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During his lifetime, some tracts painted him as a hypocrite motivated by powerfor example, The Machiavilian Cromwell and The Juglers Discovered, both part of an attack on Cromwell by the Levellers after 1647, present him as a Machiavellian figure. In a more positive contemporary assessment, John Spittlehouse in A Warning Piece Dischargedcompared him to Moses, rescuing the English by taking them safely through the Red Sea of the civil wars. The poet and polemicist John Milton called Cromwell "our chief of men" in his Sonnet XVI, and in works like Defensio secunda, defended the Republic and the Lord Protector, while exhorting him to remain true to the principles of the Revolution. Several biographies were published soon after his death. An example is The Perfect Politician, which described how Cromwell "loved men more than books" and gave a nuanced assessment of him as an energetic campaigner for liberty of conscience brought down by pride and ambition. An equally nuanced but less positive assessment was published in 1667 by Edward Hyde, 1st Earl of Clarendon, in his History of the Rebellion and Civil Wars in England. Clarendon famously declared that Cromwell "will be looked upon by posterity as a brave bad man". He argued that Cromwell's rise to power had been helped not only by his great spirit and energy, but also by his ruthlessness. Clarendon was not one of Cromwell's confidantes, and his account was written after the Restoration of the monarchy. During the early 18th century, Cromwell's image began to be adopted and reshaped by the Whigs, as part of a wider project to give their political objectives historical legitimacy. A version of Edmund Ludlows Memoirs, re-written by John Toland to excise the radical Puritanical elements and replace them with a Whiggish brand of republicanism, presented the Cromwellian Protectorate as a military tyranny. Through Ludlow, Toland portrayed Cromwell as a despot who crushed the beginnings of democratic rule in the 1640s. During the early 19th century, Cromwell began to be portrayed in a positive light by Romantic artists and poets. Thomas Carlyle continued this reassessment of Cromwell in the 1840s, publishing an annotated collection of Cromwell's letters and speeches in which he described English Puritanism as "the last of all our Heroisms" while taking a negative view of his own era. By the late 19th century, Carlyle's portrayal of Cromwell, stressing the centrality of puritan morality and earnestness, had become assimilated into Whig and Liberal historiography. The Oxford civil war historian Samuel Rawson Gardiner concluded that "the manit is ever so with the noblestwas greater than his work". Gardiner stressed Cromwells dynamic and mercurial character, and his role in dismantling absolute monarchy, while underestimating Cromwells religious conviction. Cromwells foreign policy also provided an attractive forerunner of Victorian imperial expansion, with Gardiner stressing his constancy of effort to make England great by land and sea. During the first half of the 20th century, Cromwell's reputation was often influenced by the rise of fascism in Nazi Germany and in Italy. Wilbur Cortez Abbott, for examplea Harvard historiandevoted much of his career to compiling and editing a multi-volume collection of Cromwell's letters and speeches. In this work, which was published between 1937 and 1947, Abbott began to argue that Cromwell was a proto-fascist. However, subsequent historians such as John Morrill have criticised both Abbott's interpretation of Cromwell and his editorial approach. Late 20th century historians re-examined the nature of Cromwell's faith and of his authoritarian regime. Austin Woolrych explored the issue of "dictatorship" in depth, arguing that Cromwell was subject to two conflicting forces: his obligation to the army and his desire to achieve a lasting settlement by winning back the confidence of the political nation as a whole. Woolrych argued that the dictatorial elements of Cromwell's rule stemmed not so much from its military origins or the participation of army officers in civil government, as from his constant commitment to the interest of the people of God and his conviction that suppressing vice and encouraging virtue constituted the chief end of government. Historians such as John Morrill, Blair Worden and J. C. Davis have developed this theme, revealing the extent to which Cromwells writing and speeches are suffused with biblical references, and arguing that his radical actions were driven by his zeal for godly reformation.

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