Oliver Cromwell's achievements
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- He was a successful politician, unafraid to speak his mind. - A little-known and inexperienced MP for Cambridge in 1640, Cromwell became one of the power-brokers in parliament by the late 1640s. From the beginning of the Long Parliament he was a firebrand, and a politician unafraid to challenge the established order. He was an outspoken critic of the bishops and one of the first to call for the established Church to be pulled up "roots and branches". He further proposed the introduction of annual parliaments, insisting that parliament, and not the king, should appoint army generals. As the Civil Wars progressed, his military successes gave him greater political standing and power. His military victories gave him the confidence and motivation to intervene in, and to shape, political events.
- He was a natural military commander who helped the Puritans win the Civil War. - It was as a military commander that Cromwell first came to prominence. Despite no real military training as a soldier, Cromwell was naturally capable and was soon promoted from leading a single cavalry troop to the command of the entire Army cavalry. Cromwell had an instinctive ability to lead and train his men, and had great moral authority. He promoted men on the basis of their ability and character rather than social status, upsetting some generals. He was a deep thinker about military matters. In a war fought mostly by amateurs, these strengths were significant. His style of command was decisive at Marston Moor, at Naseby and at many other battles. Cromwell's military abilities contributed greatly to the parliamentary victory in the Civil Wars, and they also determined that he would end the Civil War as the most powerful man in England.
- He helped design the New Model Army - the first national Army. - In April 1645, parliament decreed that its Army was to be rebuilt on a national basis, replacing the old county associations. Cromwell was one of the key men in the planning, training and leading of the New Model Army. Although not wholly responsible for its creation, he was its leading architect. Once formed, Sir Thomas Fairfax was in command of the New Model Army with Cromwell as Lieutenant-General leading the cavalry. This body of well-trained, highly-disciplined soldiers not only won the Civil Wars for parliament but also parts of this Army went on to form the nucleus of the British Army, whose history dates back to this time. The oldest regiments in today's Army, for example, the Coldstream Guards and the Royal Horse Guards, can trace their origins back to Cromwell's units.
- He helped to create the Royal Navy. - One achievement that is less well known is Cromwell's part in creating the Royal Navy. It was his government that created a permanent Navy, whereas previously fleets had been assembled, largely from merchant ships, on a temporary basis. He and his officers put in place a system of practice and discipline which, with many modifications, has stood the test of time. His Navy won one of the hardest-fought sea wars in history, against the Dutch, and started that continuous naval tradition which is such an important part of this England's heritage.
- He helped bring about Britain's first, and only, Republic. - By the end of the second Civil War, Cromwell was convinced that the monarchy had to go and, indeed, that the king, Charles, had to die, in order to save the country more bloodshed. Cromwell was, therefore, instrumental in having the king tried and executed. However, this was an 'achievement' which he never wanted or planned for, but which was forced on him by the terrible circumstances of the times. He probably held out longer than most for a trial, followed by the king's deposition (not execution) and the accession of one of Charles' teenage sons. Only when the king refused to abdicate as a way of preserving his dynasty did Cromwell agree to regicide. But once decided on the trial and execution, he was ruthless in seeing it through and in rallying waverers. After the execution of the king, a Republic was declared.
- He ruled during England’s only Republic. - Cromwell was effectively the leader of the government from 1651 onwards. He had a troubled relationship with parliament and, on April 20th 1653, he dismissed the Rump Parliament by armed force, setting up a short-lived nominated assembly known as the Barebones Parliament, before being made Lord Protector of England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland on 16th December 1653. For the remaining five years of his life, he served as Lord Protector, refusing all efforts to make him king. For the only time before 1801, Cromwell presided over a constitutionally and institutionally united Britain and Ireland, with a single parliament, a single Council of State and a commitment to the achievement of a single code of law and judicial practice. As Lord Protector, his statesmanship and force of personality kept the Commonwealth in being until his death in 1658, allowing him to mould policies and to fulfil some of his goals.
- His actions were influential in the development of democracy. - After his death and the restoration of the monarchy, it is easy to think that the whole experience of the English Republic was for nothing. Most historians, however, believe that this period was one of the key turning points in England's history. In winning the Civil War, parliament ensured that never again would a monarch of England be able to attempt to rule on their own. The military successes of Oliver Cromwell played a key part in bringing about this success and, for this, the country should be grateful. The aftermath, in which Cromwell's troubled relationship with parliament led eventually to him ruling almost as a dictator, meant that parliament's victory could not be converted into the making of a permanent English Republic. However, it was Cromwell's statesmanship and determination that enabled the Republic to last as long as it did. This meant that its victory was not a fleeting one - it made a huge impact on the people of England. This made the experience of the Civil Wars and the English Republic much more important in developing the rule of democracy in this country. This was in large part down to Cromwell.
- Cromwell gave England fairer laws and efficient government. - Whilst Lord Protector of England, from 1653 until his death in 1658, Cromwell made the English laws much less harsh than they had been. He abolished the death penalty for many crimes. The government administration under Cromwell was the most efficient it had ever been in England. He insisted on standards of honesty and efficiency which English officials did not reach again until the 19th century. Judges, in particular, were required to be diligent and fair. He changed the way judges were appointed, so that good men filled these important posts. He headed a tolerant, inclusive and largely civilian regime, which sought to restore order and stability at home and thus to win over much of the traditional political and social elite.
- He made England strong and well respected abroad. - Because of the success of Cromwell’s government in raising taxes and spending revenue in an efficient way, and also because of his statesmanship and maintenance of a powerful Navy, Britain became one of the leading powers for the first time in its history. Once he was Lord Protector, Cromwell made an offensive alliance with France against Spain. Abroad, the Army and Navy were employed to promote England's interests in an expansive and largely successful foreign policy. He failed in an attempt to take Hispaniola (Cuba) from Spain, but he did capture Jamaica, giving a boost to the rising British Empire. An English expeditionary Army on the European continent won a great victory over the Spanish in the Battle of the Dunes (February 1658) and occupied Dunkirk. He acted to broker a peace between the Protestant kings of Sweden and Denmark and raised British prestige across Europe to the highest point it since Agincourt, over 240 years earlier, and not to be matched again until Waterloo in 1815.
- He did not tolerate intolerance. - At this time, the English (like other Europeans) were extremely intolerant in religious matters (and in all other matters!). Before he came to power, Cromwell protested against the religious intolerance of the Scots and their Presbyterian allies who were determined to replace a narrow Anglican conformity with an equally narrow programme of Christian evangelism. He wanted a system of government that guaranteed fundamental civil rights, religious toleration and freedom of belief and that condoned quiet, but not open, political dissent. Cromwell had to face great opposition from all sides in imposing tolerance of religion on the English. Under him, even Roman Catholics were allowed to practise their faith openly without fear. The Jews were invited back into England for the first time in 300 years. They had been expelled from England by Edward I in 1290. Cromwell recognised their business expertise and put the economic well-being of the country before deep-seated national prejudice.
- He removed the social obstacles to advancement in the Army. - The English Civil War accelerated social change, and social distinctions were brushed aside in the pursuit of victory. The New Model Army was a military force based on a person’s ability rather than on their position within society. One of its leading officers had been a butcher before the Wars. Cromwell preferred that the men in the new force, like himself, were strong believers and they became a committed fighting force that truly believed God was on their side. However the removal of social obstacle meant that the New Model Army was also open to new ideas. The collapse of censorship and an explosion in the distribution of cheap pamphlets led to opinions of all sorts being voiced publicly, including the influence of groups such as the Levellers that were campaigning for Republican rule by a parliament for which all men had the right to vote.