|The Early Days of a Better Nation|
Wednesday, November 26, 2003
The Once and Future Republic
On Monday 24 Dec BBC1 showed an hour-long docu-drama, Oliver Cromwell: Warts and All. It's the first time I've seen anything on television that portrayed England's greatest son with sympathy, let alone with warmth, as this programme did. The costume drama mini-series it was released to sidelight, Charles II: The Power and the Passion is in a different way just as remarkable. While shown largely from the viewpoint of the king and his court, it leaves entirely open to the viewer the opportunity of seeing them in a less than wholly admiring light. In Charles's disgraceful secret treaties with Louis, in his mother's vindictive bigotry and his brother's petulance, and in the dismayed reponses of some of the King's friends, you can see the Glorious Revolution coming.
All this is in striking contrast to a drama series on the English Civil War that went out in the 1980s, By the Sword Divided, which flaunted its cavalier sympathies like a lace collar.
For a long time in England Cromwell's name was blacker, in establishment and to some extent in popular opinion, than those today of Lenin in Russia or Lincoln in the South. Not for years or decades, but for centuries, you'd have been hard pressed to find anyone but a few ranting sectaries who had a good word to say for him. One who did was the anonymous nineteenth-century scribbler who wrote:
The old Plantagenets brought us chains; the Tudors frowns and scars,
The Stuarts brought us lives of shame; the Hanoverians wars;
But this brave man, with his strong arm, brought freedom to our Lives -
The best of Princes England had, was the Farmer of St. Ives.
Even today, there are as far as I know only two popular and admiring biographies: Christopher Hill's God's Englishman and Antonia Fraser's Cromwell Our Chief of Men.
So it's something that the Lord Protector and the republic are being treated on television with a bit of respect. It's a little thing, a shaking of leaves, but there may be a faint, fresh breeze of republicanism rising.