Oliver Cromwell, by Samuel Cooper (died 1672)This is the third in my series on “Great Christians” in history. Oliver Cromwell was a warrior-Calvinist who, during the course of the English Civil War, rose to prominence among the Parliamentarians who fought the royal faction; he later led the country in place of the king.

His career began quietly enough with his election to the House of Commons in the late 1620s, after which he seems to have gone through a personal crisis — perhaps a bout of depression. He emerged from it, in the early 1630s, a fervent Calvinist. Like most others of that sect in England, he was convinced the Anglican Church hadn’t sufficiently jettisoned the trappings of Roman Catholicism, and agitated for a “second Reformation” of sorts. At the outbreak of hostilities between Parliament and the Crown in 1642, this supposedly pious man and faithful Christian collected up a cavalry troop of his own, and happily marched to war. Despite having no military training or background to speak of, he scored enough victories that he rose up through the ranks of the Parliamentarian forces. By 1645 he was second-in-command.

As the war continued, Cromwell viewed his military success as a sign that God had “chosen” him to smash the Crown.

The Parliamentarians won in early 1649 with the execution of King Charles I and the creation of the Commonwealth in place of the monarchy. Contention among the anti-royal partisans cropped up almost immediately thereafter. Cromwell had tried to end this infighting, however, it proved too much for him. Seeking another venue in which to express his violent piety, later that year, Cromwell took his army into Ireland. The latter was a Catholic country, and Cromwell hated Catholics even more than he’d hated the king or any of his royal supporters. His campaign in Ireland — which for him lasted only about a year — was as vicious as any of the other campaigns of his career (since it included massacres of civilians) and left a mark on Ireland which is still recalled to this day.

Cromwell ventured into Scotland to fight off Charles II, who hoped to take back the Crown. That campaign, too, was marked by vicious massacres. When the so-called “Rump Parliament” which ruled the Commonwealth proved insufficient for him, Cromwell took matters into his own hands, disbanded that body, and in 1653 essentially forced the creation of a new state, with himself at its head, with the title “Lord Protector.”

That’s when he really went to town with his hyperreligiosity. He set up a mechanism by which the state — rather than the Church — approved and dismissed clergy. Both the Anglican and Catholic churches were outlawed, their hierarchs dispossessed and their property seized.

Over the years of his rule, Cromwell increasingly tried to force dour Calvinistic behavior on the people. Church attendance became mandatory; holidays were outlawed (especially Christmas, but others beside); and so too were gambling and most public entertainments, such as plays and races. And the good, “godly” Cromwell continued to send military forces abroad, not only in Ireland, but in other colonies too, particularly in the Caribbean. This pious, dutiful, obedient Christian remained — contrary to the teachings of Christ himself — a man of war to the end of his days.

Within a couple years after Cromwell’s death, the once-hated monarchy was restored. And never again would Calvinists be permitted to run Britain … that kingdom had learned her lesson, where they were concerned.

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