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Oliver Cromwell

Civilization:British: England
Era: Stuart
1599–1658Field of Renown:military: General
 Oliver Cromwell

Oliver Cromwell came to prominence during the English Civil Wars, beginning as a cavalry commander, and eventually rising to become one of the leading generals of the Parliamentarian army. In this position he was instrumental in carrying out the execution of Charles I, and founding the Commonwealth of England, which he led from 1648 to his death in 1659. He is a highly controversial character in history, considered by some to by a tyrannical dictator and by others as a champion of liberty, religious freedom, and republicanism. In some ways his conduct was impeccable and always driven by the highest principles. On the other hand, he was a rabid anti-papist of the most extreme variety, and considerably intolerant of the vices and foibles of the great mass of humanity. Like many of the idealistic protestant reformers of his age, he nobly resisted the corruptions and hypocrisy of the established churches, and aristocratic abuses of the times, but in his attempt to impose what he considered a better system on a reluctant populace, was guilty of oppressions and abuses just as bad, and in many cases worse, than those he stood against. He has long been an object of particular hatred of Irishmen, and is typically held responsible for some 300 years worth of oppressions and atrocities based on an active military campaign in Ireland lasting little over six months.

Oliver Cromwell was a grand-nephew of Thomas Cromwell, the minister of Henry VIII famous for closing the English monasteries and confiscating their land. His family was of course, strongly anti-Catholic and he himself was a dedicated Puritan. He lived in relative obscurity until the English Civil War, at which time he joined the Army as a Cavalry leader, and quickly rose through the ranks. He distinguished great ability at the Battle of Marston Moor, but the Parliamentary army failed to follow up on its victories. Soon after, he along with Sir Thomas Fairfax, reformed the parliamentary army to make it more 'professional' and refused to let most members of Parliament have commissions. In addition to greatly improving the effectiveness of the army, this created a breach between the army and Parliament, resulting in the second and third civil wars, both of which occurred after the Royalists had already been defeated.

Charles I surrendered after the Battle of Naseby, and for two years negotiations between the Royalists, various factions of the army, and Parliament were unsuccessful in coming up with a mutually acceptable reform of government. During this period, Cromwell emerged as the dominant political leader of the army faction, and even broke with his old friend Thomas Fairfax over the execution of Charles I. After the execution of the king, the army faction assumed complete control of government, and Cromwell was eventually appointed "Lord Protector". He tolerated parliament only to the point that it would do his bidding, and did not hesitate to dissolve it entirely when it failed to make the reforms he desired. Cromwell was driven by highly idealistic ideas of religious freedom, and republican principles, but was utterly impatient with the obstructionism, inertia, and general sinfulness of the human beings he actually had to deal with. His government was respected but not loved. His efforts to reduce vice and the 'sinfulness' of the English people were deeply resented by various factions of irresolute sinners (including almost everyone), and on his death there was widespread desire to restore the corrupt and inefficient monarchy rather than to bear any longer the efficient and upright puritans. On Cromwell's death in 1659, one of his generals negotiated with Charles II to restore the monarchy, and two years later, his body was exhumed, hanged and beheaded by vengeful royalists.

Key events during the life of Oliver Cromwell

Year Event
1599 Oliver Cromwell is born.
1620 Marriage to Elizabeth Bourchier.
1628 Cromwell becomes a member of Parliament from Huntingdon.
  Charles I rules without a Parliament for 11 years.
1640 Cromwell is elected a member of the 'Long Parliament'.
1642 Cromwell recruits a small cavalry and joins the roundhead army.
1643 Cromwell gains experience at the Battle of Edgehill, and Gainsborough.
1644 Cromwell is responsible for the great Roundhead victory at Marston Moor.
1645 With Fairfax, Cromwell helps reorganize the Parliamentarian army. Members of Parliament are not allowed commissions.
1645 The 'New Model Army' defeats the King's army at the Battle of Naseby. Charles I surrenders to the Scots.
1647 Divisions develop between the parliament and its largely puritan army. Cromwell sides with the Army.
1648 Second English Civil War breaks out, as the Royalists try to resume power.
1648 Cromwell purges parliament of those who refuse to try the king on a charge of treason.
1649 Execution of Charles I. Establishment of the commonwealth.
1649 Invasion of Ireland. Siege of Drogheda.
1650 Scots proclaim Charles II king of Scots. Cromwell invades Scotland.
1653 Cromwell dissolves parliament when it fails to make his requested reforms.
1653 Cromwell made 'Lord Protector' for life.
1652-1654 First Anglo-Dutch War fought entirely at sea.
1657 Cromwell establishes religious toleration for Jews and encourages them to immigrate to England.
1659 Death of Cromwell.
1661 Cromwell's body was exhumed, hung in chains, and beheaded.

Book Links
Through Great Britain and Ireland With Cromwell  by  H. E. Marshall


Story LinksBook Links
King or Parliament?  in  Stories From English History: II  by  Church
Lord Protector  in  Stories From English History: III  by  Church
Oliver Cromwell  in  Famous Men of Modern Times  by  Haaren
Civil War between King and Parliament  in  Story of England  by  Harding
Cromwell, 1599-1658  in  Saints and Heroes Since the Middle Ages  by  Hodges
Cromwell—How the Soldier Poet Died  in  Scotland's Story  by  Marshall
In the Days of Oliver Cromwell  in  Awakening of Europe  by  Synge
Great Civil War  in  Tudors and Stuarts  by  Synge
Oliver Cromwell and the Commonwealth  in  Tudors and Stuarts  by  Synge
Under the Stuarts  in  Ireland: Peeps at History  by  Home
Commonwealth—The Lord Protector  in  Our Island Story  by  Marshall
Cromwell and the Parliament  in  Historical Tales: 4—English  by  Morris

Image Links
Cromwell  in Famous Men of Modern Times Cromwell dissolving the Long Parliament  in Famous Men of Modern Times Oliver Cromwell in Saints and Heroes Since the Middle Ages
Cromwell leading the assault on Drogheda  in Ireland: Peeps at History Oliver Cromwell  in Ireland: Peeps at History Oliver Cromwell and his men perge parliament in Statesmen and Sages
Cromwell's Daughter Entreats him to Refuse the Crown in Statesmen and Sages Cromwell as a member of Parliament  in Through Great Britain and Ireland With Cromwell Oliver and Charles  in Through Great Britain and Ireland With Cromwell
Cromwell in Edinburgh  in Through Great Britain and Ireland With Cromwell Cromwell and Sir Walter Stewart  in Through Great Britain and Ireland With Cromwell Cromwell as Lord Protector  in Through Great Britain and Ireland With Cromwell
Oliver Cromwell  in Historical Tales: 4—English Oliver Cromwell  in Oliver Cromwell The Christening  in Oliver Cromwell
He was sent in custody to London  in Oliver Cromwell 'My masters, he is come, he is come.'  in Oliver Cromwell Cromwell ridest through London  in Oliver Cromwell
Cromwell reading to his family  in Oliver Cromwell Colonel Pride refusing admission to the Presbyterian members of Parliament  in Tudors and Stuarts Oliver Cromwell  in Tudors and Stuarts
Cromwell refusing the crown  in Tudors and Stuarts Cromwell's family listening to Milton playing the organ at Hampton Court  in Tudors and Stuarts

Contemporary Short Biography
Charles I of England Second Stuart king. His quarrels with Parliament led to civil war and his execution.
Thomas Fairfax Commander of the Parliamentary forces during the English Civil War. Declined to condemn Charles I to death.
Charles II of England Restored to the throne after death of Cromwell. Presided over the great fire and plague of London.
Prince Rupert Commanded Royalist Cavalry during English Civil War, later an admiral, inventor and trader.
John Milton John Milton was friend of Cromwell and a poet. His most famous work was Paradise Lost.
John Bunyan Author of A Pilgrim's Progress, a widely read tale of spiritual awakening.
George Monck Puritan officer who assumed the protectorate after the death of Cromwell, but then arranged for the Restoration of the monarchy.