Who is Oliver Cromwell?
Oliver Cromwell (25 April 1599 – 3 September 1658) was an English statesman, politician and soldier, widely regarded as one of the most important figures in the history of the British Isles. He came to prominence during the 1639 to 1653 Wars of the Three Kingdoms, initially as a senior commander in the Parliamentarian army and latterly as a politician. A leading advocate of the execution of Charles I in January 1649, which led to the establishment of The Protectorate, he ruled as Lord Protector from December 1653 until his death in September 1658. Cromwell remains a controversial figure due to his use of the army to acquire political power, and the brutality of his 1649 campaign in Ireland.
Educated at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, Cromwell was elected MP for Huntingdon in 1628. The first 40 years of his life were undistinguished and at one point he contemplated emigration to New England. He became a religious Independent in the 1630s and thereafter believed his successes were the result of divine providence. While he generally supported tolerance for the various Protestant sects of the time, he later opposed those he considered heretical, such as Quakers and Fifth Monarchists. In 1640, Cromwell was returned as MP for Cambridge in the Short and Long Parliaments, and joined the Parliamentarian army when the First English Civil War began in August 1642. He quickly demonstrated his military abilities and in 1645 was appointed commander of the New Model Army cavalry under Sir Thomas Fairfax, playing a key role in defeating the Royalists in the First and Second English Civil Wars.
Following the execution of Charles I and the exile of his son, military victories in Ireland and against the Scots from 1649 to 1651 firmly established the Commonwealth and Cromwell’s dominance of the new republican regime. In December 1653, he was named Lord Protector of the Commonwealth, a position he retained until his death in September 1658, when he was succeeded by his son Richard, whose weakness led to a power vacuum. This culminated in the 1660 Stuart Restoration, when Charles II returned to the throne, after which Cromwell’s body was removed from its resting place in Westminster Abbey and displayed at Tyburn. Cromwell’s head was placed on a spike outside the Tower of London, where it remained for 30 years until reburied at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge.
Cromwell has been variously described as a military dictator by Winston Churchill, and as a hero of liberty by John Milton, Thomas Carlyle, and Samuel Rawson Gardiner. The debate over his historical reputation continues. First proposed in 1856, his statue outside the Houses of Parliament was not erected until 1895, most of the funds being privately supplied by Prime Minister Lord Rosebery.
He didn’t really do much of distinction until his 40s, but later became famous, and posthumously had his head placed on a pike for three decades. It’s never too late to get started.