Published: Jan. 10, 2001 By

(part of a series in Issue 33: First Ladies? Political Wives in Seventeenth-century England)

[1]   In the course of exhaustively documenting the life and times of Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector of the Interregnum Protectorate, historians have taken virtually no interest in his wife, Elizabeth. They report that Elizabeth married Oliver in 1620 at St. Giles Cripplegate, that she was the daughter of Sir James Bourchier, a knighted fur-dealer and leather dresser, and that her marriage to Cromwell brought the future leader into alliance with those who would become power-brokers within the Parliamentary opposition to Charles I during the Civil wars. A miniature of the Protectress by Samuel Cooper shows a woman who was “neither uncomely nor undignified in person,” and Elizabeth is said to have provided her husband with the “benefit of the bed” by bearing him nine children (Firth, 8; Ashley, 28). (The six who survived included four daughters and two sons — one of whom, Richard, briefly assumed the title of Lord Protector after Oliver’s death in 1658.) Other than relatively minor attention to such details, however, discussions of Elizabeth Cromwell tend to be few and far between. The general assumption has been that Elizabeth Cromwell remains a “shadowy figure” because her own “heavy-footed” and “dull and tranquil” character prevented her from having the same sort of popular impact on the Protectorate that “the trim French Queen,” Henrietta Maria, had exercised — for better or for worst — upon the Stuart monarchy (Ashley, 49; Wedgewood, 89). Her own lack of character, in other words, meant that she left behind little material for historians to work with.

[2]   Rather than continue to assign Cromwell’s relative anonymity to her lack of personal charisma, I offer two counter-claims to the “dull Elizabeth” school of thought. First, the invisibility of Cromwell’s “consort” should be read within the context of seventeenth-century English republican thought, especially as it pertains to issues of gender and the family. Republicans frequently criticized Charles for what they saw as his heavy-handed deployment of the monarchical sphere of “representative publicity.” The early modern monarch deployed the iconographics of his personal life, including, in Charles’s case, carefully crafted representations of his wife and family, as a visual form of public political power over the lives of his subjects (Habermas, 7-8). As I will discuss in section two, ending this practice was to have been a sign that English republicans had limited a ruler’s power over practices that they deemed private; hence the absence of representations of Elizabeth and her family from the discourses that emerged from the earlier, more radical and moderate phases of Commonwealth republicanism. In fact, as Cromwell moved his regime closer to monarchy, his panegyrists could point to their continued omission of Elizabeth from their praise of the Protector as evidence that their politics hadn’t drifted fully into royalism. (As one might expect, celebrations of Cromwell’s family appear during the last, most monarchical phase of the Commonwealth.)

[3]   Second, if one turns to the popular cultural productions of the prolific mid-seventeenth- century press, one finds that Elizabeth was not so shadowy after all. Indeed, she appears frequently within two other types of discourses. The first constitutes an emergent position in post-regicidal popular political rhetoric at this time, one which pilloried Cromwell and his fellow Army grandees as men who would be kings (Wiseman, 49). The popular republican opposition harbored a growing suspicion that Cromwell, the self-proclaimed Lord Protector, had betrayed his revolutionary ideals by creating his own monarchical sphere of official culture rather than dissolving it as promised. A primary piece of evidence used by to support this suspicion was the creeping royal pretension and visibility of Elizabeth Cromwell as “Protectress.”

[4]   The second set of discourses that feature Elizabeth object to her no less strenuously but on very different grounds. These are part of the popular royalist polemics against republicanism that survived the Interregnum and flourished again in the early Restoration years (Wiseman, 57). Popular royalists, unlike their republican opponents, did not object to the very presence of a court culture. However, they did object to Elizabeth’s prominence within that sphere. For them, Elizabeth, who was known on the street by such endearing nicknames as “Old Joan, Old Bess, Old Bedlam, Old Witch, Old Hagg, [and] the Commonwealth’s Night Mare” was simply too plebeian to be the official icon of the court (Tatham, 21).

[5]   The criticisms of Elizabeth that emerge from both the “left” — the republican critiques of the post-regicidal grandees and their wives — as well as the “right” — the popular royalist critiques of the republic — reveal the degree to which debates over the scope and function of private and public spheres within particular political orders are often waged through the cultural politics of gender. Both republican and royalist representations of Elizabeth Cromwell are enmeshed in larger disputes over the contradictions that each side perceived within the entity of a Protectorate — the body politic that emerged during the Interregnum period as neither a monarchy nor a republic but rather an uneasy synthesis of the two, not unlike “Protectorate Joan,” as Elizabeth was often called. As an oxymoronic plebeian queen, Elizabeth’s class and gender identities were used by both sides to project their sense of what the abject and excessive feature was that tipped the scale of the Protectorate towards the social and political failure it met with at the return of Charles II in 1660. For republicans, she was too royal, for royalists, too republican; this made her a compelling icon for the Protectorate itself as a tenuous middle way. This dynamic is perhaps most fully emblazoned in accounts of the paradoxical “kitchin court” that Elizabeth was said to have kept during her brief tenure in Whitehall. The gustatory and other domestic metaphors through which this hybrid and gendered space was constructed crop up in discourses about Elizabeth Cromwell across party lines, even as they vary according to the viewer’s orientation: Either she overfed a commonwealth meant to be slimly republican, or she starved what was supposed to have been a jolly fat monarchy fit for a king. In both cases, she was a rotten cook whose unappetizing fare was said to have sickened the body politic.

The Anti-Queen

[6]   The Roundhead victory in the Civil War in 1649 precipitated a moment of indeterminacy in England’s political order. After Cromwell and his allies cut off Charles I’s head, they “wondered what to do next” (Corns, 7-28). Much of the difficulty in the new order had to do with the fact that republican critiques of monarchy centered upon what a government should not consist of, an official sphere of monarchical publicity which raised the king and his family to a level of worship and devotion. The argument was that this elevation of the “private” to the “public” signaled the court’s rule over social spheres (such as the church) that republicans wished to remove from governmental oversight. Within absolutist thought, the rule of personal lords blurred the distinction between public and private realms to the point where, on the monarchical level, the king’s personal household was equated with the nation. Republicanism, however, was concerned with recovering a non-statist public sphere from the crown’s monopoly over church and state (Norbrook, 115-116). Because they drew upon the classical world to argue that a distinction should be drawn between the state, or “polis,” and the household, or “oikos,” their criticism of what they saw as monarchy’s immanent potential to decline into tyranny often took the form of objecting to the size and scope of Charles’s I lavish court and the preeminence of his family in its self-elaborations. Republicanism at this time was not necessarily equated with Spartanism (for instance, the Court of the Dutch Republic and the Doge of Venice were renowned for their formality) [Wedgewood, 85]. However, in English circles, republican critiques of unlimited monarchy teamed up with Puritan critiques of Catholicism’s emphasis upon the mystification of power through elaborate spectacle; the result was to associate images of excess in a court’s size and expense with the monarch’s descent into arbitrary rule over the private lives and consciences of his subjects.

[7]   Specifically, opposition to the Stuart monarchy seized upon Charles I’s marriage to Henrietta Maria, a controversial consort whose rich displays of Catholicism led critics to view the Stuart Crown as one that “was quite literally in bed with the Catholic Church” (Dolan, 122). In fact, Charles I’s devotion to his Queen — in both a domestic and a religious and hence political sense of the word — had become a key component of royalist propaganda. The cult of Charles and Henrietta reached its apex in masques such as Thomas Carew’s infamously elaborate Coelum Britannicum (1634) and Salmacida Spolia (1640). In the “revelatory” conclusion of the former, Henrietta Maria is deified along with her husband. As Mercury says to Henrietta Maria: “Then shall you see/ The sacred hand of bright eternity; Mould you to stars, and fix you in the sphere./ To you your royal half, to them she’ll join/ Such of this trains as with industrious steps/ In the fair prints your virtuous feet have made,/ Though with unequal paces, follow you” (186). In the latter, the final masque of Charles’s reign, Charles and Henrietta actually switch positions so that Henrietta emerges as the main protagonist (Veevers, 203).

[8]   Such expansive use of the monarchical sphere of publicity paved the way for republicans to zero in on the “twins,” “CARLOMARIA” as a focal point for their complaints (Carew, 172). As Milton wrote, “a king must be ador’d like a Demigod, with a dissolute and haughtie court about him, of vast expense and luxury, masques, and revels, to the debauching of our prime gentry, both male and female . . . ” (Readie and Easie Way, 336). In particular, the presence of a queen (“in most likelihood outlandish and a Papist”) and a queen mother are held responsible for running up the cost of a court intended to rival Heaven’s. “Together,” he contends, “their courts and numerous train; then a royal issue, and ere long severally their sumptuous courts” multiply the “servile crew, not of servants only, but of nobility and gentry, and of court offices” (336). For Milton, this extravagance and expense is corrosive. It begins with the courtiers themselves and spreads to the polity at large; hence it represents how, for republicans, an excessively represented devotion to the royal consort was akin to allowing “private marital relations to undermine public accountability” (Norbrook, 115). The royal marriage was made an especially potent emblem for Charles’s resistance to the separation of church from state. In Eikonoklastes, Milton argued that Charles’s “superstition” in religion had issued “from his own House” and that he must, therefore, take the blame for the resulting “miscarriages in State, his proper sphere” (1084).

[9]   Within this context, Elizabeth’s relative absence from the discourses that helped to constitute Cromwell as a republican leader becomes intelligible as the product of something other than her own (lack of) personality. Indeed, Cromwell himself was often purposefully elided from texts praising the early Commonwealth. Republicans weary of Carolinian self-deification were suspicious of attempts to locate the agency that underwrites government legitimacy within the personality of a sole individual. As a result, early Commonwealth texts celebrated what they believed constituted more proper subjects of national narratives. For instance, A Panegyrick (1647) attributes the success of the republican revolution to the, “Most gracious, Omnipotent,/ And everlasting Parliament,/ Whose power and Majestie/ Is greater then all Kings by odds;/ Yea to account you lesse then Gods,/ Must needs be blasphemie” (1). And R. Fletcher’sMercurius Heliconicus (1650) credits ” The will of a Creator and the mind of Providence” (4).

[10]   George Wither’s The British Appeals (1649) establishes the absence of the leader and his consort from the new panegyric as an explicit mainstay of republicanism’s claim to proper rule. Addressed to “The Sovereigne Majesty of the Parliament of the English Republike,” the poem alludes to Coelum Britannicum by noting that it was “Flattering Priests and Poet” who “urged [Charles] on” to greater and greater degrees of absolutist pretension until “by the last, He and his Queen became/ So often represented by the name/ Of Heath’nish Deities; that, they, at last,/ Became (ev’n when their Mummeries were past)/ Like those they represented; and, did move,/ Within their Sphears like, Venus, Mars, and Jove” (11). The implication is that the very presence of the republican leader’s wife within Wither’s lyric would have signified the poet’s deification of the republican leader. Exempting her meant that his poem could remain a “brief commemorative poem” as opposed to a royalist epideictic. We as readers, so his logic goes, are unburdened with the spectacle of a court poet and hence with a court.

[11]   Written after Cromwell’s death under the growing threat of Restoration, Richard Flecknoe’s The Idea of High Highness Oliver(1659) provides the fullest account, however belated, of the philosophical tenets upon which republicanism refused to idolize the consort. Of Cromwell’s marriage, Flecknoe writes simply that, “During this Time he married into an honorable Family, and had hopeful and numerous issue by his Wife . . . With good reason then the Romans gave Jus trium Liberorum, or particular honors and privileges to those who were married & had children, esteeming them only born for the Commonwealth, whilst the others seem’d only born unto themselves” (10). Whereas Stuart royalism “subordinates public rationality to private desire,” the republican man, “must be fit for the public sphere, and ideological antagonism in marriage disrupts that fitness” (Norbrook, 115). Thus, Flecknoe refuses to surround Elizabeth with any sort of cult of personality and concentrates instead upon the function of marriage as it pertains to the proper relationship between the public political and the private domestic sphere within a classical republic. Marriage outfits a man for citizenship because those “who have Wife and children, given pledges to their Country of their fidelity, whilst it hath no security of the rest” (9). The ruler’s wife is not to serve as an icon for the intersecting private, religious, and political devotions — and oversight– of her husband. Instead, like the ideal wife figure of Milton’s Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce, she is to maintain her private role so that he can perpetuate “the vigor and spirit of all publick enterprize” which “flourishes” out of the harmonious household (938). As Flecknoe concludes, “‘Tis a great happiness for the Commonwealth, when men of public spirits are imploy’d in publick business” (10).

[12]   In 1653, The Instrument of Power formulated the Protectorate in the wake of the perceived failure of democracy under the Nominated Parliament. While Cromwell refused the crown under this new order, and while the Instrument protected some religious rights and provided for some separation of powers, it was nonetheless received by hard-line republicans as “monarchy bottomed by the sword” (qtd. in Kishlansky, 206-207). Within this new regime, Cromwell assumed a more king-like role and Republican poets began to “Cromwellianize” republicanism by strategically positing him as a hero who, like Caesar, was capable of single-handedly “representing” the nation. Aside from the implicit compromise this represented, it was also conceptually tricky to liken Cromwell to Caesar. Far from adhering to the Spartanism idealized by Roman republicans, Caesar succumbed to the allures of princely life. To compensate, Cromwellianizing republicans retained some vestiges of Cromwell as a delimited leader by continuing their refusal to surround him with the distracting trappings of a court, including a glorified queen and heirs. In Radius Heliconicus (1650), R. Fletcher contends that Cromwell, like Caesar, was and should be a “small” “basis” upon which to “raise our Fame’s encomion” (1). Thus, Fletcher follows in Wither’s footsteps by drawing the line at “worshiping” anyone as a “Meteor or a Star” (1). Thomas Manley’s Veni; Vidi; Viciacknowledges that, “As Caesars conquests did his honor raise,/ And crown his temples with Imperiall bayes; So did his treacherous dealing merit shame, And mixe dishonor with so great a fame” (71). However, Manley assures his readers that England’s new champion can retain the imperial prowess of his Roman predecessor without falling prey to the temptations of extravagance: “But YOU Great, Sir, Greater than Caesar are,/ The Empire of Your Vertues reacheth far, . . ./ At hopes of Lucre you unmoved stand,/ No wretched gold thy spirit can command. . . ./ For you a charging horse, and sword embrace/ Before the witch-crafts of a womans face . . .” (72). The reference to the “witch-crafts of a womans face” refers, of course, to Cleopatra but it also echoes the undue influence that Henrietta was said to have had over Charles I. By claiming that Cromwell was more loyal to his martial duties than to his private desires, Manley, like Wither, provides a rationale for absenting Elizabeth from republican panegyric even as he forges a new foundation — however “small” — upon which to elevate Cromwell to unprecedented heights of fame.

[13]   Edmund Waller’s A Panegyric to my Lord Protector, also works in this vein. Waller pauses in his celebration of Cromwell’s military career just long enough to that, “Your private life did a just pattern give,/ How fathers, husbands, pious sons should live;/ Born to command, your princely virtues slept,/ Like humble David’s, while the flock is kept” (15). Referring to Cromwell as an exemplary husband and a “pious son” reminds us that, within the discourses of Cromwellianized republicanism, the one Elizabeth Cromwell who was celebrated in any sort of systematic manner was Cromwell’s mother. In J. Long’s Epitaph (1655), she is hailed in public epideictic terms as the “that noble Root that didst afford Great Britain’s Weal’s Affector” (1). However, she is championed not for being a “Queen Mother” whose maternity produces the king’s family as a synecdoche for his headship over the nation. Rather, her republican motherhood bears a leader who respects the boundaries that, Long argues, rightfully separate the free body of the church from the state’s stewardship. Cromwell is typed as another Roman leader, Constantine, the father of Christianity, and his mother is “Helen, sometimes honoured/ For Great Constantine’s Mother” (1). Just as “Great Constantine did free/ Christ’s Church from Persecution;/ So hath thy Son gain’d Libertie’/For real Truth’s promotion” (1).

[14]   What is more, the author anticipates that mother Elizabeth’s labors will bear further republican fruit in the future — not in the dynastic form of heirs, but in the form of greater individual freedom (for some): “May he give Christians Libertie (Out from that Babel-Tower)/ And ease poor Protestants from Bands,/ And th’cruel Inquisition, And free us from proud Clergies hands,/ Is that which we petition” (1). By emphasizing Cromwell’s role as a son over that of father and husband, this Cromwellianizing republican discourse attempts to celebrate Cromwell’s amplified individual power without simultaneously endowing it with the paternalism that republicans equated with tyranny. The idea is that the republican mother bears a chosen son who, however god-like, is still more loyal to his public duties of protecting his subjects’ right to religious self-determination than he is to the public display of his wife and family as conduits of representative publicity and the power over the church that it symbolized.

[15]   Unlike her grandmother, however, Cromwell’s favorite daughter, Elizabeth, challenged republican attempts to maintain bounds between the public and the private. She persuaded her father to free jailed royalists and secured the license for publishing James’s Harrington’s confiscated republican utopia, Oceana(Firth, 71). When she died of cancer in 1658, Cromwell’s debilitating grief threatened to mar his carefully crafted persona. Cromwell himself died shortly after and Marvell’s elegy, “He First Put Arms Into Religion’s Hands,” tried to spin his image back into place. He concedes that his leader “Eliza lov’d to that degree” wherein “affection” challenged “reason” (Ashley, 112-114). However he recuperates this subversion of republican (and Puritan) codes by insisting that “the children of the Highest” were even dearer to him than “his own” because, “for these he once did Nature’s tribute pay;/ For these his life adventur’d every day . . . ” (Ashley 114). Cromwell’s devotion to the public might have to hustle a bit here to outrun devotion his to the private, but the former properly wins out in the end.

Delilah’s Feast

[16]   A new phase of Cromwell’s rule came with the Humble Petition and Advice of 25 May 1657. During his late “Augustan” period, the Humble Petition enunciated the growing religious, political, and social conservatism which marked the later Protectorate (Dzelzainis, 184). Under this constitution, Cromwell was granted the power to name his successor, thereby making the Protectorate a quasi-hereditary body. A Privy Council was installed and its members required to take an oath of loyalty to the Protector. A ‘Confession of Faith’ was inserted to deny liberty of conscience to anti-Trinitarians. Finally, more shrift was given to what Milton derisively referred to as the “superficial actings of State” (qtd. in Dzelzainis, 184). When he was installed as Protector in 1657, Cromwell’s regalia was accessorized with a sword, a scepter, and a purple robe. More hard-line republicans such as Milton saw such trappings as proof that the Protectorate had become a court. Indeed, they also found evidence for this in the Protectorate’s resurrection of the representative publicity of family life. In 1654, the press announced that, “his Highness the Lord Protector, with his Lady and family, this day dined at Whitehall, whither his Highness and family are removed . . . and do there continue” (Sherwood, 21). The memoirs of Edmund Ludlow portray Elizabeth as being initially unwilling to move but eventually becoming “satisfied with her grandeur,” as opposed to her mother-in-law who, Ludlow writes, “by reason of her great age was not so easily flattered with these temptations” (379). The weddings of Cromwell’s daughters, Frances and Mary, were elaborate affairs of state; Mary’s came complete with a masque courtesy of Marvell (Fraser, 642).

[17]   Henry Danberry’s The Portraiture of his Royal Highness, Oliver, published just a year after Cromwell’s death in 1658 and his son’s subsequent assumption of the Protectorship, sports a cover that outfits the late Cromwell with a crown, robes, scepter — the royal works. And, not surprisingly, in the text, one also finds the most fully-formed celebration of Cromwell’s marriage “into,” as Danberry announces, “the ancient and noble Family of the Bourchers . . . ” (9). Elizabeth is featured as a Queen Mother whose sons and sons-in-law are titled claimants to the Protectorship itself as well as its most illustrious offices. As “Lords” and “Ladies” (9), Elizabeth’s offspring — unlike those produced by her republican mother-in-law — blur rather than police the lines between the oikos (and the concomitant set of rights/duties that it was said by republicans to anchor) vs. the polis (and all the sinecure posts that came with it).

[18]   Milton’s Second Defense (1654) is famously non-specific in its criticisms and broadly addressed to his “countrymen.” Yet it may be read as an early warning to the increasingly Augustan Lord Protector and his Protectress: “Unless you expel avarice, ambition, and luxury from your minds, yes, and extravagance from your families as well, you will find at home and within that tyrant who, you believed, was to be sought abroad and in the field — now even more stubborn. In fact, many tyrants, impossible to endure will from day to day hatch out from your very vitals . . . ” (326-327). In Memoirs of the Life of Colonel Hutchinson, Lucy Hutchinson directly implicated Elizabeth in the Protectorate’s slide into monarchy, claiming that while “Oliver himself had much natural greatness, his wife and children were setting up for a principality, which suited no better with any of them than scarlet on an ape” (201). Even George Burrough complained that Cromwell was so consumed with advancing his children in the burgeoning court that he neglected to stop the persecution of Quakers (Sherwood, 87). Only the eldest Cromwell daughter, Bridget, escaped censure. She, wrote Hutchinson, “was humbled and not exalted with these things” (qtd. in Firth, 461).

[19]   It is worth pausing here to note that, there is clearly a case to be made that monarchy enabled certain forms of public power for (aristocratic) women that republicanism sought to efface (Wynne-Davies). As Milton wrote, “Court ladies, not the best of Women . . . when they grow to that insolence as to appeare active in State affairs, are the certain sign of a dissolut, degenerat, and pusillanimous Common-wealth” (Eikonoklastes, 370). And yet, at least three factors mitigate against this argument. First, republican texts may have been anxious to assign masculine qualities to a narrowed public sphere and feminine traits to an enlarged private one because the political entity of the republic had a history of being feminized through its association with a diminished role for the king’s headship and an expanded sphere of rights for its citizenry. In The Trew Law of Free Monarchies (1598), James I wrote, “And first it is cast up by divers that employ their pens upon apologies for rebellions and treasons that every man is born to carry such a natural zeal and duty to his commonwealth as to his mother” (100). Because patriarchalism figured Parliament as the king’s wife, pamphlets such as A New Marriage Between Mr. King and Mrs. Parliament (1648) demonstrated that royalists comprehended the revolution as a reversal of traditional gender roles on the state level. The tract, A Mirror (1660), even depicted Parliament’s laws as having been grotesquely spawned without a father. For royalists, the birth of the commonwealth was a monstrous one wherein feminized republican “Adams” begat political issue out of their own bodies. Eliding the republican consort’s role may have been an attempt to masculinize the figurehead of the new commonwealth while simultaneously diminishing his authority.

[20]   Second, at least some strains of republicanism do not appear to have been averse to female rule per se. Republicans expressed nostalgia for the overtly Protestant court of Elizabeth I and Cromwell and his government also evinced a sense of Protestant solidarity with Queen Christina of Sweden. Milton deemed her free of tyranny, dubbed her “Augusta,” and touted her as “the most brilliant exemplar of royal virtues and a heroine to be visited by all” (Second Defense,1113- 1114). Elizabeth Cromwell generously suggested that, in the advent of her own death, Queen Christina “would be the woman” to replace her (Fraser, 428). And, even after Christina abdicated her throne before converting to Catholicism, a Cromwellian sympathizer described the court she passed on to her successor as “a Virgin” because “it is there,/ Order and State without excesse reside,/ A place of business, not of pomp and pride” (To the Honorable John Rolle, 102).

[21]   Third, and perhaps most importantly, elements of republicanism were philosophically compatible with new forms of female authority that took place within the emergent “public sphere” as Habermas defined it: A private — non-statist — sphere of public debate and critique (30). Whereas monarchy sought to establish the state as a household, republicanism often strove to convert the household into a polis of sorts (Norbrook, 117); one goal of radical republican ideology was to privatize and protect spheres of religious independency and print culture in which women were increasingly visible. Plebeian sectarian and Leveller women published polemics, ran independent presses, petitioned Parliament, and preached within home and barn-based churches as well as on the streets (Mack, Hinds, S. Davies). Indeed, these women often argued that their “right” to engage in rational critiques of the government within an autonomous sphere of print and speech derived from their ability to maintain a barrier between the private domestic oikos and the state polis (Gillespie). As the female Leveller petitioners proclaimed to Parliament in 1649, “Have we not an equal interest with the men of this nation in those liberties and securities contained in the Petition of Right, and other the good laws of the land? . . . And can you imagine us to be so sottish or stupid as not to perceive . . . when daily those strong defenses of our peace and welfare are broken down and trod underfoot by force and arbitrary power?” (367-368).

[22]   Ironically, then, the ideological system which underwrote the peculiar invisibility of the republican “consort” within the English public sphere of the political realm resulted in the increased visibility of women within unofficial and non-statist cultural zones. In fact, among the most vocal critics of Cromwell’s emergent Augustanism were plebeian sectarian women such as Mary Howgill and the Fifth Monarchist prophetess, Anna Trapnel. They objected to Cromwell’s growing use of representative publicity in part because they saw it as structurally related to his failure to follow through on the Commonwealth’s early commitment to more fully protecting the subcultures of religious Independency and a free press through which, as plebeian women, they had gained a public voice. Howgill wrote two tracts lamenting “what God hath done to Oliver Cromwell”(The Vision, 7). Trapnel, who sold her plates during the Civil War to raise money for the New Model Army, had come under surveillance by Cromwell’s government for speaking out against him. In The Cry of a Stone (1654), she wrote that, when Cromwell defeated the Scottish Army at Dunbar, she looked upon him as a Gideon who would triumph militarily but would then hand all his newly-wrought political authority over to God (and Parliament). But, she continues, she had since come to view him as a traitor who gave up the good old cause for such gluttonous excesses as a throne, entertainments, and lavish dinners which have “his spirits so smothered” (55). She invokes Elizabeth Cromwell by calling for God to protect him so that “No Delilahs so great & strange/ with speeches fair and sweet, May take/ from [him] that which is true, and exceeding complete” (54). However, she notes it may be too late because he is already feeding upon “such food,/ Which Queen-Mother, as they did call [her] did drink up as a flood . . . . ” (54). Whereas Elizabeth Cromwell’s role as republican wife was expected to nourish her husband’s ability to perform his public work, Trapnel sees this function as having run amok – Elizabeth is satiating her man with feasts fit for a king. Cromwell’s inability to control the excesses raging within his unfortunate family court is an analogy for his new-found devotion to glutting himself upon a court culture that republicans had promised to eradicate. Jus trium Liberorum has failed and the public man is forced away from his public business by the Cavalier riotousness raging in his home.

[23]   The popular republican image of Elizabeth as a would-be queen who fueled the political overreaching of her husband was reiterated in the play, A New Bull-Baiting (1649). Set during a “Match Play’d at the Town-Bull of Ely,” the mini-drama depicts the Levellers as seeking their revenge against Cromwell for betraying them after the revolution. Invoking the street theater of bull and dog fights, the embittered Levellers force “Noll” to do battle with dogs because “he has so Bull’d poor England, that she lies calving and labouring in most bitter panges of Calamity and Poverty. Whilst he Junkets, Feasts, and Kings it in his Chariot with six Flanders Mares, and ruffles in Suits of 500 pounds a piece, she [England] languishes and mourns in Sack-cloth . . . ” (4). In the play, Cromwell has acquired so much wealth at the people’s expense that, in a mock “Will and Testament” appended to the text, the Faustian Oliver is shown willing a substantial estate to his craven heirs. To his “beloved wife,” he leaves “the lowermost Tip” of his “Tayle” in order that it serve as a “a fanne to keep the Flies from her painted face” (14). The ghoulish Lady of the Flies has become the very sort of painted courtesan that Milton loathed, purchasing the privileged position of royal consort at the expense of her — and her political sisters’– republican soul.

[24]   Milton’s Adam and Samson (a type of Gideon) have long been understood to be in part figures for Cromwell. Similarly such popular press productions as Trapnel’s prophesies and the Leveller play cited above prompt us to read figurations of Elizabeth into Milton’s “high” cultural characterizations of Eve, Sin, and Delilah. For disappointed republicans, Eve functions as a figure for how the young Commonwealth’s anti-queen was as seduced beyond the proper bounds of her sphere as her predecessor had been by the swollen excesses of public pageantry. In Paradise Lost, Eve is tragically flattered when Satan addresses her in good courtier fashion as “Queen of this Universe” (606) and tells her that she “shouldst be seen a Goddess among Gods, ador’d and serv’d by Angels numberless, thy daily Train” (602). Sin spawns a brood of sycophants reminiscent of the nepotistic lineage that Danberry’s Portraiture traced back to “her highness, the Protectresse.” Finally, Milton’s Samson is a former Spartan warrior who, like Trapnel’s Cromwell, is transformed by his Delilah’s treachery into an overly satiated domestic sot. Samson’s unrepentant destruction of a Whitehall-like theater may have reminded Milton’s readers that, upon being forced to vacate the palace after her husband’s death, Elizabeth allegedly sold the “royal jewels and pictures to a fruiterers’ warehouse” (Fraser, 687).

Joan’s Kitchen Court

[25]   After the Restoration, royalists commemorated the coronation of Charles II. Featured prominently was the “Queen, from whose chast womb, ordain’d by Fate,/ The souls of Kings unborn for bodies wait” (Dryden, 8). One document, A Collection Out of the Book called Liber Regalis, even published the coronation ceremony of what its subtitle stressed was the “King and Queen together” (emphasis added). However, both before this official resurrection of the monarchical sphere of publicity in its traditional form had begun — and long after it was completed — royalists delighted in using the popular print market to criticize the Commonwealth and its supporters. As part of this campaign, they took their share of swipes at the Protector’s wife and the political order she was said to embody. Like republican critics, royalist foes of the Protectorate resented the Cromwells’ “provoking impudent personation of Princes” (Milbourne, 4). However, whereas republican writers viewed both the scarlet and the aping of scarlet as equally offensive to republican asceticism, royalists focused upon the travesty done to the regal aesthetics of the properly large and ornamental body politic by what they viewed as the overly plain and plebeian nature of the odd Protectorate court. Rather than chastising the Protector and his wife for failing to eliminate the court, popular royalists lampooned them as squalid squatters within its hallowed structures.

[26]   Royalist polemics against Elizabeth’s role in this sacrilege appear most frequently in the first several years of the Restoration of Charles II; however, this critique began as early as 1648 in the play, The Cuckoo’s Nest at Westminster. The work closes with a dialogue between the two “Lady-birds” of the nest, Elizabeth Cromwell and Thomas Fairfax’s wife, Anne. Together, they wage the crude verbal equivalent of a mud wrestle over who will be queen:

Qu. Fairfax. Pray Mrs. Cromwell . . . Tell me of Crownes, Scepters, Kingdomes, Royal Robes; and if my Tom but recovers, and thrives in his Enterprize, I will not say Pish to be Queen of England . . .

Mrs. Crom. And is not Noll Cromwells Wife as likely a Woman to be Queen of England as you? Yes I warrant you she is; . . . I have a Person as fit for a Queen as another.

Q. Fair. Thou a Queen; thou a Queen . . . thou a Brewer’s Wife a queen; that Kingdom must need be full of Drunkards, when the King is a Brewer? My Tom is Nobly descended; and no base Mechanick.

Mrs. Crom. Mechanick? Mechanick in thy face; th’art a Whore to call me a Mechanic: I am no more Mechanick than thy self; . . . My Noll has won the Kingdom and he shall wear it in despight of such a Tramp as thou art . . . . (8)

Here, the monarchical “nest” itself isn’t the issue; the real problem is the usurping cuckoo flock who “roost” within and “defyle” it. As a brewer’s descendant, Cromwell is considered too comically “mechanic” to rule, even by his republican fellows. Rather than doing away with the very idea of a court masque staged within a sphere of monarchical publicity, a stock character from the form’s traditional comic subplot has assumed the starring role. Worst yet, his lowly wife’s ambitions serve not only as his thespian motivation, they also expose republicanism’s enterprise-based class mobility and the challenge it posed to the blood-based ideology of aristocratic privilege.

[27]   The next year, another playlet, A Tragi-Comedy, called New-Market Fayre (1649), also imagined the upstart Grandee women as the provocation for the Protectorate’s illegitimate acquisition of the throne through purchase rather than inheritance. Set in a marketplace, the playlet shows “Crumwell,” Fairfax, and their wives haggling over who gets to purchase the “state commodities” confiscated from the late king and, by extension, the kingship itself. Disgusted at the idea of hand-me-down robes and crowns that “smell of Popery, “Mrs. Crumwell” demands a new wardrobe: “Doe ye think that Ile be Odious to my People? No, they shall be proud of the Ornaments I weare. The Gods themselves shall for my Love implore, My People (like some Goddesse) me adore” (6). However, “Mrs Crumwell” is marked by an inherent lack of aristocratic virtue; she is given half-bleeped lines like, “Thou white-liver’d Knave thou; thou art marked for a R__ . Woo’d I were a man for thy sake. Uds-fut I’d ___ ” (5). Thus she can earn her throne only through commerce and/or conquest. The author, writing under the humorous sobriquet, “Man in the Moon,” depicts her husband as bringing Elizabeth back to earth and promising to replace her loss of deification with all the material wealth that imperial conquest can buy: “Be but content, my Dear, the glory of the world is thine Thou has both Indies at thy beck: Thy traine Shall be held up by Queens of France & Spaine” (6). Elizabeth is mollified; thus, while the author of A New Bull- Baiting depicted an ascetically republican England mourning in “sack-cloth” while Oliver Cromwell cavalierly cavorted in “ruffles,” this royalist playwright mocks the low-born Protectress for mistaking the masquerade for the masque.

[28]   As part of their criticism that the Protectorate had diminished rather than amplified the monarchical sphere of representative publicity, royalists took to referring to Elizabeth as “Protectorate Joan.” By the mid-seventeenth century, the name Joan was recognized as the generic name for a type of female rustic and servant. Thus popular royalist attacks upon “Protectorate Joan” were consistently infused with a class critique not only of the Cromwells but also of those who were closely affiliated with — and ostensibly empowered by — the Protectorate through its redistribution of estates, its close association with market activity and upward mobility, and its (relative) toleration of Independent religious groups. The anonymous author of a very late royalist tract, The Character of a Rebellion (1681), cited a “Joan” as the type of woman who, within a republican order, had accrued equal standing with the titled elite. On the eve of the Glorious Revolution, the author reminds the “Illustrious Ladies” to whom the tract is addressed that the demise of the monarchy had been commensurate with the loss of their own aristocratic privilege. “In a Common-wealth,” he writes, “Joan is as good as my Lady even by day-light” (qtd. in Nevitt, 11).

[29]   As Protectorate Joan, Elizabeth was continually likened to a mechanic domestic who kept court in the same way that a merchant’s wife would conduct home-based production in a profit-seeking kitchen. In The Rump (1660), John Tatham portrayed the widowed Cromwell as a frump who, after she failed to install her sons or sons-in-law in the seat of power, turned to street-vending and calling, “What Kitchin-stuffe have you Maids, Maids have you any Kitchin-stuffe?” (67). In Flagellum (1659), James Heath accused Elizabeth of stinginess, saying that, as Lady Protectress, she would “nicely and finically tax the expensive unthriftiness (as she said) of the Other Woman who lived there before her” (165). And in 1664, Thomas Milbourne published The Court and Kitchin of Elizabeth (1664), a mock recipe book whose introduction satirized the Protectorate for the paradoxical sort of “beggarly Court” kept by its “rustical lady” (24). Like anti-royalist critics of the Protectorate such as Trapnel, Milbourne’s text posits Elizabeth as the nutritional source of the Protectorate’s demise. However, while republicans protested that the “Queen Mother, as they did call her” had overfed the slender republican body politic until it bloated into a kingship, Milbourne alleges that “Protectorate Joan” had kept the pleasingly plumb house of state on the starvation diet of a cottager.

[30]   He begins by noting that Cromwell, like Milton’s Samson, was a military giant who abstained from food and drink. This puzzles the writer because it sets this latter-day republican leader apart from such Roman predecessors as Caligula and Nero. Their political wickedness, he argues, was fueled by their decadent consumption of “superfluous varieties of meats” and “mixt multiplicity of other Relishes and palatable Ingredients” (32). Milbourne reasons that, if Cromwell’s republican villainy did not stem from culinary overindulgence, then it must have come from a Spartan lack of nourishment which necessitated his feasting, Tantalus-like, upon “ambitious thoughts” (2-3). Milbourne proceeds to “out” the private republican wife he holds responsible for this Protectoral anorexia. Unlike republican texts, his text identifies the republican consort by name. Cromwell’s “severest abstinence,” he writes,” may be “referred to the sordid frugality and thrifty baseness of his wife, Elizabeth Bourchier, . . . commonly called Protectress Joan . . . chiefly out of Derision . . . that such a person durst presume to take upon her self such a Sovereign Estate, when she was an hundred times fitter for a Barn then a Palace . . . ” (19). Milbourne equates the republican body’s consumptive auto-cannibalism with its mercantilism. He alleges that, while working her way up to the position of Lady Protectress, Elizabeth personally accepted bribes and tributes from political supporters and confiscated booty from aristocrats. Not surprisingly, he criticizes such machinations; at the same time, he condemns her for her refusal to display or “gift” the wealth that she amassed. This would have signaled her willingness to participate in a more traditional patronage economy; instead, she either “retailed” it all through “private hands, at as good a rate as the Market would afford,” or she “listed and Catalogued” it before squirreling it away into “rapinous hoard” (7). Her various homes (from which he claimed she wandered one to another like a “baggage lady”) appeared less as aristocratic estates and more as “political or State Exchange[s]” (23-24). Even when she landed in Whitehall — which, Milbourne opines, she “took possession of ” like “devout Jezabel” did “Naboth’s Vineyard”– Elizabeth contributed her “base and low spirited thoughts and resolutions to the grandeur of that place,” one that had been “famed throughout . . . for truly Royal and Princely Pomp, and immense Munificence and Entertainment.” (26). Milbourne provides numerous examples of both her “niggardliness” and her consumption-from-within — including the claim that, because she was unaccustomed to such an “August Dwelling,” Elizabeth installed “many small partitions up and down, as well above Stairs, as in the Cellars and Kitchins, so that it looked like the Picture of Batholomew Faire” (21).

[31]   The idea is that, rather than dissolving the monarchical sphere of publicity as a sign of its commitment to respecting the borders that protected various sorts of private spheres such as trade and religious freedom, Cromwell’s Protectorate had merely changed the face and the class of those who were enriched by a Republican Court. This court simply substituted new forms of institutional authority for traditional ones, intervening in aristocratic property rights and hoarding riches rather than regurgitating them through favor. As important, the republican court served as the ironic state sponsors of “private” religious Independency. While popular republicans such as Trapnel associated the republic’s dissipation into court excess with the Protectorate’s tyranny over plebeian religious groups, royalists such as Milbourne argued that the Protectorate’s tyranny over aristocrats emanated from its toleration of — and Elizabeth’s official entertainment of — such common rustics as the sectarian prophetesses. Cromwell was in bed not with the Catholic but the Independent Church. Milbourne claims that, before her years at Whitehall, one of Elizabeth’s few luxuries was the purchase of a house at Charing Cross in which she kept a “House open for all Comers, which were none but the Sectary party and Officers, who resorted thither as to their Head-quarters, with all their wild projections and were entertained with small Beer and Bread and Butter” (33). What is more, he continues, within her own “privy Chamber” at Whitehall itself, Elizabeth set up a “Covy” of “Ministers Daughters, such as were inveterate Nonconformists to the Church” (B2).

[32]   These statements echo the charges that critics made against the women’s meetings held by Independent sects during the 1630s, 40s, and 50s. As noted earlier, these gatherings were often held in private homes and regularly featured plebeian women who prophesied their own “wild projections” while fasting and partaking only of “small beer.” Again, the implication is that the private sphere of the republican oikos, far from serving as an alternative to the state, had been “publicized” by Cromwell’s government to the point where it constituted a new kind of polis. Fasting by plebeian sectarian women, intended to serve in part as a counterpoint to aristocratic excess, had instead become the latest in Protectorate-style representative publicity (the whole nation was being forced to fast). August court masques had given way to everyman productions of hunger-induced quaking, and seamstresses and milkmaids had concocted a crazy sectarian variation on theMasque of Queens, danced during James’ reign by Queen Anne “with her honourable ladies at Whitehall” (Jonson, 35). In this context, it is noteworthy that the moniker Protectorate Joan was possibly an allusion to Parliament Joan, the nickname given to Elizabeth Alkin, a newsbook printer and one of the most infamous of the street-based news-callers who worked outside of Whitehall during the Civil War years (Nevitt). For royalists, Protectorate Joan, like Parliament Joan, “publicized” a republican anti-aesthetic of privacy, domesticity, commonness, and democracy. The court as the institutionalized arbiter of a representative publicity remained even as the character of that publicity was altered, but it was the particularly contradictory anatomy of that character which royalists satirized.

[33]   Because the debate was no longer over whether or not to maintain a court but rather what type of court was to be maintained, and because Elizabeth Cromwell’s personality and the nature of her household were at the center of these debates, royalists used her to turn the tables on republican critiques of Carolinian personal rule and to regain public political power at the demise of the republic. In The Case is Altered (1660), John Andrews extends the royalist critique of the Protectorate as a mere plebeian shadow of former monarchical glories by manipulating the semiotics of the consort in the same way that republican opponents had with Henrietta Maria. Puritans had frequently represented the Catholic Queen as a Virgin Mary figure who illegitimately interposed herself as a divine intercessor between God and King. It may be that Protectorate Joan was also a play on “Pope Joan”; Andrews’ text draws upon the equation that religious centrists often forged between what they saw as the equivalent extremes of radical Catholicism and radical Puritanism. His text functions as a demonic mirror of conversations that sectarian prophetesses claimed to have with God. Staged as a dialogue “between the ghost of this grand traytor and tyrant Oliver Cromwell, and sir reverence my Lady Joan his wife” (1), Andrews situates Elizabeth as a prophetic intermediary between Cromwell’s ghost — who, Samson-like, has now “become house-keeper in Hell” (16) — and Richard and Henry, Elizabeth’s sons. Cromwell, his two sons, and Elizabeth form an unholy trinity whose political failure stands as a Satanic variation upon the Christian progression from Adam and Eve to Mary and Jesus. Unlike the successful Christ-like reestablishment of Henrietta’s son upon the throne, Andrews intimates that the trajectory of the Protectorate was such that the dashed dreams of Noll and Joan were followed only by the aborted ambitions of Joan and her disenfranchised “heir and a spare.”

[34]   By adapting the anti-Catholic discourses that fueled attacks on Henrietta Maria to anti- sectarians ones and deploying them against the contradictions that defined Elizabeth Cromwell, royalists were able to portray the Protectorate not as the alternative it promised to deliver, but as the dark and bankrupt double of the Stuart monarchy it allegedly sought to replace. It was a hellish world turned upside down, with a witchy woman perched atop the supine male body of an excessive and dissipated state. It was a distorted order in which private intrigue had come to constitute public policy and in which the ruler’s corruption and tyranny was signaled by his stubborn allegiance to his consort and her brood over and against his public calling — even when it exiled him to the darkest margins of the empyrean over which he dreamt of reigning supreme.

Acknowledgements: Thanks to my colleague, Frances Dolan, for the MLA panel that helped inspire this paper; to co-panelists, Melissa Mowry and Jodi Mikalachki, for their illuminating work; to Miami University, for the support that helped me to complete this essay; and to my favorite consort, Nick Gillespie.


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