Friday, 20 December 2013

Was Cromwell like Stalin?

The suggestion by Vladamir Putin that Oliver Cromwell was like Stalin due to his massacres of Catholics in Ireland, fails to grasp the fierce religious persecutions of the 16th and 17th centuries or the determination of mainly Continental Catholics to wipe out reformers. Catholic French atrocities like St Bartholomew's Day in 1572, and the ongoing executions of thousands of Continental reformers are the wider background to his cruel persecutions in Ireland.

                Ford Madox Ford's painting of Cromwell defending the Waldensians (Wikipedia)

Oliver Cromwell robustly defended the concept of religious freedom, for reformers. It is one of the reasons why Cromwell's statue stands outside our Parliament today.

Cromwell is still a hero in the Waldensian Valleys. In medieval times, the Waldensians or Vaudois built Bible schools in remote places in the Cottian Alps. When Catholicism was forced on the Waldensians at the point of a sword, thousands of their women and children were smoked to death, in a mountain cave. This was just one of several brutal military attempts to murder them en masse. At one point, it was only due to the mountains, military ability and Oliver Cromwell that the Vaudois survived. Cromwell intervened politically and raised a public subscription on their behalf which was later confiscated, by Charles II. His wrong actions in Ireland took place in a wider age which many secular historians do not fully understand.

Power and war corrupted Cromwell. He let the execution of Charles 1st go ahead against his conscience and secretly sat with his body all night, regretfully, in the Banqueting House. He took over the Royal apartments of Elizabeth 1st at Whitehall Palace where he died, and lived like a Monarch, in spite of running England as a Republic.   He followed the hereditary principle by leaving the Protectorship to his son who wisely saw that he did not have the skills to maintain it. Cromwell was even sorely tempted to award himself the Crown, only holding back, at the last minute.

It is mystifying to foreigners why England, after the tragic English Civil War, in which families were killing each other on opposite sides (Royalists and Roundheads) reverted to a monarchy in Charles II. The reason handed down in our history lessons, is first, the prohibition of celebrating Christmas, by Cromwell, which the English have always loved. Second, the closure of the theatres and other forms of public entertainment deemed as "fun". The closing of the theatres by the Puritans was following in the teachings of the early Church Fathers, in other words those living under the Roman Empire, not with any actual text in the Bible. The English have to ensure bad weather most of the year. They feel they need their outdoor and indoor pursuits to keep going. They are also key purveyors of theatrical creativity. Sometimes, you can push a people too far.

Cicero states in his masterwork "De Officiis" (Of Duties) which was the second printed book after the Gutenberg Bible in the Renaissance, that politicians devoid of greed for worldly material gain must selflessly govern for all the people or they will bring the entire house down, as Cromwell probably did.

My view is that Oliver Cromwell was a great man with a vision of freedom centuries ahead of his age, who simply became as cruel as all the others, in the end.  His extensive legacy, in terms of rights and Parliamentary democracy, endures to this day. He certainly changed the course of our history in that the power of the Monarch passed to the representatives of the people permanently. However, the paucity of knowledge of the Bible today among the general populace, would seriously alarm him.

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