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Cromwell: An Honourable Enemy - The Untold Story Of The Cromwelli Paperback – 23 Nov 2000

3.6 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: W&N; New edition edition (23 Nov. 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1842120808
  • ISBN-13: 978-1842120804
  • Product Dimensions: 21.6 x 13.8 x 2.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 540,819 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

From the Author

This book is ahead of its time
As author of this book, I feel that many historians in Ireland are not ready yet for 'an honourable' Cromwell - nor indeed are the people of Ireland. I thought that I would change the history books and public opinion about this much maligned historical figure by publishing the truth about Cromwell's Irish campaign. The reaction - among the under forties on the whole - was good, but among historians and the over forties it was bad. They can't seem to accept that an amateur could discover such a fundamental flaw in Irish history ie that neither Cromwell or his men ever engaged in the killing of any unarmed civilians throughout his entire nine month campaign. The facts are there for all to see. But God bless Ireland the past is still the present here and we MUST have our English hate figures - despite the truth. How sad is that?

Tom Reilly Author - Cromwell An Honourable Enemy --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Newspaper columnist Tom Reilly was born in 1960 in Drogheda. Hs is the author of eights books in all. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


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For hundreds of years the myths about Cromwell manufactured in royalist circles in the Restoration period have been unchallenged. The royalists depicted him as a savage monster about whom any bad story was given credence. It accepted as established fact that Cromwell massacred the entire civilian populations of Drogheda and Wexford. In Catholic circles in Ireland it was believed that he was attacking and murdering Catholics.

The author, who is from Drogheda, was rather astonished to find that in the civic records of Drogheda dating from 1649 there was no record of the massacre.. The Minute Book of the Corporation of Drogheda from 1649 shows life in the town proceeding as normal. There was no contemporary evidence of a massacre of civilians. The royalist defenders under the earl of Ormonde were of course killed in the assault as was normal. The rapid defeat of the royalist garrison is to be attributed to the rather inept dispositions by the military governor, Sir Arthur Aston who was caught on the wrong side of the bridge over the Boyne and which was not destroyed by the defenders. The battle was short and the royalist garrison quickly disposed or. Aston was one of the few Catholic officers in the royalist army.

Reilly gives a detailed account of all Cromwell's campaign in Ireland which did not last long, for he was recalled to deal with the much more dangerous Scottish army. He had no responsibility at all for anything that happened after his departure in particular for the supposed policy of 'To Hell or to Connaught' another royalist myth.

The author then goes on to try to show the origins of the myth of the massacres of which there were no contemporary eyewitnesses and traces it in detail to royalist circles in the Restoration period.
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It's a bit harsh to give this only four stars. Generally most things about this book are excellent. The sources are laid out fairly clearly - a bibliography, mostly 20th century and some nineteenth, and 'Miscellaneous Publications' including such things as a BBC programme, one edition of a newspaper, and a lecture. Each chapter has endnotes, and their references match up with the bibliography, at least usually.

However there are some niggles:

[1] Not many original documents are mentioned, and the presumption is they've been printed accurately. But one can never be sure. To be fair many have probably vanished or decayed or would be difficult to get hold of in the original.

[2] Reilly often enough says such-and-such a person never visited Ireland, or some similar definite statement; how can he be so sure? No doubt he's likely to be right, but ...

[3] He doesn't state the official Irish view of Cromwell. We're not all Irish, and some of us haven't been exposed to the Irish education system. Reilly does lay out clearly the object of Cromwell's military expedition, viz to control Ireland, and take lands from Royalists. But it's left rather unclear. Admittedly a revisionist book doesn't have to deal with every aspect of a topic, but the reason Cromwell's of interest in Ireland is exactly because of what he was supposed to have done. (As an example - take 'plantations'. They couldn't have been for spices, sugar cane, tobacco; were they trees? Or what?) Under the rules of the age, was it accepted that a supporter of a losing side should lose possessions?

[4] He doesn't give details of real or supposed massacres of Protestants before Cromwell got there. (Or subsequent events such as the 'Black and Tans').
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Coming to England in the 1950's as a schoolboy all I knew about Cromwell was what my mother told me; “Cromwell did bad things in Ireland”. Growing up in England this was supported by the way Cromwell or more accurately the Parliamentarians were portrayed in popular English culture. On television, books and more importantly in comics like the Wizard, Rover and Eagle the parliamentarians and by implication Cromwell were the bad guys who lost every time. While I enjoyed these tales as much is anybody I was acutely aware from school history lessons that the parliamentarians had actually won. Also with my Irish fascination the graves of famous people I asked my history teacher where Cromwell was buried he admitted he didn't know. It was years later a Communist and therefore a Cromwell sympathiser shocked me by telling me they had dug his body up and hanged him two years after he was dead.

One could say Cromwell was luckier than several of his fellow signatories of the King's death warrant. Any who had not died or fled abroad were tried as regicides and were probably the last people in Britain to suffer the medieval death of traitors. Slow hanging cut down while still alive, castrated and disemboweled before being beheaded and chopped into quarters with the parts exhibited around the country. Compare this to the Catholic Babington Conspirators condemned for plotting to put Mary Queen of Scots of the English throne in 1586. After 7 had suffered the full penalty, depending on whom you read either the public or the Queen were so revolted the remaining 7 were allowed to hang until they were dead.
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