PUBLISHED: 12:29 26 October 2006 | UPDATED: 12:05 04 May 2010
IT will be two years in November since I started to write this history column. While I have made references to Oliver Cromwell, I have not been into any great depth about his life and times and connections to Ely. This is not through lack of interest, rat
IT will be two years in November since I started to write this history column. While I have made references to Oliver Cromwell, I have not been into any great depth about his life and times and connections to Ely. This is not through lack of interest, rather the reverse. I am deeply interested in 17th century British history, particularly the English Civil War, and its effect on local history.
On April 25, 1599, a son was born to Robert and Elizabeth Cromwell in a house on the High Street in Huntingdon. Born into a family of minor Huntingdon gentry, he was named Oliver. Elizabeth Cromwell had 10 children, of whom seven survived into adulthood, Oliver Cromwell was the only surviving son. He was baptised at St John's Church in Huntingdon four days later.
Oliver attended the free school in Huntingdon, which was attached to the hospital of St John and he studied under the tutelage of Dr Thomas Beard. He then went to Sidney Sussex College. But his university career came to an end when his father died in June, 1617, and he was summoned home to run the family estate. Here he looked after his widowed mother and seven unmarried sisters.
In August 1620, Cromwell married Elizabeth Bourchier at St Giles, Cripplegate in London. She was the daughter of a London merchant, Sir James Bourchier. How the couple met is unclear, but letters from her during the Civil War show their devotion to each other. They settled in Huntingdon and eventually had nine children.
In 1628, Cromwell was elected MP for Huntingdon. The MPs who sat in the House of Parliament had already made demands on Charles I for more rights in return for them granting him taxes. At war with both Spain and France, the King was desperate to raise more money and in his opening speech of this Parliament called for the immediate granting of taxes to pay for the wars.
In return, before agreeing to the taxation, the members of Parliament presented the King with a Petition of Right, demanding that Charles should adhere to rights concerning the raising of taxes and imprisonment of individuals. The King agreed to this petition initially, but then withdrew his agreement and ruled without a Parliament for the next 11 years.
The details of the events in the 1620s and '30s can be read elsewhere, but the influence of this Parliament on Oliver Cromwell is important to highlight. Here he met those who were opposed to the King's policies and methods of raising taxes. The Petition of Rights is seen as the legal basis for the Civil War that was to follow.
During this same period of time in the late 1620s, Oliver appears to have gone through a period of depression and introspection and even considered emigrating to the New World. He also underwent an intense spiritual awakening that found him following strict Puritan beliefs.
In 1631, Oliver's fortunes were at an all-time low and he was given no choice but to sell nearly all of his property around Huntingdon and to rent a farmhouse at St Ives, where he farmed for the next five years. Then in 1636 his uncle Sir Thomas Steward died and, as the only male relative, Oliver inherited a substantial estate.
Thomas Steward was the brother of Elizabeth Cromwell and lived in Stuntney Hall, where his sister, Oliver's mother, was born. Therefore in 1636 Oliver and his family moved to Ely and lived in the house Oliver had inherited next to St Mary's church. Here he became Collector of the Tithes of both of the Ely parishes, St Mary's and Holy Trinity and won the hearts of the fenmen defending their rights and land during the early attempts of drainage under Charles I.