange to assert the rights of their class rather than raise another New Model army of their own.
For communists the English bourgeois revolution is a paramount importance. It influenced the thinking of the leaders of the later American and French revolutions as well as those of the Victorian utopian socialist and co-operator, Robert Owen, who embodied some of the ideas of the Digger philosopher, Gerrard Winstanley, in his writings. But even today the question of the monarchy and the House of Lords is still unresolved.