Lord Protector of England, General of the Ironsidesby Rit Nosotro First Published:: 2003
Patrick Henry once said, “Caesar had his Brutus; Charles the First,
his Cromwell; and George the Third may profit by their example.” Cromwell
will be best remembered as a fighter for liberty, and dethroning the tyrant.
But there is more to Cromwell’s life than that, for he lived during a
time when religious views and new ideas were colliding. As a general Cromwell
is legendary. But his later performance as a statesman is mediocre.
As a child Oliver Cromwell grew up in an English family of modestly wealthy farmers and went to the local school. Oliver Cromwell was a deeply rooted protestant, for he was raised, mentored, and taught that way. Afterwards he studied at Cambridge College but returned home without a degree on the year of his father’s death. Then on he lived as a landowning farmer until elected to the House of Commons.
In 1640 Oliver Cromwell first entered into a complicated political conflict. Puritans predominant in Parliament were pushing to abolish the Anglican Church. Charles I refused. The Church of England--made up of Bishops appointed by the king--helped uphold his power. In its turn Parliament refused to levy taxes for the king. Charles I managed to get around this financial difficulty for 11 years, but when Scotland revolted Charles I ran out of money. With no other option he convened parliament. It was then that Oliver became elected into the House of Commons.
The conflict eventually broke into a civil war in which Cromwell became an important general. To the King’s dismay, Parliament started to make severe restrictions on his rule when it convened. When Charles attempted to take advantage of a separation in parliament the English Civil War erupted. Having thrown his lot in with the Puritans bent on limitation of the king, Cromwell took a regiment of Calvary and fought for the parliamentary armies. Cromwell showed exceptional leadership and rose through the ranks. Through the war Cromwell became the lieutenant general and won many decisive victories for parliament.
Cromwell excelled as a general, and fought like a crusader. Despite having no previous training in the military Cromwell showed great leadership. Cromwell enforced strict discipline among his troops, giving them the famed nickname, “Ironsides.” Yet Cromwell, like the crusaders, gave the glory of his victories to God. Concerning his victories Cromwell said things like, “God made them stubble to our swords.” And, “Sir, this is none other but the hand of God; and to him alone belongs the glory.” Cromwell and his men firmly believed that they fought for God’s glory, and sang hymns as they marched into battle. Such actions cannot help but to bring back memories of the crusaders, but with much more military success.
With victory against the royalists came also dissension between the New Model army and parliament. Militant Independents within the army stood for the right of the Christian to choose his own minister and opposed the Presbyterians within Parliament. Charles stood in the middle of this conflict. As a prisoner of the army negotiations continued from both sides for putting him back on the throne. However Charles took advantage of the rift of dissension between Parliament and the army and fled to Isle of Wight. Outraged by such treachery the army put Charles on trial and executed him in 1649. In the end the army purged Parliament of Presbyterians and what was left was called the Rump Parliament.
After Cromwell put down rebellions in Scotland and Ireland arguments once again rose up between Parliament and the army. Frustrated by Parliaments failure to create a new constitution, Cromwell and a small guard of soldiers dispersed the Rump Parliament with the words, “You are no Parliament…I will put an end to your sitting.” In place of the Rump Parliament Cromwell organized a "Little Parliament" made up of men selected by the army. This set the foundation for a military dictatorship which he came to regret.
When Cromwell became installed as Lord Protector in 1653, his control reached into the domestic affairs of England. As most is often the case with military leaders, Cromwell’s accomplishments as the Lord Protector were not as admirable as those made in his military career. The Little Parliament dissolved and gave its power back to Cromwell under the Instrument of the Government constitution. In this constitution Cromwell was the Lord Protector and was assisted by a council of state. Cromwell manipulated Parliament to fund English wars. He put down another royalist rebellion and ended favorably the Dutch war.
Ironically however, Cromwell used more arbitrary power than Charles I and failed to set up a constitutional government. It can be said with a good deal of certainty that Cromwell excelled as a general, but contradicted that which he had fought for as the Lord Protector of England. Ultimately, Charles II returned as king of England after the death of Cromwell in 1658 and the following restoration took back many of the domestic changes.
"Cromwell, Oliver." Encyclopedia Britannica. Chicago: William Benton, publisher, © 1964.
Jackson J. Spielvogel. Western Civilization. Belmont, VA: Wadsworth/Thomson Learning, © 2000.
"Oliver Cromwell." Historic World Leaders. Gale Research, 1994. Reproduced in Biography Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: The Gale Group. 2003. http://www.galenet.com/servlet/BioRC
"Oliver Cromwell" Encyclopedia of World Biography, 2nd ed.17 Vols. Gale Research, 1998. Reproduced in Biography Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: The Gale Group. 2003. http://www.galenet.com/servlet/BioRC