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With his absurd gesture of turning the bust of Oliver Cromwell to face the wall in the Commons, Labour MP Stephen Pound was presumably trying to make a cheap political point about the ill-treatment of Catholic Irishmen in Cromwell’s campaigns. Yet if it had not been for Cromwell – the victor in the English Civil War between 1642 and 1651 – there might not have been any parliamentary democracy in this country at all.

In defence of Cromwell, the man who saved England from tyranny




The Daily Telegraph
Andrew Roberts
5 Jan 2019

FOLLOW Andrew Roberts on Twitter @aroberts_andrew; READ MORE at telegraph.co.uk/opinion ANDREW ROBERTS




With his absurd gesture of turning the bust of Oliver Cromwell to face the wall in the Commons, Labour MP Stephen Pound was presumably trying to make a cheap political point about the ill-treatment of Catholic Irishmen in Cromwell’s campaigns. Yet if it had not been for Cromwell – the victor in the English Civil War between 1642 and 1651 – there might not have been any parliamentary democracy in this country at all.

The autocracy of the Stuart dynasty had reached a peak when King Charles I tried to rule without calling parliament between 1629 and 1640, and Cromwell was one of the few brave politicians who revolted against what was intended to become an unending Stuart dictatorship. Once the Civil War broke out, there was no reason to assume that Parliament would win it, but Cromwell’s transition from politician to soldier also saw him reform the Parliamentary army and turn it into an efficient fighting force – known as the “New Model Army” – capable of winning the war.

Henceforth in British history the sovereignty of an elected parliament would be more powerful than that of the unelected monarch. Even when Cromwell was forced to rule without Parliament himself because of the chaos following the war, it was always assumed that representative institutions would one day return.

In the summer of 1649, however, Cromwell went to Ireland to break the resistance of Catholic royalists. Ireland’s geographical position made it the ideal launchpad for invasions of England by powers such as France and Spain. There was also an element of revenge. In 1641-42 Irish insurgents had killed between 4,000 and 12,000 Protestant settlers in Ulster.

It had been a particularly vicious war on both sides but, on landing in Dublin, Cromwell proclaimed: “I do hereby warn… all Officers, Soldiers and others under my command not to do any wrong or violence toward Country People or any persons whatsoever, unless they be actually in arms or office with the enemy.”


Cromwell's invasion of Ireland was justified

Seventeenth century rules of warfare were vicious, but generally understood. If the commander of a fortress refused to surrender and the city was subsequently stormed, then his troops might be killed mercilessly and the rest of the civilian population subject to unrestrained looting and rape. Such was the fate of Drogheda, Wexford and elsewhere, but also of countless European cities during the contemporaneous Thirty Years War. Cromwell’s so-called war crimes, as cruel and unjustified as they may now appear, do need to be seen in their historical context.

Meanwhile, for his rebuilding of the Royal Navy, invitation to the Jews to return to Britain and victory over Stuart dictatorship, Oliver Cromwell undoubtedly deserves to have his bust looking out with pride on the House of Commons that he saved.

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