Adrian Tinniswood at Literary Review:
Historians have a bad habit of glossing over the Protectorate. It just isn’t interesting: no drama, no battles, all those drab Puritans cancelling Christmas. Traditionalists tend to lump the four and a half years of Oliver Cromwell’s reign as Lord Protector in with the rest of the Interregnum, just another stage in that embarrassing aberrant gap between one Charles and another. Radicals dismiss it as a betrayal of the revolution and prefer to focus with longing on the Diggers, the Ranters and the Fifth Monarchy Men.
These attitudes have been challenged over the past decade. One thinks of Little and Smith’s Parliaments and Politics during the Cromwellian Protectorate (2007), or Blair Worden’s important essay ‘Oliver Cromwell and the Protectorate’ (2010). Now, in The English Conquest of Jamaica, Carla Gardina Pestana has taken a single event in the life of the Protectorate and produced a gripping study that sheds light not only on governmental thinking in the 1650s but also on the birth of the British Empire itself.
Pestana’s previous book The English Atlantic in an Age of Revolution(2004) was a landmark in the relatively new field of Atlantic studies. Here she takes as her starting point the ‘Western Design’, Cromwell’s ambitious plan, hatched early in 1654, to send an invasion force to the West Indies with the aim of conquering Spanish colonies in the region and establishing a permanent English presence there.