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Oliver Cromwell

November 14, 2019 in History

By History.com Editors

Oliver Cromwell was a political and military leader in 17th century England who served as Lord Protector, or head of state, of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland for a five-year-period until his death in 1658. Cromwell was known for being ruthless in battle, and he twice led successful efforts to remove the British monarch from power. Called a dictator by some — including future British Prime Minister Winston Churchill — Cromwell, a devout Puritan, was particularly intolerant of Catholics and Quakers, though he is also credited by others for helping to lead Great Britain toward a constitutional government.

Cromwell’s Early Life

Cromwell was born in 1599 in Huntingdon, near Cambridge, in England. The Cromwells had been a wealthy family for generations, and were part of the landed gentry in the region. He was descended on his father’s side from Thomas Cromwell, a minister of King Henry VIII.

Like most children born in the country at the time, Cromwell was baptized in the Church of England. At 21, he married Elizabeth Bourchier, daughter of a wealthy merchant family. His new wife’s family were active in the Puritan church, and it is thought that this may have prompted Cromwell to join the sect in the 1630s.

The Cromwells had nine children, though three died young, which was not unusual at the time. Their son Richard, who succeeded his father as Lord Protector, was born in 1626.

Health and Financial Woes

Cromwell was first elected to Parliament, representing Huntingdon, in 1628. Though this marked the start of his political career, his success in the halls of power was not matched in other aspects of his life.

In 1631, for example, Cromwell was forced to sell much of his land holdings in Huntingdon following a dispute with local officials. In addition, he was reportedly treated for melancholy, or depression, at this time.

His tenure in Parliament was also short, as a result of King Charles I and his decision to suspend the legislative body in 1629. Cromwell would return to government in 1640, when Charles I was essentially forced to reconvene Parliament following a rebellion against his rule in Scotland.

By then, Cromwell had become a devout Puritan, telling family that he had been a “sinner” and was newly reborn. Like most Puritans, he believed that Catholic influence tainted the Church of England, and that it must be removed.

Military Career

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