The Perfect Politician, by “L.S.”

by Nick

I’ve been having a big tidy-up of all my files recently, and one of the tracts I came across while doing so was The Perfect Politician (EEBO, WorldCat) – an account of Oliver Cromwell’s life and career, published relatively soon after Cromwell’s death. (I remember looking at it in the context of some work on wider perceptions of Cromwell both during and after his lifetime).

The Perfect Politician

John Morrill covers the tract briefly in his interesting chapter on perceptions of Cromwell by his contemporaries in his Oliver Cromwell and the English Revolution (pp.279-281), but uses it more as a closing device for the chapter to sum up Cromwell’s achievements than as something to study in its own right.

The tract skips through the early years of Cromwell’s life – there is a quick summary of his education at Sidney Sussex and Lincoln’s Inn, and a potted history of his military achievements during the 1640s. It then leads into accounts of his campaigns in Ireland and Scotland. This largely military account occupies the first 200 pages of the tract.

The second half, however, delves much more deeply into Cromwell as politician. Interestingly, this section starts with a meditation on the virtues of two other Commonwealths – the Dutch Republic and the Venetian Republic. On the latter, “the Policie of this State far surpasseth all others in Government, and may well be a pattern for direction and imitation to any people in the world” (p.214). This leads into an account of the “mighty Parliament” – the Rump – being dissolved by Cromwell, an action L.S. gives a positive gloss by arguing that the Rump had become an equivalent to the King’s Council and had betrayed the Good Old Cause.

The establishment of the Protectorate is when things start to go downhill for L.S. – “nothing could satisfie Caesar’s Ambition, but a perpetual Dictatorship; nor Alexander’s, but to have more world’s to conquer; and why then should our Cromwell, having the same aspiration (and inspiration above them) be satisfied with less than a perpetual Protectorship?” (pp.252-253). The comparison with Alexander and Caesar is an interesting gloss – two military geniuses who assumed total power. It’s a subtle viewpoint – grudging admiration of Cromwell’s abilities but a critique of his perceived descent into dictatorship. Tellingly, L.S. uses “his Highness” as a descriptor from this point on (eg p.265).

L.S. ends by setting out how Cromwell was taken up as an Instrument for the Good Old Cause – “this pretence holding water, and proving prosperous, he became the main stickler for Liberty of Conscience without any limitation” (p.347). The darling of the Good Old Cause thus became the darling of the Sects.

The tract seems to have appeared in February 1660 – Thomason has crossed out the printed date of 1660 and written February 1659 in instead, but my assumption is that this is Old Style dating. This is an interesting time in the tail-end of the Commonwealth – the Long Parliament had been restored and in February Monck had reinstalled the Members purged by Pride in December 1648. Hence perhaps the studied ambiguity the pamphlet sets out, and its focus more on matters military than political.

What’s particularly interesting is the authorship of the tract. In the Short Title Catalogue, Wing misattributes it to Henry Fletcher – but Fletcher and William Roybould are clearly identified on the cover as the sellers of the book, rather than the authors. The preface is signed by the enigmatic “L.S.”, and it’s him, not Fletcher or Roybould, who is presumably the author.

L.S.

To hide one’s identity but still give a clue to readers in the know, it was common in this period for initials like this to represent the last letter of the author’s first and last name – hence [Joh]N. [Smit]H. and so on. Is it possible to work out the author’s identity from this and clues in the text? Two obvious contemporary matches for L.S. are Denzel Holles and Nathaniel Fiennes. It’s unlikely to be a work by Holles – the grudging admiration and lack of any Presbyterian critique of Cromwell are not characteristic. That said, there are plenty of references to Cromwell as Hercules in the pamphlet – reminiscent perhaps of Holles’s alleged involvement in constructing the Cerne Abbas giant? Perhaps not…but could it be by Fiennes, son of Viscount Saye and Sele? As one of the Independents who broke with Cromwell during the late 1640s and 1650s, the profile could fit. But again it seems unlikely and in any case this is just idle speculation on my part, without having investigated in detail. It would be interesting to set up a computer analysis to help whittle down the suspects – first, you could take the first and last names of every contemporary born, say before 1640 who was still alive in 1660. You could then do a computer analysis of those whose names matched the L.S. criterion. If the text of everything written by those names on Early English Books Online was available as full text rather than PDFs, you could then do an analysis of how the texts match. (Of course this assumes two things – that L.S. wrote other tracts, and that he followed the conventions of pseudonyms rather than just picking two random letters).

As it is, given the lack of full text for everything on EEBO yet, it’s a case of trawling through manually, a process which relies on you knowing enough about the contemporary context to make the links yourself – fascinating, but time-consuming that I haven’t had a chance to do it yet and may not ever get round to looking into it. Still, watch this space…

Update – Gavin Robinson has posted a really interesting response looking at L.S.’s claims on the origins of Cromwell’s nickname of Ironsides.

Further update – I have posted more on the author, who actually seems to be I.S. and may be John Streater, here and here.