An Eye-Witness to King Cromwell

Joad Raymond on a previously unpublished insight into the personality and projection of 'Lord Oliver' during Britain's unique 1650s experience.

Historians have tended to present the Protectorate of 1653- 1658 as a monarchy by another name, something which had little impact upon people outside the immediate centre of power. In truth we know very little about the texture of daily life through those years, either in London or the provinces. It is possible to piece together a republican literary culture and aesthetic, but whether there was a 'Republican Experience', a republican milieu or a republican way of life we do not know. The decade was probably too short for a fully-fledged republican culture to develop and spread, and there are few sources which provide direct insight into such complex and diffuse historical questions. A few snatches of illumination may, however, be cast onto the life of Cromwellian London from a manuscript in the Aberdeen University Library, the diary of the Reverend James Fraser of Phopachy.

At the turn of this century Fraser was still fondly remembered in the parish of Wardlaw, near Inverness, where he was minister from 1661 to his death in 1709. Though almost unknown to the annals of history, he was a most prolific penman, who at one point in his life paused to list fifty manuscripts he had written. His only known publication is a letter of July 1699 describing Loch Ness and its environs, in Philosophical Transactions, the periodical of the Royal Society. Most of his manuscripts have disappeared, some probably destroyed by fire, but one which survives is his very remarkable narrative of his 'Triennial Travels ... through Scotland, England, all France, part of Spain, and over the Savoyan Alps to Italy' (and his list is modest).

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