Oliver Cromwell and the People of God

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Smith, DL 

On 21 April 1657, in one of the speeches to Parliament’s representatives in which he meditated on their offer of the kingship, Oliver Cromwell offered these words of praise for those who had framed the Humble Petition and Advice: ‘I think you have provided for the liberty of the people of God, and for the liberty of the nation. And I say he sings sweetly that sings a song of reconciliation betwixt these two interests! And it is a pitiful fancy, and wild and ignorant to think they are inconsistent. Certainly they may consist!’ This was a highly revealing passage, for it reflected a profound tension within Cromwell’s thinking between two conceptions of the people of God: firstly, the belief that the English were an Elect nation, a chosen people; and secondly, the desire to liberate and protect those godly people who as yet comprised only a minority within England. In this lecture, I want to explore how, throughout Cromwell’s career, despite his persistent attempts to reconcile these two imperatives, they remained distinct, separable and to some extent contradictory.

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