God’s Instruments: Political Conduct in the England of Oliver Cromwell by Blair Worden - review by Adrian Tinniswood

Adrian Tinniswood

The Work He Is About

God’s Instruments: Political Conduct in the England of Oliver Cromwell


Oxford University Press 440pp £35

The eleven years between the wintry, symbol-laden death of Charles I in January 1649 and the triumphalist return of Charles II in May 1660 make up the most perplexing period in English history – a bewildering game of unintended consequences, compromises and missed opportunities. The Interregnum saw the only two written constitutions ever implemented in this country, and it saw them both discarded. It saw government by Parliament, by a Lord Protector – a title which hadn’t been used since the Duke of Somerset’s dramatic fall from favour under Edward VI in 1549 – and by a junta of major-generals. It saw a battle to build a godly society in the aftermath of war and a frenzy of debate about exactly what it meant to live in one. The times called for courage, vision and sound common sense – a rare combination. ‘The worke of God is such, as must have men of wisdom in it,’ the Puritan preacher William Carter had warned Parliament back in 1642. ‘The enemies of God are crafty.’

The ten essays that make up Blair Worden’s thought-provoking new book are all concerned with men of wisdom and the ways in which they sought to counter the

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