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Famous Men of Modern Times by  John H. Haaren

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OLIVER CROMWELL

(1599–1658)

[175] OLIVER CROMWELL was born in Huntingdon, England, four years before the death of Queen Elizabeth and the accession of King James I.

His father was a gentleman farmer and cultivated his own land. But he was in comfortable circumstances and able to take excellent care of his family.

Oliver is described as being of a wayward and violent temper as a lad. He was cross and masterful; but possessed a large quantity of mirthful energy which showed itself in various forms of mischief.

It is said that when only a boy he dreamed that he would become the greatest man in England. A story is also told that once, at school, he took the part of king in a play, and placed the crown upon his head himself instead of letting some one else crown him.

At college he excelled in Latin and history, especially in the study of the lives of the famous men of Greece and Rome.

He was, however, more famed for his skill [176] at football and other rough games than for the study of books.

His schooling was given him by Dr. Thomas Beard, a Puritan minister who resided in his native town, and who seems to have taken a great interest in him as a boy.


[Illustration]

CROMWELL.

It was from his mother, who is described as "a woman of rare vigor and great decision of [177] purpose," that Cromwell derived his remarkable strength of character.

At the age of eighteen he left college, on account of the death of his father, and returned home to look after the affairs of the family.

At twenty-one years of age he was married to Elizabeth Bourchier, daughter of a London merchant, who proved to be a most excellent wife.

The esteem in which he was held in Huntingdon is shown by the fact that in the Great Parliament, which drew up "The Petition of Rights," he sat as a member and represented his native place.

He made his first speech in the House of Commons, where so much of his future work was to be done, on February 11. 1629. He was then thirty years of age.

A gentleman who heard this first speech has thus described it: "I came into the House of Commons one morning and listened to a gentleman speaking whom I knew not. His dress was a plain cloth suit which showed the cut of a country tailor; his linen was not very clean; his hat was without a hatband; his voice was sharp, and his eloquence full of fervor. He was speaking in behalf of a servant who had been imprisoned for speaking against the queen because she indulged in dancing."

[178] After King Charles dismissed that Parliament, he decided to manage the affairs of the nation without one; and so for eleven years no other Parliament was called.

During this long interval Cromwell remained at home and worked upon his land.

Want of money at last forced King Charles to call a Parliament; and it assembled in 1640.

In this Parliament Cromwell sat as the member for Cambridge, and took an active part in the business of the House.

Trouble soon arose between the king and the Parliament on the question as to who possessed the right to levy taxes. Both parties claimed this right and neither would yield.

Then Parliament passed what was called "The Great Remonstrance," which was a complaint from the people of the wrongs they suffered under the rule of Charles.

On leaving the house that day, Cromwell said to a friend with whom he was walking, "If the Remonstrance had been rejected I would have left England never to have set my foot upon her shores again."

The king was so angry that he ordered the arrest of the five members who had taken the lead in the passing of the Remonstrance; but [179] the House of Commons would not allow the arrests to be made.

The next day King Charles brought four hundred soldiers with him, and demanded that the men be given up; but the members would not yield, and the king had to go away without them.

It at once became evident that there would be war between the Parliament and the king, and the whole land was filled with excitement and alarm.

How Cromwell felt about this matter can be seen from a few words in a letter written at this time. He said, "The king's heart has been hardened. He will not listen to reason. The sword must be drawn. I feel myself urged to carry forward this work."

The whole nation quickly became divided into two parties. The friends of the king were called "Royalists," or "Cavaliers." Those of Parliament were called "Roundheads." Cromwell's own uncle and cousin were staunch friends of King Charles, and at once entered his army.

Cromwell raised two companies of volunteers. He distinguished himself by his strict discipline, although up to the time when the war broke out he had not had much experience in military affairs.

[180] He was then forty-three years old. He soon became known as a great leader and soldier; and his successes as a soldier gave him a high place in the affairs of the nation.

The adherents of Parliament had on their side the navy; and they also had more money than King Charles had. But Charles had a fine body of cavalry; and many of the rich men of England sent him money to carry on the war.

At the opening of the war the army of Charles had the advantage. Cromwell saw that the forces of the Parliament would soon be beaten unless they could get soldiers who were interested in the cause for which they were fighting; and such men he at once began to gather about him.

A large number of soldiers who fought under Cromwell were Puritans. The Puritans were people who objected to many of the forms and ceremonies of the Church of England.

Many of them laid great stress on the importance of sober and righteous living. When in camp, they read the Bible and sang psalms. They often recited Bible verses and sang psalms as they went into battle.

The first battle of the war was fought at Edge Hill. The greatest loss in any single engagement was at the battle of Marston Moor, where [181] the king's army left forty thousand slain upon the field.

In this battle the soldiers under the command of Cromwell really won the victory. From that time he rose rapidly until he became commander-in-chief. He is said to have been victorious in every battle he fought.

Oliver received while in the army the name of "Ironsides;" and a little later this same title was given to his men, because the Royalist troops had found it impossible to break Cromwell's lines.

But it must not be thought that Cromwell was a man devoid of tender feeling. Shortly before the battle of Marston Moor his eldest son was killed. Cromwell felt his loss most keenly, and was heard to say, "It went to my heart like a dagger. Indeed it did."

Over sixty other battles were fought; and finally the cause of the king was wrecked at the great battle of Naseby, in 1645.

But instead of admitting that he was beaten, and agreeing to meet the demands of the people, Charles fled to Scotland and tried to induce the Scots to give him aid.


[Illustration]

CROMWELL DISSOLVING THE LONG PARLIAMENT.

This turned Cromwell against the king, and convinced him that only through the death of [183] Charles was it possible to secure the liberties of the English people.

In June, 1647, the king was seized by one of Cromwell's soldiers and placed in custody of the army. The Commons resented this action and resolved to make terms with the king. Whereupon the army leaders sent Colonel Pride with a body of soldiers to "purge" the Commons of members who favored making terms with the king.

The remaining members soon afterwards passed a resolution that the king should be brought to justice, and voted to form a special High Court of Justice. The king protested that the court was illegal and refused to make any plea. He was condemned by the court and was beheaded on January 30, 1649.

In 1653 Cromwell decided to dissolve' Parliament. A body of soldiers drove the members out and Cromwell himself took possession of the speaker's mace.

Oliver Cromwell was now the most powerful man in England; and the army, over which he still presided, offered to make him king.

One of his daughters pleaded so earnestly with him that he refused to accept the crown or to take the title of king.

[184] England was declared to be no longer a monarchy but a Commonwealth; and under this new form of government Oliver Cromwell was made ruler, with the title of Protector.

In the summer of 1658 he was taken ill with chills and fever; and on September 3rd of that year he died.

Oliver Cromwell had grave faults; and he was by no means an easy man to deal with. He made many blunders, some of which were serious ones. But he proved himself equal to the task he had undertaken.


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