The Embleme of Englands distractions, 1690


This celebrated engraving, known unofficially as ‘Cromwell Between Two Pillars’, underwent a transformation between these two versions, published in 1658 and 1690 respectively. The original print was reworked by Joseph Claver in 1690, when Cromwell’s head was replaced with that of King William III (r. 1689–1702). With the exception of a few minor changes, the iconography remained the same but, in the context of the period, the print had acquired a different meaning. In the aftermath of the Glorious Revolution (1688–89), Jacobite opponents to the new regime likened the new monarch to Cromwell, since both men were considered by them to be illegitimate usurpers of the English Crown. By refashioning the engraving with William III’s head, the meaning of the print had been fundamentally altered.

The transformation of this engraving also prompted the writing of an anonymous, scurrilous poem, ‘On the Late Metamorphosis’, which drew the viewer’s attention to Magna Carta:

‘Tis good King William. See Rome trampled down.
See his victorious sword thrust through the crown.
See his triumphant foot on papists’ necks
See Salus Populi Suprema Lex.
See Magna Charta. Can all this agree
With any man but Oliver and he?

Full title:
The Embleme of Englands distractions as also of her attained, and further expected Freedome, & Happines
Francis Barlow, William Faithorne, Joseph Claver
© Trustees of the British Museum, British Museum Standard Terms of Use
Held by
The British Museum

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