History of the World According to the Movies: Part 31 – Stuart Great Britain


Perhaps no other movie defines the nastiness of Stuart Great Britain like 1970’s Cromwell, which pertains to the English Civil War. Plus, it’s kind of interesting to see the two leads played by guys who went on to play Albus Dumbledore and Obi Wan Kenobi. Still, for a British filmmaker to make a movie covering a war in which both sides are hardly noble will ensue in some unfortunate implications, especially one showing Cromwell in a positive light and played by an Irishman. Also, Cromwell should be wearing bright red.

While 17th century France was a playground for gallant swashbuckling cavaliers, fair noble ladies, and intellectuals, Great Britain is a very different story, especially since it was under a dynasty that started out as the royal family of Scotland after the death of Queen Elizabeth I. Sure like France, Britain was on its way up in the world with colonization, science, and what not, but the 17th century weren’t happy times for the country since it, almost had its government blown up by a group of Catholic terrorists, got embroiled in a nasty civil war between king and Parliament, beheaded its own king, went eleven years under a theocratic military dictatorship which banned Christmas, had an outbreak of plague and a great fire in London, deposed another king after he reigned for 3 years in favor of his daughter and son-in-law in the Netherlands, and that pretty much sums it up for you. Still, there’s a reason why movies set in the 17th century usually take place in France and not in Great Britain. While you can always root for the French musketeers, you couldn’t say the same about the cavaliers under King Charles I who were fighting for a king who was just after power. Nor could you root for the Puritan Roundheads under Oliver Cromwell who banned Christmas and was responsible for the deaths of thousands of Irish Catholics (explaining why he’s so reviled in Ireland to this day). Still, what movies we have on the Stuart Era do contain their share of inaccuracies which I shall list.

King James I:

King James I spoke in an English accent. (He was Scottish and his mother was Mary, Queen of Scots.)

Gunpowder Plot:

Guy Fawkes was a doomed moral victor and tragic hero who died striking a blow for freedom. (Despite what V for Vendetta told you, he was a terrorist in the Gunpowder Plot who tried to blow up Parliament because they wanted to replace the Protestant monarchy with a Catholic one and were unsuccessful. Yet, he was never a member of the core conspiracy and mainly recruited for his Catholic fervor as a mercenary in Spain as well as his explosives expertise. But he was one of the first to join despite not being the mastermind. Also, the Gunpowder Plot did more harm to English Catholics than good. Interestingly, the guy who turned him in was Catholic as well for he was told not to come to Parliament by one of his conspirators who was his brother-in-law.)

English Civil Wars:

Matthew Hopkins:

Matthew Hopkins was a Witchfinder General who was relentlessly pursued to death by Richard Marshall. (Richard Marshall was a fictional character. However, it was the gentry, the clergy, the magistrates who are said to undermine his work in the law and were in pursuit of Hopkins throughout his murderous career. Also, contrary to his Vincent Price portrayal {which is very appropriate} he was in his twenties at the time, not 56 as Price was at the time {still, I can’t blame the casting director on that choice}. Not only that but he was never even sanctioned to perform his witch hunting duties.)

Matthew Hopkins got one woman to confess to a black cat and a stoat. (He got woman to confess to having a polecat called Newes, a fat spaniel with no legs named Jarmara, a greyhound with an ox head that could turn itself into a headless 4-year-old child named Vinegar Tom, and various others including Elemanzer, Pyewacket, Grizzell and Greedigut names Hopkins claimed, “which no mortal could invent.” Obviously has never met Sarah Palin’s kids.)

Matthew Hopkins was axed to death by Richard Marshall. (He died of tuberculosis in 1647 at his Essex home but you wouldn’t want that in Witchfinder General. And he was no older than 25.)

Oliver Cromwell:

Oliver Cromwell and Henry Ireton were among the five members of Parliament who King Charles I tried to arrest when he entered the House of Commons. Cromwell stayed in his seat and defied the king. (The members who King Charles I tried to arrest were John Pym, John Hampden, Denzil Holles {great name}, William Strode, and Sir Arthur Hesilrige. Not only that, but Cromwell wasn’t present at Parliament at the time and didn’t meet Henry Ireton until two years later at the Battle of Edgehill. Also, Ireton wasn’t an MP.)

Oliver Cromwell planned to move to America in 1640. (He planned a trip to America but it was axed six years earlier.)

Oliver Cromwell suggested to Charles I that he believed England should have a democracy. (He made no such suggesting to King Charles I. Also, they only met once when King Charles I was under house arrest on the Isle of Wight in 1648 at a time when king, Parliament and army were trying in vain to hammer out a constitutional settlement. Not to mention, Cromwell disagreed with army radicals demanding universal manhood suffrage back in the 1640s and ruled Great Britain as a military dictator. Nevertheless, interestingly in the 1970 film Cromwell, they’re portrayed by Richard Harris and Sir Alec Guinness, which is kind of awesome in itself. Also kind of ironic that Richard Harris was a strong Irish Catholic, a casting decision that would make the real Oliver Cromwell roll in his grave.)

Oliver Cromwell was a colonel at the Battle of Edgehill in 1642. (He was only a captain.)

Oliver Cromwell said this soldier’s prayer, “O Lord, Thou knowest how busy I must be this day. If I forget Thee, do not forget me.” (It was said by Royalist Sir Jacob Astley. But since Richard Harris played Cromwell and has a nice voice, you can easily see why he says this in his 1970 biopic.)

Oliver Cromwell was commander-in-chief of the Parliamentary forces while Sir Thomas Fairfax was his subordinate. (Fairfax was “Lord General” {commander-in-chief} of the New Model Army during the English Civil War. Cromwell was one of the few politicians to retain a military command while the New Model Army was set up and was “Lieutenant-General” as well as commanded the cavalry. So this was the other way around.)

Oliver Cromwell personally arrested King Charles I at Oxford. (King Charles I surrendered to the Scottish army and was only handed to Parliament some time later on ransom of £400,000. He was seized by New Model Army troops led by Cornet Joyce and taken to Hampton Court Palace. There, he escaped again and ended up surrendering to the Parliamentary Governor on the Isle of Wight. It was there he struck a second deal with the Scottish and started the Second Civil War. Also, he and Cromwell only met once.)

Oliver Cromwell brought troops into the House of Commons and declared a majority. (This is reminiscent of Pride’s Purge of 1648 in which troops under Colonel Thomas Pride refused entry to those MPs he deemed unsuitable. Cromwell was away at the time and it’s unclear how much he knew about this in advance. The MPs left after the Purge were known as the Rump Parliament.)

Oliver Cromwell dismissed the idea of becoming king instantly since he thought it was absurd for what he fought for. (He was immediately reluctant to accept an offer of kingship but took the idea seriously as Parliament thought it vital. He turned it down after several weeks of negotiations since the army was opposed to it.)

After Charles I is executed and he was offered the crown, Oliver Cromwell told the Rump Parliament they had six years to form a new government. (They had four years by this time; since Cromwell was offered the crown eight years after Charles I was executed.)

Oliver Cromwell became “Lord Protector” in 1651. (He didn’t become this until 1653.)

Oliver Cromwell didn’t have warts on his face. (He did since he coined the term, “warts and all.” Yet, even he’s seen much more attractive with his Richard Harris portrayal.)

Oliver Cromwell was for the common man who believed in universal public education. (He suppressed groups who spoke out for the rights of the common man {like the Levellers and the Diggers} during the English Civil War {and some of the Levellers allied with the Royalists}. He also despised the Irish and Catholics like a lot good Puritans. Also, he was a military dictator, though he broke absolute monarchy in Great Britain, turned it into a major world power, and helped lay the foundations for modern Parliamentary Democracy though his vindication is relatively recent in Great Britain.)

Oliver Cromwell was pro-king in 1640 before he saw gold on the altar of his church. (He didn’t like King Charles I for various reasons but he was reluctant to rebel.)

Oliver Cromwell spent six years on his farm between the Second and Third English Civil War. (He was slaughtering Irish Catholics at the time.)

Oliver Cromwell and Thomas Fairfax were best friends until Fairfax worried that King Charles I wasn’t getting a fair trial. (Fairfax did step out at King Charles I’s trial but there was no falling out between him and Cromwell until the latter had Farifax’s son-in-law arrested a few weeks before Cromwell’s death. In fact he remained Lord General of the Commonwealth forces until 1650 when he didn’t want to pre-emptively attack Scotland in fear he’d get mooned. Also, Fairfax and Cromwell didn’t reconcile at the latter’s deathbed.)

Oliver Cromwell lived in Cambridge around 1640. (He lived in Ely from 1636-1647, not Cambridge.)

Oliver Cromwell presented motion in Parliament demanding the Earl of Strafford’s death for misleading the king. (The Earl of Strafford was already impeached on charges of treason with his trial lasting for seven weeks. Strafford was able to successfully defend himself against any charge presented to him in court. Also, it was John Pym who proposed a bill of attainer for Strafford’s death, not Cromwell.)

After the Battle of Edgehill, Oliver Cromwell returned to Cambridge to create his New Model Army. (He actually returned to Cambridge to develop his disciplined Ironsides cavalry. And while the New Model Army was based on many of his ideas, Sir Thomas Fairfax was actually in charge with Cromwell as his lieutenant-general.)

Oliver Cromwell was a driven and ruthless man filled with religious zeal whose conscience forced him into a course he didn’t wish when circumstances intervene. (Sure he was a ruthless man filled with religious zeal, but his character and religious views also lead him to his darker actions during the Second English Civil War and in Ireland, which is the reason as an Irish Catholic, I don’t really have much love for this man.)

Oliver Cromwell ended up creating his own military dictatorship called the Protectorate because it was forced by the incompetence and greed of the Rump Parliament which was a benevolent dictatorship providing schools and universities as well as a proud, prosperous, God-fearing nation. (Uh, his dismissal of the Rump Parliament had more to do with his growing unhappiness with the lack of progress made and dismissed it by force. However, he didn’t set up the Protectorate until after setting up a religious assembly to run the country {which failed to work together and ultimately dismissed itself}. Still, he never promised to provide schools and universities but the country was at peace and did prosper, yet it was not much of a benevolent dictatorship as Richard Harris put it in the 1970 film {just ask the Irish or anyone who knows he banned theater, sport, and Christmas}.)


The Roundhead New Model Army wore black and gold hopped coats. (They wore red coats since they were the original “red coats.” British soldiers would be known as “red coats” ever since.)

The Roundheads were significantly outnumbered by the Royalists at the Battle of Naseby in June 1645. (This was the other way around with the Roundheads outnumbering Royalists 2-t0-1.)

Oliver Cromwell Jr. was killed during the Battle of Naseby in 1645. (He died of smallpox while in garrison at Newport Pagnell.)

The Rump Parliament was dissolved after Oliver Cromwell was offered the crown. (He dissolved the Rump Parliament before becoming leader of the British Protectorate, which was before he was offered the crown.)

John Pym was pronounced dead in 1646. (He died in 1643.)

Roundheads wore red sashes. (Royalists had red sashes. Roundheads had tawny or blue ones.)

Denzil Holles was Speaker of the House of Commons. (He never was.)

Sir Thomas Fairfax:

Thomas Fairfax voted in Parliament in 1647. (He became a Member of Parliament in 1654.)

Thomas Fairfax was present at King Charles I’s trial. (He wasn’t but his wife Anne was before being forcibly removed after telling the court what she thought of them.)

Thomas Fairfax was addressed as Lord Fairfax throughout the English Civil Wars. (He didn’t become a Baron until 1648. Before then, he was addressed as “Sir.”)

Henry Ireton:

Henry Ireton was among the delegation of MPs who offered Oliver Cromwell the crown. (Cromwell wasn’t offered the crown until near the end of his life in 1657. By that time, his son-in-law Ireton had been dead for six years. Not only that, but Ireton was never an MP.)

Henry Ireton was Oliver Cromwell’s cousin who was a sanctimonious Puritan bigot and a terrible general. (He was Cromwell’s son-in-law and no bigot to say the least {at least by 17th century standards}. He was also a moderate and a talented general.)

Robert Devereux, 3rd Earl of Essex (not to confuse with Elizabeth I’s boy toy who was his dad):

The Earl of Essex led the Parliamentarian forces at the Battle of Edgehill who agreed on a parley with the Royalists to start the battle at 9 am. Yet, an anxious Oliver Cromwell orders the first shot. (Essex did command the battle but it started at 3pm and it was him who gave the  order to fire. Also, Cromwell was late for the battle and only had command of 60 horsemen out of 13,000 men.)


The Battle of Edgehill was a Royalist victory. (The outcome was inconclusive with about 1500 combined losses, which ended on the second day.)

“Behold the head of a traitor!” was said after Charles I was beheaded. (They weren’t, especially by the executioner who wished to remain anonymous.)

Queen Henrietta Maria was a scheming Lady Macbeth type woman who was in a half-hearted struggle against her husband. (She was a French Catholic Queen of England and sister of Louis XIII who wasn’t popular with many of her Protestant subjects thinking that Charles I was trying to re-Catholicize the English church {he mostly wanted power though and refused to compromise}. Still, he really loved and accepted his wife and though Protestant, was not nearly the religious bigot Cromwell and his Puritans ended up as {at least Charles I never made bloodthirsty raids on Ireland and Scotland who hate Cromwell to this day}. Oh, he did? Crap.)

Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford:

The Earl of Strafford advised King Charles I against recalling Parliament to fund a military campaign in Northern Scotland. (Strafford actually advised King Charles I to do this.)

The Earl of Strafford and Queen Henrietta Maria plead with King Charles I to arrest those in Parliament who gave Charles I  a list of grievances for the king to address in order to finance the conflict. (It’s unlikely this happened  since King Charles I didn’t arrest anyone. He just shut Parliament down. Yet, he had to recall Parliament a short time later to ask for more money after his army was defeated by the Scots.)

King Charles I:

King Charles I was brought to trial for planning another English Civil War. (The Second English Civil War was fought and he was only put on trial after his second defeat. Also, the Parliamentarians kind of expected this to happen and acted accordingly.)

King Charles I had light hair. (Portraits depict him having darker hair. Yet, like Sir Alec Guinness, he wasn’t a physically impressive man)

King Charles I was tried by the House of Commons. (He was tried by the Rump Parliament that remained after “Pride’s Purge.” )

Parliament questioned the witnesses in front of King Charles I during his trial. (King Charles I was only present during the first few days of his trial which consisted of questioning the king of the charges. He was dismissed from Court before the trial actually took place.)

King Charles I was a weak-willed and indecisive man strongly influenced by his counselors and his strong-willed wife. Furthermore, he saw himself as a man chosen by God to and driven to do anything to preserve the dignity of the position because he couldn’t compromise. (Sure this makes a sympathetic Sir Alec Guinness portrayal but it’s not the King Charles I known to history. Sure he believed God chose him to be king and that he was a polite family man of good moral character. However, this guy believed in the divine right of kings to rule and was absolutely pissed off when Parliament tried to exact more power to him in exchange for finances. He tried to work around it by levying fines himself in a very unpopular move between 1629-1640. Also, he tried to impose religious uniformity on the Scottish church causing them to rebel as well as married a French Catholic princess he faithfully loved. Not to mention, other monarchs have compromised with Parliament including his old man James I who also believed in the divine right of kings. Charles I didn’t believe he had any need to compromise and thought he was only answerable to God. Also, he’s one of those reasons why the monarch isn’t allowed to enter the House of Commons in Great Britain today. King Charles I may not have been as bad as some history books say but he was anything but weak-willed and indecisive as well as greedy for power {though unlike his dad, didn’t understand how power actually worked}.)

Sir Edward Hyde:

Sir Edward Hyde was knighted by 1641. (He wasn’t a peer until 1661.)

Sir Edward Hyde testified against King Charles I. (He turned against the king, but never gave testimony at his trial. In fact, he was out of the country at the time.)

Sir Edward Hyde notified the five members of Parliament of King Charles I’s intention to arrest them with 500 men. All but Oliver Cromwell (It was Lady Carlisle who was John Pym’s lover and Queen Henrietta Maria’s friend who notified the the members. Also, Cromwell wasn’t even one of the five MPs with an arrest warrant so he couldn’t make his stand as seen in the 1970 film. Still, King Charles I sent 400 soldiers after the five MPs not 100 and by that time they had already fled. Charles I then pursued them into the city of London but fled the capital with his family after he failed to find them.)


King Charles II:

Charles II was impotent. (He was anything but since he was a known womanizer who fathered at least 14 kids with seven mistresses.)

King Charles II was a fun loving and sophisticated king who brought back the good things in life after the Puritan excesses of Cromwell’s republic and the bloody civil wars. (Maybe, but he was also a diehard absolutist {though this kind of runs in his family}, amazingly unprincipled, and more willing to forsake freedom of religion than Cromwell {as per agreement with the Scots in the later civil wars}. While in actual power, he was inept in actual government and brought England to the nadir of its strength in two disastrous wars against a nation that had sheltered him in exile {France}. Also, was miserable in war and his all his attempts to get the crown back by force failed so he didn’t become king until Parliament asked him to come back. Still, he was nice to his wife and mistresses. As for Cromwell’s republic, it was more of a theocratic military dictatorship than anything.)

King Charles II loved his King Charles spaniels. (Yes, but they weren’t referred to as King Charles spaniels at the time.)

John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester:

John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester and Elizabeth Barry were lovers in an exclusive relationship. (Yes, they were lovers for five years and had a daughter together but the Earl of Rochester was also happily married with three legitimate children {though he had plenty on the side}. Barry also had affairs with other men and had another daughter with Rochester’s friend George Etheridge.)

John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester’s nose fell off as a result of syphilis. (Syphilis or not, his nose didn’t fall off. It’s generally thought he died from alcoholism and STDs though one person theorizes he suffered from Bright’s disease. However, he may not have converted to Christianity on his deathbed, since this tidbit is disputed by scholars on accuracy.)

Nell Gwynn:

Nell Gwynn became a British actress after taking up with King Charles II. (She was already a noted theater personality before she met the Merry Monarch.)

Nell Gwynn seduced Charles II into banning women roles being played by men in 1660. (She was ten years old at the time and wouldn’t meet Charles II until eight years later. Thus, there was no way this would’ve happened.)

Edward Kynaston:

Edward  Kynaston was reduced to playing bawdy songs in drag at music halls after a short career in the limelight on the stage as a female impersonator. This was because a law was passed in 1660 that forbade men from playing women’s roles. (Yes, this guy was a real female impersonator in the limelight when the days of men playing women came to an end. And yes, men couldn’t play women’s roles for a time after 1660. However, though he lost his career of playing women’s roles, he ended up becoming just as successful playing men {including Othello} as well as married and had children. So he actually didn’t become unemployable contrary to Stage Beauty {unlike some of his peers so his fall may be forgiven}. Also, I don’t think music halls came around until the 1830s.)

Edward Kynaston was a lover of the George Villiers, the Duke of Buckingham. (There were rumors and lampoons, but we’re not sure if any of that was true. Yet, he’s said to be sexually ambiguous.)

Edward Kynaston’s dresser Maria Hughes ended up becoming one of the first actresses in Great Britain under “Margaret Hughes” who he later fell in love with. (Contrary to Stage Beauty,  the only person Kynaston and Margaret Hughes may have known in real life was Margaret’s patron Sir Charles Sedley, whom she was said to be his lover {as well as rumored to be sleeping with Charles II}. However, Margaret Hughes was probably her real name and she wasn’t Kynaston’s dresser nor lover. Her great love was King Charles II’s cousin, Prince Rupert on the Rhine {known for taking his poodle into battle} and she would have a daughter by him as well as remain with him for the rest of his life.)

Elizabeth Barry:

Elizabeth Barry was a struggling an untalented actress until she met John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester who coached her. (This is a myth written by Edward Curll famous for his inaccurate biographies. She was already established actress in both comedy and tragedy and she wasn’t considered an attractive woman. Still, she did receive acting lessons from the Earl of Rochester for two years before becoming his mistress.)

King James II:

James II was a cruel tyrant. (He’s more or less seen now as a stupid, stubborn man with an exaggerated sense of his own rights. Of course, being openly Catholic and having a healthy son by his second wife didn’t help his case with the British. Also, he was in favor of religious toleration among all Christians, which was a rather progressive policy in Europe at the time but this was one of reasons why the mainstream Anglicans hated him and wanted him deposed {because they thought such policy would make England and Scotland officially Catholic}. Nevertheless, New York {city and state} was named after this guy.)

James II was king in 1690. (He had been deposed by then by his daughter and son-in-law during the Glorious Revolution.)


Saint Paul’s Cathedral was designed during the Great Plague in the 17th century. (It wasn’t built until after the Great Fire of London in 1666.)

The Earl of Essex and the Earl of Manchester sat in the House of Commons. (They sat in the House of Lords, which would prohibit them from sitting in the House of Commons.)