Cover image for The death of Oliver Cromwell
The death of Oliver Cromwell
McMains, H. F., 1941-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Lexington, Ky. : University Press of Kentucky, [2000]

Physical Description:
xi, 252 pages ; 23 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
DA427 .M38 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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For centuries, rumors have circulated in England that Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell did not die of natural causes. Now, in a fascinating book that reads like a historical whodunit, we have a motive, a means, a murderer (complete with his own deathbed confession), and a supporting cast that includes John Milton and Andrew Marvell.

Almost from the moment of Cromwell's death in 1658, writers and biographers have dismissed suspicions of foul play as little more than the result of a powerful person's unexpected demise. They have assumed that at age fifty-nine Cromwell was in generally poor health and that his government's collapse was inevitable. But his family was generally long-lived and, contrary to royalist wishes, his government was becoming established. As the crucial first step toward the restoration of the Stuart monarchy in 1660, his death proved to be a turning point in British history.

In a wide-ranging investigation that draws upon the fields of history, toxicology, medical forensics, and literature, H.F. McMains offers a fresh reading of evidence that has sat quietly in libraries and archives for more than two centuries. He examines the development of Cromwell's illness in 1658, analyzes his symptoms, and evaluates persons with motive, method, and opportunity to do him harm. The result is a reassessment of Cromwell's relationship with the English people and their government and a convincing investigation of his mysterious death.

Author Notes

H.F. McMains is an independent scholar who lives in Chicago.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

The 1658 death of Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector of England under the Commonwealth government, opened the door to a rapid restoration of the monarchy. Cromwell had been ill for years, and even his staunchest Puritan supporters saw no evidence of foul play. Still, through the centuries occasional voices have hinted at a dark conspiracy surrounding his death. McMains, an independent scholar, may well lend a veneer of respectability to these conspiracy theories. He demonstrates comprehensive knowledge of the period, and he marshals a formidable array of details to support his assertions. However, he transparently ignores or dismisses the preponderence of evidence that points away from his conclusions, and he consistently elevates suspicions to the level of fact. With his sharp, fast-moving prose, McMains often is entertaining and provocative, but he will not convince many serious scholars that Cromwell was done in. --Jay Freeman

Choice Review

McMains provides the solution to a crime that few have suspected took place: the murder of Oliver Cromwell. Responsibility is fixed on Dr. George Bate, a physician with thinly concealed royalist sympathies, who "had a clear motive, present opportunity and assured method to encompass the lord protector's death." Through a meticulous reconstruction of Cromwell's last days and penetrating analysis of Bate's own deceptive account of the protector's course of treatment, McMains builds a powerful if circumstantial case for death by poisoning. The author describes how the Stuart court in exile procured the assassination with promise of reward for anyone who might perform such a "signal service." Throughout the book McMains demonstrates a sure grasp of the sources and a remarkable understanding of the terrifying pharmacopoeia of the 17th century. He even offers an intriguing hypothesis regarding the location of Cromwell's remains. Less persuasive are claims that the Cromwellian regime enjoyed broad support, and that if the lord protector had not died in the summer of 1658, he would soon have been elevated to the throne. A fascinating historical whodunit that is exceedingly well told. Highly recommended. All levels. D. R. Bisson; Belmont University

Table of Contents

Prefacep. ix
Introductionp. 1
1. Outward Signsp. 9
2. Ireton: Death and Destinyp. 29
3. Cromwell: Ivit ad Pluresp. 61
4. An Unexpected Good Accidentp. 85
5. Infernal Saintsp. 127
6. Hic Situs Estp. 159
Appendixp. 179
Notesp. 205
Bibliographyp. 231
Indexp. 245