Why Cromwell didn’t kill Christmas (and other stories)

A growing number of people believe (especially British kids who have learnt this at school or at historic “attractions” ) that Oliver Cromwell abolished Christmas when he became Lord Protector. Except he didn’t. It was Parliament who in June 1647 declared Christmas should be a day for fasting and that shops should remain open while the population must go to work as if it were any other day. Cromwell undoubtedly supported this but it was not his idea. Traditional Christmas celebrations had for hundreds of years featured feasting, drinking and unruly behaviour throughout the 12 days of Christmas. On Plough Monday celebrations concluded and work in the fields resumed, presumably with a lot of sore heads!

Opposition to this had been growing among the stricter Protestants, particularly in Scotland, for decades. In 1643 on the second Christmas Day of the civil war, London Puritans opened their shops and the apprentices rioted.

Cromwell seems to have slept in an improbable number of inns and other locations across England. “Cromwell’s soldiers” apparently stayed at the Plume of Feathers Inn in Crondall outside Farnham. (They have a copy of the above picture hanging on their wall). Farnham Castle was a parliamentary garrison during the civil war, but under Sir William Waller, not Cromwell. Cromwell did stay at an inn in Basingstoke in 1645 but Crondall?

He is also credited with the destruction of just about every ruined castle, country house and cathedral in England and Wales. This apparently includes examples such as demolishing the tower of Ely Cathedral (which collapsed in the 14th century) and vandalising Winchester cathedral (that was Sir William Waller’s soldiers). Undeniably he was personally present on many occasions such as the storming and destruction of Basing House in 1645, but much of the “bad press” earlier in the war was literally that – Royalist propaganda in the news sheet Mercurius Aulicus. Storming of towns, castles and other strongholds, frequently followed by mistreatment of the defenders, was carried out by both sides in the war with equal enthusiasm.

It is often assumed that he won/lost (or at least was an important participant in) the first great battle of the civil war, Edgehill. In fact he was only a troop captain at the time (October 1642) and although he was officially part of the Earl of Essex’s force at the battle it appears that he arrived late and only participated in its final stages, if at all.

And finally, Oliver Cromwell, strictly speaking was not even a Cromwell. Readers of the “Wolf Hall” books may remember young Richard Williams, Thomas Cromwell’s nephew, who changed his name from Williams to Cromwell. Oliver was descended from him while descendants of Gregory Cromwell in fact fought on the Royalist side.

(Source: Antonia Fraser “Cromwell our chief of men”)

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