I was by birth a gentleman, living neither in any considerable height nor yet in obscurity.
Oliver Cromwell was brought up in modest circumstances and at 17, as the eldest surviving son of Robert and Elizabeth Cromwell, he was called upon to leave his studies at Cambridge and return to the family home to support his mother and sisters on his father’s death. Like his father, he became a landowner/ estate manager in a fairly small way- a job that involved collecting rents from the tenants on their farms.
A Warwickshire context
Fast forward a few decades and far away from Cromwell’s county of Cambridgeshire, the county of Warwickshire was deeply divided in the Civil War. Different country houses had different allegiances, all of which significantly impacted on family fortunes in the tumultuous years to come. The great Warwick Castle, formerly such a favourite of Elizabeth I, was staunchly Parliamentarian and puritan, although the Greville family did not exactly lead a puritan lifestyle , particularly Robert Greville’s sons. There are clues in the accounts held at Warwickshire County Record Office to drinking, smoking and partying when they were at Oxford. We know that Robert 2nd Lord Brooke was a leading Parliamentarian , his son Francis was a minor when Robert died but was also a Parliamentarian and he died at 21 in the same year as Cromwell, 1658.
Spencer Lucy of Warwickshire’s Charlecote Park, meanwhile, fought in King Charles’ army. Landscapes were changed irrevocably, particularly for landowners.
A landowner and rent collector background
Despite the great heights to which Cromwell rose in the Civil War and afterwards, he never left his roots as a landowner and rent collector completely behind. As the preeminent statesman and soldier of Britain, appointed Lord General in 1650 (as leader of the triumphant parliamentary forces) and then Lord Protector of England, Scotland and Ireland in December 1653, he continued once in this role to fulfil his administrative duties with which he would have been very familiar. One of Cromwell’s responsibilities was to authorise the payment of fines- such as is illustrated in this writ. This writ was demanding payment of fines for water mills with missing watergates which were therefore letting too much water escape and causing flooding. A strangely small-scale document relating to a Warwickshire water mill, to be signed by the Lord Protector of England, Scotland and Ireland?
An early example
The writ, dated 1653, must be a very early example of a document signed by Oliver Cromwell as Lord Protector. His first Parliament was not until the 3rd of September 1854, the year after this document had been signed. He did not live much longer, dying exactly four years after this first Parliament, on 3rd September 1658. The tumultuous years of Civil War that had been experienced by the country, and largely overseen by Oliver Cromwell on the Parliamentarian side, had irrevocably impacted families of all stature across the land. King Charles had been executed on 30 January 1649, and Cromwell did not live to see out the full decade that followed. It is interesting to note that the administrative demands of his role as illustrated by the writ held at the Warwickshire County Record Office, continued despite his responsibilities as military commander.