Who Faked the Cromwells?

He also made up the French Revolution and Frederick the Great before inventing hero-worship and fascism. Sun 15 May 2022

Oliver Cromwell, painted by Samuel Cooper. Source

Oliver Cromwell was behind the second of England's two schisms with the Roman Catholic church:

Date Religio-Political Result Lead Advisor Physical Result Property Re-distribution Result
1540 England separates from Roman Catholic rule Thomas Cromwell 'Dissolution' of the monasteries Henry VIII hands ecclesiast-owned property to elites
1650 England separates from Roman Catholic teaching Oliver Cromwell Religious buildings destroyed Charles II hands ecclesiast-owned property to elites

Thomas Cromwell was behind the first.

They say history rhymes.

Thomas Cromwell, painted by Hans Holbein the Younger's inkjet. Source

Thomas Cromwell's rise to power is an enigma. From History Learning Site:

How Cromwell became Henry’s chief minister is not clear. What Cromwell actually did for the king between November 1530 and 1533 is difficult to clearly establish with any authority. For a man who was to be so keen to keep notes once he was chief minister, Cromwell did not do the same pre-1533. While it is not clear why Cromwell, especially with his non-noble background, came to prominence, intelligent guesses can be made.

Also poorly documented is the early life of Thomas Cromwell's great-great grandnephew Oliver Cromwell. From Oliver Cromwell (Wikipedia):

Cromwell was born into the landed gentry to a family descended from the sister of Henry VIII's minister Thomas Cromwell (his great-great-granduncle). Little is known of the first 40 years of his life, as only four of his personal letters survive, along with a summary of a speech that he delivered in 1628.

From The Cromwell Association:

The collected letters and speeches of Oliver Cromwell... were first published in 1845 by Thomas Carlyle. Carlyle’s fascination with Cromwell grew out of his interest in the concept of heroes and hero worship and he set out in the early 1840s to write a biography of Cromwell. The challenge proved too great and he deliberately destroyed his manuscript. He decided that the best alternative was to produce an edition of Cromwell’s own words and that is what he produced.


Thomas Carlyle Source

From Thomas Carlyle:

The first edition of (Thomas Carlyle's) Oliver Cromwell's Letters and Speeches: with Elucidations was published in 1845; it was a popular success, and did much to revise Cromwell's standing in Britain.

But Thomas Carlyle's biography of Oliver Cromwell caused controversy. From The Squire Papers, The Norfolk Antiquarian Miscellany, Vol II, Part I, Walter Rye, 1877, p 16:

Students of Carlyle will remember the fierce controversy which arose some years ago as to the genuineness of some letters alleged to be by Oliver Cromwell

Various expressions and words which occur in them... seemed to many most unlikely to have occurred in correspondence of the period in which they were alleged to have been written. But I do not think any of the critics noticed that " London Lane," in Norwich, where " Cornet Squire " was directed to purchase some hosiery for Cromwell, (p. 279) was never so called, and that London Street (as it is now called) was then, and until quite recently, called " Cockey Lane."

The list "of those who joined us at the siege of Lynn" (pp. 291-2-3) seems to me to bear the strongest internal evidence of forgery.

The proportion of unusual Christian names is also most absurdly large, e.g.,

Rye extracted the Christian names from Carlyle's copies of Cromwell's letters into a list. His struggle to reconcile them with Christian names common in 17th Century England is clear if the list is sorted by region of origin:

Mediterranean Augustan or Roman North-West Europe
Aaron Amphillius Allwurd
Ahimelech Cladius Alwyn
Aram Constantine Egbert
Eleazar Octavius Hubert
Hezekiah Villellius

Nevertheless, says The Cromwell Association:

[Carlyle's] work... proved to be very popular and helped to shape the image and profile of Cromwell in the second half of the 19th century. The work was to a large extent replaced... in 1937 by William Cortez Abbott’s edition... but Abbott lacked by his own admission Carlyle’s ‘arresting style’ in the linking narrative text and interpretation.

Although he had struggled to fake a believable Oliver Cromwell story, Thomas Carlyle kept going until he had produced something usable.


By 1845, England's physical devastation required an explanation that would fool a new population. A population that were now being taught to read.

But with many problems being uncovered in Carlyle's Oliver Cromwell biography, it was clear a rewrite was needed. William Cortez Abbott re-worked Carlyle's biography of Oliver Cromwell in 1937.

Despite his own alleged enormous impact on English, British, and western politics, the achievements of Thomas Cromwell's earlier achievements went unrecognised for a long time.

A very long time.

So long we can ask: did Thomas Carlyle or William Cortez Abbott also fake Thomas Cromwell's biography?

From Caroline Angus's The Letters of Thomas Cromwell:

Four hundred years passed between Thomas Cromwell’s death in 1540 and the recognition that this faithful servant was more than another agent of Henry VIII. Born a common man with no recorded education, Cromwell became a wealthy lawyer, politician, minister, and peer of the realm, and created the modern style of government in England. An extraordinary man of wisdom, charm, strategic cunning, and boasting an incredible memory, Cromwell redefined bureaucracy, broke a nation from Rome, reformed parliament, created royal supremacy and developed the revolutionary administrative procedures still in place today.

Expressed this way, it's easy to see how Oliver Cromwell's achievements would overshadow Thomas Cromwell's apparently identical achievements 100 years earlier.

So much so that Thomas Cromwell's contribution wasn't established until...

Let's work it out using Caroline Angus's dating of Thomas Cromwell's re-instantiation as a major political figure:

1540 + 400 = 1940.

er... until about three years after William Cortez Abbott reconstructed Thomas Carlyle's overly dramatic biography of Oliver Cromwell.

Thomas Cromwell's own missing early years continued to be a mystery until 2009, when Hilary Mantel (1952 - 2022) filled them out in her best-selling historical fiction: Wolf Hall.

Mantel also helped complete Carlyle's 1837 invention of the French Revolution. Her historical fiction - A Place of Greater Safety - was published in 1992.

Finally, from Thomas Carlyle (Wikipedia):

On 10 June 1834, the Carlyles moved into 5 Cheyne Row, Chelsea, which became their home for the remainder of their lives. Residence in London wrought a large expansion of the Carlyles' social circle; they became acquainted with dozens of leading writers, novelists, artists, radicals, men of science, Church of England clergymen, and political figures.

People with purpose, as they say.

Who knows? Perhaps even Wikipedia's faked Samuel Cooper portrait of Oliver Cromwell was mirrored from the dramatic biography of another Carlyle. That of Scottish actor Robert Carlyle:

Robert Carlyle Source

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