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Who Was Oliver Cromwell?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658) is perhaps most remembered for being the man who helped to transform England from a monarchy into a republic during the English Civil War. He also ruled England as Lord Protector from 1653 until his death in 1658, with his son following him in the role of Lord Protector. Cromwell is an interesting figure in British history because during his lifetime, he made a large number of seemingly contradictory decisions, like supporting parliamentary power and then dissolving parliaments, or advocating for religious freedom while executing heretics. In Britain, he is a well known historical personage, thanks to his brief role as Lord Protector of England.

Information about the early years of Oliver Cromwell is much less plentiful than that on his rise to power and later life. He was born into a family of landed gentry in Huntington, and he was sent to Cambridge for an education. At some point in his relatively early life, Cromwell took up the Puritan cause, becoming a strict Puritan and incorporating his religious faith into his political as well as personal beliefs. He was also sent to Parliament to represent his family, and he was present at all of Charles I's ill fated parliaments, advocating for more Parliamentary power.

When the English Civil War broke out in 1642, Oliver Cromwell transformed himself into a talented military leader, despite having minimal experience. He led Parliamentary troops, known as Roundheads, to victory numerous times against the forces of Charles I, also called the Cavaliers or Royalists. Cromwell also took his military experience abroad, brutally conquering Ireland, for example, and helping to subdue Scottish rebellions as well.

In 1649, Oliver Cromwell was one of the major agitators for the trial and subsequent execution of Charles I. He helped to establish the Republican Commonwealth which governed England for almost 12 years, handling the rule directly during the period of the Protectorate. When he died in 1658, his son Richard took over as Lord Protector, although he did not hold the position for very long; the Royalists eventually gained the upper hand and restored the King's son, Charles II, to the throne. However, Charles II presided over a Parliamentary Monarchy, rather than an absolute monarchy, perhaps taking note of his father's fate.

One interesting note about Oliver Cromwell is that he did not rest in peace after his death in 1658. In 1660, his body was dug up by Royalist forces, hung in chains, and beheaded. This posthumous “execution” was also used on the bodies of several other regicides who had worked together to execute Charles I. The fate of Cromwell's bones is uncertain, but his head apparently drifted from owner to owner for some times before finally being laid to rest 300 years later at Sidney Sussex College.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon296040 — On Oct 09, 2012

I didn't know that you could publicly embarrass a dead guy.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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