Defending the English Revolution in the German Lands

Pell had been sent to Switzerland by Oliver Cromwell to draw the Protestant cantons into a continental protestant alliance under English leadership, and the pamphlet is document to how close relations were during the mid-1650s. It defends the regicide as the necessary act of an oppressed people against its tyrannical ruler and the establishment of a new government to recover and protect the people’s ancient liberties.

Yet, the timing of the translation is odd. While Nedham’s original English version had been published in 1654 shortly after the establishment of the Protectorate, the translation is dated ‘Brachmonat’ or June 1657 and thus after the adoption of the Humble Petition and Advice on 25 May the same year. The Petition and Advice revised the original protectoral constitution in important ways, notably adding an ‘Other House’ of Army grandees to balance the popular assembly, and allowing Cromwell to nominate his own successor after he had rejected the Crown. 

However, the 1657 translation makes no allowances for this update, notably still stating that the Protector is elected. This raises the question if either the translation was so long in the making that it was overtaken by events (we do not know when Pell commissioned it), or that news was travelling so slowly that Pell was not aware of the recent changes in England.

It is also possible, though less likely, that Pell was aware of the adjustments to the Protectoral constitution, but decided that they were insignificant for his purposes. There is also a chance that he was aware of the constitutional change and still had the pamphlet translated in its original form in protest at Cromwell’s assumption of new powers, especially the nomination of a successor. However, it would be strange to register such a protest in German rather than in English.

In any case, it was – for obvious reasons – easier to publish a republican pamphlet in the Swiss cantons than in the Empire, while the text could still circulate across the border too. 

A German translation of Les juges jugez, ses justifiants (1663).

Another pamphlet to travel from the Swiss Confederacy to the Empire was the French-language Les juges jugez, se justifiants (1663) containing scaffold speeches as well as miscellaneous letters and prayers ascribed to the first ten regicides executed under the Restoration government in 1660.

It also contained material on the regicides John Barkstead, Miles Corbet and John Okey, who had been extradited from the United Provinces and were executed in 1662, and on the trials of Major General John Lambert and the Commonwealth politician Henry Vane the Younger. Vane had been sentenced to death, although he was not a regicide, while Lambert’s sentence was commuted to life imprisonment.

Les juges had equally been a work commissioned directly by an Interregnum politician. During his exile in Switzerland after the Restoration, the republican Edmund Ludlow had arranged for the regicides’ Speeches and Prayers to be translated into French to acquaint a wider audience with their plight and to promote the Protestant cause in French-speaking Europe and beyond.

The printer meanwhile added further material on Barkstead, Corbet and Okey as well as on Vane and Lambert. The result was Les juges

Printed at Yverdon, the pamphlet apparently found its way into the Empire, where it was translated into German as Der hingerichteten Richter Rechtfertigung and published in Frankfurt in 1663. A reprint with a new title page appeared in 1664, but wisely none of the two versions carried a full imprint. While few English republican works might have been published in German at the time, it was thus not all royalist reading.

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By thehistorywoman

Historian & journalist.

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