Oliver Cromwell was born in Huntingdon, England, on April twenty-five, 1599. His parents, Robert and Elizabeth Cromwell, were members of the landed gentry as well as Puritans, a sizeable Protestant sect which sought major reforms in the mainstream Church of England. Cromwell received his education from a prominent Puritan minister and then attended Cambridge University, although his father's death in 1617 ended Oliver Cromwell's education before he received his degree. Three years after leaving Oxford, Cromwell married Elizabeth Bourchier, with whom he had eight children.
Although raised by Puritans, Cromwell was not particularly pious until sometime in the late 1620s or early 1630s, when he experienced a religious epiphany. With his faith renewed, Cromwell developed a new sense of mission, in which he envisioned himself fighting for the cause of the Protestant Reformation in England and ridding the church of its Catholic influences. In 1628, Cromwell was elected to the House of Commons, one half of England's legislative branch. For a while, he remained a rather political figure, known primarily for his belligerence and strictly Puritan beliefs.
In 1640, tensions began to rise between King Charles I and Parliament. Parliament objected to Charles's raising taxes without first consulting them. Some members of Parliament were also concerned by Charles's proximity to Catholicism, particularly with regards to his queen, Henrietta Maria, who has herself Catholic. Relations between the King and Parliament grew increasingly strained, culminating with the outbreak of the English Civil War in August 1642. A staunch Parliamentarian, Cromwell raised an army in his home county, and after a series of victories over the King's forces, was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant-General.
Parliament's army eventually defeated the King and his supporters, the Royalists, and Cromwell emerged from the Civil War as a bona fide hero. By the late 1640s, Cromwell effectively became the leader of Parliament's army, which he consolidated into a single force known as the New Model Army. After the execution of Charles I in January 1649, Cromwell's influence over the military made him a powerful political figure, and he assumed the prestigious position of first chairman of the new Council of State.
For the next few years, Cromwell further bolstered his reputation by leading a series of military campaigns in both Ireland and Scotland. His campaign in Ireland was particularly brutal, and Cromwell's troops massacred several thousand civilians, often with Cromwell's consent, even instigation. When he returned to Parliament in 1653, Cromwell was disgusted with the constant debating, and used the Army to forcibly dissolve the House of Commons. A new Parliament was elected, but after a coup d'état in December 1653, Cromwell was named Lord Protector of the British Republic and given full power.
Although he frequently wielded his power like the kings before him, Cromwell declined the crown on more than one occasion. He continued to impose his will in the name of the Reformation and of the new regime, but his laws included the extension of religious tolerance to all minority Protestant factions, the reorganization of political representation in the House of Commons, and reforms of the often-complicated English legal system.
As Lord Protector, Cromwell called two Parliaments into session. Although Cromwell forcibly dissolved the first session, his relations with the second Parliament were more cordial, and in 1657 Cromwell allowed for the passage of a constitutional settlement which recreated some institutions, such as the House of Lords, which had been abolished after the Civil War. Cromwell also agreed to make the office of Lord Protector a hereditary position, which would pass to his eldest son upon his death. For much of his career as Lord Protector, Cromwell had to strike a balance between the country's remaining royalist and republican interests, although he never succeeded in fully winning over any of these groups to his side. Forced into a difficult balancing act in the last years of his life, Cromwell became a somewhat melancholy and bitter man. He died of pneumonia on September 1658, a month after the death of his favorite daughter, Elizabeth. He was succeeded by his son Richard and received a great state funeral. After the Restoration of the Stuart monarchy in 1660, however, Cromwell's body was disinterred and publicly hanged.