Oliver Cromwell

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Oliver Cromwell, miniature by Samuel Cooper .

Cromwell's signature:
Signature Oliver Cromwell.PNG
Oliver Cromwell's standard as lord protector, with the symbols of the three kingdoms of England , Scotland and Ireland

Oliver Cromwell (born April 25, 1599 in Huntingdon , † September 3, 1658 in Westminster ) was Lord Protector of England , Scotland and Ireland during the brief republican period of English history .

Originally a simple member of the English lower house , he rose to the position of organizer and then the decisive general of the parliamentary army in the civil war of parliament against King Charles I. With the execution of Charlemagne, all attempts by the Stuart kings to transform England into an absolutist state came to an end. However, in the end, Cromwell's efforts to convert England into a republic on a permanent basis also failed .

Cromwell is a controversial figure in the history of the British Isles . Some historians consider him a regicide and dictator, while others consider him a freedom hero. In a 2002 BBC poll, he was voted tenth among the 100 Greatest Britons . As a devout Puritan , he took a tolerant position towards the various Protestant dissenters of his time and fought against Catholicism . He is widely hated in Ireland for his brutal actions against the Catholic majority, which some historians have termed " genocidal ".



Oliver Cromwell was the son of the landed gentry Robert Cromwell (around 1560-1617) and his wife, Elizabeth Steward (or Stewart; 1564-1654) from the Clan Stewart (related to the British royal family Stuart ) in Huntingdon in the county of Huntingdonshire in East Anglia born . His father was descended from Catherine Cromwell, an older sister of Thomas Cromwell , who, as Lord Seal Keeper of Henry VIII , had operated the separation of the Church of England from Rome. Presumably to document the connection to the famous relative, the children of Catherine's took on Catherine's last name even though she was married.

Started as a parliamentarian

Oliver Cromwell first came into contact with the ideas of Puritanism while studying at Cambridge . But he did not become an avowed Puritan until 1628/29, when he sat in the House of Commons for the first time as MP for Huntingdon. In the eleven years from 1629 to 1640, in which Charles I ( English Charles I ) tried to rule without parliament, Cromwell led the life of a wealthy landlord in Huntingdon.

In 1640 the king convened parliament again because he urgently needed money for the episcopal war against Scotland . Cromwell immediately joined the king's opponents, who tied the granting of the taxpayers' money to the granting of political freedoms. In November 1641, alongside John Pym, he was one of the initiators of the Great Remonstrance , a letter of appeal of the lower house in which the misconduct of the government of Charles I was listed.

Cromwell as a general around 1649 (painting by Robert Walker )

On January 4, 1642, the king's attempt to arrest the leaders of the opposition in the lower house failed. This attempted coup sparked two civil wars. In 1642 Cromwell initially provided a light cavalry force, the Ironsides ( iron sides , more appropriately the iron hard ones , according to another representation, the Ironsides protected the flanks of the infantry and therefore bore this name). The unit consisted, firstly, of well-trained and well-equipped soldiers and, secondly, was composed almost entirely of devout Puritans: men who fought for their cause out of conviction, not for money. Thirdly, the officer positions were filled exclusively on the basis of earnings and skills, so that, for example, even simple craftsmen could become officers. This led to a very high willingness to fight on the part of the men and to a generally very high morale. The Ironsides were soon known for their discipline - including towards the civilian population - and thanks to their fighting power they quickly became indispensable as an elite force for Parliament. The Ironsides were the cavalry of the parliamentary army , the New Model Army . The New Model Army won the victory over the royalists .

After Cromwell's victory in the Second Civil War, the king was tried; on January 30, 1649 he was executed for treason, murder and high treason in front of his residence in Whitehall and England was declared a republic. In 1650 Cromwell was given command of the entire New Model Army.

As head of state of the Commonwealth

Oliver Cromwell as King - Contemporary Dutch caricature
Cromwelltaler with the year 1658 - the tear of the stamp was associated with the decapitation after his death, the middle shield is Cromwell's family coat of arms

In the peacetime after the Civil Wars, Cromwell ruled the Commonwealth of England , from December 16, 1653, after the dissolution of the rump parliament and self-dissolution of the " Parliament of the Saints ", he carried the title of " Lord Protector of England, Scotland and Ireland". In 1657 he refused the royal office despite the offer from Parliament. Towards the end of the war, he suppressed mutinies and uprisings in the army that were triggered by outstanding wages. He also showed no sympathy for the movement of the Levellers , the equalizers who campaigned for the interests of the petty bourgeoisie and were supported by parts of parliament. The True Levellers led by Gerrard Winstanley he fought even active. In 1653 he dismissed his cabinet; his foreign policy - especially the decree of the navigation act  - led to the first Anglo-Dutch War (1652-1654). Gradually, his style of government approached a military dictatorship , the title of Lord Protector became hereditary.

Cromwell had previously waged war in Scotland and Ireland (see Recapturing Ireland ) and had both countries - in principle autonomous kingdoms - occupied by English troops. After the conquest of Drogheda , 3,500 people were murdered: around 2,700 soldiers loyal to the king and all men carrying weapons in the city, whether civilians, prisoners or Catholic priests. This massacre and the brutal repression of the royalists in Ireland in 1649 still weigh on Irish-English and Catholic-Protestant relations today. Cromwell found his killing warrant justified, as Drogheda's defenders continued to fight against martial law after the city walls were broken.

Cromwell died on September 3, 1658 of malaria , with which he was infected in Ireland, combined with "stone complaints" (kidney and bladder stones). Shortly before, his favorite daughter Elisabeth had died.

Cromwell's son Richard , who was planned by his father as his successor, was unsuccessful because he did not understand how to lead the army. He gave up his reign in April 1659 and went into exile in Paris.

After the symbolic execution of the bodies of Oliver Cromwell, Henry Ireton and John Bradshaw in 1661, their heads were displayed on three long poles (numbered 1, 2, 3 in the picture).

In 1660, Parliament granted Charles II the royal dignity. In 1661 the body of Oliver Cromwell was exhumed from Westminster Abbey, along with those of Henry Iretons and John Bradshaw, and on January 30, the twelfth anniversary of the execution of King Charles I, a posthumous symbolic execution as a regicide . The heads of the three were displayed on poles across from Westminster Hall for public deterrence. Cromwell's head later fell into the hands of collectors who showed it for money. Eventually the skull (the authenticity of which was doubted) was buried in 1960 at Sidney Sussex College , Cambridge , where Cromwell had studied.


On August 22, 1620, Cromwell married Elizabeth Bourchier (1598-1665) in St Giles-without-Cripplegate in London . The couple had 9 children:

  • Robert (1621–1639), died in boarding school
  • Oliver (1622–1644), died as an officer in the parliamentary army
  • Bridget (1624–1662), married Henry Ireton , then Charles Fleetwood
  • Richard (1626–1712), successor to his father as Lord Protector
  • Henry (1628–1674), Lord Deputy of Ireland until 1658
  • Elizabeth (1629–1658), married John Claypole
  • James (1632), died shortly after giving birth
  • Mary (1637–1713), married Thomas Belasyse, 1st Earl Fauconberg
  • Frances (1638–1720), married Robert Rich (1634–1658), then Sir John Russell, 3rd Baronet


A statue of Oliver Cromwell stands in front of the Palace of Westminster in London as well as the Geneva Reformation Monument .

Although the Cromwell Republic failed, it was an important step on the way to shaping English democracy . The draft constitution of the Independents, Agreement of the People (1647), as a consequence of strong democratic tendencies, emphasized the central issues of religious freedom , equality before the law , general political participation and an end to prison sentences for debtors. Cromwell's plan to unite Protestant Europe under the leadership of England could not be carried out. In the tolerant John Milton , Cromwell had at times a dedicated and capable associate.

In the Evangelical Name Calendar , Cromwell is on September 3rd.

Artistic reception


  • The Writings and Speeches of Oliver Cromwell. Edited by WC Abbott. 4 volumes, Cambridge / Massachusetts 1937–1947


Web links

Commons : Oliver Cromwell  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Wikisource: Oliver Cromwell  - Sources and full texts (English)

Individual evidence

  1. BBC: Ten greatest Britons chosen
  2. a b c Eva Kötting: Podcast calendar sheet on Bayern2. ( Memento from September 30, 2007 in the Internet Archive ), also Horst Aspöck from the Medical University of Vienna in https://orf.at/stories/3118044/
  3. The Life of Oliver Cromwell. Retrieved January 29, 2021 (UK English).
  4. ^ Cromwell's family . The Cromwell Association. Retrieved August 6, 2017.
  5. ^ W. Breach of values:  Human rights . In: Religion Past and Present (RGG). 3. Edition. Volume 4, Mohr-Siebeck, Tübingen 1960, Sp. 869.
  6. ^ R. Nürnberger:  Cromwell, Oliver . In: Religion Past and Present (RGG). 3. Edition. Volume 1, Mohr-Siebeck, Tübingen 1957, Sp. 1884-1885.
  7. Oliver Cromwell in the Ecumenical Lexicon of Saints