Cromwell’s Women

Written by Julian Whitehead
Review by Edward James

The cover of Cromwell‘s Women features a Victorian painting of Cromwell’s mother and wife begging him to spare the life of Charles I.  This incident almost certainly never happened, and if it had the intervention is unlikely to have succeeded.  Since his religious conversion in his mid-30s Cromwell believed he had a direct line to God and only He could sway his judgement.

There were many women in Cromwell’s life.  Besides his mother and his wife he had seven sisters and three daughters (but no mistresses).  None had any political influence.

Cromwell was a late starter.  Although he became England’s greatest soldier he had no military training and his first military experience was at age 43, an age at which most soldiers were considering retirement.  Until then he had been a farmer, the poor relation of a distinguished family descended from Henry VIII’s first minister. Within ten years he had become Head of State and seven years later he was dead, leaving his womenfolk to become relics of a fallen regime. They were leaves in a storm. This was recognised by the new regime which allowed them to live out their lives in dignity and comfort.

Besides telling us about these overlooked female personalities Whitehead has given us an exceptionally clear and concise biography of the great man and a short but lucid guide to the religious, political and military turmoil of his time. It is worth reading for this alone.