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Oliver Cromwell
Notice the warts.

"No one rises high who knows not whither he is going."

Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658) was a member of Parliament who became a Parliamentary General and then the Lord Protector of a nominal republic called the Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland. He and his son remain the only 'commoners' to have been head of state in England and Scotland.

The Monty Python songnote  on him is accurate, though some of its tone is contentious (such as him personally sending Colonel Pride, see below). Conversely the 1970 film Cromwell seriously exaggerates his importance in the run up to war, promotes him to Commander of the Parliamentary forces far too early, ignores the Second Civil War (the defining moment when he backed the army wanting to kill Charles) and ignores his exploits in Ireland, as well as having him laugh at the offer of the Crown, a matter he gave serious consideration. In the 2003 film To Kill A King he is portrayed as a Robespiere-like idealist-turned-dictator, committed to republican ideas and popular sovereignty; he is also played by Tim Roth which contrasts with the historical image of Cromwell being a large and imposing man. The 2008 British drama The Devil's Whore, where he is played by The Wire's Dominic West, also somewhat romanticises Cromwell, making him far more conflicted and angsty than history paints him.

Despite what is often assumed, Cromwell was never much of a revolutionary. His original intentions (as well of those of many Parliamentarians) was to bring about a compromise similar to that of the later 1689 Bill of Rights whereby a limited monarchy would rule in conjunction with an established Parliament. It was both Charles' refusal to accept any limits on his power and increasingly radical sentiment amongst the Parliamentary movement that changed his mind.

British politicians and the British people themselves tend to romanticize Oliver Cromwell as the champion of freedom and democracy against a cruel and totalitarian monarchy. His statue still occupies pride of place outside the Houses of Parliament and in 2002 he was voted 10th place in a poll of the 100 Greatest Britons. His posthumous vindication is relatively recent, though. Until the 19th century he was considered, even by Whigs and radicals, as an extremist and dictator. It wasn't until later that both the man and the historical and political forces that drove him were re-assessed.

Outside of England, his legacy remains controversial...at best. The Irish largely remember Cromwell as a really evil bastard who tried to starve and slaughter as many of them as possible (his policies halved the Irish population in less than a decade and would today have landed him in a cell-block in the Hague). And, all things considered; their view of the man is probably the more accurate one, at least as far as it relates to them. The Scots, at least those who look with scepticism upon their fanatical Puritan brethren, remember him as a man who despite being a fanatical Puritan himself thought the Scottish Presbyterians were really taking it all a bit far. "I beseech you by the bowels of Christ," he wrote to the General Assembly, "think ye it possible ye may be mistaken."

Oliver Cromwell was probably one of the most brilliant soldiers and Generals that the British Isles have ever produced. He had no previous military experience, but during the Civil War he quickly proved his tactical genius. His reputation grew as he won battle after battle, and soon he was the most powerful man in Parliament.

When the Scots invaded (in support of Charles this time) in 1648 Cromwell crushed the revolts and finally accepted the demands of the Army that Charles could not be dealt with in any other way than being executed (prior to the outbreak of war again in 1648 Cromwell and the fellow 'Grandees' of the army had wanted an accommodation with Charles, albeit a harsh one); with the majority of the Parliament against this, Colonel Pridenote  (with his Regiment of Foot) purged the House of Commons of everyone but Independent minded Puritans. This left behind the Rump Parliament, which then proceeded with the trial and execution. Cromwell arrived the night of the Purge, but his actions thereafter seem to suggest he was not the ringleader (he worked very hard to reverse a lot of the damage done by the Purge and reach a compromise with moderates), certainly not for the most revolutionary of actions taken thereafter, with Ireton being far more central. Cromwell was still not in charge and was sent to Ireland by the Rump Parliament to put an end to the revolt which had begun in 1641.

The idea was to drive the Irish "to hell or Connaught". Thousands of civilians were put to death and others were deported (to Barbados). There were some really horrific atrocities; at Drogheda women and children sheltering in a Church were roasted to death when Cromwell's forces set fire to it, and Cromwell's men were told to massacre Irish Catholic priests. That many Irish still hate Cromwell is quite justified - he tried to exterminate them. Or to be more precise (if he had truly wanted to exterminate them, he could have) he intended to reduce them utterly to the point of total submission and remove any chance of opposition. As Blair Worden put it so well, "All historians mourn these dreadful massacres; all equally agree that Cromwell's attitude towards the Irishmen he slaughtered was no different from that of most of his countrymen". With the Three Kingdoms Wars lasting longer in Ireland continuously than the other regions (starting in 1641 - meaning a great many of the deaths are not attributable to Cromwell), it is estimated almost 40% of the population died.

After crushing the Scots at Dunbar and Worcester (September 3rd 1651 and 1652 respectively) Cromwell, now head of the army (he hadn't been at the time of the Purge) grew unhappy at the lack of progress of the Rump and dismissed them by force. He set up a religious assembly to run the country which failed to effectively work together and dismissed itself to be replaced by the Protectorate, a pseudo-monarchical system, in 1653. Many of his civilian supporters wanted a full monarchy: he was offered the crown by Parliament more than once but refused because of Army opposition and religious conviction, though he did consider it. His rule was peaceful in comparison to the Civil War years and the economy started to grow; England (dominating the rest of the British Isles) was regarded as powerful thanks to successes against the Dutch and Spanish, but was burdened by high costs for maintaining the army and continuing political tensions, not least because Parliament largely answered to the Lord Protector (rather than the other way around, as was supposed to be the case) and the increasing power of the Puritan (ie independent Protestant) religious factions, the latter being most notorious during the rule of the Major Generals when Cromwell assigned a military political commander to each region of the Commonwealth, essentially creating a form of military dictatorship.

In an odd coincidence, Cromwell (and later William III, see below) lived in the house that would become Number 10 Downing Street, much later to become the official residence of the British Prime Minister - a post drawn from the Parliament which only gained such power because of Cromwell's actions.

Cromwell's reign was full of contrasts. He seemed undecided as to whether he should present himself as merely the head of a republican government or as a de facto monarch. It is also hard to determine whether he was a power-hungry dictator or whether he was a sincere republican who felt England needed strong rule to rebuild its institutions until Parliament could rule in its own right.

Tropes related to Cromwell

  • Badass:Army: He slaved his Ironside Cavalry regiment into being one of the greatest cavalry forces of the age, and then played a domineering role in reforming the previously haphazard Parliamentarian forces into the New Model Army.
  • Berserk Button: Mentioning Cromwell in Ireland.
    • To quote from The Pogues:
    "A curse upon you Oliver Cromwell/
    You who raped our Motherland/
    I hope you're rotting down in Hell/
    For the horrors that you sent/
    To our misfortunate forefathers/
    Whom you robbed of their birthright/
    "To hell or Connaught" may you burn in hell tonight"/
    • Ironically, this came about because the Irish rebellion was one for virtually everyone on his command. Something a lot of Irish willfully forget is that he only came over in response to an already horribly bloody Forever War that had been started by Catholic Irish rebels. Cromwell and the New Model Army's arrival was a grisly escalation of the conflict, but this owed as much to the butchery, pillaging, and razing going only one way after his arrival as it did to the New Model Army being any more vicious than a lot of their contemporaries. The truly nightmarish thing is that in many ways, Cromwell was a moderate on the issue. He was mainly irritated by the Irish rebellion interrupting his "mainland" campaigns and allying with the Royalists, many of the Parliamentarians and Protestant settlers probably hated them so much they probably wouldn't have offered the "Connaught" option.
  • Dead Guy on Display: To celebrate King Charles II's restoration, the corpses of Cromwell and 11 others were hanged.
  • Four-Star Badass: One of the greatest military commanders England has ever seen.
  • The Fundamentalist: Ironically crossed over with surprising toleration for the standards of the place and day and an opposition to theocracy, but he was a fanatically devout Puritan who did things like ban Christmas.
  • The Generalissimo: England's first and - one hopes - only military dictator.
  • He Who Fights Monsters: Like many other revolutionary leaders who fought corrupt monarchies, he ended up becoming the kind of all-powerful, cruel tyrant he was trying to prevent.
  • Horseback Heroism: Commanded the Parliamentarian cavalry, most notably at Naseby.
    • Switch heroism with villainy while he was in Ireland.
  • Irish Hate Cromwell: In English he's generally seen as a heroic freedom fighter and a brilliant military leader. Outside of England, and especially Ireland, he's usually looked upon as a cruel tyrant and a genocidal extremist.
  • Kick the Dog: His actions in Ireland.
  • Karmic Death: He most likely died of malaria contracted while he was in Ireland.
  • Knight Templar: He canceled Christmas and dissolved The Rump against its will in the name of righteousness, among other things. Not to mention murdering thousands of innocent people. In general, he was a one-man embodiment of the utopian radicalism which permeated the politics and society of the Commonwealth, as well as its' cost.
  • Nom de Mom: His great-great grandfather was Richard Williams, son of Katherine Cromwell and Morgan Williams. Katherine was sister to the famous minister Thomas Cromwell. Richard Williams went by Richard Cromwell, after his mother and uncle.
  • Pet the Dog: He allowed Jews back into England.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: He believed that the Irish were an inferior race worthy of enslavement and/or extermination. The moderation of his policies toward them are only in relation to those of his contemporaries, especially the Anglo-Irish Protestant settlers of the day. Oddly enough crossed over with Equal-Opportunity Evil in that his opinion of the Irish was typical of English and Scots of the day. What amazed people was how relatively tolerant he was of other Protestants and the Jews.
  • Real Men Love Jesus
  • Straight Edge Evil
  • The Cavalry: His job and that of his "Ironsides", which they did numerous times for the Parliamentarians at battles like Naseby and Marston Moor.
  • The Extremist Was Right: A truly sobering example. Look at all of the other tropes on this page- especially relating to Ireland- and realize that this man is the same one who broke absolute monarchy in Britain, turned Britain into a major power, and helped lay the foundations of modern Parliamentary Democracy.
  • The Strategist: A military genius who ran rings around Charles I and the Cavaliers.
  • Up to Eleven: The general reason why his Irish campaign was such a horrific slaughter. His policies in containing the Irish rebellion went beyond the pale, in terms of scope, of almost anything else that had done by medieval and early modern armies previously. This wasn't helped by the fact that the New Model Army was a Badass Army, and unleashing them wantonly on a comparatively weak foe would cause lasting damage.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: Despite the horrific atrocities he committed, he is seen a champion of freedom and was voted 10th in a poll of the top 100 Britons in 2002. It's important to remember, however, that this is a modern poll, where people could judge the products of his reign from a great historical distance. Contemporary opinions of him were more mixed, and rightly so, for these people experienced the horrors he and his rivals inflicted firsthand.
  • Warts and All: Trope Namer


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