Killing the King

Cromwell as Protector of Three Nations and God's Protestant Champion

[Click on image to enlarge] The frontispiece engraving to a work published in the year of Oliver Cromwell's death, 1658, represents him as a worthy, heroic successor to kings. Clad in military armor representing his great victories in the civil wars at home and against foreign powers, under his feet he treads the Whore of Babylon (a figure for the Roman Church) and the dragon of Error. Beside him, blowing her trumpet, stands Fame. The topmost images represent on the right the ship of state sailing between the dire classical perils, Scylla and Charybdis, and on the left Noah's Ark (the Church) come safely to rest on Mount Ararat. The right pillar has Parliament at the top, and the three kingdoms — England, Scotland, and Ireland (with their flags) — kneeling in tribute to the protector who has pacified them. Beneath are images of war and then swords beaten into plowshares. The left-hand column has at the top an image of the sun and moon as cosmic symbols of virtue and liberty. Beneath the sun and moon, along the column, are the qualities that sustain these symbols: Cromwell's virtues of consistency and fortitude; the principle that law is his crown and support; the watchword often invoked in the revolution and after, "The safety of the people is supreme law"; and at the base, Magna Charta as the symbol of English liberties (with flags pointing to further virtues and qualities). Below are images of agriculture, herding sheep, and beekeeping, signifying the flourishing arts of peace under Cromwell's Protectorate. Above all is a symbol for God with ribbon banners promising his continuing protection to Cromwell. It is a fitting substitute for the Eikon Basilike image of Charles as sacred king, but had nothing like its currency.

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