Oliver Cromwell (krŏm´wĕl, krŭm´–, –wəl), 1599–1658, lord protector of England.
The son of a gentry family, he entered Cambridge in 1616 but probably left the next year. Cromwell entered Parliament in 1628, standing firmly with the opposition to Charles I, and was active in the Short and Long Parliaments (1640), although not a conspicuous leader. During the first civil war (see English civil war) he rose rapidly to leadership because of his military ability and his genius for organizing and inspiring the parliamentary armies. His own regiment, the Ironsides, distinguished itself at Marston Moor (1644) and in numerous minor engagements.
In 1644 he pressed for a thorough reorganization of the parliamentary forces and was appointed (1645) second in command to Sir Thomas Fairfax (later Baron Fairfax of Cameron) in the resulting New Model Army, which defeated the king at Naseby in 1645. In the quarrel between the army and Parliament following the first civil war, Cromwell supported the sectarians in the army and approved the seizure (1647) of Charles from Parliament. However, he favored a moderate settlement with the king (as opposed to the radical proposals of the Levelers) until Charles's flight to Carisbrooke (1647) and secret dealings with the Scots caused him to lose all hope of further negotiations with the king.
In the second civil war he repelled the Scottish royalist invasion at Preston (1648). His political power was enhanced by the removal of Presbyterian leaders from Parliament in Pride's Purge (see under Pride, Thomas), and at the king's trial (1649) his was the leading voice demanding execution.
In 1649, after the proclamation of the republican Commonwealth, Cromwell led a punitive expedition into Ireland, especially remembered for the massacre of the royalist garrison at Drogheda. He then initiated a policy of systematic dispossession of the Irish, transferring their lands to Protestant proprietors. In 1650 he invaded Scotland and routed the Scottish royalists at Dunbar; later he defeated the Scots and Charles II himself at Worcester (1651) and left the rest of the conquest of Scotland to Gen. George Monck.
Cromwell, now virtual dictator of the Commonwealth, dissolved the Rump Parliament in 1653 after it had failed to effect reforms demanded by the army and had sought to perpetuate its power. His attempt to replace it by the Nominated (Barebone's) Parliament (see Barebone, Praise-God), appointed by himself from nominations of the Independent congregations, resulted in a reckless, hopelessly divided body that was finally forced to dissolve itself. A group of army officers then drew up the constitutional document known as the Instrument of Government (1653), by which Cromwell became lord protector (see Protectorate). The Parliament of 1654, which was elected under the terms of the same document, wanted to prepare a new constitution and was soon dissolved.
After that Cromwell resorted to open military government, dividing England into 11 districts, each administered by a major-general. Another, more amenable Parliament was summoned in 1656, and in 1657 it presented to Cromwell a new constitution known as the Humble Petition and Advice and offered him the crown. He declined the crown but accepted (with some modifications) the Humble Petition, which further increased his power and set up a second legislative chamber. The second session of this same Parliament, however, challenged the new constitution, and Cromwell dissolved it (1658) seven months before his death.
Cromwell's foreign policy was governed by the need to expand English trade and prevent the restoration of the Stuarts, and by the desire to build up a Protestant league and enhance the prestige of the English republic. He approved the Navigation Act of 1651, which led to the first (1652–54) of the Dutch Wars, and he pressed the war against Spain (1655–58) as a means of encroaching on Spanish rights of colonization in America. The Dutch war resulted in several important naval victories for the English under Admiral Robert Blake, but the Spanish war, apart from the sinking of a Spanish fleet (also by Blake), brought only Jamaica and imposed a great strain on English finances.
Character and Influence
Opinions of Cromwell have always varied widely. His military skill and force of character are universally recognized. He met the task of holding together the gains of the civil wars and the discordant groups in the Puritan party in what seemed the only practical way. This involved force and intolerance, which were evidently alien to him personally, for he professed love for both toleration and constitutional government. Only Jews and non-Anglican Protestants (excepting Quakers) were tolerated during his rule, however, and he found it impossible to cooperate with Parliament in governing. His government, dependent on his own strong character, costly in its foreign policy, and representing a break in English institutions and a minority religious viewpoint, could not survive him long, and he was succeeded briefly as protector by his son Richard.
See the writings and speeches of Oliver Cromwell (ed. by W. C. Abbott et al., 4 vol., 1937–47); biographies by M. P. Ashley (1969), J. E. C. Hill (1970), C. V. Wedgwood (rev. ed. 1973), and A. Fraser (1973); M. P. Ashley, The Greatness of Oliver Cromwell (1957, repr. 1966); writings on the period by S. R. Gardiner and Sir Charles Firth.