The Making of Oliver Cromwell Ronald Hutton

Publication date:
10 Aug 2021
Yale University Press
424 pages: 235 x 156mm
20 color illus., 10 maps
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The first volume in a pioneering account of Oliver Cromwell—providing a major new interpretation of one of the greatest figures in history

Oliver Cromwell (1599–1658)—the only English commoner to become the overall head of state—is one of the great figures of history, but his character was very complex. He was at once courageous and devout, devious and self-serving; as a parliamentarian, he was devoted to his cause; as a soldier, he was ruthless. Cromwell’s speeches and writings surpass in quantity those of any other ruler of England before Victoria and, for those seeking to understand him, he has usually been taken at his word.
In this remarkable new work, Ronald Hutton untangles the facts from the fiction. Cromwell, pursuing his devotion to God and cementing his Puritan support base, quickly transformed from obscure provincial to military victor. At the end of the first English Civil War, he was poised to take power. Hutton reveals a man who was both genuine in his faith and deliberate in his dishonesty—and uncovers the inner workings of the man who has puzzled biographers for centuries.

Ronald Hutton is professor of history at Bristol University and a leading authority on the British Isles in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, on ancient and medieval paganism and magic, and on the global context of witchcraft beliefs. He is the author of seventeen books.

“[Hutton] is incapable of writing a dull sentence....No one can read this book without coming away with their understanding of Cromwell deeply enriched.”—John Adamson, The Sunday Times

“[Hutton] uses his deep knowledge of the period, and not a little wit, to ask the right questions and when no definitive answer can be given, as is often the case, teases out plausible explanations. He makes a virtue of this tentative, uncertain but enthralling process, inviting the reader into a shared experience of discovery.”—Paul Lay, The Times

“Hutton has produced a superb, coruscating, immensely stimulating profile of the rising Cromwell. The key questions about this singularly fascinating man – his role in the regicide, his Irish policy, his designs on the crown – cry out for a sequel. Hutton dangles the prospect – “if I continue to deal with Cromwell’s life”. Yes please."—Jessie Childs, Daily Telegraph


“Hutton is a distinguished historian of 17th-century England, and writes with dispassionate authority about the religious and political context of Cromwell’s early life. The result is an absorbing story of a man born into relative wealth and security, apparently lacking ambition yet with an impulsive, brooding temperament.”—Jerry Brotton, Financial Times

“The pivotal figure of the 17th century features in The Making of Oliver Cromwell, which meticulously takes the Lord Protector’s story to 1645, showing how his gifts as a soldier equipped him for leadership.”—Simon Heffer, The Daily Telegraph ‘2021’s Best Histories’

“Splendid...[Cromwell's] is a unique story of personal achievement in British history: the rise from obscure country gentleman to head of state. No one - not even Oliver's distant ancestor Thomas, who rose from Putney publican's son to Henry VIII's right-hand man - ever made it as far. Hutton's book concentrates on the years before this final leap was made.”—David Horspool, The Oldie

"The Making of Oliver Cromwell is radical, powerful and persuasive, and it will cause a stir. It stands as a landmark challenge to the hagiographical tendencies of some of the historiography. Hutton’s assertion that Cromwell is ‘definitely not somebody to be taken simply at his word’ is utterly convincing. Whether his callous and calculating Cromwell will supplant more sympathetic versions remains to be seen, but his book will surely set the terms of debate for years to come."—Anna Keay, Literary Review

“Ronald Hutton offers a compelling profile of the civil war leader whose actions - including his conquest of Ireland - remain controversial.”—History Revealed

“[Hutton] brings to this biography an acute sensitivity to the religious debates; and he has a feel for geography and landscape which enlivens the narrative throughout. He writes, as ever, with fluency and flair….In Hutton's account, we see the real measure of the man….For an up-to-date view this book now leads the field.”—Michael Braddick, Times Literary Supplement

“This is a rich and immensely enjoyable book, and Hutton's expert, sceptical eye ensures that the manifold contradictions and paradoxes of its subject are always kept in view....As a military history of the English Civil War in which Cromwell is centred, this book is unlikely to be surpassed.”—Marcus Nevitt, Spectator

“Excellent…[Hutton] convinces even royalists of the extraordinary gifts of Cromwell.”—Harry Mount, Country Life


“In this revelatory biography...Hutton's persuasive treatment makes Cromwell both more comprehensible and more interesting.”—Michael Prodger, New Statesman 

“Hutton is a wonderful military historian; his account of the decisive Battle of Naseby is masterly...Another distinctive aspect of Hutton’s narrative is a lyrical emphasis on the natural world in which the human action takes place...At the close we are left with a far fuller picture of Cromwell the man.”—Melanie McDonagh, Catholic Herald


“Hutton does not gloss over the warts of this complicated man...Behind his readable, pacey prose, which should keep the non-specialist engaged, a lifetime of scholarly endeavour in this most violent period of the history of the British Isles.”—Judith Maltby, Church Times

“Excellent. Hutton combines outstanding story-telling with impressive analysis. For the first time he cuts through Cromwell’s earnest talk to the slyness. What emerges is something we have not had for a very long time – a really ‘fresh’ life of this major figure in British history.”—John Morrill, author of Oliver Cromwell and the English Revolution

"Hutton has given us a rich and radical reassessment of Oliver Cromwell. Essential reading for all who wish to understand this towering figure and his turbulent times.”—Miranda Malins, author of The Puritan Princess

“A gripping, often lyrical and sometimes waspish biography that succeeds brilliantly in its aim: making sense of the most complex and fascinating man in British history.”—Tom Holland, author of Dominion

“A brilliantly fresh and original account of the early life of Oliver Cromwell. Powerfully written, stunningly well-researched and brimming with new insights and perspectives, Hutton’s book provides us with perhaps the most vivid and immediate portrait we have ever had of the future Lord Protector.”—Mark Stoyle, author of Soldier and Strangers