Truth is uniform and narrow, but error is endlessly diversified . . . In this field the soul has room enough to expand herself, to display all her boundless faculties . . . — Benjamin Franklin

Oliver Cromwell - Estelle Ross




The Commonwealth

The King is dead! From Cheapside and at the appointed places the trumpets blare forth and the heralds announce: "Whoever shall proclaim a new King Charles the Second or another, without authority of Parliament in this nation, shall be a traitor and suffer death."

A week later the House of Commons was at work with a Bill to abolish the House of Lords and the kingship. England was to be a Commonwealth, governed by "the supreme authority of this nation, the representatives of this people in Parliament." A council of state, consisting of forty-one members, was nominated, with Bradshaw as President, Cromwell and Fairfax among its members, and John Milton as secretary for foreign tongues. Writs were to run "in the name of the Keepers of the Liberties of England." The royal seal was broken up and the seal of the Commonwealth was struck, bearing on one side the arms of England and Scotland and on the other a representation of the House of Commons.

As a precaution against Royalist devotion it was ordered that all statues of the late King should be removed. Not content with this the statue at the Royal Exchange was replaced by an inscription, Exit Tyrannus Regum Ultimus, dated "the first year of freedom by God's blessing restored." The following year Henrietta Maria's statue in Great Queen Street—the highway named after her—was broken up.

Scotland in the meantime had asserted her independence by proclaiming Charles II King of Great Britain, France, and Ireland. The Duke of Ormond upheld the Royalist banner in Ireland, and assured Charles that, should he land there, he would be welcomed by three-quarters of the population.

Cromwell was not so entirely immersed in public affairs as to be unmindful of his family. A couple of days after the King's execution he was to be found corresponding about the betrothal of his idle son Richard to Dorothy Mayor. Cromwell had no delusions as to his son's capabilities or character, and he was anxious that his future bride should be a lady of good disposition rather than that she should be of noble birth. Dorothy Mayor satisfied his expectations and in a letter to his "very loving friend," Mr. Robinson, preacher at Southampton, he wrote: "Upon your testimony of the Gentlewoman's worth, and the common report of the piety of the family, I shall be willing to entertain the renewing of the motion, upon such conditions as may be to mutual satisfaction."

A few weeks later he wrote to the lady's father—"My very worthy friend Richard Mayor Esquire" thanking him, for the kind reception given to his son "in the liberty given him to wait upon your worthy daughter, the report of whose virtue and godliness has so great a place in my heart, that I think fit not to neglect anything on my part which may consummate a close of the business if God please to dispose the young ones' hearts thereunto." The "young ones' hearts were in the right place, but a difference arose between the two fathers as to the marriage portion. Cromwell was unable to give his son the income derived from a very large share of the estate.

"I have two young daughters to bestow, if God give them life and opportunity. According to your offer, I have nothing for them; nothing at all in hand. If my son die, what consideration is there to me? And yet a jointure parted with 'on my side.' If she die, there is 'on your side' little money parted with."

Such were the business-like methods of seventeenth-century parents in discussing their children's unions! The lovers, happy in their courtship, might at any time be parted by a parental decree. Both fathers meant to have their own. way. "What you demand of me," Cromwell wrote again, "is very high in all points. I am willing to settle as you desire in eve g: saving for maintenance 400 per annum, 300 per annum."

At last all negotiations were concluded. Richard Cromwell and Dorothy Mayor were married and settled down to an idyllic life in the country.

Cromwell's story once more is woven into the web of history. The young Commonwealth was beset with difficulties without and within. His first task was to subjugate Ireland, hot with unrest, a valuable recruiting ground for Royalism, a home of Roman Catholicism.

The Protestant settlement of Ulster in James I's reign had been affected by the dispossession of the native Irish, who from time immemorial had lived on the land, and by the making of grants of their estates to Englishmen. Every kind of legal quibble, every unfair advantage, had been taken to effect this displacement. Bitter hatred of the usurpers was the result. Strafford had ruled Ireland with an iron hand he was a tyrant but allowed no lesser tyrants to hold sway—and when he was recalled in 1639 the seething discontent in the country broke out into revolt. This led in 1641 to the terrible massacre of the Ulster Protestants. To avenge this massacre and to restore order in Ireland was the first task of the new Government.

Before Cromwell started on his new campaign there was trouble with the army at home. The soldiers to see service in Ireland were chosen by a curious ceremony in Whitehall. Fourteen regiments forgathered there, and, after a prayer had been offered up, fourteen slips of paper were cut, seven bearing the word 'Ireland,' seven blank. A child was called in to draw the lots and to present the strips to the officers commanding the regiments, thus ensuring, so they fully believed, that "the whole disposition thereof was of the Lord." The officers accepted their commands, but the men of a more worldly frame of mind were unwilling to risk their lives once more until arrears had been paid. Mutiny broke out in London, and one of the ringleaders was shot in St Paul's Churchyard as a warning to others. His friends gave him a public funeral and it was attended by a great concourse of people. It was an ill omen for the authority of the Commonwealth.

The changes and chances of this mortal life, greater than ever in such a time of transition, had made men's minds ferment with half-digested ideas. This was nowhere more apparent than among the fighting men. The Levellers, led by one Everard, an ex-soldier inspired by a vision, believed that the "time of deliverance was at hand; and God would bring his people out of this slavery, and restore them to their freedom in enjoying the fruits and benefits of the Earth." With this in view they appropriated some common land at St George's Hill in Surrey, began to dig the ground and sow roots and beans, inviting any who wished to do so to work with them, with the full assurance of meat, drink, clothes, and no money. When they were brought before Cromwell they refused to uncover their heads because he was but their fellow-creature. In this and in other ways their religion was the germ of Quakerism, a sect which was to be founded a few years later by George Fox.

The Levellers were outdone in extravagance by a new sect which had arisen the Fifth Monarchy men. The four monarchies of old Assyria, Persia, Greece, and Rome had passed away, and the time was now ripe for the coming of the Fifth Monarchy that of Christ on earth. All ordinary forms of government were to be abolished and the saints were to rule.

The leader of the Levellers was John Lilburn, whom Cromwell had championed in early Parliamentary days, and who was now to be his remorseless critic and opponent. Lilburn was very popular and his influence quickly spread.

Open mutiny broke out in the provinces among the soldiers, who held these new prin.. ciples. Something was to be done instantly. Cromwell knew no half-measures. "I tell you," he said in the Council, "you have no other way to deal with these men but to break them in pieces or they will break us." Accompanied by Fairfax he marched at top speed to Salisbury. The rebels, hearing of his approach, had pressed on to Burford in Oxfordshire, and, being very weary, had gone to bed. Cromwell and Fairfax, after a march of nearly fifty miles, reached the town as the clocks were striking midnight. A shot or two and the mutiny was quashed! The ringleaders were captured; three of them were executed in Burford churchyard in the morning; a fourth, who expressed penitence, was pardoned. Cromwell, by way of emphasizing the lesson, entered the church and addressed the men with such eloquence that they wept. Levellers and Fifth Monarchy men were sufficiently discomfited to be aware that the times were not yet ripe either for a return to the simplicity of the Garden of Eden or for the second coming of Christ.

There was no further delay in recruiting for the Irish campaign. On July 10, 1649, Cromwell left London, travelling in almost royal state in a coach drawn by six noble Flanders horses, accompanied by many carriages, with an escort of eighty Lifeguardsmen, all of them men of breeding. Passing through Windsor the cavalcade reached Bristol. Several of Cromwell's letters to his friends are dated from this town, and among them is one to Richard Mayor, who had the opportunity of being the wise counselor to Richard Cromwell, a position which the father would have filled in times of peace. The father knows the son's weakness, and is troubled by his feeble, irresolute nature: "I am very glad to hear of your welfare, and that our children have so good leisure to make a journey and to eat cherries it is very excusable in my daughter: I hope she may have a very good pretence for it! I assure you, Sir, I wish her very well; and I believe she knows it. I pray you tell her from me, I expect she writes often to me; by which I shall understand how all your family doth, and she will be kept in some exercise. I have delivered my son up to you; and I hope you will counsel him; he will need it, and indeed I believe he likes well what you say, and will be advised by you. I wish he may be serious, the times require it."

Once again he wrote to the same correspondent when "Aboard the John" at Milford Haven, announcing to him the good news received from Ireland, where Lieutenant-General Jones, who had been sent in advance, had gained an important victory over Ormond outside Dublin. It was, he said, "an astonishing mercy so great and seasonable that indeed we are like them that dreamed." He then reverted once more to private affairs and his deep concern for his son: "I envy him not his contents; but I fear he should be swallowed up in them. I would have him mind and understand business, read a little history, study the mathematics and cosmography: these are good, with subordination to the things of God. Better than idleness or mere outward worldly contents. These fit for public services for which a man is born."

To Richard in person he did not write, but by the same messenger he sent a letter of tender solicitude to his daughter-in-law. "I desire you both to make it above all things your business to seek the Lord: to be frequently calling upon Him that He would manifest Himself ,to you in His Son; and be listening what returns He makes to you, for He will be speaking in your ear and in your heart, if you attend thereunto. As for the pleasures of this life, and outward business let that upon the bye."

For the next few months Cromwell had no call for tenderness. He went to Ireland as an avenger of the Protestant massacre, as a General of the Commonwealth intent on the recognition of the new government at the point of the sword.

He landed on August 15 with some 9000 men in 100 ships, and was received with enthusiasm in Dublin, where great guns boomed his welcome. He addressed the cheering crowds from his coach, speaking of the great work in front of him stern vengeance to be followed by the peaceful settlement of the country. He also issued a proclamation forbidding the soldiery to rob and pillage the country people unless in arms. After giving his men a fortnight's rest he set out for Drogheda, into which town Ormond had thrown 3000 troops, English, Royalists, and Irish Catholics, the flower of his . army. On September 3—a day to be ever memorable in Cromwell's life—he reached the town and summoned it to surrender. The governor refused. The following day the storm began. Twice the Cromwellian soldiers were hurled back, but, leaping once more into the breach, they broke, with the fury of battle on them, into the town. The governor stood at bay on the Mill Mount with a human palisade of 300 men. He was persuaded to disarm, but this did not save his soldiers, who were all put to the sword. Worse was to follow. Cromwell gave orders that there should be no quarter. "Being in the heat of action I forbade them to spare any that were in arms in the town; and, I think, that night they put to the sword about 2000 men; divers of the officers and soldiers being fled over the bridge into the other (the northern) part of the town, where about a hundred of them possessed St Peter's Church steeple, some of the west gate, and others a strong round tower next the gate called St Sunday's. These being summoned to yield to mercy, refused. Whereupon I ordered the steeple of St Peter's Church to be fired, when one of them was heard to say in the midst of the flames: 'God damn me, God confound me; I burn, I burn.' "

The following day two other towers surrendered. One showed fight but was compelled to submit. As a punishment the officers were knocked on the head and a tenth of the soldiery were put to death. The remainder, with the garrison from the second tower, were taken prisoner and shipped to Barbados. To Cromwell it was retribution: "It is remarkable that these people, at the first, set up the Mass in some places of the town that had been monasteries; but afterward grew so insolent that, the last Lord's Day before the storm, the Protestants were thrust out of the great church called St Peter's, and they had public Mass there: and in this very place near 1000 of them were put to the sword, fleeing thither for safety. I believe all their friars were knocked on the head promiscuously but two."

Such was Cromwell's vengeance. He never felt remorse. It was the righteous judgment of God for past misdeeds and necessary to prevent future bloodshed. Historians have differed in their verdict upon it. Carlyle has justified this barbarous revenge for a barbarous massacre, but even in war time "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth" is hardly acceptable as an interpretation of God's will.

The massacre justified itself in this at least, that the news spread like wildfire and struck terror into Irish hearts. Trim and Dundalk were abandoned, Ross opened its gates. In September we find Cromwell at Wexford, a strongly garrisoned town with two thousand men and a hundred cannon, protected on the water side by a couple of well-armed ships. The sack of Wexford was but a repetition of the sack of Drogheda. Cromwell opened negotiations with the governor and assured him that, should he refuse to surrender, he would be guilty of shedding innocent blood. The governor wrote spirited replies, and said that he would make no conditions but such as were honourable to himself and his party. Cromwell would not consent to terms, and the governor wrote once more: "I leave you to your better judgment, and myself to the assistance of the Almighty."

In order to bring matters to a crisis ,Cromwell decided to concentrate his attention on the taking of Wexford Castle. The castle was ultimately betrayed by a traitor within the walls, and the Irish garrison withdrew into the town, hotly pursued by the Cromwellians, who "ran violently upon the town with their leaders and stormed it. And when they were come into the market-place, the enemy making a stiff resistance, our forces brake them; and then put all to the sword that came in their way. Two boatfuls of the enemy, attempting to escape, being oveiprest with numbers, sank; whereby were drowned near three hundred of them. I believe, in all, there was lost of the enemy not many less than two thousand; and I believe not twenty of yours from first to last of the siege." The soldiers rejoiced in excellent booty, such as iron, hides, tallow, salt, pine, and barrel-staves—somewhat heavy merchandise that would require either immediate purchase or a special vessel to convey it to the English ports.

Hostilities were suspended for a short time and the army went into winter quarters. Many of the troops fell ill with dysentery and Cromwell himself was laid up with ague. When the army took the field again town after town in central Ireland was taken. Clonmel was captured after a stiff fight and heavy loss to the Common-wealth army; Waterford still held ' out, and Cromwell was not able to remain to complete his work of subjugation. Danger was threatening the Commonwealth from Scotland, and he was recalled to England. Ireton remained behind as Deputy-Lieutenant.

Two years were to pass before Ireland was finally crushed Cromwell's fatal policy for the unhappy land was as James I's had been, to dispossess the native Irish and to replace them by Protestant settlers. As a first step in depopulation all who had been concerned in the Protestant massacre were court-martialed and in most cases they were put to death. A sadder fate befell the wives and children of Irish officers and soldiers who had left them behind and enlisted in foreign service, for they were shipped to the West Indies and sold as slaves.

The evicted Irish, driven from the homes where they had tilled their fertile fields from generation to generation, were allowed to settle on a strip of desolate land in Connaught between the Shannon and the sea. An order was issued that from May 1, 1654, all who were found elsewhere were to be put to death. So barren and fruitless was their new inheritance that one of the Parliamentary commissioners sent to investigate wrote that there was not "water enough to drown a man, trees enough to hang a man, or earth enough to bury a man."

The race could not thus be stamped out. The new settlers intermarried with the conquered, many of whom made terms with their supplanters. Seeds of hatred had been sown between Irish Catholic and English Protestant which were to ripen to a full harvest in the time to come. And to this day the Protector's name is associated with the bitter racial and religious feud by the peasant's deepest oath, "the curse of Cromwell."