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Cromwell: Our Chief of Men

3.67  ·  Rating Details ·  550 Ratings  ·  40 Reviews
No Englishman has made more impact on the history of his nation than Cromwell; few have been so persistently maligned in the folklore of history. The central purpose of Antonia Fraser's book is the recreation of his life and character, freed from the distortions of myth and Royalist propaganda.
Paperback, 966 pages
Published December 5th 2002 by Phoenix (first published January 1973)
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(showing 1-30 of 1,513)
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Jul 02, 2011 Robert rated it did not like it
I was more than a bit disappointed by this book, I'm afraid. And it's a shame, because I'd been dying to learn more about Oliver Cromwell, and a several-hundred-page tome of lightly written history seemed like just the thing for a person like me who wants to feel like he's learned a lot without (ahem) plowing through a lot of hard-to-read academic papers.

Let's start with the positive. I really did learn a lot. Cromwell was a lot better off financially than I would have expected; it wasn't obviou
Aug 22, 2008 Wendy rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: martyrs.
I wanted to like this book. I really did.

I don't think the problem here is so much Fraser, her writing and scholarship are, as always, impeccable.

I think the problem is that Cromwell himself was just really boring. You'd think a man who cut off a king's head would have more personality, but in this case, you would turn out to be wrong.
Nov 07, 2009 David rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The best biography of my hero. There's a statue of him outside Westminster. We had our chance to become a republic and we blew it. The French did much better. I mention whenever I have the opportunity that the best thing to put on the empty plinth in Trafalgar Square is a guillotine.
I took up this biography to learn about Oliver Cromwell and what I had always thought of as the Puritan revolution. The Puritans were a group with considerable influence, after all, in the settlement and formation of America. I also wanted to see the context in which persons like John Milton and Andrew Marvell dwelt and thrived. And, last, I had a sense that the Cromwellian revolution was anomolous and earth-shaking in its time.

I did, indeed, learn a great deal --- about the personality of a man
Mar 02, 2012 CJ rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: No one
At 706 pages, this book is in dire need of a good editor.
Whenever the situation went in Olivar Cromwell's favor it was due to his brillance, vision and tenacity. But if it didn't, it was the fault of incompetent Army leaders, recalitant Parliament, or those who just didn't see the Glorious Vision.
I hung in with this book only because about the time I was ready to quit, an interesting tidbit would appear.
There are more balanced biographies of Oliver Cromwell available. Read those instead.
Jan 05, 2011 Anne rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Turgid telling of what should have been an exciting story.
Apr 14, 2009 Steven rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Cromwell has been accused of being a tyrant, a murderer, a guy with a rotten temper, and just about every other negative name I can think of. This book provide fresh (in depth) insight into the character of this man, and provides a proper historical viewpoint of the times that he lived in. Cromwell was not misguided or a monster. In a sense, he saved England from a tyrannical monarch who threatened to destroy the protestant reformation. He also provided the first, (and last) true constitution En ...more
Aug 20, 2013 Nancy rated it it was ok
Whew, what a slog. A mountain of facts largely lacking synthesis and analysis. It needed to be cut by a third; as it was, it was difficult to see the forest for the trees. The problems were compounded by Fraser's weird fangirlish sensibility, where Old Noll was a brilliant soldier and administrator and a kindly fellow to boot, apparently. (Well, except in regard to those pesky Irish, where his attitude tended more toward the genocidal end of the spectrum. Even Fraser couldn't put much of a gloss ...more
Feb 11, 2013 Hardy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I approached this book eagerly, having been exposed to the beauty of Antonia Fraser's writing in her later "The Wives of Henry VIII." I knew the basics of Oliver Cromwell's victories in the English civil wars and his subsequent rise to power, but hoped to gain a deeper understanding of the man and his world through Fraser's book. While it taught me a lot, the book did not meet the high expectations I had for it.
Fraser has a knack for elegant turns of phrase, but they are lost to a great degree
Erik Graff
Jan 23, 2013 Erik Graff rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anglo-Americans
Recommended to Erik by: no one
Shelves: biography
Until looking Fraser up on Wikipedia, I had no idea that she was so famous, not only as an amateur historian but also as a writer of mystery stories. Having previously read her earlier biography on Mary Stuart and learning that she is not only an aristocrat but Catholic, I am impressed at how sympathetic her portrayal of that arch-protestant, Oliver Cromwell, is. (Perhaps her father's Labour connections figure in this). Further, given that, while she holds a degree from Oxford, she is no academi ...more
Sep 13, 2009 Karen rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Usually I like Antonia Fraser's books but I found this one tedious. I didn't know much about this period to start with, and maybe that's part of the problem. I think, though, that it's that she doesn't take a clear point of view--was he the devil, a saint, or just a man of his times? Did he believe he was the instrument of Divine Providence or was this just a smokescreen for overwhelming personal ambition?

I did find it interesting that Teddy Roosevelt wrote a bio of him--maybe sometime I'll look
Joseph Sellors
Jun 12, 2014 Joseph Sellors rated it liked it
There's no doubt Antonia Fraser knows her stuff when it comes to Cromwell and the Protectorate period. She explains the complex religious and political conflicts extremely well, and has plenty of source material to enhance her work. What lets the book down massively is Fraser's constant bias in Cromwell's favour and tries to exonerate him from any wrong doing, even in situations such as the slaughters at Wexford and Drogheda. It's extremely frustrating and almost ruins what is otherwise a solid ...more
Mar 28, 2013 Caroline marked it as did-not-finish  ·  review of another edition
I quickly realised that there was far too much detail and depth in this book for a figure that just doesn't grab my imagination to that extent. I also found that Frazer did not digest, regurgitate and polish her research enough for me - not for the limited amount of effort I was prepared to put into reading the book. I need more of an overview.
It's a monster of a book and took me over five months of steady reading to finish. Love Fraser--one of my favorite popular historians. Wanted to understand this complex and very controversial (for many reasons!) English political and religious figure. Came away with perception that he was as much of an enigma to his contemporaries as he is to history.
Taylor Kniphfer
Jul 19, 2011 Taylor Kniphfer rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
The book was very good. Though at times it was tedious, and a bit long-winded, I thought it was very informative, rich in detail, and thorough in its anaylsis of Cromwell. Though not a book for the general reader, it is good history for those willing to dig deep inside the period and the personality of Oliver Cromwell.
Aug 31, 2015 JodiP rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This was published in 1972, and Frasier’s style then was exhausting. This book was over 700 pages long and incredibly detailed. At one point, she has is describing the types of weaponry used in war during this time period. Granted this only took up a page and a half but it serves to me as a perfect illustration as how overly detailed this work is. It’s a pity, because I have enjoyed Fraser’s work immensely in the past. I think as she continued to publish, the editors and perhaps herself realized ...more
Nov 06, 2010 Mariel rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Laur Laur
Recommended to Mariel by: Laur
My sister had a twisted crush on Cromwell when we were growing up. She slept with this book under her pillow and I even caught her learning to kiss with his photo. It was so messed up.
When one spends many months and over 700 pages in the nooks and crannies of another man's life, it's very hard to walk away unaffected. Antonia Fraser's "Cromwell" was, I'm sure, as much a labor of epic proportions for her to research and write, as it was for me to read. But, if you have the time, the interest, and the fortitude, I recommend it as an extraordinary glimpse into the extraordinary life and times of a dynamic man, who was driven by an unwavering principle and faith through the small ...more
Jamie Collins
I gave up on this about 1/3 of the way through. It's as dry as a bone - or possibly just too detailed for my degree of interest.
Candy Wood
Rereading this biography after forty years, I’m struck again by the extreme complexities of politics and religion in the 17th century. Terms like Parliament, Presbyterian, or Independent have different significance at different times, and it can be difficult to keep the factions straight. Throughout, Fraser’s sympathy for and admiration of her subject are clear: his skill as military strategist, his sincere faith, and his leadership all contribute to Cromwell’s greatness, even though flaws such ...more
Jonathan Roberts
Antonia Fraser’s Cromwell documents the life and legacy of one of the most important figures in British history. Fourteen years ago, Oliver Cromwell was awarded tenth position in the BBC’s “100 Greatest Britons” poll, eclipsing such figures as Henry VIII and Charles Dickens (but not, inexplicably, John Lennon!). Before reading this book, I thought that Cromwell surely must have led a fascinating life, filled with exploits similar to those of Caesar and Napoleon. Whilst the book I’m reviewing con ...more
Mar 06, 2015 Rachel rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was an interesting, though somewhat slow and overly detailed book. Fraser wrote it as if in answer to another book -- rarely directly addressing events, but more creating explanations for them, as if the events themselves were common knowledge, and only the details leading up to them were worth mentioning. As someone not entirely familiar with Cromwell's history before this book, I found it hard at times to piece together what had actually happened.

In general, Fraser wrote a fairly supporti
Jeremy Perron
Aug 25, 2013 Jeremy Perron rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Oliver Cromwell is a historical figure that I often find myself confused on how I feel about him. His story is very exciting, for the first forty years of his life he is mostly irrelevant until the circumstances of the English Civil War would send him at the forefront. A commoner who overthrew a king and took his life as well as his kingdom. On the other hand it is hard to see him as anything other than a hypocrite. How can one be a champion of liberty when that individual crushes the fledgling ...more
Andrew Rostan
Apr 13, 2013 Andrew Rostan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Given its popularity on the bookstore shelves in subsets ranging from scholarly historical documents to more salacious memoirs, the biography at first glance seems an easier task than the novel: you have a ready-made structure and you get to work with known facts instead of making things up. But writing a biography is a messy task, especially when you don't know the subject, especially when the subject is long dead, and even those who did know the subject may be hindered by agendas, excessive re ...more
May 26, 2012 Douglas rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A 700 page biography is not an easy read, but this was worth every page. Cromwell's period of English History is something that this American never learned - and it is crucial to understand the emergence of American Democracy and the ending of European Monarchy.

Puritan Cromwell was a member of Parliament just after the Pilgrims first landed at Plymouth. He rose to prominence as a divinely inspired Calvary commander. Although attributed with the beheading of Charles I at the conclusion of the sec
Dec 06, 2013 Erich rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a really tough book to get through. I love history, and knew nothing about the time period of the Protectorate, and was excited to dig in.

I was immediately thrown by the author's prose, which was extremely verbose and overly academic. This is not a book for general consumption; it is clearly written for other academics. I found myself re-reading passages over and over just to keep clear what was happening.

Battle descriptions were not nearly as complex, and were the best parts of the bo
Czarny Pies
Sep 18, 2014 Czarny Pies rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: British history buffs
Recommended to Czarny by: D'artagnan
Shelves: european-history
Cromwell offers exactly what any reader should seek; it is a biography of great Puritan written by a prominent Catholic. Antonia Fraser does not idolize Cromwell but she does clearly show what made him a great. He was a brilliant organizer and excellent battlefield commander. His judgement was sound and in the dirty business of war, he was as fair as could be expected. This is yet another excellent work by one of the great historians our age.

As Athos, Porthos, Aramis and D'Artagnan observed Crom
Jul 24, 2015 M rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history-books
Re-read, long, interesting but not my personal favourite.

Showing my old Marxist interpretation of history by still thinking that Christopher Hill is the granddaddy of English Civil War history.
Jiri Greco
Mar 08, 2015 Jiri Greco rated it really liked it
Although I'm not a massive fan of the Restoration era, this book was amazingly detailed, Antonia Fraser writing in such a clear and engaging way that I forgot about my dislike for the subject (which I might have liked a bit better if we didn't have to study it!) After this I went on amazon to look up her other books on female warriors throughout history. I feel like I can trust her.
Jonathan Westbrook
Read some of her books before and never liked them but have not seen this one before. So let's see if there is any difference. After being bored half to death with could bes and possibilities with no proofs other than "it was said", I decided to jump ahead to when he was Lord Protector. Still nothing worth reading. Disappointed as much as always.
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Oliver Cromwell: A worthy adversary 2 4 Jun 23, 2016 09:04PM  
How can Antonia Fraser be an apologist for a butcher like Cromwell in Ireland? 5 8 Jan 03, 2013 05:17AM  
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Antonia Fraser is the author of many widely acclaimed historical works, including the biographies Mary, Queen of Scots (a 40th anniversary edition was published in May 2009), Cromwell: Our Chief of Men, King Charles II and The Gunpowder Plot (CWA Non-Fiction Gold Dagger; St Louis Literary Award). She has written five highly praised books which focus on women in history, The Weaker Vessel: Women's ...more
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“Was Charles I too stubborn to listen to reason? Could Civil War have been averted if the king had been more willing to negotiate? His great enemy Cromwell always maintained that the king had been swayed at the last moment by his queen, the beautiful Henrietta Maria. We can believe Cromwell's claim that the queen told her husband to be firm. But the wicked, spiteful, altogether irresistable quote often attributed to her by Puritan writers of the time is almost certainly false.

"Oh my love, if you cannot remain firm in the bedchamber, at least try to remain firm with your subjects!”
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