The 3rd September was the 350th anniversary of the death Oliver Cromwell - the closest person that England has ever had to a President.

He was the leader of England (and Ireland and Scotland) during the 1650s - the only time ever in history that England was a republic.

But he is a confusing figure. Was he mainly a force for good or a force for bad?

The Irish see him as a genocidal war criminal. So too do many royalists. The English see him as a hero.

He was responsible for the slaughters of thousands of men, women and children in Ireland in 1649-50, but he was also responsible for the deposing of King Charles I, an Absolute Monarch, allowing England to become a Constitutional Monarchy much earlier than, say, France, and so sparing a revolution similar to that which hit France in 1789.

The father of our democracy or a WAR CRIMINAL?


David Edwards
6th September 2008
The Mirror

The famous saying "warts and all" is attributed to Cromwell after he told a painter to paint him "warts and all", referring to his facial warts

Oliver Cromwell - you either love him or loathe him. And it usually depends which side of the Irish sea you are on.

To some he is a villain. A coldblooded dictator, responsible for mass murder in Ireland, ethnic cleansing and the execution of a king.

Others hail him as a hero. The father of British democracy, a devoted family man and a military genius.

He led the Roundhead army to victory over the Royalists during the English Civil War and became Lord Protector during the only period in history when this country was a republic.

It was 350 years ago this week that Cromwell died, yet his name still stirs up mixed feelings.

"His massacres went beyond the accepted behaviour in war"

"He is seen as a villain in Ireland and feted as a hero in England"

Irish hostility to him remains. Shane MacGowan in the lyrics to The Pogues song Young Ned Of The Hill wrote: "A curse upon you Oliver Cromwell, you who raped our Motherland, I hope you're rotting down in hell."

And eight years ago there was trouble when Cromwell's Death Mask went on display in Drogheda Heritage Centre.

Demonstrators picketed the Centre, incensed that it was on display in the Irish town where he is said to have killed thousands.

The wax death mask of Cromwell. When a famous person died, a death mask was often taken as a permanent and precise record of the way they looked. This would have been done as soon as possible after Cromwell's death.

Now Micheal O Siochru is fuelling the fire with his book, God's Executioner, which brands Cromwell a brutal war criminal.

When Drogheda and Wexford refused to surrender during Cromwell's bloody Irish campaign from 1649-50, he ordered the slaughter of everyone in both towns - 7,000 men, women and children.

Dr O Siochru says: "For the majority of Irish people, Cromwell is a great bugbear of the past.

"His massacres in Wexford and Drogheda went beyond the accepted behaviour of war.

"As commander-in-chief, he has to take ultimate responsibility." Like the Irish, monarchists don't like Cromwell much, either. After all, he signed the death warrant of King Charles I. But Cromwell had only been dead two years - given a lavish state funeral in 1658 - when the English monarchy was restored.

By then he was so reviled that his decomposing corpse was dug up, hung, drawn and quartered. Then the head was displayed on a pike outside Westminster Hall for over 20 years.

It's hard to reconcile such hatred for a man who, as Lord Protector, was the closest this country has ever had to a President. One who backed religious freedom and people's rights, who refused to make himself king, and insisted a portrait painter depict him "warts and all".

The Battle of Naseby, 1645. Cromwell's New Model Army (on the right) defeats the Royalists (on the left)

"Cromwell has always been and will continue to be a divisive figure, viewed as a villain by many in Ireland and feted in England as a true hero," says Dr Patrick Little of the Cromwell Association.

"His complexities, the way he divides opinion, is partly why his appeal has proved so lasting.

"The massacres were both terrible acts of war, which have caused much resentment over the centuries. But you have to put them in context. They sent a warning to other towns that resistance was futile - it may have saved lives in the long run."

Born into minor Cambridgeshire gentry in April 1599, Cromwell spent a year at Cambridge. But on the death of his father, Robert, in 1617, he quit college to manage the estate in Huntingdon and look after his mother and seven sisters.

Three years later he wed Elizabeth Bourchier and they had nine children. He became an MP in 1628, converted to Puritanism, and fought the Royalists when Charles I tried to dismantle Parliament in 1642.

His quick military mind saw him promoted to the rank of Lieutenant General .

Dubbed "Ironside", he was respected by his troops for not allowing class to affect their chances of promotion.

Cromwell once wrote: "I had rather have a plain russet-coated captain that knows what he fights for, and loves what he knows, than that which you call a gentleman and is nothing else."

This no-nonsense attitude helped the Roundheads' New Model Army smash their Royalist opposition at Naseby and Langport in 1645.

Believing the death of the king was the only way to end the Civil War, in 1649 Cromwell was third to sign the royal death warrant. The Commonwealth of England was declared, he led the notorious campaign in Ireland and the subjugation of Scotland followed.

Cromwell was made Lord Protector of England, Scotland and Ireland on December 16, 1653, and from then on he signed his name Oliver P - for Oliver Protector.

Ironically, he created a shortlived republic, yet is probably responsible for us still having a monarchy.

John Goldsmith, curator of the Cromwell Museum in Huntingdon, says: "Had there been no Cromwell, we would have had a monarchy with absolute power, which could easily have led to the kind of revolution that occurred in France. In that case, we could probably have ended up without a monarchy."

Cromwell is often painted as a dour Puritan who, as one of his MPs said: "Wore a suit of plain cloth... made by an ill country tailor".

Dr Little begs to differ: "He had a passion for horses and hunting and a love of music. He was quite the dandy, known to wear britches with ribbons at the bottom, a hat with an ostrich plume and boots outfitted with lace."

It seems even the contents of Oliver Cromwell's wardrobe manage to divide the critics.

The Cromwell Museum in Huntingdon, Cambs, Tuesday to Sunday, 10.30am-4pm. Free. Visit www.cambridgeshire.gov.uk/cromwell

Life and times of a leader

1599 Cromwell was born into minor gentry in Cambridgeshire

1617 Spends a year at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, but has to quit his studies when his father dies

1620 Marries Elizabeth Bourchier - they have nine children

1628 Becomes MP for Cambridge

1642 Civil War breaks out. Cromwell rises from leading cavalry troop to commanding the Roundhead army

1645 Cromwell and his New Model Army smash Royalist opposition at the Battle of Naseby

1647 Charles I captured - he escapes but is caught again on Isle of Wight

1649 Charles is tried for treason, found guilty and executed

1653 Cromwell becomes Lord Protector, he rules with the Council of State

1655 He dismisses his first Parliament and puts Britain under military rule

1658 Cromwell dies. His son becomes the Lord Protector, but is forced to retire in 1659

1660 Parliament invites Charles II, son of Charles I, to restore the monarchy

Last edited by Blackleaf; Sep 7th, 2008 at 12:08 PM..