Yesterday – the 3rd of September – was the 351st anniversary of the death of Oliver Cromwell. It was his ‘lucky’ day, the date of his great victories at Dunbar and Worcester. Here is an account by his valet, Charles Harvey, of his final hours:
After his return to White-Hall, his sicknesse increasing upon him, hee was observed to bee in a very spiritual frame of heart, and full of holy expressions, catched up by one or other fearing God that were present, as a hungry man doth meat. A little whereof it was my comfort to meet with, the very night before the Lord took him to his everlasting rest, which were to this purpose following, viz.
Truly God is good, indeed hee is, hee will not—there his speech failed him, but as I apprehend it, it was, hee will not leave mee; this saying that God was good, hee frequently used all along, and would speak it with much chearfulnesse and fervour of spirit in the midst of his pains.
Again, hee said, I would bee willing to live to bee further serviceable to God and his People, but my work is done, yet God will bee with his People.
Hee was very restlesse most part of the night, speaking often to himself. And there being something to drink offered him, hee was desired to take the same, and endeavour to sleep, unto which hee answered,
It is not my design to drink or to sleep, but my design is to make what haste I can to bee gone.Afterwards towards morning, using divers holy expressions, implying much inward consolation and peace, among the rest hee spake some exceeding self-debasing words, annihilating and judging himself. And truly it was observed, that a publick spirit to Gods cause did breath in him (as in his life-time) so now to the very last, which will further appear by that Prayer hee put up to God two or three daies before his end, which was as followeth.
LORD, Although I am a miserable and wretched Creature, I am in Covenant with thee, through Grace, And I may, I will come to thee for thy people, thou hast made mee (though very unworthy) a meanInstrument to do them some good, and thee service; And many of them have set too high a value upon mee, though others wish, and would bee glad of my Death; But Lord, however thou dost dispose of mee, continue and go on to do good for them, Give them consistency of Judgement, one heart, and mutual love, and go on to deliver them, and with the work of Reformation, and make the Name of Christ glorious in the world; Teach those who look too much upon thy instruments, to depend more upon thy self; Pardon such as desire to trample upon the dust of a poor worm, for they are thy People too. And pardon the folly of this short Prayer, then for Jesus Christs sake, and give us a good night, if it be thy pleasure.
An account of the last houres of the late renowned Oliver Lord Protector wherein you have his frame of spirit, expressed in his dying words, upon his death-bed (London, 1659).
For the second year running I managed to go along to the service the Cromwell Association holds under the statue of Oliver on Cromwell Green at the Palace of Westminster. Peter Gaunt gave a very moving address, not about Oliver but about his son Richard and the unfair hostility with which his brief period as Protector has been judged.
I get the impression Richard is on the cusp of a revival of scholarly interest. At the start of this year there was Jason Peacey’s reappraisal of Richard’s life prior to 1658, and more recently Jonathan Fitzgibbons had an interesting article in Historical Research questioning whether Oliver did actually name his son as successor.