The huge scale and unique nature of Cromwell’s achievement speaks for itself: he was a soldier who never lost a battle or failed in a siege, the only commoner ever to be offered the Crown of England, and the only person ever to be offered that crown who preferred to rule without it. He also remains one of the most puzzling people in British history.
John Morrill has carried out the only genuinely original research into Cromwell’s career in recent times, dedicated to the period before he came to power, and decided that three successive experiences formed him as a man. The first was loss of status, when a promising early public career, sponsored by a rich uncle, ended in 1630 with Oliver being reduced to a working tenant farmer. The second was religious conversion, to a classic Puritanism, which brought him to the attention of godly aristocrats and assisted his political and social rehabilitation. As a result, he became a zealous Parliamentarian at the outbreak of war and underwent his third experience, of rapid promotion to a general’s rank and national fame. He emerged with a powerful sense of having been given a special mission by his God, and with the devoted loyalty of the army which was to make the English Revolution.