Oliver Cromwell was born into a family which was for a time one of the wealthiest and most influential in the area.Educated at Huntingdon grammar school , now the Cromwell Museum, and at Cambridge University, he became a minor East Anglian landowner. He made a living by farming and collecting rents, first in his native
Huntingdon, then from 1631 in St Ives and from 1636 in Ely. Cromwell's inheritances from his father, who died in 1617, and later from a maternal uncle were not great, his income was modest and he had to support an expanding family - widowed mother, wife and eight children. He ranked near the bottom of the landed elite, the landowning class often labelled 'the gentry' which dominated the social and political life of the county. Until 1640 he played only a small role in local
administration and no significant role in national politics. It was the civil wars of the 1640s which lifted Cromwell from obscurity to power.
Cromwell the Politician
Cromwell's military standing gave him enhanced political power, just as his military victories gave him the confidence and motivation to intervene in and to shape political events. An obscure and inexperienced MP for Cambridge in 1640, by the late 1640s he was one of the power-brokers in parliament and he played a decisive role in the 'revolution' of winter 1648-9 which saw the trial and execution of the King and the abolition of monarchy and the House of Lords. As head of
the army, he intervened several times to support or remove the republican regimes of the early 1650s. Eventually, in December 1653, he became head of state as Lord Protector, though he held that office under a written constitution which ensured that he would share political power with parliaments and
a council. As Lord Protector for almost five years, until his death on 3 September 1658, Cromwell was able to mould policies and to fulfill some of his goals. He headed a tolerant, inclusive and largely civilian regime, which sought to restore order and stability at home and thus to win over much of the traditional political and social elite. Abroad, the army and navy were employed to promote England's interests in an expansive and largely successful foreign policy.
From the outbreak of war in summer 1642, Cromwell was an active and committed officer in the parliamentary army. Initially a captain in charge of a small body of mounted troops, in 1643 he was promoted to colonel and given command of his own cavalry regiment. He was successful in a series of sieges and small battles which helped to secure East Anglia and the East Midlands against the royalists. At the end of the year he was appointed second in command of the Eastern
Association army, parliament's largest and most effective regional army, with the rank of lieutenant-general. During 1644 he contributed to the victory at Marston Moor, which helped secure the north for parliament, and also campaigned with mixed results in the south Midlands and Home Counties.
In 1645-6, as second in command of the newly formed main parliamentary army, the New Model Army, Cromwell played a major role in parliament's victory in the Midlands, sealed by the battle of Naseby in June 1645, and in the south and south-west. When civil war flared up again in 1648 he commanded a large part of the New Model Army which first crushed rebellion in South Wales and then at Preston defeated a Scottish-royalist army of invasion.
After the trial and execution of the King, Cromwell led major military campaigns to establish English control over Ireland (1649-50) and then Scotland (1650-51), culminating in the defeat of another Scottish-royalist army of invasion at Worcester in September 1651. In summer 1650, before embarking for Scotland, Cromwell had been appointed lord general - that is, commander in chief - of all the parliamentary forces. It was a remarkable achievement for a man who probably had no military experience before 1642. Cromwell consistently attributed his military success to God's will. Historians point to his personal courage and skill, to his care in training and equipping his men and to the tight discipline he imposed both on and off the battlefield.
Cromwell and Religion
Cromwell life and actions had a radical edge springing from his strong religious faith. A conversion experience some time before the civil war, strengthened by his belief that during the war he and his troops had been chosen by God to perform His will, gave a religious tinge to many of his political policies as Lord Protector in the 1650s. Cromwell sought 'Godly reformation', a broad programme involving reform of the most inhumane elements of the legal, judicial and social systems
and clamped down on drunkenness, immorality and other sinful activities. He also believed passionately in what he called 'liberty of conscience', that is freedom for a range of Protestant groups and faiths to practise their beliefs undisturbed and without disturbing others. Several times he referred to this religious liberty as the
principal achievement of the wars, to be strengthened and cherished now that peace had returned. Others, however, viewed these religious policies as futile, unnecessarily divisive or a breeding ground for heresy.
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Oliver Cromwell: Biography
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