Oliver Cromwell

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Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658), was an English soldier, statesman, and leader of the Puritan revolution, nicknamed "Old Ironsides". He rose from the ranks of the middle gentry to become an outstanding soldier; his genius for organizing and inspiring the parliamentary armies, called the "New Model Army" and nicknamed "roundheads", was displayed at the battle of Marston Moor (1644). Victory in the field allowed him to execute the king in 1649 and become (perhaps) a dictator; after 1653 he ruled under the title "Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland, and Ireland." He executed an aggressive and generally effective foreign policy. Cromwell did as much as any English ruler 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. However he was never identified with any one sect or position, and favoured more religious tolerance than was usual at that place and time.

Cromwell is the most controversial figure in all of British history. Strongly held opinions stretch from those who see him as a regicidal dictator who trampled on glorious royal traditions or a religious fanatic and a genocidal murderer of the Irish Catholics, to those who celebrate a hero of liberty who helped make the nation great. Most historians now have a favourable view of Cromwell's achievements and character.



He was born at Huntingdon in eastern England on April 25, 1599. His father, Robert Cromwell, and his mother, Elizabeth Steward, were typical English country gentlefolk. His father was a younger son of a family founded by Thomas Cromwell (1485-1540), a minister of Henry VIII; they had acquired considerable wealth by taking over monastery property during the Reformation. At the time of Oliver's birth his grandfather, Sir Henry Cromwell, was one of the two wealthiest landowners in Huntingdonshire, but his father was of modest means. Oliver was sent to the Huntingdon Grammar School and afterwards for one year only to Sidney Sussex College at Cambridge University. His father died when he was 18, and Oliver, the only surviving son, left the university to look after his mother and six sisters. He studied law for a time at the Inns of Court in London, and at 21 he married Elizabeth Bourchier, the daughter of a London leather merchant. He then returned to Huntingdon and settled down as a farmer.

Early career

For 20 years Cromwell followed the normal career of a country gentleman and farmer, taking a prominent part in local affairs. In 1628, he was elected by Huntingdon to the last parliament summoned by King Charles I before the 11-year period (1629-1640) during which the latter tried to rule without one--the so-called "Eleven Years Tyranny." Cromwell's only speech in the Parliament of 1628-1629 was a fierce attack upon the High Church bishops. About 1628 he had a profound religious conversion that shaped his life; he became involved in local networks of Puritans, did some lay preaching, and considered a move to the Puritan colony of Connecticut.

In 1631 after a humiliating political defeat in Huntingdon, and near bankrupt, he moved to St. Ives, and four years later to Ely. About this time he caught malaria, which troubled him sporadically and shortened his life. An inheritance in 1636 brought him the adequate income of £300 a year.

Puritan leader

Cromwell became a local leader in the rapidly the expanding Puritan movement, which demanded a radical reform of the Church of England, and was opposed to the High Church tendencies favoured by William Laud, who became Archbishop of Canterbury in 1633. In 1640, he was returned to Parliament as member for Cambridge. Sir Philip Warwick, a supporter of the Court, famously described him as wearing a coarse suit, and plain linen shirt, its collar spotted with blood. Despite appearances and his blunt speech, he was nonetheless influential, denouncing the tyranny of the bishops, the pervasive idolatry of the established Church, and the Court interests generally. He served on eighteen high-profile committees, especially those concerned with investigating religious innovation and abuse of ecclesiastical power. At this point the leaders of the opposition to Charles I's government, notably Pym, were moderate in their aims, but when Pym died there was no-one of equivalent ability to continue that line. When war came Crowmell set off to raise troops in his home area, which he did with remarkable success.

Causes of the Civil War (1630-1642)

In 1630-42, when he governed without calling a parliament, King Charles I multiplied his enemies by imposing irritating financial exactions upon various classes of the community, using prerogative powers exercised by the king in centuries past. He demanded "ship money" from the towns, fined country gentlemen (including Cromwell) for refusing to accept knighthood, raised "forced loans," and increased customs duties. He did all this because he had no right to levy fresh taxes without the consent of Parliament; indeed, his broad aim was to secure the financial independence of the monarchy, and to fasten uniformity upon the Church. Thus the king antagonized the Puritan reformers as well as many of the country gentry and townspeople. In 1638 he became involved in a war against his Scottish subjects (he was hereditary king of Scotland as well as of England) when he tried to force upon them a prayer book similar to that in use in the English Church. They rebelled, and he was compelled to call a parliament at Westminster to ask for money to pursue the war. The accumulation of grievances against the king over eleven years made the leaders of the House of Commons aggressive and uncooperative. Cromwell at once showed himself to be a staunch Puritan, and as such gave steady support to the critics of church and government.

The Long Parliament

During the summer of 1640 King Charles was again defeated and humbled by the Scottish rebels. He appealed for help to a new parliament, which met in the autumn, with Cromwell again M.P. for Cambridge. This "Long Parliament," as it was to be called, repudiated the king's policies and obliged him to surrender many of his prerogative powers. It put to death one of the king's chief ministers, the Earl of Strafford. Cromwell and a majority of the Commons voted for a "Grand Remonstrance" against the government, and showed they did not trust the king. When the Irish rose up in rebellion in 1641, Parliament demanded the power to appoint all the king's ministers and principal army officers--an unprecedented step.

The king was eventually goaded to arrest five of the parliamentary leaders for treason. When this coup failed, King Charles left London to rally his supporters in the north of England. The Commons retorted by seizing "the power of the sword" and sending M.P.'s into their constituencies to gain control of local armouries and militia. Cromwell himself went to Cambridge, took possession of the castle, arrested a captain of the militia, and prevented the colleges from sending their silver plate to the king, who was short of money. He raised a troop of 60 cavalry and searched for suspected royalists.

In the Long Parliament he made his name as an extreme Puritan who desired the complete abolition of the bishops; in eastern England as a whole he was recognized as a champion of the right of all church congregations to choose their own ministers, and their own religious forms.

Cromwell as soldier

The civil war began in August 1642. From that moment, though totally inexperienced as a soldier, the aggressive Cromwell, now in his early 40's, rose to the front as a military organizer and a Puritan leader. Cromwell, a good horseman, became a cavalry officer, raising his own Parliamentarian troop in Huntingdon. Within a year he rose from captain, to colonel, to lieutenant general of one of the largest regional armies in England. Cromwell fought together with his cavalry at the drawn battle of Edgehill (October 23, 1642). Afterwards, he doubled the size of his troop, and then converted it into a full regiment, becoming a colonel in February 1643.

With only 2,000 men he took charge of the defences in the six parliamentarian heartland counties of East Anglia: Essex, Hertfordshire, Huntingdonshire, Cambridgeshire, Suffolk, and Norfolk. The threat was an attack from the north, and he prepared for it, while suppressing local pockets of royalists; he also organized a supply system based on county committees he appointed. He called repeatedly on the Commons to raise the pay, improve the training, and lift the morale of the soldiers they enlisted. The king, meanwhile, had a capable force furnished largely by peers, landed gentry, and their outdoor staffs. By the autumn of 1643, two thirds of England and Wales were under the king's control; in spite of minor successes achieved at Grantham, Gainsborough, and Winceby, where Cromwell served his apprenticeship in the art of war, the prognosis was poor for Parliament's army. In desperation the Parliamentary leaders came to terms with the Scottish leaders, and a Scottish army entered England in 1644.

Puritans immediately recognized and appreciated his firm, fair and aggressive leadership. In a military career that only lasted a decade, he fought in more than thirty battles, and took part in more than forty sieges, without ever tasting defeat. The extraordinary self-discipline of his cavalry charges proved decisive in several of the greatest battles of the war, and earned Cromwell himself, and then his men, the title "Ironsides." He demanded that promotions and commands be given not to the well-born (who wore long flowing hair) but to the godly (who cut their hair short and were called "roundheads"). "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 gentleman and is nothing else."[1] The two Houses moved to reorganize their armies in the winter of 1644-45, and created a new major assault force, the New Model Army. Cromwell was, to the joy of the radicals, and the dismay of the more cautious Parliamentarians, given command of the cavalry, effectively the number two position in the Army.

Oliver Cromwell, now a lieutenant general, fought alongside the Scots and a northern army under Lord Fairfax and his son, Sir Thomas, at the Battle of Marston Moor in Yorkshire on July 2, 1644, where the king's army, led by Prince Rupert, was outnumbered and defeated. Next year, fighting without the Scots, Cromwell again took part in the defeat of Prince Rupert at the Battle of Naseby on June 14, 1645. Here he served under Sir Thomas Fairfax, the new Parliamentarian commander in chief. In both these battles Cromwell distinguished himself by his courage, enterprise, and leadership. Above all, his hold on eastern England had contributed to the reversal of the fortunes of war. When King Charles allowed his stronghold of Oxford to capitulate in June 1646, and himself fled to seek the mercy of the Scottish army, Cromwell had gained a reputation as the outstanding general of the first civil war. Although he had publicly criticized some of the aristocratic parliamentary commanders for what he considered lethargy and incompetence, he had been a loyal lieutenant to his superior, Sir Thomas Fairfax.

Parliament versus Army: Second Civil War (1648)

During the first civil war Cromwell retained his seat in the House of Commons, and appeared there whenever he could. In 1644 he had taken a leading part in promoting a "self-denying ordinance", whereby those members of parliament who had held commissions in the armed forces had relinquished them in order to make way for new blood, thereby paving the way for the appointment of the non-political Fairfax. Cromwell himself had been ready to lay down his command, but Fairfax persuaded him to take command at the battle of Naseby in 1645.

Cromwell was conscious of his gifts, but, as always in his life, attributed his victories to Almighty God. It was indeed his independent-minded, highly personal Puritan religion (to which he had been "converted" as a young married man) that had brought him into the war against the king, and had sustained him in every battle. When the alliance was made with the Scots, he had insisted that this must not be at the price of liberty of conscience for himself and his fellow Independents or "sectarians." However, he was at first content to leave to the civilian leaders in Parliament, most of whom were Presbyterians, the future shape of the government.

However, the House of Commons (from which the Royalists had withdrawn at the outset of war) and the House of Lords, who were a mere handful, now showed themselves anxious to impose a rigid Presbyterian organization upon the English Church, and to dismiss Fairfax' soldiers, most of whom were Independents, without adequate compensation for their services. At first Cromwell, as an M.P. and a figure of immense influence in the army, tried to act as a mediator between Parliament and the soldiers. Eventually, he was driven to make a choice, and threw in his lot with the army. He also tried hard to come to terms with the king, whom the Scots had handed over as a prisoner to the English Parliament before their army went home. Cromwell was not opposed to a Presbyterian form of state church, but he insisted that the Puritan sects or Independents should be tolerated outside it. In negotiating a postwar settlement both with Parliament, and with the king, on behalf of the army, that was always the great point on which he would not yield. At the same time Cromwell acted as a conciliator within the army, trying to persuade those extremists who wanted to set up a democratic republic that the time was not ripe for so revolutionary a change. His idea was to have a constitutional monarchy, a middle-class parliament, and a tolerant church. But he reckoned without the king, who took advantage of the disputes among his enemies to escape to an island, thence to incite the Royalists both in England and in Scotland to a fresh civil war, which broke out early in 1648.

Second Civil War and Execution of Charles I

Parliament and its army now more or less closed ranks. While Sir Thomas Fairfax dealt with Royalist risings in south-east England, Cromwell first suppressed a rebellion in Wales, and then marched north to meet the Scots. He won a series of decisive victories over the larger Scottish army, in Lancashire (August 1648), marking his first major success as an independent commander. The temper of the army had been set aflame by the king's revival of war, and the Royalists' breach of faith. While the Presbyterians in Parliament still hoped to reach agreement with Charles I, Cromwell's son-in-law Henry Ireton led a movement to punish the king and overthrow the old monarchy. In December 1648, the southern army "purged" the Commons of its Presbyterian members and demanded the trial of the king.

During the autumn Cromwell had followed his retreating enemy into Scotland, and restored order in Edinburgh, but he had lingered in the north until General Fairfax recalled him to London; he was hesitating over his political attitude. When he got back to the capital he approved of the purge, and took charge of the arrangements to bring Charles I to his trial under guard. Fairfax having washed his hands of all political matters, Cromwell accepted the responsibilities of leadership. He realized that the trial of the king would result in the latter's death, as a result of all the blood shed in the civil wars. Once he made up his mind, Cromwell acted ruthlessly, and it was largely by his personal efforts that the trial by what was in effect a revolutionary tribunal was pressed through, and the king was condemned to death.

On January 30, 1649, King Charles I was beheaded on a block in view of a silent crowd gathered in front of the Banquet Hall of Whitehall Palace; the king's noble death proved a rallying point for his supporters. After the execution of Charles I, England became a republic; Cromwell was appointed a member of the Council of State, and was its first chairman.


Meanwhile the Royalists and the anti-English Irish had between them gained control of most of Ireland, which they hoped to use as a base for an invasion of England. Cromwell was invited to take command of the army there, but refused to accept until he was sure he would be given sufficient men, supplies and money. His financial resources enabled him to forbid plundering, a policy he enforced with disciplinary measures. After occupying Dublin in August, 1649, he led his army north and laid siege to Drogheda. On September 10-11 his army stormed the town, and killed most of the surviving garrison, which had refused to surrender. Cromwell said that the killing at Drogheda had the goal of encouraging other garrisons to surrender and not fight to the death; indeed it induced some other Irish garrisons to surrender, such as Trim, Ross and Dundalk. In October the garrison at Wexford repulsed Cromwell's army but was overcome; here again no quarter was given once the garrison refused to surrender, and this time the town was plundered. By the end of the year most of the eastern coast of Ireland was in Cromwell's hands. Early in 1650 he marched his army inland, ravaging the land Following the submission of the English settlers he was able to return to England, where his services were in demand.


The English republic was also threatened with trouble in Scotland, where the Presbyterian Covenanters had come to terms with Charles I's eldest son, Charles II. General Fairfax resigned rather than invade Scotland, and Cromwell took his place as commander in chief. He crossed the Scottish border on July 22, 1650, but at first made little headway against the defensive strategy of the Scottish commander. As in Ireland his campaign was supported by English sea power, the importance of which he appreciated. Although cut off from his English base, Cromwell won a great victory at Dunbar (30 miles [48 km] east of Edinburgh) on Sept. 3, 1650. During the winter he was taken ill and the army bogged down. But the following summer he outmaneuvered the Scots who, rather than allow themselves to have their lines of communication cut, followed the young King Charles II into England. Cromwell surrounded and destroyed the Scottish army at Worcester on Sept. 3, 1651; he was welcomed as a hero on his return to London.

Creating the Protectorate

During the next two years the quarrel between Parliament and army, which had begun in 1647, was revived. The army was now radically inclined, seeking reform in Church and State. Cromwell became the spokesman of the army's point of view, although once again he tried first to act as conciliator between the two sides. The soldiers asked that the remnant of the original "Long Parliament" of 1640, now known as "the Rump," should be dissolved and a fresh reformist one-chamber Parliament be elected. Other sections of the community had tired of the long naval war then in progress against the Dutch Republic (1652-1654), in which Cromwell's army had no part, and indeed resented as a fratricidal war against fellow Protestants. When negotiations for the election of a new Parliament broke down, Cromwell forcibly dissolved the Rump on April 20, 1653.

Cromwell did not himself seize political power; he decided instead to invite the Independent churches to nominate members of a Puritan Assembly, which would exercise both executive and legislative powers. In spring 1653 came his best chance to become an all-powerful dictator, and he turned away; with a standing army of under 15,000 men at a time when the population of England and Wales was approximately 5.5 million, the creation of a military dictatorship was a practical impossibility. There were few political prisoners, and only those who actually participated in rebellion were executed; torture was not used.

Cromwell did made the decisions--he was a dictator in that sense--but he rarely broke the law. He preferred persuasion to coercion and did not try to impose an authoritarian regime that tolerated only one set of ideas. His experiment with major-generals taking control of England has aspects of a military dictatorship, but the experiment lasted less than 15 months in 1655-57, and the generals did not in fact loom large in deciding local policies. So it verged upon, but did not reach, military rule. When offered the crown, Cromwell said no. He did set up his son as his successor, but made no serious preparations and the son was soon ousted.[2]

The Nominated Parliament set about reform with enthusiasm, but was soon split between a radical and a conservative wing. When the conservative wing gained control in December 1653 after a tussle, the majority resigned their powers into Cromwell's hands. This coup d'état was engineered by Cromwell's second-in-command, John Lambert; and it was Lambert who drew up an "Instrument of Government" as a new constitution for the English commonwealth. This constitution provided for an elected parliament, a nominated council of state, and a lord protector as chief executive officer. Cromwell was offered and accepted the post of lord protector, not as a dictator but as the first servant of the Commonwealth of England, united with conquered Scotland and Ireland.

Lord Protector

For the remaining five years of his life Cromwell governed as lord protector, sometimes with the help of a parliament, sometimes without it. But like the kings of old, he was always dependent upon the advice and support of his Council of State, or later, Privy Council. At its opening session the Protectorate Parliament (September 1654-January 1655) was more concerned about revising the new constitution than about passing legislation. Differences between protector and parliament encouraged the Royalists. In January 1655, Cromwell dissolved this parliament. A rebellion broke out in March 1655, and although it was easily suppressed, the country was divided into ten districts, each under a major general. That experiment lasted barely a year.

Meanwhile England was involved in a fresh war, this time waged against the Spanish Empire; Cromwell, needing money, called a new Parliament to vote him supplies. It met in fall 1656; Cromwell argued on behalf of his policies, but met with considerable opposition, especially from out-and-out republicans who objected to the whole idea of the Protectorate. The new House was therefore in effect "purged" of 160 members, many of whom refused to take an oath to uphold the structure of the Protectorate. The remaining members, on the whole, cooperated with Cromwell and his Council of State. But they were opposed to the system of local government through the major generals. Rather than sustain military rule, a group of lawyers and civilians proposed to create a constitutional monarchy and a Puritan Church, with Cromwell as king.

Cromwell was tempted by the offer of a crown, but eventually, largely because of the opposition of his old friends and supporters in the army, he refused it. Nevertheless a new constitution was promulgated, providing for a revived House of Lords; a Lower House, to which all except known royalists were to be admitted; a Privy Council, replacing the Council of State; and certain restrictions on the powers of the lord protector and on freedom of religion. This constitution, originally called "the Humble Petition and Advice", came into effect in June 1657. A House of Lords was nominated, but the second Protectorate House of Commons, reinforced by the excluded members and deprived of Cromwell's friends whom he had promoted to the upper House, met in January 1658, to be the scene of an immediate attack launched upon the Protector by the republicans, and aiming to tear the new constitution to pieces.

Cromwell was at last angered beyond restraint. Convinced that a fresh squabble in Parliament would be followed by a Royalist invasion, he promptly dissolved Parliament on Feb. 4, 1658.

Foreign affairs

For the last few months of his life Cromwell governed without a parliament. The war (with France) against Spain was virtually won, thanks to naval victories. A naval expedition to the West Indies resulted in the capture of Jamaica from Spain (May 1655), and Cromwell tried to convert it into a flourishing British colony.[3] In June 1658 he also obtained the port of Dunkirk as payment for the French alliance. After the peace with Holland in 1654, commerce had expanded.

Cromwell in 1654-55 launched a vastly ambitious "Western Design", with conquest of key Spanish territories in the West Indies. Although it did not take Hispaniola, its main objective, it resulted in Cromwell's most lasting impact on British overseas development, through the conquest of Jamaica, which he decided to cling onto, despite the heavy cost in men lost by disease. The Hispaniola failure has been attributed to various factors, including the conflict between the military and naval commanders, General Robert Venables and Admiral William Penn, the use of troops whom military commanders wanted removed from their commands, and disease. Contemporary accounts dwelt on the disastrous failure to capture Hispaniola, contrasting the supposedly cowardly conduct of Venables in leaving his command in Jamaica with the heroism of Major General James Heane, who died in Hispaniola trying to rally his regiment. They suggested that Venables's supposed pusillanimity reflected a general failure of the British troops to live up to the ideal of godly valour and English superiority, associated in the public mind with the New Model Army. The initial failure was a crisis for Cromwell's protectorate, straining the notion that God favoured Puritan England, but the vision of Heane's martial virtues may have provided a model that guided the future success of the British Empire.[4]


Cromwell fought hard against the more bigoted Puritans to maintain genuine freedom for the Christian religion. In Ireland he declared that he pried into no man's conscience, and it appeared that he did not pry into what they did in their private houses either. But he would not allow the public celebration of the Mass. Nor, when he encouraged the Jews to re-settle in England, would his advisers permit him to grant them public worship. The regime's religious policies fell significantly short of comprehensive toleration; rather, Cromwell offered liberty of conscience to a broad range of independent sects, whose members he sought to draw together in a united 'godly party'. [5]

He appointed good judges, and pressed his legal advisers to reform the law and make it less expensive. He promoted education; for a time he was chancellor of Oxford University, and helped to found a college at Durham.


Cromwell's strong personality and the backing of the army held the Commonwealth together and preserved internal peace; he had to contend with republican plotters as well as discontented Royalists and foreign enemies.

By 1658 the government's debt stood at £1.5 million, largely because of the heavy cost of the armed forces, which the government proved unable to reduce in size. The regime's military commitments were taking it to the verge of bankruptcy, just when it seemed to be devising a feasible civilian basis for its rule.

Worn out, he died in London of malaria on September 3, 1658. On his deathbed he named his ineffective son Richard Cromwell (1626-1712) his successor. He lasted only 8 months, to be followed in power by the head of the army, George Monck; he lasted for less than a year, whereupon Parliament restored the monarchy, under Charles II. After the king was restored, in 1661, Oliver Cromwell's body was dug up, and he was hanged as a traitor.

Image and reputation

Blair Warden, a leading historian, reports, "From his century to ours, Oliver Cromwell has been the most controversial figure of English history."[6] First, Cromwell is well known and highly thought of; recent BBC polls show the public considers him one of the ten greatest Britons. Second, his importance and influence is beyond doubt, as is his stature as an outstanding soldier and diplomat. The main facts of his career are not in dispute, only the moral evaluation of those facts.[7] Third, the range and intensity of opinion is extreme, from those who laud him as a champion of liberty and republicanism who uplifted Britain's stature in the world, to those who to this date hate him as a regicide and murderer of so many Irish Catholics. The debate ranges from commoners to kings, and historians have been deeply involved. In the 1930s and 1940s most scholars saw him as a dangerous dictator, along the lines of Mussolini, Stalin and Hitler. In recent decades nearly all the scholars have been favourable.

During his lifetime, some tracts painted him as a hypocrite motivated by power — for example, The Machiavilian Cromwell and The Juglers Discovered, both part of an attack on Cromwell by the Levellers after 1647, present him as a Machiavellian figure. After his death and public disgrace there were many denunciations and a few positive portrayals, such as John Spittlehouse's A Warning Piece Discharged which compared him to Moses, rescuing the English by taking them safely through the Red Sea of the civil wars.[8] The great royalist historian Edward Hyde, 1st Earl of Clarendon, in his History of the Rebellion and Civil Wars in England (1667) declared that Cromwell "will be looked upon by posterity as a brave bad man". Clarendon argued that Cromwell's rise to power had been helped not only by his great spirit and energy, but also by his ruthlessness. The aristocracy was especially hostile to Cromwell, in large part because of his strong appeal to the common yeoman.

In the early 18th century, Cromwell’s image began to be adopted and reshaped by the Whigs, an out-party opposing the Tories around the Hanoverian kings. They stressed Cromwell as republican, a theme often adopted by American historians. [9]

During the early 19th century, Cromwell's image was glorified by Romantic artists and poets. French author Victor Hugo's 1827 play Cromwell was representative of the French romantic movement, showing Cromwell as a ruthless yet dynamic Romantic hero. The major breakthrough came at the hands of a leading Romantic historian, Thomas Carlyle who in the 1840s saw Cromwell as the hero in a battle between good and evil. Carlyle used Cromwell as a model for restoring morality to a Victorian era that otherwise was prone to timidity, meaningless rhetoric, and moral compromise. The growth of Nonconformity in the nineteenth century encouraged an appreciation of Cromwell's Puritanism.

By the late 19th century, Carlyle's portrayal of Cromwell, stressing the centrality of puritan morality and earnestness, had become assimilated into mainstream historiography. Britain's outstanding research scholar on the era, Samuel Rawson Gardiner, concluded that "the man — it is ever so with the noblest — was greater than his work". [10] Gardiner demonstrated Cromwell’s dynamic and mercurial character, and his role in ridding England of obsolete absolutism, while downplaying Cromwell’s intense religiosity.[11] Gardner showed Cromwell’s aggressive foreign policy was a foretaste Victorian imperial expansion, with Gardiner stressing his “constancy of effort to make England great by land and sea”.[12]

Royals dislike regicides, so King George V vetoed Churchill's proposal in 1915 to name a battleship "The Cromwell"; but King George VI made no objection to the naming of a class of tanks that helped to win World War II after Old Ironsides. In the mid-20th century, Cromwell's reputation was often shaped by the rise of dictators like Mussolini and Hitler. In the 1930s Wilbur Cortez Abott, a Harvard professor, compiled and edited a multi-volume collection of Cromwell's letters and speeches, and concluded Cromwell had fascist tendencies. However, subsequent historians such as John Morrill have criticised both Abbott's interpretation of Cromwell and his editorial approach.[13]

Cromwell's reputation is now in the ascendant. More than twenty biographies by academic historians have been published in the past fifty years; all but one have been laudatory. They praise his integrity, his reliance upon his God, his brilliance as a soldier, his restless energy as head of state. There are varying estimates of the long-term effects of his role in the British Revolutions; but no recent biographer doubts that he was a man to be admired.[14]

Recent scholars have emphasized Cromwell’s religiosity and downplayed his authoritarian style. Austin Woolrych explored the issue of "dictatorship" in depth, arguing that Cromwell was subject to two conflicting forces: his obligation to the army and his desire to achieve a lasting settlement, by winning back the confidence of the political nation as a whole. Woolrych argued that the dictatorial elements of Cromwell's rule stemmed not so much from its military origins or the participation of army officers in civil government, as from his constant commitment to the interest of the people of God, and his conviction that suppressing vice and encouraging virtue constituted the chief purpose of government.[15]

Historians such as John Morrill, Blair Worden and J.C. Davis have explored Cromwell's religious rhetoricm, showing his speeches are suffused with biblical references, and arguing that his radical actions were driven by his zeal for godly reformation.[16]


  1. Letter #16, Sept. 11, 1638
  2. Austin Woolrych, (1990)
  3. James Robertson, "Cromwell and the Conquest of Jamaica." History Today 2005 55(5): 15-22. Issn: 0018-2753 Fulltext: Ebsco
  4. James Robertson, "Cromwell and the Conquest of Jamaica," History Today 55, No. 5 (May 2005) pp 15-22; Carla Gardina Pestana, "English Character and the Fiasco of the Western Design." Early American Studies 2005 3(1): 1-31. Issn: 1543-4273 Fulltext: Ebsco
  5. See Blair Worden, "Toleration and the Cromwellian Protectorate" in W.J. Sheils, ed., "Persecution and Toleration Studies" in Studies Church History,(1984) v.21
  6. Blair Warden, "The English Reputations of Oliver Cromwell, 1660-1900" in William Lamont, ed. Historical Controversies And Historians (1998) p. 35
  7. Compare the controversies over King Richard III, who was a minor player as king for less than two years and whose facts are in dispute.
  8. John Morrill, "Cromwell and his contemporaries", in Morrill, (1990) pp. 263–4, 271-2
  9. Blai Worden, Roundhead Reputations: The English Civil Wars and the Passions of Posterity (2001). pp.53–59.
  10. Gardiner, Oliver Cromwell (1901) p. 315.
  11. Worden, Roundhead Reputations (2001) pp. 256–260.
  12. Gardiner, Oliver Cromwell (1901) p. 318.
  13. John Morrill, "Textualising and Contextualising Cromwell", in Historical Journal (1990). v33#3, pp. 629-639.
  14. Morrill (2003)
  15. Austin Woolrych, "The Cromwellian Protectorate: a Military Dictatorship?" in History (1990) 75(244): 207-231
  16. Morrill "Cromwell, Oliver (1599–1658)", in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography,(2004). [1]; Blair Worden, "Oliver Cromwell and the sin of Achan". In Beales, D. and Best, G., History, Society and the Churches (1985); J.C. Davis, "Cromwell’s religion", in Morrill, John (ed.), Oliver Cromwell and the English Revolution (1990).