Oliver Cromwell: King in all but Name(1599-1658)

Portrait of Oliver Cromwell by Samuel Cooper
Portrait of Oliver Cromwell by Samuel Cooper


"A few honest men are better than numbers" - Oliver Cromwell


Cromwell: An Overview
Oliver Cromwell c.1649 by Robert Walker
Oliver Cromwell c.1649 by Robert Walker
Oliver Cromwell was born August 25 1599 into the middle gentry class in England. He would remain in obscurity for the first forty years of his existence. His life however would take a dramatic change as the English Civil War began to unfold. Cromwell became the leader of a joint, parliamentarian, military and republican effort which would topple the English Monarchy and the Stuart dynasty. Oliver Cromwell and his army would over ruin the Royalist Army. The parliamentarians would abolish the monarchy with the execution of the Former sovereign King Charles I. Cromwell would dominate the new Commonwealth, he was appointed leader and the first Lord Protector of England. Cromwell and Puritanism go hand in hand. His puritanical beliefs would shape his policy and shape the country. His beliefs were extreme, he liberated other puritans from religious oppression but isolated other Christian communities. Cromwell is one of the most controversial figure in English History. He was extreme and as such he is now viewed in extreme light. Some see Cromwell as a regicidal dictator while others view him as a champion for liberty and freedom. Whether you agree with Cromwell's stance on religion, politics, or the monarchy one thing is certain. His involvement in the English Civil War was influential in the shaping of the island nation. Cromwell; although his reign as Lord Protector of the English Commonwealth was short lived showed that power can be gained through excellence and strength rather than through noble birth.



[summary of Cromwell's accomplishment and rise to power through the comedic and educational lens of Monty Python]


The Making of a Man: The Early Life of Oliver Cromwell
Map of Yorkshire and Huntingdon the home county of Oliver Cromwell
Map of Yorkshire and Huntingdon the home county of Oliver Cromwell
He was born in the Cromwell House in Huntingdon in 1599 to a gentry family. He was linked to advisers in the Tudor dynasty who accumulated wealth and land by taking over Monasteries during the reformation. Oliver's Grandfather was the second richest landowner in all of Huntingdon. His father had a little less than his grandfather but the Cromwell family was still an important family in Huntingdon. He was baptized in St. John's church an attended Huntingdon grammar school which has now been converted into the Oliver Cromwell museum. He then attended Sidney Sussex College in Cambridge. Sidney Sussex College had just opened at the time when Cromwell attended. Cromwell would not get a degree from the college however as he left after two years after the death of his father. Sidney Sussex did however have a profound effect on the young Cromwell, this is the place where he was exposed to Puritan Ideas and Puritan Dogma. The exposure to puritanical thinking would influence him greatly for the rest of his life in all of his decisions, militarily, parliamentary and as Lord Protector of England. He returned home to be placed at the bottom of the gentry class the first four decades of Cromwell's life was spent in relative obscurity. He was married in 1620 to a women named Elizabeth Bourchier; they would have nine children together and eventually his son Robert Cromwell would succeed him as Lord Protector of England, Robert however would not be able to hold on to this new Cromwell power. His marriage would bring him ties with the Earl of Warwick and Holland which would prove essential to his military and political career.


Religion, Puritanism and Cromwell
Cromwell preaches to a puritan congression
Cromwell preaches to a puritan congression
In his early life before he would become an MP there is little evidence that Cromwell was influenced by radical puritanism. Around 1630 however Cromwell's life began to become a crisis. He was treated for depression by a London doctor and brought before the Privy Council in regards to a new charter the gentry in Huntingdon were trying to create. in 1631 Cromwell sold all his land in Huntingdon to live on a farmstead. This was a major social decline and it seemed to affect Cromwell emotionally but more importantly spiritually. By 1638 there is evidence that Cromwell not thought of himself as reborn in the puritan faith. Letters survive which show his use of biblical imagery and his belief that the reformation had not gone far enough. Cromwell wanted to eradicate all element of Catholicism from England. This radical puritanical thinking would stay with him for the rest of his life. Cromwell would extend his religious beliefs into his national policy when he was elected Lord Protector of England. He believed that everyone should lead their lives according to what is written in the bible and he used himself as an example for all English citizens to follow. One of the main beliefs he and puritans held was that if you worked hard you would make it into heaven. This caused him to frown upon activities which provided enjoyment such as; sports and theater. He implemented strict rules in regards to attendance of church and reverence of Holy days. Feast days were turned into fast days, he even went so far as to ban Christmas. Cromwell for being an intensely religious man had a disdain for Irish Catholics, he viewed them as all potential traitors and treated them as such. The genocide he committed on the Irish civilian population still causes him to be hated in Ireland today.
Cromwell's Early Political Life
Oliver Cromwell MP for Huntington and Cambridge

Cromwell first became a member of Parliament for Huntington in the year 1628. He stayed in parliament for one year until it was disbanded by the reigning monarch of the time Charles I. Charles disbanded parliament for the next eleven years. During his first stint in parliament Cromwell was not an important member. He did nothing of note and the one speech he gave was not received well.

English House of Commons c.1650
English House of Commons c.1650

Charles I was eventually forced to call parliament in 1640 because he needed funds for a war against the Scottish. Cromwell was back as MP for Cambridge, the new Cromwell though would have much greater influence in parliament. he was backed by puritanical patrons and had made ties to the House of Lords and the House of Commons through family and religion. The new Oliver Cromwell was now a player in the politics which would soon shape the future of his country. Parliament was called in 1640 but it was disbanded 6 weeks later this parliament was known as the short parliament. The next parliament would take place in 1640 and last for the next two years, this was known as the long parliament. Cromwell and his puritan counterparts would now put forward legislation to establish a godly reformation this is where Cromwell started to emerge from his relative obscurity. As the Long Parliament proved to be unsuccessful armed rebellion and armed conflict between Charles I and the Parliamentarians seemed destined to happened. Cromwell a man who was only trained by country militia's would prove to be an invaluable asset to the Parliamentarians. The first civil war began in 1642 and by 1643 Cromwell was appointed governor of Ely and a Colonel in the Eastern Association.


The school which Cromwell attended in Huntingdon
The school which Cromwell attended in Huntingdon




Cromwell The Military Tactician



[Excerpt from the historical monologue "400 Years of English History" Presented by artist/historian George S. Stuart]


Battle of Marston Moor and the Ramifications

Oliver Cromwell made his name at the Battle of Marston Moor. By the time of the battle the man with almost no military training had risen to become a Lieutenant General. Cromwell a man with almost no military training had turned out to be one of the greatest strategist and
Battle of Marston Moor By: J. Barker
Battle of Marston Moor By: J. Barker

cavalry officer the Parliamentarians could have hoped for. The battle of Marston Moor would be a critical victory for the Parliamentarians in their war against the Royalists, it would turn out to be the turning point in the first English Civil War. Cromwell was the cavalry commander and this is where he would his storied military career took hold. It was his surprise charge which occurred late in the battle that ensured the round heads victory. It turned the tide for the parliamentarians and left the royalist mangled. As a result of the win the Parliamentarians were able to dominate the north for the rest of the war. The impressive victory against a very formidable foe gave Cromwell increased military prowess and respect in parliament. The battle was essential in determining the future of England and the future of Cromwell identity and legacy. Cromwell was accused by his other officer of recruiting men on common birth, rather than proper gentleman. For Cromwell it didn't matter if his soldiers were of noble birth. He cared more about their ability to fight and their belief and fear of God. His men were some of the best trained and most faithful soldiers, He was passionate in his belief that a man who knows what he is fighting for and cares about what he is fighting for will perform better and more furiously then a proper gentleman. This belief caused friction between him and some of the other high ranking generals.

The New Model Army

Enlistment papers for the Parliamentarian Army
Enlistment papers for the Parliamentarian Army
The New Model Army would be the innovation which would revolutionize the parliamentarians war effort. The nationalization of the army would end up recruiting more and more troops. The previous system which was based on men from different counties coming together was replaced by a unified national force. This new model army would be the key to ending the first civil war and the abolition of the Monarchy and the Stuart Dynasty. The soldiers became full time professionals rather than part time militia. When the standing army was created a law was passed which said that officers could either be military commanders or member of parliament. All of the old commanders who were also MP gave up their military power in order to return to parliament. This rule applied to all parliamentarians except for Cromwell's whose commission had been extended, therefore Cromwell was able to serve as an officer in the the New Model Army and be part of Parliament. This rule was in place to keep the state and the army separate. The New Model Army which arose was radically puritanical. Their separation from parliament led to their ability to overthrow the crown and the parliament because they were tied to either the House of Lords or the House of Commons. The independence which the military received would eventually be the instrument that led to Cromwell establishing a Commonwealth.

Recreation of Cromwell's New Model Army
Recreation of Cromwell's New Model Army

After the creation of this standing army Cromwell had been promoted to the second in command of the army behind only Sir. Thomas Fairfax. The men in Cromwell's cavalry did not have to be noble. They only had to have a will to fight and the same religious beliefs that Cromwell himself held. His men were obedient and well trained and this way the key to the New Model Army's success. They fought with passion, religious zeal and discipline. Cromwell's success was that he was able to train his men so well that when they were fighting in the heat of battle they could overcome the opposing forces with his crash and bang and close range tactics. The English Civil War was a war fought mostly by amateurs. It was Cromwell's ability to train men into professionals which assured the parliamentarians victory in the first civil war.


Battle of Naseby, Langport & the end of the First English Civil War

The battle of Naseby was the most critical battle of the First English Civil War. In happened in June 1645 and was the beginning of the end for the Royalist Army. This was the first key and overwhelming victory for Cromwell's New Model Army. The win at Naseby and subsequent victory at Langport effectively ended the First English Civil War. Cromwell's cavelry had been a key part to that victory. The use of the standing army also totally overwhelmed and destroyed the last forcible Royalist Army. The next year was spent raiding and pillaging Royalist Garrison until King Charles I eventually surrendered to the Scots in may 1645.
Battle of Naesby
Battle of Naesby


The First English Civil War had ended and Cromwell had helped to create a standing army and had helped put an end to the English Monarchy. He ensured that his power and influence would continue to be exerted on the national stage. When war had started Cromwell was a poorly trained militia man, by the end he was one of the most important men in England. The first civil war, was Cromwell's stepping stone on his journey to become Lord Protector of England.


The Second English Civil War and Execution of Charles I

The end of the first civil war led to a disconnect. There was a power vacuum between the remaining royalist, the New Model Army and the Parliamentarians. All three groups were trying to reach terms with the disposed monarch King Charles I. It was believed that whoever negotiated the terms with Charles would assume the vast majority of the power and the ability to govern England. The King tried to put up another armed rebellion for the Royalist cause. These rebellions started in Wales. The rebellions were crushed
Trial of Charles I
Trial of Charles I
by Oliver Cromwell who for
the first time was in sole command of an Army. He won a decisive victory at Preston where his
troops out numbered two to one were able to pull off a miraculous victory. During the Second Civil war Cromwell's religious beliefs can even further out. His letters and speeches start to center around scripture and biblical imagery. By the end of the Second Civil War Cromwell believes that God does not think the Royalist or the Parliamentarians are fit to govern. It is his religion not his politics at the end of the day which leads to his extremism. He interpreted his victories as signs from God which told him that he was doing the right and noble thing. This religious zeal would fuel him as he began to accumulate more and more power. The Second Civil War Eventually ended with the execution of King Charles I by the Rump of Parliament after Pride's Purge. The military and political coup which took place ensured that the execution of the former Monarch would go off without a hitch. Charles was executed January 30 1649 on the charge of treason.

Battle of Preston 1648
Battle of Preston 1648














Scottish Royalist &The Battle of Dunbar
Battle of Dunbar fought on September 3 1650
Battle of Dunbar fought on September 3 1650
Scotland declared Charles II son of Charles I rightful king of England instead of recognizing the power of the Commonwealth. Cromwell put down royalist revolts in Scotland as well as Ireland to ensure that the Commonwealth continued to exist. The Battle of Dunbar along with the Battle of Worchester put an end to the Scottish rebellion. Cromwell as leader of the New Model Army won victories in Scotland, the consequences for the Scots were that the English had a large control over their government and a English military presence was sent to Scotland, finally the highlands were sealed off from the rest of the country to ensure that peace would be established between the United Kingdoms. The Scots had no bitter taste about the occupation my Cromwell's men and were treated fairly well unlike the Catholics in Ireland.



Cromwell and the Irish Campaign

Cromwell led a parliamentary invasion force into Ireland in 1649 they would stay there until 1650. The parliament was concerned about the pact signed between Irish Catholics and English Royalist, they wanted to stop any rebellion before it escalated into full civil war like they had experienced only a few years earlier. They also wanted to protect the power that they had just earned and did not want a monarchy to come back to England. Cromwell led an all out offensive for nine months which was very effective but also very brutal. He had an intense hatred of the Irish for political and religious reasons. He believe that the Catholic church was supporting tyranny by not acknowledging the supremecy of the Bible. He hated Catholics and that can be seen through the number of people he killed. During the nine month siege of Ireland he massacred not only Royalist soldiers but civilians men with arms and Roman Catholic Priests. His battle with Ireland was as much political as it was religious, it was however undoubtedly personal. The death he inflicted can be seen as a type of ethnic cleansing, the name Cromwell is still used as a curse today in Ireland.


Cromwell and Political Dominance




[Davis Starkey's documentary on the English Civil War and Oliver Cromwell]



Dissolution of Rump Parliament and establishment of the Barebones Parliament
When Cromwell returned to England in 1651 from his campaigns in Scotland and Ireland he came back to find parliament in shambles. Since the Execution of Charles I it appeared as if they could not agree on anything. In-fighting began happening in parliament and Cromwell was enraged. He told the parliament to set dates for election to connect the three kingdoms and to set up a tolerant protestant church. Theparliament could not do any of these things.
Cromwell Dissolving the Long Parliament By: Andrew Carrick Glow
Cromwell Dissolving the Long Parliament By: Andrew Carrick Glow

Cromwell then insisted that a group of the rump parliamentarians be paired with military officials in order to create new legislation. The parliament did not implement any of Cromwell's idea and because he was continually ignored Cromwell took matters into his own hands. He cleared parliament by force even stealing the mace. He implemented a Barebones Parliament; the Barebones Parliament was tasked with finding a permanent constitutional and religious settlement. When the Barebones Parliament was dissolved John Lambert produced a new constitution called the Instrument of Government.

Coat of Arms of the Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell
Coat of Arms of the Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell




Cromwell Lord Protector
This new constitution made Oliver Cromwell Lord Protector for life. Cromwell was not truly King in everything except name. It was his job to call and dissolve parliament and people began to refer to him as Your Highness. Cromwell had two main objectives as Lord Protector. He wanted a time of peace and tranquility for his country to heal from three vicious consecutive civil wars. He also wanted to focus on moral reforms, he did by outwardly and inwardly promoting godliness throughout England. In 1657 parliament offered him the monarchy which after six weeks of deliberation he turned down. He spent his life defeating a monarchy he couldn't now just assume his own dynasty.
Cromwell's Standard
Cromwell's Standard




Legacy
The Legacy of Cromwell is a difficult one to comprehend. He is a very very influential but also controversial character in the history of England. Cromwell is responsible for helping to end the monarchy in England. His success however brief it was is something to be admired and remembered. His passion and his zeal propelled him to the top of a politically unstable nation. Through his actions however extreme they may have been he returned order to a country and a kingdom which looked as if it would be in a constant state of Civil War. In recent years there has be a re-evaluation of Cromwell and his contribution to England. He is now seen more as an actual person rather than a puritan prude. Cromwell was just an ordinary man, his passion and military strategy proved successful and he was moved out of the realm of humanity into the realm of Lord Protector.Cromwell was a modest man who whether you liked him or not is still being talked about 400 years after his death and that is something which speaks to his character, his accomplishments, his ambition and his life.


Oliver Cromwell's Signature
Oliver Cromwell's Signature