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4 stars for taking on the mob.
on 11 September 2014
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. In other words are Stuarts did things that the Elizabethans considered barbarous 80 years earlier
Regarding the siege of Drogheda it is interesting to compare the endless controversy about this with the actions of Cromwell’s friend and former Commander at another siege this time in England. Thomas, Lord Fairfax was sold to us at school and in the media as one of the Parliamentary good guys. He refused to have any part in trying the King and his wife actually heckled the judges at the King's trial although she wore a mask while doing so.
The siege of Colchester lasted 2 months and Fairfax refused to allow the civilians out so they were reduced to starvation and to be fair this was normal. When garrison commander refused an exchange of prisoners, depending on whether they were married or not and their home county, he had 1 in 10 or 1 in 15 of his prisoners shot. After a Royalist raid on his lines he allowed their wounded and prisoners to be maimed and killed claiming they had used poison bullets. When the garrison put a group of women out of the town he had them stripped naked and driven back to bang on the town gates. When the town eventually surrendered the commanders were executed by firing squad with the exception of one who was an Italian. To add insult to injury the town was fined the enormous sum £16,000 for the privilege of not being plundered even though they were Parliamentary supporters occupied against their will! When Robinson Cruose's author Daniel Defoe visited 30 years later he noted that the town and still not recovered from the siege and many damaged buildings were still derelict.
It is possible not as many were killed as at Drogheda, but Fairfax was quite as ruthless. However as a “good guy” he gets none of the vilification that went to Cromwell. Maybe the people of Colchester need to learn about presentation from Ireland?
There is another reason for Cromwells vilification in England it is the success of his army in the English Civil War and in particular the men who commanded it.
His army had defeated the ruling class’s warrior caste lead by men promoted solely on ability. Regiments would be commanded by former tradesmen which was unthinkable in the Royalist army. In Victor Hugo’s “Three Musketeers” the French Queen effectively remarks to her Cousin(?) the Queen of England that the Royal Army seems to be having a hard time beating a bunch of peasants.
I can fully understand Professional historians hatred of Reilly he is the intellectual equivalent of Cromwell's officers. A low class outsider who has looked at something with a fresh eye, seen things they never thought of and made them look silly. It never occurred to them to look at the Drogheda's Town records and see that all the leading citizens who lived there in 1649 were still living and working there 3-4 years after they were massacred. How can they do anything but hate such an upstart?