D’Aubigne on Cromwell: Review of The Protector

I’ve gone back and forth in my appraisal of Cromwell for over a decade.   His military genius cannot be denied, nor his spirituality.   While one can make a sound case for the execution of Charles I, it still feels “off.”  Many Cromwell supporters have praised D’Aubigne’s biography on Cromwell.  I critically differ.  It is worth reading.  It is pastorally warm and soul-stirring, but D’Aubigne woefully misreads some key details.  Further, I think D’Aubigne’s own analysis is blatantly self-contradictory, as I will demonstrate below.

While D’Aubigne does a fine job with Cromwell’s spirituality and family life, he is very critical of Cromwell’s military life.  Without any argumentation beyond a simplistic appeal to the Sermon on the Mount, D’Aubigne says Cromwell was wrong to resist the king because that is not what Jesus would have done, or something like that.   (D’Aubigne makes the same criticism of Zwingli; cf William Cunningham for a rebuttal).

I was critical of D’Aubigne’s approach to Cromwell when I first began the biography. I still think my criticisms of MD are justified. But here are some wonderful snippets from his biography that are worthy of reflection (and imitation!).
Speaking of Cromwell’s opposition to Turkish Islamism:

He sailed right into the harbor, and though the shore was planted with heavy guns, he burnt nine of the Turkish vessels, and brought the tyrant to reason. But he did not confine himself to this mission: he spread the terror of the English name over all of Italy, even to Rome itself (211).

Cromwell himself reflects on his army,

I raised such men as had the fear of God before them, as made some conscience of what they did; and from that day forward, I must say to you, they were never beaten, and wherever they engaged the enemy, they beat continually (240-241).

D’Aubigne concludes:

Without Cromwell, humanly speaking, liberty would have been lost not only to England, but to Europe (278).

Contradictions:

It is logically impossible for D’Aubigne to say (1) Cromwell was wrong as a Christian for going to war but (2) Cromwell is right for bringing liberty to Europe.  Precisely, one may ask, how did Cromwell bring liberty to Europe?  Further, D’Aubigne’s gloss on Matthew 5 effectively guts the whole Christian just-war tradition.

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2 comments on “D’Aubigne on Cromwell: Review of The Protector

  1. Savannah says:

    Thank you for these posts regarding Cromwell. They are helpful as they appear to neither seek to defame the man nor to aggrandize him, but rather to view him a real person. It seems it is so easy to skew our views when observing a historical leader because we are looking for someone out there in the history of the church to have things right and be perfect, or nearly so…and nobody is…. Only God is entirely worthy of our imitation and worship….

    • Hello Savannah,

      I am glad you have found these posts helpful. Cromwell is the best example of simul iustus et peccator. I used to be guilty of almost hero-worship of Cromwell. I’ve backed away from that, but there is still much that is admirable.

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