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Oliver Cromwell: Lord Protector of England (1599-1658)

By Jay Rogers
Published April 26, 2008

There is definitely an association between John Knox and Oliver Cromwell. Knox, in his book The Reformation of Scotland, outlined the whole process without which the British model of government under Oliver Cromwell never would have been possible. Yet Knox was more consistently covenantal in his thinking. He recognized that civil government is based on a covenant between the magistrate (or the representative or king) and the populace. His view was that when the magistrate defects from the covenant, it is the duty of the people to overthrow him.

Cromwell was not a learned scholar, as was Knox, nevertheless God elevated him to a greater leadership role. Oliver Cromwell was born into a common family of English country Puritans having none of the advantages of upbringing that would prepare him to be leader of a nation. Yet he had a God-given ability to earn the loyalty and respect of men of genius who served him throughout his lifetime.

John Bunyan, author of Pilgrim’s Progress served under his command in the English Civil War, and John Milton, who penned Paradise Lost, served as his personal secretary. It’s interesting to think of the man who wrote of the epic battle between Michael and Lucifer as associated so closely with Cromwell. John Milton’s command of language was put to good use.

Cromwell’s early years were ordinary, but after a conversion experience at age 27, he was seized by a sense of divine destiny. He became suddenly zealous for God. He was a country squire, a bronze-faced, callous-handed man of property. He worked on his farm, prayed and fasted often and occasionally exhorted the local congregation during church meetings. A quiet, simple, serious-minded man, he spoke little. But when he broke his silence, it was with great authority as he commanded obedience without question or dispute. As a justice of the peace, he attracted attention to himself by collaring loafers at a tavern and forcing them to join in singing a hymn. This exploit together with quieting a disturbance among some student factions at the neighboring town of Cambridge earned him the respect of the Puritan locals and they sent him to Parliament as their representative. There he attracted attention with his blunt, forcible speech as a member of the Independent Party which was made up of Puritans.

The English people were bent upon the establishment of a democratic parliamentary system of civil government and the elimination of the “Divine Right of Kings.” King Charles I, the tyrant who had long persecuted the English Puritans by having their ears cut off and their noses slit for defying his attempts to force episcopacy on their churches, finally clashed with Parliament over a long ordeal with new and revolutionary ideas. The Puritans, or “Roundheads” as they were called, finally led a civil war against the King and his Cavaliers.

When he discerned the weaknesses of the Roundhead army, Cromwell made himself captain of the cavalry. Cromwell had never been trained in war, but from the very beginning he showed consummate genius as a general. Cromwell understood that successful revolutions were always fought by farmers so he gathered a thousand hand-picked Puritans – farmers and herdsmen – who were used to the open fields. His regiment was nicknamed “Ironsides” and was never beaten once, although they fought greatly outnumbered – at times three to one.

It was an army the likes of which hadn’t been seen since ancient Israel. They would recite the Westminster Confession and march into battle singing the Psalms of David striking terror into the heart of the enemy. Cromwell’s tactic was to strike with the cavalry through the advancing army at the center, go straight through the lines and then circle to either the left or the right milling the mass into a mob, creating confusion and utterly destroying them. Cromwell amassed a body of troops and soon became commander-in-chief. His discipline created the only body of regular troops on either side who preached, prayed, paid fines for profanity and drunkenness, and charged the enemy singing hymns – the strangest abnormality in an age when every vice imaginable characterized soldiers and mercenaries.

In the meantime, Charles I invited an Irish Catholic army to his aid, an action for which he was tried for high treason and beheaded shortly after the war. After executing the national sovereign, the Parliament assumed power. The success of the new democracy in England was short-lived. Cromwell found that a democratic parliamentary system run by squires and lords oppressed the common people and was almost as corrupt as the rulership of the deposed evil king. As Commander-in-Chief of the army, he was able to seize rulership and served a term as “Lord Protector.”

During the fifteen years in which Cromwell ruled, he drove pirates from the Mediterranean Sea, set English captives free, and subdued any threat from France, Spain and Italy. Cromwell made Great Britain a respected and feared power the world over. Cromwell maintained a large degree of tolerance for rival denominations. He stood for a national church without bishops. The ministers might be Presbyterian, Independent or Baptist. Dissenters were allowed to meet in gathered churches and even Roman Catholics and Quakers were tolerated. He worked for reform of morals and the improvement of education. He strove constantly to make England a genuinely Christian nation and she enjoyed a brief “Golden Age” in her history.

When Charles I was beheaded, the understanding was that he had broken covenant with the people. The view of Cromwell and the Puritans was that when the magistrate breaks covenant, then he may legitimately be deposed. The Puritan understanding of the covenantal nature of government was the foundation for American colonial government. This was true of Massachusetts and Connecticut and to a lesser extent in the Southern colonies. When the Mayflower Compact was written, the Pilgrims had a covenantal idea of the nature of civil government. This was a foundation for later colonies established throughout the 1600s. These covenants were influenced by what Knox had done in Scotland and what the Puritans had done in England.

Progress of Nations, vol. IV, pp.144-153.


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Your comments are welcome!

I take exception to the statement he maitained tolerance for opposing views. What about all the prisoners he sent to Australia?

Posted by Bill Stieg on 01/20/2009 02:29 PM #

Kenya as a country finds itself in the same state as England by the time Lord Cromwell took over as Lord Protector. the difference is that our problem is not the King
But the representatives we have elected who in the words of former british envoy” are vomiting on our shoe – after hefty meals purchased by money stolen form us the citizenry”. God help us to raise a Lord Cromwell!! Mwathi

Posted by Alex Mwathi on 02/16/2009 12:09 AM #

God given right? What utter madness to give a mass murderer as Cromwell such a “divine” right!

Posted by Kiki Walker on 04/24/2009 12:41 AM #

What about the rape of Ireland and the exterminaton of its people? I am not even catholic, but to hear Cromwell praised as a hero sickens me.

Posted by Sean Wiggins on 05/03/2009 11:20 PM #

Sean.. if you look at history closely, the massacres of the Catholics occured in some cases after their dear leaders said “Yes.. we will fight to the last man” and then promptly ran away to safety. Why blame me for this ? :)

And dear Kiki.. I suppose you preferred the despotic Charles 1 to a government of the people ? Shame..shame.. all my work and this is how you repay me ?

Posted by OliverCromwell on 07/25/2009 10:44 PM #

It would be safe to say He was one of the only English “Rulers” that enforced religious principles that have been thrown away in the modern world… Regardless of methodology. I personaly would have to say for the period in time, and the simple fact, that every civilisation globaly was actively seeking to expand its borders, for at least the next 400 years. He did a very good job! Its easy to sit here in my AC with my health in a different time and say “every ruler over the last 400 years has killed for there beliefs” I mean we TODAY even kill people to show people that killing people is wrong? and you talk of him as a mad man…oh no we are all in, and have always been in maddness! Thats sickening, but thats LIFE.. grab it by the B’s and do somthing real.

Posted by Peter James on 08/13/2009 09:19 PM #

Oliver Cromwell was a hero to the Church, not to the people.

Posted by David on 10/19/2009 08:34 AM #

Neat to see this site. Certainly a mixed bag of sentiments on Cromwell. I’m hoping that in 2010 a band that I’m in will be releasing an album with one song about Oliver Cromwell. The song is pro- Cromwell but also expresses the sentiments of some that were not. Look for the band “The Regenerates” in 2010 if you are interested

Posted by Maarten on 10/19/2009 12:03 PM #

I don’t agree with much of your flowery overstatement even though I’ve had a passing admiration for Cromwell. He was either a bigot even for his time, or suffered from megalomania, but you really should correct the double negative which fouls up your first paragraph.

Posted by Maxwell Vines on 11/10/2009 11:36 PM #

I posted in October of last year “I’m hoping that in 2010 a band that I’m in will be releasing an album with one song about Oliver Cromwell. The song is pro- Cromwell but also expresses the sentiments of some that were not. Look for the band “The Regenerates” in 2010 if you are interested.” Our album is now complete and if you check out our website http://theregenerates.com/ you will find the song “Oliver Cromwell”. The lyrics are available there as well. I’d love to hear your comments on the song. Feel free to listen to the other songs on the album. I hope you enjoy them!

Maarten Kenter

Posted by Maarten Kenter on 09/06/2010 08:00 PM #

The ignorance displayed in some comments is staggering. All the prisoners he sent to Australia?? Australia wasn’t even settled until 100 years after Cromwell’s death.
And the repeat of the Irish nationalist rhetoric is to be expected but is not well informed about the politics of the times. In war people get killed – and generally the winners come out best. Look to the massacres of Protestants by the Catholics and then judge Cromwell.
And how did Zionism get in here?
Ho hum, so many ignorant people and so little time to educate them.

Posted by historian on 09/21/2010 10:27 AM #

Great! Thank you for the information! It was so neat to read! I had a hard time finding such good information other places.
Thanks again.

Posted by Ann Smith on 04/27/2011 12:45 AM #

I have just discovered via Ancestry that Oliver Cromwell is my 9th great grand uncle. To think how far these many generations have come to where I am today in the little town of Lebanon, TN. I’m proud of all those before me.

Posted by Donna S Smith on 05/10/2011 03:28 PM #

I am writing this article with a smile on my face, because I have no hostile feelings towards anyone. I came across this blog because I have been doing some research on the Irish. I am referring to the input that was made by Pier James on 08/13/2009 which says, “I personally would have to say sor the period in time, and the simple fact, that every civilization globally was actively seeking to expand its borders, for at least the next 400 years. He did a very good job.” For the person who made this statement, a smile came on my face when I thought about asking you this question. How would you like it if someone expanded their civilization into your living room or even your next door neighbor ? Certainly the world thought it was morally wrong when Germany tried to move its civilization into England’s living room. No matter what period of history, in the past in the time of Christ, the present, or the future it is wrong. As for Cromwell’s religious principle, I think that he was confused. I do not say his principles are not religious, but what kind of religion he was propogating I am not certain about that, not certainly the Christianity that Christ stood for, yet he professed that he did. Christ was against the sword, a 180 degree radically different than Cromwell. Yet our duty is to have mercy and compassion and love for Cromwell as well as the Irish. As for the Irish, I would like to share this part of my research on them with you, something I am working on for publication. As J.A. Rogers comments from his research, “Side by side with this negro slavery was a white “one” that was at times more severe. Negro slaves sometimes work their respective trades in good conditions, while English, Scotch, and Irish in the parching sun, without shoe or stocking. These whites were principally Irish sent by Cromwell after the conquest of Ireland…Clark who visited the islands in 1600, paints a harrowing picture of these unfortunate whites, how wretched they were lodged and cruely beaten. White men, women, worked in the fields under black slave drivers, who were ordered to use the lash unsparingly on them. The overseers stormed at them, they had to be in the fields so early that they could not see to call the roll. Sometimes they were so drenched with tropical dew that they shivered with cold. A slave having compassion on them would give them a blanket, saying, “Poor “busha” [white] pickinny sent out here from England to die.” I have chosen the title for this as “The Luck Of The Irish In Jamaica”. I use this to show many blacks that they should not carry anger for whites because other whites suffered the same fate as they did too. Anyway I do not have any hate for Cromwell but instead love even though his malicious acts were so disgusting, and at the same time have a little mercy on the Irish, even yourself. I am still trying to get more detail information on the casualties of the Irish, before, during, and after Cromwell so if anyone out there can help me with some of thes ststistics you can contact me at inrip@live.com and maybe one day I may even need statistics on Cromwell to show how much he too has suffered.

Posted by Ogarth Drummond on 06/06/2011 08:02 PM #

Reading the first part of this site has changed my views about Cromwell then reading everyone's coments and living in huntingdon for 32 years. Ten out of ten to you all, thank you.

Posted by kev readhead on 02/10/2012 04:33 PM #

The man was product of his times. Catholic or Anglican priests with the royalists had burned at the stake many for being Protestant. Protestants had been executed throughout Europe and Britain, so you had the fertile soil for a man like Cromwell

Posted by Dan Ulmer on 01/07/2014 12:50 AM #

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