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Biographies of Cromwell are a piquant gauge of an epoch--the American Civil War, for example, saw a burst of celebration of this military, republican modernizer, while British leftist historian Christopher Hill scolded him in 1970 (God's Englishman) as a spokesman for the under-radicalized middle classes. Howell, president of Bowdoin College, tells us relatively little about Cromwell's diverse following, but this compact life is more animated than C. V. Wedgwood's brief stand-by Oliver Cromwell (1973) and more politically oriented than Antonia Fraser's Cromwell (1973). The man of ""high, stout English heart,"" in Macaulay's words, was no ideologue or dictator, Howell insists rather defensively; uncompromising on the question of religious freedom, he was open to the introduction of a reformed monarchy, and the King, not he, caused the second phase of the Civil War. In an effort to provide a ""standard biography,"" as he calls it, Howell bogs down a bit in week-to-week developments, but he is surprisingly concise and successful in his presentation of a ""hardheaded and practical rather than doctrinaire"" leader truly caught in the middle and justifiably choosing the army over Parliament to defend the nation's gains. This success in what might have been an effort to turn Cromwell into a mere proto-Whig would be more complete, however, had the book explored the influences on his thought; Howell's Protector remains very English, rather than the continental figure he considered himself, but within these terms the delineation is fair and useful. An entry in J. H. Plumb's Library of World Biography.

Pub Date: May 12th, 1977
Publisher: Little, Brown