In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Oliver Cromwell

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Bibliographies
  • Letters and Speeches
  • Biographies
  • Journals
  • Early Life, Parliamentary Career, and the Death of the King
  • Cromwell in Ireland and Scotland
  • Cromwell and the Radicals
  • Cromwell and Religion
  • Last Years and Death
  • Cromwell, Culture and Literature
  • Reputation and Memorializations

Renaissance and Reformation Oliver Cromwell
Sarah Covington
  • LAST REVIEWED: 10 May 2010
  • LAST MODIFIED: 10 May 2010
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0045


More than any other figure of 17th-century England, Oliver Cromwell (1599–1658) leaves behind a complex and debated legacy, assuming different guises according to the changing preoccupations of the times. In the Victorian period, he was interpreted as a harbinger of religious toleration and modern liberal ideals, whereas other estimations emphasized his role as a ruthless and devious political operator. So elusive is his persona—with his words holding an ambiguous relationship to his actions—that he has variously been likened to Machiavelli, the duke of Marlborough, Robespierre, Hitler, and even the late President Zia of Pakistan. New biographies and studies are published every year, reflecting continued fascination with the man and his career. Though each assessment of Cromwell claims to be the definitive and truest one, as one biographer, Peter Gaunt, has written, we can be sure that “future generations may disagree.”

General Overviews

A number of edited collections have been published on Cromwell, many containing significant essays by leading authorities in the field. Morrill 1990 remains perhaps the most valuable collection and has been frequently cited for thirty years; the introduction and the editor’s own piece on Cromwell’s early life are particularly useful. Smith 2003 is important for bringing together the most influential and classic articles on Cromwell’s life and rule, while Aylmer 1972 presents a varied overview of different subjects by leading experts of their respective subjects. Little 2009, while lacking a unifying thread—except for the subject of Cromwell himself—is also important for the student who seeks an overview of the most recent approaches and scholarly treatments of the man and his reign. Finally, Ashley 1969 is a helpful introduction to Cromwell’s speeches and writings, with commentary by modern scholars.

  • Ashley, Maurice, ed. Cromwell. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1969.

    Part of the “Great Lives Observed” series, this useful, student-directed volume contains excerpts from Cromwell’s own words, broken down according to thematic chapters, as well as selections of writings about Cromwell from contemporaries and historians up through the 20th century.

  • Aylmer, G. E, ed. The Interregnum: The Quest for Settlement, 1646–1660. London: Macmillan, 1972.

    An important volume of eight essays by leading historians of the period, covering all aspects of the ruler in this period.

  • Little, Patrick. Oliver Cromwell: New Perspectives. Basingstoke, UK, and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009.

    An excellent current overview of different episodes of Cromwell’s life and rule, rather than his career as a whole. In not taking Cromwell at his own words, many of the contributors emphasize his actual ruthlessness and cunning as a politician.

  • Morrill, John, ed. Oliver Cromwell and the English Revolution. London: Longman, 1990.

    An extremely influential and requisite collection of ten essays by leading historians that covers the range of Cromwell’s life and career.

  • Smith, David Lawrence, ed. Cromwell and the Interregnum: The Essential Readings. London: Wiley-Blackwell, 2003.

    A highly useful compendium of the most important recent articles on Cromwell during the Interregnum, bringing in Scotland and Ireland as well as England.

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