World History Unit 2, Lesson 7: The Enlightenment and Cromwell
The scientific revolution laid the foundations for the Age of Enlightenment, which centered on reason as the primary source of authority and legitimacy, and emphasized the importance of the scientific method. By the 18th century, when the Enlightenment flourished, scientific authority began to displace religious authority, and disciplines until then seen as legitimately scientific (e.g., alchemy and astrology) lost scientific credibility.
The English Civil War brought the Enlightenment ideas of personal liberty, equality, limited government, and separation of powers to the forefront of social discourse in Europe. These ideas spread through newspapers, pamphlets, and social gatherings.
The Scientific Revolution Influences Enlightenment
The Scientific Revolution was a series of events that marked the emergence of modern science during the early modern period, when developments in mathematics, physics, astronomy, biology (including human anatomy) and chemistry transformed the views of society about nature. The Scientific Revolution took place in Europe towards the end of the Renaissance period and continued through the late 18th century, influencing the intellectual social movement known as the Enlightenment. While its dates are debated, the publication in 1543 of Nicolaus Copernicus’ De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres) is often cited as marking the beginning of the Scientific Revolution.
The concept of a scientific revolution taking place over an extended period emerged in the eighteenth century in the work of Jean Sylvain Bailly, who saw a two-stage process of sweeping away the old and establishing the new. The beginning of the Scientific Revolution, the ‘Scientific Renaissance’, was focused on the recovery of the knowledge of the ancients; this is generally considered to have ended in 1632 with publication of Galileo’s Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems.
The completion of the Scientific Revolution is attributed to the “grand synthesis” of Isaac Newton’s 1687 Principia. The work formulated the laws of motion and universal gravitation, thereby completing the synthesis of a new cosmology. By the end of the 18th century, the Age of Enlightenment that followed the Scientific Revolution had given way to the “Age of Reflection”.
The Age of Enlightenment
The Age of Enlightenment (also known as the Age of Reason or simply the Enlightenment) was an intellectual and philosophical movement that dominated the world of ideas in Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries. The Enlightenment included a range of ideas centered on the value of human happiness, the pursuit of knowledge obtained by means of reason and the evidence of the senses, and ideals such as liberty, progress, toleration, fraternity, constitutional government, and separation of church and state.
The Enlightenment has its roots in a European intellectual and scholarly movement known as Renaissance humanism and was also preceded by the Scientific Revolution and the work of Francis Bacon, among others. Some date the beginning of the Enlightenment back to the publication of René Descartes’ Discourse on the Method in 1637, featuring his famous dictum, Cogito, ergo sum (“I think, therefore I am”). Others cite the publication of Isaac Newton’s Principia Mathematica (1687) as the culmination of the Scientific Revolution and the beginning of the Enlightenment.
European historians traditionally date its beginning with the death of Louis XIV of France in 1715 and its end with the 1789 outbreak of the French Revolution. Many historians now date the end of the Enlightenment as the start of the 19th century, with the latest proposed year being the death of Immanuel Kant in 1804. Philosophers and scientists of the period widely circulated their ideas through meetings at scientific academies, Masonic lodges, literary salons, coffeehouses and in printed books, journals, and pamphlets.
The ideas of the Enlightenment undermined the authority of the monarchy and the Catholic Church and paved the way for the political revolutions of the 18th and 19th centuries. A variety of 19th-century movements, including liberalism, communism, and neoclassicism, trace their intellectual heritage to the Enlightenment.
In France, the central doctrines of the Enlightenment philosophers were individual liberty and religious tolerance, in opposition to an absolute monarchy and the fixed dogmas of the Church. The Enlightenment was marked by an emphasis on the scientific method and reductionism, along with increased questioning of religious orthodoxy—an attitude captured by Immanuel Kant’s essay Answering the Question: What is Enlightenment, where the phrase Sapere aude (Dare to know) can be found.
English Civil War
The English Civil War (1642–1651) was a series of civil wars and political machinations between Parliamentarians (“Roundheads”) and Royalists (“Cavaliers”), mainly over the manner of England’s governance and issues of religious freedom. It was part of the wider Wars of the Three Kingdoms.
The first (1642–1646) and second (1648–1649) wars pitted the supporters of King Charles I against the supporters of the Long Parliament, while the third (1649–1651) saw fighting between supporters of King Charles II and supporters of the Rump Parliament. The wars also involved the Scottish Covenanters and Irish Confederates and ended with Parliamentarian victory at the Battle of Worcester on September 3, 1651.
Unlike other civil wars in England, which were mainly fought over who should rule, these conflicts were also concerned with how the three Kingdoms of England, Scotland and Ireland should be governed. The outcome was threefold: the trial and the execution of Charles I (1649); the exile of his son, Charles II (1651); and the replacement of English monarchy with the Commonwealth of England, which from 1653 (as the Commonwealth of England, Scotland, and Ireland) unified the British Isles under the personal rule of Oliver Cromwell (1653–1658) and briefly his son Richard (1658–1659).
In England, the monopoly of the Church of England on Christian worship was ended, and in Ireland, the victors consolidated the established Protestant Ascendancy. Constitutionally, the outcome of the wars established the precedent that an English monarch cannot govern without Parliament’s consent, though the idea of Parliamentary sovereignty was legally established only as part of the Glorious Revolution in 1688.
Oliver Cromwell (25 April 1599 – 3 September 1658) was an English general and statesman who, first as a subordinate and later as Commander-in-Chief, led armies of the Parliament of England against King Charles I during the English Civil War, subsequently ruling the British Isles as Lord Protector from 1653 until his death in 1658. He acted simultaneously as head of state and head of government of the new republican commonwealth.
Cromwell was born into the landed gentry to a family descended from the sister of Henry VIII’s minister Thomas Cromwell (his great-great-granduncle). Little is known of the first 40 years of his life, as only four of his personal letters survive, along with a summary of a speech that he delivered in 1628. He became an Independent Puritan after undergoing a religious conversion in the 1630s, taking a generally tolerant view towards the many Protestant sects of the time; an intensely religious man, Cromwell fervently believed in God guiding him to victory.
Cromwell was elected Member of Parliament for Huntingdon in 1628, and for Cambridge in the Short (1640) and Long (1640–1649) Parliaments. He entered the English Civil Wars on the side of the “Roundheads”, or Parliamentarians, and gained the nickname “Old Ironsides”. Cromwell demonstrated his ability as a commander and was quickly promoted from leading a single cavalry troop to being one of the principal commanders of the New Model Army, playing an important role under General Sir Thomas Fairfax in the defeat of the Royalist (“Cavalier”) forces.
Cromwell was one of the signatories of Charles I’s death warrant in 1649, and dominated the short-lived Commonwealth of England as a member of the Rump Parliament (1649–1653). He was selected to take command of the English campaign in Ireland in 1649–1650. Cromwell’s forces defeated the Confederate and Royalist coalition in Ireland and occupied the country, bringing to an end the Irish Confederate Wars.
During this period, a series of Penal Laws were passed against Roman Catholics (a significant minority in England and Scotland but the vast majority in Ireland), and a substantial amount of their land was confiscated. Cromwell also led a campaign against the Scottish army between 1650 and 1651.
On 20 April 1653, Cromwell dismissed the Rump Parliament by force, setting up a short-lived nominated assembly known as Barebone’s Parliament, before being invited by his fellow leaders to rule as Lord Protector of England (which included Wales at the time), Scotland, and Ireland from 16 December 1653. As a ruler, he executed an aggressive and effective foreign policy. Nevertheless, Cromwell’s policy of religious toleration for Protestant denominations during the Protectorate extended only to “God’s peculiar”, and not to those considered by him to be heretics, such as the Quakers, Socinians, and Ranters.
Cromwell died from natural causes in 1658 and was buried in Westminster Abbey. He was succeeded by his son Richard, whose weakness led to a power vacuum with Oliver’s former General, George Monck, mounting a coup, causing Parliament to arrange the return to London of Prince Charles as King, Charles II, and the Royalists’ return to power in 1660. Cromwell’s corpse was subsequently dug up, hung in chains, and beheaded.
Cromwell is one of the most controversial figures in British and Irish history, considered a regicidal dictator by historians such as David Sharp, a military dictator by Winston Churchill, and a hero of liberty by John Milton, Thomas Carlyle, and Samuel Rawson Gardiner. His tolerance of Protestant sects did not extend to Catholics, and the measures taken by him against Catholics, particularly in Ireland, have been characterized by some as genocidal or near-genocidal, and his record is strongly criticized in Ireland, although the worst atrocities took place after he had returned to England.He was selected as one of the ten greatest Britons of all time in a 2002 BBC poll.