Oliver Cromwell

Oliver Cromwell

(1599-1658)

The only true dictator in England’s history was born in Huntingdon in 1599. Oliver Cromwell attended Sydney Sussex College at Cambridge. Influenced by his university years and by a deep personal depression in his late 20s, Cromwell became a devout Puritan. Puritanism was the minority faith in England at the time; the official national church was Anglican.

Cromwell was elected to Parliament in 1640. Following the lead of his rela¬ tive John Hampden, who had resisted King Charles Is “ship money” tax, he joined the Parliamentary party. When the English Civil War broke out in 1643,Cromwell became a colonel and then a lieutenant-general in the Roundhead (Parliamentary) cavalry.

For a man who never saw mil¬ itary service until after he was 40,Cromwell evolved into a remarkable military leader. He smashed the Cavalier (Royalist) cavalry at the Battle of Marston Moor in northern England in 1644. Returning to London, he was instrumental in creating the “New Model Army:” 12 infantry regiments,10 cavalry regiments and one of dragoons. Cromwell was second in command to Sir Thomas Fairfax.

Cromwell’s New Model cavalry regiments won the crucial Battle of Naseby on June 14, 1645. Although the English Civil War had ended, King Charles I continued to conspire with Scotland to regain his throne.

Cromwell initiated the action of the Second Civil War (1648-1651) by marching north and defeat¬ ing the Scots at the Battle of Preston. Then he crossed the Irish Sea, landed in Ireland,and defeated the Catholic forces there. Cromwell’s soldiers carried out two horren¬ dous massacres of Irish soldiers and civilians at Drogheda and Wexford.

Cromwell dominated the Parliamentary trial that condemned King Charles I to death in 1649. He marched north in 1650 and won an overwhelming victory against the Scots at the Battle of Dunbar (September 3, 1650). Cromwell followed this with a victory at the Battle ofWorcester (September 3, 1651) that ended the Second Civil War.

Having attained peace, though not unity, Cromwell became the dictator of the British Isles. He expelled the “Rump” Parliament in 1653 and was installed as “Lord Protector.” In 1655, he created 11 military districts throughout England, each one governed by a major- general from his forces.

Extremely ambitious in his foreign policy, Cromwell fought both the Spanish and the Dutch during the 1650s. English forces took Jamaica from Spain and intervened in the long-standing war between France and Spain. Cromwell’s foreign policy roused the British lion in a manner that had not been seen since the days of Sir Francis Drake (see no. 47).

Cromwell died at Whitehall on September 3, 1658, the anniversary of two of his greatest victories. He was buried in King Henry VII’s chapel at Westminster Abbey with all due ceremony. But when King Charles II ascend¬ ed the throne in 1660 (an event known as the “Restoration”), Cromwell’s bones were disin¬ terred and hung on a gallows at Tyburn.