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There are two important figures in British history with the surname Cromwell. Do not confuse them.

  • Thomas Cromwell (born in or before 1485; executed 1540) is most important in the history of England, which he did not rule, and only incidentally in the other countries which were then to be joined in the United Kingdom. He was the chief minister of Henry VIII after the fall of Cardinal Wolsey in 1532. Cromwell achieved the King's desire of divorcing Katherine of Aragon and marrying Anne Boleyn, by breaking the authority of the Pope in England and setting up a Reformed Church in the country.
  • More than a century later, the great-grandson of Thomas's sister, Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658) was the leading light of the Parliamentary forces in the British Civil Wars of the seventeenth century. During the Republic, he became Lord Protector of England, Scotland, and Ireland in 1653, and so has a claim to have ruled - and is thus important throughout - what became the United Kingdom. He is a republican hero to many British people; he is detested by folk memory in Ireland. The traditional Irish curse mallacht Chromail ort ("the curse of Cromwell upon you") is still to be heard there, as a result of the massacres by his troops, particularly at Drogheda (September 1649) and Wexford (October of the same year).
    • He was succeeded as Lord Protector by his son Richard Cromwell (1626-1712), who resigned, under pressure, in the spring of 1659
        • Other 'Cromwells' include an alternative name for the Equatorial Undercurrent, the Cromwell Current (named after an oceanographer who discovered it, Townsend Cromwell (1922-1958)) and the Cromwell tank, also known as the A27 or Cruiser MK VIII, a sucessful reconnaissance tank from 1944 onwards.
        • There is also a much-quoted line from (and title of) a popular song written for the music-hall star Marie Lloyd by Harry Bedford and Terry Sullivan "I'm a bit of a ruin that Cromwell knocked about a bit" (1920) (cited Knowles, 2008).