CHY 4U: Schoolin’ Cromwell

Today, your goal is to take Oliver Cromwell to school. More specifically, you will take Cromwell to your school, meaning that you will attempt to apply the Historical School of your choice to this very controversial figure (don’t worry… I will give you some details that will help you start).

First, however, we need to talk about revolutions. My definition of revolution is a series of long-term changes that fundamentally alter a system, organization, or society. With this in mind, consider the following statements:

  • Most commercials that claim a product is revolutionary are false. In order to be revolutionary, a product would have to fundamentally change the way we do things; thus, it is hard to imagine a truly “revolutionary” household cleaning solution.
  • The printing press and the computer are both revolutionary. They fundamentally transformed the way we live, work, and communicate.

Social and Political revolutions are, well, messy. We can’t expect to fundamentally change a society without some consequences, right? Consider the following steps that commonly occur in political revolutions:

  • Corrupt or inept leadership fails to, well, lead
  • a group of people are fed up. They want change!
  • The group removes the leaders from power, usually by force (they wouldn’t leave willingly, anyway)
  • A new government is put in place, intended to correct the errors of the previous government
  • Eventually, the new government enacts a series of laws that seem to go against its founding principles (power corrupts, after all)
  • The new regime becomes so oppressive that it differs from its predecessors only in name
  • The government is overthrown, and the people support a new and radically different option

How does this connect to Cromwell? Let me show you:

  • Charles I of England (son of James I) was essentially an absolute monarch. He believed in the Divine Right of Kings, which meant that listening to Parliament was, in his eyes, optional.
  • A number of the Members of Parliament were staunchly opposed to Charles’ rule, and pushed for more rights/power for Parliament
  • While Charles made a few concessions, war eventually broke out. The king lost.  He was eventually put on trial and beheaded. Yes, that is right: an English Parliament beheaded its own king. (ask me about the legends surrounding the handkerchiefs)
  • Oliver Cromwell, one of the key figures in the in this Civil War and in the removal of the king, played a key role in the creation of the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth was under the control of Parliament.
  • Not everyone was happy, however. The commoners want more rights, but Parliament believes power should rest in the hands of the landowners, not the commoners (take a wild guess to which group the Parliamentarians belonged…)
  • Eventually, Cromwell becomes the Lord Protector, which is really not very different from being a king.
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