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 not 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
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.
The Civil War was not a class war, but
rather the culmination of disenchantment of Parliament with the
monarchy. Charles had persecuted Puritans and had long-since clashed
with Parliament. The War saw fighting between the two sides -
Parliament (nicknamed the 'Roundheads' due to their severe haircuts)
and the Cavaliers (the king and his followers). Cromwell rose
from captain to Lieutenant General in three years, the leader
of his army - the Ironsides. He refused to compromise with the
loyalists, later forming the New Model Army.
When the Cavaliers were defeated in the Battle of Marston Moor
in 1644 it proved to be the turning point. However, it was not
until the Battle of Naseby (1645) that Charles was forced to surrender.
The War continued to rage on however with the last armed conflict
occurring at the Battle of Stow-on-the-Wold in 1646. The Roundheads
quarreled - they could not agree on what the next step should
be. Some wanted to keep the monarchy, the army wanted a republic
and others still wanted religious tolerance for everyone (apart
from Catholics and Anglicans!). Also, Parliament was very slow
to pay the soldiers.
The King tried to play the game of putting each side against the
other, which backfired on him. Many by this stage had lost faith
in the King. Charles fled to Scotland but the Scots turned him
over to Cromwell in 1646. Cromwell debated about what to do with
the King, but he was finally instrumental in signing the paper
which declared Charles a traitor and led to his execution outside
the Banqueting Hall at Whitehall on January 30th, 1649. England
now had no monarchy.
Parliament now had power, but Cromwell soon found that he had
just as much difficulty controlling the members, as had the Stuart
kings. Initially, he left civil affairs to the MPs and a council,
while he traveled to Ireland to crush a rebellion there. Cromwell
was now titled 'Lord General and Commander in Chief of the Commonwealth
and Lord Lieutenant of Ireland'. In Ireland, Cromwell ordered
the massacres in Drogheda and Wexford, and the English colonization
of Ireland. He then traveled to Scotland to crush dissenters there.
Oliver Cromwell's armies were widely acknowledged as unstoppable.
Returning to England he found the Parliament (named the 'Rump')
in disarray. He dissolved them in 1653, effectively destroying
both the monarchy and parliament. Arrogantly, he believed he was
carrying out God's will. The army drew up the 'Instrument of Government',
where Cromwell was declared 'Lord Protector' for life. He stopped
the Dutch War (based on arguments between the English and Dutch
on trading) and an English army fought (allied with France) against
Spain, where they won Jamaica and Dunkirk. Uprisings in England
were commonplace, so Cromwell divided England into twelve regions
to be ruled by a member of the army. He also closed theatres,
treated drunks and blasphemers harshly, decreed that recreation
was forbidden and Sunday was declared a day of worship. Cromwell
had thus become a military dictator.
By 1656, many of the powerful classes wanted to return to the
'old ways', so they created a new Parliament, a new House of Lords
and offered Cromwell the title of King, which he contemplated
but later refused. He died on 3rd September 1658 from malaria,
leaving his son Richard as his successor. The son was no match
for the father however, and England returned to the monarchy in
1660, crowning Charles I's son (also Charles) as king.
Cromwell's body had been embalmed and secretly held in Westminster
Abbey. It was exhumed on January 30, 1661 (on the anniversary
of Charles I's execution), taken to Tyburn and his body was hung
from the gallows (before being buried ~ now believed to be in
the Marble Arch area of London), while his head was stuck on a
pole at Westminster Hall. The head remained there through most
of Charles II's reign, and is now believed to be buried near Cromwell's
old Cambridge College.
Oliver Cromwell had gone from commoner to Lord Protector, the
most powerful man in England. On the way he had massacred many
people, had annihilated the monarchy (which was later re-established)
and had championed the Puritan cause. To this day, historians
and laypeople have conflicting opinions about this man who rose
to power from humble beginnings. Some see him as the defender
of principles, liberty and the advocate for religious tolerance.
Others denigrate him as a murderer, bigot and omnipresent tyrant.
Despite these conflicting opinions however, it is not difficult
to be in awe of a man who became the ruler of England, nor is
it beyond the imagination that such a position was so relatively