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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.
A Choice Outstanding Academic Title
H.F. McMains is an independent scholar who lives in Chicago.
"With his sharp, fast-moving prose, McMains often is entertaining and provocative. . . . [and] 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."—Booklist
"McMains builds a powerful if circumstantial case for death by poisoning. . . . A fascinating historical whodunit that is exceedingly well told."—Choice
"McMains puts forth here an audacious theory—and argues for it strongly with evidence drawn from an impressive array of seventeenth-century sources. . . . A fascinating study."—Dale B.J. Randall
"Engagingly explores questions that have never been conclusively answered. . . . For anyone interested in Cromwell or the Restoration, this book is a must-read."—Historically Speaking
"An absorbing book, engagingly written. . . . There is plenty in the book to command the attention of the professional historian, as well as the general reader."—H-Net Reviews
"Before this book one could say that Cromwell may have been poisoned or died of other causes. Now one can say, based on the evidence here, that Cromwell was likely poisoned and who the poisoner and his accomplices likely were."—Martin J. Havran
"Takes the readers through the variety of illnesses afflicting seventeenth century persons, the toxicology of various potions and a careful examination of manuscript sources, each of which points to the probability that Cromwell died of poisoning. . . . Fascinating and informative."—Seventeenth-Century News
The University Press of Kentucky
Place of Publication
Oliver Cromwell, British generals, Puritan Revolution
McMains, H.F., "The Death of Oliver Cromwell" (1999). European History. 33.