: Oliver Cromwell

: Oliver Cromwell


1. Youth

2. Formative influences.

3. Early public career

4. Cromwell in Parliament.

5. The First civil War and Cromwells military career

6. The Second Civil War

7. First chairman of the Council.

8. Cromwell as Lord Protector

a. Foreign policy.

b. Economic policy

c. Relations with Parliament.

9. Death and burial

10. General Characteristic and Assessment.

a. Private life and religious beliefs

b. Political views

11. A calendar of key events in Cromwell's life


Oliver Cromwell, an English soldier and statesman of outstanding gifts and a

forceful character shaped by a devout Calvinist faith, was lord protector of

the republican Commonwealth of England, Scotland, and Ireland from 1653 to

1658. One of the leading generals on the parliamentary side in the English

Civil War against King Charles I, he helped to bring about the overthrow of

the Stuart monarchy, and, as lord protector, he raised his countrys status

once more to that of a leading European power from the decline it had gone

through since the death of Queen Elizabeth I. Cromwell was one of the most

remarkable rulers in modern European history: for although a convinced

Calvinist, he believed deeply in the value of religious toleration. At the

same time his victories at home and abroad helped to enlarge and sustain a

Puritan attitude of mind, both in Great Britain and in North America, that

continued to influence political and social life until recent times.

Cromwell was born at Huntingdon in eastern England on April 25, 1599, the

only son of Robert Cromwell and Elizabeth Steward. His father had been a

member of one of Queen Elizabeths parliaments and, as a landlord and,

justice of the peace, was active in local affairs. Oliver Cromwell was a

minor East Anglian landowner. He made a living by farming and collecting

rents, first in his native Huntingdon, then from 1631 in St Ives and from

1636 in Ely. Cromwell's inheritances from his father, who died in 1617, and

later from a maternal uncle were not great, his income was modest and he had

to support an expanding family - widowed mother, wife and eight children. He

ranked near the bottom of the landed elite, the landowning class often

labeled 'the gentry' which dominated the social and political life of the


Robert Cromwell died when his son was 18, but his widow lived to the age of

89. Oliver went to the local grammar school and then for a year attended

Sidney Sussex College. Cambridge. After his fathers death he left Cambridge

to look after his widowed mother and sisters but is believed to have studied

for a time at Lincolns Inn in London, where country gentlemen were

accustomed to acquire a smattering of law. In August 1620 he married

Elizabeth, daughter of Sir James Bourhier, a merchant in the City of London.

By her he was to have five sons and four daughters.

Formative influences.

Both his father and mother came from Protestant families who had profiled from

the destruction of the monasteries during the reign of King Henry VIII, and it

is probable that they influenced their son in his religious upbringing. Both

his schoolmaster in Huntingdon and the Master of Sidney Sussex College were

enthusiastic Calvinists and strongly anti-Catholic. In his youth Cromwell was

not notably studious, being fond of outdoor sports, such as hunting: hut he was

an avid reader of the Bible, and he admired Sir Walter Raleighs The

History of the World. From his teachers and from his reading Cromwell

learned that the sins of man were punishable on earth but that God, through

His Holy Spirit, could guide the elect into the paths of righteousness.

During his early married life Cromwell, like his father, was profoundly

conscious of his responsibilities to his fellow men and concerned himself

with affairs in his native fenlands, but he was also the victim of a

spiritual and psychological struggle that perplexed his mind and damaged his

health. He does not appear to have experienced conversion until he was nearly

30: later he described to a cousin how he had emerged from darkness into

light. Yet he had been unable to receive the grace of God without feeling a

sense of self, vanity and badness. He was convinced that he had been the

chief of sinners before he learned that he was one of Gods Chosen. He was a

country squire, a bronze-faced, callous-handed man of property. He worked on

his farm, prayed and fasted often and occasionally exhorted the local

congregation during church meetings. A quiet, simple, serious-minded man, he

spoke little. But when he broke his silence, it was with great authority as

he commanded obedience without question or dispute. As a justice of the

peace, he attracted attention to himself by collaring loafers at a tavern and

forcing them to join in singing a hymn. Thus Cromwell earned the respect of

the Parliament locals.

Early public career.

When in the spring of 1640 Cromwell was elected member of Parliament for the

borough of Cambridge, partly because of the important social position he held

in Ely and partly because of his fame as Lord of the Fens. he found himself

among a host of friends at Westminster who, led by John Pym. a veteran

politician from Somerset, were highly critical of the monarchy. Little was

achieved by the Short Parliament (dissolved after three weeks), but, when in

November 1640 Cromwell was again returned by Cambridge to what was to be

known as the Long Parliament, which sat until 1653, his public career began.

Cromwell in Parliament.

Cromwell had already become known in the Parliament of 162829 as a fiery and

somewhat uncouth Puritan, who had launched an attack on Charles ls bishops. He

believed that the individual Christian could establish direct contact with God

through prayer and that the principal duty of the clergy was to inspire the

laity by preaching. Cromwell, in fact, distrusted the whole hierarchy of the

Church of England, though he was never opposed to a state church. He therefore

advocated abolishing the institution of the episcopate and the banning of a set

ritual as prescribed in The Book of Common Prayer. He believed that

Christian congregations ought to be allowed to choose their own ministers, who

should serve them by preaching and extemporaneous prayer. Though he shared the

grievances of his fellow members over taxes, monopolies, and other burdens

imposed on the people, it was his religion that first brought him into

opposition to the Kings government. When in November 1641 John Pym and his

friends presented to King Charles I a Grand Remonstrance. consisting of over

200 clauses, among which was one censuring the bishops and the corrupt part of

the clergy, who cherish formality and superstition in support of their own

ecclesiastical tyranny and usurpation. Cromwell declared that had it not

been passed by the House of Commons he would have sold all he had the next

morning, and never have seen England more.

The Remonstrance was not accepted by the King, and the gulf between him and

his leading critics in the House of Commons widened. A month later Charles

vainly attempted to arrest five of them for treason: Cromwell was not yet

sufficiently prominent to be among these. But when in 1642 the King left

London to raise an army, and events drifted toward civil war, Cromwell began

to distinguish himself not merely as an outspoken Puritan but also as a

practical man capable of organization and leadership. In July he obtained

permission from the House of Commons to allow his constituency of Cambridge

to form and arm companies for its defense, in August he himself rode to

Cambridge to prevent the colleges from sending their plate to be melted down

for the benefit of the King, and as soon as the war began he enlisted a troop

of cavalry in his birthplace of Huntingdon. As a captain he made his first

appearance with his troop in the closing stages of the Battle of Edgehill

(October 23. 1642) where Robert Devereux, 3rd earl of Essex, was commander in

chief for Parliament in the first major contest of the war.

The First civil War and Cromwells military career

During 1643 Cromwell acquired a reputation both as a military organizer and a

fighting man. The Civil Wars, however, which broke out in 1642, when Cromwell

was forty-three, made it clear that he possessed unexpected talents and

abilities. Though totally lacking in previous military experience, he created

and led a superb force of cavalry, the Ironsides, and rose from the rank of

captain to that of lieutenant-general in three years, displaying, at the same

time, a paradoxical mixture of religious sincerity and astute political

opportunism. From the very beginning he had insisted that the men who served

on the parliamentarian side should be carefully chosen and properly trained,

and he made it a point to find loyal and well-behaved men regardless of their

religious beliefs or social status. Appointed a colonel in February, he began

to recruit a first-class cavalry regiment. While he demanded good treatment

and regular payment for his troopers, he exercised strict discipline. If they

swore, they were fined; if drunk, put in the stocks; if they called each

other Roundheadsthus endorsing the contemptuous epithet the Royalists

applied to them because of their close-cropped hairthey were cashiered; and

if they deserted, they were whipped. So successfully did he train his own

cavalrymen that he was able to check and re-form them after they charged in

battle. That was one of Cromwells outstanding gifts as a fighting commander.

From the outbreak of war in summer 1642, Cromwell was an active and committed

officer in the parliamentary army. Initially a captain in charge of a small

body of mounted troops, in 1643 he was promoted to colonel and given command

of his own cavalry regiment.

He was successful in a series of sieges and small battles which helped to

secure East Anglia and the East Midlands against the royalists. At the end of

the year he was appointed second in command of the Eastern Association army,

parliament's largest and most effective regional army, with the rank of

lieutenant-general. During 1644 he contributed to the victory at Marston

Moor, which helped secure the north for parliament, and also campaigned with

mixed results in the south Midlands and Home Counties.

In 1645-6, as second in command of the newly formed main parliamentary army,

the New Model Army, Cromwell played a major role in parliament's victory in

the Midlands, sealed by the battle of Naseby in June 1645, and in the south

and south-west.

But once the war was over the House of Commons wanted to disband the army as

cheaply and quickly as possible. Disappointed, Cromwell told Fairfax in March

1647 that never were the spirits of men more embittered than now. He

devoted himself to trying to reconcile the Parliament with the army and was

appointed a parliamentary commissioner to offer terms on which the army

could be disbanded except for those willing to take part in a campaign in

Ireland. As late as May he thought that the soldiers might agree to disband

but that they would refuse to serve in Ireland and that they were under a

deep sense of some sufferings. When the civilian leaders in the House of

Commons decided that they could not trust the army and ordered it disbanded,

while they hired a Scottish army to protect them, Cromwell, who never liked

the Scots and thought that the English soldiers were being disgracefully

treated, left London and on June 4. 1647, threw in his lot with his fellow


The Second Civil War

For the remainder of this critical year he attempted to find a peaceful

settlement of the kingdoms problems, hut his task seemed insoluble; and soon

his good faith was freely called into question. The army was growing more and

more restive, and on the day Cromwell left London. a party of soldiers seized

Charles I. Cromwell and his son-in-law. Henry Ireton interviewed the King

twice, trying to persuade him to agree to a constitutional settlement that

they then intended to submit to Parliament. At that time Cromwell, no enemy

of the King, was touched by his devotion to his children. His main task,

however, was to overcome the general feeling in the arms that neither the

King nor Parliament could be trusted. When, under pressure from the rank and

file, General Fairfax led the army toward the houses of Parliament in London,

Cromwell still insisted that the authority of Parliament must be upheld; and

in September he also resisted a proposal in the House of Commons that no

further addresses should be made to the King. Just over a month later he took

the chair at meetings of the General Council of the Army (which included

representatives of the private soldiers known as Agitators) and assured them

that he was not committed to any particular form of government and had not

had any underhand dealings with the King. On the other hand, fearing anarchy,

he opposed extremist measures such as the abolition of the monarchy and the

House of Lords and the introduction of a more democratic constitution. But

all Cromwells efforts to act as a mediator between army, Parliament, and

King came to nothing when Charles I escaped from Hampton Court Palace, where

he had been kept in honorable captivity, and fled to the Isle of Wight to

open negotiations with Scottish commissioners offering to restore him to the

throne on their terms. On January 3, 1648, Cromwell abandoned his previous

position and, telling the House of Commons that the King was an obstinate

man, whose heart God had hardened, agreed to a vote of no addresses, which

was carried. The Royalists, encouraged by the Kings agreement with the Scots

and the failure of Cromwell to unite Parliament and the army. took up arms

again and the Second Civil War began. Cromwell commanded a large part of the

New Model Army which first crushed rebellion in South Wales and then at

Preston defeated a Scottish-royalist army of invasion.

The correspondence he conducted during the siege with the governor of the

Isle of Wight, whose duty it was to keep watch on the King, reveals that he

was increasingly turning against Charles. Parliamentary commissioners had

been sent to the island in order to make one final effort to reach an

agreement with the King. But Cromwell told the governor that the King was not

to be trusted, that concessions over religion must not be granted, and that

the army might be considered a lawful power capable of ensuring the safety of

the people and the liberty of all Christians.

While Cromwell, still not entirely decided on his course, lingered in the

north, his son-in-law Ireton and other officers in the southern army took

decisive action. They drew up a remonstrance to Parliament complaining about

the negotiations in the Isle of Wight and demanding the trial of the King as

a Man of Blood. Hesitating up to the last moment, Cromwell, pushed on by

Ireton, by Christmas Day finally accepted Charless trial as an act of

justice. He was one of the 135 commissioners in the High Court of Justice

and, when the King refused to plead, he signed the death warrant.

First chairman of the Council.

After the British Isles were declared a republic and named the Commonwealth,

Oliver Cromwell served as the first chairman of the Council of State, the

executive body of a one-chamber Parliament. During the first three years

following Charles ls execution, however, he was chiefly absorbed in

campaigns against the Royalists in Ireland and Scotland. After the trial and

execution of the King, Cromwell led major military campaigns to establish

English control over Ireland (1649-50) and then Scotland (1650-51),

culminating in the defeat of another Scottish-royalist army of invasion at

Worcester in September 1651. In summer 1650, before embarking for Scotland,

Cromwell had been appointed lord general - that is, commander in chief - of

all the parliamentary forces.

It was a remarkable achievement for a man who probably had no military

experience before 1642. Cromwell consistently attributed his military success

to God's will. Historians point to his personal courage and skill, to his

care in training and equipping his men and to the tight discipline he imposed

both on and off the battlefield.

Cromwell now hoped for pacification, a political settlement, and social reform.

He pressed through an act of oblivion (amnesty). but the army became more and

more discontented with Parliament. It believed that the members were corrupt

and that a new Parliament should be called. Once again Cromwell tried to

mediate between the two antagonists, but his sympathies were with his soldiers.

When he finally came to the conclusion that Parliament must be dissolved and

replaced, he called in his musketeers and on April 20, 1653, expelled

the members from the House. He asserted that they were corrupt and unjust men

and scandalous to the profession of the Gospel; two months later he set up a

nominated assembly to take their place. In a speech on July 4 he told the new

members that they must be just, and. ruling in the fear of God. resolve the

affairs of the nation.

Cromwell seems to have regarded this Little Parliament as a constituent

body capable of establishing a Puritan republic. But just as he had

considered the previous Parliament to be slow and self-seeking, he came to

think that the Assembly of Saints, as it was called, was too hasty and too

radical. He also resented the fact that it did not consult him. Later he

described this experiment of choosing Saints to govern as an example of his

own weakness and folly. He sought moderate courses and also wanted to end

the naval war begun against the Dutch in 1652. When in December 1653, after a

coup detat planned by Major General John Lambert and other officers, the

majority of the Assembly of Saints surrendered power into Cromwells hands,

he decided reluctantly that Providence had chosen him to rule. As commander

in chief appointed by Parliament, he believed that he was the only legally

constituted authority left. He therefore accepted an Instrument of

Government drawn up by Lambert and his fellow officers by which he became

lord protector, ruling the three nations of England. Scotland, and Ireland

with the advice and help of a council of state and a Parliament, which had to

he called every three years.

Cromwell as Lord Protector

Before Cromwell summoned his first Protectorate Parliament on September 3.

1654, he and his Council of State passed more than 80 ordinances embodying a

constructive domestic policy. His aim was to reform the law, to set up a

Puritan Church, to permit toleration outside it to promote education, and to

decentralize administration. The resistance of the lawyers somewhat dampened

his enthusiasm for law reform, but he was able to appoint good judges both in

England and Ireland. He was strongly opposed to severe punishments for minor

crimes, saving:

to see men lose their lives for petty matters ... is a thing that God will

reckon for. For him murder, treason, and rebellion alone were subject to

capital punishment. During his Protectorate, committees known as Triers and

Ejectors were set up to ensure that a high standard of conduct was maintained

by clergy and schoolmasters. In spite of resistance from some members of his

council Cromwell readmitted Jews into the country. He concerned himself with

education, was an excellent chancellor of Oxford University, founded a

college at Durham, and saw to it that grammar schools flourished as they had

never done before.

Foreign policy.

In 1654 Cromwell brought about a satisfactory conclusion to the Anglo-Dutch

War, which, as a contest between fellow Puritans, he had always disliked. The

question then arose of how best to employ his army and navy. His Council of

State was divided, but eventually he resolved to conclude an alliance with

France against Spain. He sent an amphibious expedition to the Spanish West

Indies, and in May 1655 Jamaica was conquered. As the price for sending an

expeditionary force to Spanish Flanders to fight alongside the French he

obtained possession of the port of Dunkirk. He also interested himself in

Scandinavian affairs: although he admired King Charles X of Sweden, his first

consideration in attempting to mediate in the Baltic was the advantages that

would result for his own country. In spite of the emphasis Cromwell laid on

the Protestant interest in some of his speeches, the guiding motive in his

foreign policy was national and not religious benefit.

Economic policy

Economic policy and industrial policy followed mainly traditional lines. But

he opposed monopolies, which were disliked by the country and had only

benefited the court gentry under Queen Elizabeth and the first two Stuarts.

For this reason the East Indian trade was thrown open for three years, but in

the end Cromwell granted the company a new charter (October 1657) in return

for financial aid. Satisfactory methods of borrowing had not yet been

discovered; hencelike those of practically all European governments of his

timeCromwells public finances were by no means free from difficulties.

Relations with Parliament.

When Cromwells first Parliament met he justified the establishment of the

Protectorate as providing for healing and settling the nation after the

civil wars. A radical in some directions, such as in seeking the reform of

the laws. Cromwell now adopted a conservative attitude because he feared that

the overthrow of the monarchy might lead to political collapse. But

vociferous republicans, who became leaders of this newly elected Parliament.

were unwilling to concentrate on legislation, questioning instead the whole

basis of Cromwells government. Cromwell insisted that they must accept the

four fundamentals of the new constitution that, he argued, had been

approved both by God and the people of these nations. The four fundamentals

were government by a single person and Parliament: the regular summoning of

parliaments, which must not he allowed to perpetuate themselves: the

maintenance of liberty of conscience: and the division of the control of the

armed forces between the protector and Parliament. Oliver said that he would

sooner be rolled into my grave and buried with infamy, than I can give my

consent to the willful throwing away of this Government,. so owned by God,

so approved by men. He therefore required all members of Parliament, if they

wished to keep their seats, to sign an engagement to be faithful to a

protector and Parliament and to promise not to alter its basic character.

Except for 100 convinced republicans, the members agreed to do so but were

still more concerned with rewriting the constitution than reforming the laws

as desired by the protector. As soon as he could legitimately do so (January

22, 1655), Cromwell dissolved Parliament.

But with his second Parliament. which he convened in 1656, he encountered

exactly the came difficulty in the end, for the republican leaders, when they

were allowed to resume their seats, tried to destroy the Protectorate on the

ground that they were being forced to return to an Egyptian bondage. Once

again Cromwell emphasized that he had been called to power and that anarchy

or an invasion from abroad would follow if his authority were not upheld.

Thus in February 1658 he felt himself driven again to dissolve Parliament

even though, as a former member, he understood only too well the gravity of

his action.

Death and burial.

Ever since the campaign in Ireland. Cromwells health Death and had been

poor. In August 1658, after his favorite daughter, Elizabeth, died of cancer,

he was taken ill with malaria and taken to London with the intention of

living in St. Jamess Palace. But he died in Whitehall at three oclock on

September 3, the anniversary of two of his greatest victories. His body was

secretly interred in Westminster Abbey on November 10. 13 days before his

state funeral. In 1661, after the restoration of King Charles II, Cromwells

embalmed remains were dug Out of the Westminster tomb and hung up at Tyburn

where criminals were executed. His body was then buried beneath the gallows.

But his head was stuck on a pole on top of Westminster Hall, where it is

known to have remained until the end of Charles IIs reign.

General characteristic and Assessment.

Private life and Religious.

Oliver Cromwell was by no means an extreme Puritan. By nature he was neither

cruel nor intolerant. He cared for his soldiers, and when he differed from

his generals he did not punish them severely. .) He was devoted to his old

mother, his wife, and family. (The stories spread by Royalists that he was an

admirer of a number of ladies have little substance to them.) While he

concerned himself with the spiritual welfare of his children because he

believed that often the children of great men have not the fear of God

before their eves. he committed the mistake of not Private preparing for the

practical tasks of government his eldest life and son. Richard. whom in the

last days of his life he nom- religious mated to succeed him as protector.

Music and hunting beliefs were among his recreations. He delighted in

listening to the organ and was an excellent judge of horses. He was known to

smoke, to drink sherry and small beer, and to prefer English food; he

permitted dancing at the marriage of his youngest daughter. In his younger

days he indulged in horseplay with his soldiers, but he was a dignified

ruler. Sir Peter Lely. the famous Dutch painter, pictured him as he was in

his prime (although the portrait was apparently not painted from life); the

numerous paintings from life by Robert Walker dating from the beginning of

the Civil War show him looking more of a fanatic.

As lord protector, Cromwell was much more tolerant than in his fiery Puritan

youth. Once bishops were abolished and congregations allowed to choose their

own ministers, he was satisfied. Outside the church he permitted all

Christians to practice their own religion so long as they did not create

disorder and unrest. He allowed the use of The Book of Common Prayer in

private houses and even the English Roman Catholics were better off under the

protectorate than they had been before.

Political views.

In politics Cromwell held no fixed views except that he views was opposed to

what he called arbitrary government. Before the execution of Charles I he

contemplated the idea of placing one of Charless sons upon the throne.

Cromwell also resisted the abolition of the House of Lords. In 1647 he said

that he was not wedded and glued to any particular form of government. After

the Assembly of Saints failed, he summoned two elected parliaments (165455 and

165658), but he was never able to control them. His failure to do so has

been attributed to lack of that parliamentary management by the executive

which, in correct dosage, is the essential nourishment of any sound

parliamentary life (HR. Trevor-Roper). In between these two parliaments

(165556) he sanctioned the government of the country by major generals of

the Horse Militia who were made responsible for law and order in groups of

counties. But he soon abandoned this experiment when it met with protests and

reverted to more normal methods of government. In the spring of 1657 he was

tempted by an offer of the crown by a majority in Parliament on the ground that

it fitted in better with existing institutions and the English common law. In

the end he refused to become king because he knew that it would offend his old

republican officers. Nevertheless, in the last year and a half of his life he

ruled according to a form of government known as the Petition and Advice.

This in effect made him a constitutional monarch with a House of Lords whose

members he was allowed to nominate as well as an elected House of Commons. But

he found it equally difficult to govern either with or without parliaments.

A calendar of key events in Cromwell's life



Huntingdon, 25th April



Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge



for Huntingdon



for Cambridge



troops for Parliament



in the Eastern Association



of the Eastern Association


Battle of Marston Moor, 2nd July

Battle of Newbury, 27th October



of the New Model Army

Battle of Naseby, 14th June



Parliamentary army in clashes with Parliament



royalist rising in South Wales

Battle of Preston, 18th August



trial and execution of the King, January

Commands army sent to crush Ireland, August



army sent to crush Scotland, July



of Dunbar, 3rd September



of Worcester, 3rd September



Parliament, 20th April

Becomes Lord Protector, 16th December



first Protectorate Parliament, September



of the Major- Generals established, October



second Protectorate Parliament, September



Parliament's offer of the crown and remains Lord Protector, March - June



at Whitehall, 3rd September



and posthumously 'executed', 30th January

The final resting place of Cromwell's physical remains is a matter of

dispute. However, it is likely that his body lies near Tyburn in London, now

the Marble Arch area. The head believed to be Cromwell's became a rather

undignified collector's piece until bequeathed to his old Cambridge College in

1960 and buried near Sidney Sussex chapel.


1. Internet

2. Britannica pp. 822 826

3. Fraser, Antonia Cromwell. Our Chief of men. London, Ranther, 1976