The English Civil War and the Rise of Cromwell's Theocracy

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  • 0:05 Introduction to Cromwell
  • 0:52 English Civil War
  • 4:16 Cromwell as Lord Protector
  • 5:14 Laws to Persecution
  • 7:31 Death of Cromwell
  • 8:25 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Whittemore

Jessica has taught junior high history and college seminar courses. She has a master's degree in education.

This lesson will describe the events that led to the rise of Oliver Cromwell's theocracy. It will highlight the English Civil War, the execution of King Charles and the oppressive rule of Cromwell.

Introduction to Cromwell

As a kid, I remember my parents going out of town and leaving us with this one particular babysitter, Miss Mary. Now, I couldn't stand Miss Mary. She was an old fuddy-duddy who'd come into the house with her own set of rules, acting like she was my mom.

Oliver Cromwell became Lord Protector of England in 1653.
Oliver Cromwell

Like me, English history had its very own Miss Mary. His name was Oliver Cromwell, the force who brought rule and order to England after their civil war. However, while Miss Mary's rules were nothing more than a childhood annoyance, Oliver Cromwell's laws spelled enslavement and death for many within England's realm. However, before we get to this, we need to understand a bit about the English Civil War.

English Civil War

The English Civil War began in the 1640s. It was a fight between King Charles I and the English Parliament. Although there were many mitigating factors, the long and short of it was neither party could stand the other. Charles was tired of Parliament thinking they had the right to tell him what to do. Parliament was tired of Charles taxing his people, fraternizing with Catholics and using the English court system as his very own hall monitor.

When Charles actually locked Parliament out and refused to let them meet, it didn't take long for anger to escalate. When he tried to actually arrest members of Parliament, people realized his power had become out of control. This realization led to a civil war, which divided England. Those in London and the southeast favored the parliamentary forces, while those in the north and southwest were royalists, or simply loyal to the king.

In the first years of the war, the royalists had the upper-hand. Without a firm leader to institute order, the parliamentary forces were headed for defeat. Enter Oliver Cromwell, an educated Puritan of the upper-class. One of Oliver's first orders of business was to restructure the parliamentary forces. Under his leadership, a soldier's placement in the military was based on his ability and not his status in society. In other words, the guys with the most skill made Cromwell's starting line-up. This became known as the New Model Army. With this restructuring, the parliamentary forces became a force to be reckoned with.

When the New Model Army met King Charles at the 1645 Battle of Naseby, Cromwell's men won the day. Not only did they win, they left the battlefield with most of the king's men either dead or imprisoned. Making this defeat even more of a trouncing, they also captured the king's stock of guns and ammunition. Without weapons, and only a very few men, it became obvious King Charles was no match for Cromwell and his forces. Being unwilling to officially surrender to parliamentary forces, Charles fled to Scotland. Unfortunately for the bedraggled king, the Scots were more inclined to take the side of Cromwell and his forces. Not only did they refuse to help King Charles, they turned him over to the English Parliament.

King Charles I was beheaded for treason in 1649.
Charles I

Since Charles had obviously lost, you'd expect him to play nice. Ironically, he did the exact opposite. Even though he was in the custody of his enemies, he still worked to rally followers to his cause. Since Charles was completely unwilling to relent, Cromwell pulled out the big guns. He and several other members of Parliament called for Charles to be put on trial for high treason. Realizing Charles would never give up, Cromwell felt England would never heal while Charles remained alive. In a shocking historical move, he rallied support for the execution of the king! In the year 1649, King Charles I, of royal blood, was beheaded for high treason.

Cromwell as Lord Protector

After the death of King Charles, his son, Charles II, tried to gain the crown. However, Cromwell's forces made short work of him. After defeating Charles II forces, Cromwell turned his order-making eyes toward Parliament. This time he'd use his religious beliefs to shape the country.

In 1653, Cromwell dissolved Parliament and became Lord Protector of England. In other words, he was the guy in charge. Since he was a Puritan, or an extremely fundamental English Calvinist, he used his strict Puritan beliefs to make England a theocracy, or a system of government in which a person rules in the name of God. To keep control of his theocracy, Cromwell divided England up into 11 areas. Over each area, he placed trusted soldiers from his New Model Army. Their job was to enforce his new laws.

Laws to Persecution

Cromwell believed women and girls should dress in a modest manner. Under his rule, make-up and brightly colored dresses were banned. He also felt hard work was necessary for salvation of the soul. Therefore, entertainments, like many movie theaters were closed and most sports were banned. Since Sunday was an especially holy day, boys caught playing sports on this day would be whipped, while women caught doing needless work would find themselves in the stocks.

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