Forget the Artists: The Top 8 Military Generals of the Renaissance

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Oliver Cromwell

Of all the names on this list, Cromwell should be one of the most recognizable along with his short-lived but famous New Model Army. Cromwell certainly gets credit for going against the norms and commanding and choosing his men based on merit rather than social status.

Military command by social standing had been popular in most areas for hundreds or thousands of years. Cromwell’s stance on promoting by merit is best shown in his response to a fellow officer’s criticism of this “I would rather have a plain russet-coated captain who knows what he fights for and loves what he knows than that which you call a gentleman and is nothing else”

Cromwell had a talent for assembling units and armies, his first cavalry command saw him create the Ironsides cavalry. The cavalry under Cromwell was decisive at the Battle Marston Moor charging through and holding a sustained melee before routing a key section of the Royalist forces.

As Cromwell rose to command and took over as the Lord Protector of England, he had a string of impressive victories and had created the superbly disciplined New Model Army, an official professional army. One of his masterpiece victories was against the Scottish army after they declared for the King in the chaotic civil war.

At the Battle of Dunbar, Cromwell faced an army twice his size in the hills of Scotland. As the armies skirmished and formed up, Cromwell had a plan come together. That night he had his army hide in formation under the cover of the hills. When the Scots came to give battle, the English charged forward with a deep left commanded by Cromwell himself. Despite their numbers, the Scots couldn’t handle this unbalanced line and folded from the pressure. As the victory was so complete, Cromwell could take the Scottish capital of Edinburgh.

Though it’s hard to judge a victory where the odds were so far in his favor, Cromwell did have an excellent command at the Battle of Worcester. In the closing battle of the civil wars, Cromwell’s 31,000 men in the New Model Army faced 16,000 Royalists. Cromwell sent men to secure bridges and other avenues of escape the day before launching a crushing assault. Almost every Royalist was killed or captured as the rebellion came to a sudden end, thanks to the excellent strategy and tactics of Cromwell.

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