Conference 2010

The Fall of Tyrants?

On March 13th 2010, the members and guests of the Cambridge History Forum gathered for the annual Conference at Selwyn College, by kind permission of the Master and Fellows. The theme of the conference-The Fall of Tyrants-was developed in two inspiring talks, which proved hugely informative and stimulated much debate. David Smith and Philip Morgan spoke on ďThe Fall of the British RepublicĒ and the ďThe Fall, and Fall of MussoliniĒ respectively.

Our Chairmanís speech examined the events leading up to the collapse of the British Republic and the restoration of the Stuart monarchy in 1660 and explored four key problems. First of all, what was the position when Oliver Cromwell died in September 1658? How far did the republicís demise appear imminent, or even likely, in the immediate aftermath of his death? Secondly, why was Oliverís successor as Lord Protector, his eldest surviving son Richard Cromwell, forced to resign in May 1659? Dr Smith argued that Richardís downfall was by no means inevitable, and that the Army leaders played a key role in bringing it about. Thirdly, he explored the reasons for the republicís collapse in the spring of 1660. Why was it unable to maintain political stability? Here the Armyís role, and the contribution of George Monck, were emphasised in particular. Similarly in his assessment of the reasons why Charles II was restored as King in May 1660, Dr Smith emphasised the critical nature of Monckís role. Thus, the Army which had sustained the British republic for eleven years was ultimately instrumental in bringing about its downfall.

 Dr Philip Morgan of Hull University, explored the Italian Fascist dictator, Benito Mussoliniís misfortune, in falling from power, not once, but twice, in July 1943 and April 1945, a double whammy which considerably affected Italyís post-war transition from a Fascist totalitarian dictatorship to a democratic parliamentary Republic. Parallels were drawn with Napoleonís misfortunes in 1814 and 1815, arguably having serious consequences for the European territorial settlement of 1815 and post-1815 international relations. On a contemporary front, Eastern European countries now learning to manage (or not) the post-1989 transition from Sovietisation to forms of democratic government and capitalist economies, appear to be encountering the same problems of historical remembrance and accountability which challenged the governments and societies of West European countries attempting to reconstruct themselves after being liberated from Nazi occupation during the Second World War.

The historical and contemporary examples explored by Dr Morgan gave a relevance to the study of how Fascist Italy became democratic again. He examined how Mussoliniís dual fall from power helped to determine the re-establishment or renewal of parliamentary democracy after the war, and explored the debate as to whether the ways in which the transition occurred in Italy made it less of a transformation than it initially appeared.

A most pleasing development in recent years has been the growing number of sixth form students and even those still in their GCSE years who now attend the Conference. Thus it was especially encouraging to see these students contributing to the public debate and discussion, which followed. The speakersí zest in engaging in discussion of the broader conference themes was both enlightening and prompted much reflection on potential future developments in our own world. They have our thanks and appreciation. As always, thanks too go to Selwyn College for their facilities and splendid hospitality. Over a fine lunch, we were able to reflect on what had been a thoroughly enjoyable and stimulating event.