Oliver Cromwell - Estelle Ross

Healing and Settling

Nine months were to pass before the new Parliament met. In the interval the Protector, with the Council of State, passed eighty-two ordinances, which had the force of law. The three main subjects dealt with were Church Government, Law, and Manners.

How was the State Church to be governed? What toleration was to be shown to those outside the pale? Cromwell, whose broad-mindedness grew with years, would have had toleration for all. He would have permitted Mohammedans to worship in their own way rather than that one of God's children should be persecuted for conscience' sake. .Roman Catholics and Jews he would have .left free to exercise their religion in seclusion but public feeling was against him. The State Church was to be Puritan in its widest sense. Independents, Baptists, and Presbyterians were all entitled to officiate provided they convinced a committee of Triers that they were men with the grace of God in them, of holy unblameable conversation, and fit to preach the Gospel. Inefficient ministers were expelled from their livings. The Prayer Book was forbidden, and the churches were closed to Episcopalians, who were permitted to worship only in private.

. Simpler processes of law, so that it should be "plain and less chargeable to the people," were ordained. It was even set down that all cases should be settled on the day of hearing. The ordinance was unpopular with the lawyers, who declared that they would not accept it; moreover, it was unpractical. Cromwell was far in advance of his time in his attempt to reform criminal law. He would have abolished the death penalty for anything but murder—yet it was not until the middle of the nineteenth century that this piece of humane legislation was put upon the statute book.

The narrowest form of Puritanism came out when the Council passed ordinances restricting the pleasures of the people. Maypoles had been pulled down, by order, ten years earlier; plays and playhouses had long been banned. Bear-baiting, cock-fighting, and duelling—for which, it is true, nothing can be said—had all been suppressed. Horse-racing was forbidden for six months, but only in order to prevent the meetings from being used as a cloak for Royalist gatherings. Drunkenness and swearing were to be severely punished; minstrels and fiddlers who brought music to the countryside were to be dealt with as vagrants—why it is hard to tell. The strict keeping of the Lord's Day was to be observed; on that day inns and alehouses were closed, and, as travelling was looked upon as a godless pursuit, an order from a justice was necessary before one took a journey on Sunday. Even so innocent a recreation as walking might be regarded as "vain and profane" and treated accordingly. In spite of all these rules, until the Major-Generals (of whom we shall hear later) descended upon the country to act as policemen, with a watchful eye on. lawbreakers, judges were lenient and juries refused to convict. Had it not been so, England would have been very moral—and very miserable!

Cromwell was always greatly interested in education. In some ways it was a cheaper luxury then than it is now—for example, in the seventeenth century tuition at Eton cost only 1 a term. Cromwell suggested the institution of a college at Durham, but the scheme was stopped at the Restoration and the city had to wait for nearly two hundred years before it owned its university. He was Chancellor of the University of oxford, and during his Protectorate the older universities flourished, producing many men of learning.

On Sunday, September 3, 1654—Cromwell's auspicious day—he met the first Parliament of his Protectorate. The state opening took place on the following day, when the Protector rode in state to Westminster Abbey, accompanied by his son Henry, Lambert, and a full retinue. After the service and a sermon the members adjourned to the Painted Chamber. Here Cromwell, in one of his memorable speeches, harangued them on the past and the future.

"You are met here," he said, "on the greatest occasion that, I believe, England ever saw; having upon your shoulders the interests of three great nations with the territories belonging to them;—and truly, I believe I may say it without any hyperbole, you have upon your shoulders the interests of all the Christian people in the world."

Once more he reverted to God's dealings with the Commonwealth, saying that the only direct parallel to it in all history was when God brought Israel out of Egypt, "by many signs and wonders toward a place of peace." Cromwell, with his instinct for law and order, had little sympathy with the Levellers, the Socialists of his day. "Did not that Levelling principle tend to the reducing of all to an equality. . . . What was the purport of it, but to make the tenant as liberal a for tune as the landlord . . . The men of that principle, after they had served their own turns, would then have cried up property and interest fast enough." He reviewed what had already been done for the "Healing and Settling" of the country, the satisfactory relation of the Commonwealth with foreign states, the conclusion of the Dutch War. But there was much yet to do. "It's one of the great ends of calling this parliament, that the Ship of the Commonwealth may be brought into a safe harbour; which, I assure you, it will not be, without your counsel and advice."

The members had no sooner taken their places in the House than they began to discuss "by what authority they came hither, and whether .that which had convened them had a lawful power to that purpose." Cromwell was sorely tried, for if time were to be wasted in discussing their position there would be no end to it. They promised to accept him as Protector for five years. This would not do: certain fundamentals must be accepted. Once more Cromwell decided to coerce the House by what was virtually martial law. The Lord Mayor was bidden to guard the City; Westminster Hall was surrounded by soldiers, the doors of the House were locked. The astonished members, barred entrance, were summoned to meet the Protector at the Painted Chamber. He was deeply moved. His position had been called in question, and he felt that he had never sought it.

"I called not myself to this place," he said; "I say again, I called not myself to this place! Of that God is witness—and I have many witnesses who, I do believe, could lay down their lives bearing witness to the truth of that... . If my calling be from God, and my testimony from the People—God and the People shall take it from me." At the end of the wars, he told them, he had hoped to return to private life: "I begged to be dismissed of my charge; I begged it again and again—and God be the Judge between me and all men if I lie in this matter." After the dissolution of the Little Parliament he had had unlimited power. When the Council of State framed a constitution, he was told that unless he would undertake the Government there would be no settlement. He had not received anything which put him into a higher capacity than before; but his power was limited and he could not act without the consent of a Council. Was not their very presence in the House of Commons, brought thither by Writs directed to the several Sheriffs, a proof that they had accepted the Instrument of Government? "It was understood that I was the Protector and the authority that called you. That I was in the possession of the Government by a right from God and man."

He then went on to insist on four fundamentals which the members must accept: the Government was to be by a single Person and a Parliament; Parliaments were not to make themselves perpetual; liberty of conscience should be respected: the Protector and Parliament were to have joint power over the militia.

Only such as would sign the parchment containing these stipulations might re-enter the House. One hundred members signed in an hour—three hundred in all. Bradshaw, Haselrig and other Republicans refused.

The Purge did not make much difference and Parliament continued discussions which were contrary to the agreement. After bearing with it for the requisite five months the Protector dismissed it on January 23, 1655.

For the next eighteen months the country was under military law and Cromwell was a despot. His difficulties were great. As he wrote to Fleetwood: "The wretched jealousies that are amongst us, and the spirit of calumny turn all into gall and wormwood."

England was divided into ten districts, and over each of these was set a Major-General, who had to keep order, shut down alehouses, see that Sunday was observed in the very letter of the law, repress Levellers and other enemies of the Commonwealth, control the local militia, and levy heavy burdens on the Royalists for its upkeep.

Little wonder that plots against the Protector's life were rife, that Royalist hopes were high! Cromwell kept himself well informed, and his knowledge of conspiracies at home and abroad was almost uncanny. Scattered Royalist risings took place in England, and one under Penruddock gave a good deal of trouble, but it was finally crushed, the leader was apprehended, and with fourteen of his followers he paid forfeit with his life.

Other more innocent persons suffered a worse fate. The Quaker movement was in its infancy, and one, James Nayler, at the head of a body of eight men and women, singing as they rode through Bristol town, "Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Sabaoth," was arrested by the local Major-General and sent on trial to London. Here he was sentenced, as a blasphemer, "To stand in the pillory two hours at Westminster, to be whipped by the hangman through the streets from Westminster to the Old Exchange, and there to stand in the pillory two hours more, and that his tongue be bored through with a hot iron, and that he be stigmatized in the forehead with the letter B." As if this were not sufficient penalty even for the most extravagant opinions, he was to be returned to Bristol, there to be compelled to ride through the city, with his face to the horse's tail, and publicly whipped at the Market Place. When all these barbarities had been executed he was to be returned to London and imprisoned at Bridewell.

Nayler was a foolish extremist, but all the early Quakers suffered persecution. Their founder, George Fox, when he had been seized by the soldiers, appealed to the Protector. He has recorded in his Diary how he had much discourse with Cromwell and explained to him what he and the Friends—as the members of the new sect were called had been led to think concerning Christ and his apostles. "That is very good; that is true," agreed the Protector. "Other persons coming in, persons of quality so called, I drew back; lingered; and then was for retiring: he caught me by the hand and with moist beaming eyes said: 'Come again to my house! If thou and I were but an hour a day together we should be nearer one to the other. I wish no more harm to thee than I do to my own soul.' "