Oliver Cromwell - Estelle Ross

New Foes Arise

The Puritans gave to English literature one of its greatest names—that of John Milton. As we have seen, he devoted himself to the service of the State. He was inspired by the events of the time to dedicate to Cromwell one of his magnificent sonnets:

Cromwell, our chief of men, who through a cloud

Not of war only, but detractions rude,

Guided by faith and matchless fortitude,

To peace and truth thy glorious way hast ploughed,

And on the neck of crowned Fortune proud

Hast reared God's trophies, and His work pursued,

While Darwen stream, with blood of Scots imbrued,

And Dunbar field, resounds thy praises loud,

And Worcester's laureate wreath. Yet much remains

To conquer still: Peace hath her victories

No less renowned than War. New foes arise

Threat'ning to bind our souls with secular chains:

Help us to save free conscience from the paw

Of hireling wolves, whose gospel is their maw.

Such was Cromwell's task. Before he set to work to accomplish it—and much more beside—he was to receive full tribute of gratitude for his services to the Commonwealth. Nine days after his victory at Worcester he was welcomed on the outskirts of London by the Speaker and other members of the House of Commons, civic dignitaries, and Puritan gentlemen of standing, anxious to do him honour and to escort him to the capital. Eager sightseers lined the roadways waiting to cheer the vietQrious general in his hour of triumph. The Life-guards passed, their accoutrements glittering in the autumn sunshine; the soberly clad Puritan gentlemen rode by with dignified mien; then came the city troops and the Speaker in his coach, followed by three hundred equipages. The cavalcade rolled on—but where was the hero of the hour? He had passed all but unnoticed, having taken refuge in the Speaker's carriage. Worn out with the toils of war, he had felt unequal to a public demonstration.

As he peered forth at the country-folk and townsfolk, men, women, and children, one remarked to him: "What a crowd has come to see your Lordship's triumph!"

"Yes, but if it were to see me hanged, how many more would there be!" was the ironic reply.

The guns in St James's Park boomed their welcome; cheer upon cheer greeted his arrival—he was home once more!

To each member of the deputation he presented a horse and a couple of Scotsmen—the latter strikes a curious note to modern ears! Few had the humanity to release their captives, who were afterward held up to ransom or sold as slaves to the colonies. Parliament voted the General four thousand pounds and the royal palace of Hampton Court as a residence, thus linking up his fortunes with that of his first known kinsman, Thomas Cromwell, for Hampton Court had been built and presented to the King by Thomas Cromwell's patron, Cardinal Wolsey. The City rendered homage to the victor by inviting him to a banquet at Merchant Taylor's Hall.

When all due honour had been paid to him, Cromwell had to get into harness once more. What was now to be the settlement of the country? What was to be the outcome of the Civil War in England, the triumphs in Ireland and Scotland? At present the Government was in the hands of what was virtually an oligarchy, the remnant of the Long Parliament, consisting of men who had once been elected and who had remained in office in spite of the many changes that had taken place. This arrangement could not go on for ever. A meeting was held at Speaker Lenthall's house in chancery Lane to which representatives of Parliament and the Army were invited, to discuss the future settlement of the nation, "the old King being dead, and his son being defeated." Two solutions were suggested—one that the country should be an absolute Republic, the other that there should be a "mixture of monarchy." As Whitlocke put it: "The laws of England are so interwoven with the power and practice of monarchy, that to settle a Government without something of monarchy in it would make so great an alteration in the proceedings of our law, that you will scarce have time to rectify it, nor can we well foresee the inconveniences which will arise thereby."

Whitlocke's solution was to invite the King's third son, the Duke of York, who was too young to have any prejudices, to accept the throne on conditions. Cromwell fully saw that "that would be a business of more than ordinary difficulty," though he believed that a settlement with somewhat of monarchical power in it would be most effectual.

Was it already in Cromwell's mind what had been whispered abroad: "This man will make himself our King "?

Meantime, awaiting the tide of events, the country was ruled by the Council of State appointed by the House of Commons, consisting of members of Parliament and officers of the army. Cromwell was the leading spirit on the Council, and for the next nineteen months he was busily occupied with the question of what was to be the final form of government for the nation. One thing was certain in the minds of the Army party clamouring for reform, and that was that the Long Parliament must be dissolved. Unfortunately the members of the Long Parliament did not agree with this view. Cromwell urged that the question should be put to the vote. It was carried with the bare majority of two, and then with the restriction that the dissolution should not take place for three years. A spurt of activity overtook the threatened members. An Amnesty Bill, under which Royalists who had not taken part in the battle or Worcester need no longer fear punishment for actions during the Civil War, was passed. It was carried largely owing to Cromwell's insistence, but though it was a wise measure and made for peace, his part in it was misinterpreted by his enemies as an attempt to make for himself many new friends. There was much work for Parliament to do; the political union of Scotland with England. was debated, as were long-needed legal and social reforms and a settlement of the system of Church government, which was in a state of chaos. Parliament was anxious to distract public attention by naval exploits, and all reforms were at a standstill when the country became involved in the Dutch war, which was fostered by Vane. To Cromwell especially, and to the army as a whole, the war was hateful, both because it was a conflict between two Protestant powers who should have been allies and because it laid an extra burden of expense on the impoverished country.



Hostilities finally broke out over the Navigation Act—passed expressly to damage Dutch commerce, since it aimed a blow at their carrying trade. It prohibited the importation of foreign goods to England in any but the vessel of the country where they were produced. Monk, who had seen much service, and Blake, the greatest naval commander of the Common-wealth, were to meet on the seas the renowned Dutch admirals, Reuter and Van Tromp—and to meet their match! For Blake's defeat by Van Tromp off Dungeness in 1652 was not fully revenged until the February of the following year, when in a three days' engagement he defeated the Dutch fleet off Portland. The ultimate success on the seas, both over the Dutch and in putting down Royalist privateers, raised the prestige of the Commonwealth in the eyes of Europe, but it did not serve to keep the members of the Long Parliament in office.

Cromwell's home life had not been without its sorrows. His son-in-law, Ireton, had died in Ireland three months after Worcester, worn out by the fatigues and anxieties of his position. Bridget was a widow, and though she soon consoled herself by marrying her husband's future successor, Fleetwood, her father felt the loss for himself and for her very deeply. Some thought that had Ireton lived he would have exercised a restraining influence over Cromwell, and his ambition would have been checked by the stern virtue of the younger man. However that may be, not long after Ireton's death Cromwell's mind, still possessed by thoughts of the future of the country, had come to a definite decision.

Walking one November day of 1652 in St James's Park, with Whitlocke as his companion, he sounded him. They conversed together on the present dangers of the State. Whitlocke laid the fault on the arrogance of the army, Cromwell on the self-seeking, greedy and unscrupulous members of Parliament. Both agreed that the Commonwealth itself was in danger from all these internal feuds. Suddenly Cromwell sprang upon his companion what had been in his mind all the time: "What if a man should take upon him to be King?" Whitlocke soberly pointed out grave objections, and urged that the only possible King was Charles Stuart. "My Lord General did not in words express any anger but only by looks and carriage."

For some months past repeated conferences had taken place between army officers and members of Parliament, and at last a Bill for a "New Representative"—that is a newly elected body of men was before the House.

A meeting took place at Cromwell's rooms on April 19, 1653. Sir Henry Vane discussed the question as to whether the sitting members should remain in office during the next Parliament and should have a right to veto any elected representative whom they considered undesirable. As a matter of fact, neither Parliament nor the Army dared risk anything approaching a general election: some form of scrutiny would be necessary, even with a restricted franchise, for neither Roman Catholics nor Royalists would be electors. Vane's proposal would have meant that the Long Parliament would be reinforced by a few new men and that all the present evils would continue. Cromwell's solution was that they should "devolve their trust to some well-affected men, such as had an interest in the nation."

The conference broke up and was summoned to meet again on the morrow for further discussion. Next morning, when Cromwell was attending his business at Whitehall, he was informed by a messenger that the House was sitting and was occupied in pushing through a Bill at top speed which would keep the present members in office. He did not believe it at first, and it was not until two further messengers confirmed the tidings that he made ready for instant action. Since the Commons had broken faith with the army council, he would take the law into his own hands. Clad as he was in his plain morning dress—a black suit with worsted stockings accompanied by Lambert and other officers, with a band of musketeers, he rode down to the House. In gloomy silence he took his seat and listened to Vane, who was addressing the Commons. For a quarter of an hour he waited, then Vane sat down and the Speaker was about to put to the vote the question "that this Bill shall pass?"

Cromwell beckoned to Harrison and muttered to him: "This is the time I must do it."

"Sir, the work is very great and dangerous," Harrison replied; "therefore I desire you seriously to consider of it before you engage in it."

"You say well," was the curt response.

Cromwell then rose in his place, uncovered his head, and spoke out all that was in his heart. His first words were conciliatory in appearance but ironic in intention. He praised the members for the care and pains they had taken for the public good. Then suddenly all urbanity forsook him and his harsh, strident voice rang out in bitter upbraiding for "their injustice, delays of justice, and self-interest."

"It is a strange language this; unusual within the walls of Parliament and from one we have so highly honored, and one . . ."

"Come, come," thundered Cromwell, "we have had enough of this. I will put an end to your prating."

Crushing his hat on his head, he stepped out upon the floor of the House, stamping his feet in anger. "It is not fit that you should sit here any longer! You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing lately. You shall now give place to better men."

The musketeers entered at his word of command to Harrison, and all the time he blazed out at the outraged members like a quick-firing gun.

"You call yourself a Parliament, you are no Parliament. I say you are no Parliament: some of you are drunkards "—and his eye pierced an unfortunate member who was known to be self-indulgent. Still more contemptuous phrases were hurled at other sinners whose private record would not bear scrutiny. They quivered under the lash of his tongue.

Vane's voice was heard in the general uproar. "This is not honest," he said; "yea, it is against morality and honesty."

"Oh, Sir Henry Vane, Sir Henry Vane," broke in Cromwell, "the Lord deliver me from Sir Henry Vane.... Corrupt unjust persons scandalous to the profession of the Gospel; how can you be a Parliament for God's people? Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God go."

"Take away that bauble!" he commanded, as he caught sight of the mace lying on the Speaker's table.

"Fetch him down," he went on, as his glance fell on the Speaker himself. Lenthall stood his ground but was removed, and other members gradually dispersed.

Cromwell fired a parting shot: "It is you who have forced me to do this. I have sought the Lord day and night that He would rather slay me than put me upon the doing of this work." He snatched the obnoxious Bill from the clerk, seized the records, cleared the House, locked the door, and, putting the key in his pocket, returned to Whitehall.

In the afternoon he attended the Council of State. Since it had been created by Parliament it no longer had any sanction. The members were sitting. "If you are met here as private persons," he informed them, "you shall not be disturbed; but if as a Council of State, this is no place for you; and since you cannot but know what was done in the House this morning, so take notice that the Parliament is dissolved."

Bradshaw, who. was in the chair, would not thus be dismissed.

"We have heard what you did at the House in the morning," he said, "and before many hours all England will hear it; but, Sir, you are mistaken to think that the Parliament is dissolved; for no power under Heaven can dissolve them but themselves; therefore take you notice of that."

Bradshaw was the only man whose speech would qualify Cromwell's later statement: "We did not hear a dog bark at their going."