Robin Diel: As with Cromwell, Trump
Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658) is one of the great names in English history. A controversial figure during his lifetime, Cromwell’s popularity experienced a sudden and dramatic downturn after his death: The treatment of his corpse reflected this.
As a successful general on the parliamentary side in the English Civil War (1642-51) against the English king, Cromwell played a pivotal role in the overthrow and execution of Charles I. He was offered the kingship, but he turned it down and ruled England as lord protector until his death.
His victory in the English Civil War undoubtedly terminated absolute monarchy in England and put the nation on a course that would eventually result in a modern representative government.
His domestic policies included political reforms and support for a degree of religious tolerance.
In foreign affairs, he raised England’s status once more to that of a leading European power after the decline it suffered since the death of Elizabeth I.
However, Cromwell had opponents who refused to forget the cruelties committed during the English Civil War, the conquest of Ireland, and his role in the execution of Charles I.
After Cromwell’s death in 1658, Charles II became King of England — this period was known as The Restoration. With the restoration of Charles II in 1660, the public mood swung against Cromwell.
Charles decreed that Cromwell be disinterred from Westminster Abbey and be executed — despite being dead for two years — for regicide. Arguably, this was an attempt to reduce Oliver Cromwell’s significant legacy to one singular criminal act: regicide. In January 1661, a mob pulled Cromwell’s corpse from Westminster Abbey along with the bodies of two Cromwell allies, Henry Ireton and John Bradshaw. On the anniversary of the execution of Charles I, the bodies were symbolically hanged and, for good measure, decapitated. This was insufficient to sate the mob’s lust for vengeance, so the heads of Cromwell, Ireton and Bradshaw were stuck on pikes outside Parliament.
The exhumation and posthumous execution of Oliver Cromwell was an interesting episode of political theater. It tells us more about the people who committed this act and adds almost nothing to the life story of Oliver Cromwell, a story that ended two years before his ceremonial execution.
However, the newly restored English king, Charles II, could not allow even the memory of a political foe who committed regicide to go unpunished. The execution of Oliver Cromwell’s corpse was not only was an act of revenge for the death of Charles I, but also sent a powerful message: Even death would not protect you from the king’s vengeance. The posthumous execution of Henry Ireton and John Bradshaw, Cromwell’s lieutenants, affirmed that political allies would share the lord protector’s fate.
Sadly, over 300 years after Cromwell’s macabre fate, we are witness to a current version of this gruesome practice.
As with the 1661 posthumous execution of Oliver Cromwell, the 2021 politically-posthumous impeachment of Donald Trump is political theater that tells us more about American politics than it does about Donald Trump.
Arguably, the election of Joe Biden is similar to the restoration of the Charles II and signals a return to power by America’s 21st Century administrative aristocracy.
As with the charges against Cromwell’s corpse, the House of Representatives impeachment of Donald Trump was meant to reduce his legacy to a singular and unproven accusation — incitement of insurrection. This impeachment was also sending a message similar to what Charles II sent Cromwell’s allies: Opposition will be met with political vengeance.
There are radical voices calling for the removal of Sen. Ted Cruz and Sen. Josh Hawley in much the same way that Cromwell’s lieutenants, Henry Ireton and John Bradshaw, shared the posthumous fate of the lord protector of England. Humanity hasn’t come very far in 360 years.
Even if the human condition hasn’t changed, there is room for hope. Current events are never direct parallels to history, but history can provide useful insights.
After a civil war and the execution of his father, Charles II promised amnesty and religious toleration for his former enemies. Charles II largely held to his promise and appointed both royalists and ex-parliamentarians to his administration, symbolizing a nation restored to unity. Charles II accepted his new role as a constitutional monarch and Parliament returned to its former, pre-civil war procedures and modes of business.
Maybe we can learn something from the restoration of Charles II and how to make a future with one’s former enemies.
Robin Diel lives in Penn Valley.
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