Oliver Cromwell (25 April 1599 – 3 September 1658)[a] was an English military and political leader. He served as Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland, and Ireland from 1653 until his death, acting simultaneously as head of state and head of government of the new republic.
Cromwell was born into the middle gentry, albeit to a family descended from the sister of King Henry VIII's minister Thomas Cromwell. Little is known of the first 40 years of his life as only four of his personal letters survive alongside a summary of a speech he delivered in 1628. He became an Independent Puritan after undergoing a religious conversion in the 1630s, taking a generally tolerant view towards the many Protestant sects of his period. He was an intensely religious man, a self-styled Puritan Moses, and he fervently believed that God was guiding his victories. He was elected Member of Parliament for Huntingdon in 1628 and for Cambridge in the Short (1640) and Long (1640–1649) parliaments. He entered the English Civil War on the side of the "Roundheads" or Parliamentarians. Nicknamed "Old Ironsides", he demonstrated his ability as a commander and was quickly promoted from leading a single cavalry troop to being one of the principal commanders of the New Model Army, playing an important role under General Sir Thomas Fairfax in the defeat of the royalist forces.
Cromwell was one of the signatories of King Charles I's death warrant in 1649, and he dominated the short-lived Commonwealth of England as a member of the Rump Parliament (1649–1653). He was selected to take command of the English campaign in Ireland in 1649–1650. Cromwell's forces defeated the Confederate and Royalist coalition in Ireland and occupied the country, bringing to an end the Irish Confederate Wars. During this period, a series of Penal Laws were passed against Roman Catholics (a significant minority in England and Scotland but the vast majority in Ireland), and a substantial amount of their land was confiscated. Cromwell also led a campaign against the Scottish army between 1650 and 1651.
On 20 April 1653, he dismissed the Rump Parliament by force, setting up a short-lived nominated assembly known as Barebone's Parliament, before being invited by his fellow leaders to rule as Lord Protector of England (which included Wales at the time), Scotland and Ireland from 16 December 1653. As a ruler, he executed an aggressive and effective foreign policy. He died from natural causes in 1658 and was buried in Westminster Abbey. The Royalists returned to power in 1660, and they had his corpse dug up, hung in chains, and beheaded.
Cromwell is one of the most controversial figures in the history of the British Isles, considered a regicidal dictator by historians such as David Sharp, a military dictator by Winston Churchill, but a hero of liberty by John Milton, Thomas Carlyle, and Samuel Rawson Gardiner, and a revolutionary bourgeois by Leon Trotsky. In a 2002 BBC poll in Britain, Cromwell, sponsored by military historian Richard Holmes, was selected as one of the ten greatest Britons of all time. However, his tolerance of Protestant sects did not extend to Catholics: his measures against them in Ireland have been characterised as genocidal or near-genocidal, and in Ireland his record is harshly criticised.
Cromwell was born in Huntingdon on 25 April 1599 to Robert Cromwell and Elizabeth Steward. The family's estate derived from Oliver's great-grandfather, a Welshman named Morgan ap William. He was a brewer from Glamorgan who settled at Putney in London, and married Katherine Cromwell (born 1482), the sister of Thomas Cromwell, the famous chief minister to Henry VIII. The Cromwell family acquired considerable wealth by taking over monastery property during the Reformation. Morgan ap William was a son of William ap Yevan of Wales. The family line continued through Richard Williams (alias Cromwell), (c. 1500–1544), Henry Williams (alias Cromwell), (c. 1524 – 6 January 1604),[b] then to Oliver's father Robert Cromwell (c. 1560–1617), who married Elizabeth Steward (c. 1564 – 1654), probably in 1591. They had ten children, but Oliver, the fifth child, was the only boy to survive infancy.
Cromwell's paternal grandfather Sir Henry Williams was one of the two wealthiest landowners in Huntingdonshire. Cromwell's father Robert was of modest means but still a part of the gentry class. As a younger son with many siblings, Robert inherited only a house at Huntingdon and a small amount of land. This land would have generated an income of up to £300 a year, near the bottom of the range of gentry incomes. Cromwell himself in 1654 said, "I was by birth a gentleman, living neither in considerable height, nor yet in obscurity".