It has been said that for Oliver's boyhood there is "nothing but unlimited conjecture and most dubious legend ;" and Carlyle tells us that the boy "went through the universal destinies which conduct all men from childhood to youth, in a way not particularized by an authentic record." But there is one authentic record which even Carlyle's careful search did not secure. In the parish book which records the baptism of Oliver is also a notice of his having been subjected to some sort of ecclesiastical discipline at the age of seventeen, for an offense which he had committed. What the offense was is not indicated, but it probably was connected in some way with the church or its services. The date of the record is a little — perhaps a year — before the time when 41
Laud was made Archdeacon of Huntingdon, his first promotion; and it is not unlikely, trained as Oliver had been by his parents and by his schoolmaster, Dr. Beard, a Low Churchman, that he manifested some dislike of changes which he noticed in the manner of conducting the services, or in the chancel arrangements of the church.
Perhaps Oliver had not an appreciating eye for the new ecclesiastical garments which were then coming into fashion, or perhaps he did not like to see the communion table to which his mother had become accustomed changed and made into an altar; and, boy-like, was a little imprudent in speech or actions. We do not know, and we never shall know, what the trouble was, or what the punishment was; but the record stands, and has stood for nearly three hundred years, on the parish book, telling that Oliver had done something wrong; and as this is the only indication of the kind connected with his life, the only proof adverse to his good character, it can do his memory no special harm to mention it here.
|Oliver Cromwell, After the original by Samuel Cooper (died 1672).|
Title: Oliver Cromwell. Author: Samuel Rawson Gardiner. Publisher: Longmans, Green, and co., 1901. Original from: the University of Michigan. Digitized: Oct 4, 2007. Length: 319 pages. Subjects: Biography & Autobiography / Historical Great Britain History / Europe / Great Britain.
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Oliver was born in Huntingdon, a small hamlet about fifteen miles from Cambridge, on the twenty-fifth of April, 1599. The house in which he spent his early days is still standing, but it has been much changed. His family, at the time of his birth, was not an obscure one. His father and three of his uncles had sat in the Parliaments of Queen Elizabeth. A royalist uncle, Oliver's godfather, who lived in the great, and even then, historical house, called Hinchinbrook, only half a mile from Oliver's home, was so prominent a man that King James nearly ruined him, financially, by his visits. The Hinchinbrook mansion still remains, and its external appearance is now much as it was three hundred years ago.
Besides the uncle, Sir Oliver, the boy had many relatives who were prominent in English society. One of his aunts was Mrs. Hampden, the mother of John Hampden, who was a great man, and at one period of his life the most talked of, and the most revered, of all the men in England. The social position, then, of Oliver's family was that of the English gentry, between the nobility and the yeomanry; his relations were people of property, education and good breeding. But "better than all social rank," Oliver's father "is understood to have been a wise, devout, steadfast and worthy man; and to have lived a modest and manful life." Even in "Cromwelliana," we read that Mr. Robert Cromwell was " a gentleman who went no less in esteem and reputation than any of his ancestors for his personal worth, until his unfortunate production of his son and heir;" and of Oliver's mother it is only necessary here to say that she imparted to her son some of her own good qualities, that she deeply loved her son, and that Oliver tenderly watched over her from the time when she became a widow in 1617, till, in 1654, she died in Whitehall Palace at the age of ninety-four.
His parents were religious after the Puritan type, and from them he doubtless first learned that Bible language which clung to him through life, and which in his use of it was not cant, but the simplest and most natural form of speech. Oliver received his home-training at a time when a Puritan was what the name indicates; when the name was one of reproach; when it suggested persecution, and when there was no advantage to be gained in being a hypocrite under it. There were but few, if any, hypocritical Puritans before the time of the Long Parliament, forty-one years after he was born; there were many of them when Puritanism became a power in the government, and a title to favor and rewards.