Oliver Cromwell - Estelle Ross

Will He Be King?

For eighteen months military rule continued under the Protector, the Council of State, and the hated Major-Generals. At the end of that time the Protector, face to face with Charles I's perpetual difficulty of finding money for home and foreign expenses, determined to summon another Parliament.

Great excitement prevailed in the country over the elections. Many men felt the call to become candidates, but few were chosen unless they could first of all satisfy the Major-Generals as to their principles and practices. The Major-Generals themselves were all returned. Many electors abstained from voting, holding that it mattered little who was chosen, since the Protector would have his own way in any case, and if opposed he would call in the military to turn out offenders.

Cromwell, as his custom was, addressed the newly elected representatives in the Painted Chamber before they actually met in the House. In a lengthy and somewhat involved and discursive speech op. the condition of the country he hotly defended the appointment of the Major-Generals: "I think if ever anything were justifiable as to necessity, and honest in every respect, this was." Three months later, however, he had to bow to Parliamentary will and allow them to be dismissed.

A surprise was in store for the members when they left the Painted Chamber. Before entering the House each one had to produce a certificate that he was approved by "His Highness's council," and those without this passport were denied admission. In this way over a hundred members were excluded, not only to their own bitter resentment for their appeal to be admitted was disregarded—but to the indignation of the whole House. The Protector could not, even with all the precautions that had been taken, face a free Parliament.

And yet he could not manage it. This assembly was to be no exception to the rule that he could not get on with Parliaments: he had neither the necessary tact nor the constitutional sense, since he had gradually come to believe that necessity knew no law. This second Parliament of the Protectorate was bent on having the Government of the country on a legal and constitutional basis. Curiously enough, this led to a widely accepted demand that Cromwell should take the title of King. A malcontent, Miles Sindercombe, attempted the Protector's life by setting light to Whitehall Chapel, hoping to shoot him in the ensuing confusion, but was foiled in his attempt. The vote of congratulation passed by Parliament was amended by one member moving that "it would tend very much to the preservation of himself and us that His Highness would be pleased to take upon him the government according to the ancient constitution."

On February 23,1656, an amended Instrument of Government was brought before the House. It offered the Protector the title of King and authorized the formation of a Second Chamber to replace the former House of Lords. This scheme was known as "The Humble Petition and Advice." After a month's consultation and negotiations between the Protector and Parliament, Speaker. Lenthall, accompanied by members of the House, repaired to the Banqueting Hall at Whitehall and formally presented it to the Protector. Cromwell was in a difficult situation: if he accepted the title he would placate the majority in Parliament, but offend the army by which he had risen to power. He told them that he must have leisure to consider the matter. "I have lived the latter part of my age in—if I may say so—the fire; in the midst of troubles. But all the things that have befallen me since I was first engaged in the affairs of this Commonwealth, if they could be supposed to be all brought into such a compass that I could take a view of them at once, truly I do not think they would 'so move,' nor do I think they ought so to move my heart and spirit with that fear and reverence of God that becomes a Christian, as the thing that hath now been offered by you to me."

For three days of anxious thought and deliberation Cromwell considered the proposal. He summoned the House to hear his decision. The two aims of his life, he said, had been civil and religious liberty: "Upon these two interests, if God shall account me worthy I shall live and die. And I must say if I were to give an account before a greater tribunal than an earthly one; if I were asked why I have engaged all along in the late war, I could. give no answer that were not a wicked one if I did not comprehend these two ends." He .was grateful for their offer, but it was not fitting for him to accept it.

The matter did not end here. Parliament would not take "no" for an answer, and further negotiations took place. The , Protector conferred with his leading counselors, and for hours they were shut up together in private discourse. Even in these weighty conferences there were lighter moments, and sometimes the boisterous moods of his earlier manhood would return upon him and he would be very cheerful. "And laying aside his greatness he would be exceedingly familiar; and by way of diversion would make verses with them, play crambo with them, and every one must try his fancy. He commonly called for tobacco-pipes and a candle and would now and then take tobacco himself."

The leaders of the army made their position plain and signified that they would lay down their commands if Cromwell were King. Seven and twenty officers, with Pride at their head, presented a petition to Parliament against any revival of the monarchy.

A compromise was finally reached. The Protector accepted "The Humble Petition and Advice," by which a Second Chamber was to be created, with members chosen by himself, to sit for life. He accepted the authority to nominate his successor, but he refused the title of King.

In order to emphasize the fact that Cromwell was now appointed by Parliament to the headship of the state a second installation took place, this time at Westminster Hall, with all but royal ceremonial. His Highness sat under a canopy of state on the Coronation Chair, which had been brought from the Abbey. Speaker Lenthall came forward and in the name of Parliament presented .him with a robe of purple velvet, lined with ermine, which was placed upon his shoulders. The Speaker then delivered to him the symbols of his office—a richly gilt and embossed Bible, a sceptre of massive gold, and a sword. The oath was administered to him, and prayer was offered up for God's blessing on Protector and People.



This was Cromwell's hour. As he sat enthroned, the sceptre in his hand, foreign ambassadors on either side, the great dignitaries of the land standing in his presence, and heard the blare of trumpets and the shouts of the populace, he had reached the summit of human glory. Not by divine right, nor by the right of sword, but by the right conferred on him by. Parliament, he was the uncrowned King of England!

This great man who had wielded so much power was now beginning to show signs of the arduous life he had led, and he was often ill with a return of the feverish complaint that he had suffered from in Scotland and Ireland. With the reopening of Parliament six months later his troubles began again, for it was evident that no real settlement had been effected. "The Other House" (as the Second Chamber was called) and the House of Commons were soon at loggerheads. To the disgust of the ultra-Republicans, Cromwell had conferred on the Second Chamber the title of Lords. There was also some doubt as to the extent of their duties: were they to have power to make laws or were they only to advise on them?

The Protector well knew that the incessant disputes were but fuel to the fire of the growing Royalist agitation. He went down to the House, wrought up with anger, to insist that they should now stand by the new constitution. Once more in the bitterness of his heart he bade them remember: "I sought not this place. I speak it before God, Angels and Men: I DID NoT. You sought me for it, you brought me to it, and I took my oath to be faithful to the interest of these nations, to be faithful to the Government."

No reconciliation seemed possible. Ten days later Cromwell, accompanied by a military guard, rode in his coach to Westminster, summoned both houses before him and in words of stinging rebuke dissolved Parliament. "And let God be the judge between you and me," was his parting shot.