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Oliver Cromwell

Oliver Cromwell is a fascinating summary of the man and the political forces that combined to create and sustain the eventual Lord Protector.

This late 19th century biography follows the personal and political life of Cromwell, who rose from middle class roots, to become the                   revolutionary leader of England, and, as this text argues, the greatest military leader this country has ever produced.

Frederic Harrison describes in detail, with generous quotes from Cromwell’s own hand, how the eventual Protector saw God in everything, and especially in his own success. The author also draws parallels with the rise of socialism, rationalism and democracy and describes the defeat of Charles as the end of the medieval concept of monarchy.

But Harrison does indicate that England was perhaps not prepared for such a radical change as establishing a Republic, and does not hurry through the various difficulties the Protector faced in the post-civil war years.

The overall tenor of the biography is however resoundingly that of praise, Harrison naming Cromwell the ‘greatest ruler this country ever had’ in the closing pages of the book.

Given modern images of the puritanical tyranny of Cromwell’s rule, and the romanticised vision of cavalier Royalists, readers might be surprised by Harrison’s sympathies. But it is just this now uncommon historical lens which makes Harrison’s biography such an intriguing read.

Frederic Harrison (1831-1923) was a lawyer and teacher, later positivist and author, who dabbled extensively in politics, education, philosophy and history. Harrison’s judgements and reminiscences of other writers are found in The Choice of Books (1886), Studies in Early Victorian Literature (1895), andTennyson, Ruskin, Mill and other Literary Estimates (1899). Invited by Macmillan, the publisher of these volumes, to write the popular studies Oliver Cromwell (1888) and William the Silent (1897), he also proved adept at assimilating secondary sources.

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