Thursday, 14 August 2008

Cromwell, An Honourable Enemy by Tom Reilly

DID Oliver Cromwell's soldiers commit an outrage in Drogheda, killing, raping and looting?
Tom Reilly - born in Drogheda, and an admirer of Cromwell - says it was an act of war, and there is no proof that any civilians were killed.
In his detailed and argumentative account of Cromwell in Ireland, Reilly finds no credible evidence by the Puritan besiegers, and only propaganda by Catholics and royalists, to show a general massacre.
Cromwell himself is quoted as saying that the defending officers were 'knocked on the head', while the troops were decimated, every tenth man killed and the other nine sent to Barbados (that is, into slavery).
It's a fascinating book, despite occasional minor blunders (referring to General David Leslie's troops at Dunbar in September 1650 as Highlanders, when in fact the ungodly Highlanders had been excluded by the Act of Classes prior to that; giving Charles I four children at the time of his death, when he had six).
But back to Drogheda. We know from modern sieges - Srebenica, Leningrad - what happens. The rich get out, leaving their servants, the poor, the troops and the idealists to defend the besieged city.
When the besiegers burst in, there's mass looting, rape and destruction.
Reilly is on a bit of a sticky wicket insisting that the New Model Army's soldiers were different. They were famous in England for their looting in Ireland. (A contemporary drawing shows one draped with ducks, links of sausages and a roast bird on a spit, cups and glasses dangling off his bandolier, a tureen helmet and a roasting-dish as a shield.)
Slow to start, this boots up into a fascinating book, especially worth reading for the contemporary accounts.

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