Oliver Cromwell - Estelle Ross

Cromwell Enters Public Life

Cromwell bade farewell to his wife and children and rode off to London. Though the journey was only some sixty miles it was something of an undertaking since roads were often bad. It was no uncommon thing for a coach to stick fast in the mire and for travelers to bear with what patience they might long hours of delay before it could be extricated.

Once in town Cromwell's eye must have noted the changes that had taken place since his last visit, and he would probably have set about securing a lodging somewhere in the neighborhood of Westminster. No doubt his cousin, John Hampden, who though but five years his senior was now an old Parliamentary hand, counseled and advised him.

It was no new scene for Cromwell. He must often have walked to the Abbey in his law-student days, and perhaps attended the Church of St Margaret nestling in its shadow—just as it stands to-day.

His glance would have rested with quickened interest on the beautiful Gothic building that then housed the Commons. In pre-Reformation days it had been a chapel, the lower chamber dedicated to St Mary of the Vaults, the upper, where the House sat, to St Stephen. The House of Lords had their meeting-place in the adjoining ancient Court of Requests. These buildings were used by England's legislators until the disastrous fire of 1834 burnt them to the ground. But Westminster Hall still stands as it stood in Richard II.'s day.

What were Cromwell's thoughts as he took his seat for the first time in the House, as a chosen representative of the people? It was a moment, in spite of future glories and triumphs, never to be forgotten. His keen eye noted the Speaker's chair with its rich gilding, the table for the Clerks of the House, the green-covered seats for the members rising in tiers on either side, with the galleries for strangers up above. This was but the body of the House—its soul was in the men who sat there. What giants there were in those days! Sir John Eliot, the noble patriot; Pym, the keen Parliamentary leader; Chief Justice Coke, deeply versed in law; Wentworth, now on the side of the Parliament, later as the Earl of Strafford to become the King's most trusted adviser.

How did the new representative for Huntingdon strike his fellow-members? He was a plain countryman, lacking many of the charms of manner and person that graced the courtly gentlemen of town.

Parliament met on March 17, 1628, once more to grapple with the old problem how to make the grant of supplies to the King dependent on the redress of grievances. Eliot spoke in no measured tones of the country's danger:

"Upon this dispute not only our goods and land are engaged, but all that we call ours. Those rights, those privileges that made our fathers freemen are in question. If they be not now the more carefully preserved, they will render us to our posterity less free, less worthy than our fathers." Wentworth was fired by the same spirit when he declared: "We must vindicate our ancient liberties, we must reinforce the laws made by our ancestors. We must set such a stamp upon them as no licentious spirit shall dare hereafter to invade them."

With this purpose in view the House drew up the Petition of Right, in which was clearly set forth the right of Parliament to control taxation: "No man hereafter," it declared, "is to be compelled to make or yield any gift, loan, benevolence, tax, or such-like charge, without common consent by Act of Parliament." This was a direct blow at the King's prerogative, and he hesitated to sign it. It was only when confronted with the fear that Buckingham's name as "the author and source of all these miseries" would be inserted in the Remonstrance that Parliament was drawing up on the state of the realm that he gave way.

And what of Buckingham? Anxious that he should retrieve his position by success in arms, the King put him once more at the head of an expedition to go, to the relief of Rochelle. He was at Portsmouth, waiting to embark, when a man from among the crowd that pressed round him—a stern-faced young Puritan lieutenant—swiftly drew out a hunting-knife and stabbed him to the heart. A few hours later the tidings reached the King. He threw himself upon his bed in an agony of grief which was intensified by the knowledge that, outside the palace, shouts of exultation greeted the deed. Crowds lined the streets and praised and blessed the murderer as he passed on his way to his doom. Cromwell was not among the motley mob of townsfolk and apprentices, for Parliament was not then sitting and he had returned home. The populace that had lit their bonfires and rung their bells with glee at the passing of the Petition of Right, now rejoiced that the King's evil counselor was for ever removed from his side. Surely now all would be well with the country!

But from this time forward another counselor, no less self-seeking, was to have a baneful influence on the King—his consort, Queen Henrietta Maria. She was, as we have already said, a true daughter of the Roman Catholic Church and zealous for her faith. Men and women grew to fear that the Protestant religion would be undermined by Popish practices, for Charles I was a High Churchman both by conviction and by temperament. The forms and ceremonies of worship were all-important to him, and the symbolic beauty of the services and the liturgy had a special appeal. Charles promoted to the highest office the clergy who held similar views to his own, and they used their position to harass the Puritan preachers.

It was determined to thrash the matter out in Parliament, and when the members met again after the recess Eliot sounded the trumpet-call: "The Gospel is that truth in which the country has been happy through long and rare prosperity. This ground therefore let us lay for a foundation of our building, that that Truth, not with words but with actions, we will main

It was in this connation that Cromwell made his maiden speech in the House. A certain Dr Alabaster had been preaching 'flat Popery' at St Paul's Cross, and Dr Beard, Cromwell's old schoolmaster, had been informed by his bishop, Dr Neile, that such doctrine was to be accepted. The stern old pedagogue paid no heed to this admonition, boldly preached against Dr Alabaster, and was reprimanded—so the member for Huntingdon informed the House. There is still extant the first mention of Cromwell's name in Parliamentary annals:

"Upon question, Ordered That Dr Beard of Huntingdon be written to by Mr. Speaker, to come up and testify against the Bishop; the order for Dr Beard to be delivered to Mr. Cromwell."

The King now played his trump card he determined to dissolve Parliament. A fortnight later Speaker Finch informed the House that he had an order to adjourn. One or two of the younger members rushed at him, seized him, and held him down in the chair; the doors were locked, and none heeded the knocking of the King's usher without. "Let him go! Let him go! Let Mr. Speaker go!"

"No, God's wounds!" they replied, "he shall sit there till it pleases the House to rise."

In this scene of uproar Eliot managed to put three resolutions: for the preservation of the Protestant faith, for Parliamentary control of taxation, and a ban on any who willingly paid taxes other than those levied by Parliament The resolutions were passed with acclamation and among the shouts of assent Cromwell's "Aye! Aye!" rang clear.

Never again was the House to echo to the eloquence of Eliot. Charles, in his deep indignation at the defiance shown that day, sent him to the Tower, and before another Parliament was summoned he was dead.