"Oliver Cromwell lay buried and dead.
There grew an old apple tree over his head.
The apples were ripe and ready to fall.
There came an old woman and gathered them all,
Oliver rose and gave her a clop.
Which made the old woman go hippity-hop."
Cambridge is belatedly to acknowledge the existence of one of its most infamous sons, Oliver Cromwell – Lord Protector of the Commonwealth (1653-1658), puritan, tyrant, general of cavalry, regicide, war criminal and, when he found a moment, Member of Parliament for Cambridge – with a blue plaque to be erected on the site of the Black Bear Inn, on Market Passage.
It was at the Black Bear Inn that Cromwell met with the armies of the Eastern Association at the outset of the Civil War in 1642, and discussed strategy. The plaque now forms part of what must be supposed a local Cromwell trail, taking in his birthplace in Huntingdon, his family house in Ely (where he was briefly responsible for collecting tithes), Sidney Sussex college, where he studied for a desultory year or so, and the Black Bear Inn plaque.
Sidney Sussex college also marks one of Cromwell's burial places – three years after his ceremonial interment in Westminster Abbey, he was dug up, treated to a mock-execution at Tyburn, and dismembered. His head remained on view on a twenty-foot spike outside Westminster Hall for at least twenty years (it was reburied at Sidney Sussex, having passed through the hands of various curio collectors, in 1960). His body may have been returned to his son-in-law's family house, or tossed in the Tyburn pit. His name was and remains, to repeat, steeping in infamy of one sort or another.
There may be those who disagree (former British Prime Minister John Major prominent among them), but there is enough Irish blood in my veins that the name Cromwell comes laced with menace. Cromwell was responsible for the massacres at Drogheda and Wexford in 1649. He later justified the Drogheda massacre, in which nearly 4,000 townsfolk and members of the Royalist garrison were murdered following the fall of the city, as a “righteous judgement of God” upon “barbarous wretches” (although, for balance, he also noted at least the possibility of remorse and regret).
As late as 1997, the Irish Prime Minister, Bertie Ahern demanded that a portrait of Cromwell be removed from a room in the Foreign Office before he conducted a meeting there. I do not think the ire has cooled overmuch in the interim. But Cambridge, at least, and the Cromwell society, have moved on. Hippity-hop!