To what extent did Cromwell's rise to prominence by 1646 depend on personal and social ties?

Essay by sharpey2001High School, 12th gradeA-, January 2005

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Oliver Cromwell's rise to prominence by 1646 has been a matter of much historical debate, with many historians disagreeing about the importance of Cromwell's personal and social ties before the Civil War. Many such as John Morrill have played down the significance of these 'tenuous' ties he inherited by birth, re-assessing the traditional view of Cromwell's early life up until 1640. Indeed, Cromwell's achievement in progressing from the lower end of the gentry, being described as a 'country gentleman' and later 'tenant farmer', to then become 'Lord Protector' in 1653 is without doubt a most remarkable feat. However, I feel that Cromwell's links before the Civil War are relatively insignificant and that it was primarily his military success that brought him to political pre-eminence.

Firstly, concerning his social status, Cromwell was simply a gentleman farmer from Huntingdon who lived in relative obscurity until the Civil War provided an outlet for his leadership skills.

In fact, historians have argued that Cromwell's humble beginnings did in reality become humbler and his social status decline upon his move to St. Ives, whereby he was thought to have worked the land himself rather than employed labour. Therefore, declining the importance of his social ties due to his apparent fall in social standing.

Indeed, Cromwell's family connections in being related to fellow MPs such as John Hampden and Oliver St. John who were leading opponents of the King in the Long Parliament, have been used by some traditional historians to signify Cromwell's early and therefore ongoing opposition to the monarchy. However, I feel these ties have been overplayed because as Barry Coward states, 'family relationships are not necessarily a basis for firm political alliances.' Just because Cromwell's relations married into these families does not mean he held the same beliefs as them. Despite this and...