Monday, March 14, 2011

In Defense of Oliver Cromwell: Part 2: Protector of Christian Europe

"Cromwell went on to publicly warn the world
that he would defend Protestants everywhere.
He also set out to intimidate the Pope and Italy's
petty princes, whom he said were behind the
persecution of the Waldenses."
by Steve C. Halbrook

(posts in this series: part 1part 2, part 3)

On Cromwell’s defense of Protestantism, D’ Aubigne writes, “Cromwell, during the season of his power, was really the Protector of European, and, in particular, of French Protestantism.”  When Louis XIV ordered soldiers to destroy Nismes and the French Huguenots within it, Cromwell’s intervention saved their lives.  Shortly thereafter, Clarendon, who “had no great love for the Protector,” wrote “nobody can wonder that Cromwell’s memory still remains in those parts and with those people in great veneration.”  (D’ Aubigne himself has Huguenot ancestors, and ponders the possibility that they numbered among those at Nismes.)[1]

Cromwell allied with France in 1655 after France and Spain competed to sign a treaty with him.  The French treaty named Cromwell “Protector of the kingdom of France,” made possible by England’s “respect and fear” under him.[2]  

This treaty was conditional on France’s toleration of the Huguenots.[3]  Spain rejected a treaty because of Cromwell's demands, including a requirement to cease the Inquisition. [4]  

Cromwell desired that persecuted Christians would have the liberty to worship freely and to read the Bible.  He believed it necessary to constrain Spain, since “Rome was the antichristian spiritual power, and Spain the civil power by which she had long been abetted.”[5]  Thus when Cromwell warred with Spain, he warred with Rome.[6] 

International fear of Cromwell protected Protestants.  D’Aubigne writes, “Cromwell appeared like a blazing star, raised up by Providence to exalt this nation to a distinguished pitch of glory, and to strike terror into the rest of Europe.”[7]

Cromwell had in a 1654 letter pronounced his goal “to strive and plan to the best of my ability for the common safety and peace of the Protestants.”  Cromwell would get such an opportunity the next year.  England learned that the Duke of Savoy had viciously slaughtered Protestant Waldenses in Piedmont, located in northern Italy.[8]  The English heard the following: 
Letters of the Duke of Savoy’s cruel persecuting the Protestants of Piedmont, by taking away their Goods and Estates, and putting them in Prison, and carrying away of their Children; using all means with Violence to make them forsake their Religion and the Purity of the Gospel; which when they would not do, the Priests persuaded the Duke to send an Army against them to force them to Conformity, who sent eight thousand Men against these poor quite People and loyal Subjects; the Army fell upon them, slew many of them, with small Loss, and took many Prisoners, whom they used with all Cruelty and then put them to death.  Others of them with their wives and Children, fled unto the Mountains, whilst Soldiers plunder’d their Houses, and then fired them and their Churches.[9]

Upon hearing about the massacre of the Waldenses in
Piedmont, Cromwell wept. He then proceeded to
take aggressive measures against their persecutors. 
As D’ Aubigne describes, the troops torched 22 villages, with many of the elderly burnt to death in their houses. Troops cut men to pieces, impaled women naked, and smashed children’s skulls against rocks. A game of bowls was played with the heads of 150 women. Survivors, according to D’ Aubigne, first looked to God for help, and then hoped the Protector Cromwell would intervened.[10] 

Upon hearing of the massacre, Cromwell wept.  “The sufferings of these poor people,” he said, “lie as near, or rather nearer, to my heart, than if it had concerned the nearest relations I have in the world.”  Cromwell took aggressive measures.  The treaty he planned to ratify with France that very day now became conditional on France’s involvement on the Waldenses’ behalf.  Of his own money, Cromwell sent them two thousand pounds, and ordered letters sent to all European Protestant countries.  A day of fasting and humiliation was appointed by Cromwell, as well as a collection, which accrued an enormous amount.[11]  

Upon hearing about Cromwell's seriousness, fear seized the persecutors.  It was as if they were already overwhelmed  by his English army.[12]  

Fear also gripped the whole continent:  “There was not a potentate in Europe so bold as to dare expose himself to Cromwell’s displeasure by refusing his request.”  Cromwell’s zeal would result in a treaty, giving the Waldenses back their liberty.  From this, Cromwell went on to publicly warn the world that he would defend Protestants everywhere.  He also set out to intimidate the Pope and Italy’s petty princes, whom he said were behind the persecution of the Waldenses. This deed would be remembered, forewarned Cromwell, whom would “lay hold of the first opportunity to send his fleet into the Mediterranean to visit Civita Vecchia and other parts of the ecclesiastical territories, and that the sound of his cannon should be heard in Rome itself.”[13]  

Cromwell thus was an outspoken international defender of Protestants, and conditioned all his treaties on securing their religious liberty.[14]

     [1] Merle D’Aubigne, The Protector: A Vindication (Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications, 1983), 21.
     [2] Ibid., 209.
     [3] Robert S. Paul, The Lord Protector: Religion and Politics in the Life of Oliver Cromwell (Grand Rapids, MI:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1964), 338.
     [4] D’ Aubigne, The Protector, 209.
     [5] Ibid., 210, 211.
     [6] Ibid., 212, 213.
     [7] Ibid., 209. 
     [8] Paul, The Lord Protector, 336.
     [9] As described by the historian Bulstrode Whitelocke, in Paul, The Lord Protector, 336. 
     [10] D’ Aubigne, The Protector, 217.
     [11] Ibid., 218.
     [12] Ibid., 218.
     [13] Ibid., 220.
     [14] Ibid., 221.

Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector: Part 2

Hear entire series

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