Oliver Cromwell - Estelle Ross

The Fate of Charles Stuart

The King, now at his wits' end for his restoration, once more made terms with the Scots. He no longer doubted that the 'Solemn League and Covenant' was the be-all and end-all with them, just as his own faith was with him. Hence he promised to confirm it by Act of Parliament provided that he and his household might be exempt from signing it. This led to the short and sharp issue of the second Civil War. On April 11 the Scottish Parliament resolved that the treaty between the two kingdoms had been broken, and that England should be forced to establish Presbyterianism.

To outward seeming the Royalist cause was once more in the ascendant, and insurrections had broken out in many parts of the country. Cromwell was sent to Wales to put down a rising there, Lambert marched to the North to intercept the Scottish army when it crossed the border, and Fairfax himself went to Essex and there laid siege to Colchester, which was held by the Royalists. At the beginning of the year Parliament, weary of negotiations that ended in nothing, had resolved by the vote on 'No Addresses' that it would have no further parleying with the King. The hopelessness of any settlement with such an intriguer had converted Cromwell at length to this view, and henceforth he held that "Parliament should govern and defend the kingdom by their own power, and not teach the people any longer to expect safety and government from an obstinate man whose heart God hath hardened."

He spent a couple of months in Wales, and the most important of his exploits was the siege of Pembroke Castle, which made a stubborn resistance and surrendered only through starvation. The besiegers were in little better plight, and were living for the most part on bread and water.

Three days before this happened that is, on July 8—a Scottish army under the Marquis of Hamilton had crossed the border. Directly Cromwell's work in the West was accomplished he was free to go North and join forces with Major-General Lambert. It was a sorry army he brought with him, for his men were worn out with the ardours of the Welsh campaign and seemed fitter for a hospital than a battle-field. On August 12 he joined Lambert, and the combined Roundhead host of some 8000 was greatly outnumbered by the 21,000 under Hamilton. The enemy was marching South to London, and Cromwell, whose one idea was to be up and at them, upon deliberate advice decided to put his army between them and Scotland, thus barring their passage North to seek reinforcements. He hastened on until he reached Preston, and here he first came on the enemy moving, almost strolling, southward in loose order. "We were about four miles from Preston, and thereupon we advanced with the whole army: the enemy being drawn out on a moor betwixt us and 'the town, the armies on both sides engaged; and after a very sharp dispute continuing for three or four hours, it pleased God to enable us to give them a defeat." The importance of this attack was that, though it still left Hamilton the advantage in numbers, it cut the Scottish army in two; one detachment then moved North and the other South, to be pursued and taken by the Roundheads in a series of sharp convicts in the course of the two following days, during which time it was 'one long chase and carnage.' Cromwell pursued the northern detachment and a serious engagement took place near Wigan. "They drew off again and recovered Wigan before we could attempt anything upon them. We lay that night in the field close by them, being very dirty and weary, and having marched twelve miles on such ground as I never rode in all my life, the day being very wet. . . . We could not engage the enemy until we came within three miles of Warrington." Here the Scottish force was badly beaten. Among the mortally wounded on the other side was Colonel Thornhaugh, to whom in her Memoirs, Mrs. Hutchinson pays tribute when she declares that "a man of greater courage and integrity fell not, nor fought not, in this glorious cause."

Ten thousand prisoners were taken, but the loss in dead and wounded was not estimated. Hamilton was among the fugitives, but he was caught and the following year paid penalty on the scaffold. The Scottish army was no more.

The victory of Preston disheartened the besieged in Colchester and the garrison surrendered. Two of the leaders, Sir Charles Lucas and Sir George Lisle, gave themselves up to mercy and were shot. Such is war.

Cromwell remained in the North to take Berwick and Carlisle, and he crossed the Tweed to impress Scotland with the fact that he believed the soldiery sent forth to fight were innocent of any interest in the matter.

Colonel Hammond, the King's gaoler at Carisbrooke, became most disheartened at the course of affairs and wrote on this subject to Cromwell. His letter in reply is one of the most remarkable that has come down to us, for it is full of tenderness, and breathes in every line his inalienable trust in God. "Let us look into Providences," he said; "surely they mean somewhat. They hang so together, have been so constant, so clear, unclouded."

By the time that young Colonel Hammond received this missive his august prisoner was no longer in his custody, for the heads of the army, resolving to keep him in even closer captivity, had taken him to Hurst Castle, a desolate building on the Hampshire coast. "You could not have chosen a worse," murmured the monarch with foreboding when told of his destination.

With the laurels of victory green on his brow Cromwell returned to London. Here events had been progressing with lightning speed. The decision to have no further intercourse with the King had been overruled, and Parliament re-opened negotiations with him in September.

The history of the next few weeks might be told in a series of glaring headlines, for every day had a fresh sensation. The army, indignant at Parliament's attempt at a settlement with Charles, was for drastic action. Once more it had shed its blood—only to find the settlement of the country as far off as ever. Any agreement between the Presbyterians and the Royalists would mean it had been shed in vain, and the independence of its religious faith would be at stake. Strafford and Laud had paid the penalty of the country's misgovernment with their lives; the third victim had yet to come to judgment. What had been whispered in corners was now to be proclaimed on the house-tops. The resolution was put into words in a meeting of the army held at Windsor: "If ever the Lord brought us back again in peace, to call Charles Stuart, the man of blood, to an account for the blood he had shed against the Lord's cause and the people in these poor nations." In the 'Remonstrance of the Army,' drawn up by Ireton, his trial and execution were demanded. The Remonstrance was laid before the House, but it was set aside, and by the decision of the majority further negotiations were opened with the King. The leaders of the army now determined on drastic action. To dissolve Parliament at such a moment was impossible, but it could be purged of Presbyterians. "We shall know," said Vane, "who is on the side of the King and who on the side of the people."

The 'army marched to London, and at seven in the morning on December 6, Colonel Pride with a regiment of soldiers reached Westminster. He held in his hand a list of offending members who were to be barred entrance.

"By what right do you act?" one asked.

"By the right of the sword," was the reply.

In all one hundred and forty members were expelled, and some of them were lodged for the night in a tavern with the ominous sign-post of Hell. From that time forward the Long Parliament ceased to exist in all but name. Cromwell, though he was not a party to this act of military despotism, yet approved of it.

The 'Rump,' as this mutilated assembly was afterward called, now proceeded to business, and nominated one hundred and thirty-five commissioners to try the King for treason in that he had levied war against Parliament. The House of Lords rejected the Bill, and the Commons therefore decided to dispense with their approval. "The people," they asserted, "are, under God, the original of all just power." Unfortunately for the relevance of this assertion, the assembly was in no way representative of the people.

Half of the appointed commissioners refused to take part or lot in the trial of the King—among these were Fairfax, whose wife dissuaded him, Vane, the friend of Milton, a man of high intellectual powers, a pure patriot if ever there was one, and Algernon Sidney, who declared that "the King could be tried by no court, and that by such a court as that no man could be tried."

Cromwell interrupted him in anger: "I tell you," he said, "we will cut off his head with the crown upon it."

"I cannot stop you," replied Sidney, "but I will . keep myself clean from having any hand in this business."

Charles had been removed from Hurst Castle. to Windsor and thence to St James's to await events. His trial was practically a court-martial, and such courts, by a curious irony of fate, had been expressly condemned by the Petition of Right.

Cromwell and the Puritans


All was now ready for the last act but one of the tragedy of Charles I. The commissioners, seated in the Painted Chamber, were discussing the final stages of procedure on the morning of January 20, 1649, when a messenger brought tidings that the King was disembarking at the river-side. Cromwell rushed to the window and it was noticed that he had turned deathly pale as he gazed for a moment without. Then, facing his colleagues, his harsh voice scarcely under control, he cried: "My masters, he is come, he is come, and now we are doing that great work that the whole nation will be full of. Therefore I desire you to resolve here what answer we shall give the King when he comes before us, for the first question he will ask us will be by what authority and commission do we try him?" After a moment's silence one of the members replied: "In the name of the Commons in Parliament assembled and all the good. people of England."

That same afternoon Westminster Hall was the stage of the most significant scene in our constitutional history. At one end a platform had been erected, and here, tier above tier, sat the King's accusers, Cromwell among them. Serjeant Bradshaw, a shrewd lawyer who had been chosen President, was the central figure. Charles sat, his head covered, facing his judges, his back to the throng of spectators. As he listened, seemingly indifferent, to the indictment, his mind must have wandered back to that scene which took place eight years earlier, when he had abandoned his friend in like peril of death. He denied the authority of the court and refused to plead since a king could be tried by no earthly tribunal. He stood, he said, for the freedom and liberty of the people of England. The proceedings were constantly interrupted by the audience who, beside themselves with excitement, were shouting each other down with cries of "Justice!" and "God save your Majesty!" After five days' trial the King was condemned to death, and the second to sign the warrant was Oliver Cromwell. Such was his conviction that Charles must die that it is said he held the pen and forced the hand of one commissioner who showed hesitation in appending his signature to the parchment.

On the day appointed for his execution the King left St James's Palace at ten in the morning, with Colonel Tomlinson and an escort of foot for his guard, Bishop Juxon for his consoler, and friends to bear him company. On reaching Whitehall he was offered refreshment, but he refused all but a glass of wine and a piece of bread. As the clock struck twelve he was brought through the Banqueting Hall to the scaffold draped with black. There lay the axe and block, and there stood two masked executioners. He addressed a few words to those around him, since his voice could not carry to the thronging multitude below:

"For the people I desire their liberty and freedom as much as anybody whomsoever. ... If I would have given way to have all changed according to. the power of the sword, I needed not to have come here; and therefore I tell you (and I pray God it be not laid to your charge) that I am a martyr of the people."

His last words, as recorded in the old chronicle, were with Dr Juxon.

The King: "I have a good cause and a gracious God on my side."

Dr Juxon: "There is but one stage more, this stage is turbulent and troublesome; it is a short one, but you may consider it will soon carry you a very great way, it will carry you from Earth to Heaven, and there you shall find a great deal of cordial joy and comfort."

The King: "I go from a corruptible to an incorruptible crown where no disturbance can be."

Dr Juxon: "You are exchanged from a temporal to an eternal crown, a good exchange."

The King arranged his hair under his cap, presented his order of the Knight of the Garter to the Bishop, murmured "Remember," and knelt at the block, bowing his head in prayer. A moment later he gave the signal. With one blow the head was severed, and the weeping multitude groaned in pity as it was held up to their view.

That night, as the coffined body lay in Whitehall, Cromwell stood and gazed upon the features of the man against whom he had fought so well. "The King was a goodly man and might have lived for many years," he murmured. Then, taking a last farewell, he was heard to mutter: "Stern necessity!"