Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658)
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Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658)

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He was of a sanguine complexion, naturally of such a vivacity, hilarity and alacrity as another man is when he hath drunken a cup too much.
Richard Baxter, Reliquiae Baxterianae.

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Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658)

Oliver Cromwell first entered Parliament in 1628. When the Civil War broke out in 1642 he soon developed a forceful army, and by 1645 had become Parliament's leading general. Cromwell was a military genius and created the famed New Model Army which swept through the country to defeat Charles I and the Royalist forces. After Charles' execution in 1649 it seemed Cromwell would be the obvious choice for chairman of the new Council of State. Once in this position he struggled to devise a suitable system of republican government, named the Commonwealth. This began term with the Rump Parliament (the fifty three members of Parliament who had supported Charles' trial) but when this group of members obstructed his proposed reforms, Cromwell abolished it (1653) and declared himself Lord Protector. He ruled with a council of fifteen and a Parliament of 400 - named 'The Protectorate'. In effect, from this point on, Cromwell ruled as if he were a king. It could be argued that his 'rule' was just as tyrannical if not more so than many of his predecessors.

In 1655 he dissolved Parliament and ruled the country with the army, dividing the country into eleven districts each ruled by a major general. In 1657 the Protectorate Parliament offered Cromwell the title of King but he refused it, preferring to govern with the consent of the people rather than through hereditary right or passage. Thus Cromwell was honoured for his democratic principles and in fact, this period is the only experience England has ever had of a republican government - hence his manifestation in the form of a statue outside Parliament today.

Cromwell was not at all a handsome man. He was tall with grey eyes, a large nose and many warts on his face. He was an extremely strict Puritan which displeased many, but on the whole he was actually amazingly tolerant of religious dissent. Contrary to public opinion he was not completely adverse to pleasure and did enjoy music, riding and hunting.


I need pity. I know what I feel. Great place and business in the world is not worth the looking after.
- On himself, Letter to Richard Mayor, 1650.

If you prove not an honest man, I will never trust a fellow with a great nose for your sake.
- Sir Arthur Haselrig, A Word to General Cromwell

In short, every Beast hath some evil Properties; but Cromwell hath the Properties of all evil Beasts.
- Archbishop John Williams to King Charles at Oxford, in Hackett, 'Life of Archbishop Williams'.

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