Oliver Cromwell – Hero or villain?
The first and only Lord Protector of England was Oliver Cromwell, a very controversial and unique figure in the history of England. He was credited with not only steering and protecting the protestant Church of England, but also in quelling many of the civil wars during that period, and contributing to the way England would be governed in future. However, he is also held responsible for creating religious tension and dividing the people of England due to his extreme Puritanical views, which subsequently caused a lot of civil unrest and bloodshed.
To understand whether Cromwell was a hero or a villain we cannot judge him based purely on the results of his actions, but gain a deeper understanding of the person and an insight into reasons for his actions. Some of the key actions that Oliver Cromwell took which affected the country were: He opposed King Charles I and his closure of the Parliament.
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His punishment for the King was execution, as a traitor of England. This is evidence of Cromwell standing up for his belief in the parliamentary government, instead of Charles I’s Divine Right to rule, which the king had used to cause a lot of bloodshed.
Firstly, In 1645, Oliver Cromwell made one of his most significant contributions to England. It was a highly trained army which overthrew the King during the Civil war, to bring back the parliamentary system. This was the New Model Army. They were equipped with the latest weaponry, armor, and equipment. This army was used to end civil wars and rebellions around the country. 1648, the New Model Army was used to defeat King Charles II and his bloody civil wars given his divine right to rule, and to reinstate the parliament instead, which he had shut down.
In 1649, Cromwell sent the New Model Army to put down the Catholic rebellion to protect the Protestant religion against the Catholic atrocities. In each of these instances, he stood up to defend the Protestant religion, and the parliamentary system. This does not indicate greed or him being power hungry but merely trying to make the correct decision to avoid civil wars under difficult conditions, where the king and the royalists was powerful and popular and religion was extremely important to people.
This is also obvious in his decision to not accept the crown because he wanted to abolish the monarchy system, and did not believe in the king’s right to be head of church and the head of kingdom. Oliver Cromwell also expelled sixty corrupt members of parliament. On the other hand, in 1647, after Charles I was executed, England became a Republic. Parliament abolished the monarchy and the House of Lords. But a group of people wanted bigger changes, and challenged the control of Parliament. These were the ‘Levellers’.
The levellers didn’t get what they wanted, and two years later, the members of Parliament rejected their ideas again. They thought the levellers were a serious threat to their power. Rumours spread that the levellers, in rage, were planning to seize power. Cromwell decided to arrest them for treason in 1649, and were locked in the Tower of London. In 1657, the members of Parliament surprised Cromwell by asking him to become king. He refused the crown, but had in effect, taken all the powers of being king. This made him seem greedy to some of the people of England had his enemies, but heroic to others.
This action was controversial. Being a Puritan, Cromwell believed that theatres were evil and closed them all down in England. He also took away Christmas and Easter holidays because they were not mentioned in the Bible. Church services were made simpler, and music, statues, and stained glass windows were taken away from churches. This made him unpopular with the people of England. To conclude, I believe that Oliver Cromwell was a man who tried to take the right decisions and actions in very at very challenging situations.
However his religious views and his personality, he was a deeply religious man, who seems to have been tortured by doubts of discovering God’s will for him and his country. He was at one time revolutionary, who executed Charles I to defend the parliamentary system, and yet executing the Levellers for giving parliament more power by representing people for equally. He was a ruler who had made many mistakes but also had many successes, but his intentions were always driven by his desire to have the best for his country.