Oliver Cromwell

Oliver Cromwell

Born: April 25, 1599 in Huntingdon, Huntingdonshire
Died: Sept 3, 1658 (at age 59) in Whitehall, London, England
Nationality: English
Famous For: Commander of the Parliamentarian Army

Oliver Cromwell was an English political and military figure. He played a key role in the English Civil War and was instrumental in the events that led to the execution of King Charles I. After several years of indecisive government, Cromwell eventually became Lord Protector of a republic – known as the Commonwealth – comprising England, Scotland, and Ireland.

He was the dominant figure of his political generation and was largely unchallenged in his post until his death. His son, Richard, was a much weaker man and by 1660, the monarchy had been restored.

Cromwell’s Early Years

Cromwell was born in the Cambridge shire town of Huntingdon in April of 1599. His family was fairly influential but not rich, and Cromwell’s early life was quiet. He married in 1620 and lived largely on a meager inheritance from his father. He went into business, but this failed in 1630 and he suffered a breakdown, at which time he was converted to the cause of Puritanism before becoming a farmer in Cornwall.

In 1637, he received a further inheritance, this time from an uncle, and from that time on he was rarely short of cash. He was a Member of Parliament for Huntingdon, a post he secured largely through his upper-class connections.

Early Leadership Roles

When Parliament was recalled by the King in 1640, Cromwell became MP for Cambridge and quickly established himself as an outspoken supporter of the transfer of power – such as the choice of army generals – from the King to Parliament. As the Civil War grew nearer, Cromwell’s certainties hardened, and when hostilities commenced in 1642, he went into the cavalry, quickly rising to the post of Lieutenant General of Horse in East Anglia.

By 1645, when the cavalry was vital in the Parliamentary victory at the Battle of Naseby, he was temporary commander of the combined Parliamentary forces. Cromwell’s abilities were so clear that his position was made permanent two years later.

Increasing Power and Leadership

Cromwell was relatively tolerant by Puritan standards, speaking out against what he saw as extremism by both Presbyterians and Levelers. When the King provoked a rising in Scotland in 1647, Cromwell at first opposed any fate worse than forced abdication for the monarch.

It was only later that he became a vocal proponent of the idea that the country could only be saved by the death of Charles. After the King’s beheading in 1649, Cromwell brutally put down a rebellion in Ireland, then acted similarly in Scotland before returning home to defeat the future Charles II at the Battle of Worcester, finally bringing the Civil War to an end.

The Rump Parliament, consisting of the remains of the pre-war House, continued to sit until 1653, and Cromwell often spoke. He eventually tired of its tendency to talk rather than act and dissolved the Parliament by force.

At first, he hoped to work with various religious leaders to hammer out the terms for a “godly commonwealth,” but after more argument he felt obliged to begin rule by decree as Lord Protector; he strongly resisted suggestions that he should take on the title of King.

After five years of radical, socially rigid Protestant rule, Cromwell died on September 3, 1658. His body was exhumed by Charles II three years later and its head severed to be placed on public display.