During Cromwell's power in the Protectorate, his foreign policy had ended the Anglo-Dutch war, and he had then turned his attention to Spain. Many in his own time considered this a backward-looking policy, as it was acknowledged everywhere that the enervated Spanish monarchy no longer posed any threat to other European nations, and the military operations interferred with normal trade by English merchants trading into the Spanish colonies. Parliament did take Jamaica in 1655, but this cloud had a dark lining--John Cromwell, Oliver's most capable offspring, was in Jamaica when his father died, and Tumbledown Dick frittered away his patrimony. As they had since about 1600, Irish military men flooded the armies of the continent, being unable to save their homeland--tens of thousands of the Irish served in French and Austrian armies, and dozens of Irish officers reached high rank in those armies. The Scot was less likely to leave home, but Scots officers were out of employment, and they joined their Keltic cousins in the armies of the continent (most notably Patrick Gordon, who was too young to have faced the New Model, but became a soldier of fortune on the continent, and eventually took employment with Alexei Mikhailovitch Romanov; he, more than any other foreign officer, taught the military sciences to Petr Alexeevitch, Peter the Great). Life for the Scots crofter was little changed by these events--the Laird was still the Laird, and all good men feared God, even if they could not quite make out what the debates of the divines were all about. Life for the Irish got a lot worse, when canny Parliamentarians enforced stringent laws of oppression (that term was blandly used) against Catholics, while removing all the restrictions which had previously made non-Episcopal Protestants the allies of the Catholics against the land laws.
For the peasant and laborer of England, little changed. The establishment of social records keeping, largely simple birth and death registers, was to eventually lead to the development of social statistics as a science and a tool of the state in the 18th century, but had little effect on the day to day lives of the poor and "mechanic" classes. Many Dissenters of these classes had fought for Parliament and Cromwell, and left their bones all over the country, and in Scotland, Wales, Jamaica and the Low Countries. But their faith was not rewarded--the implicit bargain with Parliament of 1642 was not only never realized, Cromwell had the satisfcation of hanging John Lilburne and ending the Leveller movement forever during the mutinies of 1649. The Diggers enjoyed a brief hour in the sun. But after the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, the practice of enclosure was resumed with a vengeance. England now accelerated the process by which she was to detroy here own "sturdy Yoeman farmers." The Levellers had proposed The Agreement of the People
in 1647, which would have been a constitution not terribly dissimilar to that which would appear in America 140 years later. The document is interesting, in my opinion, and you may read it here[/color]
. For all of his lack of religious orthodoxy, and his participation in the rebellious Parliaments of 1628 and 1640, the sum of Cromwell's career seems to have been to preserve the old order, minus the peerage and the King. Merry Old, wrapped already in too many centuries of tradition, stood at the crossroads of change, and recoiled in horror--at least, so it seems to me.
Oliver Cromwell at the least completed the course of study at Lincoln's Inn after attendance at Cambridge--but he did not practice the law, and became a small holder in his home county, as had been his forebears. He sat in two of the most radical Parliaments in his nation's history, but his cousins Hampden and Pym were the thinkers, the movers, the charismatic agitators. His greatest accomplishments in life were military, but arose more from ordinary persevering competence in an age which seemed not to know or care of the competence of the high and mighty Lord or Squire who would be called to lead armies. Cromwell shines forth as a leader because the necessary unrelenting discipline and attention to logistics which make any army efficient seems to have been a natural talent of his. His earliest success came from the devotion of his Dissenting troopers, and the discipline which his cavalry displayed--the wonder of all military men in the British Isles and even among the tried and successful military leaders of the Thirty Years War--did not survive the New Model. He does at least deserve credit for leadership which produced a result which has never been repeated. Even the hussars of Bonapart and the stern troopers of Seydlitz and Blucher were to be disorganized by their charge; in the fame of Cromwell's military career, the excellencies of the ordinary trooper and foot soldier of the New Model are unnoticed. The revolution in military doctrine of St. Germain and de Broglie when combined with the massive drafts of dedicated peasant revolutionaries eventually created la Grande Armée
with which Napoleon was to inscribe his name on history. Little known, however, is that one hundred fifty years before and more, the ordinary private soldier of the New Model fought with the self-imposed discipline and the fervor of devotion to a cause which were to make the French invincible for a generation, while creating the doctrines and staff structure which have created modern armies. But Cromwell, no more than John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough, nor yet Arthur Wellesley, the "Iron Duke," Wellington, had any notion of staff organization as a military science and discipline, nor a concept of the English foot and horse as bodies of men with a rare courage and devotion whose intelligence could be relied upon. The lash was temporarily banished in the New Model, and was unneeded given the faith the common foot soldier displayed. But Cromwell, as much as Fairfax, Lambert or Monck, simply considered this a result of religion, and a quantity to be exploited, while any sign of insubordination was to be ruthlessly crushed. Just as the French were to respond to la Patie en Danger
with both an urge to defend their homeland and a democratic intelligence about the role they played in the line, the Dissenter came with a stake to fight for, and a desire to learn the profession of arms so that they might attain it. Napoleon squandered just such a generation in the slaughter of Wagram in 1809; Cromwell simply hanged the Levellers and Agitators in 1649. Cromwell displayed a military sense, and a capacity for audacity, which placed him on the level of Montecucculi, Condé and Tilly; he never attained to the brilliant strategic sense of Turenne, nor the organizational and tactical genius of Gustavus Adolphus, nor the brute, controlled agression of Wallenstein. As a head of state, he displayed that common sense which allows a man to recognize competence in others, and the energy and intellectual organization to implement the programs of such men. The civil organization of England in the Protectorate was better than it would again be for three centuries. He also displayed little sense of England's stake in international affairs.
All in all, Oliver Cromwell was not in any regard a brilliant man. In so many ways, he was an unfailingly competent man. He remains one of the most fascinating studies which English history offers.