Not even a decade after the Parliamentarians of England convicted their king of treason in trial and executed Charles I by beheading, a new crown was offered to Oliver Cromwell, the man who had third signed the previous king’s death warrant. The English had fought for years in a brutal Civil War that killed nearly 100,000 over the question of kingship. Even as the hated Charles I was beheaded, clergyman Phillip Henry wrote the crowd gave a cry “as I never heard before and desire I may never hear again.” England wanted a king.
Cromwell flourished in the war. His unbreakable nerve and daring spirit led to his nickname as “Old Ironsides.” He raised his own cavalry troop on silver captured from Cambridge colleges intended to arrive in support of the king and expanded his troop into a regiment in the Eastern Association under the Earl of Manchester. The war dragged on, and Cromwell came into conflict with his superiors, demanding more personal investment into the war. Manchester accused Cromwell of taking on “men of low birth,” to which Cromwell replied, “I would rather have a plain russet-coated captain who knows what he fights for and loves what he knows than that which you call a gentleman and is nothing else.” Cromwell’s ideals contributed to the New Model Army of 1645, of which he became the second-in-command.
In 1647, the Scots surrendered King Charles to the Parliamentary forces in exchange for ransom and in hopes of establishing a Presbyterian system. Cromwell refused to give up hard-won religious freedoms for a new hierarchy and instead began consulting directly with the captive king to establish a constitutional monarchy. While Cromwell managed to create a satisfactory Head of Proposals, others in the army did not think it went far enough, and the mission stalled until Charles’ escape that November, which incited the Scots into another wave of Civil War. Cromwell and the New Model Army crushed the invasions and resulting uprisings. The king sought to return to negotiations, but the Army refused and eliminated sympathetic members of parliament until it was clear the king would be executed.
The new Rump Parliament led to the smaller ruling council that brought on the Commonwealth while the Royalists attempted to rally in Ireland, calling upon Catholic sympathies. Cromwell was dispatched to Ireland, where he put down the insurrection ruthlessly and efficiently. While his death tolls were perhaps lower than larger invasions in the history of Ireland, he would forever gain notoriety as a murderous brute. His second son, Henry, became entwined with Ireland as major-general and later lord-deputy of the green isle, where he became popular for fairness between the Irish and the English settlers.
Cromwell’s power grew until he was promoted as Lord Protector of the Commonwealth, establishing a powerful executive position managed by a constitution. He sought to rebuild England and heal its many fractures in both body and soul. When Parliament became bent on radical ideals of republicanism, he dismissed them to avoid political strife over debating bills. Cromwell also liberalized the religious orders of England, allowing for local parishes and even informally granting Menasseh Ben Israel’s request to overturn the 1290 law expelling Jews from the country. Due to his popularity, the reformed Parliament invited him to become king under a new constitution in the Humble Petition and Advice.
Cromwell became tortured over the idea. He saw the great chance of healing, bringing philosophical royalists together with Cromwell’s allies on the more republican side. Yet, he had dedicated a decade of his life to eliminating the crown and establishing a new, fairer system. He consulted with his sons, as they would suddenly become princes in line for the throne. The eldest, Richard, had not fought in the Civil War and was only partially invested in politics. Henry, who had once suggested himself that Oliver become king, warned his father not to take the throne as it was a place of ill power.
Henry’s advice caused Oliver to reevaluate his position, which he had determined as a “policeman” for the nation, guiding it through executive power based on his moral standings. Without another man of such convictions, Cromwell questioned his legacy. Finally, in a speech on April 13, seven weeks after being offered the crown, Cromwell announced that he refused to become king, though he understood why the stability of a hereditary kingship was so important. To that end, he suggested his son Henry become king and that he himself remain as a weakened Lord Protector until his time to be replaced by election.
The split of power shocked Parliament but proved to be a compromise. Cromwellians were pleased to retain their leader and his executive office, Royalists were proud to have a hereditary line once again, and republicans enjoyed reinforced rights of Parliament for taxation and law under a king few knew. Henry was shocked as well and attempted to refuse, but his father would not let him and recalled his son from Ireland. Henry conceded and was crowned June 26, 1657. Anti-royalists were thrilled by the idea of a humble king, while the royalists admired how dedicated Henry was to his office as Henry IX.
Oliver Cromwell died in 1658, spending the last year dedicating himself to cementing his son’s position despite increasing illness. Cromwell was replaced by election, which was applauded by men such as the governor of Scotland George Monck for its smoothness and clarity. Lord Protectors would serve as long as they maintained leadership and could be ousted by bills overseen by the king. Henry died in 1674, succeeded by his son Henry X, who reigned until 1711 and was succeeded in turn by Thomas I until 1748.
During the term of Oliver I, who came to the throne at the age of six, Parliament took the opportunity to expand its powers widely, largely eclipsing the king. As Oliver came of age, he displayed his great-great-grandfather’s strength and served valiantly in the Seven Years’ War. He turned his popularity into political power, spurring the disenfranchised in charterless towns such as Manchester and those in the colonies to demand voting power. The issue threatened to spark another civil war as insurrections broke out in the American colonies, but ultimately in 1783 Oliver would win out and stack Parliament in his favor with thousands of new voters. Oliver continued to rule until 1821, overseeing the defeat of the French Empire and establishing England as the greatest naval and colonial power in the world.
Oliver I’s only surviving child was Elizabeth II (Elizabeth-Oliveria), whom he refused to allow to marry unless his son-in-law took the surname Cromwell to continue the line.
In reality, Cromwell refused the crown for himself or anyone else. His son Richard followed him as Lord Protector, but Richard’s lack of politicking caused him to resign after one year. The factions of Parliament proved unable to elect a successor, so George Monck marched the New Model Army on London, seizing the city and restoring Charles II. The Catholic Stuarts took the throne again until being ousted in the Glorious Revolution of 1688.