Oliver Cromwell was born in April 1599, into a family distantly related to the Royal Tudor family, though living at the bottom edge of the gentry in a small house on little land. He married Elizabeth Bourchier in 1620, who brought him access to a network of wealthy and connected individuals that would later be useful as great fuel and support behind his campaigns. The real turning point of his life came after his conversion to radical Puritanism, which inspired him to help build and lead the “New Model Army” after the outbreak of the English Civil War in 1642. Cromwell is said to have been called “Old Ironsides” by his men. His rise to power resulted from his militaristic genius, especially as his religious fervor inspired immense loyalty in his troops, and his victories over those loyal to the crown eventually led to the surrender and execution of Charles I. Provoking a reaction from Ireland and Scotland, Cromwell continued his brutal campaigns by massacring the alliance of Catholic Confederates and English Protestant Royalists until the three kingdoms were consolidated in 1653, under Oliver Cromwell as Lord Protector. His measures in Ireland are a point of contention amongst historians, though he definitely banned the practice of Catholicism, ordered that Catholic priests be murdered upon capture, and ordered under the Act for the Settlement of Ireland of 1652 that all Catholic land be confiscated by Parliament. Winston Churchill himself wrote of Cromwell’s effect on the Anglo-Irish relationship:
…upon all of these Cromwell’s record was a lasting bane. By an uncompleted process of terror, by an iniquitous land settlement, by the virtual proscription of the Catholic religion, by the bloody deeds already described, he cut new gulfs between the nations and the creeds. ‘Hell or Connaught’ were the terms he thrust upon the native inhabitants, and they for their part, across three hundred years, have used as their keenest expression of hatred ‘The Curse of Cromwell on you.’ … Upon all of us there still lies ‘the curse of Cromwell.’
He passed away from natural causes in the year of 1658, attempting to leave his son Richard as successor to his English Commonwealth, though within the short span of 2 years, the monarchy was restored by Charles II. In regards to his legacy, his bloody actions against the Catholics in Ireland have been called near-genocidal, and his name in Ireland is especially despised. In 1667, Edward Hyde, 1st Earl of Clarendon, famously declared in his History of the Rebellion and Civil Wars in England that Cromwell “will be looked upon by posterity as a brave bad man.” Oliver Cromwell himself shared his hopes for his legacy: “I hope to render the English name as great and formidable as ever the Roman was.”
The Gryphon Editions consultation has placed Oliver Cromwell on our list of the 100 Most Influential People in the history of the world because he was largely responsible for ending the English Civil wars, consolidating the British Empire without the banner of a properly inherited divine right of kings, and upholding the benign neglect and suprising religious tolerance in the English colonies. Cromwell broke the monarchy in England which never was able to adopt royal absolutism, which is an exceedingly rare occurance in the narratives of history. His success set an example for revolt against perceived tyranny that was followed in the Glorious Revolution and the American Revolution. While he was heavy handed, English liberty and a strong anti-Monarchist tradition were his legacy. His story will be immortalized once again in our leather-bound biography, part of our 100 Most Influential People Library.