Oliver Cromwell - Estelle Ross

The Long Parliament

Cromwell, re-elected member for Cambridge, took his seat in the Parliament which met on November 3, 1640. He was no longer an obscure country member, but a mature man of forty-one with Parliamentary experience. A few days later he presented the petition of John Lilburn, one of the victims of Star Chamber injustice. His appearance at this time was noted by Sir Philip Warwick, who was present: "The first time I ever took notice of Mr. Cromwell was in the very beginning of the Parliament held in November 1640, when I vainly thought myself a courtly young gentleman for we courtiers valued ourselves much upon our good clothes! I came into the House one morning well clad and perceived a gentleman speaking, whom I knew not—very ordinarily appareled; for it was a plain cloth suit, which seemed to have been made by an ill country tailor; his linen was plain, and not very clean; and I remember a speck or two of blood upon his little band, which was not much larger than his collar. His hat was without a hatband. His stature was of a good size; his sword stuck close to his side: his countenance swollen and reddish, his voice sharp and untuneable, and his eloquence full of fervor."

Lilburn's petition was practically ignored because of the preoccupation of the House with the King's ministers. Strafford was the first to come up for trial, for he and his policy of 'Thorough' were considered responsible for much of the King's misgovernment. The impeachment passed both Lords and Commons, and Strafford's trial commenced on March 22, 1641. Cromwell, though he took no special part in it, was as a member of the House of Commons among his accusers. The Puritan member for Cambridge must have looked somber enough among the crowd that thronged the hall with "the most glorious assembly the isle could afford." The King was present watching the proceedings with an aching heart, and the Queen had thought fit to bring two of their children to see the Earl in his hour of agony. To many present the trial was but a day's pleasuring, and in the intervals the hall was turned into a picnicking ground, with "much public eating not only of confections but of flesh and bread," and "bottles of beer and wine going thick from mouth to mouth without cups."

Strafford defended himself so ably that his accusers, fearing to lose their case, dropped the impeachment and brought in a Bill of Attainder, which passed through Lords and Commons. It required but one signature. Would the King desert his minister in his hour of need? For two days he was torn by indecision, and then signed the death-warrant. "Put not your trust in Princes," cried Strafford, when he knew that his doom was sealed. Archbishop Laud, who was not permitted to give him the last consolations of the Church, looking out of the window of his prison in the Tower, blessed him as he passed to the scaffold. Strafford was Roman in his bearing. "I thank God I am no more afraid of death," he said, "but as cheerfully put off my doublet at this time as ever I did when I went to bed."

Charles I


The surging populace roared their delight at his execution.. "His head is off! His head is off!" they shouted in triumph as they lit their bonfires and rang their bells in an orgy of rejoicing.

As yet only a spectator in these dramatic scenes, Cromwell was rapidly gaining Parliamentary experience, and sat on no less than eighteen committees called to consider the petitions and grievances from boroughs and councils. Every now and again his fiery temper got the better of him and he would insult the witnesses. But his eloquence was beginning to make an impression on the House. A contemporary says that he spoke "with a strong and. masculine excellence, more able to persuade than to be persuaded. His expressions were hardy, opinions resolute, asseverations grave and vehement, always intermixed (Andronicus-like) with sentences of Scripture, to give them the greater weight, and the better to insinuate into the affections of the people. He expressed himself with some kind of passion, but with such a commanding wise deportment till, at his pleasure, he governed and swayed the House, and he had most time the leading voice. Those who find no such wonder in his speeches may find it in the effect of them."

He was on the committee which debated the Triennial Bill, which passed both Houses and was reluctantly signed by the King. By it a Parliament had to be called every three years. This was but one of the checks on absolute monarchy. The Star Chamber and other arbitrary courts were abolished, and Ship-Money was declared illegal. The Tonnage and Poundage Act forbade the levying of any charge upon exports or imports without consent of Parliament.

Cromwell, who had been known in the Fen country as 'a speaker for sectaries,' came more prominently forward in the ecclesiastical discussions. He was among those who wished to abolish episcopacy 'root and branch'—bishops, Prayer Book and all. On this question of the religious reform there was_ a serious split in the popular party, and Lord Falkland and Hyde, afterward Lord Clarendon, the Royalist historian of this epoch, went over to the King's side.

The monarch had been compelled to set the royal seal to these distasteful measures, but he had no intention of being a pawn in the hands of Parliament. He departed for Scotland, anxious now to propitiate his subjects there.

News of more grave import came from Ireland. The Irish people, Roman Catholics as we know, left to their own devices when Strafford's iron hand had been removed, had broken into revolt against the English Protestant settlers in Ulster. Terrible reports were in circulation as to the thousands that had been massacred there and the nameless atrocities that had been committed. When the tidings reached the House, "there was deep silence and a kind of consternation." Rumor was rife, stating that the Irish had a commission signed by the King; as a matter of fact they actually held a forged commission. Still this served to increase his unpopularity, especially when his . cold comment on the situation became known: "I hope this ill news in Ireland may hinder some of these follies in England."

The reform party now prepared a Grand Remonstrance, and in November 1641, Pym placed it before the Commons. In it were detailed the work that had been accomplished, the difficulties that had been surmounted, and the new dangers which had to be faced. Pym's hold on his party had slackened, for many men had changed sides. A fierce discussion took place and there was a scene of tumult in the House. Members lost control of themselves, waved their hats and unsheathed their swords, until it seemed as if the verbal warfare would end in actual strife. After a debate of sixteen hours the Remonstrance was carried by the narrow majority of eleven. As the Chimes of St Margaret's were striking two the members passed out on their homeward way. Cromwell, walking down the stairs with Lord Falkland, emphasized his view of the momentousness of the issue. "If the Remonstrance had been rejected," he declared, "I would have sold all I had the next morning, and never have seen England any more; and I know there are many other honest men of this same resolution."

Charles now decided to play a trump card and to arrest as traitors the five Parliamentary ringleaders, Pym, Hampden, Holler, Haselrig, and Strode. As yet Cromwell had not come sufficiently forward to be under the royal ban. On January 4, 1641, the King rode down to the House with a rabble of four hundred Royalists at his heels. Parliament was sitting when the news that he was on his way thither spread like wildfire from bench to bench. The five members, warned in time, were hurried into a boat and rowed to the city. The King, leaving his retinue in Westminster Hall, crossed the threshold of the House, uncovered his head, and demanded the surrender of the offenders.

"I have neither eyes to see, nor tongue to speak in this place but as this House is pleased to direct me," replied the Speaker to the demand to produce the culprits.

"Well, well, I think my eyes are as good as anther's," answered the King as he surveyed the House; "I see all the birds are flown. I do expect you will send them to me as soon as they return hither."

He left the House in a passion, to be received by the waiting mob outside with cries of "Privilege! Privilege!"

The last seed of his misgovernment had been sown and the crop was now ripe for Civil War. A peaceful settlement was impossible. The Queen crossed the Channel to seek aid from abroad, taking with her the Crown jewels. The King left Whitehall for Hampton Court, never to return until his hour of doom.