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History of England
War and Military History

Was cromwell a hero during the civil war?

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May 30, 2009 6:57PM

It depends upon your viewpoint- he did do a lot of good, but also committed some terrible atrocities as well. His main achievement was to get rid of Absolute Rule by the English monarch, which had traditionally held dictatorial powers via the belief in the 'Divine Right of Kings'- that is, a genuine belief held by the monarchy and it's supporters that the sovereign was appointed to rule by God. He also replaced what was effectively a rubber-stamp Parliament with an elected Government, that held the governing powers previously held by the throne, and which to some extent represented the democratic wishes of the people. Cromwell devoutly believed in rule on behalf of an elected Government that was accountable to the people, and not by Royal dictatorship. However, he was extremely ruthless in his methods, often behaving in exactly the tyrannical way that the Parliamentarian cause claimed to oppose. Whilst his New Model Army were very brave and courageous in battle, they also carried out appalling acts of genocide against civilians and Prisoners of War who were known (or suspected) to have Royalist sympathies. This was particularly true in Ireland, where hundreds of thousands of civilians were massacred due to their Catholic religion. English, Welsh and Scottish Catholics also suffered appallingly, being slaughtered or held in prison in dreadful conditions. Cromwell was not only a Protestant, but a Puritan- he disliked ceremony and ornamentation in religion, believing that it contradicted the true spirit of Christianity. He felt that there should not be a rich Church when there were poor people, and that the Church had become lazy, greedy and corrupt. In these convictions, he was right to a large extent, and he did indeed do a lot to make Britain a fairer society by redistributing Church wealth amongst the needy, but this was also done in an extremely cruel and ruthless way- Catholic clergy were executed, deported or jailed, and beautiful old churches and Cathedrals were vandalised and desecrated because they were believed to symbolise the greed and corruption of the Church. Following his victory in the Civil War, although the nation was run by Parliament, it was effectively a military dictatorship. Cromwell assumed the title of 'Lord Protector', and whilst giving Parliament more freedom than it had under the King, he retained the last word, vetoing any laws or bills that he disagreed with. Puritan laws and values were rigidly enforced by military rule- the Catholic Church was illegal, and people's lifestyles were rigidly controlled, with most forms of public entertainment banned or watered down. Cromwell did not intend that the country should be ruled like this permenantly- he wanted there to be a peaceful, democratic nation run along good Christian lines- but he also recognised that the nation was still in a state of emergency, even after the war. There remained a severe danger of Royalist counter-revolution for years following the end of hostilities, which necessitated military rule until this danger had died down. Also, Cromwelll felt that unless he himself assumed the role of Head of State, there would be a vacuum in this area, that could be filled by Charles II in exile in France, who could become a figurehead for subversive activity. Although he sought to end the Absolute Monarchy, Cromwell was not anti-Royalist per se. He did not want to execute Charles I, and tried very hard to make him agree to stay on as a Constitutional Monarch- that is, a state figurehead whose role was mainly ceremonial. But the King would not acknowledge that the new Government had any authority, and continued to seek it's removal. Had King Charles simply disagreed with the Parliamentarian cause but accepted defeat quietly, he would have been merely exiled in France along with his son, but he continually sought to lead counter-revolution, escaping from house arrest several times and personally taking command of rebel Cavalier militia's to lead regional rebellions. Cromwell felt that his execution was a necessary evil, to secure the peace and safety of the State. Neither was Cromwell anti-aristocracy; several prominent aristocrats, such as Lord Fairfax and Lord Marlborough, were commanders in the New Model Army. Indeed, the egalitarian 'levellers' and 'diggers' (who were essentially early Marxists who believed in a Socialist society, and who had at first welcomed the Civil War as a Socialist Revolution) were barely tolerated by the Parliamentarians- although some New Model Army troops had sympathy with them, and were reluctant to crush their communities. SO- Cromwell was good and bad in equal measure. He introduced Parliamentarian rule and the beginnings of democracy, but his manner of so doing was extreme and very brutal.