History - Was he a goodie or a baddie?

7th December 2012 at 00:00
Your pupils can uphold or destroy Oliver Cromwell's reputation

When Oliver Cromwell ousted King Charles I and signed his death warrant in 1649, Cromwell's Commonwealth was celebrated and the Puritan leader - nicknamed Old Ironsides - ushered in aggressive and effective home and foreign policy. When he died in 1658, he was honoured with a state funeral and buried in Westminster Abbey.

But when the monarchy was reinstated after Cromwell's death, his reputation was reduced to tatters and he became seen as a treacherous dictator. His body was dug up, hung in chains and beheaded, with the head placed on a stake in the grounds of Westminster Abbey as a warning to others harbouring treacherous thoughts.

Historians are now divided over Cromwell, who has become one of the most controversial figures in British history. In a 2002 BBC poll in the UK, he was selected as one of the 10 greatest Britons of all time.

But what will your pupils make of him? And would they have dispensed the same punishment?

TES contributor eskimomelon sends pupils back in time with the lesson pack "Cromwell: hero or villain?" It provides a introduction to the 17th-century Lord Protector's life, suitable for primary and secondary school pupils, which they must assess before coming to a verdict.

The class is then split into two groups for a debate: one side argues that Cromwell was a hero; the other must prove that he was a villain. Each group selects a "barrister" who has to present their case to the teacher - the "judge".

It's clear from the historical sources in this pack that the Roundhead commander-in-chief had no desire to be king. In fact, Cromwell refused the title, explaining that he just wanted to do right, for God and the people. He believed that God guided his victories and was convinced that hard graft was the way to Heaven. He banned many forms of entertainment, closing inns and theatres and declaring that boys caught playing football on a Sunday could be whipped. He even cancelled Christmas.

Cromwell's supporters - such as the late historians Thomas Carlyle and Samuel Rawson Gardiner - considered him a hero of liberty. But others highlighted his brutal campaigns to slaughter supporters of the Cavaliers, together with their wives and children. Some artists even depicted him as the Devil.

Pupils must look closely at the evidence. Many of the negative accounts were written after Cromwell's death, when the country once again had a monarch. Consider what might have happened to those who had shown support for Cromwell in the royal aftermath of his leadership. Might public opinion have changed because people were afraid of the king?

Pupils need to consider these questions, and more, if their case is to stand up in your classroom courtroom. And the verdict? Well, that's up to you, the teacher, to decide.

What else?

Download eskimomelon's "Cromwell: hero or villain?" lesson for free from TES Resources. bit.lytesCromwell

Introduce the Civil War and encourage pupils to write an obituary for Cromwell using cherrytin's resources. bit.lytesCivilWar.

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar, Buyagift.com, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today