Oliver Cromwell

Annie Lee | Apr 23, 2023

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Oliver Cromwell (April 25, 1599-London, September 3, 1658) was an English political and military leader. He turned England into a republic called the Commonwealth of England.

For the first forty years of his life he was a middle-class landowner, but he rose meteorically to command the New Model Army and eventually imposed his leadership over England, Scotland and Ireland as Lord Protector from December 16, 1653, until the day of his death. He has since become a highly controversial figure in English history.

His career is full of contradictions. He was a regicide who questioned whether or not to accept the crown for himself and finally decided not to do so, but accumulated more power than Charles I of England himself. He was a parliamentarian who ordered his soldiers to dissolve parliaments. A fanatical religious follower of Protestant Christianity, his campaigns of conquest of Ireland and Scotland were brutal even by the standards of the time, as he considered that he was fighting against heretics. Under his command, the Protectorate allowed blasphemers to be tortured, in addition to cruelly persecuting Catholics. He was in favor of the criterion of equity in justice, but locked up those who criticized his policy of increasing taxes without the permission of the Parliament of England.

His admirers cite him as a strong, stabilizing, statesmanlike leader who won international respect, overthrew tyranny and promoted the republic and freedom. His critics consider him an openly ambitious hypocrite who betrayed the cause of freedom, imposed a puritanical value system and showed scant respect for the country's traditions. When the royalists returned to power, his corpse was dug up, hung in chains and beheaded, and his head exposed for years to public scorn. In a 2002 BBC poll (The 100 Greatest Britons), he is ranked number 10.

First years

Oliver Cromwell was descended from Katherine Cromwell (born c. 1482), elder sister of Thomas Cromwell, a Tudor statesman. Katherine was married to Morgan ap Williams, son of William ap Yevan of Wales and Joan Tudor. The family tree continued with Richard Cromwell (1500-1544), Henry Cromwell (1524-January 6, 1603), and Oliver's father, Robert Cromwell (1560-1617), who married Elizabeth Steward or Stewart (1564-1654) on April 25, 1599, the day of Oliver's birth.

There are records of his baptism and passage through Huntingdon Grammar School. Later he moved to Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, a newly founded center with a strongly Puritan ideology. He left without graduating in June 1617, immediately after the death of his father. His early biographers claimed that he also attended Lincoln's Inn, but no records or documentary evidence of such a stay are preserved in his archives. It is likely that he returned home to Huntingdon, as with his widowed mother and seven unmarried sisters his presence was needed to take care of the family.

The main event in the 1620s was his marriage to Elizabeth Bourchier on August 22, 1620. They had seven children: his successor, Richard Cromwell, was the third. Cromwell's father-in-law, Sir James Bourchier, was a London merchant with extensive rural holdings in Essex and strong connections with Puritan families in the area. The marriage brought Cromwell into contact with Oliver St John and other prominent members of the London business community, and more importantly, into the sphere of influence of the Earls of Warwick and Holland. His membership of this network of contacts would be crucial in the success of his future political and military career. However, at this historical moment there is little record of the religion he professed. His letter in 1626 to Henry Downhall-an Arminian minister-suggests that he was not yet influenced by radical Puritanism at this time. Nevertheless, there is evidence that he went through a period of personal crisis in the late 1620s and early 1630s. He sought treatment for valde melancolicus (depression) from Dr. Théodore de Mayerne of London in 1628. He was also involved in a quarrel between the people of Huntingdon, initiated on the occasion of a new charter of rights of the people, as a result of which he was required in the presence of the Privy Council in 1630.

In 1631 he sold most of his property in Huntingdon-possibly as a result of the aforementioned dispute-and moved to a farm in St. Ives, Cambridgeshire. The change of residence marked a marked setback in his social position, and seems to have had a significant emotional and spiritual impact. In a letter of 1638, he gives an account of his conversion and how, having been "the chief of sinners," he had been called to remain among "the congregation of the first born." By 1638 Cromwell is undoubtedly already a committed Puritan and firmly associated with the independent vision of religious freedom for all Protestants. He had also established important ties with prominent families of the religious reform movement in Essex and London. In his own view, he had come through a period of crisis through divine providence.

Member of Parliament: 1628-1629 and 1640-1642

Cromwell was elected to the House of Commons (the lower house of the Parliament of England) as MP for Huntingdon in the Parliament of 1628-1629, under the patronage of the Montagu family. He left little impression on it: the parliamentary records are reasonably complete, and show only one speech by him, against the Arminian bishop Richard Neile, which was also poorly received.

Charles I of England dissolved Parliament in 1629 and ruled without it for the next eleven years. Driven by the pressing need for funds with which to alleviate the financial disaster caused by the repression of the Scottish rebellion, known as the Bishops' War, he was forced to reconvene Parliament in 1640 to ask them to legitimize new taxes.

As in 1628, it is very likely that Cromwell, MP for Cambridge, owed his election to the patronage of others. That would explain, among other things, why in the first week of the new Parliament's life he devoted himself to presenting a petition for the release of John Lilburne, who at that time had become a Puritan martyr after being arrested for importing religious tracts from Holland. In any case, during the first two years of the new Parliament, Cromwell was intimately linked to the group of aristocrats, belonging to the House of Lords, with whom he had been associated in the 1630s, such as the Earls of Essex, Warwick and Bedford, as well as the Viscount of Saye and Sele.

This group had as its main objective religious reform, control of the executive by regularized parliaments, and the moderate extension of freedom of conscience. For example, in May 1641, Cromwell promoted the second reading of the Annual Parliaments Act, and two years later he played a leading role in drafting the Branch and Root Act for the abolition of episcopacy.

Military Commander: 1642-1646

Failure to resolve the issues in dispute in parliament led to armed conflict between parliamentarians and royalists in the autumn of 1642. Supporters of parliament tended to be concentrated in London, the southeast of the country, and the midlands, while royalists were concentrated in the north, west, and Wales.

Before joining the army of parliament, Cromwell counted only his membership in the armed bands of the local county militia as any military experience. Aged 43, he recruited a squadron of cavalry in Cambridgeshire after intercepting a shipment of silver from the Cambridge colleges bound for the king. The squadron became a regiment during the winter of 1642-43, forming part of the Eastern Association under the command of the Earl of Manchester. Cromwell gained experience and victories in a series of victorious actions in East Anglia, and then in the pitched battle of Marston Moor and the indecisive Second Battle of Newbury.

His experience at Newbury led him into a fierce dispute with the Earl of Manchester, whom he considered very unenthusiastic in his conduct of the war. Manchester later accused Cromwell of recruiting people of "low estate" into the army, to which Cromwell replied, "If honest, God-fearing men are chosen to be captains, honest men will follow them.... I prefer a humbly dressed captain who knows what he fights for and loves what he knows, rather than one of those you call gentlemen who are nothing more than that." After Parliament accepted the Abnegation Resolution - which removed members of Parliament like Manchester from the line of command, but did not affect Cromwell himself - it was also accepted that the army be "remodelled", under a more national structure, replacing the old associations of units with counties. In June 1645 the formation of the New Model Army was completed, with Sir Thomas Fairfax in command, and Cromwell as second in rank as lieutenant general of cavalry. He led his units with great success in the battle of Naseby. He also took part in the sieges of Bridgwater, Sherborne, Bristol, Devizes and Winchester, and spent the first half of 1646 eliminating the remaining pockets of resistance in Devon and Cornwall.

Cromwell had no theoretical training in military tactics, and followed the general basic practice of dividing his cavalry into three ranks and charging with it. This method was based much more on striking power than on firepower. Thus, Cromwell's strength as a military leader lay primarily in his instinctive ability to lead and train his men, and in his own moral strength. In a war executed largely by amateurs, both of these characteristics were very significant, and undoubtedly contributed to the discipline displayed by Cromwell's cavalry.

Politics: 1647-1649

In February 1647 he suffered an illness that kept him out of political life for more than a month. By the time he had recovered, parliamentarians were divided over the issue of the king. A majority in both houses attempted to force a settlement that would monetarily liquidate and discharge the army of Scotland, disband most of the New Model Army, and reinstate Charles I in exchange for a Presbyterian positioning of the country vis-à-vis the church. However, Cromwell's belief in freedom of conscience and congregation forced him to reject the Scottish model of Presbyterianism, which threatened to replace one authoritarian hierarchy with another. The New Model Army opposed these changes, but the House of Commons declared such opposition illegal. During May 1647, Cromwell was sent to army headquarters at Saffron Walden to negotiate with them, but failed to reach an agreement. A month later, in June 1647, a squadron of cavalry under the command of Cornet George Joyce brought the king out of the prison in which he was being held by parliament. Although it is known that Cromwell had met with Joyce on May 31, it is impossible to know for certain what his exact role in the incident was.

Cromwell and Henry Ireton published a manifesto, the Heads of Proposals, aimed at establishing the powers of the executive, seating regularly elected parliaments, and restoring a non-binding Episcopalian settlement. Many in the army, such as the Levellers led by John Lilburne, thought it was insufficient, which led to tense debates at Putney during the autumn of 1647 between Cromwell, Ireton, and the army. The Putney Debates ended without any resolution. The debates, as well as Charles I's escape from Hampton Court on November 12, possibly stiffened Cromwell's resolve against the king. The inability to reach a political settlement with the king eventually led to the Second English Civil War in 1648. At the Battle of Preston, Cromwell, as commander-in-chief for the first time in a major battle, won a brilliant victory against the king's Scottish allies.

During 1648, Cromwell's letters and speeches were filled with biblical imagery, largely meditations on the meaning of particular passages. For example, after the Battle of Preston, his study of Psalms 17 and 105 led him to tell Parliament that "those who are relentless and cease not to ravage the land shall be speedily destroyed and driven out of it." In a letter to Oliver St. John in September 1648, he urges him to read Isaiah - 8, where the kingdom falls and only the faithful survive. This letter suggests that it was Cromwell's faith, rather than a commitment to radical policies, coupled with Parliament's decision to enter into negotiations with the king at the Treaty of Newport, that led him to believe that God himself spoke against both Parliament and the King as legal authorities. For Cromwell, the army was now God's chosen instrument. The episode is indicative of Cromwell's firm belief in providentialism, that is, the belief that God himself was intervening in worldly affairs through the actions of "chosen people" (whom God had "provided" for that purpose). Cromwell believed, during the Civil Wars, that he himself was one such person, and interpreted victories as indications of God's approval of his actions, just as defeats were signs that God wished to direct him in another direction.

In December 1648, members of Parliament who wished to continue negotiating with the king were cut off by a squad of soldiers led by Colonel Thomas Pride, an episode that soon became known as Pride's Purge. The remaining members of what would thereafter be known as the Rump Parliament agreed that Charles I should be tried for treason. A court was established, and Charles' death sentence was eventually signed by 59 of its members, including Cromwell. Charles was executed on January 30, 1649, the first time a monarch had been publicly executed in Western history. The following months Cromwell was busy preparing for the invasion of Ireland. Following the suppression of the Leveller mutinies at Andover, Hampshire, and Burford in May, Cromwell left Bristol for Ireland at the end of July.

Campaign in Ireland: 1649-1650

Cromwell led the Parliamentary invasion of Ireland of 1649-1650, with two simultaneous objectives: to eliminate the military threat to the English Commonwealth posed by the alliance between the Catholics of the Irish Confederation and the English Royalists (signed in 1649) and to punish the Irish in their struggle for independence, following their 1641 rebellion against the English invaders. The English parliament had long been planning the reconquest of Ireland, which they considered a province of England, having unsuccessfully sent an invasion force there in 1647. However, Cromwell's invasion of 1649 was much larger and, with the civil war in England over, he was now able to receive regular reinforcements and supplies. By the summer of 1649, the Royalist-Irish alliance was considered the greatest threat facing the Commonwealth. The Irish chiefs considered their forces of lesser power than the English, so instead of fighting in the open field (Cromwell's specialty, because of the use of cavalry) they sought refuge in various fortresses. Cromwell invented a simple but effective tactic (typical of him): He attacked with artillery the walls of the fortresses (in the Ireland of the time, there were few that could resist the attacks of cannons) at two points simultaneously, to divide the enemy forces until breaking the walls and attack with the infantry until taking the square.

The campaign he undertook lasted nine months and was as effective as it was short, although it did not end the war in Ireland. Before the invasion, the parliamentary forces only held enclaves in Dublin and Derry. When Cromwell left the island, they controlled most of the eastern and northern parts of the country. After landing in Dublin on August 15, 1649 (which had only just been secured for Parliament in the recent Battle of Rathmines), Cromwell took the fortified ports of Drogheda and Wexford in order to secure supply lines from England. At the siege of Drogheda in September 1649, Cromwell's troops massacred about 3500 people after conquering the town. Among those killed were about 2700 Royalist soldiers and all the townspeople bearing arms, as well as civilians, prisoners and Catholic chaplains. At the sack of Wexford in October, another massacre took place in very confused circumstances. While Cromwell himself was attempting to negotiate terms of surrender, soldiers of the New Model Army stormed into the town, killed 2000 Irish soldiers and some 1500 civilians, and set fire to most of the town. These actions are still remembered in the historical memory of Irish nationalism. Both atrocities were not exceptional in the Irish War that began in 1641, although they are still well remembered today, partly due to a contemporary campaign by the Royalists to portray Cromwell as a tyrant who indiscriminately slaughtered civilians everywhere.

After the fall of Drogheda, Cromwell sent a column towards Ulster in order to secure the north of the country, and proceeded to besiege Waterford, Kilkenny and Clonmel, in the southeast of the island. Kilkenny surrendered with conditions, as did many other towns such as New Ross and Carlow, but Cromwell failed to take Waterford, and in May 1650 he lost nearly 2000 men in repulsed assaults before managing to take the town of Clonmel. One of his greatest victories in Ireland was diplomatic rather than military: with the help of the Earl of Orrery, he persuaded the Protestant Royalist troops in Cork to change sides and fight for Parliament. Just then news reached him that Charles II had landed in Scotland and had been proclaimed king by the Covenanters, so he immediately returned to England to deal with the new threat. Parliamentary conquests in Ireland continued for three more years after Cromwell's departure. The campaigns of his successors, Henry Ireton and Edmund Ludlow, consisted mainly of long sieges of fortified towns and guerrilla warfare in the countryside.

The extent of the brutality of which Cromwell is accused in Ireland has long been debated. Although atrocities were committed, they did not constitute a form of genocide against the Irish, although it is clear that Cromwell viewed the Irish Catholics as enemies in general. During the civil wars, a strong hatred arose on the Parliamentary side for the Irish Catholics, whom the English considered little more than inferior "savages". Also, the desire to avenge the massacres of the 1641 rebellion was added to the general climate of Protestant hostility, so that Cromwell's animosity towards the Irish was religious as well as political. He was passionately opposed to the Catholic Church, which he saw as denying the primacy of the Bible in favor of clerical and papal authority, and which he blamed for the tyrannization and persecution of Protestants in Europe. Cromwell's association between Catholics and persecution was reinforced by the Irish rebellion of 1641, which was marked by massacres of English and Scottish Protestant settlers by native Irish Catholics, although these were greatly exaggerated in Puritan circles in England (from 4000 to over 120 000 killed). These factors contributed to Cromwell's harshness during his military campaign in Ireland.

In September 1649, he justified the sack of Drogheda as revenge for the massacres of Protestant settlers in Ulster during the Irish rebellion of 1641, calling the slaughter wrought by his troops "the righteous judgment of God on those barbarians, who have drenched their hands in so much innocent blood." In reality, Drogheda was never in rebel hands in 1641; most of its garrison were English Royalists.

His religious stance, however, admits of little dispute. Addressing the Irish defenders of New Ross in 1649, who were negotiating the surrender of the town, Cromwell said, "I meddle with no man's conscience, but if by liberty of conscience you mean liberty to celebrate mass ... then where Parliament has authority, that will not be allowed." In a letter to the Irish Catholic bishops later in the year, he wrote: "You are part of Antichrist, and shortly you will all have blood to drink. Similarly, the records of many churches, such as Kilkenny Cathedral, accuse Cromwell of having defaced and desecrated Catholic images and churches.

On the other hand, when Cromwell arrived in Ireland, he ordered that supplies were not to be requisitioned from the civilian inhabitants, and that everything his troops needed was to be bought from the people fairly. In fact, several English soldiers were hanged for disobeying that order. Regarding the Drogheda massacre, Cromwell's orders followed the prevailing military protocol of the time, whereby a garrison was first offered the option to surrender and receive fair treatment and protection from the attacking force. The refusal of the Drogheda garrison to surrender, even after its walls had been breached, means that the orders-"I forbade them to offer surrender to any in the town who were in arms"-while severe, were not unusual by the standards of the time. Cromwell wished the severity at Drogheda to act as a deterrent to Irish resistance, in his own words, "It will prevent the shedding of blood in the future." Moreover, where he negotiated the surrender of fortified towns, as at Carlow, New Ross and Clonmel, he respected the terms of surrender and protected the lives and property of the locals.

Cromwell never accepted any responsibility for the murder of civilians, and claimed that he had acted harshly, but only against those "up in arms". In fact, the worst atrocities he committed, such as forced expulsions, murders, and deportations as slave labor to Bermuda and Barbados, were carried out by his subordinates after he left for England. William Petty estimated in his demographic survey of Ireland in the 1650s that the war of 1641-1653 resulted in the death or exile of more than 600,000 people, or about one-third of the pre-war population. After Cromwell's conquest, the public practice of the Catholic rite was forbidden, Catholic clergymen were executed as soon as they were captured, and all Catholic lands and properties were confiscated following the Act for the colonization of Ireland of 1652, and given to Scottish and English colonists, Parliament's financial creditors and its soldiers (see Colonizations of Ireland).

Scottish Campaign: 1650-1651

Cromwell left Ireland in May 1650, and within several months invaded Scotland, after its inhabitants had proclaimed Charles II, son of Charles I, the rightful king of England. His view of the Scottish Presbyterians was much less hostile than his view of the Irish Catholics; after all, many of them had been his allies during the First Civil War. Cromwell tended to see the Scots as a people "afraid of His name He made a famous appeal to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, urging them to see the error of their alliance with the king: "I implore you, by the bowels of Christ, think it possible that you may be wrong."

After his plea was rejected, Cromwell's veteran troops set out to invade Scotland. At first, the campaign went badly, as his soldiers suffered from a chronic lack of supplies and were held up by fortifications under the control of Scottish troops led by David Leslie. The Parliamentary army was on the verge of evacuation by sea from Dunbar. However, on September 3, 1650, Cromwell unexpectedly crushed the bulk of the Convenanter army at the Battle of Dunbar, in which 4,000 Scottish soldiers were killed, 10,000 more were taken prisoner and the capital, Edinburgh, was captured. The victory was of such magnitude that Cromwell himself called it "a high gesture of God's Providence to us one of the most signal gifts that God has given to England and His people."

The following year, Charles II and his Scottish allies made a desperate attempt to invade England and conquer London while Cromwell was busy in Scotland. However, he returned south and trapped them at Worcester in September. In the ensuing battle, the English commander's forces annihilated the last large Scottish Royalist army. Many of the Scottish prisoners captured during the campaign died of disease and others were sent to penal colonies in Barbados. In the latter stages of the Scottish campaign, Cromwell's men under George Monck sacked what was then the town of Dundee. During the Commonwealth period, Scotland was governed from England and kept under military occupation by a line of fortifications sealing off the northern ranges, which had provided soldiers for Scotland's armies, separating them from the rest of the country. The practice of Presbyterianism was permitted, as it had always been, but the Church of Scotland no longer had the backing of the civil courts of justice to enforce its rules.

Cromwell's conquest, though not exactly well received, left no trace of rancor in Scotland. The government of the Commonwealth and Protectorate was for the most part peaceful and just, and there were no major confiscations of land or property. In Ireland, by contrast, most land ownership was transferred from the native population of Catholic Scots to Parliamentary creditors, Protestant settlers from England, and veterans of the New Model Army. That created a poisoned inheritance that subsisted well beyond the memories left by the sacking of Drogheda and Wexford. Although he is not remembered extremely favorably, Oliver Cromwell's name is not received with nearly as much hatred in Scotland as it is in Ireland.

The Commonwealth: 1649-1653

After the execution of the king, a republic known as the Commonwealth of England was established. A Council of State was instituted to manage the country, which included Cromwell among its members. Its real power came from the army; Cromwell tried unsuccessfully to unify the original group of "Royal Independents" centered around St John, Saye and Sele, but only St John agreed to retain his seat in Parliament. From mid-1649 until 1651, while Cromwell was away on campaign, with the King deposed (and along with him the unifying factor in his cause), the various factions of Parliament began to become embroiled in internal disputes. Upon his return, Cromwell tried to influence the members of Parliament to set the date for the next election, uniting the three kingdoms under a single policy and launching a tolerant national church. However, the "Rump Parliament" (Rump Parliament) vacillated on the choice of date for the election, and although it put in place a basic freedom of conscience, it failed to work out an alternative to religious taxation, nor did it succeed in dismantling other aspects of the existing religious situation. Frustrated, Cromwell eventually dissolved Parliament in 1653.

After the dissolution of the Rabadilla Parliament, power passed temporarily to a council that debated the form the constitution should take. This accepted General Thomas Harrison's suggestion to form a Sanhedrin of saints. Cromwell did not subscribe to the apocalyptic and Quintomonarchist views of Harrison, who saw a Sanhedrin as the starting point of the reign of Jesus Christ on earth. But he was attracted to the idea of an assembly made up of a mixture of sects. In his speech inaugurating such an assembly on July 4, 1653, Cromwell gave thanks to Divine Providence, which he held responsible for bringing England to this point and initiating them into their divine mission: "Surely God has called you to this task by, I believe, the most wonderful providences that ever fell upon the children of men in so short a time." Sometimes called the "Parliament of Saints," the assembly was eventually known as the "Barebone Parliament," in a pun employing the name of one of its members, Praise-God Barebone. Eventually, the assembly was charged with finding a permanent constitutional and religious settlement. Cromwell was invited to join, but declined the offer. However, the failure of the assembly to achieve its objectives led its members to vote for its dissolution on December 12, 1653.

The protectorate: 1653-1658

After the dissolution of the Barebone Parliament, John Lambert pushed through a new constitution known as the Instrument of Government, much like the previous Heads of Proposals. It made Cromwell a lord protector for life to attain "the highest magistracy and administration of the government." He had the power to summon and dissolve parliaments, but bound by the Instrument to seek a majority vote for the Council of State. However, Cromwell's power was also reinforced by his great popularity in the army, which he had enlarged during the civil wars, and which he prudently preserved in good shape thereafter. Cromwell accepted the oath as lord protector on December 15, 1653.

The First Protectorate Parliament met on September 3, 1654, and after some initial gestures approving measures that Cromwell had taken, began work on a moderate program of constitutional reforms. Instead of opposing Parliament's reforms, Cromwell dissolved it on January 22, 1655. Following a royalist uprising led by Sir John Penruddock, Cromwell (influenced by Lambert) divided England into military districts governed by generals (the exact rank was Major General) who were answerable only to him. The fifteen generals-called "divine governors"-were indispensable not only to national security, but also to Cromwell's moral crusade. They not only supervised the militia forces and commissions of safety, but also collected taxes and ensured support for the government in the English and Welsh provinces.

Commissioners were established in each county to secure peace in the Commonwealth. While some of them were career politicians, most were radical Puritans who welcomed the generals with open arms and embarked on their work with enthusiasm. However, the generals lasted less than a year. Many saw them as a threat to their authority and reform efforts. Their position was further battered when the Second Protectorate Parliament-constituted in September 1656-voted against a tax proposal made by Major General John Desborough in order to provide their task with financial resources. Ultimately, it was Cromwell's inability to support his men, sacrificing them to his political opponents, that would cause the downfall of them all. Moreover, his activities between November 1655 and September 1656 had reopened the wounds of the 1640s and widened antipathies toward the regime.

During this period, Cromwell also faced challenges in his foreign policy. The First Anglo-Dutch War, which broke out in 1652, against the United Provinces of the Netherlands, was finally won by Admiral Robert Blake in 1654. Commercial rivalry with Spain in the Indies led to the Anglo-Spanish War. As Lord Protector he was well aware of the contribution that the Jewish community had made to the economic development of Holland, which had become England's main commercial rival. This, combined with Cromwell's tolerance of the right of private worship for all non-evangelical Puritans, led him to approve the resettlement of Jews in England, 350 years after they had been expelled from England by Edward I, in the hope that they would help speed the nation's recovery from the civil wars.

In 1657, Parliament offered Cromwell the crown as part of a new constitutional amendment, creating a great dilemma for the man who had been instrumental in abolishing the monarchy. For six weeks he wrestled with doubts, trying to make up his mind. Although he was attracted by the stability that the government would gain from the office, in a speech on April 13, 1657, he made it clear that divine providence had spoken against the royal figure: "I will not try to establish that which Providence has destroyed and cast into the dust, and I will not build Jericho again". The reference to Jericho spoke of an earlier time, in 1655, when Cromwell learned of the defeat of an expedition against the island of Hispaniola, in the Greater Antilles, at which time he compared himself to Achan, who had reaped a defeat for the Israelites after bringing back to his camp some of the plunder obtained during the capture of Jericho.

Instead, Cromwell was ceremoniously reinstated as Lord Protector, with greater powers than he had previously held, at the Palace of Westminster, seated in St. Edward's Chair, which had been moved to Westminster Abbey especially for the occasion. The event largely mimicked a coronation, using many of its symbols and paraphernalia, such as the ermine-edged purple cloak, sword of justice, and scepter (but no crown or orb). Most notably, the office of lord protector remained non-hereditary, although Cromwell could now name his successor. His new rights and powers were written into the Humble Petition and Advice, a legislative instrument that replaced the Instrument of Government. However, Cromwell himself took pains to minimize his own role, describing himself as a constable or guardian.

Death and posthumous execution

It is believed that Cromwell suffered from malaria (probably contracted during his campaigns in Ireland) and kidney stone. In 1658 he suffered from both at the same time: a sudden flare-up of fevers caused by malaria, followed immediately by an attack of kidney stone symptoms. A Venetian physician followed the illness that eventually caused Cromwell's death, claiming that his personal physicians were treating him poorly, leading to his rapid decline and death. Undoubtedly hastening his decline was the death of his favorite daughter, Elizabeth Cromwell, on August 29, 1658, at age 29. He died at Whitehall on September 3, 1658, the anniversary of his great victories at Dunbar and Worcester.

He was succeeded as lord protector by his son Richard. Although not entirely without ability, Richard had no support in either Parliament or the army, and was forced to resign in the spring of 1659, bringing the Protectorate to its end. In the immediate aftermath of his abdication, the head of the army, George Monck, took power for less than a year, at which time Parliament reinstated Charles II of England as king.

In 1661 his body was exhumed from Westminster Abbey and subjected to the ritual of posthumous execution. The process took place, symbolically, on January 30, the same date on which Charles I of England was executed. His body was hung in chains at Tyburn for a time, until it was finally thrown into a pit, while his decapitated head was displayed on top of a pole nailed to the entrance of Westminster Abbey until 1685. After that year, the head changed hands until it was finally buried in the grounds of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, in 1960, where Oliver had studied.

During his lifetime, some pamphlets painted Cromwell as a hypocrite motivated by the lust for power-for example, The Machiavellian Cromwell and The Jugglers Discovered, both part of an attack on Cromwell by the Levellers after 1647-and portray him as a Machiavellian figure (e.g. Edward Sexby in his famous pamphlet To Kill is Not Murder). Some more positive contemporary assessments-for example John Spittlehouse in A Discarded Warning Piece-used to compare him to Moses rescuing the English and leading them to safety through the Red Sea of civil wars. Several biographies were published shortly after his death. One example is The Perfect Politician, by the anonymous L.S., which describes how Cromwell "loved men more than books" and gives a nuanced assessment of him as an energetic defender of liberty of conscience defeated by pride and ambition.

In 1667 Edward Hyde, 1st Earl of Clarendon, published another, equally nuanced but less positive assessment in his History of the Rebellion and Civil Wars in England. Hyde declared that Cromwell "will be looked upon by posterity as a brave bad man." He argued that Cromwell's rise to power had been aided not only by his great spirit and energy, but also by his wickedness and cruelty. Hyde never knew Cromwell personally, and his book was written after the English restoration of the monarchy, which may have influenced his narrative. But despite this, there are still those who consider it "a masterpiece".

In the early eighteenth century, Cromwell's image began to be adopted and modified by the Whigs as part of their larger project of giving historical legitimation to their political aims. A version of Edmund Ludlow's Memoirs, rewritten by John Toland in order to remove the radical Puritan elements and replace them with a branch of republicanism centered on Whig historiography, presented Cromwell's Protectorate as a military tyranny. Through Ludlow, Toland portrayed Cromwell as a despot who crushed the beginnings of democratic government in the 1640s.

Thomas Carlyle initiated a revision of the figure of Cromwell in the 1840s, presenting Cromwell as a hero in the battle between good and evil, and a model for restoring morality to an age that Carlyle saw as dominated by timidity, meaningless rhetoric, and compromised morals. Cromwell's actions, including his campaigns in Ireland and the dissolution of the Long Parliament, according to Carlyle were to be appreciated and praised as a whole. However, readers were free to interpret Carlyle selectively. His image of Cromwell pleased nonconformists, who saw him as a champion of sectarian independence, and also working-class radicals (including some Marxists), for whom he was a man of the people who stood up to the oppression of the monarchy and the aristocratic class.

Nonconformist churches supported a campaign to erect a statue of Cromwell outside the Palace of Westminster; Ford Maddox Brown and other artists depicted a heroic Cromwell in paintings such as Cromwell, Protector of the Waldensians. In 1899 all commemorative events celebrating the anniversary of Cromwell's birth were organized by the Congregationalist and Baptist churches. At the London ceremony, David Lloyd George said that he believed in Cromwell because "he was a great maverick fighter".

By the end of the nineteenth century, the Cromwell shown by Carlyle, insisting on the importance of Puritan morality and seriousness, had been assimilated into Whig and Liberal Party historiography. Samuel Rawson Gardiner, an Oxford University historian and specialist on the Civil War, concluded that "the man-as is always the case with the noblest-was greater than his work." Gardiner insisted on Cromwell's dynamic and changeable character and his role in dismantling absolute monarchy, while underestimating his religious conviction. Cromwell's foreign policy also provided Gardiner with an appealing antecedent to Victorian imperial expansion, when it highlighted the "constancy of effort to make England greater by land and sea."

In the first half of the 20th century, Cromwell's reputation was often influenced by the rise of totalitarian movements in Germany, Italy, and other countries in Europe. For example, Wilbur Cortez Abbott, a Harvard historian, devoted most of his career to compiling and editing a multi-volume collection of Cromwell's letters and speeches. In the course of his work, which was published between 1937 and 1947, Abbott began to assert that Cromwell was a proto-fascist. Later historians, however, such as John Morrill, have criticized Abbott's interpretations and his editorial approach. Similarly, Ernest Barker compared the Independents to the Nazis. However, not all historical comparisons made during this period pointed to contemporary military dictators. Leon Trotsky, for example, equated Cromwell with Lenin, arguing that "Lenin is a proletarian Cromwell of the 20th century."

Historians of the late twentieth century have reexamined the nature of Cromwell's faith and his authoritarian regime. Austin Woolrych explored the issue of dictatorship in depth, arguing that Cromwell was subject to two competing forces, his obligation to the army and his desire to achieve a lasting compromise by regaining the confidence of the political nation as a whole. Woolrych argued that the dictatorial elements in Cromwell's government arose not so much from his military origins or the involvement of army officers in civilian government as from his interest in God's people and his conviction that suppressing vice and favoring virtue constituted the primary end of government.

Historians such as John Morrill, Blair Worden and J. C. Davis have developed that theme, revealing the extent to which Cromwell's writings and speeches were replete with biblical references, and arguing accordingly that his radical actions were driven by his zeal for divine reform.

Locally, Cromwell has retained his popularity in Cambridgeshire, where he was known as "The Lord of the Fences". In Cambridge there is a memorial stained glass window in the United Reformed Church, and St. Ives (Cambridgeshire), has erected a monument to him in the town square.

There are several songs and musical works that make reference to Cromwell. For example, the comedy group Monty Python released a song in 1989 entitled "Oliver Cromwell," a parody of his biography. The song "Oliver's Army," by Elvis Costello, discusses the New Model Army. Other songs are much more critical. The song "Young Ned of the Hill," by Terry Woods and Ron Kavana (popularized by The Pogues), criticizes Cromwell's actions in Ireland with the words, "I curse you, Oliver Cromwell, you who raped our motherland, I hope you're rotting in hell for the horrors you sent us."

On his 2004 album You Are the Quarry, British artist Morrissey recorded the song "Irish Blood, English Heart," which contains the lyrics, "I've been dreaming of a time when the English are fed up with Labour and the Tories, and spit on the name of Oliver Cromwell, and denounce this royal line that still praises him, and will praise him forever."

The song "Tobacco Island," by Flogging Molly, talks about how Cromwell deported Irish laborers to Barbados, with the lyrics: "Cromwell and his roundheads bludgeoned everything we knew, shackled lightning bolts of freedom, now we're nothing but stolen goods, dark is the horizon, blackened all over the sun, this rotten cage of Bridgetown is where I now belong.

Finnish doom metal band Reverend Bizarre recorded a song called "Cromwell" as part of their album II Crush the Insects in 2005.

The character of Cromwell has appeared in many films and works of fiction. Victor Hugo wrote a play about Cromwell, entitled Oliver Cromwell, in 1827. In 2003, playwright Steve Newman produced An Evening with Oliver Cromwell, in which he delved into the relationship between Cromwell and Major General Thomas Harrison. The play premiered at Shreeves House in Stratford-upon-Avon, where Cromwell is believed to have stayed before the Battle of Worcester. The character of Cromwell has appeared in films such as The Moonraker (1958), played by John Le Mesurier, in Witchfinder General (1968), played by Patrick Wymark, in Cromwell (1970), played by Richard Harris (who, ironically, was Irish), and in To Kill a King (2003), where he was played by Tim Roth. On television he has been played by Peter Jeffrey in the BBC series By the Sword Divided, and in the BBC docudrama Warts and All (2003) he was played by Jim Carter.


Korr, Charles P. (1975). Cromwell and the New Model Foreign Policy: England's Policy toward France, 1649-1658 (University of California Press), ISBN 0-520-02281-5.


  1. Oliver Cromwell
  2. Oliver Cromwell
  3. ^ The period from Cromwell's appointment in 1653 until his son's resignation in 1659 is known as The Protectorate
  4. Oliver Cromwell, un rey sin corona.
  5. ^ CROWMELL, Richard, su treccani.it. URL consultato il 5 ottobre 2022.
  6. ^ Taverna, Storia del cristianesimo p. 22
  7. ^ ISBN 0-14-013711-4, Penguin, 1970.
  8. ^ NF30tal,2:a uppl, artikel Cromwell, Oliver. band 5. spalt 175.

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