Articles and reviews

Monarchical Cromwellians and the Restoration

This article presents some of my PhD findings on the civilian politicians who attempted to make Cromwell king in 1657 and the ways in which they succeeded (or didn't) to continue their careers after the Restoration of Charles II.

Dear Robin: the correspondence of Oliver Cromwell and Robert Hammond

This article examines letters between Oliver Cromwell and Robert Hammond, governor of the Isle of Wight and jailor to King Charles I. The King's imprisonment thrust Hammond into the eye of the political storm of 1648-9 and this correspondence provides a unique window onto the events of the English Revolution. 

My solitary life: Richard Cromwell, 1659-1712

This article considers Richard Cromwell's life after his abdication as Lord Protector. Having been head of state at a young age, Richard lived over fifty years afterwards in exile. This period is full of incident, producing some valuable new insights into the Protectorate and Restoration.

Review of The Last Ironsides: The English Expedition to Portugal, 1662-1668 by Jonathon Riley

Review of Samuel Pepys: plague, fire, revolution at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich

Letter about Cromwell in the Times & re-printed in The Week's 'pick of the week's correspondence'

British Rulers Campaign - plugging the gap in the nation's timelines

I am attracted to the extraordinary - the anomalies, quirks and gaps in history. And perhaps the greatest of these is the one disruption to Britain's monarchy shown in the ruler above as 'Commonw'th 1649'. 

I describe myself as a historian of the Interregnum (meaning the period 1649-1660) but really we shouldn't use this word as it literally means 'between reigns' and taints these years with an air of irrelevance and inevitability; an anomalous stop-gap in the tradition of monarchs who march along our rulers, falling between Kings Charles I and Charles II. But the people who governed Britain in these years - and those they governed - did not think they were 'inter' anything. For them, the time after the execution of King Charles I and the end of the Civil Wars was instead a beginning. 1649-1660 is the most experimental and exciting period of British history, and yet it is often improperly recorded or even excluded on the timelines you find in books, on information boards and websites: sometimes the whole 11 years is called 'Commonwealth', sometimes 'Republic'; sometimes 'Oliver Cromwell' is denoted as ruling the entire period; and sometimes the decade is missed out entirely. And when the rulers of England are listed, as on the famous ruler above, Oliver Cromwell and Richard Cromwell - both legitimate, ruling Heads of State - are left off. 

It's time we plugged the gap and told the truth about these extraordinary times: that Britain was a republican 'Commonwealth' from 1649-1653; a 'Protectorate' from 1653-1659, ruled first by Oliver Cromwell as Lord Protector from 1653-1658 and then Richard Cromwell as Lord Protector from 1658-1659; and a republican 'Commonwealth' again from 1659-1660 when King Charles II was restored to the throne. On his return, the new King successfully whitewashed the 11 years since his father's death from history. And so I am launching the #BritishRulersCampaign asking you to send me photos of timelines and other chronologies you come across so that we can begin to build a picture of what is happening to the record of this period in our history - tweet me your photos and let's plug the gap!

Oliver Cromwell in popular culture

Cromwell in film


Want to catch Cromwell on screen? He has been portrayed many times and depictions of him and of the Civil War fall into a number of traditions. There are the royalist japes where romantic cavaliers outwit thuggish roundheads like 'Cardboard Cavalier' (1949), 'The Moonraker' (1958) and 'The Lady and the Highwayman' (1989). In films like these Cromwell, whether featured personally or by implication, is characterised as a stern dictator ruling the Commonwealth with an iron fist. Cromwell also makes a brief, warty appearance in the horror classic 'Witchfinder General' (1968). Then there are more modern portrayals like 'To Kill A King' (2003) (and on the small screen 'The Devil's Whore' - 2008) which see Tim Roth and Dominic West take on Cromwell. There's a lot to enjoy in both, though Roth's Cromwell is perhaps rather too manipulative. The most famous portrayal of Cromwell, and still possibly the most balanced, is Richard Harris's turn in the 1970 film 'Cromwell'. It's a compelling performance though Cromwell's stern vigour is more evident than his charm and good humour; and it's notable the film effectively ends with Cromwell's expulsion of the Rump Parliament in 1653. We're yet to see a fully rounded, revisionist Lord Protector Cromwell depicted on screen - here's hoping!

Cromwell in fiction


Cromwell has appeared in fictional accounts ever since his death: in novels, poems and plays. In literature he has featured in a range of ways down the decades, from the adventures of Rosemary Sutcliffe to the books of S.G. MacLean and Antonia Senior today. Cromwell has even appeared alongside the famous three musketeers when, in Alexander Dumas' 'Twenty Years After', the musketeers travel to England to try and prevent the execution of the King; and Dumas' fellow countryman Victor Hugo wrote a play about Cromwell, hailed by some afterwards as a key text of the Romantic movement. Traditionally military stories about the Civil Wars themselves have dominated, featuring protagonists on each side of the conflict with communities torn apart. 'Destiny Our Choice' by John Attenborough is one of the few novels to feature Cromwell's family life. Alongside military and adventure stories, there have been novels about witches and witch-finders, ghost stories and mysteries, some of them featuring ordinary female protagonists and going some way to reimagining women's lives in the 17th century. But with most authors writing in this period traditionally drawn to either battlefield or witchcraft tales, there have been few imaginings of Cromwell's personal life, his family or the politics of his court.

Cromwell in art


We can be in little doubt as to what Cromwell looked like. In his lifetime he was painted by numerous portraitists including Robert Walker and Samuel Cooper. As Lord Protector his image graced coins and medals while admirers and critics alike pasted him across pamphlets in woodcuts, engravings and cartoons. We even have his death mask taken from life. In the National Portrait Gallery's archive alone, Cromwell is associated with 224 portraits. In these he appears as war hero, monarch, Biblical prophet and devil; his image appropriated in the service of arguments of all persuasions. And the fascination with depicting Cromwell continued after his death as his ghostly form haunted the Restoration even as his severed head watched it from atop the spike above Westminster Hall. Again and again since, artists have been drawn to this extraordinary Englishman: painters like Delaroche who depicted him gazing down into the coffin of his adversary King Charles I. The Victorians in particular loved to imagine the dramatic scenes of the Civil War and left us vivid canvasses depicting its famous battles as well as Cromwell dismissing the Rump Parliament, refusing the crown and sitting at the bedside of his dying daughter. They also erected the Thornycroft statue outside Parliament. Though these portrayals are wonderful, the Victorians did much to distort Cromwell's image, often depicting him as a dour, black-coated Puritan when contemporary images show him to have been more finely dressed.

Cromwell in music


As Lord Protector, Cromwell was a great patron of music at his court and much music was composed to celebrate him and his rule. Although it is true that Puritans like Cromwell disapproved of music in church (it smacked of popery and distracted from the Word of God), only the most extreme Puritans condemned music elsewhere. Cromwell kept a coterie of musicians at court under his Master of Music John Hingston and there were regular concerts of choral and orchestral music as well as new masques performed at his daughters' weddings. Cromwell installed the organ from Magdalen College Oxford in the Great Hall at Hampton Court and while his daughters had singing lessons, he enjoyed playing duets with his wife on the virginal under his tutor Mr Farmulo. Under his rule, Sir William Davenant composed the first English operas - in part to circumvent the Puritans' objection to stage-plays which they thought lewd and encouraging of drunken, Royalist assemblies. Cromwell himself was praised in musical compositions by Andrew Marvell and Edmund Waller with poems and odes set to music. Since his death, Cromwell has appeared in a number of musical compositions from Rutland Boughton's 1905 symphony and character study 'Oliver Cromwell'; to pop, rock and folk songs by the likes of Elvis Costello ('Oliver's Army'), the Pogues and Steeleye Span; and Monty Python's brilliant comic song about 'Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector of England (and his warts)': an excellent aid in the history classroom!

Recommended reading

Want to find out more about Oliver Cromwell and his times?

Here are a few suggestions of great places to start...


  • Britain in Revolution, Austin Woolrych (2002)
  • The English Civil War, Tristram Hunt (2002)
  • Why was Charles I executed? Clive Holmes (2006)
  • The Story of the Civil War, Collector's Edition BBC History magazine (2017)

Cromwell biographies

  • Cromwell Our Chief of Men, Antonia Fraser (1973)
  • Oliver Cromwell, J C Davis (2001)
  • Oliver Cromwell, Peter Gaunt (2006)
  • Oliver Cromwell, John Morrill (2007) 

The Protectorate

  • Cromwell, King in All But Name, Roy Sherwood (1997)
  • The Cromwellian Protectorate, Barry Coward (2002)
  • Cromwell and the Interregnum, ed. David L Smith (2003)
  • Oliver Cromwell: New Perspectives, ed. Patrick Little (2009)



For many fascinating articles see the journal Cromwelliana available


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