Through Great Britain and Ireland With Cromwell - H. E. Marshall

The Gathering Storm

King Charles went blindly on his way. Aided by Laud and Strafford, he thought to make the people bow to his will. "Be a King like the King of France," said his French wife. But Englishmen and Scotsmen he found were stiff-necked and hard to bend. Then at last, the Scots, goaded into rebellion, took up arms against their King. The rattle of sword and musket, the tramp of many feet marching in time, the shout of the drill-sergeant, were heard in every town and village, as men gathered to fight for their liberty and their religion. "For Christ's Crown and Covenant" was the motto which fluttered before the tent of each captain, as he lay encamped upon Duns Law.

With an empty purse it was an ill matter for the King to gather men. But by desperate effort he did collect an army of a kind, and marched against the Scots. The men on the King's side, however, had no heart in the matter. There was no fighting. Charles gave way, and marched back to England a sorely angry man.

Then, still bent on punishing the Scots, Charles called a Parliament. It was a case of needs must. For to fight the Scots the King must have money, and he hoped that now the Commons would be more willing to grant him what he asked.

To this Parliament went Oliver, as member for Cambridge. He had now grown into a grave, stern farmer of forty, a man hating Popery, loving his country, fearing God, carrying his Bible in his hand and the words of it in his heart and on his tongue, a man of strong action and fierce passion, not always held in check. We know what he looked like at this time, for a young Cavalier, hearing him speak in Parliament, wrote of him as he saw him. "He was dressed," he says, "in a plain cloth suit, which seemed to have been made by an ill country-tailor. His linen was plain and not very clean. And I remember a speck or two of blood upon his little band, which was not much larger than his collar. His hat was without a hat-band. His stature was of good size, his sword stuck close to his side; his countenance swollen and reddish, his voice sharp and untuneable, and his eloquence full of fervour." Such a man was Oliver in 1640, when, after ruling eleven years without one, King Charles again called a Parliament.

But the men of England were no more easily moved than they had been eleven years before. Not a penny would they vote their King. "Till the liberties of the House and of the kingdom are cleared, we know not whether we have anything to give or no," they said.

Then, in hot anger, the King dissolved Parliament once more. It had sat only for three weeks, and is known as the Short Parliament.

Again, with a mighty effort, the King raised an army, and sent it marching northward. But now the Scots marched into England to meet it, and, for almost the first time in history, they were greeted by the English as friends, not foes.

But there was no more heart in the King's army than there had been the year before. It was a Bishops' War, the soldiers said, and they had no liking for bishops. The Scots had the best of the little fighting there was, and from York the King turned back to London to call another Parliament. This was the famous Long Parliament. It first met on 23rd November 1640. Again Oliver sat as member for Cambridge.

One of the first things which the new Parliament did was to seize and imprison Lord Strafford and Archbishop Laud. They had been evil advisers to the King, they said. Strafford was condemned to death and executed. Laud remained in prison for four years. Then he too went to his death.

Charles could not save his friends. He could as little save himself. The Commons would by no means do as he wished, so he made up his mind to seize five of them whom he thought were his worst enemies. In this the Queen encouraged him. "Go, you coward," she said, "and pull these rogues out by the ears."

So Charles, with three hundred soldiers behind him, marched down to the House. Leaving his men without, Charles himself strode into the Hall. Going right up to the chair, "Mr. Speaker," he said, "by your leave I must borrow your chair for a little."

The Speaker rising, fell upon his knees, and as Charles seated himself the members too rose, and stood bare-headed before their King.

With keen, sharp eyes Charles looked round the House. Not one of the five members was to be seen. They had been warned, and had fled.

"Mr. Speaker," said the King at length, "are any of these five members here? Do you see any of them? Where are they?"

The Speaker, who had stood up, now again fell upon his knees. "Your Majesty," he said, "I have neither eyes to see, nor tongue to speak, in this place, save as the House is pleased to direct me."

"It matters not. I think mine eyes are as good as any," replied Charles. Once more he looked keenly round. Then he said, "Ah, I see the birds are flown." And in bitter anger the baffled King left the House, followed by loud cries of rage from the members.

The King had trampled on their ancient rights and freedom. Where would it end?