Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658) was Lord Protector of England, Scotland, and Ireland from 1653 to his death in 1658. Cromwell was born to Robert Cromwell (d. 1617) and Elizabeth Steward (d. 1654) in Huntington on 25 April 1599. In 1616 he attended Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, and departed the college in 1617 after the death of his father. In 1620 Cromwell married Elizabeth Bourchier (1598-1665), bringing Cromwell into London’s wealthy merchant élite. They had nine children, including Cromwell’s son and heir, Richard (1626-1712).
In the 1630s Cromwell lived a quiet life as a minor gentleman farmer. This decade saw his conversion to radical puritanism. In 1640 Cromwell was elected MP for the city of Cambridge. The circumstances of his election are unclear. He came to play a prominent role in parliament, sitting on multiple committees, pushing for religious reform.
When, in July 1642, Charles I (1600-1649) begged the Cambridge colleges to loan him their wealth to pay his army, Cromwell moved quickly to prevent them from doing so. He boldly took Cambridge Castle, and thus seized control of the college’s money and the city’s arms. In 1643 Cromwell was promoted to colonel. In this role he displayed an aptitude for strategy and battle, despite his lack of training in the art of war. On 2 July 1644 Cromwell commanded the left wing of the parliamentarian army at Marston Moor, perhaps the greatest battle of the civil wars. During 1645 and 1646 Cromwell acted as lieutenant-general of the New Model Army, under the overall command of Sir Thomas Fairfax (1612-1671).
In July 1646 Cromwell returned to Westminster, where he was involved in high-level negotiations between parliament and the royalists. Negotiations failed, partly because the brokered settlement with Charles was unacceptable to large sections of the army, partly because Charles had his head in the sand. After further bouts of civil war in 1647 and 1648, Cromwell return to the negotiating table. But Charles would not concede. The king was tried in 1648, and executed on 30 January 1649. Cromwell was one of those who signed his death warrant. He was now the most powerful man in England.