Much Ado About Oliver

J.F. Battick and N.C. Klimavicz describe a parliamentary dispute over Cromwell’s statue.

Few tourists or casual passers-by, noting the statue of Oliver Cromwell beside Westminster Hall, are aware that they are looking upon an object that helped bring down a Government and end the political career of a leader of the Liberal Party.

As a work of art, it is neither exciting nor repellent. Bare-headed, a Bible in the left hand, the right resting on the hilt of a reversed bare sword, the effigy gazes with a lofty sombre expression upon the traffic streaming along St Margaret’s Street.

On the elevated plinth, a couchant but watchful lion shares the statue’s guard on the mother of Parliaments. But in bronze, as in life, Oliver was a figure of controversy.

For over two centuries after his grisly remains, exhumed from Westminster Abbey, had hung in chains on Tyburn Hill, Oliver Cromwell was perhaps the most maligned figure of his era. Many early nineteenth-century Englishmen viewed the Lord Protector as a regicide, a tyrant, a bombastic Puritan or a moral monstrosity.

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