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Oliver Cromwell was born in Huntington on April 25, 1599 to Robert and Elizabeth Cromwell. Although he wasn’t a direct descendant of Henry VIII’s chief minister, Thomas Cromwell, Oliver Cromwell’s great-great-grandfather, Morgan Williams, married Thomas’ sister Katherine in 1497. It was Morgan and Katherine’s children who took the last name Cromwell in honor of their uncle. While Cromwell’s later life in the military and politics is well documented, his early family life is not. It wasn’t until the 1640s that he an opportunity to rise to power.
Having been educated at Huntingdon grammar school and later at the puritan influenced Sidney Sussex College, Cromwell first made a living as a minor landowner, farming and collecting tenancy rents after his father passed. While overseeing his father’s land Cromwell studied law briefly at Lincoln’s Inn of Court in London, where he met his wife Elizabeth. On his small income, Cromwell supported his wife, children, and his widowed mother. Cromwell moved to St Ives in 1631 and then to Ely in 1636 after the inheriting property from his wealthy uncle. The rise in status, along with a commitment to the Puritan way of life, arrived during a time of extreme political and religious unrest in England.
In the summer of 1642, the first English Civil War broke out between the Royalists, the supporters of King Charles I who claimed that the King should have absolute power as his divine right as king, and the Parliamentarians who favored a constitutional monarchy. From the start, Cromwell was a member of the parliamentary army. He was promoted to second in command as lieutenant-general of the Eastern Association army followed by a further promotion to second in command of the New Model Army in 1645. When Civil War sparked up again in 1648, Cromwell’s military successes showed his political influence to increase.
In December of 1648, England saw a split between those who wished to support the King and those, such as Cromwell, who felt the only way to stop the war was through Charles’ trial and execution. Cromwell was the third of 59 to sign Charles’ death warrant. After the King’s execution in 1649, The Council of State replaced the monarchy. Cromwell led military campaigns to establish control of Ireland and later Scotland in 1650. This ended the Civil War with a Parliamentary victory, and Cromwell was appointed Lord General of the parliamentary armed forces.
In December of 1653, Cromwell became Lord Protector until he died. Later he rejected Parliament’s offer of the crown, preferring to describe himself as a ‘constable or watchman’ of the Commonwealth, Cromwell’s role as the first Lord Protector was similar to a monarch. However, the Instrument of Government constitution decreed that he must receive a majority vote from the Council of State if he wanted to dissolve a parliament, thus establishing the precedent that an English monarch cannot govern without Parliament’s consent.
It is thought that Cromwell suffered from kidney stones in 1658 in the aftermath of malarial fever. His death was caused by septicemia brought on by the infection. He was buried in a newly-created vault in Henry VII’s chapel at Westminster Abbey. After Cromwell’s death, his son Richard succeeded him to become Lord Protector. However, Richard lacked the political and military power of his father and his forced resignation in 1659 effectively ended the Protectorate. The lack of a clear Commonwealth leadership lead to the restoration of Parliament and the monarchy in 1660 under Charles II.
Even though Oliver Cromwell’s life is not well documented from when he was a child, he made a large mark on history in London. He became first Lord Protector, but he did not stop there. He then worked to put England to peace, and successfully put the civil war to rest. He later passed due to blood poisoning caused by bacteria.
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