Oliver Cromwell (song)

Oliver Cromwell (song)

"Oliver Cromwell" is a song released by Monty Python in 1989, and featured in their 1991 album Monty Python Sings. John Cleese, who wrote the lyric, originally debuted the song on February 2, 1969 in the radio show I'm Sorry, I'll Read That Again, where it was introduced as "The Ballad of Oliver Cromwell". It is sung to Frédéric Chopin's Heroic Polonaise, and documents the career of British statesman Oliver Cromwell, from his service as Member of Parliament (MP) for Huntingdon to his installation as Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England. The main lyrics are performed by John Cleese, accompanied by a small chorus comprising Eric Idle and other singers.

Oliver Cromwell is sung to the first ("A") section of the Polonaise, including the well-known main theme; it does not use the "B" section. The piano introduction is accompanied by a spoken-word introduction, setting a tone of macabre humour ("The most interesting thing about King Charles the First is that he was five foot six inches tall at the start of his reign, but only four foot eight inches tall at the end of it"), as are the subsequent connecting passages. All three instances of the main theme are given a tutti chorus followed by a recounting of the battles and other events of the period; sound effects are added, mostly sounds of battle and of horses. To the interlude is set King Charles I's trial and execution, with rubato adding atmosphere; the only sound effect is implied to be that of Charles's head falling (followed by a solitary giggle from Cromwell).


Battles, events and personages


First theme: January 1642 – May 1646

Connecting passage: 1647

  • John Pym's Solemn League and Covenant; this (1643) agreement between Scotland, England, and Ireland respecting the Presbyterian church in Scotland and (ostensibly) committing England to Presbyterianism was influential in persuading the Scots to deliver Charles I to Parliament (in 1647)

Second theme: 1647 – 19 August 1648

  • Cromwell's "warts and all" quote famously reflects on his strength of character
  • Second Civil War; the Independent leanings of the Army led to conflict with the Presbyterians in Parliament, a disagreement exploited by the Royalist faction
  • Battle of Preston (1648), Lancashire; the final battle of the Second Civil war was an overwhelming victory for the Independents ("Roundheads") over the combined Royalist ("Cavaliers") and Presbyterian armies

Connecting Passage: 6 December – 20 December 1648

Interlude: 2 January – 30 January 1649

Connecting Passage: 30 January 1649

  • The hangman failed to utter the customary words, "Behold the head of a traitor!"

Third theme: August 1649 – 16 December 1653

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