combat writing badge C O M B A T
the Literary Expression of Battlefield Touchstones
ISSN 1542-1546 Volume 03 Number 04 Fall ©Oct 2005

Oliver Cromwell, Warts and All

The only interruption in the long history of the English Monarchy occurred in the years 1649-1660. The reasons were economic, social, political, and religious. While some historians of recent bent have downplayed the part of religion in the struggle – probably because they themselves are irreligious – its significance cannot be denied. One group in particular, who saw the happenings here on earth as merely a prelude to the much greater glory of the hereafter were the Puritans, so named not by themselves but by their enemies, who saw it as a joke. A more correct name would have been Fundamentalist but the name of Puritan has stood for centuries.

They also believed that God did not choose just anyone to inherit His Kingdom, but rather those who made it their life's work to try and understand the goodness of God. Central to this belief was the tenet that humankind needed no help from bishops or priests to help them reach their goal, but that any man or woman had direct access to God. This could be described as dogmatism but was in truth no more dogmatic then the other prominent faiths of their day. One only has to read the words of H.L. Mencken, who said that Puritans are people who are worried that somewhere, somebody, might be having a good time, to know that even today the Puritans are a much misunderstood group.

Oliver Cromwell in battle dress
Oliver Cromwell
in battle dress

One of these Puritans was a man named Oliver Cromwell, a man so great, he would lead the fight in removing the King of England from his throne – and remove the King's head as well – would take the lead in establishing an English republic, then actually rule that republic for five years with the title of Lord Protector.

Oliver Cromwell was born 25 April 1599, to not rich but not poor parents who lived in the community of Huntington. They might be described today as middle class, and due to their societal status, Cromwell was entitled to wear the title of gentleman. He enrolled in Cambridge at age seventeen but was forced to drop out after fourteen months when his father died. He quickly assumed his role as the man of the house and would remain solicitous of his mother and his several sisters for the remainder of his life. While at Cambridge he established a reputation as being better at sports than books, and as one who temporarily cast off some of his strict upbringing, by indulging in a certain amount of debauchery, at least by the standards of seventeenth century England. His debauched life continued for a time after his assumption as the head of his family and it was said that he became the terror of the local alehouses. In essence, he was not living the Godly life. This too would change, when his mother, in no doubt an attempt to reign in his youthful indiscretions, sent him to London to study law (among other things) at the famous Inns of The Court, a training facility previously attended by his father, his grandfather and two of his uncles. It was while at the Inns that Cromwell became a studier of men, rather than books, and preferred the practical, as opposed to the theoretical, traits that would serve him well in the years to come. On 22 August 1620, Cromwell married Elizabeth Bourchier, daughter of a City magnate. He and Elizabeth's families had known each other for many years. Trivial pursuits would no longer be part of Cromwell's life. The marriage would be one of love and devotion, despite the fact that the husband would be absent for long periods. It was about this time he encountered Jesus Christ and joined the sect known as Puritans.

It was an event that happened in 1625, the death of King James I, that began Oliver Cromwell's ascent to immortality and would make him one of the most loved and most hated names in all of English history.

King Charles I
Charles I

Charles the First, King of England, Ireland and Scotland assumed his throne at the age of twenty four. He would make many mistakes. To Protestant England, his taking of a French princess, who was also Catholic, as his Queen was one of the most severe, especially to those who had and innate fear of popery. By 1628, Charles had England embroiled in an expensive war with Spain and was quarreling with France. The English Parliament, unlike our United States congress, could only be called into session by the King, usually when the King got himself in a hot spot and didn't know how to extricate himself. Young Oliver Cromwell was a Burgess from the town of Huntington when Charles called his third meeting with Parliament.

Up until this time, the King was regarded as the undisputed ruler and everyone else, including Parliament served at his behest. The cry – there is only one King – was said to have a mystical quality about it. Charles the First thought so too, since he was quick to remind doubters that he ruled by divine right. But many in England, especially in Parliament, doubted this and were becoming more open in their opinions. Oliver Cromwell was one of the doubters and was thoroughly on board with his Puritan brothers and sisters, who believed that only Jesus Christ ruled by divine right.

Another bone of contention was Charles' insistence that the King had the right to make laws without the consent of Parliament. The King believed that it had always been this way while Parliament disagreed. This created a situation, which would have been rather amusing if it weren't so dangerous, that had both sides yearning for the good old days. Young Oliver Cromwell sided with those who believed the king had too much power, and with his Puritanism now in full bloom, he was quick to indulge in thoughts that could be considered treasonous – that only God Almighty ruled by divine right. And the more he thought and the more he prayed the more he saw himself as God's instrument. Only three months later, Cromwell and his associates in Parliament made their feelings known in The Petition of Rights. Charles Stuart accepted the petition while declaring that he had to answer only to God. Yet could God be on both sides in the debate?

Of all the issues, the more serious was that of religion and the threat of Popery. If the king did not have to secure the advice of Parliament, could not his queen press for the advent of Catholicism as the official religion of England? And yet the major religious argument did not concern Catholicism versus Protestantism, but rather The Church of England versus Puritanism.

The declaration of the Archbishop of Laud that Puritan tendencies must be checked, that the Church of England would decide the proper mode of worship, led to an establishment of The Committee on Religion of which Oliver Cromwell was an outspoken member. It's difficult to believe that even today, some will declare that the issue of religion did not play a prominent part in the three Civil Wars to follow. Surely it was the motive for Oliver Cromwell's participation, and it was during the Civil Wars that Cromwell would discover his greatest talent – that of soldier.

The decade of the 1630's was a difficult one for England and particularly for Charles Stuart. He had to deal with rebellions in Ireland and Scotland, and the Irish rebellion caused much consternation in Protestant England when reports of a massacre of Irish Protestants by Irish Catholics were rampant – historians now agree that the so called massacre was greatly exaggerated. The intransigence of Stuart when it came to negotiations with Parliament concerning how power should be divided, and the persecution of influential Puritans by the Church of England caused even more furor. The more Charles tried to hang on to his power, the more devious and disingenuous he became. When he dissolved what came to be the long parliament of 1640, the stage was set for arguments that could not be negotiated with words, but to be settled by canon, rifle, sword and pike. By the time it was over, the monarchy would be no more and Charles would lose his throne and his head; and middle class Oliver Cromwell would be the most powerful man in England.

The English Civil Wars were not between the haves and have nots. In other words it was not a class war, as some historians have insisted. Indeed, like the American Civil War, communities, families, and religions were divided. The two sides were supposedly split between Royalists and Parliamentarians; yet many titled men wanted to be rid of Charles Stuart and fought with the Parliamentarians' side, while some of the poorer sections of the country remained staunchly in favor of the King. But there was one group that was not split.

The Puritans who rode into battle with Oliver Cromwell were called Roundheads because of their pageboy haircuts; and they had no doubt what they were fighting for – the right to worship God as they saw fit. Their commander would come to be known as Ironsides because of his fierceness in battle.

Prince Rupert
Prince Rupert

Oliver Cromwell had no formal military training. What he did have was the courage of a fatalist – I will fall if God wills it – an innate talent for organization, supply, and the ability to spot weakness in the enemy defense. He would become the nemesis of Prince Rupert, the nephew of King Charles, who had significant battle experience. The Battle of Edge Hill on 23 October 1642 would also show that Cromwell learned something from every battle, in this instance, how to get the most out of a troop of cavalry.

Although he arrived at the Battle of Edge Hill only in the later stages; through his keen observation he saw that Rupert, despite his military experience, did not have a disciplined troop, and that his Cavaliers after making a charge were so spread out that they then lost all effectiveness. The bee stings only once observed Cromwell. He knew he'd already trained his Roundheads to quickly reform after a charge and get ready for another. He also knew his cavalry was superior because he promoted men on merit rather than station. And there was the matter of spirit, something sadly lacking at Edge Hill, which ended with much blood being shed but little accomplished. He had men of spirit and would get more godly men who knew this was a religious war. The King had told his men they'd be fighting Baptists, Atheists, and the like and did not the Parliament speak of The King and his popish army? Thus he would take care to get Godly, religious men – freeholders and freeholders sons – who saw this war as a matter of conscience. Let others get soldiers who joined to plunder, and he and his good men would defeat them in battle. When the Earl of Manchester, Cromwell's superior for a time, inspected Cromwell's officers and men he was amazed at the number who considered themselves Godly. Their commander would permit no criticism of his soldiers – better to have a few honest men then a number of dishonest ones. One observer said that Cromwell's men never ran once before an enemy, they would as one stand firmly and charge desperately. In time, those who laughed at the Roundheads of Ironsides would come to fear these commoners who never retreated.

Cromwell and his Roundheads had their first baptism of fire on 13 May 1643 at the town of Grantham, and were victorious in their first independent battle. As we had stood a little above musket shot, the one body from the other, and the dragooneers having fired on both sides for an hour or more, they not advancing, we decided to charge, and advancing the body after many shots on both sides, came on with our troop on a pretty round trot, they standing firm to receive us, and our men charging fiercely upon them, by God's providence, they were immediately routed and ran away. Though this was just a skirmish, it proved Cromwell could win when he was the highest ranking officer on the field. It did not go unnoticed by his superiors, especially Lord Fairfax, Supreme Commander of the Parliamentary Army.

By the end of the campaign of 1643, Oliver Cromwell had established himself as second only to Thomas Fairfax in skill as a military commander. Those who doubted the fighting ability of the novice military commander by now had all their doubts dispelled.

One reason King Charles believed his Royalist army would win the war was because of the many divisions, mostly centered on religion between the various Parliamentary factions. He was wrong about the war but right about the divisions.

On 18 January 1644, twenty thousand Scotsmen, Presbyterians all, under the command of Alexander Leslie, marched into England, come to join the fight against Charles Stuart. But their allegiance had come at a high price. To begin, the payment of 100,000 pounds; and then the real fly in the ointment: Parliaments acceptance of the Solemn League and Covenant, which was essentially an agreement stating that once the war was won, and the Church of England, with its Bishops removed, Presbyterianism would become the dominant religion of England. Obviously this was a red flag to Oliver Cromwell, now a Lieutenant General of increasing influence in the Parliamentarian army. For one, he didn't think the help of the Scots was needed, and secondly, he felt that the war was being fought for religious freedom and would never submit to any agreement that opposed it. He finally signed the agreement sixteen months later after being assured that existing faiths would be left untouched.

Cromwell would next lock horns with Major General Laurence Crawford, a professional soldier from Scotland who apparently looked askance at this upstart amateur, who was nothing but a farmer. Things came to a head when Crawford arrested one of Cromwell's men, a Baptist who had not signed the Covenant. Cromwell defended the Baptist: Sir, the state in choosing men to serve them, takes no notice of their opinions if they be willing to faithfully serve them, that satisfies. I advised you formerly to bear with men of different minds of yourself; If you had done it when I advised you to do it, I think you would not have so many stumbling blocks in your way. It may be you judge otherwise, but I tell you my mind. From this we can take that in an era of closed minds, Cromwell's was at least part way open.

Battle of Marston Moor
Battle of Marston Moor

The Battle of Marston Moor on 2 July 1644, was the biggest ever fought on English soil, with eighteen thousand Royalists facing off against twenty-two thousand Parliamentary troops, and Lieutenant General Oliver Cromwell and his twenty-five hundred cavalrymen would be right in the thick of it. The battle lines stretched for two and a half miles. Since it was late in the day by the time both lines formed, Royalist commander Prince Rupert decided there would be no battle until the morrow; so he sat down to supper. But the army of Parliament had decided no such thing. A surprise attack was in order. A storm was gathering, rain and hail falling as the Parliamentary line started moving forward on a broad front, with Cromwell's cavalry leading the way, not at a gallop, but a controlled trot. According to one chaplain observing the attack, the army's various components looked like unto so many thick clouds, and it was Cromwell's cavalry which charged most ferociously, scattering their opponents like leaves in the wind.

But on another part of the field, Fairfax was having trouble, at one time finding himself surrounded by Cavaliers. When Rupert heard the firing of the charge he sprang into action. Soon, Cromwell found himself surrounded by Cavalier cavalry and only the assistance of Leslie's Scots saved the day.

It was at this point that Cromwell, due to a neck wound, had to retire from the field, and soon the Parliament troops were on the defensive as Rupert made a successful counter charge. The battle raged back and forth with neither side giving ground. Then suddenly Cromwell was back on the field! Leading another charge, scattering Rupert's men and sending them flying along by Wilstrop road as fast and as thick as could be. But here again, Cromwell's discipline took over. Let Rupert run, he would reform his troop and attack other bodies not yet beaten.

On another part of the field, things were not as rosey for the Parliamentarian army. Fairfax had managed to get back to his own troops only to find that some of his officers had deserted the field while other Scotsman were fighting for their lives. Things looked bleak and defeat was near.

But wait! A cry was heard! Lord of Hosts to the attack! And here came Cromwell, exhorting his troopers and scattering the Royalists who didn't stop running until they'd reached the city of York. The victory had been won and the victorious Parliament army said a psalm of Thanksgiving and lay down to sleep on the blood stained field, where upwards of four thousand Royal army soldiers lay dead.

The allied Parliamentary army had lost only three hundred killed, but one of those was the son of Cromwell's brother in law. Cromwell had already lost his son Oliver in a previous engagement, so understood the pain. Cromwell wrote: He was an exceedingly loved young man, your precious child full of glory, to know sin nor sorrow no more.

Battlefields were a horrible place in the day of the cannonball and pike, with few doctors and no field hospitals. And in the battles of a Civil War it can be certainly said that the country suffers from the deaths of either side.

After the victory of Marston Moor, Cromwell set about convincing his comrades in the military and the House of Commons of the necessity of improving discipline and the fighting skill of the army, and also of the necessity (this was a harder fight) of not only defeating Charles Stuart on the battlefield, but of getting rid of the monarchy altogether. The outgrowth of his argument concerning the army was the creation of the New Model Army, which, though many had doubts about, would insure the victory to come. It was a tough fight mainly because of the green eyed monster that afflicted some of the professional soldiers who resented Cromwell – the farmer – and who therefore had a tough time admitting he was right.

But, as already mentioned, it was much more difficult to convince both civilian and military that disposing of King Charles was good for England. England had always had a King, and Stuart's intransigence when it came to letting go of any of his power notwithstanding, there were few who didn't think something could be worked out. Most of Cromwell's contemporaries wanted to defeat the King in battle yet keep him on the throne. This was a source of great frustration to Cromwell, and one officer in particular was driving him to distraction.

The Earl of Manchester since the beginning had seemed to fight a half hearted war, which was bewildering to everyone, especially the Scots. At one meeting, after the Battle of Marston Moor, Manchester revealed his ambivalence: If we beat the King ninety-nine times, he would still be King, and his posterity, and we his subjects still, cried Manchester, but if he beat us but once, we shall be hanged and our posterity undone. Extremely irritated, Cromwell replied – My Lord if this be so, why did we take up arms at first? No doubt part of Cromwell's frustration was due to the fact that some who had been fighting nobly by his side thought as Manchester. But Cromwell's power was growing and the affair was ended with Manchester giving up his command, and the New Model Army taking the field in May of 1645, and none too soon.

Despite the great victory of Marston Moor, Charles Stuart was not even close to throwing in the towel. Indeed a great victory by General Montrose in Scotland and the promise of Irish Catholic soldiers on the way gave the King renewed hope. This told Cromwell and the Parliamentarians that they must take the field.

Cromwell continued his brilliance on the battlefield. In a series of skirmishes, he beat the King's soldiers in every way possible. In what was supposed to be a battle at Bletchington house, his opponent retired from the field, leaving him with a goodly supply of ammunition, horses, and muskets. He was especially pleased with the horses. Some have always insisted that what made Cromwell such a great cavalry leader was his knowledge and love of horses. He always knew when his horses could go no further. He was ready to fight the final big battle of what came to be known as the First Civil War.

Some historians say the Battle of Naseby is incorrectly named, that it should have been called the Battle of Broadmoor. It's generally believed that fifteen thousand Parliamentarian soldiers faced twelve thousand Royalists. No matter the number, the Royalists put up a very poor fight, since the allies claim to have captured five thousand prisoners while losing only two hundred of their own men.

The battle began at eight in the morning on the 14th of June 1645, and as always, Oliver Cromwell played a key part. It was Cromwell who suggested to Lord Fairfax , as they faced the Royalists aligned on a mile long ridge to their front that he retreat only slightly so as to lure Prince Rupert into charging across a marshy bog unsuited for cavalry. One wonders why Rupert didn't know about the bog, but Royal scouting during the Civil Wars was generally bad, and Rupert rarely trusted it. Add to this that Charles Stuart had overall command of the Royalist army, and in fact had the habit of overruling his nephew, and Rupert was becoming more unsure about his decisions.

Cromwell however, was confident and full of fight – riding about my business, I could not but smile out to God in praise, is assurance of victory. The battle lasted three hours and once again was decided by Cromwell and his men, who even if they were checked or beaten, would quickly reform and charge again; while Prince Rupert's men would charge once and then never again.

One serious consequence of the Battle of Naseby, and one King Charles tried to laugh off, was the finding of a cabinet of letters written to his wife in France, who was trying to raise troops for the Royalist cause. With the publication of the letters, many people who thought he should be able to keep his throne now realized that treason had been committed, and Charles Stuart must go. There was now only one large Royalist force left in England, that of the brave but erratic General Goring, and Fairfax set out to engage him.

Goring was cornered at the Battle of Longport, and a series of cavalry charges, the last by Cromwell, turned the tide, and Goring surrendered. Prince Rupert on hearing the news, advised his uncle, King Charles, to get what terms he could. But Charles Stuart, stubborn to the end, accused Rupert of treason and fled to Wales, where he would try to raise another army. Charles may have been the only one not to realize that his fleeing days were about to end.

In January 1646, Cromwell returned to Westminster to report to the House of Commons and be thanked. His star was shining brighter than ever as defeated Royalists left the House of Commons and their seats were taken by Cromwell's friends and fellow officers.

With the First Civil War now over, Charles Stuart became a prisoner of the Covenanter Scots who had hopes that he would accept Presbyterianism as the official religion of England, and if so, he could save his throne. Also at this time, Charles yielded to the pleas of his wife, Queen Henrietta, to get their son, Charles the Second, the Prince of Wales, out of England and into France with her. No doubt Stuart, after losing the First Civil War, saw exploiting the divisions between the Scots and the Puritans as his only chance.

It was a time of great turmoil in England, with many switching from the Puritans back to the Royalists, particularly since some of the Puritans, in their zeal, began taking the fun out of the lives of the average Englishman. Christmas celebrations were forbidden, plays and other entertainments were canceled. Although Oliver Cromwell was not directly involved in these privations, it was he, as the biggest Puritan name, who was blamed. The victorious Parliamentarian army was also becoming a nuisance to the citizenry – particularly the commoners who didn't care which side won – who raised petitions asking for its disbandment.

All of this was playing into the hands of Charles Stuart, who was convinced that, given enough time, he would be welcomed back without having given up anything. He still had no understanding of what had happened and that even if he were permitted to live, he would never again have the power of previous days. The more devious and stubborn he became, the closer he got to the chopping block.

Meanwhile, a rift occurred between Parliament and the army. The soldiers had no intention of disbanding, because their pay was in arrears, and no compensation had been paid to the widows and orphans of their comrades. They also refused Parliament's order to go to Ireland, and put down the Irish Catholic uprising.

The disagreement between Parliament and the army warmed the heart of King Charles, who had been waiting for just such a situation to tell Parliament, who in addition to the Scots, had laid down certain terms by which Stuart could return to power, that he agreed in principle to their terms. But Charles had overstepped again. When the army heard what was planned, they rushed Holmby House, where Charles was being held, and seized him. Stuart was now under the protection of the army, which meant no protection.

But Stuart continued to play both ends against the middle, promising Cromwell and the Puritans that all sects would be protected, and also promising the Scots that he would accept Presbyterianism and suppress all the sects if they would restore him to his throne. The result of this was to heal the rift between Parliament and the army, which until now had seemed unhealable. A vote was taken to stop all negotiations with Charles Stuart. The healing of the rift between the Army and Parliament came just in time. They would need to be united if they were going to win the Second Civil War.

A Royalist force in the north of England would now team with an army of Engager Scots – the force totaled twenty thousand men – under the command of Sir Marmaduke Landale to do battle with the Parliamentary army, with the goal of putting Charles I back on the throne. Parliament had only half as many soldiers, but they had Oliver Cromwell, and the enemy no longer had Prince Rupert.

It was no contest. By October, Cromwell was deep into Scotland, where he had no difficulty coming to terms with the Marquis of Argyll, a Scottish Chieftain and Presbyterian who had not approved of the Presbyterian Engagers joining forces with the English Royalists. The agreement stated that none of the Engagers who headed south would ever hold office in Scotland again. When Thomas Fairfax conducted a successful siege at Colchester, the Royalist garrison surrendered and the Second Civil War ended in victory for the Parliamentarian army.

Still, there was a peace party in Parliament who thought negotiations were possible with Charles Stuart. No doubt they could not accept life without a monarch as their security blanket. But by this time, both Oliver Cromwell and Thomas Fairfax believed that negotiations with the King were impossible and he must be deposed – though Fairfax would never support his execution – and led the fight to expel the members of the peace party from Parliament. On the 27th of January 1649, Charles Stuart was condemned to death as a tyrant and a traitor by sixty-nine members of a high court that was appointed to try the King. The days of manipulation and negotiation were over, and Stuart's stubbornness – he would always insist he ruled by divine right – had led him to the block. Until the end he would deny that the common man should have a say in the affairs of his country. The story that Oliver Cromwell laughed when the axe fell is not true; he wasn't even in attendance.

Charles II and Covenanter Scots
Charles II and
Covenanter Scots

But now Cromwell would have to deal with King Charles II, and this nineteen year old would prove just as unscrupulous as his father while attempting to regain the throne. This meant that Oliver Cromwell, now the undisputed top soldier in England, must once more take to the battlefield if he wanted to keep the republic he had helped establish. The Third Civil War would last from 1649 to 1651, and would end with a beaten, Charles II scurrying back to the protection of Holland, from whence he came.

Charles II knew he could not attack England directly; it was under the tight control of the new republic. But he could attack through Ireland and Scotland, where he thought he would have no trouble recruiting allies to his cause. However, he knew it could not be a combined effort of Irish and Scottish soldiers, since the two countries, one mainly Catholic and one mainly Presbyterian, did not get along with each other, and the likelihood of their combining forces was small. He chose Ireland as his first landing point, only to find that Oliver Cromwell, who had been appointed Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, was already there with an expeditionary force of twelve thousand men. He had arrived, said Cromwell, to undertake the great work against the barbarous and bloodthirsty Irish. Cromwell uttered these words because the Irish Rebellion of 1641 had supposedly been responsible for the murder of three to five thousand English settlers – a story that has never been proven.

The Marquis of Ormonde had been appointed Lord Lieutenant of Ireland by Charles I in 1644 and had succeeded in fashioning an army of Old Irish, Anglo Irish, and Catholic Irish, who were Lords of the Pale. It's doubtful if either of these groups considered themselves Royalists but had joined the fight due to self interest.

Ormonde got a taste of what he was up against when his combined Irish army was easily defeated by three regiments of now English Commonwealth soldiers under the command of General Jones, that had been dispatched by Oliver Cromwell upon landing in Ireland. The battle occurred just outside Dublin and Cromwell tarried there for just a short time before leaving to besiege Drogheda, where the remainder of Ormonde's troops were waiting.

The siege of Drogheda is not so much notable because of a Commonwealth victory as much as it is for the uncharacteristic behavior of Oliver Cromwell and his men. Heretofore the Roundhead behavior during and after battles had been exemplary and in keeping with their Puritan standards. They did not plunder, they did not rape, they did not murder; which certainly couldn't be said of their opponents or their Scottish Presbyterian allies, who after all, considered themselves God's true servants. But Drogheda, even today, is used to portray Oliver Cromwell as a monster, and has forever been a stain on his name and made him the bogeyman for all Roman Catholics. Drogheda was a walled city with the river Boyne running through it. Behind the thick walls were twenty-three hundred soldiers, mostly Irish but not necessarily Catholic, who were commanded by Sir Arthur Aston, a Roman Catholic.

Cromwell's cannon started firing on 10 September 1649. Immediately he sent a message to Aston, asking him to surrender, otherwise he would not be responsible for the consequences. It must be stated here that no quarter was a standard rule in seventeenth century warfare for those who refused to surrender.

Initially, Aston put up a spirited defense, despite the fact that two breaches in the wall had been made. Cromwell lost many good men before deciding to lead the next charge himself, wearing a red scarf and screaming no quarter! The effusion of blood that followed was no doubt the worst of the Civil Wars. Every tenth surrendered Irishman was put to the sword; and even today, The Curse of Cromwell is heard on Irish lips as the story is told to Irish children.

Cromwell never apologized for Drogheda. Indeed he was heard to say that he prevented greater blood loss in the future by his actions that day, and it's certainly true that some Irish garrisons fled in panic, rather than face Cromwell. One Irish officer declared that if Cromwell stormed hell, he would take it. Cromwell never said that Drogheda was revenge for the massacre of Englishmen in 1641, but if so, revenge was gained.

In October of 1649, the port town of Wexford suffered the same fate as Drogheda when they refused to surrender. Conversely, the garrison of Ross, which did surrender, was allowed to march away with arms, bag and baggage, drums beating, flags flying, bullet in mouth, bandoliers full of powder and match lighted at both ends, and the inhabitants were protected from violence. The town of Kilkenney was the next to surrender and received the same fair treatment. But the Irish resistance was not over.

The town of Clonmel was brilliantly defended by one Hugh O'Neil, and cost Cromwell many men; but O'Neil was low on ammunition, and slipped away during the night. No reprisals were taken on the citizens, and Cromwell paid credit to his gallant foe.

By May of 1649, the Irish war was over, as many Royalist officers surrendered with the promise of safe passage. Charles II could not attack England through Ireland; but their was still Scotland, and he still wanted the throne he saw as his. The Scots knew they were the young King's only hope for reclaiming the throne, and they lay down very stringent terms. In an agreement called the Treaty of Breda, Charles even acceded to Presbyterianism being the official religion of England, and agreed to forbid the practice of Catholicism anywhere in his dominion.

To understand what was happening in England and Scotland in the seventeenth century, we have to know that even though nowadays the two countries have been united as one for three hundred years, this was not the case in the days of Cromwell; as the two countries were bitter enemies. Scotland had always wanted a Scot on the English throne, and saw Charles II as just the figurehead they needed. When Cromwell and the new Commonwealth saw what was happening, they knew they must now make war on Scotland.

This war would be fought without the participation of Lord Fairfax. He had refused participation in the new Commonwealth government because he opposed the execution of Charles I. His wife was a Royalist and a Presbyterian, and since, in his mind, there still existed a covenant between Scotland and England, he would not invade Scotland; and he was washing his hands of the new Commonwealth government, despite the begging of Cromwell.

But in a military sense, Fairfax was no longer needed. Cromwell was now the man, and on the 22nd of July 1650, he led sixteen thousand men in an invasion of Scotland, and by August, was trying to surround Edinburgh. He was opposed by a former ally, David Leslie. Charles II, who was proving to be as devious as his father, was seemingly willing to do anything the Scots wanted, including pretending to embrace Presbyterianism while hating the accompanying religiosity. He even renounced his parents, while declaring privately that he was still a true Anglican. Charles wanted the throne, and he would deal with the crazy Scots once he got it.

In a war whereby enemies could become allies, then enemies again in a very short time, Cromwell and his Commonwealth soldiers defeated Leslie's Presbyterians in the Battle of Dunbar – Presbyterians because, by this time, the Scots had decided that only the religiously pure were qualified to fight with them. Though Baptists, Catholics, and others were willing to defend their country, they were cast aside by these people whom Charles was depending upon to help him ascend the throne of England. By the time the Battle of Dunbar was over, three thousand Scots were dead and five thousand – half their army – were prisoners. Now, the stage was set for one final battle in the Third Civil War between the Cavaliers and Roundheads.

On 1 January 1651, the Covenanter Scots crowned Charles II King of Scotland. It took a while, until 2 June 1651 to be exact, but Charles now had the power to see to the repeal of the Act of Classes, the ridiculous law that had been put in effect to keep the Scottish army Covenanter pure. Now, the movement to recapture England from the Commonwealth, and restore the monarchy, again took on a political or Royalist flavor, as opposed to a religious one. Every man who could possibly fight would be needed for the final struggle, which equated with the defeat of Cromwell. Religion didn't matter to Charles II, only the restoration of the monarchy mattered. He had what he thought was a brilliant plan, but he was up against the master.

For some time a movement to recruit as many Royalists in England as possible had been ongoing. The news had gone out that Charles II had been made King of Scotland and intended to come to England to reclaim the throne that had been taken from his father. It was hoped that the Royalists who had been kept in submission by the Commonwealth would be ready to move.

Actually, Charles and the Scots had decided, after the Battle of Dunbar, that their only hope for victory was to head south to England, picking up support along the way, and fight the final battle on English soil. It was either that or face being surrounded and destroyed in Scotland. By heading south they could cut Cromwell's supply lines, and force him to head back to England with a hungry and under supplied army. But thanks to spies, Oliver Cromwell knew exactly what was happening and was not worried. He knew there would be no flocking to the Royalist cause, and he also knew how tired any army would be after marching three hundred miles in three weeks. Taking the eastern route to England, and going through towns that would supply food, Cromwell would arrive in England just four days behind the Scots and their young monarch, who had not much love for his army, and they having little love for him.

The moment Charles Stuart and the Scots, along with not many Royalists picked up along the way, stopped to rest in Worcester, Cromwell promptly surrounded them. Although the Royalists fought bravely, Cromwell, the master tactician, completely controlled the battle that followed. This was complicated by the fact that the Royalists fought without the leadership of David Leslie, who had resisted going to England, and took little part in the battle.

When the battle ended, one of Cromwell's chaplains said: When your wives and children ask you where you have been, and what news: say you have been at Worcester, where England's sorrows began and where they have now ended.

To give credit to Charles II, the young King, after forty five harrowing days, made his way to Holland, then to the arms of his mother in France, where he arrived in such a dirty, disheveled state that some didn't recognize him. He reported that he was safe because of those who still loved him, the common people. He also said that during his escape he saw a side of the English people he never knew existed. Clearly, even some commoners still wanted a monarch.

Oliver Cromwell had fought his last military battle but it would almost seem that the battles he was now to fight would make him yearn for the simplicity of the battlefield. To make matters worse, he would have other struggles, against the various diseases that would rack his body. He had contracted Vivax malaria during one of his campaigns, and even though it was not the fatal kind, it would torture him for the remainder of his days. He would also suffer from gout and kidney stones, while boils would plague him periodically. Cromwell had always had warts, especially on his face, with a particularly large one on his chin, which did nothing to enhance his appearance. When he came back from the wars a hero of England, he sat for a portrait. The artist asked him if he wanted the painting without the warts showing. Cromwell replied: Sir paint me as I am, warts and all. It's a saying that has lasted to this day.

Oliver Cromwell - warts and all
Oliver Cromwell
– warts and all

What Cromwell wanted now was peace. He also wanted forgiveness for the enemy, even though it would be awhile before they could be welcomed into the government. He suggested that the Rump Parliament that had been elected for the wars be dissolved and a new one elected; but he lost his first fight as a statesman when his proposal was voted down. He would make impassioned speeches, many times shedding tears, to try to inject his ideas into the process, seemingly knowing that he now had the power to launch himself into the highest office in the Commonwealth, which he did, but he refused to be called king.

His title was Lord Protector, though he made many enemies of those who wanted a monarch. It was obvious that some were homesick for the old ways, but if they wanted a dictator, Oliver Cromwell was not their man. True, he still had great friends in the army and used them on more than one occasion to stop a process he knew would be bad for England. The England of the seventeenth century could never be a democracy, as we have in the United States today, but at the time, it was as close as Europe, and probably the rest of the world had ever come to one.

To Cromwell's mind, the wars had been fought for religious freedom, and he did his best to make it happen. There had been no Jews in England since 1290, but Cromwell invited them back, and they came. He envisioned a state Church that tolerated all religions, though he could never bring himself to be totally tolerant of Catholics, probably because he was adamant that anyone could have direct access to God. He did have many conversations with Catholics, which had been unheard of in Anglican England.

Money was raised from fines levied on those who fought for or supported the Loyalists; although they protested, this has occurred throughout history. For defense, a horse militia was created and was a cause for disagreement among Cromwell and his first Parliament as to who should control it.

To keep the peace and prevent plotting against the government, the country was divided into eleven sections and controlled by eleven major generals, most of whom were Cromwell's close friends. These major generals caused some grief to Cromwell because of their heavy handed methods of promoting morality. Cromwell soon came to realize that you can't make people be good.

A constitution of sorts called The Instrument, was written and approved. Many times, out of frustration, Cromwell had been tempted to rule by the sword, but didn't because he realized if that were done, The Instrument would become invalid. Cromwell was ahead of his time in believing in freedom of conscience. Only once, in 1655, was he compelled to put order first, and institute what we would call martial law. He hated this dilemma of statesmanship.

Under Cromwell came three main Constitutional results that were never reversed; the feudal rights of the Crown, and the Tudor Prerogative were never restored. No longer could the Protector or King levy taxes without the consent of the House of Commons. Nor could the King arrest legislators without showing cause, as was done before. And since Parliament won the Civil Wars, it became a permanent part of the Constitution. The Church of England had to recognize that dissenters had rights, and they became permanent and influential members of society. And finally, the most important change of all: capital punishment was meted out only for murder and treason.

Indeed, one of the few things that Cromwell did wrong was to become sick and old too soon. Had he lived ten years beyond his death date of 3 September 1658, the Constitutional form of government may have become so ingrained that going back to a monarchy would have seemed repugnant. As it happened, his son Richard was not strong enough to provide the leadership required. Anarchy ensued and Charles II would gain the throne after all in 1660.

After Cromwell's death, his enemies could not let him rest. On 30 January 1661, the coffin containing Oliver Cromwell was taken from Westminster, put on a sled and taken to Tyburn, where his bones were taken out of the coffin and hanged. The corpse was then decapitated and the head mounted on a pole atop Westminster Hall. Wherever Cromwell was, he no doubt smiled and forgave his enemies. The Royal Family of England has apparently never forgiven Oliver Cromwell for what they saw as a theft of their throne. In 1911, Winston Churchill wanted to name a ship – the Cromwell – but George V said no. As late as 1950, a motion to name a college after Cromwell was defeated.

      Charles II, His Life and Times by Fraser
      The Greatness of Oliver Cromwell by Ashley
      The Battle of Naseby by Ashley
      The English Civil War by Ashley
      Cromwell, The Lord Protector by Fraser

by Don Haines
... who is a U.S. Army Cold War veteran, American Legion Post 191 chaplain, a retired Registered Nurse, and freelance writer; whose work has previously appeared in this magazine as well as in World War Two History, and many other publications.

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