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Cromwell Oliver

Cromwell, Oliver, the second son of Sir Henry Cromwell, of Hinchinbrook, was born at Huntingdon in 1599. He went from Huntingdon grammar school to Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, and thence, on the death of his father in 1617, to study law in London. In 1620 he married, with an excellent reputation, Elizabeth, daughter of Sir James Bouchier, of Felsted, Essex, a lady of sweet and gentle disposition, who shared his troubled life and survived him fourteen years. Huntingdon sent him to Parliament in 1628, and his first recorded speech was a powerful attack on the "flat popery" of the High Church divines. The condemnation of his cousin, John Hampden, and the interference of the Government in a work which he had at heart, viz. the completion of Bedford Level (1638), provoked him to head the opposition in his district. He became talked of as the Lord of the Fens, and in 1640 was elected to Parliament by the borough of Cambridge, his seat being retained by him a few months later on the summoning of "the Long Parliament." In 1642 hostilities broke out between the king and his people. The capture of Lowestoft, the protection of Gainsborough, and the rout of Henderson at Winceby gave him practical experience, and it was as a tried and trusted soldier that he led the left wing at Marston Moor on July 2nd, 1644. In the subsequent operations about Newbury he was hampered by the timidity of his colleague, the Earl of Manchester, whom he denounced to Parliament, with the result that "the Self-denying Ordinance" was passed, excluding all members of either House from military commands, Cromwell alone being exempted. Fairfax held the chief command, but all men looked to Cromwell as "the saviour of the nation," and after several minor successes over Rupert at Islip and Radcot Bridge, he was in June dispatched to assist Fairfax at Northampton with the rank of Lieut.-General. On the day after his arrival in camp the battle of Naseby (June 14th, 1645) decided the issue of the war, and the chief glory of that crushing victory rested with the "Ironsides" and their leader. The autumn was spent in bringing Bristol and the western counties into subjection, and at the meeting of Parliament in 1646 he was loaded with distinctions. Then followed the struggle between the Independents and the Presbyterians, representing respectively the military and the civil elements in the growing state. Cromwell's religious views and his sympathies with his trusted comrades led him to throw all his influence on their side, and in August, 1647, the army entered London in triumph. The futile negotiations with the king were now broken off by his flight from Hampton Court, and this resulted in a revival of Royalist activity, especially in Wales, where Cromwell was busily engaged in the early summer of 1648. But the most formidable movement was that in Scotland under the Duke of Hamilton, who, joined by Langdale in Yorkshire, was marching south with over 20,000 men. Cromwell hastened to the scene of danger, met the foe at Preston (August 17th), and after three days' fighting shattered the Duke's forces and took him prisoner. Following up his success with vigour, in less than two-months he entered Edinburgh, received the adherence of the Scots, and was on his way home again. In the solemn proceedings of the High Court of Justice and the terrible event that resulted therefrom he bore a large share, his name standing third on the Royal death-warrant. The rising of the Levellers was next repressed by his heavy hand, and in August, with the title of Lord-Lieutenant, he left for Ireland to face the powerful organisation under Ormonde. Nine months of ruthless but judicious severity not only reduced the country to submission, but marvellously restored its material prosperity, and in May he was once more in London prepared to take command of the operations against the Scottish Covenanters with whom Charles II. had concluded a concordat. For some weeks he manoeuvred against Leslie, till, obliged to fall back upon Dunbar, he was attacked in a disadvantageous position. But the courage and discipline of his veterans was not to be gainsaid, and between dawn and breakfast the Scots were routed like chaff before the wind. Remaining in Scotland during the winter, he passed with the summer into Fife and pushed on to Perth, which surrendered. Charles at this juncture played a bold stroke by advancing into England. Cromwell followed with all rapidity, gathering men as he went. He overtook the king at Worcester on September 3rd, 1651, and destroyed the last remnant of the Royalist army by "the crowning mercy" of that bloody day. The victor once more entered London in triumph, and was for a year engaged in consolidating the Commonwealth, passing the Act of Amnesty, reducing the army, and arranging for the dissolution of Parliament and the re-election. Hostilities by sea had broken out, too, with the Dutch, and were not brought to an end until Blake's great victory in February, 1653. Meanwhile, Parliament was showing some disinclination to decree its own "happy despatch," so on April 20th Cromwell marched into the House attended by a party of soldiers, and dissolved the assemblage abruptly. After more or less effectual attempts to tinker up the Constitution, Cromwell was appointed Lord Protector, empowered, with the assistance of a Council of State, to perform all the functions of Government until a Parliament should be duly elected. Parliament was, however, indisposed to accept the new Constitution without a struggle, the Republican members offering most strenuous opposition to the Protector's authority. After five months of wrangling, Cromwell dissolved it in January, 1655, and for nearly two years ruled absolutely. In 1656 the new Parliament assembled, and agreed, after some debate, on a constitution which embraced two Houses and a king, if Cromwell were willing to accept the title, but after weighing the advantages and disadvantages he refused this honour. More than one attempt on the Protector's life was detected during this period, and Lambert, his old lieutenant, fomented rebellion amongst the troops. A dissolution ensued early in 1657, and Cromwell resumed the heavy burden of despotism. He was cheered for the moment by seeing his alliance with France end in the humbling of Spain and the capture of Dunkirk, but a little later the fatal illness of his favourite daughter, Elizabeth Lady Claypole, shattered his already failing health, and he was brought from Hampton Court to Whitehall in a dying state. He expired on September 3rd, 1658. It may safely be said that in spiritual and moral qualities, in disinterested patriotism, and in capacity as a soldier and administrator, he compares very favourably with any monarch who has occupied the British throne.