has recently been published by Pickering and Chatto.
has recently been published by Pickering and Chatto.
Over at Investigations of a Dog, Gavin has a great post deconstructing the Ladybird biography of Oliver Cromwell. Aside from the excellent illustrations of sour-faced puritans, I was struck by the repetition of the story that Cromwell was snatched from his cot by a monkey and carried onto the roof of Hinchinbrooke House. The same story appears in H. E. Marshall’s children’s history of Cromwell, which I posted about some time ago.
I wondered how old that particular story was. Thomas Cromwell’s Oliver Cromwell and His Times (1822) lists the story as one of the many extravagant claims inserted into hostile biographies of his ancestor (referring here to Mark Noble’s Memoirs of the Protectoral House of Cromwell (1787)) Noble claimed that he received this story – and the other familiar one of the young Oliver coming to blows with a young Charles Stuart – from ‘the rev. dr. Lort’s M.S.S.’ (Perhaps Michael Lort, the Georgian antiquary?) who in turn received this from ‘Mr. Audley’ (the non-juror Edward Audley).
The story raises also sorts of questions. Was the ownership of monkeys as pets common in gentry households in late 16th/early 17th C England? (Or at least enough so that the story would appear credible). And what type of monkey was it? It would need to be a pretty big monkey to pick up a human child, so presumably some sort of barbary ape or baboon was the simian culprit here.
Most importantly, though, what does this monkey story mean? One of the earliest anti-Cromwell biographies, Thomas Heath’s Flagellum (1663 and sub edns) gives a clue. Heath doesn’t mention the monkey story, though he has plenty to say about the young Oliver’s trouble-making and lust for power. However, Heath is clear from the outset as to what the general narrative of Cromwell’s life reveals:
‘Everything hath its good and evil Angel to attend or haunt it, and that grand and happy revolution was to be afflicted and persecuted by this Fury to an almost dissolution of its well composed, united and established Frame.’ (1st edn. p. 3) (The ‘revolution’ Heath is talking about here is the Stuart succession and the union of crowns that it created.)
Heath’s Cromwell is, then, a Fury, an avenging spirit raised up to rain destruction upon the British Isles (note here that ‘fury’ also has connotations of the bestial and savage.)
The same picture emerges from Noble’s recounting of the monkey story. The important part of this anecdote is not the baby being snatched from the cot and carted off to the roof but the fact that the primate brings him down again:
‘the sagacious animal brought the “fortune of England” down in safety: so narrow an escape had he, who was doomed to be the conqueror, and sovereign magistrate of three mighty nations, from the paws of a monkey.’ (p. 90)
Note ‘fortune’ and ‘doomed’: Cromwell is here transformed from the human vehicle of divine providence to the plaything of capricious fate, symbolised by that animal embodiment of all things naughty, the monkey.
(Incidentally, we really need a PhD thesis on monkey symbolism in early modern English literature.)
I think Mark Steel’s lecture on Cromwell offers a nice antidote to ‘God’s Executioner’ (see below).
And finally, this has to be the funniest book review I have read in a long time.
I think this was shown on one of the subscription digital history channels in the UK but I don’t have pay tv so missed it. You can now watch most of the first episode on youtube.
I thought that they had got Roger Allam playing Oliver Cromwell, which would have been an inspired bit of casting, given that he has recently portrayed both Hitler and the evil Anglo-Irish landlord, Sir John Hamilton, in the Wind that Shakes the Barley. But I think it is just a bloke who looks a bit like him. Maybe they couldn’t afford Rog’s fee. Still, a starry cast of early modern historians on show: Ronald Hutton, Nicholas Canny and John Morrill.
You can either look on this as a jolly yuletide offering, or simply a shameful recycling of one of my old articles.
In any case, season’s greetings to you all.
I’ve done a little review of the above for the New Statesman over here. I found the first episode a bit of a disappointment. Not really fun enough to warrant 1hr 20mins of my time and not really done with enough attention to detail to make it worthwhile as ‘edutainment’.
Over at this blog, there’s an interesting review of Ronan Bennett’s Guardian article inspired by the series. The author also correctly guesses that the perspective of the series will be unrelentingly Anglo-centric.
Over at BBC History Magazine, John Morrill discusses Cromwell’s controversial legacy.
Some late entrants into the blog carnival. Over at Mercurius Politicus, Nick offers a post, analysing a letter from Cromwell to his son Richard, which unpicks the providential and pragmatic strains within the future Lord Protector’s thought.
BBC Radio 4 is offering a programme on ‘The Strange Case of Oliver Cromwell’s Head’ tomorrow (Sept 3.) at 11am.
More Cromwell fun as and when it comes to my attention.
As Gavin points out at Investigations of a Dog, strictly speaking we are getting ahead of ourselves here, but this Wednesday it will (sort of) be the 350th anniversary of Cromwell’s death.
To commemorate that fact, I’ve trawled the darkest recesses of the web to bring you news of, amongst other things, Oliver Cromwell’s brush with Dr. Who.
I’ve also looked at the celebrated Edwardian children’s writer, H. E. Marshall’s presentation of Cromwell, arguing that the political outlook of her books was far less conservative than is usually assumed.
Over at Investigations of a Dog, Gavin offers a comparison between the careers of Sir William Balfour and Oliver Cromwell, concluding that the latter’s supposed brilliance as a cavalry officer looks less remarkable when viewed next to the achievements of the less well-known Balfour.
And over at Mercurius Politicus, Nick gives us his opinion of two new books on the Cromwellian Protectorate and its parliaments.
A couple more posts are promised shortly.
Thanks for looking and send in those links if you think I’ve missed something!
A quick trawl of the web reveals the following products/events produced to tie-in with the 350th anniversary of Cromwell’s death.
A number of books are forthcoming or just out on Cromwell. Over at the Guardian, Fintan O’Toole reviews Micháel O Siochrú’s God’s Executioner: Oliver Cromwell and the Conquest of Ireland. Also ‘reviewed’ over here by John Carey in the Sunday Times, but with only one paragraph actually discussing the book. Infuriating. A much more engaged and engaging review is offered by Tom Reilly here: mail-on-sunday-review, a word-doc version of a piece which appeared in the Irish Mail on Sunday.
Some other Cromwellian offerings:
My personal favourite was finding this Dr. Who audio series , ‘The Settling’, featuring Sylvester McCoy as the Doctor and Clive Mantle as, you guessed it, Oliver Cromwell, in an adventure set in Ireland in 1649.
As the author, Simon Guerrier says
While The Settling takes some liberties with historical facts as we know them (adding a time-travelling alien, say), I’ve endeavoured to base it as much on real history as possible.
Also, can anyone help with this question, posted over at Yahoo! answers?
And finally, of course, over here I asked ‘Just How Evil Was Oliver Cromwell?’