Cromwell Day - commemorating our Lord Protector
Did you know that today is Cromwell Day?
Each year on 3rd September the Cromwell Association holds a service of commemoration for Oliver Cromwell on the anniversary of his death in 1658. By kind permission of the Speaker of the House of Commons, the service is held, whenever possible, by the statue of Cromwell to the side of Westminster Hall overlooking Parliament Square.
Oliver Cromwell became MP for Huntingdon in 1628, and for Cambridge in 1640. In the Civil War, he crushed the Royalists at Naseby and Preston and elsewhere, and signed the warrant for the execution of Charles I.
It isn't politic to commemorate the man who ruthlessly suppressed the rebellion in Ireland; who overthrew Charles II; who dismissed the Long Parliament and who, refusing the Crown, ruled England as Lord Protector for four years. He was buried in Westminster Abbey, but in 1660 his body was disinterred and hanged at Tyburn. We still can't quite decide if he should be honoured or ignored.
He wasn't.. well, very tolerant, was he? Yet the truth is that in the early part of the 17th century few people believed one ought to be, bar a few theorists or sectaries. Both Laudians and Puritans assumed that the triumph of their side would result in the proscription of the other party's views. Oliver Cromwell was more tolerant than most - though not of Papists and Episcopalians at one end, or of Quakers and other cultish 'extremists' at the other. But in tumultuous times of revolution, toleration is a difficult policy to apply.
With the Restoration of the Stuarts, Anglicanism of a particular type triumphed, and the Act of Uniformity, with its concomitant laws, was intended to regulate religious practice - and the expression of religious thought. Less than a generation later, the attempt to regiment religious conviction was abandoned. Persecution had proved ineffective; it did not coerce its victims and became an offence even to its advocates.
Old hatreds died; new forces, social and political, exposed repression as a futile political instrument and an indefensible religious one. The increasing authority of reason made repressive zeal seem as enthusiastic as the fanaticism of the sects and cults. Reason gave birth to toleration; it moved us from the medieval mindset to the modern one of enlightenment.
Oliver Cromwell was not responsible for all this, but he was the greatest of Englishmen to lead it. As JC Ryle observes: 'No man, perhaps, ever won supreme power by the sword, and then used that power with such moderation as he did. England was probably more feared and respected throughout Europe, during the short time that he was Protector, than she ever was before, or ever has been since. His very name carried terror with it. He declared that he would make the name of an Englishman as great as ever that of a Roman had been. And he certainly succeeded. He made it publicly known that he would not allow the Protestant faith to be insulted in any part of the world. And he kept his word.
'When the Duke of Savoy began to persecute the Vaudois in his days, Cromwell interfered at once on their behalf, and never rested till the Duke's army was recalled from their villages, and the poor people's goods and houses restored. When certain Protestants at Nismes, in France, were threatened with oppressive usage by the French government, Cromwell instructed his ambassador at Paris to insist peremptorily, that proceedings against them should be dropped, and in the event of a refusal, to leave Paris immediately. In fact, it was said that Cardinal Marazin, the French Minister, would change countenance when Cromwell's name was mentioned; and that it was almost proverbial in France, that the Cardinal was more afraid of Cromwell than of the devil.'
Instead of timid commemoration of the founder of the modern Parliament, we ought to laud and celebrate the name of Oliver Cromwell as a great Defender of the Faith. Certainly, we need something of his spirit injected into the Foreign Office today if we are ever again to advocate for and defend our Christian brothers and sisters abroad who die daily for their faith in Christ.