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Sunday, 10 August 2014

Oliver Cromwell

Oliver Cromwell was born in a small house just off Ermine Street. Huntingdon on April 25, 1599.

He was the only son of a small but well to do landowner, Robert Cromwell, who died in 1617. Oliver's mother Elizabeth Steward, provided a simple upbringing for him and his seven sisters.

He was related to Thomas Cromwell, one of Henry VIII's ministers.

Cromwell attended Huntingdon Grammer School (as did Samuel Pepys). It is now a Cromwell museum.

As a student at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge University, Cromwell was a bit of a card who gambled and had an eye for the ladies.

Cromwell only attended Cambridge University briefly before his father died and he returned home to farm the lands he had inherited.

He spent the entire 1620s as a farmer at St Ives, but failed to establish himself and in 1631 Cromwell sold most of his land at Huntingdon and rented grazing land at St Ives.

He married Elizabeth Bourchier, the daughter of a wealthy merchant, in 1620. They had four daughters and two sons, Richard who succeeded him and Henry (Lord Deputy in Ireland 1657-59).

Richard succeeded his father in 1658 as Lord Protector and was totally incompetent. He was nicknamed "tumbledown dick" as he kept falling down.

A 1656 Samuel Cooper portrait of Cromwell

Cromwell became the Member of Parliament for Huntingdon in the Parliament of 1628–1629. He made little impression: records for the Parliament show only one speech (against the Arminian Bishop Richard Neile), which was poorly received.

A late comer at the 1642 Battle of Edgehill, Cromwell watched the battle from a hill and commanded a troop of horse.

In 1644 Cromwell’s Parliamentarian troops defeated the King’s soldiers at the bleak moorland of Marston Moor near York. The victory secured the North of England for Parliament. Cromwell commented “ It had all the evidences of an absolute victory obtained by the Lord’s blessing upon the godly party. God made them as stubble to our swords.”

Cromwell didn't set out to kill Charles I, only to free him from his advisors and he did attempt a to reconciliation with the king. Cromwell finally signed his death warrant after much prayer and soul searching.

In 1649 Cromwell sent an expedition to Ireland but the ruthlessness of his troops in razing Drogheda and massacring over 3,000 people who refused to submit to his besieging army has remained embedded in the Irish memory ever since.

Oliver Cromwell abolished the position of King of England and the House of Lords on March 17, 1649.

After crushing the invading army of the future Charles II at the 1651 Battle of Worcester, Cromwell became master of all Britain.

Cromwell’s ideal soldier had “the fear of God before them and as made some conscience of what they did.”

He allowed God fearing believers in his army from all denominations except the Catholics.

Cromwell's major military innovation was the introduction of basic training for his troops.

As Lord Protector of England Cromwell set up the "Barebones" Parliament in 1653, which was made up of non-conformist churchmen and army officers. It was named "Barebones" after one of the members  "Praise God Barebones", a Fleet Street Leatherseller.

As Lord Protector, Cromwell closed pubs, banned theatres and outlawed cockfighting and made swearing and drunkenness punishable offences. He intended to give the common man access to the Bible and planned to replace the Church of England with a Calvinist style church.

Cromwell's Parliament abolished Christmas and declared it to be an ordinary working day. He referred to Christmas pudding as "an abominable idolatrous thing.”

 Like all puritans of the period Cromwell wore short cropped hair from which their nickname, "roundhead" came.

The red-haired Crowell had a short cropped, pudding basin haircut redhead and a wart between his chin and his mouth.

When Cromwell sat for his portrait he said to the artist, Peter Lely, "Mr Lely, I desire you would use all your skill to paint my picture freely like me and not flatter me at all. But remark all these roughnesses pimples, warts and everything else as you see me otherwise I will never pay a farthing for it."

 This original portrait was made by Samuel Cooper in around 1650 and at the sitter's behest makes no concessions to vanity.
Cromwell was nicknamed ruby nose and nose almighty after his big red nose.

Cromwell was fond of a strange Italian hat with a long feather. The line "he stuck a feather in his hat and called it macaroni" from the American Civil War song "Yankee, Doodle, Dandy" refers to his strange Italian hat.

Cromwell condemned the decadence of the cavalier's flowing hair, moustaches and beards. He believed beards were an icon of the bourgeois cavalier classes and as a result they went  out of fashion.

To his shame as a youngster Cromwell  excelled at sports and at the age of 20 he was publicly denounced for participating in the "disreputable" game of cricket.

A keen player of football, he frequently mentioned the game in his letters.

Cromwell died peacefully in his bed at Whitehall Palace on September 3, 1658 of pneumonia. As he passed away, a storm swept over England tearing down trees and destroying belfries. His dying words were "it is not my design to drink or to sleep but my design is to make what haste I can to be gone.”

On January 30, 1661, the body of Cromwell was ritually executed. The date was the 12th anniversary of the execution of the monarch he himself deposed.

The execution of the bodies of Cromwell, Bradshaw and Ireton, from a contemporary print

Some of his personal possessions are now at Chequers, the Prime Minister's country retreat.

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