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Cromwell and War

Cromwell into Ireland and Scotland

In March 1649, two months after the execution of Charles, Parliament named Cromwell as Lord Lieutenant and Commander in Chief of Ireland. His duty was to establish Parliament's authority over the rebellious Catholics of Ireland – an operation opposed by the Levellers. In September, Cromwell landed at Dublin with 12,000 men, unopposed by any army. Cromwell had in mind the massacres by Catholics in 1641. He proclaimed the righteous judgment of God upon the Catholics, and at Drogheda (a seaport town thirty miles north of Dublin) he exercised God's judgment by having the population massacred. He did the same at the port of Wexford (eighty-three miles south of Dublin). Contrary to Cromwell's hopes, these massacres did not discourage resistance elsewhere among Ireland's Catholics. Being a good Puritan, Cromwell tried to stop indiscriminate plundering by his army, and, as he saw it, God gave him a victory over the Irish. The Irish saw it differently. With them, Cromwell left a legacy of hatred of British rule that was to extend into the twentieth century.

Oliver Cromwell

Oliver Cromwell, Puritan soldier-dictator

Next, his army went to Scotland, where the eldest son of Charles, Charles II, then twenty, had taken residence. An army of 26,000 Scots supported the proclamation that Charles II was the new king of England, Scotland and Ireland. Into 1651, Cromwell defeated the Scottish armies. Charles II fled to France. Cromwell left behind an army in Scotland and returned to London, and Scotland was given representation in Parliament, as was Ireland.

War against the Dutch

Parliament was able to tax more than Charles would have dared try. And with the additional money, the Commonwealth was able to launch a ship building program, beginning in 1649. But English trade had been suffering, with English merchants blaming the Spanish, French and the Dutch. The English resented Dutch economic superiority and rivalry in trade, and Dutch fishing off their shores in the North Sea. For thirty years Dutch-English relations had been deteriorating. In 1651, Parliament passed the Navigation Act, which forbade goods leaving Great Britain in the hands of Dutch merchants or on Dutch ships. In May 1652, the Dutch and English fleets bumped into each other in the English Channel, off the coast of Dover, and, itching for a fight, the English commanders believed that the show of courtesy by the Dutch was insufficient. Shots were fired. The Dutch lost two ships, and they retreated. War between the United Netherlands and the Commonwealth of Great Britain had begun, supported by many who believed that the Dutch were a greedy people who had forsaken God's cause.

The English attacked Dutch fishing boats off the coasts of Scotland and England. Less dependent on trade by sea, the English were less vulnerable than the Dutch. The Dutch played defense, trying to protect its trade through use of convoys, which delayed trade, as did rerouting their ships around the north of Ireland and Scotland. The Dutch were vulnerable to English attacks as they passed through the English Channel, and English ships were built more for war than were Dutch ships. English ships had more firepower, and with their history of raiding the English were more skilled in the art of war, including keeping a naval military line. Dutch naval officers were more influenced by the traditions of merchant shipping, with less orientation in the rigorous discipline that served warfare.

Despite England's successes in warfare, members of Parliament continued to squabble, as members of parliaments are wont to do, and toward the end of 1653 a group of army officers declared Cromwell Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland. A constitution was written. Cromwell was from the landed elite rather than a merchant family, and he was not so enthusiastic for the war as were some others. The war was hurting England's trade as well as Dutch trade. Maintaining a naval blockade of the Netherlands was expensive, and English seamen, sitting on ships at anchor off the coast of the United Netherlands, were growing restless and irritated.

Some in England were glorying in their country's success against the Dutch, and they were displeased by Cromwell's move to end the war, believing that doing so was premature. Cromwell was opposed to further war against fellow Protestants while he saw danger looming from Catholic France. England, the land that had killed its king, was looked upon with disdain by much of Europe, and in the international arena England could use all the friends it could get, including the Dutch. The war was hurting the Dutch, their economy having been built on economic efficiency and peace, and in 1654 Cromwell and the Dutch signed an agreement ending the war.

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