Oliver Cromwell (25 April 1599 – 3 September 1658) was an English military and political leader and later Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland. Born into the middle gentry, he was relatively obscure for the first 40 years of his life. After undergoing a religious conversion in the 1630s, Cromwell became an independent puritan, taking a generally (but not completely) tolerant view towards the many Protestant sects of his period. An intensely religious man—a self-styled Puritan Moses—he fervently believed that God was guiding his victories.
He was elected Member of Parliament for Huntingdon in 1628 and for Cambridge in the Short (1640) and Long (1640–49) Parliaments. He entered the English Civil War on the side of the “Roundheads” or Parliamentarians. Nicknamed “Old Ironsides“, he was quickly promoted from leading a single cavalry troop to become one of the principal commanders of the New Model Army, playing an important role in the defeat of the royalist forces.
Cromwell was one of the signatories of King Charles I‘s death warrant in 1649 and as a member of the Rump Parliament (1649–53) he dominated the short-lived Commonwealth of England. He was selected to take command of the English campaign in Ireland during 1649–50. Cromwell’s forces defeated the Confederate and Royalist coalition in Ireland and occupied the country – bringing to an end the Irish Confederate Wars. During this period a series of Penal Laws were passed against Roman Catholics (a significant minority in England and Scotland but the vast majority in Ireland), and a substantial amount of their land was confiscated. Cromwell also led a campaign against the Scottish army between 1650 and 1651.
On 20 April 1653 he dismissed the Rump Parliament by force, setting up a short-lived nominated assembly known as the Barebones Parliament, before being invited by his fellow leaders to rule as Lord Protector of England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland from 16 December 1653. As a ruler he executed an aggressive and effective foreign policy. After his death in 1658 he was buried in Westminster Abbey, but after the Royalists returned to power in 1660 they had his corpse dug up, hung in chains, and beheaded.
Cromwell is one of the most controversial figures in the history of the British Isles, considered a regicidal dictator by historians such as David Hume and Christopher Hill as quoted by David Sharp, but a hero of liberty by others such as Thomas Carlyle and Samuel Rawson Gardiner. In a 2002 BBC poll in Britain, Cromwell was selected as one of the ten greatest Britons of all time. However, his measures against Catholics in Scotland and Ireland have been characterised by some as genocidal or near-genocidal, and in Ireland his record is harshly criticised.