Oliver Cromwell was born in 1599 and died in 1658. He was a religious man, a successful politician, and fiercely close to his family.
Born in Huntingdon on 25th April 1599, Cromwell went to the local grammar school and then onto Sidney Sussex College in Cambridge. He married Elizabeth Bourchier in 1620, and they moved to Ely in 1636 when her uncle, Sir Thomas Steward, died. Along with his inheritance came the post 'Farmer of the Tithes'.
Cromwell became a member of parliament for Cambridge in 1640, and eventually rose to power in during the Civil War to become 'Lord Protector of the Commonwealth'.
Cromwell had nine children: Robert, Oliver, Bridget, Richard, Henry, Elizabeth, James, Mary and Frances. His favourite daughter was Elizabeth, and she was married in Ely.
Time Line of the Civil War and the Commonwealth
The following timeline shows the chronological sequence of events - select the date links to see detailed information:
Time Line of the Civil War
1625: Charles 1st succeeds to the throne.
Charles 1st became king at the age of twenty-five. His belief in the Divine Right of Kings bought him into conflict with parliament, who were increasingly infuriated by his dictatorial stance.
1629: Charles 1st dissolves parliament
When parliament tried to force reforms on Charles his response was to disband parliament completely. He then went on to rule Britain, on his own, for the next eleven years. In this time he brought in a number of tax raising measures which were exceptionally unpopular, the most disliked being the 'ship tax' which was levied on all towns.
1640: Short Parliament
His inability to control the army and raise the money he needed to put down a rebellion in Scotland finally led Charles 1st to restore parliament in 1640. The parliament lasted only three weeks after MPs refused to help raise taxes without reform. Charles disbanded parliament in frustration and it became known as the Short Parliament.
1640 - 1653: Long Parliament
Later that year the situation became worse and Charles was forced to recall parliament once again. This time it lasted thirteen years, gaining it the name the Long Parliament, in contrast with the short-lived period before it. Oliver Cromwell was MP for Cambridge within this parliament. The Long Parliament continued throughout the Civil War and was finally brought to an end by Oliver Cromwell himself.
1642: Outbreak of civil war
A document, called the Grand Remonstrance, was drawn up by Pym, the leader of the rebel MPs. This catalogued a list of grievances against the king and was narrowly passed by parliament. Charles 1st reacted by attempting to use armed force to arrest the rebel MPs but they had fled before the king and his troops arrived. Realising he had over-stepped the mark the king left London and the English Civil War began.
1642 - 1649: Battles and Battlefields
The Battle of Edgehill (Warwickshire, England).
23rd October 1642
This was the first major battle of the Civil War. The battle ended as the daylight faded with neither side able to claim victory.
The Battle of Marston Moor (Yorkshire, England).
2nd July 1644
Until this date the royalist cavalry, commanded by Prince Rupert, had never been defeated. This battle saw the parliamentarians win a resounding victory. They were led by Oliver Cromwell and the result confirmed his status as an outstanding military strategist.
The Battle of Naseby (Northamptonshire, England).
14th June 1645
By 1645 the New Model Army of the parliamentarian side had been created and was commanded by Sir Thomas Fairfax. This army completely overwhelmed the Royalist side and marked the effective end of the war. The Royalist army surrendered that year.
The Battle of Dunbar (Lothian, Scotland).
Despite being outnumbered almost two to one Cromwell's army had a decisive victory over the Scots at Dunbar. Although the Civil War with the Royalist army ended in 1645 with the Battle of Naseby, war was not yet over. The Scots, who had supported the Parliamentarians for most of the preceding period, changed their support to the king and his son, Charles 2nd.
1644-1645: New Model Army created and the Royalist army defeated.
Differences between the commanders of various sections of the parliamentarian army led Cromwell to form a national army with one commander. This army was disciplined, wore a uniform and was paid. It was named the New Model Army and was commanded by Sir Thomas Fairfax. This new style army proved exceptionally effective against the Royalists and later the Scots and the Irish.
1647 Charles 1st imprisoned
King Charles 1st fled to Scotland after the Royalist defeat at the Battle of Naseby. The Scots eventually handed him over to Parliament. By this time there were serious disagreement between Parliament and its army. The army, with Oliver Cromwell on its side, kidnapped the king from Parliament. Although he escaped to the Isle of Wight, he was then imprisoned there in Carisbrooke Castle.
1649: Charles 1st tried and executed.
It was the plotting of King Charles 1st that led to his execution. Parliament had been trying to negotiate with the king but gave up and turned to the army when they learned he was trying to organise an invasion by the Scots.
The trial of Charles 1st began in January 1649 and lasted only one week. Many Parliamentarians, including Sir Thomas Fairfax the commander of the New Model Army, felt that the execution of the king was too extreme but Cromwell was reluctantly insistent. His was the third of the fifty-nine signatures that signed the death warrant. When the king was executed in public there were groans rather than cheers and the executioners themselves were disguised for their own safety.
1649 - 1660: Timeline of The Commonwealth
1649: Britain ruled as a Republic.
After the execution of Charles 1st the monarchy was abolished and England was declared a Commonwealth. Cromwell hoped that the country could be ruled by parliament but there were many problems to be faced including the plotting of the Scots and Charles 2nd, the Irish rebellion and internal revolt by the Levellers.
1653: Cromwell dissolves Long Parliament
The Long Parliament had existed throughout the Civil War and had governed and passed laws. Many of these laws reflected Puritan values and were not welcomed by much of the population. Moreover, in Cromwell's eyes, it remained inefficient and corrupt. The last period of this parliament was known as the Rump Parliament. By 1653 Oliver Cromwell was totally frustrated by the parliament and, with the force of the army behind him, dissolved it.
1653: Britain ruled as a Protectorate.
With the Long Parliament dissolved Oliver Cromwell declared himself Lord Protectorate and ruled as a virtual dictator until his death in 1658. He continued to command the support of the army but was unable to establish a parliament that he felt was satisfactory. In 1657 he was offered the crown of England by the Protectorate Parliament, but he declined it. His son, Richard, succeeded him when he died but resigned a year later.
1658: Cromwell dies
Oliver Cromwell died on the 3rd September 1658 and he was buried at Westminster Abbey. On the return of Charles 2nd his body was dug up and an execution enacted. His head was cut off and left on public display outside Westminster Hall for twenty-four years. The head was then hidden, sold, displayed in numerous ways until it was finally offered to Sidney Sussex College in Cambridge where Cromwell had once been a student. It is now buried somewhere in the grounds of the college.
1660: Charles 2nd returns to throne
Charles 2nd had been living in exile in France and Holland for eleven years when Cromwell died. He was invited by parliament to return to the throne. Many people were by now disillusioned by the idea of a republic and the return of Charles 2nd was met with great celebration. The new king had a flamboyant lifestyle earning him the nickname the Merry Monarch. His reign was seen by most as a welcome contrast to the Puritan rule before him.
Cromwell has a presence even today in Ely, and you can find out more about him by visiting Oliver Cromwell's House.
Other places you may like to visit to find out more are: