Cromwell was born into the ranks of the middle gentry, and remained relatively obscure for the first 40 years of his life. His lifestyle resembled that of a yeoman farmer until he received an inheritance from his uncle. After undergoing a religious conversion during the same decade, Cromwell made an independent style of puritanism an essential part of his life. As a ruler he executed an aggressive and effective foreign policy and did as much as any English leader to shape the future of the land he governed. But his Commonwealth collapsed after his death and the royal family was restored in 1660. An intensely religious man—a Puritan Moses—he fervently believed God was guiding his victories. He was never identified with any one sect or position, however, and strongly favoured religious tolerance for all the various Protestant groups.
He was elected Member of Parliament for Cambridge in the Short (1640) and Long (1640–49) Parliaments. He entered the English Civil War on the side of the “Roundhads" or Parliamentarians and became a key military leader. Nicknamed "Old Ironsides", he was quickly promoted from leading a single cavalry troop to command of the entire army. In 1649 he was one of the signatories of Charles I's death warrant and was a member of the Rump Parliament(1649–1653), which selected him to take command of the English campaign in Ireland during 1649–50. He led a campaign against the Scottish army between 1650 and 1651. On 20 April 1653 he dismissed the Rump Parliament by force, setting up a short-lived nominated assembly known as the Barebones Parliament, before being made Lord Protector of England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland on 16 December 1653. He was buried in Westminster Abbey. After the Royalist returned to power, they had his corpse dug up, hung in chains, and beheaded.
Cromwell has been one of the most controversial figures in the history of the British Isles— considered a regicidal dictatorby some historians such as David Hume and Christopher Hill as quoted by David Sharp, though Christopher Hill gives a far more nuanced and complex portrait in his book God's Englishman: Oliver Cromwell and the English Revolution. He was considered a hero of liberty by others such as Thomas Carlyle and Samuel Rawson Gardiner. In a 2002 BBC poll in Britain, Cromwell was elected as one of the Top 10 Britons of all time. His measures against Catholics in Scotland and Ireland have been characterised as genocidal or near-genocidal In Ireland his record is harshly criticised.
He was born at Cromwell House in Huntingdon on 25 April 1599, to Robert Cromwell and Elizabeth Steward. He was descended from Katherine Cromwell (born circa 1482), an older sister of Tudor statesman Thomas Cromwell. Katherine was married to Morgan ap William, son of William ap Yevan of Wales. The family line continued through Richard Williams, alias Cromwell, (c. 1500–1544), Henry Williams, alias Cromwell, (c. 1524–6 January 1604), then to Oliver's father Robert Cromwell (c. 1560–1617), who married Elizabeth Steward (c. 1564–1654) on the day of Oliver Cromwell's birth. Thomas thus was Oliver's great-great-great-uncle.
His father was a younger son of a family founded by Thomas Cromwell (c. 1485-1540), a minister of Henry VIII, which had acquired considerable wealth by taking over monastery property during the Reformation. At the time of Oliver's birth his grandfather, Sir Henry Williams, was one of the two wealthiest landowners in Huntingdonshire, Oliver's father was of modest means but still inside the gentry class. As a younger son with many siblings, Robert's inheritance was limited to a house at Huntingdon and a small amount of land. This land would have generated an income of up to £300 a year, near the bottom of the range of gentry incomes Cromwell himself in 1654 said "I was by birth a gentleman, living neither in considerable height, nor yet in obscurity".
Records survive of Cromwell's baptism on 29 April 1599 at St. John's Church and his attendance at Huntingdon Grammar School. He went on to study at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, which was then a recently founded college with a strong puritan ethos. He left in June 1617 without taking a degree, immediately after the death of his father. Early biographers claim he then attended Lincoln's Inn, but there is no record of him in the Inn's archives. Fraser (1973) concludes he likely did train at one of the London Inns of Court during this time. His grandfather, his father, and two of his uncles had attended Lincoln's Inn, and Cromwell sent his son Richard there in 1647.
Cromwell probably returned home to Huntingdon after his father's death, for his mother was widowed and his seven sisters were unmarried, and he, therefore, was needed at home to help his family.
|Wife of Oliver Cromwell|
Marriage and family
On 22 August 1620 at St Giles-without-Cripplegate, London, Cromwell married Elizabeth Bourchier (1598–1665). They had nine children:
- Robert (1621–1639), died while away at school.
- Oliver (1622–1644), died of typhoid fever while serving as a Parliamentarian officer.
- Bridget (1624–1681), married (1) Henry Ireton, (2) Charles Fleetwood.
- Richard (1626–1712), his father's successor as Lord Protector.
- Henry (1628–1674), later Lord Deputy of Ireland.
- Elizabeth (1629–1658), married John Claypole.
- James (b. & d. 1632), died in infancy.
- Mary (1637–1713), married Thomas Belasyse, 1st Earl Fauconberg.
- Frances (1638–1720), married (1) Robert Rich, 3rd Earl of Warwick, (2) Sir John Russell, 3rd Baronet.
Elizabeth's father, Sir James Bourchier, was a London leather merchant who owned extensive land in Essex and had strong connections with puritan gentry families there. The marriage brought Cromwell into contact with Oliver St John and with leading members of the London merchant community, and behind them the influence of the earls of Warwick and Holland. Membership in this influential network would prove crucial to Cromwell’s military and political career.
Crisis and recovery
At this stage, though, there is little evidence of Cromwell's own religion. His letter in 1626 to Henry Downhall, an Arminian minister, suggests that Cromwell had yet to be influenced by radical puritanism. However, there is evidence that Cromwell went through a period of personal crisis during the late 1620s and early 1630s. He sought treatment for valde melancolicus (depression) from London doctor Theodore de Mayerne in 1628. He was also caught up in a fight among the gentry of Huntingdon over a new charter for the town, as a result of which he was called before the Privy council in 1630.
In 1631 Cromwell sold most of his properties in Huntingdon—probably as a result of the dispute—and moved to a farmstead in St Ives. This was a major step down in society compared with his previous position, and seems to have had a significant emotional and spiritual impact. A 1638 letter survives from Cromwell to his cousin, the wife of Oliver St John, and gives an account of his spiritual awakening. The letter outlines how, having been "the chief of sinners", Cromwell had been called to be among "the congregation of the firstborn". The language of this letter, which is saturated with biblical quotations and which represents Cromwell as having been saved from sin by God's mercy, places his faith firmly within the Independent beliefs that the Reformation had not gone far enough, that much of England was still living in sin, and that Catholic beliefs and practices needed to be fully removed from the church.
|Civil War In England|
Member of Parliament: 1628–29 and 1640–42
Cromwell became the Member of Parliament for Huntingdon in the Parliament of 1628–1629, as a client of the Montagus. He made little impression: records for the Parliament show only one speech (against the Arminian Bishop Richard Neile), which was poorly received. After dissolving this Parliament, Charles I ruled without a Parliament for the next eleven years. When Charles faced the Scottish rebellion known as the Bishops' Wars, shortage of funds forced him to call a Parliament again in 1640. Cromwell was returned to this Parliament as member for Cambridge, but it lasted for only three weeks and became known as the Short Parliament. Cromwell moved his family from Ely to London in 1640.
A second Parliament was called later the same year, and became known as the Long Parliament. Cromwell was again returned as member for Cambridge. As with the Parliament of 1628–29, it is likely that Cromwell owed his position to the patronage of others, which would explain the fact that in the first week of the Parliament he was in charge of presenting a petition for the release of John Lilburne, who had become a puritan martyr after being arrested for importing religious tracts from Holland. Otherwise it is unlikely that a relatively unknown member would have been given this task. For the first two years of the Long Parliament, Cromwell was linked to the godly group of aristocrats in the House of Lords and Members of the House of Commons with which he had already established familial and religious links in the 1630s, such as the Earls of Essex, Warwick and Bedford, Oliver St John, and Viscount Saye and Sele. At this stage, the group had an agenda of godly reformation: the executive checked by regular parliaments, and the moderate extension of liberty of conscience. Cromwell appears to have taken a role in some of this group's political manoeuvres. In May 1641, for example, it was Cromwell who put forward the second reading of the Annual Parliaments Bill and later took a role in drafting the Root and Branch Bill for the abolition of episcopacy.
Military commander: 1642–46
English Civil War begins
Failure to resolve the issues before the Long Parliament led to armed conflict between Parliament and Charles I in the autumn of 1642; this was the beginning of the English Civil War. Before joining Parliament's forces, Cromwell's only military experience was in the trained bands, the local county militia. He recruited a cavalry troop in Cambridgeshire after blocking a valuable shipment of silver plate from Cambridge colleges that was meant for the king. Cromwell and his troop then fought at the indecisive Battle of Edgehill on 23 October 1642. The troop was recruited to be a full regiment in the winter of 1642 and 1643, making up part of the Eastern Association under the Earl of Manchester. Cromwell gained experience and victories in a number of successful actions in East Anglia in 1643, notably at the Battle of Gainsborough on 28 July. After this he was made governor of Ely and made a colonel in the Eastern Association.
By the time of the Battle of Marston Moor in July 1644, Cromwell had risen to the rank of Lieutenant General of horse in Manchester's army. The success of his cavalry in breaking the ranks of the Royalist cavalry and then attacking their infantry from the rear at Marston Moor was a major factor in the Parliamentarian victory. Cromwell fought at the head of his troops in the battle and was slightly wounded in the neck, stepping away briefly to receive treatment during the battle but later returning to help force the victory. After Cromwell's nephew was killed at Marston Moor he wrote a famous letter to his brother-in-law. Marston Moor secured the north of England for the Parliamentarians, but failed to end Royalist resistance.
The indecisive outcome of the Second Battle of Newbury in October meant that by the end of 1644 the war still showed no signs of ending. Cromwell's experience at Newbury, where Manchester had let the King's army slip out of an encircling manoeuvre, led to a serious dispute with Manchester, whom he believed to be less than enthusiastic in his conduct of the war. Manchester later accused Cromwell of recruiting men of "low birth" as officers in the army, to which he replied: "If you choose godly honest men to be captains of horse, honest men will follow them... I would rather have a plain russet-coated captain who knows what he fights for and loves what he knows than that which you call a gentleman and is nothing else". At this time, Cromwell also fell into dispute with Major-General Lawrence Crawford, a Scottish Covenanter Presbyterian attached to Manchester's army, who objected to Cromwell's encouragement of unorthodox Independents and Anabaptists. Cromwell's differences with the Scots, at that time allies of the Parliament, would later develop into outright enmity in 1648 and in 1650–51.
New Model Army
Partly in response to the failure to capitalise on their victory at Marston Moor, Parliament passed the Self-denying ordinance in early 1645. This forced members of the House of Commons and the Lords, such as Manchester, to choose between civil office and military command. All of them—except for Cromwell, whose commission was given continued extensions and was allowed to remain in parliament—chose to renounce their military positions. The Ordinance also decreed that the army be "remodelled" on a national basis, replacing the old county associations; Cromwell contributed significantly to these military reforms. In April 1645 the New Model Army finally took to the field, with Sir Thomas Fairfax in command and Cromwell as Lieutenant-General of cavalry, and second-in-command. By this time, the Parliamentarians' field army outnumbered the King's by roughly two to one.
Battle of Naseby
At the critical Battle of Naseby in June 1645, the New Model Army smashed the King's major army. Cromwell led his wing with great success at Naseby, again routing the Royalist cavalry. At the Battle of Langport on 10 July, Cromwell participated in the defeat of the last sizeable Royalist field army. Naseby and Langport effectively ended the King's hopes of victory, and the subsequent Parliamentarian campaigns involved taking the remaining fortified Royalist positions in the west of England. In October 1645, Cromwell besieged and took the wealthy and formidable Catholic fortress Basing House, later to be accused of killing one hundred of its three-hundred-man Royalist garrison there after its surrender. Cromwell also took part in successful sieges at Bridgwater, Sherborne, Bristol, Devizes, and Winchester, then spent the first half of 1646 mopping up resistance in Devon and Cornwall. Charles I surrendered to the Scots on 5 May 1646, effectively ending the First English Civil War. Cromwell and Fairfax took the formal surrender of the Royalists at Oxford in June. Cromwell's military style
Cromwell had no formal training in military tactics, and followed the common practice of ranging his cavalry in three ranks and pressing forward, relying on impact rather than firepower. His strengths were an instinctive ability to lead and train his men, and his moral authority. In a war fought mostly by amateurs, these strengths were significant and are likely to have contributed to the discipline of his cavalry.
Cromwell also introduced close-order cavalry formations, with troopers riding knee to knee; this was an innovation in England at the time, and was a major factor in his success. He kept his troops close together following skirmishes where they had gained superiority, rather than allowing them to chase opponents off the battlefield. This facilitated further engagements in short order, which allowed greater intensity and quick reaction to battle developments. This style of command was decisive at both Marston Moor and Naseby.