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What kind of ruler was Oliver Cromwell?

Key people & events

Key dates

December
1653
Cromwell became Lord Protector. He ruled with the Council of State, advisers chosen by him.
September
1654
Cromwell’s first Parliament met. MPs were forced to swear loyalty to him or resign. At the same time Cromwell made great efforts to achieve what he called ‘healing and settlement’. This meant fair and efficient government for all.
November
1654
Cromwell introduced excise (a tax on all goods bought and sold). This was not approved by Parliament.
January
1655
Cromwell dismissed his first Parliament and ruled without Parliament.
August
1655
Cromwell put Britain under military rule. He appointed eleven Major Generals to rule the country. This approach was unsuccessful and unpopular.
September
1656
The Second Protectorate Parliament met, but only after 100 MPs opposed to Cromwell were banned.
January
1657
Cromwell agreed to end the system of Major Generals.
March
1657
MPs came up with a new system for government in the 'Humble Petition and Advice'. Many MPs, and Cromwell’s supporters, urged him to make himself king. Cromwell refused the crown, but was confirmed as Lord Protector.
February
1658
Cromwell dismissed Parliament after more disputes with MPs.
September
1658
Cromwell died. His son Richard became Lord Protector, but was forced to retire in May 1659.
1660No acceptable person could be found to take over as Lord Protector. Parliament invited Charles II (son of Charles I) back to restore the monarchy. This is known as ‘The Restoration’.

Cromwell as Lord Protector

Cromwell was a most remarkable person. He seemed to be torn in two directions much of the time.

Cromwell after his death

Perhaps the factor that makes Cromwell most difficult to understand is what happened to him after his death. When Cromwell died in 1658 there was no really strong candidate to take over from him. His son Richard became Lord Protector for a short while, but he was not the right man for the job. Eventually, the army commanders and MPs decided to ask Charles II to return as king in 1660.

Charles II blamed Cromwell for the death of his father. He removed Cromwell’s body from its grave and had it hung like a common criminal. He then took Cromwell’s head and set it on a spike. It was not just Cromwell’s body that was attacked. So were his character and his record as a ruler. Many of the historical sources about Cromwell were written by people who knew Cromwell before 1660, but wrote after 1660 and had personal reasons to criticise him. This means we have to be very careful about what the sources from this period said about him.

Find out more

The Cromwell Association
http://www.olivercromwell.org/

Cromwell Online Exhibition
http://www.lib.cam.ac.uk/exhibitions/Cromwell/gallery/gallery.htm

Oliver Cromwell
http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures/cromwell_oliver.shtml

The 17th Century: War
http://www.channel4.com/history/microsites/H/history/war/

Oliver Cromwell – An outline for term papers
http://www.cromwell-intl.com/oliver/
This American website is amusing once you know something about Cromwell. It is designed to stop students from simply copying and pasting material from the Internet without reading the material, as it has a few deliberate errors in it!