History of the Rebellion


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Oliver Cromwell


He was one of those men whom his very enemies could not condemn without commending him at the same time: for he could never have done half that mischief without great courage and industry and judgment. And he must have had a wonderful understanding of the natures and passions of men, and as great a dexterity in the applying them, who, from a private and obscure birth (although of a good family), without interest of estate, alliance, or friendships, could raise himself to such a height. . . . Without doubt, no man with more wickedness ever attempted anything or brought to pass what he desired more wickedly, more in the face and contempt of religion and moral honesty; yet wickedness as great as his could never have accomplished these results without the assistance of a great spirit, an admirable circumspection and sagacity, and a most magnanimous resolution. When he appeared first in parliament, he seemed to have a person in no degree gracious, no ornament of discourse, none of those talents which reconcile the affection of the bystanders; yet as he grew into place and authority, his powers seemed to be renewed, as if he had concealed faculties, till he had occasion to use them; and when he was to act the part of a great man, he did it without any awkwardness through the lack of experience.

After he was confirmed and invested Protector, he consulted with very few upon any action of importance, nor communicated any enterprise he resolved upon with more than those who were to have principal parts in the execution of it; nor to them sooner than was absolutely necessary. What he once resolved, in which he was not rash, he would not be dissuaded from, nor endure any contradiction of his power and authority, but extorted obedience from those who were not willing to yield it. . . .

Thus he subdued a spirit that had been often troublesome to the most sovereign power, and made Westminster Hall1 obedient and subservient to his commands. In all other matters, which did not concern the life of his jurisdiction, he seemed to have great reverence for the law and rarely interposed between party and party. And as he proceeded with this kind of indignation and haughtiness with those who were refractory and dared to contend with his greatness, so toward those who complied with his good pleasure and courted his protection, he used a wonderful civility, generosity, and bounty.

To reduce three nations,1 which perfectly hated him, to an entire obedience to all his dictates; to awe and govern those nations by an army that was not devoted to him and wished his ruin, was an instance of a very prodigious genius. But his greatness at home was but a shadow of the glory he had abroad. It was hard to discover which feared him most, France, Spain, or the Low Countries, where his friendship was current at the value he put upon it. And as they did all sacrifice their honor and their interest to his pleasure, so there is nothing he could have demanded that they would have denied him. . . .

He was not a man of blood, and totally declined Machiavelli’s method,2 which prescribes, upon any alteration of a government, to cut off all the heads and extirpate the families of those who are friends to the old one. And it was confidently reported that in the council of officers it was more than once proposed that there might be a general massacre of all the royal party, as the only expedient to secure the government; but Cromwell would never consent to it; it may be, out of too much contempt of his enemies. In a word, as he had all the wickednesses against which damnation is denounced, and for which hell fire is prepared, so he had some virtues which have caused the memory of some men in all ages to be celebrated; and he will be looked upon by posterity as a brave bad man.

2 Clarendon, , vol. vi, pp. 103–110.

1i.e., Parliament.

1 England, Scotland, and Ireland.

2 Machiavelli (1469#8211;1527), an Italian diplomat, was the author of a famous book, Il Principe (The Prince), which exercised much influence or European politics. It is an analysis of the methods whereby an ambitious and unscrupulous man may rise to sovereign power.


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Chicago: "Oliver Cromwell," History of the Rebellion in Readings in Modern European History, ed. Webster, Hutton (Boston: D.C. Heath, 1926), 11–12. Original Sources, accessed November 28, 2022, http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=66RY2GC5JARNA78.

MLA: . "Oliver Cromwell." History of the Rebellion, Vol. vi, in Readings in Modern European History, edited by Webster, Hutton, Boston, D.C. Heath, 1926, pp. 11–12. Original Sources. 28 Nov. 2022. http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=66RY2GC5JARNA78.

Harvard: , 'Oliver Cromwell' in History of the Rebellion. cited in 1926, Readings in Modern European History, ed. , D.C. Heath, Boston, pp.11–12. Original Sources, retrieved 28 November 2022, from http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=66RY2GC5JARNA78.