Cromwell, Oliver 1599–1658

Few individuals in history are as controversial as Oliver Cromwell. General, politician, religious zealot, deposer of king and Parliament, and ultimately the lord protector of England until his death in 1658, to some he was a great man, to others a tyrant. One certainty, however, is that he was one of the most important individuals in the history of Britain and in the foundation of European settlement in the New World. Born in Huntingdon, England in 1599, Cromwell studied at nearby Cambridge University. He initially earned his living through farming until sometime around 1628, when he became a devout Puritan following a religious conversion experience. The Puritans were an English Protestant sect that sought to simplify the Church of England through strict adherence to Calvinist theology and discipline. Throughout his life, Cromwell was guided by a Puritan sense of dedication and an unswerving belief that he was God’s chosen vessel. He first became a member of Parliament in 1628 but played only a minor role in national politics until 1640. It was the English Civil War that lifted Cromwell from obscurity, and at the heart of the conflict was religion. The Church of England began quarreling with the Puritans, and this division became more pronounced during the reign of Charles I (1625 1649), when laws were passed compelling Puritans to conform to Anglicanism or face legal censure. Because of this, beginning in 1630 as many as 20,000 Puritans immigrated to America from Britain, settling mainly in the New England colonies. By 1642, the unpopular Charles I, besieged by an invading Scottish army and accused of pro-Catholic sentiment, was stripped of most of his royal power by Parliament, and war between the king and Parliament ensued. Cromwell rushed to defend Parliament, and, despite a lack of military experience, he became one of the greatest generals in history. Within two years, he raised and trained his own army and inflicted significant defeats on the royalist forces (called Cavaliers). Eventually, he was granted command of all of Parliament’s troops (called Roundheads). He remolded them into a powerful fighting force known as the New Model Army, and at the Battle of Naseby in 1645, he inflicted a crushing defeat on Cavalier forces. Within a year, Charles I had no recourse left but surrender. Under Oliver Cromwell in the 1650s, the British Protectorate proved important to colonial prospects in North America. His military success over Holland and seizure of Jamaica from Spain were vital to the growth of the British Atlantic economy. (York Museums Trust York Art Gallery’, United Kingdom/Bridgeman Art Library) Parliament was split on the proper form of government for England, with the Presbyterians, supported by many Scots, advocating a constitutional monarchy under Charles I, while Cromwell and the army feared retribution upon the king’s return. Threatened with chaos, Cromwell decisively broke the deadlock by defeating the Scottish army, purging Parliament of 110 members, and bringing Charles I to trial. Charles I was convicted and executed in 1649. Cromwell, then, took the place of the monarch. As leader of the army and the most powerful man in the country, he was happy to leave the governing of England to the members of Parliament who remained following the purge. But they ruled poorly, and Cromwell felt obliged to disband them by force in 1653. Within five years, he had deposed both king and Parliament, and, in their place, he created the Instrument of Government the only written constitution in Britain’s long history. It made Cromwell lord protector of the realm for life. Cromwell’s fifteen years in power were marked both by great victories and by great tragedies. He was successful in his war against Holland (1652 54) and seized Jamaica from Spain, both important events in the development of the Atlantic economy. Yet, in 1649, he led an army to Ireland to settle the decade-old Catholic rebellion, and, at Wexford and Drogheda, he routed the Irish armies, slaughtering many of the surrendering troops and shipping the prisoners off to Barbados. So brutal was Cromwell’s suppression of Ireland that even though he was there only nine months, the oath The curse of Cromwell on you is still uttered today. In 1651, he turned to Scotland and defeated a Scottish-royalist army, bringing an end to the English Civil War. The years of the Commonwealth saw Cromwell rule as the virtual dictator of England. He became increasingly unpopular with the majority of English citizens, who longed for a return to traditional government. In an effort to secure stability, Cromwell was offered the title of king but declined, choosing instead to proffer his untrained son as his heir apparent. This proved disastrous, for after the elder Cromwell’s passing in 1658, his son was forced out. Within two years, Parliament recalled Charles II, the son of the slain king, and restored the monarchy. The historian John Buchan best summed up Cromwell’s life and legacy: A devotee of law, he was forced to be often lawless; a civilian to the core, he had to maintain himself by the sword; with a passion to construct, his task was chiefly to destroy the most English of figures, he spent his life in opposition to the majority of Englishmen; a realist, he was condemned to build that which could not last. Yet even in the New World, Cromwell’s influence was enormous. His victories over Holland and Spain allowed Britain to more fully develop the Atlantic colonies, and public reaction to his Puritan zeal, following Charles II’s restoration in 1660, hastened nonconformist immigration to America. Beyond this, Cromwell sanctioned the execution of Charles I based on the claim that he had broken his covenant with the English people; Cromwell believed that a leader who breaks a covenant may legitimately be overthrown. This Puritan concept of the covenantal nature of government would come to influence the founding of a number of American colonies, including Massachusetts and Connecticut. Todd E. A. Larson See also: Charles I; Charles II; English Civil War; Puritanism. Bibliography Buchan, John. Oliver Cromwell. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1934. Davis, J. C. Oliver Cromwell. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001. Gaunt, Peter. Oliver Cromwell. Cambridge, UK: Blackwell, 1996. Morrill, John, ed. Oliver Cromwell and the English Revolution. New York: Longman, 1990. Oliver Cromwell (25 April 1599 3 September 1658) was an English … Engraving Of Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658) After The Battle Of … File:Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658).jpg – Wikimedia Commons

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