Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658) ruled Britian as Lord Protector during the Reformation. He remains one of the most enigmatic figures in the English history.

Born in Huntingdon to the landed gentry and educated at Cambridge Cromwell remained an obscure land baron until English Civil War of the 1640's. With the outbreak of war in 1642, Captain Cromwell quickly advanced up the ranks of the Parliamentary Army with victories throughout Northern England that put it securely in the hand of Parliamentarians. By the end of 1643 Cromwell held the rank of Lt. General and field commanded Parliament's most effective army. The Parliamentary Army eventually won the civil war and executed the King Charles I.

Cromwell led successful and brutal military campaigns to establish English control over Ireland (1649-50) and then Scotland (1650-51). In summer 1650, before embarking for Scotland, Cromwell had been appointed Lord General - that is, commander in chief - of all the parliamentary forces. A remarkable achievement for a man who had no military experience before 1642.

Cromwell's military standing gave him enhanced political power, just as his military victories gave him the confidence and motivation to intervene in and to shape political events. An inexperienced member of Parliament for Cambridge in 1640, by the late 1640s he was one of the institutions power-brokers. He played a decisive role in the 'revolution' of winter 1648-9. As head of the army, he intervened several times to support or remove the republican regimes of the early 1650s.

In December 1653, he became head of state as Lord Protector, though he held that office under a written constitution which ensured that he would share political power with parliaments and a council. As Lord Protector for almost five years he ruled Britain until his death on September 3, 1658

Cromwell waged war ruthlessly. When peace came to Britian in the late 1640's, his post revolution government was fairly enlightened in that it did not conduct bloodthirsty purges of the remaining Monarchists. However, England quickly tired of the harsh discipline of the roundheads who closed the theaters and outlawed public dancing.

Within a year of Cromwell's death the English restored a monarch (Charles II) to the head of state over Cromwell's successor and son Richard.

Oliver Cromwell is one of those figures from history who show that you don't have to be nice to become famous. He was an avowed Puritan, and thought that the best way to support Parliament and establish a fair, Christian government for Britain was to start a war, have the King executed for being king, and set himself up as dictator instead. 1066 and All That describes the cavaliers as wromantic but wrong and Cromwell's Roundheads as repulsive but right. I'd keep the bit about the cavaliers, but to my mind, the Roundheads were wrepulsive and wrong. The Puritans prevented people from celebrating at Christmas, and vandalised numerous medieval churches. Cromwell was succeeded as Lord Protector by his son, Richard 'Tumbledown Dick' Cromwell. Having been the recipient of this dramatic move against hereditary monarchy, Dick resigned. King Dick's hatband was made of sand. Charles II duly became king, and a fresh wave of religious repression took place.

For this magnificent contribution to British history, Oliver Cromwell got several streets and the like named after him, and there is a statue of him outside the Houses of Parliament. Some people still think he might have been a Good Thing.
Alec Guinness (King Charles I), Richard Harris (Oliver Cromwell) and Robert Morley (Lord Manchester) starred in the movie Oliver Cromwell and I thought as historical cinema goes it was pretty good and enjoyable. It captured the tension and strategy between Cromwell and the King nicely. Guinness was superb in his portrayal of the King's wizened demeanor, his domestic frettings and even his royal sounding lisp. According to one historical account I have read Cromwell was to have said to members of the Parliament of the King "I tell you we shall have his head with the crown still on it". The movie rendered it "I shall have this King's head and the crown upon it." Slightly different. Was Cromwell the idealist or the opportunist? That seems to be the historical question mark. So much turns on the so few words and a little emphasis.

The trial of the King is an honest to goodness paradigm shift. Parliament claimed authority to judge and condemn. The king, who believed in the Church based Divine Right of Kings saw only a 'power' though not legitimate. After his condemnation, he stated he knew as much law as any man though he was not a lawyer and "I have a right to be heard" but the Parliamentarians asserted that since he did not recognize Parliament why should they hear his last arguments.

By all accounts the King died nobly paraphrasing something from Saint Paul about moving on from a corruptible crown to an incorruptible crown. One wonders if the events softened Cromwell to the point of being a fairly good ruler during whose government many aspects of modernism were set in place.

It is a tragic and very moving story. Apparently Thomas Carlysle was one of the first modern historians to put together what actually happened in those days of the seventeenth century and he complained about a veritable 'blackout' during those times. He found reams of un-indexed papers stored away in museums from which to work but very little accurate history note taking.

They must have been dark times.

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