Monday, 30 January 2012

Correspondence On Speeches Of Oliver Cromwell, 1644-1658 (1901) [Paperback] , Charles L. Stainer (Editor)

Chris Thompson Wrote

Oliver Cromwell's early years before 1640 have recently been illuminated by the work of Andrew Barclay in his "Electing Cromwell. The Making of a Politician", published by Pickering and Chatto in February, 2011. John Morrill review it enthusiastically in the May, 2011 edition of History Today.

Christopher Thompson´s blog can be found at


Friday, 27 January 2012

Speeches Of Oliver Cromwell, 1644-1658 (1901) [Paperback] , Charles L. Stainer (Editor)

It is an open fact that little of Cromwell´s early life is known about and hardly anything is down on paper. Cromwell´s political activity spans the years 1629 to 1658, From 1629-1644 historical material is very scarce, which is why Stainer begins his collected works in the year 1644,

Stainer correctly warns his readers and our readers it must be said "of how much must be missing", Despite the knowledge that Cromwell did take part in constitutional debates that preceded the outbreak of the Civil War next to nothing survives. Given this problem, Stainer felt it was legitimate to add what he calls " substance " to a large number of speeches. Which means to fill in the blanks of Cromwell´s life with the words of other people.My feelings on this matter are that the words of others should be at the back of a book with an explanation as to who said them and how accurate they are.

Stainer justified adding them because in his words they "give greater continuity to the book, they enable us to form a more general estimate of Cromwell's speech-making, and to realise the poverty of our historical records". Whether we have the actual texts of these so called speeches is the new collection of historians working with John Morrill to find out. After all, a collection of speeches should be an accurate historical account and not a just a literary exercise.

Take for instance Stainer´s use of Bulstrode Whitlockes writings The Lord General's discourse with Lord Whitelocke, urging him to accept the Swedish Embassy, Sept. 13, 1653.

Whitdocke. I was to attend your Excellency but missed of you.

Cromwell. I knew not of it ; you are always welcome to me. I hope you have considered the proposal I made to you, and are willing to serve the Commonwealth.

Whitlocke. I have fully considered it ; and with humble thanks acknowledge the honour intended me, and am most willing to serve your Excellency and the Commonwealth ; but in this particular, I humbly beg your excuse. I have endeavoured to satisfy my own judgement and my nearest relations, but can do neither,nor gain a consent; and I should be very unworthy and ungrateful to go against it.

It would appear that this conversation was recorded by Whitlocke. Stainer should have taken more care in using this record. Whitlocke was hardly an actual figure and was very partisan when it comes to Cromwell. Stainer should have warned his audience as to the reliability of such a subjective piece of writing.

Other than the above-mentioned criticism Strainer's collected speeches he seems to have held a relatively disciplined and principled editorial approach to the text of Cromwell´s speeches and writings. He has only altered the text when no proper sense can possibly be made, or "where the sentences are so confused as to make restoration impossible". The punctuation is mostly Stainer´s. I am unaware if Stainer had help on this volume perhaps Professor Morrill´s team will tell us. Stainer has corrected the grammar but not being an expert on 17th century or that matter 21st-century grammar someone with a knowledge of both will need to comment on Stainer´s accuracy.

One major problem confronting the OUP [Oxford University Press] Team and John Morrill, in particular, is how they approach the Putney Debates. Stainer whom it would seem had substantial access to the Clarke Papers only choose to relay only a small part of the debates and therefore managed to reduce the dramatic scenes at Putney and Saffron Walden to little more than a Cromwell led debating society. My feelings as regards the OUP¨will be that the most important elements of the Putney debates must be produced in full regardless of whether Cromwell was speaking or not. After all the debates at Putney involved the question of profound importance not only to people of the 17th century but resonate even today.Discussions over private property, social inequality and the right to democracy are still contemporary issues.

Morrill´s OUP team will have to to make important decisions on whether the texts used by previous editions of collected works are accurate and were they written at the time or much afterwards. Stainer explains the problem he had and no doubt the Oxford team will have the same problems "it is quite astonishing to find so much diversity when one of the texts appears to be fairly complete and grammatical. The 'only explanation that can be suggested is, that these versions were not taken down at the time of the speech, but are founded on original reports sufficiently difficult to decipher to permit of such variations". Morrill has already warned that while they aim to achieve the highest academic standard in their work grey areas as regards the voracity of certain of Cromwell´s speech will always exist.

Stainer makes the point well on Cromwell´speech on May 6th, 1647.' he says that this is "beyond doubt, translation, the true original of which is now lost to us ; consequently we have no means of judging whether the translation is accurate or the text complete. We can only form the same opinion of Speeches 4-8, for the Worcester College MS. N. 12 (formerly MS. Ixvii), from which they are copied, is carefully written, and is in fact a collection, very similar to Clarke MS. 41, from which Speech 3 is taken. Frequent ' blanks ' in the sentences, and in some cases on whole pages, show that the translator's task was no easy one, and yet it is important to observe that the result is a text very similar to that in several of our other MSSAyscough, 6125, 'blanks for 2 lynes,' means that the writer was unable to translate the original before him. That he did copy is evident, as the MS. is a collection, though at present we have no other authority for the full text of this speech".

Stainer also asks whether we can prove that these speeches were initially taken in shorthand or not. Given the fact that well over 100 years have passed since Stainer made his collected speeches we can safely say that the Oxford team has a far better knowledge of not only type of shorthand used but our understanding of the type of printers used at the time will significantly increase our understanding and accuracy of these speeches

Stainer encountered other problems which were of a more general character.It is no doubt that the Oxford team will have to tidy up numerous speeches of Cromwell. Stainer believes that the significant repetition of sentences throughout these speeches seems "to show that a system of relays of writers may have been resorted to". What should be taken into consideration was that Cromwell was not a slow speaker and spoke for long periods so it should be borne in mind that this gives his recorders ample time for inaccurate shorthand. Also due to the length of some speeches if these were written down sometime after the speech then the possibilities for inaccuracies and outright distortions are extremely possible. 

Stainer believes that "some such system may have been used whereby writers picked each other up by agreement. The task of assembling the ' notes ' would then be comparatively easy if everything went well ; but it must be noted that if the writers were not in full agreement or got confused, the task of assembling their notes would be a very difficult one". If the second writer began before his time long sentences would overlap, and if these were slightly different both might be introduced into the text. If he did not begin in time, sentences would be lost; and in addition, the repetition-sentence being absent, it would become easy to displace whole paragraphs. Much would then depend on memory, and further delay would be caused by the necessity of translating the notes, if taken in shorthand, and writing out a correct version. As to the shorthand system employed, it may have been either Mr. Shelton's or Mr. Biche's ; both are good, though somewhat clumsy, and both require extreme accuracy. Finally, we must not forget the possibility that the rooms in which his Highness spoke were inconveniently crowded, and very hot, so that it was not altogether easy to write.Thus in Speech 17 p. 87) we read: 'and therefore seeing you sit here somewhat uneasy by reason of the scantiness of the room and the heat of the weather, I shall contract myself with respect to that;' and again in Speech 34 (p. 211), Cromwell refers to the audience ' as certainly not being able long to bear that condition and heat that you are in.' While in the case of some speeches it would seem as though no arrangements at all had been made to report his Highness, and that the versions are made up from hearsay".

One strange characteristic of Stainer was to refer Cromwell as his "Highness". I am not sure whether he is sarcastic or that he believed that Cromwell was all but king in the name seems out of place in a scholarly edition.

Stainer is probably correct when he says "on the whole, the general conclusion must be that the original reports of these speeches are missing, that many circumstances doubtless conspired to make them difficult to decipher, and that there is no very great reason to suppose that our translations or copies of them are necessarily accurate". Hopefully, the OUP team can develop Stainer´s work and take it to a much higher level and do justice to Cromwell.


1 One word of warning as to the download version of The Collected Works of Oliver Cromwell ed C L Stainer is that it is covered in grammatical errors and therefore the reader would be better off with a hardback book version.

2 C L Stainer used the transcripts of Clarke Paper especially on Putney Debates

3 From Wikipedia Memorials of the English affairs from the beginning of the reign of Charles I …, published 1682 and reprinted. According to the author of Whitelocke's biography in the Encyclopedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition "[it is] a work which has obtained greater authority than it deserves, being largely a compilation from various sources, composed after the events and abounding in errors".

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Why We Need A New Critical Edition of all the Writings and Speeches of Oliver Cromwell

Despite being such a major historical figure the collected writings and speeches of Oliver Cromwell are certainly the most inaccurate and some contain outright falsifications. To rectify this John Morrill and his team of historians and researchers have been given a Leverhulme Trust funded research grant of £204,337. On the surface, this may seem a significant amount of money, but given the fact that Leverhulme also gave a quarter of a million pounds grant to study homing pigeons it tends to put Morrill´s award in some sort of perspective.

Morrill will have a team of eight editors chosen by Oxford University Press to assemble a five-volume edition of Oliver Cromwell’s collected writings and speeches. It is clear that this version will give us a more concrete and precise appreciation of OIiver Cromwell. It remains to be seen if this is a fundamental reappraisal of “Our Chief of Men”, but it is clear that this is a long overdue project.

Among the scholars working alongside Morrill are Tim Wales who will be a Senior Research Associate. He will assist John Morrill and Andrew Barclay with volume 1 (1599-1649). Elaine Murphy will be a Research Associate. She will work with Micheál Ó Siochrú and Jason Peacey with volume 2 (1649-1653). Finally, Joel Halcomb, another Research Associate will be assisting David Smith, and Patrick Little with volume 3 (1654-1658) All three will be assisting with the oversight of volumes 4 and 5, co-edited by John Morrill, Peter Gaunt, and Laura Lunger Knoppers.

It is clear that the team assembled is of a high academic calibre. Eight editors have been appointed and have signed contracts with OUP: Andrew Barclay, Peter Gaunt, Laura Knoppers, Patrick Little, John Morrill, Micheál Ó Siochrú, Jason Peacey, and Davis Smith. According to the University of Cambridge, "all of them have worked in Cromwell’s life or thought, and all have a detailed understanding of the sources for the project. An advisory board of further specialists in Cromwell and/or the editing of early modern texts has been created, including Martyn Bennett, Jan Broadway, Ann Hughes, Pádraig Lenihan, and Blair Worden".

The University of Cambridge website explains "The mission statement of the Editorial Board has been to record all surviving evidence of ‘Cromwell’s voice’. This means including all the speeches in Stainer’s edition; all the letters in Abbott’s edition for which there is any evidence of Cromwell’s authorial hand and many discovered since 1948; and contextualized editions of William Clarke’s contemporary notes of Cromwell’s contributions to the Army Debates of 1647 (their provenance recently re-examined), and (after much discussion and experimentation) versions of Cromwell’s contributions to parliamentary debates in the diaries of the early 1640s (often in very different summary form). With respect to most post-1643 letters and speeches which survive not as originals but in multiple early copies, using recent advances in book and print culture history, it is often possible to establish which of several printers of a letter was being used by Parliament or Protectorate to publish. This, as well as internal evidence, normally allows the ‘best’ text to be established). We have conducted trials to establish the feasibility of tracking down ‘lost’ documents. Where there are major discrepancies between versions and no way of seeing which is the more ‘reliable’, we have permission from OUP to publish both (e.g. the speech to the Nominated Assembly on 4 July 1653). Otherwise, we will establish the best text using advanced source criticism, and will note significant alternatives in footnotes".

Having spent a not insignificant amount of time studying Oliver Cromwell and more importantly his role in the English Revolution, I do not believe it is necessary to justify the amount attention given over to him. He is certainly " is one of the most studied of Englishmen ". If Morrill´s project increases interest in Cromwell more the better, but the project has a deeper and more important role to play.

When I first started to study the English Civil War, it was noticeable even to my limited knowledge of the writings of Cromwell that something was awry. The more I read the clearer it became that every single collection of his speeches and writings were defective or worse still wholly inaccurate. Mine is a small frustration compared to the legions of historians who have worked on Cromwell.

What are the problems with the older editions of Cromwell's words? It is clear that it will be an enormous task to find out. How best to"represent Cromwell's voice" is a big responsibility. Another problem is how to deal with several copies of the same Cromwell speech or what do when earlier editors sneakily and irresponsibly corrected Cromwell's words.

The biggest problem is that recent and past historians have relied on these editions and have most of the time uncritically quoted them without questioning the accuracy of Cromwell´s words or deeds. One such example of this is the biography of Oliver Cromwell by Graham Goodlad. This book which seems primarily aimed at students again quotes Cromwell without any warning off to the accuracy of the quote. Over the last 25 years, Cromwell´s name has been seen in more than one hundred titles in the British History Online Database. All of these titles have relied on out of date and inaccurate editions.

Let's take the most well-known and probably the most valuable collection of Cromwell´s speeches and writings done by Thomas Carlyle’s in 1845. Carlyle´s was certainly a major accomplishment and remained in print for over a hundred years. But as John Morrill recently said at the Barry Coward Memorial Lecture even a writer of Carlyle´s calibre spent next to no time in editing the speeches or writings. But perhaps the greatest mistake was that he never compared different versions of the same letter or statement. He never enquired as to whether the recording of the speech or writing was the best. He took the easiest way out and just "tidied up the spelling and punctuation and printed it"

At the start of the 20th century the noted scholar Mrs S.C.Lomas, decided to tidy up Carlyle’s edition.  According to Morrill this improved the quality of the text Carlyle had chosen, "but comparison of variant texts was a low priority, and the use of source criticism to determine ‘best’ readings was, to put it politely, rudimentary".

It would be fair to assume that Morrill understands that his research does not take place in either a historical or political vacuum. Cromwell was and still is a controversial figure. Every century historians have interpreted a Cromwell that fits in with the politics of their age.Morrill dew attention to one such historian in the 20th century, Wilbur Cortez Abbott, a Harvard historian who spent most of his career compiling and editing a collection of Cromwell's letters and speeches.

These volumes were published between 1937 and 1947. According to Morrill Cromwell was described by Abbott as “a proto-fascist”. Suffice to say Morrill had no time for his extreme right wing political assessment or for Abbott’s editorial approach. In a recent lecture, he described Abbott´s defects. It is clear that Abbott spent a considerable time researching his prey. In 1929 he published a ‘Bibliography of Oliver Cromwell’ Between period 1937 and 1947 he published an edition of Cromwell’s written words in four large volumes. But as Morrill says "it is almost impossible to use this version because there is neither a list of contents nor running heads to guide the reader to what s/he wants; its running commentary is distorted by Abbott’s increasing obsession to show that Cromwell prefigured the great dictators of the 1940s." 

What are the other Challenges Facing a New Edition

Even a cursory look at the problems encountered by the editors it is clear that the tasks facing the historians working on each volume will be very different. John Morrill and Andrew Barclay who are working on the period up to 1649 face mainly two major problems. According to Cambridge University "Many of Cromwell’s early letters often only exist in later copies and their transmission histories are, where known, sometimes not encouraging. We have to try to find the originals of documents whose existence is attested down to the 19th or 20th century and then lost. And we have the problem of what to do with the brief summaries of Cromwell’s speeches which he delivered as a back-bencher to the Long Parliament, especially in the years 1640-1642, and what to do about the better-recorded Army Debates of 1647 (including the Putney Debates) without reproducing the whole of the Debates. For the period 1649-1653 the biggest problem is the non-survival of Cromwell’s official campaign letters from Ireland and Scotland except in multiple printed form with often as many as seven or eight versions appearing in a series of pamphlets and newspapers. From the moment Cromwell became Lord Protector in December 1653, a new problem arises: what to do about letters that he signed but did not write – the hundreds of letters which do not speak in his ‘voice’. Abbott in his edition tried to be comprehensive but then, suddenly, in 1657, just stopped. Registers of letters which Abbott had slavishly copied out up to a specified date are then abandoned. We intend to make more informed and defensible decisions about the limits of what to include". 

As Morrill has already said one of the major criticism of Carlyle is that his method of correcting text turned out in some cases to rewrite what Cromwell had actual written or said. Also, Lomas and Abbott, both fixed text and therefore changed some things out of recognition and in extreme cases affected the meaning of passage. This meant instead of an accurate depiction of what Cromwell actually said we get a bastardised version which becomes unusable.

Perhaps the most famous saying of Cromwell is open to two wildly different interpretations. Written by the county committee of Suffolk in September 1643 demanding that "they abandon their preconceptions of what type of person is needed for the New Model Army". In other words, their deeds mattered more than their social standing: ‘I had rather a plain russet-coated Captain that knows what he fights for and loves what he knows than that which you call a Gentleman and is nothing else. I honour a Gentleman who is so indeed’.

Deeds first, social standing afterwards. But if you take another version of Cromwell´s letter at face value then a much more original Cromwell appears if what Cromwell did, in fact, write: "I honour a Gentleman who is so in deed’ In this quote Cromwell is only after Gentlemen that can not only talk the talk but walk the walk. According to Nick Poyntz, "all existing versions print the first of these versions. But there is another version where ‘in deed’ are two words, not one". 

Cromwell In Ireland 

Perhaps the most challenging work of the team will probably be in regards to Cromwell´s action in Ireland.Certainly the most controversial part of Cromwell’s life. Not so much what he wrote or said but what he did and did not do.

Morrill explained that even today Cromwell’s involvement and the extent of civilian casualties is still open to debate. This, of course, is like all of Cromwell’s actions open to different interpretations again depending on your political and to some extent historical persuasion. The sack of Drogheda in September 1649 by political forces is one such action.

In his article on Cromwell Nick Poyntz makes the point that this oft-quoted phrase justified his actions : “I am persuaded that this is a righteous judgement of God upon these barbarous wretches, who have imbrued their hands in so much innocent blood; and that it will tend to prevent the effusion of blood for the future, which are the satisfactory grounds to such actions, which otherwise cannot but work remorse and regret”. He questions whether these are Cromwell’s words as no original letter survives. He also makes the point as does Morrill that parliament had a habit of tidying up speeches and letters of Cromwell. Again to what extent his words are accurate is one of the tasks of the project. It must be said that this is not an envious one. 

Morrill recently made the distinction between civilians killed in the heat of battle as opposed to in cold blood.29 September 1649 two letters from Cromwell sack of Drogheda were read in the Parliament. “Our men getting up to them, were ordered by me to put them all to the Sword; and indeed being in the heat of action, I forbade them to spare any that were in Arms in the Town, and I think that night they put to the sword about two thousand men, divers of the Officers and Soldiers being fled over the Bridge into the other part of the Town, where about One hundred of them possessed St. Peters Church Steeple, some the West Gate, and others, a round strong Tower next the Gate, called St. Sundays: These being summoned to yield to mercy, refused; whereupon I ordered the Steeple of St. Peters Church to be fired, where one of them was heard to say in the midst of the flames, God damn me, God confound me, I burn, I burn; the next day the other two Towers were summoned, in one of which was about six or seven score, but they refused to yield themselves; and we knowing that hunger must compel them, set onely good Guards to secure them from running away, until their stomacks were come down: from one of the said Towers, notwithstanding their condition, they killed and wounded some of our men; when they submitted, their Officers were knockt on the head, and every tenth man of the Soldiers killed, and the rest Shipped for the Barbadoes; the Soldiers in the other Town were all spared, as to their lives onely, and Shipped likewise for the Barbadoes. I am persuaded that this is a righteous Judgement of God upon these Barbarous wretches, who have imbrued their hands in so much innocent blood, and that it will tend to preventthe effusion of blood for the future”.As Morrill pointed out Cromwell made a list officers and soldiers killed “Two thousand Five hundred-Foot Soldiers, besides Staff-Officers, Chyrurgeons, &c. and many Inhabitants”. So it is clear that inhabitants were killed. 

The team will have to negotiate what is both a political & the historical minefield of differing opinions on Cromwell´s campaign in Ireland. One example being Philip Mckeiver in his book A New History of Oliver Cromwell´s Irish Campaign is an aggressive defence of Cromwell´s actions at one point denying any massacres happened at Drogheda or Wexford.Having said that his book is worth reading as it does expose some myths and outright lies as regards Cromwell´s actions. Peter Reese in his book the Life of General George Monck: For King and Cromwell tend to go well overboard when he describes the Irish rebels fighting Cromwell as "terrorists".

On the other side of the debate is Micheál Ó Siochrú whose book I must admit have not read yet but the title Gods Executioner tends to give you a bit of a flavour as to his historical persuasion. Let us hope his work on the new editions shows a little more objectivity and follows the advice of the historian E H Carr who argued that it was very dangerous to judge people at different times according to the moral values of his or her time. Carr's also warned that historians "should not act as judges".

Perhaps his most valuable advice was that you should "Study the historian before you begin to consider the facts. This is, after all, not very abstruse. It is what is already done by the brilliant undergraduate who, when recommended to read a work by that great scholar Jones of St. Jude's, goes round to a friend at St. Jude's to ask what sort of chap Jones is, and what bees he has in his bonnet. When you read a work of history, always listen out for the buzzing. If you can detect none, either you are tone deaf, or your historian is a dull dog. The facts are really not at all like fish on the fishmonger's slab. They are like fish swimming about in a vast and sometimes inaccessible ocean, and what the historian catches will depend partly on chance, but mainly on what part of the ocean he chooses to fish in and what tackle he chooses to use – these two factors being, of course, determined by the kind of fish he wants to catch. By and large, the historian will get the kind of facts he wants. History means interpretation. Indeed, if, standing Sir George Clark on his head, I were to call history "a hard core of interpretation surrounded by a pulp of disputable facts", my statement would, no doubt, be one-sided and misleading, but no more so, I venture to think, than the original dictum".

What other problems as regards Ireland will the team face. One is finding different Versions of the Same Speech. In Many previous versions of Cromwell´s speeches, the historian or writer have failed to inform his readership why they chose to publish version they did. Another cardinal sin was to produce "hybrid versions" which historians have found entirely useless for historical research.

Cambridge University website gives us one example of this " on 4 December the Irish Catholic Bishops and other leading clergy met at one of Ireland’s holiest sites, the ruined abbey at Clonmacnoise, on a hillside overlooking the Shannon, and they called for a levee en masse of the Catholic people of Ireland to drive out the invader who had come to ‘extirpate’ the Irish people and the Catholic religion. Cromwell published a scornful and haughty rejection of their claims. It was released in Cork and then in Dublin, his words in those Irish printings of the pamphlet following the words of the Irish clergy. ‘Yours’, he told them, ‘is a covenant with death and hell’. A version of this pamphlet, detached from the clerical decrees, was then published in London under the title A declaration of the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland for the undeceiving of deluded and seduced people. Only one copy of the each Irish edition is known to have survived, the Cork printing in a private library in Ireland and the Dublin printing in the Beinecke Library at Yale University. Neither Irish publication appears in Early English Books Online, and they appear in the Short Title Catalogue wrongly ascribed to Henry Ireton and with a very different title. No current edition of Cromwell’s writings and speeches has noted the existence of these Irish versions, and each of them reproduces the London edition, blissfully unaware of the very significant changes that that London edition introduces, which begin on the title page itself. The title of the Irish printings lacks the hauteur of the London title page".

Hopefully, the editorial team will not only correct previous editions but should elaborate more on the mistakes of past historians. My other wish is that the publications should be made available to the widest audience possible and not be priced out of the range of ordinary people or that they are not just done for an academic audience.

One hopes the team remain objective and that the new editions of Cromwell´s writing do not exhibit any of the moral judgements and extreme political bias held by some historians who have written books on the Lord Protector. Let’s hope Professor Morrill and his team does succeed in their endeavours, and we get a much truer picture of Oliver Cromwell “Warts and All”. As Morrill said, “Cromwell will come alive in much the same way as a Great Master painting takes on a new and different life when it is cleaned and restored”.

Notes and references

1 More information about the project can be found through this link

2 A New History of Cromwell's Irish Campaign [Illustrated Philip Graham McKeiver

3 God's Executioner: Oliver Cromwell and the Conquest of Ireland Dr Micheál Ó Siochrú

4 Oliver Cromwell (History Insights) [Kindle Edition]Graham Goodlad

5 Nick Poyntz blog can be found here

6 A bloody Irish almanack, or, Rebellious and bloody Ireland ... London, 1646; Hib.7.646.1

7 A bloudy fight at Dublin ... London, 1649. Hib.7.649.57 London, 1650. Hib.7.650.8

8 E H Carr What Is History