It has been often said, very truly, that religion is the thing that makes the ordinary man feel extraordinary; it is an equally important truth that religion is the thing that makes the extraordinary man feel ordinary. — G. K. Chesterton

Oliver Cromwell - Estelle Ross




Parliament and the Army

Who was to be master of England?—the Presbyterian Parliament, the Independent Army, the Episcopalian King? From henceforth Parliament and the Army no longer worked harmoniously together—they were rivals, and in their discord the King saw his best chance of coming into his own.

But for the moment the Royalist cause was in sore straits. When Cromwell was occupied with the storming of Basing, Charles was awaiting events at Newark. He soon, however, left that town for the safer refuge of the Isle of Man. He returned to Oxford in November, still unable to think out any course, vainly hoping to obtain help from abroad and to rally an army once more to his standard. At the same time he was negotiating with the Scots, with Parliament, and the Army. His love of intrigue and his inability to keep faith with one party or another were a direct cause of his downfall. He decided that his best course for the present was to place himself in the hands of the Scots, and he joined the Scottish army at Southwell, May 5, 1646. It was a fateful and fatal step on his part. He was badly treated—"barbarously," so he said—and he was virtually a prisoner.

A week or so before this Cromwell, whose work in the field was over for the time, returned to London. He took lodgings in Drury Lane, then a fashionable part of the town, and was thus within easy walking or riding distance of Westminster. He attended the House and had the satisfaction of being publicly thanked for his services in the war. It was also arranged that, should terms be made with the King, Fairfax and Cromwell should be raised to the peerage with substantial yearly grants in payment of their services. Cromwell had not so far enriched himself by his exertions—rather the reverse. He had subscribed generously toward the cost of putting down the rebellion in. Ireland, and he had had besides heavy personal expenses. He was now voted an income of 500 a year.

The mass of the people was weary of the struggle and longed for a peaceable settlement. They wanted to attend to their farms and fields, their shops and counting-houses, to marry and give in marriage, to resume without shocks and alarms the pleasant intercourse of daily life. When the country was in a state of such unrest few brides and bridegrooms plighted their troth at the altar—yet two of Cromwell's daughters had not been too greatly over-burdened with anxiety to fall in love. Bridget, a girl of one and twenty, now the eldest of the family since Robert and Oliver were dead, was betrothed to Henry Ireton, her father's right-hand man, 'able with his pen and his sword,' who had made his reputation in the war in spite of his bad luck at Naseby. She was her father's daughter in the seriousness of her outlook on life and the deeply religious cast of her mind—a fitting mate for the uncompromising Republican who was some twelve years her senior. Her sister Elizabeth was a joyous, thoughtless girl, only sixteen at the time of her marriage to Mr. Claypole, a youth of a good family in Northamptonshire. Cromwell's enemies often charged him with ambition and a desire to exalt himself above his fellows, but in assenting to the unions of his children these qualities are not shown, for they married into the class to which they had always belonged.

A few months after the wedding Cromwell wrote to Bridget a letter characteristic of his religious convictions. Few notes to his family are extant and probably he corresponded little, preoccupied as he was with public affairs.

Nevertheless, family love was a strong trait in lis character. The letter is as follows:

DEAR DAUGHTER,—I write not to thy Husband; partly to avoid trouble, for one line of mine begets many of his, which I doubt makes him sit up too late; partly because I am myself indisposed at this time, having some other 'considerations.

"Your friends at Ely are well: your sister Claypole is, I trust in mercy, exercised with some perplexed thoughts. She sees her own vanity and carnal mind; bewailing it: she seeks after (as I hope also) what will satisfy. And thus to be a seeker is to be of the best sect next to a finder; and such an one shall every faithful humble seeker be at the end. Happy seeker, happy finder! Who ever tasted that the Lord is gracious, without some sense of self, vanity, and badness? Who ever tasted that graciousness of His and could go less in desire—less than pressing after full enjoyment? Dear Heart, press on; let not husband, let not anything cool thy affections after Christ. I hope he will be an occasion to inflame them. That which is best worthy of love in thy Husband is that of the image of Christ he bears. Look on that, and love it best, and all the rest for that. I pray for thee and him; do so for me.

"My service and dear affections to the General and Generaless. I hear she is very kind to thee; it adds to all other obligations.

"I am, Thy dear Father,

"OLIVER CROMWELL."

In the closing months of 1646 public affairs were in a state of chaos. Charles had reason bitterly to repent his surrender to the Scots, for they continually pressed him to sign the Solemn League and Covenant as the price of their support. He stubbornly refused, for he was ever loyal to his faith if not to his fellows. Parliament, though he was no less King of Scotland than King of England, had no intention of allowing him to remain in the hands of his northern subjects. Negotiations were opened with him at Newcastle, where the Scottish army was now encamped, and he was asked to consent to drastic limitations of his power. He was not yet desperate—France might come to his aid and he therefore gave an evasive reply. Parliament now negotiated with his custodians. They signified their willingness to return to their own country on payment of their expenses (some 400,000) and to hand over the King, whose conversion to Presbyterianism was extremely remote, to the English commissioners. Scotland has been taunted with having sold her King, and though this is not exactly the case the monetary transaction has an unpleasant touch about it. The Scots were canny enough to want part of their money down before they packed their baggage, and Skippon was appointed to conduct the convoy of waggons, bearing bags and chests of gold, to be counted by the thrifty Scots at Newcastle ere the bargain was complete. With the clink of. the last coin the English commissioners were free to escort the King southward once more. . His journey was a royal progress and he was greeted with fervid loyalty by his subjects. Unfortunately for him, Charles overestimated the value of the enthusiasm displayed, and it had its after-effects in making a settlement with him impossible. Not far from the spot where he had first raised the standard at Nottingham he was met by Sir Thomas Fairfax, who kissed his hand and escorted him on horseback on the last stage of his journey to Holmby House in Northamptonshire. He was now in the hands of Parliament. What of the army?

"We are full of faction and worse," Cromwell wrote to Fairfax, for there were all but insuperable difficulties to be faced on every side. Parliament, jealous of the army and aghast at the terrible expense of keeping up an armed force, determined to disband half the infantry and to send out regiments to put down rebellion in Ireland. But they had reckoned without the soldiery; who were well aware that the defeat of the Royalist cause was due to their prowess in the field. The Irish expedition did not appeal to them, and only one in ten volunteered to go. Then, too, they had other cause for rebellion, for their pay was months in arrear, and only meagre promises of payment were made. They also required assurance that none of their acts in the late war should be brought up against them. With the sword in their hands they had good authority to back them; if it were sheathed and they returned to their ploughshares, what hope was there in argument and remonstrance? They chose agents—called 'Agitators' to represent their grievances to Parliament, and a letter was sent to Cromwell and Skippon urging their influence on behalf of the men they had so ably led to victory. Cromwell, with Ireton, Fleetwood, and Skippon, went down to Saffron Walden to investigate their grievances and to promise them eight weeks' arrears of pay, with a guarantee for the balance due.

Cromwell and the other officers finally decided to throw in their lot with the army. He had been expressly told that "if he would not forth with come and head them, they would go their own way without him." His action averted another revolution. The officers were anxious to put themselves right with the City of London, and in a manifesto written from Royston, June 1647, they stated: "We have said before and profess it now, we desire no alteration of the Civil Government.... We seek the good of all." They had cause for anxiety in that the City of London Presbyterian to the backbone—was no less hostile to the military than was Parliament itself. Cromwell was beginning to pay the penalty of all public men in that he was now well hated by a faction. "It is a miserable thing," he wrote, "to serve a Parliament to which, let a man be never so faithful, if one pragmatical fellow amongst them rise and asperse him, he shall never wipe it off." He even had reason to fear arrest.

He now resolved on a bold step: the King was the key to the situation and the King should be under the protection of the army. Cornet Joyce, a tailor by trade, was sent to Holmby, ostensibly to prevent Charles from being removed. Whether he was acting on Cromwell's suggestion or not is unknown, but he knew what he was about. With an escort of five hundred men he reached the castle at ten at night. Leaving them without, he burst into the King's bedchamber and explained his errand. The following morning the King inquired by whose authority he was acting, and Joyce pointed to the troops in the courtyard. "As well written a commission and with as fine a frontispiece as I have ever seen in my life," remarked His Majesty, and he gladly rode forth in their company, hoping that a change of lodging might bring a change of luck.

Parliament and the City were apprehensive at this evidence of the army's determination to take matters into its own hands. The alarm was increased by the fear that the army, which was constantly changing its head-quarters, should march on London and enforce the demands embodied in the 'Declaration of the Army.' One of these was that Parliament should fig a date for its dissolution, another that eleven members known to be hostile should be suspended for six months. The members in question prudently absented themselves, but the City, incensed by this display of weakness, broke out into tumult. On July 26 many young men and apprentices "came down to the House in a most rude and tumultuous manner; and presented some particular Desires—Desires that the eleven may come back."

Tension was at its height when on August 3 the army entered the town, but sober counsel prevailed and negotiations took place in the Earl of Holland's house in. Kensington—that historic house which still stands. Parliament and the City submitted.

Once more an attempt was made to come to terms with the King and he was asked to assent to the 'Heads of the Proposals,' a document drawn up by Ireton, which, though curtailing his power, was on the whole generous in its terms. Charles, upheld by the conviction of his own importance, refused. '.'You cannot do without me," he said; "you will fall to ruin if I do not sustain you." Unfortunately there was growing up in the country a party (known as the Levellers) which was fully prepared to do without him. In a document called 'The Agreement of the People' they proposed, as Cromwell said, "very great alterations of the government of the kingdom—alterations of that government it hath been under ever since it was a nation." While this was being hotly debated in Parliament—Cromwell himself was against it, for he thought it would bring the kingdom to desolation—the King escaped from Hampton Court. He was, however, only to find a drearier prison at Carisbrooke Castle in the Isle of Wight.