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Oliver Cromwell

1599-1658. Lord Protector. Born near Huntingdon of a lesser English landowning family, he was educated at the local Free School and at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge. Elected to represent Huntingdon in the 1628 parliament, he spent the following eleven years (when Charles I* ruled without Parliament) occupied with East Anglian concerns and came to a strong personal Christian faith. He championed the rights of commoners against enclosures and Fen drainage, supported Puritan lecturers, and may have contemplated emigrating to New England. As member for Cambridge in the 1640 Parliament, he moved the second reading of the bill for annual parliaments, spoke for the abolition of episcopacy, and served on numerous committees.

On the outbreak of war between Parliament and king, he raised a cavalry troop of “godly, honest men” to fight under Essex at Edgehill (1642). Though aged forty-three at his first battle, he became one of the great cavalry leaders of history. In 1643 he enlarged his troop to a regiment and secured the Eastern counties for Parliament. He commanded the left wing in the victory at Marston Moor (1644). With Fairfax, he remodeled the parliamentary forces into the New Model Army, a disciplined, professional force of men “who know what they fight for and love what they know,” which won at Naseby (1645). Cromwell supported the soldiers in their grievances against Parliament over arrears of pay.

He tried to make terms with Charles, who endeavored to play off army, Parliament, and Scots against each other. After defeating the Scots at Preston (1648), Cromwell supported the execution of Charles I as a “cruel necessity.” He subdued the Royalist rebellion in Ireland, 1649-50, justifying his ruthlessness on the grounds that it would “prevent the effusion of blood” in the future, but he was clement to noncombatants. Made commander-in-chief of the army, he defeated the Scots at Dunbar (1650) and Worcester (1651)-his “crowning mercy.” Anxious for Parliament to rule, he nevertheless dissolved the “Rump” of the Long Parliament in 1652, when members tried corruptly to perpetuate their own tenure of office. A new Parliament also proved incompetent.

Cromwell was made Lord Protector in 1653 and ruled by ordinances confirmed later by Parliament. He reorganized the Church of England, trying to provide faithful preachers in every church. He protected Quakers and Jews. His foreign policy raised England's standing in Europe, he acquired Dunkirk, and he championed the persecuted Vaudois Protestants. He refused the title of king, was buried in Westminster Abbey, but was disinterred in 1661. Without personal ambition, and motivated by Christian belief, he ensured that England would be ruled by Parliament and not absolute kings, though much of his work seemed overthrown at the Restoration.*

W.C. Abbott (ed.), The Writings and Speeches of Oliver Cromwell (4 vols., 1937-47); C. Hill, God's Englishman (1970); biographies by C. Firth (1900) and C.V. Wedgwood (1973).