Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658), who had studied law, was a Member of Parliament at the outbreak of the English Civil War in 1642. He joined the cavalry under Essex, and soon established a formidable military reputation. As one of the judges at Charles I's trial, Cromwell signed the King's death warrant in 1649. Under the new Commonwealth, Cromwell was installed as Lord Protector in 1653, and campaigned vigorously for religious liberty for Protestants and Nonconformists. After the Restoration of Charles II to the English throne in 1660, Cromwell's body was exhumed from Westminster Abbey and hung on the gallows at Tyburn; his head was set on a pole on top of Westminster Hall.
Despite the memories of the Civil War and the Commonwealth, busts of Cromwell were extremely popular in the eighteenth century, and were carved by all the leading sculptors. Roubiliac produced a number of portraits of Cromwell. This example has lost most of its original surface coating, but traces of a dark brown layer remain on the face and hair.