In 2011 to commemorate the fortieth anniversary of the Ely Society, I wrote Oliver Cromwell, Lord of the Fens, to honour one of Ely’s most famous citizens. Not being a Cromwell expert, I wanted to write a simple biography that might be read by young people and those who just wanted to find out more about his life and his relationship with Ely and the fens. I had Reg Holmes’ research, published in 1975 as Cromwell’s Ely by the Ely Society, to draw on, and Oliver Cromwell House itself to help. I also consulted several other books and relevant websites.
Despite all that I found there were many gaps in the narrative and so much not known about the man and his family despite him being one of the most famous Englishmen that ever lived. But I did my best and it was duly published. No one contacted me to say that I had got things wrong, but there were suggestions that there were errors and omissions. I like to try and get things right, so when the opportunity arose to reprint I decided to do a revised version.
I am grateful to Cromwell authorities John Goldsmith and Professor John Morrill for providing me with corrections and suggested amendments, but they also posed questions with which I struggled. There is no doubt that the event that changed Cromwell’s life forever was when he moved to Ely in 1636 having inherited from his uncle, Thomas Steward of Stuntney Hall, the position as collector of the cathedral tithes.
In 1640 he was elected as MP for Cambridge and despite being the subject of Andrew Barclay’s Electing Cromwell, no one is entirely clear how he was chosen. What I did learn from all Andrew Barclay’s research, much of it looking at Reg Holmes’s earlier research, is the importance of Thomas Parsons’ Charity in Ely, the members of which acted rather like a town corporation. Professor Martyn Bennett’s Cromwell at War reinforced my own opinion that perhaps Cromwell’s greatest achievement was learning to be a soldier in his early 40s and becoming one of history’s great military commanders.
Cromwell did not abolish Christmas, although he did not restore it either when he was Lord Protector, and I leave readers again to decide how much he was a hero or a villain. Have I got it right this time in this fully revised book? It would be lovely to think so, but one thing I have learnt is that it is very difficult to write a simple book about a complicated person.