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The Biography of Oliver Cromwell

Oliver Cromwell was born 25th April 1599 in Huntingdon to Elizabeth Cromwell (1564-1654) and Robert Cromwell (? – 1617). He was the great-great-grandson of Katherine Cromwell who was the sister of Thomas Cromwell who served Henry VIII in the first half of 16th century. His family was one of the most wealthies and most influential in the area. His father had a small estate and was sort of businessman, but Oliver was brought as a middle-class boy. He was educated at Huntingdon grammar school and in 1616 he entered the Sidney Sussex College in Cambridge. He achieved no degree, so he returned home.

In 1617 Robert Cromwell died, Oliver had to take care of the family – widowed mother, then also wife and eight children. His wife was the daughter of a London merchant Couple got married in 1620. Oliver was devoted to her and she made him an excellent home. The inheritances from father and later also uncle were not great. His income was modest. Therefore after his studies he became a minor landowner. To support the expanding family he made a living by farming and collecting rents in Huntingdon, later in St Ives and in Ely. As a man of property he put a high value on law and order.

In 1928 he became a MP for native Huntingdon. He played no significant role in the local politics and administration. After a short time he returned back to country life. He was already a strict Puritan, when the attacks of William Laud against Presbyterians reached their highest levels. It was during the reign of Charles I who hated Puritans. These two men wanted country running only in an Anglican format. These years of struggles between Parliament and King inspired Oliver Cromwell to plan an emigration to America. Later he changed his decision to move. He said that he would have done so if the House of Commons had not passed the Grand Remonstrance in 1641. Here are the words he said exactly, "If the Remonstrance had been rejected I would have sold all I had the next morning and never have seen England more…"

In 1940 he became a MP for Cambridge and this was the beginning of Oliver Cromwell`s political carreer. He was elected to the Long and Short Parliament. He came to London to represent his family. He was a member of the Independent group of Puritans that was mainly supported by eastern countries (East Anglia). His MP colleage descibed the way he felt about Cromwell after he had first seen him, "I came one morning into the House well clad, and perceived a gentleman speaking (whom I knew not) very ordinarily apparelled; for it was a plain cloth-suit, which seemed to have been made by an ill country-tailor; his linen was plain, and not very clean; and I remember a speck or two of blood upon his little band, which was not much larger that his collar; his hat without a hat-band: his stature was of good size, his sword stuck close to his side, his countenance swollen and reddish, his voice sharp and untunable, and his eloquence full of fervour…" Cromwell`s life was influenced by an experience of 1638. Through long prayer he started to be sure that he was one of the people chosen by God to do His work on earth. He believed he was instrument of God who helped him to be successful and never fail.

This conviction forced Oliver to fight. He was no longer moody and melancholic, but quick and lively. This middle-aged man made himself one of the best cavalry leaders of the world history. These are sentences he told to his cousin John Hampden after he lost the battle at Edgehill in 1642, "Your troops are most of them old decayed serving-men, tapsters, and such kind of fellows…their troops are gentlemen`s sons, younger sons and persons of quality; do you think that the spirits of such base mean fellows will ever be able to encounter gentlemen that have honour, and courage, and resolution in them? You must get men of a spirit that is likely to go as far as gentlemen will go, or you will be beaten still." Cromwell had soon a possibility to prove his statement. First he won some small battles against royalists and then he organised the Eastern Association (the countries of Essex, Suffolk, Norfolk, Huntingdon, Hertford, Cambridge and Lincoln) which function was to provide protection against royalists and then to fight in the army. Cromwell was the one who carefully looked for great men and horses too. His own words from a letter he sent to William Spring, "I had rather have a plain russet-coated captain that knows what he fights for and loves what he knows, than that which you call 'a gentlemen', and is nothing else." He taught his men how to look after horses to be prepared for action, everyone knew that he was patient and had their needs at heart. It was in 1643 when he bacame a colonel and could give commands to his own cavalry regiment.

In 1644 he took part in the victory of Parliament in the battle of Marston Moor and he received a nickname 'Ironsides'. Cromwell wrote to his brother-in-law, "Give glory, all the glory, to God." The Commons passed 'Self-Denying Ordinance' which stated that members of both Houses must give up military and civil commands while the war lasted. Cromwell thought that it was the end of his military career, but in the same year the Commons decided to establish the New Model Army, that was different from the previous ones and Oliver Cromwell became the second man in the command. (Fairfax was the first one) As a evidence of the power, this army won the battle at Naseby in 1645 – the final defeat of Cavaliers.

In 1648, when Second English Civil War appeared, he commanded a large part of the New Model Army which first stopped rebellion in South Wales and then at Preston (18th August 1648) he defeated a Scottish-royalist army. In November1648, the Long Parliament has been reduced to a 'Rump' one. Meanwhile Charles I escaped to Isle of Wight, later was caught and then executed. Cromwell was determined that he should die and nobody said any word against. "Cruel necessity," he stated. 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).

In summer 1650 Cromwell became lord general - that is, commander in chief - of all the parliamentary forces. After the battle of Worcester in 1651 he was without any doubt the most powerful man in England. In 1653 Rump Parliament is dissolved. "Take away that fool`s bauble, the mace," he said in his speech. Cromwell decided to rule on his own. On December 1653, at the suggestion of Army Council he became head of state as Lord Protector, promising that he would share political power with parliaments and a council. For years of his reign he established a military dictature, although he has ever been against absolutism. However the elections of 1656 showed that people are against military rule and Protectorate. Therefore Cromwell was asked to become a King. He didn`t answer for quite a long time, but finally he refused, for reasons he never explained. Until his death on September 3rd, 1658, he fullfilled some of his aims. He considered himself as the head of European Protestants; without any military experience before 1642 he won several important battles; he kept a expansive foreign policy (eg. wars with Dutch, Spain) and he set new Puritan morals. It included no cock-fighting, drunkenness, sports were forbidden on Sundays and feasts. Theaters were not allowed, because they encouraged laziness, but this attempt was not successful. Extravagant dress, long hair and using of cosmetics were forbidden.

All this stuff made people "thinking that if this was what happened under a Protector, then the sooner they had a king again, the better." The final resting place Cromwell's remains is a matter of dispute. His body probably lies near Tyburn in London, now the Marble Arch area. Here are some opinions about Cromwell, "He lived a hypocrite and died a traitor," "Seditionist, traitor, regicide, racialist, protofacist and blasphemous bigot," ,"Every beast hath some evil properties; but Cromwell hath the properties of all evil beasts," ,"...the English monster, the center of mischief, a shame to the British Chronicle, a pattern for tyranny." Whatever he was, 'Bad Brave Man' or 'Chief of men' , his importance in English and European history is evident.

Brandon, L.G. A Survey of British History, Book II, Camelot Press Ltd, Southampton -
Bonney, R. The European Dynastic States, Oxford University Press, New York -
- www.cromwell.argonet.co.uk

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