In "Revolutions," episode 9 of Simon Schama's A History of Britain (2001), Schama is at times at his most eloquent. The episode covers the rise of the militant Protestant and Member of Parliament, Oliver Cromwell, the establishment following the execution of Charles I of a British republican Commonwealth (1649-1653)--at first of England, but then of Scotland and Ireland, too--the Commonwealth's descent into becoming the Protectorate (1653-1659)--a military dictatorship under Cromwell--and finally the Restoration of the monarchy (1660).
At the siege of Drogheda, Ireland, in September 1649, Cromwell's troops massacred nearly 3,500 people after the town's capture--including about 2,700 Royalist soldiers, many civilians, prisoners, and Roman Catholic priests. In "Revolutions," an actor reads aloud Cromwell's written endorsement of what had occurred.
This is absolutely authentic Oliver Cromwell, and today it makes for unbearable reading. No, it's not the confession of a genocidal lunatic, but it is the confession of a narrow-minded, pig-headed, Protestant bigot and English imperialist.... Cromwell treated Ireland like the primitive colony he thought it was.
But, Schama also notes that following the Protectorate:
What Oliver Cromwell left behind was not a workable political system, but a vision. Now, he may have been an angry, ruthless, overbearing man, and perhaps even a manic depressive; but, that vision was something of startling sweetness: a sighting of Jerusalem, a place where everyone would be free to receive Christ in their own way, provided that they did not disturb the peace and conscience of anybody else.... But Catholics were excluded from this vision.
Charles II came to the throne not because England needed a successor to Charles I, but because England needed a successor to Oliver Cromwell.