The whole modern world has divided itself into Conservatives and Progressives. The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of the Conservatives is to prevent the mistakes from being corrected. — G. K. Chesterton

Oliver Cromwell - Estelle Ross




Death of Cromwell

With the dismissal of the second Parliament of the Protectorate the end, though none suspected it, was in sight. For the last thirty years—he was now fifty-eight—Cromwell's life had been devoted to the public weal, to political and religious freedom. He had lived, he had worked, he had suffered, he had made mistakes—and small wonder that at times he yearned to "have lived under my Woodside, to have kept a flock of sheep." Retirement, however, was not for him, but his desire to be at rest was approaching its fulfilment. As a soldier he had stood the rigours of many campaigns and had often been ill. As a politician he had stood the mental strain of many a fight to preserve the Common-wealth. It was time to lay down his arms. The iron hand was beginning to lose its grip, the iron will could not triumph over physical infirmities for ever. "I look upon this to be the great duty of my place," he had said to the two Houses of Parliament; "as being set on a watch-tower to see what may be for the good of these nations." He was now to be relieved of his post.

If the affairs of state were difficult and troublesome his own private affairs were tragic. His youngest daughter, Frances Cromwell, had recently lost her husband, Robert Rich, after four months of marriage; his well-loved daughter, Elizabeth Claypole, was bereft of one of her sons and now herself lay dying at Hampton Court. "She had great sufferings, great exercises of spirit," and her father's heart was wrung at the sight of her distress. On August 6 she died. Cromwell fell ill a few days later and was confined to his room. Once before, when he was mourning for his boy, he had turned, as he did now, to St Paul's Epistle to the Philippians to read, "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me."

"This Scripture did once save my life," he said, "when my eldest son died, which went as a dagger to my heart, indeed it did."

A low fever seized him and it turned to ague, but he still continued to attend to the affairs of state and to transact necessary business. On August 20 George Fox went to Hampton Court to plead with him once more for the sufferings of the Friends, and met the Protector riding in the Park. "I saw and felt a waft of death go forth against him, and when I came to him he looked like a dead man," he wrote in his Diary.

The news of Cromwell's illness spread throughout the country and fervent prayers went up for his recovery. He himself confidently hoped that God, "who was far above nature," would restore him to health. He raffled a little and the physicians ordered his removal to Whitehall—his last journey. He grew gradually worse, but his mind, clear as ever, was possessed with the thought of God's dealings with the human soul. "Is it possible to fall from grace?" he asked a minister in attendance. He was reassured. "Then I am safe, for I know that I was once in grace." His wife and children stood weeping round him and he spoke words of counsel. "Love not the world. I say unto you it is no good that you should love the world."

On August 30 a terrible storm broke over the country—prophetic to some of the Protector's coming doom, to others of the release of a mighty soul. He was asked to name a successor and murmured: "Richard." Whether Richard's name was the one he had written in that sealed paper which could never be found at Hampton Court, none ever knew.

In his dying hour Cromwell prayed for the nation: "And I may, I will, come to Thee, for Thy people. Thou hast made me, though very unworthy, a mean instrument to do them some good, and Thee service; and many of them have set too high a value upon me, though others wish and would be glad of my death; Lord, however Thou do dispose of me, continue and go on to do good for them. Give them consistency of judgment, one heart, and mutual love; and go on to deliver them, and with the work of reformation, and make the name of Christ glorious in the world. Teach those who look too much upon Thy instruments to depend more upon Thyself. Pardon such as desire to trample on the dust of a poor worm for they are Thy people too. And pardon the folly of this short prayer—even for Jesus Christ's sake. And give us a good night if it be Thy pleasure."

On September he spoke again of what was nearest to his heart: "I would be willing to live to be further serviceable to God and His people: but my work is done." After a restless night he was urged to take some nourishment. "It is not my design to drink or sleep; but my design is to make what haste I can to be gone."

The sun rose on September 3, that fateful day of two gallant fights. It was evident to those about him that the "one fight more, the best and the last," was all but over. At four in the afternoon he lay dead.