OLIVER CROMWELL, one of the most extraordinary characters in English history, was born at Huntingdon, April 25th, 1596. His father was the younger son of Sir Henry Cromwell of Hinchinbrook, and a substantial country gentleman, not likely to have been a brewer, as some of Oliver's earlier biographers assert. By his mother, genealogists trace Oliver's descent from the royal House of Stuart. Of the boy Cromwell's early life, little or nothing is actually known. What is clearly ascertained is, that after having been at school in Huntingdon, he went to Cambridge, and entered Sidney Sussex College, April 23rd, 1616. He had but a short time for study here, his father dying in June of the year following, when he returned home to take the management of his father's affairs.
The stories of his wild life about this time appear to have no better foundation than the calumnies of the Royalists. In August 1620, Cromwell married the daughter of Sir James Bourchier, a gentleman of landed property in Essex, who had also a residence in London. This is pretty conclusive as to Cromwell's social position being much above what his enemies have described it. Cromwell now became intimately associated with the Puritan party, among whom he was soon distinguished alike for his earnestness and sagacity. In 1628, having been elected by the borough of Huntingdon, Cromwell made his first appearance in parliament. In 1640, he was sent to parliament as member for the town of Cambridge. When all hope of reconciliation between King Charles I and parliament failed through the perfidy of the former, Cromwell was among the first to offer of his substance to aid in the defense of the state. In July 1642, he moved in parliament for permission to raise two companies of volunteers in Cambridge, having been careful to supply the necessary arms before hand at his own cost. As captain of a troop of horse, Cromwell exhibited astonishing military genius. Soon promoted to the rank of colonel; and then to that of lieutenant-general, Cromwell in the fight of Winceby, on the bloody field of Marston (July 2nd, 1644), and in the second battle of Newbury (October 27th, 1644), bore himself with distinguished bravery. He commanded the right wing of the parliamentary army at Naseby, June 1645, and acquitted himself so well, that the King's forces were utterly ruined. The royalists in the west were now speedily reduced. Bristol was stormed; everywhere the royal cause was failing; and Charles himself, reduced to the last extremity, in May 1646, escaped from Oxford in disguise, and threw himself into the arms of the Scotch army at Newark (May 5th, 1646), by whom he was shortly given up to the parliamentary commissioners. In January 1649, the king was tried, condemned, and executed. The abolition of the House of Lords followed speedily, and Cromwell became a prominent member of the new Council of state; and in the army, though still only lieutenant-general, he had really much more influence than the Commander-in-Chief. The Royalists being still strong and rebellious in Ireland, Cromwell went thither in August with the title of lord-lieutenant and commander-in-chief of the army there; and ere nine months had passed, he had subdued the country so far that it might be safely left to the keeping of his son-in-law, Ireton. Cromwell's measures for crushing the Irish rebels were indeed severe, and even sanguinary, but, nevertheless, peace and prosperity followed in a degree before unknown in the history of that unhappy country. Affairs in Scotland now claimed Cromwell's attention.
On the 15th of July, Charles Stuart had signed the covenant, and was fully accepted as king. On the 3rd of September following, Cromwell routed the Scotch army at Dunbar. Charles, with what force remained, and other accessions, afterwards marched southward, and had penetrated to Worcester, when Cromwell came up with him and utterly overthrew the royalists on the anniversary of the battle of Dunbar. This battle placed Cromwell avowedly at the head of public affairs in England. The Long Parliament had now degenerated into the Rump, intolerable to the country, alike for the extraordinary power it possessed, and for the weak, pusillanimous way in which it exercised it. Cromwell, therefore dissolved the Rump, April 26th, 1653, and henceforth he alone was ruler in England. He immediately summoned a parliament of 140 persons, 38 of whom he assembled on the 4th of July, but he found it necessary to dissolve it on the 12th day of December; its one great work having been the legal investiture of Cromwell with the supreme power and the title of Lord Protector, a position upon which the principal foreign powers hastened to congratulate him. Cromwell now acted in a very arbitrary manner, so far as his parliaments were concerned, calling them and dismissing them at pleasure; but his home policy, notwithstanding, was just and liberal towards the mass of the people, and conducive to the prosperity of the country; while his toreign policy was such as to secure England a position among nations more commanding than any she had ever occupied before. Under Cromwell's rule, swift retribution followed any indignity or injury to Englishmen, no matter by whom or where perpetrated; and religious persecutors on the contident, in terror, stayed their bloody swords on the stern summons of the Lord Protector. He died September 3rd, 1658, the anniversary of some of his most important victories.