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Eminent men of England


Oliver Cromwell,

Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, and one of the most extraordinary characters in history, was the grandson of Sir Henry Cromwell, and the son of Robert Cromwell, a man of good property, and a brewer at Huntingdon, where Oliver was born, April 25, 1599. Having been educated at the free school of that city, and at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, he became a law student at Lincoln's Inn. Here, however, he did not remain long; as in his 21st year he married Elizabeth, the daughter of Sir James Bourchier, and settled at Huntingdon. In his youth he is said, by royalist writers, to have indulged in profligate habits, which he must soon have laid aside; and that his character and manner of life were such as to obtain the esteem and confidence of his neighbours, is evident from the fact that he was elected member of parliament for Huntingdon in 1628.

His first appearance in parliament was in February, 1629. In 1640 he represented Cambridge. In his parliamentary career he was remarkable rather for his business-like habits and energy of character, than for elegance of language or gracefulness of delivery. His appearance and dress, too, were plain and unprepossessing. He notwithstanding acquired considerable influence even in parliament; and in 1642, when it was resolved to levy forces to oppose the king, Cromwell received a commission from the earl of Essex, and raised a troop of horse at Cambridge, of which he, of course, had the command. He soon distinguished himself by his courage and military skill, especially at the battle of Marston Moor, in 1644; he was ex- cepted from the self-denying ordinance, and soon after won the decisive victory of Naseby. In 1648 he defeated the Scots at Preston, and soon after invaded Scotland and took Berwick. He was a member of the High Court of Justice for the trial of Charles I., and signed the warrant for his execution.

In August, 1649, he was named lord lieutenant and commander-in-chief in Ireland, stormed Drogheda, and put to death the whole garrison; and soon after Wexford. Other great towns submitted without resistance, and Ireland was subdued. In con- sequence of the expected return of Prince Charles to Scotland, Cromwell was recalled, leaving Ireton as deputy. He was appointed lord-general, and set out for Scotland. On the 3rd September, 1650, the great battle of Dunbar was fought, and the Scots were totally defeated. Edinburgh surrendered, and Perth was taken some months later. Charles having marched into England, Cromwell followed him and on the 3rd September, 1651, won the decisive battle of Worcester. Cromwell took up his residence at Hampton Court in the following month. In 1653, while the Dutch war was going on, he dissolved the Long Parliament, formed a council of state, and had a new parliament called, which soon resigned its power to Cromwell, and by the 'Instrument of Government' he was created 'Lord Protector.'

The next year he had to mourn the loss of his noble mother, who died in Whitehall, November 18, and was honoured, against her wish, with a magnificent funeral in Westminster Abbey. Her body was exhumed at the Restoration. Cromwell showed himself equal to the hard task he had undertaken, by sharp, decisive means keeping down plotting royalists, jealous Presbyterians, and intractable levellers; and by a magnanimous foreign policy making England greater and more honoured than ever. He interfered for the protection of the Vaudois Protestants, cruelly persecuted by the duke of Savoy, and had a large sum raised for their relief. He did not succeed with his parliaments, and had to rule mostly without them.

At last care, anxiety, and growing perplexities wore him out; he became gloomy and suspicious; was overwhelmed by sorrow at the death of his favourite daughter, Elizabeth, Lady Claypole; fell sick, and died about a month after her, September 3, 1658, anniversary of his two victories of Dunbar and Worcester. He was interred in the chapel of Henry VII. at Westminster; but the body was torn from its resting-place at the Restoration, exposed at Tyburn, with those of Bradshaw and Ireton, the head cut off, and the remains buried under the gallows. His widow survived till 1665. His daughter Bridget became the wife of Ireton, and afterwards of Fleetwood; Mary married Lord Fauconbeng; and Frances, Mr. Rich and Sir John Russell. Cromwell had appointed his eldest son, Richard, to succeed him; but the reins of government were not to be held by one so virtuous and incompetent; and having been compelled by the officers to dissolve the parliament, he abdicated, April 22,1659, and ended his days in tranquil seclusion at Cheshunt, in Hertfordshire, in 1712. His brother Henry, whose upright administration, as viceroy of Ireland, had gained him many friends, also retired to private life, and died in 1674.

The most important contribution to the history of this great man yet made is the 'Letters and Speeches of Oliver Cromwell,' by Thomas Carlyle: a work which has brought about a revolution in the general way of thinking about its hero. It appeared in 1845, and has passed through several editions. Other valuable works are Guizot's Lives of Oliver and Richard Cromwell, and the Life of Oliver, by John Forster. There are portraits of Cromwell by Walker, Samuel Cooper, and Bernard Lens. Walker's is in the British Museum, and there are duplicates in some private collections Cooper's is in the possession of the duke of Devonshire; and Lens's in the collection of the duke of Portland. A fine drawing from the life, in the possession of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, was lent to the National Portrait Exhibition (1866). The National Portrait Gallery possesses a terra-cotta bust, modelled from life by Pierce.

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George Grenville,

an English statesman in the reigns of George II and George III., was younger brother of Richard Grenville, Earl Temple, and the father of Lord Grenville. He was born in 1712, entered parliament as member for Buckinghamshire, and was distinguished for his eloquence. He successively filled the situations of Treasurer of the Navy, First Lord of the Admiralty, and First Lord of the Treasury. In 1763 he became Chancellor of the Exchequer, introduced a Bill for taxing the American colonies, and in 1765 he resigned his post to the Marquis of Rockingham. His administration having been violently attacked by the press, he published 'Considerations on the Commerce and Finances of England, and on the Measures taken by the Ministers,' &c-, in its defence. He died in 1770. The 'Grenville Papers,' consisting of the public and private correspondence of the statesman, his friends and contemporaries, for 30 years, were edited by W. J. Smith, in 4 vols.

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John Hampden, Statesman,

one of the illustrious statesmen of the Commonwealth, was born at London in 1594. He was the head of a wealthy family which had been settled in Buckinghamshire before the Norman Conquest, and was cousin to Oliver Cromwell. He was educated at Oxford, and then studied law at the Inner Temple. In 1619 he married, and continued to live as a country gentleman till 1625, when he was returned to parliament for the borough of Grampound. His sympathies were with the popular party, but he did not at first take a prominent part in debate. In 1626 he was one of those who refused to contribute to the general loan required by the King, and was imprisoned. After being unconditionally set free, he began to take an active part in affairs, and his reputation grew rapidly. He was several times returned member for Wendover, and finally for his own county of Buckinghamshire, for which he sat in the Long Parliament.

In 1636 he set the example of refusing to pay the ship-money, a tax devised by Attorney-general Noy, and arbitrarily imposed by the King. His refusal was without passion but firm; his resolution was to have the question of right tried in his own person. Proceedings were instituted against him, and in the following year the trial took place, and lasted thirteen days. The decision was against Hampden, but it made him more than ever the favourite of the people, who felt it as a heavy blow fallen on their liberties. Its tendency was to consolidate the party opposed to arbitrary power, and to hasten the crisis of civil war. Hampden and other members were impeached by the King, who made an unsuccessful attempt to seize them. At the commencement of the war Hampden levied a body of troops, and served under Essex. He displayed great ability, vigour, and energy both as a soldier and as a member of the committee of Public Safety. But his country was too soon deprived of his services; for in a skirmish with Prince Rupert at Chalgrove, June 18, 1643, he was severely wounded, and died at Thame on the 24th. In 1828, his body was disinterred by Lord Nugent, in the presence of several other persons, in order to ascertain the cause of death. A narrative of the ghastly transaction will be found in the 'Gentlemen's Magazine,' for August, 1828. There is a good Life of Hampden by J. Forster, and an interesting volume of 'Memorials' by Lord Nugent. A bust of Hampden is in the National Portrait Gallery, and a noble statue, by Foley, is placed in St. Stephen's Hall, Westminster.

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The above information was gleaned from
various sources and then put together
by Colin Hinson 1996.


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