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Publication in Focus: The Letters, Writings, and Speeches of Oliver Cromwell

December 5, 2022 - Though he was stationed in the country for less than a year, the name Oliver Cromwell rings infamously throughout Ireland centuries after his death.  

As such, the new multi-volume series The Letters, Writings, and Speeches of Oliver Cromwell represents a landmark publication in the effort to better understand one of the most notorious figures in Ireland’s early modern history.  

Published by Oxford University Press, The Letters, Writings, and Speeches of Oliver Cromwell is the first full scholarly edition in almost a century of all the recorded writings and recorded speech acts of the English politician and military commander Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658), who led an invasion of Ireland in 1649, leading to hundreds of thousands of casualties. The edition consists of more than 1,000 texts, not only publishing new items never made public before, but also editing a large number of items from recovered originals, which have not previously been edited. 

“Oliver Cromwell, one of England's greatest and most controversial generals, rose from lowly provincial origins to preside over the trial and execution of a king, to undertake a brutal conquest of Ireland and Scotland, and to spend the last five years of his life as head of state, as Lord Protector of England, Scotland and Ireland”, said Micheál Ó Siochrú, Professor in Modern History at Trinity and an editor of The Letters, Writings, and Speeches of Oliver Cromwell. “This project is about recreating, as much as possible, the authentic voice of this hugely important, influential, and controversial figure to understand what motivated him.” 

On 28 November 2022, the Trinity Long Room Hub hosted a roundtable discussion to mark the launch of the new multi-volume series as part of the Early Modern History Research Seminar Series. The discussion featured Professor Ó Siochrú , along with fellow editors Professor John Morrill (University of Cambridge); Dr Patrick Little (History of Parliament Trust); and Dr Elaine Murphy (University of Plymouth). It was followed by the official launch of the collection by British Ambassador to Ireland Paul Johnston and Irish Times columnist Fintan O’Toole.

 “Cromwell was by no means alone as a factor contributing to the tensions in the British-Irish relationship throughout the years, but the brutality of his actions undoubtedly mark him out as a uniquely despised figure”, Ambassador Johnston said at the launch. “Drogheda and Wexford are names that will echo down Irish history for all the wrong reasons.” 

“There are probably no two syllables that trigger such a visceral reaction in Ireland”, Fintan O’Toole said of the English general. “The memory of Cromwell itself is one of the great divisions between the two islands of our archipelago. The ways in which Cromwell is remembered are so starkly and profoundly different that they create a certain wall of ignorance and misunderstanding.”

The new multi-volume series is 15 years in the making and offers the most complete and scholarly edition ever produced of Cromwell’s writings. The texts in the volumes contain everything from his speeches to personal letters to his wife and family.

Micheál Ó Siochrú began studying Cromwell about 20 years ago after moving to the UK. He became fascinated with the topic after seeing the contrast in how the general is viewed in England compared to Ireland — a Cromwell statue has stood outside the UK House of Commons in Westminster since 1899.

When he began working on Cromwell, Micheál said he wasn’t much interested in his personal life. But by studying his letters and writings for this project, he believes he formed a better, more nuanced understanding of the man than he ever had before. “I think we can engage more instructively with Cromwell whether English, Irish or Scottish,” Micheál said. 

More than three centuries after his death, Cromwell remains a source of pain for many in Ireland. Despite this, Micheál believes it’s important to continue to examine the life of the English general as the world continues to grapple with the legacy of imperialism.

“The study of Cromwell I believe is more necessary now than ever before, and I hope that these volumes will make an important and constructive contribution to that debate”, he said. 

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