Oliver Cromwell By Professor Morrill Detail of Oliver Cromwell from an engraving ? Oliver Cromwell played a leading role in bringing Charles I to trial and execution, and was a key figure during the civil war. Why does he remain one of the country's most controversial public figures? A unique leader Oliver Cromwell rose from the middle ranks of English society to be Lord Protector of England, Scotland and Ireland, the only non-royal ever to hold that position. He played a leading role in bringing Charles I to trial and to execution; he undertook the most complete and the most brutal military conquest ever undertaken by the English over their neighbours; he championed a degree of religious freedom otherwise unknown in England before the last one hundred years; but the experiment he led collapsed within two years of his death, and his corpse dangled from a gibbet at Tyburn. He was - and remains - one of the most contentious figures in world history 'Cromwell had been converted to a strong puritan faith' Oliver Cromwell was born on 25 April 1599 in Huntingdon. His ancestors had benefited from the power of a distant relative, Thomas Cromwell, who secured them former monastic lands in 1538-9. Cromwell's grandfather built an elegant house on the outskirts of Huntingdon and regularly entertained King James (the hunting was good in Huntingdon) and other prominent courtiers. But Cromwell's father was a younger son who only inherited a small part of the family fortune and he was brought up in a modest town house. Burdened by debt and a decline in his fortunes, he sold up in 1630, and took a lease on a farm a few miles away, in St Ives. It would appear that in 1634 Cromwell attempted to emigrate to Connecticut in America, but was prevented by the government from leaving. For Cromwell had been converted to a strong puritan faith, and he found living within a church still full of 'popish' ceremonies unbearable. He yearned to be where the gospel was proclaimed and preached unadorned. He stayed and became more radical in his religion - he regularly preached at an illegal religious assembly and he referred in a letter to the Bishop as 'the enemies of God His Truth'. When the chance came, he stood for Parliament, and was returned on the interest of a Puritan caucus, for the town of Cambridge. Member of Parliament (1640 - 1649) Cromwell was a highly visible and volatile member of parliament from 1640-2 and whenever he took his seat in between military campaigns. In the early months of the Long Parliament, he was outspoken on the need for reform of the Church 'roots and branches' and he was the first man to demand the outright abolition of bishops. He was also prominent in the campaign to force the king into calling annual sessions of Parliament; and he demanded that control of home defence be transferred from the King to officers directly appointed by Parliament. As the country drifted into civil war, he was one of the activist M.P.s sent into the provinces to raise troops 'for the defence of the realm'. He galvanised the areas around Huntingdon and Ely and used force to prevent the Cambridge Colleges sending their silver to the King's headquarters to support his war effort. He was quickly commissioned into the army, and spent most of the next four years in arms. But in the winter of 1644/5 he returned to Parliament and bitterly denounced the parliamentarian generals for half-heartedness and an unwillingness to promote low-born men with radical religious views who had a passion for victory over gentlemen who looked for a negotiated, compromise peace. Controversially, he was the only M.P. exempted from an ordinance that recalled Members of both Houses to serve in Parliament, but even he served out the war in the 'New Model Army' on a series of 40-day commissions. It was only in 1647 that he was confirmed as the Lieutenant General. 'For too long, Cromwell trusted in the King's willingness to agree to his proposals' In 1647-8 he argued in favour of a settlement with the king that would require him to accept Cromwell's political allies as his ministers and which would guarantee rights of religious liberty for all sincere protestants. This brought him into conflict with those in Parliament who wanted to replace the old Church of England, with a new 'Presbyterian' Church based on the teachings of Calvin and the experience of Geneva and Scotland, but also with more radical voices that wanted a much more democratic system of government - the right of all adult males to vote, for example. For too long, Cromwell trusted in the King's willingness to agree to his proposals. When, instead, he escaped from army custody and launched a second civil war, Cromwell rounded on him and hounded him to death. Soldier (1642 - 1651) Given his lack of previous military experience, Cromwell's military rise was spectacular: captain in 1642, colonel early in 1643, in charge of the cavalry of the second most important of the regional armies by the end of the year, Lieutenant General of the New Model 1645-9 and Lord General for the campaigns in Ireland (1649-50) and Scotland (1650-1). In 1642-4, he helped to put East Anglia under complete parliamentarian control, and worked tirelessly to create the most efficient and responsive civilian support structure in the country, ensuring the flow of money and supplies to his troops. He took part in five of the ten major battles, moving his troops as far west as Newbury and as far north as York. His role in the greatest of victories, at Marston Moor in July 1644, was crucial. In 1645-6 he again played a vital role, in the planning of campaigns and on major battlefields, as the New Model systematically destroyed the remaining royalist armies at Naseby in Northampton in June 1645, Langport in Somerset a month later and then in a relentless series of sieges of royalist strongholds. He was not a military innovator or a brilliant tactician, but he had an extraordinary ability to instill self-belief into his men, to share with him his own utter conviction that God was with them and willing them to victory; and he ruthless and relentlessly ensured that they were better paid and fed than were other armies, even if that meant some controversial requisitioning of supplies. In 1647, he struggled to maintain the unity of army in the face both of Parliament's attempts to disband it before a political settlement was reached with a defeated king and of radical attempts to eliminate monarchy and to establish a constitution that would promote a major redistribution of wealth and social and economic power. In 1648, Charles I tried to overturn his defeat in the First Civil War by making a new alliance with the Scots and calling on former royalists and disillusioned Parliamentarians to rise up. Faced by revolt across Britain, the New Model divided and Cromwell took on the lion's share of the work, crushing a major rebellion in South Wales, defeating a Scots invasion force at Preston and then pacifying Yorkshire. '...every tenth common soldier - were killed, many clubbed to death. It was in accordance with the laws of war, but it went far beyond what any General had done in England' In the summer of 1649, Cromwell was sent to Ireland with two objectives: to place it firmly under English control; to superintend the confiscation the land of all 'rebels' - as a result almost forty per cent of the land of Ireland was redistributed from Catholics born in Ireland to Protestants born in Britain. His first target was the town of Drogheda north of Dublin which he stormed and captured. Perhaps 2,500 men, mainly in arms, were killed during the storm and several hundred more - all the officers, all Catholic priests and friars, every tenth common soldier - were killed, many clubbed to death. It was in accordance with the laws of war, but it went far beyond what any General had done in England. Cromwell then perpetrated a messier massacre at Wexford. Thereafter most towns surrendered on his approach, and he scrupulously observed surrender articles and spared the lives of soldiers and civilians. It was and is a controversial conquest. But, from the English point of view, it worked. In the summer of 1650, he returned to England and was sent off to Scotland, where Charles II had been proclaimed and crowned as King of Britain and Ireland. In a campaign as unrelenting but less brutal, he wiped out the royal armies and established a military occupation of the lowlands and west that was to last until 1660. In September 1651 he returned to a roman-style triumphant entry in London. One foreign ambassador watching predicted that he would soon he king. He was almost right. Statesman (1651 - 1658) From September 1651 until his death seven years later Cromwell hardly ever left London. As Lord General, he was a powerful voice in the counsels of the Rump Parliament and its 41-man Council of State that ruled England. But his deepening irritation with its self-serving and sloth in developing long-term solutions led him to lose patience in April 1653 and to use military force to disband the Parliament and to establish a 'parliament of saints', the 140 godliest men Cromwell could find whose task it was to devise a constitution that would reflect gospel values and would teach the people the responsibilities of freedom - how to turn from the things of the flesh to those of the spirit. This proved too tall an order and after five months the assembly surrendered power back into Cromwell's hands. His army colleagues asked him to take power as a constitutional monarch within the 'Instrument of Government', a fully developed paper constitution. 'Cromwell was not averse to monarchy - he had wanted to replace Charles I by one of his sons' Cromwell was not averse to monarchy - he had wanted to replace Charles I by one of his sons, even at the time of the Regicide - and he had discussed the restoration of the House of Stuarts with colleagues in 1651 and 1652, but he shrank from taking the title himself. And so he was installed with most of the powers that the Instrument had assigned to monarchy but with the title Lord Protector. He was constrained to work with and through a Council of State and to meet Parliament regularly. He was most committed to a wide measure of religious liberty - there was a state church under Cromwell, but no-one was required to attend it, and almost everyone, Catholics and Jews included, was allowed to worship privately in the light of conscience. Membership of the state church was not a qualification (as it was to be before 1649 and from 1660 until the nineteenth century) for entry to the universities, the professions, public office. Those who abused liberty to disturb the liberty of others (Quakers), as a front for political ambition (Catholics), or who promoted beliefs against the Creeds (especially those who denied that Jesus Christ was God) were subject to regulation, but otherwise this was a remarkable period of religious freedom. Cromwell wanted to build a godly commonwealth, and he rode roughshod over those who got in his way raising taxation without consent, overriding a law he has helped to make in 1651 which protected ex-royalists from further penalty, imprisoning without trial those he believed to be planning subversion of his regime. Assessment In 1657 the more conservative of Cromwell's supporters - the lawyers above all - made another attempt to make him King in an attempt to place him under the restraining influence of ancient rules and restrictions. He again refused the title, but did accept a redefinition of his powers in 'The Humble Petition and Advice'. In 1658, his health inexorably failed him and he died on 3 September and was buried in Westminster Abbey. He had always led a minority government, and the coalition of interests he represented disintegrated with his death, opening the way to the Restoration twenty months later. 'He gave the English an abiding suspicion of religious 'enthusiasm'' His achievement was transient and in the short and medium term negative. He gave the English an abiding suspicion of religious 'enthusiasm' and of soldiers-in-politics, and he escalated the long-term instability of Ireland, where a Catholic people were oppressed by an English colonial elite. The naval and military reforms - and the financial measures that underpinned them underlay the continental and colonial triumphs of the following centuries. He had championed religious liberty, the principle of the accountability of rulers to the people and these proved a great inspiration to nineteenth-century non-conformists and liberals. He has more roads named after him than any other Englishman and woman except Queen Victoria. He is a dominant figure in public memory of British and Irish history, and probably the one about whom there is most disagreement. Find out more Books Oliver Cromwell by Barry Coward (Longman, 1991) Oliver Cromwell by Peter Gaunt (Blackwell, 1996) Oliver Cromwell by JC Davis (Edward Arnold, 2001) God's Englishman by Christopher Hill (Penguin, 1972) Oliver Cromwell and the English Revolution edited by John Morrill (Longman, 1990) The Lord Protector by Robert Paul (Heinemann, 1955) Oliver Cromwell by John Buchan (1934) Oliver Cromwell and the Rule of the Puritans by CH Firth (Oxford University Press, 1900) The Letters and Speeches of Oliver Cromwell edited by Thomas Carlyle (innumerable editions from many publishers, 1843-1903) The Speeches of Oliver Cromwell edited by Ivan Roots (Everyman, 1989) About the author John Morrill is Professor of British and Irish History at the University of Cambridge and was for ten years President of the Cromwell Association, a body that seeks to promote public knowledge about and interest in Cromwell and his age. He is the author of many books about the period.