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The Death of Oliver Cromwell

The Death of Oliver Cromwell

H.F. McMains
Copyright Date: 2000
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    The Death of Oliver Cromwell
    Book Description:

    For centuries, rumors have circulated in England that Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell did not die of natural causes. Now, in a fascinating book that reads like a historical whodunit, we have a motive, a means, a murderer (complete with his own deathbed confession), and a supporting cast that includes John Milton and Andrew Marvell.

    Almost from the moment of Cromwell's death in 1658, writers and biographers have dismissed suspicions of foul play as little more than the result of a powerful person's unexpected demise. They have assumed that at age fifty-nine Cromwell was in generally poor health and that his government's collapse was inevitable. But his family was generally long-lived and, contrary to royalist wishes, his government was becoming established. As the crucial first step toward the restoration of the Stuart monarchy in 1660, his death proved to be a turning point in British history.

    In a wide-ranging investigation that draws upon the fields of history, toxicology, medical forensics, and literature, H.F. McMains offers a fresh reading of evidence that has sat quietly in libraries and archives for more than two centuries. He examines the development of Cromwell's illness in 1658, analyzes his symptoms, and evaluates persons with motive, method, and opportunity to do him harm. The result is a reassessment of Cromwell's relationship with the English people and their government and a convincing investigation of his mysterious death.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5910-2
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    The pages that follow consider a story long rumored and little credited, that in the mid-seventeenth century the lord protector of England, Scotland, and Ireland, Oliver Cromwell, was poisoned.

    On the face of it his murder seems impossible. Such happenings could occur on the Continent, as in the murder of Wallenstein in 1634 by an agent of the emperor, Ferdinand II, but in England such attacks were not the way of politics, the 1628 death of the Duke of Buckingham notwithstanding. Cromwell’s lifetime (1599–1658) admittedly was part of a dramatic period in his own land. At one end of...

  5. 1 Outward Signs
    (pp. 9-28)

    Oliver Cromwell’s death was unexpected. The lord protector had been ill for some weeks but rallied several times and appeared to recover, until 3 September 1658, his last day. There was no public announcement of the illness. There was no private concern for the regime’s future until a few days before the end. Hearing of the protector’s death, people were surprised, the court unprepared, royalist emigrés jubilant.

    Events rapidly followed: Richard Cromwell became his father’s successor, and within six months quarrelsome politics prompted him to resign, ending the protectorate. Parliament’s attempt to govern a fledgling republic collapsed a year later...

  6. 2 Ireton: Death and Destiny
    (pp. 29-60)

    To prepare for often dismal and short chapters of life, seventeenth-century Englishmen discussed their mortality in sybolic terms, and no Puritan so accepted thevanitasimplicit in his beliefs as did Cromwell’s son-in-law, Henry Ireton. Such devout people as they knew their paths to be slippery, their deaths sure. Even so, Ireton’s demise in 1651, when he was only forty, startled contemporaries, who were unprepared for destiny’s sudden stroke. They could only understand it as a divine warning of their own mortality.

    What is important to the present narrative, however, is that questions concerning Ireton’s death and burial curiously rehearse...

  7. 3 Cromwell: Ivit ad Plures
    (pp. 61-84)

    Oliver Cromwell died nearly seven years after the passing of his lamented son-in-law, Henry Ireton, in faraway Ireland. The lord protector had done much during his lifetime. His great achievement during the 1650s had been to stabilize the nation after a decade of civil turmoil. In 1653 he dramatically dismissed the Rump Parliament, whose members had been elected a dozen years before, and summoned the Nominated Parliament, also called the Barebones. This Parliament of saints attempted radical reform, but conservative gentry members finally voted to return their commissions. Army officers had anticipated this possibility and prepared the Instrument of Government,...

  8. 4 An Unexpected Good Accident
    (pp. 85-126)

    Histories of the civil war and the Restoration have seen Cromwell’s death as a step in the protectorate’s inevitable collapse and considered the cause of the lord protector’s demise as unimportant, uninteresting, or unworthy of investigation. He was the demon that haunted royalist nightmares, and royalist historians quickly set forth the themes of Cromwellian usurpation, Stuart legitimacy, constitutional redemption.¹ Mixed monarchy was thought to be England’s glory, and for J.H. Plumb’s eighteenth-century “Venetian oligarchy” it was the fortieth article of faith. Cromwell’s death later became an antiquarian matter, reduced to the piquant display of a skull alleged to have been...

  9. 5 Infernal Saints
    (pp. 127-158)

    Charles Stuart regained his father's throne in May 1660, fulfilling “the king’s cause” for which exiled royalists had long contrived. Charles encouraged punishing the high-court judges who had signed his father’s death warrant, and in consequence the Convention Parliament settled miscellaneous political scores as the Houses of Commons and Lords casually negotiated lists of potential victims. Judges who had remained in England were summarily arrested, many tried, and several executed. A few weeks later, in January 1661, thirteen Fifth Monarchists were hanged after their small-scale rising in London failed to establish the government of saints, which would have ruled until...

  10. 6 Hic Situs Est
    (pp. 159-178)

    The weight of evidence indicates that two of the three bodies at Tyburn were bogus. There was an irreconcilable disparity between Cromwell’s corrupted corpse buried in Westminster Abbey and the fresh one hanged at Tyburn. Henry Ireton had been buried in Ireland. Only John Bradshaw’s body was genuine.

    For the Tyburn “Cromwell” to have been bogus required persons with motive, opportunity, and method to have obtained possession of the genuine corpse and buried it elsewhere. Such substitution has usually been thought unlikely or even preposterous. Nonetheless, the circumstances bear examination. Oral traditions on this point began appearing in print during...

  11. Appendix
    (pp. 179-204)
  12. Notes
    (pp. 205-230)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 231-244)
  14. Index
    (pp. 245-254)