Semi-Retractare on Cromwell

In seminary I was a defender of Cromwell and the idea of a specifically Christian republic.  In the past five years I backed off that idea.  Cromwell is best seen as a good idea gone horribly wrong.  He is to be credited with recognizing Roman Catholicism as a political power and doing his best in England to negate it.  Still, as a Presbyterian and a descendant of Scottish Presbyterianism, it’s hard for me to like him.   It is easy to demonize Cromwell.   I won’t do that.  I will just lay out the facts as best I can.  Pros and Cons.


  1. In a strange sense, despite his invasion of Presbyterian Scotland, Cromwell shared the same view as the “Protesters” vis-a-vis Charles Stuart II.  Cromwell, like Rutherford, saw Charles Stuart II as a degenerate who would butcher Protestants if given the chance.  We can say that his invasion of Scotland was wrong, but we cannot deny Cromwell was prescient on this matter.
  2. It has since come to light that Charles I hired an Army of Irish pagans to butcher Protestants in England.  On this point anyway, Cromwell was entirely in the right to resist him.
  3. Romanists and Royalists on Facebook like to bitch about how evil Cromwell is and how good it would have been to be a Royalist cavalier.  Okay.  Explain why Cromwell’s New Model Army kicked your ass every time.  Cromwell was a military genius.
  4. Despite his heavy-handed measures, even some Covenanters admit that Scotland had more peace (if also more austerity) under Cromwell.
  5. Cromwell has been demonized for his Irish invasion.  It’s kind of hard to feel sorry for the Irish when they had previously slaughtered between 50,000 to 200,000 Protestants, thus calling for a response by Cromwell.   A recent book by an Irish Catholic, Cromwell, Honorable Enemy, vindicates Cromwell on this point.


  1. It’s hard to justify king-killing.  Resistance to the king?  Absolutely.   Killing him?  That’s an awful burden of proof.
  2. His religious toleration suffered the same problems as all pluralistic governments.
  3. His policy towards the Jew opened England back to Usury.

4 comments on “Semi-Retractare on Cromwell

  1. I would agree with most of your comments here. However, the claims made about the number slaughtered by the Irish should not be taken at face value. Although it is not a field I specialise in, I do know that most objective scholarly research on the massacres puts the number slaughtered much lower. For instance, it was claimed there were thousands of people drowned at Portadown, but it is more likely to have been 100 people at most. Would there even have been as many as 200,000 Protestants living in the north of Ireland at this time? As an Ulster Protestant I have no vested interest in defending the Irish RCs, but nothing is gained by exaggeration.

    The best overviews of that period are S. J. Connolly’s Divided Kingdom and Ramymond Gillespie’s Seventeenth Century Ireland.

  2. I suspected as much. I was following Rilley’s research. I did think the numbers and the amount of Protestants living in Ireland at the time rather high.

  3. olivianus says:


    Good article. To the number of Protestants killed in Ireland:

    From my Dynasty of Intrigue

    “Some have tried to argue that the number of Irish Protestants killed in this
    massacre was only a few thousand. This is refuted by the writings of Irish Jesuit Con a
    Mahony who said in a book printed at Lisbon in 1645,

    “My dear Irish,—Go on and perfect the work of your liberty and defence, which is so
    happily begun by you; and kill all the heretics, and all that do assist and defend them.

    You have in the space of four or five years, that is, between the years 1641 and 1645,
    wherein I write this, killed 150,000 heretics, as your enemies acknowledge. Neither do I
    deny it. And for my own part, as I verily believe you have killed more of them, so I
    would to God you had killed them all—which you must either do, or drive them all
    out of Ireland, that our [Catholic] Holy Land may be plagued no longer with such a . . .
    barbarous, ignorant and lawless generation of people.”

    A Dissertation on the Numbers of Mankind in Antient and Modern Times (1753). by Robert Wallace, pg. 225”

    Your last point about the Jews is spot on. This is exactly why I would refuse to allow Jews into any land that I governed. I would not persecute them but I would not allow them in.

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