Oliver Cromwell

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Oliver Cromwell was an English soldier and statesman who led parliamentary forces in the English Civil Wars. He was lord protector of England, Scotland, and Ireland from 1653 to 1658 during the republican Commonwealth.

As a general on the parliamentary side of the English Civil War vs. Charles I, Cromwell helped bring about the overthrow of the Stuart monarchy, and he raised his country's status to that of a leading European power since the death of Queen Elizabeth I. Being a man with strong character made him one of the most remarkable rulers in modern European history. Although he was a convinced Calvinist he believed deeply in the value of religious toleration. Cromwell's victories at home and abroad helped to vitalize a Puritan attitude of mind, in Great Britain and in North America, which has continued to influence political and social life until recent times. (Gaunt, 1996)

Cromwell, the only son of Robert Cromwell and Elizabeth Steward was born in Huntingdon, England in 1599. His father, who was active in local affairs, had been a member of one of Queen Elizabeth's parliaments. Robert Cromwell died when his son was 18, but his widow lived to the age of 89. Oliver went to the local grammar school and then for a year attended Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge. After his father died he left Cambridge to go care for his mother and sisters but it is believed that he studies at Lincoln's Inn in London, where gentlemen could acquire a smattering of law. In 1620 he married Elizabeth, daughter of Sir James Bourchier, a merchant in London. They had five sons and four daughters. (Kathe, 1984)

Both his father and mother were Protestants who had profited from the destruction of the monasteries during the reign of King Henry VIII, and they probably influenced their son in his religious upbringing. Both his schoolmaster in Huntingdon and the Master of Sidney Sussex College were enthusiastic Calvinists and strongly anti-Catholic. In his youth Cromwell was not very studious, since he enjoyed outdoor sports, such as hunting; but he was an avid reader of the Bible, and he admired Sir Walter Raleigh's The History of the World. Cromwell learned that the sins of man could be punished on earth but that God, through His Holy Spirit, could guide the elect into the paths of righteousness. (Kathe, 1984)

In the early parts of his married life Cromwell, like his father, was quite conscious of his responsibilities to his fellow men and concerned himself with affairs in his native fenlands, but at the same time he had a spiritual and psychological struggle which confused him and damaged his health. He was convinced that he had been "the chief of sinners" before he learned that he was one of God's Chosen. (Kathe, 1984)

Cromwell also had financial worries until, at the age of 39, he inherited property at Ely from his uncle. Like other lesser gentry, he contended with bad harvests and a variety of taxes and impositions, such as "ship money", exacted by the monarchy not only to pay for the upkeep of the navy but also to sustain the luxuries of the court. In 1628 he had been elected a member of Parliament for the borough of Huntingdon, but King Charles I dissolved this Parliament in 1629 and did not call it again for 11 years. (Gaunt, 1996)

During this time, country gentlemen like Cromwell became annoyed. The Cromwell family was one of a mass of angry gentry who belonged to "the political nation": for example, John Hampden, a wealthy squire who brought a case against the king over the levying of ship money, was Cromwell's cousin. Then in 1640 Cromwell was elected a member of the Parliament for the borough of Cambridge (partly because of the important social position he held in Ely and partly because of his fame as "Lord of the Fens,") he found himself among many friends at Westminster who were highly critical of the monarchy. This "Short Parliament" did little since it was dissolved after three weeks, but,...
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