Throughout the years, there have been many important figures who have given form to the history of England. Some of them have determined many historic events because of their close relationship with powerful people; others for their great ambition of fortune who got involved in cruel wars in order to get more lands and wealth. Some of those characters will be remembered for centuries because of their legacy of good actions throughout history; while others, will be sadly remembered for their atrocities. There will be some eternal dichotomies, regarding characters’ traits; thus, people will not agree whether they were villains or heroes. At this point, one of the most important figures was Oliver Cromwell, an English political and military leader, who was loved by many people but at the same time he was hated by others. If you search information about this figure, you will find that throughout Oliver’s life there are many contrasting opinions regarding his actions. Thus, the following essay will provide you with important data about this English figure and will focus on this recurring dichotomy as to whether Oliver Cromwell was a villain or a hero.
In order to give a chronological order to my essay, I am going to start by giving a short biography of Oliver Cromwell’s political, military and personal life in which you may expect both sides of the history. Then, these supporting arguments will be taken as the core of my own analysis in which I expect to conclude with a clear viewpoint that may result in the breaking of that eternal dichotomy about Cromwell’s life.
Oliver Cromwell was an English military and political leader who also performed as lord protector of England, Scotland, and Ireland. This character may be responsible for given England great opportunities to become the Republican Commonwealth that is today. Oliver, a descendant of the Tudor dynasty, was born in April the 25th of 1599, in Huntingdon, England. His father was Robert Cromwell and his mother was Elizabeth Steward. Unfortunately, there little information about the first 40 years of his life but after that period there are several records that suggests he was the main responsible for defeating the Royalists during the English Civil war as he became commander of the New Model Army. At this point, it is necessary to add that because of his great success during battles, he dominated the short-lived Commonwealth of England, conquered Ireland and Scotland, right after the execution of the King in 1649, which he ruled as a Lord Protector from 1653 until his death in 1658.
A very important event in Cromwell’s life was getting married to Elizabeth Boucher on August the 22nd in 1620. This episode was quite important because Elizabeth’s father had much more wealth and powerful connections with puritan families of England. This event helped Oliver Cromwell to come into contact with many important merchants from London, including Oliver St. John. These merchants helped Oliver Cromwell in developing his career as a political and military figure. At this sense, some scholars state that Oliver’s life was marked by contradictions. For instance, he questioned whether he should accept the crown of England (something which he did not do in the end); however, he accumulated more wealth and power than Charles I and he was also a parliamentary who ordered his soldiers to end Parliament. Oliver Crown was a supporter of Protestant Christianity but his battles to conquer Ireland and Scotland were so brutal, even though as a protestant supporter he would have to follow contemporary canons. Under his leadership, the Protectorate advocated religious freedom and conscience but allowed blasphemers to be tortured, in addition to the cruel persecution of Catholics. He supported the criterion of equitable justice but imprisoned those who criticized his policy of raising taxes without the consent of the Parliament of England. Another trait that his admirers may address him is that he was a strong leader and stabilizer with a sense of state. This earned him international respect, which allowed him to overthrow tyranny and promote the Republic and freedom. His critics see him as an overly ambitious hypocrite who betrayed the cause of freedom, imposed a puritanical value system and showed little respect for traditions. When the Royalists returned to power, his corpse was dug up, hung in chains and beheaded, and his head exposed for years of public scorn. Although Oliver Cromwell’s life is marked by many successes which show him as both a hero and a villain (depending on the perspective a person may take), it is also very important to know the general passages of his life, with specific focus on his political and military actions.
As a political leader, Cromwell became a member of parliament for Huntingdon from 1628 until 1629. During this time he acted as a client of the Montagu family. The necessity in which the army had to control the situation caused the Republic to become a military dictatorship led by uncompromising Puritanism under Cromwell. He abolished the House of Lords and focused his power on the army and the House of Commons. One of the most significant laws of this period was the Navigation Act. Cromwell’s success was due to his ability to maintain peace and stability, as it provided the means for religious tolerance of non-Catholic groups. Therefore, the Jews, who had been expelled from England in 1390, could return in 1655. The vigorous foreign policy of Cromwell and the successes of the Army and the Navy gave England a good reputation abroad. The British, in alliance with France, seized Dunkerque from Spain in 1658, gaining a stronghold on the continent from which they could invade Calais, a town that England had lost 100 years ago. However, the continued unstable political situation and what the Lord Protector faced with restricted Protectorate Parliament, seeking to alter the principles of the written Constitution. In 1657 Oliver accepted the Humble Petition and Advice: request to establish a second parliamentary chamber and the power to appoint his successor, but declined the title of king. After the death of Oliver Cromwell in 1658, he was succeeded by his son, Richard Cromwell who did not possess the charisma and leadership that his father did, so he ended up giving up title. Thus, the Long Parliament met and, at the instigation of General George Monck, declared the king of England to be Charles II. This ended the Republic and restored the monarchy.
The most important virtue that Oliver Cromwell had as a politician was being a pacifist and a conciliator. Unfortunately; these virtues were not reflected in the campaign that he participated in when commanding the army of England. On the contrary little respect for life and free thinking appeared to be his big motivation during the campaign periods.
Regarding Cromwell’s military life, he had no formal training on military tactics or basic general practice. At that time, the military tactic was to split the cavalry into three ranks and carry it. This method is based much more on impact power than firepower. Therefore, the strength of Cromwell as a military leader laid mainly in his instinctive ability to lead and train his men, and their own moral force. In a war mainly performed by amateurs, both traits were significant, and no doubt contributed to the discipline shown by Cromwell’s cavalry.
Oliver Cromwell Command two bloody campaigns that marked his passage through the history of England: these were the Ireland and Scotland campaign. The campaign held in Ireland lasted from 1649-1650. This campaign had two main objectives: to eliminate the military threat against the Commonwealth, raised by the Irish Catholics, and punish the Irish for their rebellion in 1641. This campaign lasted nine months. Although it was short and effective, this turned out to be cruel and bloody for the people of Ireland. During the siege of Drogheda on September in 1649, Oliver Cromwell’s army massacred approximately 3,500 people after the capture of the town. Among the dead were 2,700 troops and many civilians, prisoners and Catholic chaplains.
In October of the same year, Oliver’s army massacred 2000 and 1500 soldiers and civilians in the district of Wexford.
Both atrocities left the Irish people with feelings of hatred, anger and sorrow for the blood of all those who died. Moreover it is necessary to add that during those battles; Oliver Cromwell was far from being a miserable opponent with his enemies; rather, he was a torturer who had no compassion with the followers of the Catholic religion. In fact, he did not respect them; moreover, they were treated as animals even the beautiful Catholic buildings from that period suffered the consequences; most of them were burned or used as stables for the horses of Oliver’s army. During the course of his campaign, he allowed the execution of innocent people; looting entire cities. The figure of Oliver Cromwell means hatred to the Irish people.
During the same year Charles II landed in Scotland and was proclaimed king of England by the Scottish people. This forced Oliver to ditch the campaign to travel to England to prepare for the new campaign, the Scottish campaign.
Before the war in Scotland, Oliver gave the Scots the opportunity to take back their decision to appoint Charles II as King, something which was done because the majority of Scottish soldiers had participated with him in the first civil war of England. In order to give his speech he made a famous appeal to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland where he used a phrase that has been remembered forever by the Scottish people. That phrase was: “I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ; think it possible you may be mistaken”. Following his appeal to reject Charles II, Oliver invaded Scotland (1650-1651). At the beginning Cromwell’s troops were curtailed by the troops of Charles II; Cromwell’s army was about to ditch the war by sea from Dunbar. It was there in the city of Dunbar on September 3, 1650 where Cromwell was involved in an unexpected battle The result was that he managed to reduce the size of the Scottish army, leaving as a result 4.000 Scottish death soldiers and 10.000 prisoners. During this campaign the capital of Scotland Edinburgh was also captured and looted.
During the next year Charles II tried to invade England again while Oliver Cromwell was still in Scotland, but Oliver returned to England and he managed to defeat Charles II in Worcester. Although the Scottish campaign was less bloody than Irish campaign it caused big damage in the mind of the Scottish people due to the fact that the gore will never be forgotten.
On 3 September 1658, Oliver Cromwell died at Whitehall, the same day of the anniversary of his great victories at Dunbar and Worcester because of septicemia followed by a urinary infection. In 1661, Oliver Cromwell’s body was exhumed from Westminster Abbey, and it also was subjected to the ritual of a posthumous symbolical execution, which took place on 30th January; the same date that Charles I had been executed. His body was hanged in chains at Tyburn. Finally, his disinterred body was thrown into a pit, while his head was displayed on a pole outside Westminster Hall until 1685.
By analyzing the actions and life from Oliver Cromwell, we can rescue great diplomats and peace deeds that could define him as a great hero who always veil in order to give freedom to English people and also that he was respectful of the diversity and freedom of speech; in fact, you do not need much time to really understand how much respect Oliver had for life.
On the other hand, Oliver Cromwell was far from being a miserable opponent with his enemies; rather, he was a torturer who had no compassion with the followers of the Catholic religion. In fact, he did not respect them; moreover, they were treated as animals even the beautiful Catholic buildings from that period suffered the consequences; most of them were burned or used as stables for the horses of Oliver’s army. During the course of his campaign, he allowed the execution of innocent people; looting entire cities. Although Scotland’s campaign Oliver was a bit more benevolent, equally he committed many atrocities in that country, but his ruthlessness was felt in the campaign in Ireland. When Oliver’s troops got Ireland he emphasized some words to his soldiers, those words were: ‘remember that you are coming to take the blood which was shed before by our compatriots’. The Irish campaign stayed on the memory of this country as a horrible massacre where the respect to the life was less important than the desire for revenge and power. The battles of Drogheda and Wexford are particularly remembered with too much sadness because in both still having exhausted the enemy Oliver’s soldiers killed anyone who was old enough to carry a gun. In the city of Drogheda were about 3,500 victims while the victims were in Wexford 2000.
On the Letters that Oliver sent to England in order to report the victims of the campaign. Oliver stated that there were still hundreds people alive while in the letters that he sent to his inner circle; He stated that he wanted to kill everyone, but God had helped the salvation of them.
In the battles that development in Ireland there was no forgiveness or mercy to the Irish soldiers who surrendered. Those soldiers were sold as slaves, killed or forced into exile.
Oliver was one person who caused untold suffering to his victims during brutal campaigns. Therefore, he died in the same in September 3rd, 1658 after suffering septicemia following urinary infection. The pain that Oliver felt was as big as the pain that he caused to hundreds of his victims. Three years after his death his body was exhumed, hanged and decapitated as a symbolic act for those who really wanted him to pay for his crimes. His head was displayed on top of a pole stuck at the entrance to Westminster Abbey for 27 years. Some people stated that his head was travelling about three centuries in different places until he found the rest in the gardens of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, in 1960.
Finally, I am totally convinced that the eternal dichotomy has been broken by the several arguments exposed, in which Oliver Cromwell is characterized by a strong ambition of power which is common among people who have not even a single respect for humankind.
Diego Ibarra Guzmán
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