Oliver Cromwell

Richard Wilkinson argues that Cromwell had what it took to rule Britain but failed to achieve his own idealistic programme.

‘Pray Mr. Hampden, who is that sloven?’ demanded the nattily dressed Philip Warwick. ‘That sloven’ was Oliver Cromwell, haranguing the first session of the Long Parliament. Warwick had reason to be unimpressed. The scruffily, badly shaven, purple-faced backbencher was just what he seemed: a failed Huntingdonshire businessman, a religious eccentric, ‘an unguided missile not really under ground control’. Obscure, poor, unstable, seemingly not very bright, Cromwell looked like a natural loser rather than a natural leader. Yet within a decade he would rule the British Isles. One thinks of a latterday MP for Huntingdon, Prime Minister John Major, who exclaimed to his first cabinet, ‘Well, would you believe it?’

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