‘The most cunning of Machiavellians’?

Henry Ireton  1611 to 1651

Ireton was born in Nottinghamshire, the son of Puritan gentry. He was educated at Trinity College, Oxford and then the Middle Temple. In 1642,serving under Lord Essex, he led a troop of Horse before Edgehill but doesn’t seem to have met Cromwell until the following year.  From then on, Ireton’s career was closely linked with that of Oliver. They make an interestingly contrasting pair. Cromwell the emotional extrovert, passionate and ebullient; and Ireton … the dark, ice-cold, ruthless intellectual.

Ireton fought at Marston Moor, Naseby and Bristol. And after the surrender of Oxford in June, 1646,he married Cromwell’s daughter, Bridget.  Although he was a brave soldier, he wasn’t a particularly distinguished military commander. He did, however, have a very sharp intellect and managed to combine constitutional law with political reality – a rare gift among his fellow officers in the New Model.

He was effective if somewhat long-winded orator. Judging from the Putney Debates of 1647, he seems to have had a habit of saying that he desired ‘but one word’ and then remaining on his feet for half an hour or more at a time. The Debates were complex; an attempt to deal with the Army’s negotiations with the King, the Presbyterians in the Commons, the Agitators in the rank and file and, in time, the newly emerging Levellers. It was John Lilburne who described Ireton as ‘the cunningest of Machiavellians’ – a description open to argument. Certainly, during the talks at Putney, Ireton’s aim was to create a settlement which would guarantee peace, religious toleration and reasonable terms of disbandment for the common soldier.
Ireton was the principal architect of the Heads of the Proposals – the terms offered to Charles l in 1647. Terms which, though he didn’t immediately say so, the King had no intention of accepting.

During the Second Civil War in 1648 Ireton was responsible for putting Sir Charles Lucas and Sir George Lisle before a firing squad after the fall of Colchester. Then, later that same year, Ireton set in motion the moves which culminated in Pride’s Purge.

At the King’s trial, Ireton’s name was 4th on the list of Commissioners, only preceded by those of Bradshaw, Cromwell and Fairfax.

After the execution of Charles l, Ireton was appointed as Cromwell’s second-in-command in Ireland and, in 1650, he became Lord Deputy there. He took both Waterford and Limerick and gained a reputation for the ruthlessness with which he crushed the Irish. After the summary executions of Lucas and Lisle, this is hardly a surprise.

Weakened by incessant work and recurrent bouts of fever, he died in Ireland in November 1651 and was given a state funeral in Westminster Abbey.
After the Restoration, his remains were dug up and, along with those of Cromwell and Bradshaw, taken to Tyburn and hung there for a day. His head was cut off and exhibited in Westminster Hall where it remained for the next twenty-four years.

One final, interesting thought is this; if Ireton had survived Cromwell, might he have prevented the Restoration? Might he, indeed, have ended his days as Lord Protector? It’s not impossible.

Cancel Christmas!

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Before the English Civil War, Christmas continued to be celebrated in England much as it had always been.  December 25th was a public holiday on which shops and businesses were closed and special church services were held.  Buildings were decorated with rosemary, holly and ivy and  people did pretty much the same kind of thing we do today.  Eating, drinking, carol singing, drinking, dancing, drinking, perhaps watching a play … and yet more drinking.  And, to a greater or lesser degree, it went on for the full twelve days and culminated in the biggest knees-up of all on the Last Day of Christmas.

Inevitably, all this drinking led to drunken brawls and Lewd or Promiscuous Behaviour.  Or so the killjoys said.

They may have had a point.  On the other hand … cancelling Christmas?  It’s a bit extreme, isn’t it?

But that’s exactly what they did.

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In 1644, two years after the start of the Civil War, Christmas was banned by Act of Parliament and decreed, henceforth, to be an ordinary working day.  The Puritans considered twelve days of roistering and jollification wasteful, decadent, morally deficient and almost unchristian.  Some of them  blamed it on on the Catholics; others said it was Pagan.  None of them liked it.

So Christmas became illegal and went underground – taking the mince pies, plum puddings and Christmas songs with it.  Officials roamed the streets, ready to arrest anyone caught burning a Yule Log or doing anything the least bit Merry. Wassailing was now a thing of the past. Presumably, the Puritans were happy – mostly because no one else was.

Illicit pamphlets were printed containing verses about Old Christmas so everyone remembered what they were missing.

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Naturally, not everyone took the new law lying down. Yuletide discontent was responsible for angry mobs, riots and would-be Wassailers knocking seven bells out of the officials trying to arrest them.   Everybody (except the Puritans) felt strongly about their Right To Party.

 

Unfortunately, they had to wait until 1662 before the Merry Monarch made it legal again and Old Christmas was finally able to come out of the closet.

Love and joy come to you and to you your Wassail too

And God bless you and send you a Happy New Year

And God send you a Happy New Year!

And my own very best wishes to everyone for a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.