Oliver Cromwell’s Aims in Ireland 1649-60

Oliver Cromwell was an English military and political leader best known for his contribution towards making England a republican and as the head of state in England, Scotland, and Ireland: mostly known as Lord Protector. He served these roles between April 1649 and September 1658. Oliver was commander of the army created by the England parliament which killed the royalist of King Charles the first during the England civil wars of 1641. Cromwell took over the newly created republican England after the execution of King Charles, conquered Scotland and Ireland, and ruled as lord protector until his death in 1658. After the royalist of King Charles was defeated during the civil wars, they fled to Ireland where they signed a treaty with the confederate of Catholics of Ireland.

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Oliver was born in 1599 in Huntington and was a strong puritan (religious groups in England advocating for purity in worship). Little is known about the first 40 years of his life until he was elected as a member of the parliament of Cambridge. He later joined the British military during the civil and was on the side of those who supported the parliamentarians. Oliver rose from being a leader of a small group of troops to overall army commander through the difficult period of the Britain civil war, and then he was mandated to take command of Britain’s campaign in Ireland during 1645-1650 and the Scotland campaign of between 1650 and 1651. He was responsible for removing a member of the “long parliament from the parliament by force and engaged the rump parliament in reviewing the constitution” (Britannia). Later after the constitution was changed and dismissal of parliament Cromwell becomes the lord protector of England, Scotland, and Ireland in 1653 and embarked on a mission to curtail rebellions from Scotland and Ireland.

In 1649, Oliver was chosen to lead the British army in a campaign against the confederate Catholics and royalists in Ireland. The alliance between the catholic confederate and the royalist was seen as the biggest threat facing the commonwealth. The parliamentary invasion of Ireland targeted the alliance of the Irish Catholics and the British royalist. At the time of the invasion, the Irish political framework was in disarray; a group of Catholics against the royalist-catholic alliance in Ireland was fighting the alliance, and Protestants royalist were offering their support to the parliamentary forces that had arrived in Ireland earlier. According to a speech by Cromwell on March 1649, “Cromwell stated that he would accept an overthrow by Scottish rather than Irish” (Britannia). Cromwell’s motives in the Irish were both religious and political. Cromwell was totally opposed to the Roman Catholic Church because; he saw the teaching of the church as being against the supremacy of the bible in “favor of papal and clerical authority” (Fraser), secondly, he blamed the church for the genocide killing of Protestants in Europe.

In 1641 there was an Irish rebellion which was started by the catholic and later transformed into violence between the Irish, Scottish, and Britain Protestants settlers. Cromwell believes that the rebellion was initiated by the Irish Catholics who were against Protestants. The source of rebellion is said to have stemmed from Catholics’ fear of attack from British anti-catholic parliament forces. The catholic rebellion led to violent “confrontation in Ireland for the better part of 1641 and later the Catholics groups formed a confederate in 1942” (Fraser). The confederate detracted itself from the control of the English state and joined the royalist in wars against the Irish, Britain, and Scotland kingdoms. During the reign of King Charles I, Protestantism was the only allowed form of worship in British, Ireland, and Scottish kingdoms. People were forced to attend Protestants services and failure to do so was punishable by the kingdom.

Catholics were not allowed or given the opportunity to head high rank in the three states or their rank in the military was limited to a certain level. Despite this Catholics did not oppose the reign of King Charles I over Ireland. The Catholics pursued King Charles I to grant Catholics full rights and recognize the existence of the catholic religion in Ireland. A series of negotiations between the Catholics and King Charles followed with the king promising them that their rights would be granted but in exchange for increased taxes. The Irish rebellion was started by a group of planters after the king representative in Irish decided to confiscate land title deeds of those who failed to pay land levies.

The king representative is said to have faced armed Catholics in a quest to take title deeds of those who failed to pay the levies. The uprising mainly targeted the British protestant settlers although; later as the rebellions continued the Scottish settlers were attacked. The uprising is believed to have been catalyzed by the exclusion of the entire catholic fraternity from states affairs leading the Catholics to participate in the war. Most of the causalities of the rebellions were the native Irish, British and Scottish Protestants.

With enough reason to justify his opposition to the catholic religion, Cromwell invaded Ireland in 1649 to add force to already parliamentary forces in Ireland. He was assured of continuous military reinforcement since the British civil war had ended. His successful campaign against the catholic-royalist alliance was brief and only lasted for nine months. His mission started on arrival “in Dublin in August 1649, he took the fortified ports towns which secured logistics from England” (Fraser). Control of these ports ensured no arms would be brought to Ireland and the royalist Catholics could not escape. Cromwell’s military on the siege of Drogheda town massacred more than “35,000 people comprising of more than 2700 royalist soldiers, and all men in the town carrying weapons, including civilians, prisoners, and Roman Catholic priests”(Dustan 52 ). While Cromwell opted for negotiation so that the Catholics would surrender in a peaceful way and avoid killings, his military continued to siege more and more towns killing their occupants and later burning the towns.

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To the north of Ireland some towns among them Kilkenny, New Ross, and Carlow surrendered. Apart from the use of the military to topple the Catholics and royalists, he adopted diplomatic measures. With assistance from Roger Boyle, he succeeded in pursuing a group of the royalist to change camp into the parliamentary troops. After his departure in 1650 to Scotland to counter the threat of Charles II, his successors continued to capture more towns. The Cromwell’s successors continued with serge and guerrilla wars for a period of three years until the last town held by the Catholics surrendered in 1652.

Prior to the last day of fighting in Ireland, many catholic priests were captured and beheaded while the public practice of Catholicism was declared illegal and completely banned. Many Irish men and women were sold to the commonwealth as slaves. All the lands owned by the Catholics was taken and given to the British and Scottish settlers and parliamentary soldiers”. Those Catholics who survived the invasion were allocated the poor lands. Under the commonwealth the percentage of catholic land ownership declined from “60 percent to merely 8 percent” (Durston 20).

Cromwell’s actions caused much debate. Many claimed his actions were justifiable while others were against his motive. He defended his action by claiming that his intentions were not to kill civilians but to eliminate people with arms. In another defense to his brutality, the siege of towns was as revenge for the massacre of Protestants.

Works cited

Britannia. Oliver Cromwell. 2008. Web.

Durston, Christopher “The Fall of Cromwell’s Major-Generals”, in English Historical Review 1998.

Fraser, Antonia. Cromwell, Our Chief of Men, and Cromwell: the Lord Protector. Phoenix Press, 1973.

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