Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Oliver Cromwell

Contrasting opinions: Hero or Villain?
Rich in its History of Royal Families, England has been well known for its Monarchs. If you're ever wondering if there's a point of time whereby England had not had a King, then yes, that once happened. There was one man who had ruled England for 5 years but he was no King. That man who ran the country was none other than Oliver Cromwell, 1st Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland.

There are many divided opinions about this man and one of them was whether he was a great despot or a great hero.

Was he a tyrant? He was like a dictator.
But he refused the English crown. So what do you think of him now?

He certainly became infamous-- or famous-- when he got Charles I of England, the King at that time, to be executed. To hate him or not, Oliver Cromwell was indeed an admirable man. How many country farmers have risen to become a ruler of three countries (England, Scotland, and Ireland)?

Another ironic fact about Cromwell is nobody knew about him before the age of 40, and if you're at the age of 40 in the seventeenth century, you might as well arrange your own funeral arrangements already.

Oliver Cromwell was born on 25 April 1599. He was named after his rich Uncle but nobody expected much of Oliver, since he was just the fifth born child and was just one out of the 7 children in his family.

Little is known about Oliver's childhood days. Reasons may be the lack of remarkable things that he did during the first 40 years of his life, so nobody took notice of him.

The college that Oliver attended was a place known for "Puritanism," which is a Christian religion. Oliver was a devout Puritan and you can say that religious conflicts played a role in inciting the English Civil War later on.

After a year of attending college, Oliver's father had passed away, and that meant that Oliver had to move back to his home, Huntingdon, to become the head of the Cromwell household (he was the only other male in the family for he had 6-7 sisters).

Oliver later got married to his wife Elizabeth at the age of 21. They had 9 children and on average Elizabeth got pregnant every year. They had a quiet, settled life in Huntingdon, but unfortunately as his family got bigger, his fortune had also gotten smaller.

King Charles I VS Oliver Cromwell

King Charles I: His father was King James I of Scotland. King James I of Scotland was the first King in the House of Stuarts, after the death of Queen Elizabeth I from the House of Tudors. People didn't like King James I for he fancied himself as God's favourite. They later hoped that his son King Charles I would be a better king but Charles I was even more of a big-head. Times have changed since the previous kings' ruling. In the Stuart Age the Parliament no longer wants to be treated as a pet dog. The struggle for power between the Parliament and the king led to the English Civil War and the rise of Oliver Cromwell.
Queen Elizabeth I, last monarch of the Tudor Era which would soon
be followed by the Stuart Period
Oliver Cromwell: Oliver joined the Parliament as a MP for Huntingdon. Around that period, King Charles I had only been king for less than five years when Charles I had decided to rule the country on his own. This was because the parliament refused to raise money for pointless wars. The next 11 years of King Charles I's ruling were known as the 11 years of tyranny. After coming up with many schemes to raise more money for his hedonistic lifestyle followed by endless wars, King Charles I went broke as usual and was forced to call Parliament again. During that 11 years when there was no parliament, Oliver Cromwell was struggling to support his growing family. The struggle soon came to an end when his rich uncle gave Oliver his house and estate in Cambridgeshire, as stated in Oliver's uncle's will as he had passed away.

Arguments between the Parliament and king weren't resolved and soon, came the English Civil War.

Cavaliers VS Roundheads: Details of the Civil War are not included in this blog post.

For England, going on war with either France or Spain was nothing new, but this time England was tearing itself apart!

The English Civil War was divided into the First Civil War, the Second Civil War, and the Third Civil War-- which really isn't so civil. The ones who sided the king were known as the cavaliers whereas the ones who sided the parliament were called the roundheads. Choosing sides wasn't easy because the civil war tore friends and families apart. Many didn't even believe in the cause they were fighting for. For example, a cavalier may sometimes feel that it was wrong for King Charles I to fight. Simply put, religion was the main determinant in picking sides. The rich Cavaliers who consist of the Catholics and Anglicans often wore clothes very ostentatiously whereas the Roundheads consist of strict Puritans who believed that plain clothes showed a humble heart. Do you know what's very odd about this war? Both Oliver and Charles I believed that they were carrying out God's plan, yet they disagreed in almost everything.

During the English Civil War, Oliver started as a mere captain and no one paid much attention to him. The first big battle of the war was in Oxfordshire. As the war progresses, there was no doubt that Oliver Cromwell attracted attention and recognition by his invincibility.

Queen Henrietta Maria
Wife of King Charles I
One of the many issues that the Parliament wasn't happy with was the king's marriage with a foreigner, Queen Henrietta Maria of France. This dissatisfaction was even stated in a document called the Grand Remonstrance: a list of no less than 200 complaints to the King over the past 16 years.

On a side note, here is a really funny video of the reenactment of King Charles I's wedding day.

During the English Civil War, Queen Henrietta rallied support for her husband. She was soon under sieged by the Roundheads. At that time she was about to give birth and thought that she would soon die. After the birth of princess Henrietta, Queen Henrietta then fled to France and never saw her husband alive again.

Fun fact: A higher percentage of the population died in the Civil War than in either the First or Second World War! So even though Oliver Cromwell triumphantly won the war, it was a disaster for the country.

England as a Commonwealth Country

After Oliver Cromwell had won the Civil War, King Charles I was beheaded. He was buried at Windsor Castle in the same vault as King Henry VIII. This was very ironic because fat Henry was once a big tyrant collecting heads of his wives. So who would knew that 100 years later, the King of England ended up headless himself-- and next to a tyrant for that matter!

When King Charles I was overthrown and executed, England was the only country without a monarch. Around 1640 till 1650, killjoy laws were made as England was ruled by prim Puritans. They believed that fun was sinful. Below is a Youtube video that I found rather entertaining. It portrays the differences between the Royalists and the Puritans. However, the time period was after Oliver Cromwell's death, and when King Charles I's son, King Charles II, regained power over England.

Anyway back to the story.
Oliver Cromwell was offered the crown on a silver platter. Yet, he had rejected the opportunity to become King Oliver I and carried on as Lord Protector. When Oliver Cromwell passed away, his useless son Richard took over his place as Lord Protector. Many have claimed that his second eldest son Henry could do a better job but well, Oliver chose his eldest son instead.

Posthumous Execution

Oliver Cromwell ruled England as Lord Protector for 5 years. He was 59 years old when he passed on. When his successor Richard crumbled the entire Commonwealth within 8 months, King Charles II, son of King Charles I, was invited back by the Parliament to occupy the throne. That was when the Restoration period came about, as said in the previous video above. King Charles II couldn't forgive Oliver Cromwell for beheading his father so he ordered Oliver Cromwell to be dug up from Westminster Abbey and be beheaded posthumously. Now Oliver's head had an "interesting" journey. So interesting till Wikipedia has a page dedicated to his head alone: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oliver_Cromwell's_head

Oliver's head was displayed on a spike on top of Westminster Hall. It was there for 24 years since his death until the spike broke after a violent storm, leaving the severed head to be blown down. His embalmed head went on a series of "adventures" as you can read via the link above, and after 300 years, his head was buried in his old alma mater in 1960. To avoid being pestered by head-hunters, the authorities of Sidney Sussex College placed his head in a biscuit tin and buried it somewhere in the grounds of that Cambridge college. The exact location of his head still remains a secret.


  1. LOL That was a fun post! Especially the part about his head. Btw that historical wife swap episode is one of my favourites.

    1. I forgot to mention that the exact location of the head is only known by the Master of College, and will be passed down from Master of College to Master of College

    2. Interesting. A college in Cambridge keeping such secrets :))

  2. Thank you, so much for posting this. It has helped me so much with research! :-)


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