Wednesday 30 June 2010

Lord Protector Outed

Still no fish but as I watch the float bob in the swell I contemplate that Australia's new republican Prime Minister Julia Gillard is not the first Welsh political leader to aim to topple the British monarch. You may have thought that soldier and statesman Oliver Cromwell came from ancient East Anglian yeoman stock but I can reveal, in the latest instalment of my occasional series on closet Celts, that he was in fact Welsh: indeed the ruthless regicide's real name was Williams (as his marriage certificate shows), his great great grandfather up the male line being one Morgan ap Williams. The family used the name Cromwell to associate themselves with Thomas Cromwell, Henry Vlll's henchman, but in fact Morgan was married to Thomas' sister so the correct surname was Williams. He was also related to Owen Tudor, ironically making the Lord Protector a distant cousin of poor old Charles l.

The Welsh got significantly caught up in the Civil War, mainly in the King's cause (unlike O Williams). Poorly-trained, inexperienced and probably uncommitted Welsh conscripts provided much of the Royalist infantry at Naseby. In the worst atrocity of the war Parliamentary cavalrymen slaughtered 100 Welshwomen after the battle - soldiers' wives in the baggage train who tried desperately to defend themselves with kitchen utensils: they cried out for mercy in Welsh but their uncomprehending attackers thought they must be Irish (and therefore fair game) or so they said. It reflects well on those times that there was a great outcry about the massacre but Parliamentary spin-doctors went to some trouble to demonise the women as wild witches or (worse) actually Irish. No such qualms when Cromwell subdued Ireland with ferocious brutality in 1649/50.

Oliver also had significant mental health problems around 1630, certainly depression and possibly bipolar disorder to judge by one doctor's account where his mood was described as swinging from premonitions of imminent death to fantasies about great political power (which transpired of course).

If you want to win money down the pub try the question "Who was the longest-lived British head of state?" The surprising answer is Richard Cromwell (or Williams we should say), Oliver's son and head of state very briefly in 1658/59: unfortunately nobody took him seriously and nick-named him "Queen Dick". Following the Restoration he went abroad and lived until 1712 latterly in England having quietly returned. At 85 he was older even than the present Queen Bess though she may yet unsportingly beat his record if she lives until 2012.

Surely any fish would take the cocktail of sand-eel and rag-worm on my hooks? Otherwise I will resort to dynamite (or the fishmonger).