It is so hard to find out the truth by looking at the past. The process of time obscures the truth and even contemporaneous writers disguise and twist out of malice or flattery. — Plutarch

Oliver Cromwell - Estelle Ross




Foreign Policy

He once more joined us to the continent—sang the poet Marvell of Cromwell's achievements abroad. Even Clarendon was able to say that his greatness at home was eclipsed by his greatness abroad.

The Protector had a threefold aim in his relation with foreign states: to spread Protestantism, forming if possible an alliance of all Protestant Powers; to extend English commerce; to prevent the restoration of the Stuarts by foreign interference.

The Dutch War, instituted largely for commercial purposes, has already been mentioned, as has Cromwell's disapproval of it. In the first Parliament of his Protectorate he was able to announce peace with the Dutch, and England's supremacy at sea was established. This was followed by treaties signed with the northern Protestant states of Sweden and Denmark. And, over and above this, a commercial treaty was concluded with Catholic Portugal, allowing England to trade with her colonies.

For a time the Commonwealth was on good terms with Spain and an affiance between the two countries was discussed. The Protector's terms, however, were unreasonable, for not only did he demand the right to trade with the Spanish-American colonies, but he desired the assurance that English residents in Spain should be allowed to worship as they pleased. The demands were rejected, and war with Spain followed. In 1655 Admiral Penn and General Venables, with a fleet of thirty-eight ships, were sent out to the West Indies with the object of taking Hispaniola (Haiti). They sailed to the island and attempted to take the capital of San Domingo, but disastrously failed. The expedition was ill-equipped and ill-managed, and the soldiers suffered terribly from thirst and bad food. English prestige was partially restored by the capture of Jamaica.

Blake's glory was not dimmed by this campaign, for he had been previously sent out, under secret orders, to the Mediterranean, to avenge injuries to English commerce or insults to the English flag. He successfully bombarded Tunis and destroyed the fortifications. When the war with Spain broke out he hovered round the Spanish coast to attempt the capture of her treasure-ships. His most brilliant exploit was at Santa Cruz, off Teneriffe, where he captured the entire Spanish Plate fleet without losing one of his own ships. It was also his last exploit, for on the journey home he was stricken with a mortal illness. His prayer to stand once more on English soil was unanswered, for he died within sight of Plymouth Sound on August 7, 1657.

Laden with spoil of the South,

fulfilled with the glory of achievement,

And freshly crowned with never dying fame,

Sweeping by shores where the names

are the names of the victories of England,

Across the Bay the squadron homeward came.


There lay the Sound and the Island

with green leaves down beside the water,

The town, the Hoe, the masts, with sunset fired—

Dreams! ay dreams of the dead!

for the great heart faltered on the threshold,

And darkness took the land his soul desired.'

Henry Newbolt, The Death of Admiral Blake

Spain, as we have seen, had failed to secure the friendship of the Commonwealth, but France, then swayed by the, astute Italian, Cardinal Mazarin, who had kept a watchful eye on the rise of Cromwell, was more fortunate. Spain was a declining Power: France, as a result of the Thirty Years War, in which many of the continental nations had been embroiled, was growing in wealth and power.

While Cromwell was debating in his mind the most profitable course to take, England and all Protestant Europe rang with horror at the news of the persecution of the Vaudois peasantry. These inoffensive villagers, Protestant to the core, failing to be converted to Catholicism by the command of the Duke of Savoy, were ruthlessly expelled from their homes, and if they showed any resistance were massacred.

Cromwell's noble and generous spirit was roused to the utmost by this atrocity. He received the news with tears. Immediately he headed a subscription-list for the sufferers with a magnificent donation of 000, and ordered a day of humiliation and prayer, with house-to-house collections on behalf of the victims. Their cause was pleaded in sober letters to Protestant states and in passionate verse by Milton:

Avenge, O Lord, thy slaughtered saints, whose bones

Lie scattered on the Alpine mountains cold;

Even them who kept Thy Truth so pure of old,

When all our fathers worshipped stocks and stones,

Forget not: in Thy Book record their groans

Who were Thy sheep, and in their ancient fold

Slain by the bloody Piemoritese that rolled

Mother with infant down the rocks. Their moans

The vales redoubled to the hills, and they

To Heav'n. Their martyred blood and ashes sow

O'er all th' Italian fields, where still doth sway

The triple tyrant: that from these may grow

A hundredfold, who, having learnt Thy Way,

Early may fly the Babylonian woe.

Cromwell made his understanding with France, then at war with Spain, dependent on her willingness to redress this cruel wrong and compel the Duke of Savoy to cease from persecution.

Mazarin consented, and Cromwell signed the Treaty of Paris on March 9.3, 1657. In it he agreed to help France against Spain in the Netherlands, and to send 6000 men and vessels of the fleet to assist in the capture of Gravelines. The French General Turenne remarked on the fine quality of Cromwell's Ironsides, veterans who had seen long service—there were none finer in. Europe, he declared:

As a reward for her successful assistance England gained a footing on the Continent in the cession of Mardyke and Dunkirk. The young Louis XIV sent an embassy to Cromwell, bearing the royal gift of a magnificent jewelled sword. All was well abroad except for the fear of Spain's assistance in the restoration of the Stuarts. But the cost of the war and other financial difficulties pressed heavily at home.