Cromwell pp 160-189 | Cite as

The Idea of a Protestant Foreign Policy

  • Roger Crabtree
Part of the World Profiles book series (WOPR)


IN ENGLISH HISTORIOGRAPHY “the idea of a Protestant foreign policy” may be referred to the concept of Oliver Cromwell’s diplomacy as being inspired more by religious than by commercial or geopolitical considerations. As such it implies condemnation. With the eccentric exception of Carlyle, historians writing since the middle part of the nineteenth century have called Cromwell’s foreign policy Protestant principally as an aid to pointing out, and explaining, its deficiencies. This interpretation has had for its theme that Cromwell’s view of the European situation was anachronistically orientated toward that of Elizabeth’s day, or at least of the Thirty Years’ War, when religious antipathies were more relevant to national interests. In consequence the words “Elizabethan” and “anachronistic” have been used here as virtual synonyms for “Protestant.” Gardiner made the identification explicitly: “His mind still worked on the lines of the Elizabethan period, when the championship of Protestantism was imposed on Englishmen by interest as well as by duty.”1 The idea is that Cromwell, pursuing this “chimera,”2 was led to neglect real problems, such as the trade rivalry of the Dutch and the danger of French domination of the Continent, for involvement in a Spanish war destructive of English commerce, and an alliance with France detrimental to the balance of power.


Foreign Policy United Province Trade Embargo Speech Versus English Merchant 
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  1. 1.
    S. R. Gardiner, History of the Commonwealth and Protectorate (1903), II, 188.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    T. Carlyle, Letters and Speeches of Oliver Cromwell (1888 ed.), Speech VIII, April 1657.Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    An odd exception is F. Harrison, Oliver Cromwell (1899), who regarded it as a justified attempt to secure the “free commerce of the ocean.”Google Scholar
  4. 5.
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  6. 18.
    C. H. Firth (ed.), Clarke Papers (1899), III, 52. Army newsletter, September 1655. Bordeaux to Mazarin, April 8 and 29, 1655, quoted in Gardiner, op. cit., III, 390. Other references to warnings include TSP, III, 637, IV, 21, 47, and Correspondance de la Cour d’Espagne, IV, 497.Google Scholar
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    The list is from B. E. Supple, Commercial Crisis and Change in England 1600–1642 (1959).Google Scholar
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    Vide TSP, VII, 516. Instructions to Downing c. November 1658. Also Bischoffshausen, Die Politik des Oliver Cromwell (Innsbruck, 1899), 198, for mention in one of the drafts Thurloe made for Clarendon at the Restoration (B.M. Stowe MS. 185, ff. 187–200).Google Scholar
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    It would be impracticable to give even a representative selection of references for Cromwell’s religious views as he expressed them. For outward dispensations see Carlyle, op. cit., Letters LXVII, LXX, LXXIII, LXXXV, CXLVIII, etc.; W. C. Abbott, The Writings and Speeches of Oliver Cromwell (1937), I, 719, II, 82, etc. For fatalism especially frequent references. Freedom of will is implicit in Cromwell’s appeals to the Dutch and Scots to repent seeing God’s hand against them, and elsewhere. I have attempted to synthesize these elements, believing that Cromwell was a deeply introverted man (as his scanty medical history suggests) and must himself have tried to reconcile these different aspects of his belief.Google Scholar
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    The idea was commonly perverted into one of killing two birds with one stone. Examples in M. James, Social Problems and Policy during the Puritan Revolution (1930), pp. 22–23. Thomas Gage on the English-American (v. him also in TSP, III, 59) was a particularly cynical exponent.Google Scholar
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    CSPD, III, 273–74, July 1650, 1651; 392, September 1651; TSP, V, 88, June 1656, for complaints of Polish and Danzig exactions. For the Eastland Company’s policy, see R. W. K. Hinton, The Eastland Trade and the Common Weal in the Seventeenth Century (1959), pp. 126–28.Google Scholar

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© Ivan Roots 1973

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  • Roger Crabtree

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