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Essays on historical truth online

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revile and to those who have been accustomed to worship
him. And it must be admitted that the number of his
revilers and his worshippers, as compared with the
number of those who neither revile nor worship him,
shows at least the prominent place, whether for good or
evil, which such men as he occupy in history. A dis-
tinction has been attempted to be made between the
difficulties to be overcome by such men, and the abilities
consequently required in communities accustomed to
liberty, and among tribes and nations such as those of
Asia, only accustomed to be transferred from one tyrant to
another. And the fame, or glory as some call it, of such
men as Caesar, Cromwell, and Bonaparte, has been
ascribed to the assumed superior difficulty of the enter-
prise in which they succeeded — that, namely of enslaving
a nation which was before free. I am inclined to think
that there is an error in this assumption — an error thus
far of pernicious consequence, as it tends to convey an
exaggerated idea of the intellectual power of such men —
and hence to lead to admiration and imitation of them
and their evil deeds. When a man has become master of
an army which, having been accustomed to be led by him
to victory naturally looks on him as its god, it matters
little whether the rest of the community to which that
man belongs have been freemen or slaves. They are
powerless in his hands. And if his object were unjust
dominion, he attained liis object when he attained to the
supreme command of that victorious army. It may indeed
be somewhat more difficult to attain to that supreme


comniniul in a state of society such as tliat in ^vllicll
Ciesar, Cromwell, and Jioiiaparte attained to it ; but that
being done, what remained was not a whit nujie dilHcult
than what was accomplished by Hyder All, who Irom a
far humbler station than either Cromwell or Bonaparte,
and with almost no education, raised himself by intellect
and courage to the command of armies, and became the
founder of the Mahommedan kingdom of Mysore, and
the most formidable enemy that English skill and valour
ever encountered in India.

Of all these men self-aeo-randisemcnt — ' self in the


highest' — was the god ; as it is of all men of the same
class. And while all of them were undoubtedly men of
that clear intellect without which no man can be a great
statesman-soldier, Ca3sar stands out among them all in
that intellectual supremacy which has thrown a sort of
dazzling halo around his vices and his crimes. But there
is one feature in which Cromwell differs from all these
men. They had all been bred soldiers, whereas
Cromwell did not become a soldier till he was past the
age of forty. Yet Cromwell's rise to eminence both as a
soldier and statesman so late in life is not so much a
matter of wonder as has commonly been supposed, wliru
his position is closely examined. As a gentleman-farmer
he saw i^reater varieties of human character than he
woukl have seen as a country squire, and had more need
for the exercise of his wits. Besides comini;- into closer
contact with farm-labourers and yeomen, he had to go
to market and bari'-ain with cattle-dealers and corn-
factors. All this, added to some previous though slight
education as a lawyer, and to some small experience
as a member of parliament, was no bad preparatory


education for tlie business of a soldier- statesman. If
Cromwell was not a very successful brewer, or a very
successful gentleman-farmer, the reason may have been
that those were occupations which were not fitted to call
forth all the extraordinary talents and energies of his
character ; while the experience and knowledge of men
and of bushiess he acquired m those occupations were
not the less useful to him in his career as a politician
and a soldier. As it was, the accident of birth, which
made Charles a worse than indilFerent king made
Cromwell an indifferent brewer and an indifferent
gentleman-farmer ; and the force of events, which proved
Charles to be if possible a still worse soldier than king,
proved Cromwell to be a great soldier, and, with all his
faults, a great prince.

In saying that the Commonwealth governed better than
Cromwell, I do not thence infer that Cromwell's abilities
were inferior to those of the ablest men who administered
the government of the Commonwealth. The faults of
Cromwell's government were the necessary consequences
of his position — a position which he had made for him-

These consequences of Cromwell's destruction of the
English Commonwealth, and his concentration of the
powers of sovereignty in his single person, soon began
to appear. The lofty and public- spirited aims of
the statesmen of the Long Parliament in their conduct
of the Dutch war were abandoned by the usurper
in his treaty of peace with the Dutch. Cromwell's
motives are well expressed in the remark of Monk,
who, when he had no longer any reason to disguise
the truth, said that it was ' a base treachery in Cromwell


to make a siuldcMi ponce witli tlie Dutch, and l)etraY all
the advantages of tlie war, that lie might go up to the
throne witli more peace and satisfaction.' And the evil
consequences of Cromwell's proceeding not only soon
appeared then, but were to last for ages. The great
European question at that time was the relative power of
Spain and France. Any man of that age with any
pretensions to be called a statesman, looking at France
and Spain, would see that the balance had turned in an
opposite direction to that to which it had long inclined.
Looking to S[)ain, he would see that a vital change had
taken place in that mighty empire, which had oppressed
Holland, which had destroyed the liberties of Italy and
Germany, and had threatened the destruction of those of
England. He would now see in that vast unwieldy and
defenceless empire only weakness disguised and increased
by pride, an empty treasury, councils without policy or
wisdom, a nation without enterprise and valour, and
besotted by a brutal fanaticism. Looking to France he
Avould see a large and compact territory, a rich soil, a
central situation, large revenues, a people who, though
not free, possessed many capabilities for the arts both of
peace and war. It is impossible to believe that a man of
Cromwell's natural sagacity did not see all this. But the
situation in which Cromwell had placed himself had
forced upon him, as such a situation forces upon all men
so placed, the policy of taking care of himself before he
thought of taking care of his country, or troubled him-
self with the balance of power in Europe. He was thus
induced, by reasons of private interest, to act against the
public interest not only of England but of Europe. By
joining with France against Spain, Cromwell, though he


o-ot Jamaica and Dunkirk, drove the Spaniards into a
uecessity of making a peace with France — a peace that
disturbed the peace of the world ahnost fourscore years,
and the consequences of which oppressed with an
enormous debt tluit England which he enslaved, after it
had fought so long and so bravely for its liberties. Such
are some of the consequences, though even they are not
among the greatest and most disastrous consequences of
a great crime CQunnitted by a great man.

I have in my history of the Commonwealth shown the
advantages of the discussion of great questions by a
Council of State consisting of members varying from
twenty to forty in number, several of them men of con-
spicuous ability in affairs of state, where no one man,
either under the title of president or prime minister, had
any power to domineer over the rest and deprive the
Council of its proper character — namely, that of a
perfectly free deliberative Council of State. In this
perfectly free deliberative character lay the superiority of
the government of the Commonwealth over the govern-
ment of Cromwell, where the numbers of the Council
hardly exceeded in number a fourth of those of the
Council of State of the Commonwealth, and where the
character of free deliberation and discussion did not
exist. The opinion of one of the ablest members of that
great Council of State of the Long Parliament is worth
quoting, even though it should not be considered as by
any means settling the question. In a debate in
Eichard Cromwell's parliament Scot cited, as the strongest
argument against trusting the whole power of making
war to Eichard and his Council, the bad use Oliver and
his Council had made of tha.t power. ' I look upon his


fatlier,' suid Scot, ' tis of much more experience and
counsel than himself ; yet lie was never so successful as
when he was a servant to the Commonwealtli. ^ What
a dishonourable peace he made, and what an improfitaljle
and dangerous war. Was not the effect of the peace
with Holland, and the war witli Spain, the most
disadvantageous and deplorable that ever were ? There-
fore, if he that was a man of war and of counsel
miscarried, why should I trust a single person, the most
unlit to refer it to ? Yet you do implicitly connnit the
whole charge u})on his Iliglmess.'

But setting aside the question of the morality and
policy of the war with Spain, and admitting that to a
man in Cromwell's position it was necessary to dazzle the
nation by brilliant exploits ; why, it may well be asked,
was the execution of the more dillicult part of Cromwell's
grand scheme committed to Penn and Venables, the
more easy part to Blake ? It certainly does not appear
too much to say that, assuming this scheme of a war with
Spain to have been approved of by the Council of State
of the Commonwealth, the execution of that part of it
which related to the attack upon Hispaniola would not,
after the full deliberation and discussion which every
important measure received in that Council of forty-one
members, have been committed to Penn and Venables.
Neither Penn nor Venables had done anything to
warrant the conclusion that either of tlieni wii> com-
petent for the successful execution of such an enterprise ;
whereas Blake's competency had been proved by his

1 Mr. Forster, in his T.ife of Henry iNtarten, p. .339, note, in quoting from
Burton's Diary these observations of Scot, has marked in italics the remark-
able words, *■ i/ot he was never so success/id as ivhen he was a servant to the


success in many enterprises of a similar kind, particularly
by his capture, in the face of great and pecuhar
difficulties, of the Scilly Isles and of the Isle of Jersey.

But besides the blunder in the choice of commanders,
the land forces employed were composed of inferior
materials, and moreover were neither well furnished
with arms nor provisions. Ludlow is quite incorrect in
his account of the result of the expedition against
Hispaniola, known also under the names of Saint
Domingo and Hayti, when he says, ' Those very men,
who, when they fought for the liberties of their country,
had performed wonders, having now engaged to support
the late-erected tyranny, disgracefully fled when there was
none to pursue them.' ^ This statement, even if correct as
to the composition of the forces employed, would not be
conclusive, since Ludlow knew well enough that the men
who had conquered under the command of Blake for the
Commonwealth also conquered under the command of
Blake for Cromwell. But in truth the forces employed
for the conquest of Hispaniola were new levies, more than
half of them raised in the West Indies. Consequently
they were not ' those very men who, when they fought
forthe liberties of their country, had performed wonders.'
This is proved by the ' Instructions ' to Admiral Penn,
headed ' Ohver, P.' and signed ' John Thurloe.' The
second article of these ' Instructions ' runs thus : ' Whereas,
besides the said fleet, we have caused to be raised and
levied in England land forces, both horse and foot, viz.
five regiments of foot, six hundred in each regiment,
being in all 3,000 foot ; and sixty horse, to be transported

^ Ludlow's Memoirs, vol. ii. p. 400, 2iid edition : London, 1721.


into tlie parts aforesaid.' ^ And tlie fourtli article con-
tains these words : ' Whereas otlier forces are intended
to be levied and raised in tlie liarbadoes, and other the
islands and English plantations there.' ^

The ' other forces ' levied in the West Indies raised
the whole amount of forces employed in the attack in
Ilispaniola to more than 7,000, as appears from the fol-
lowing passage in the original manuscript journal ^ kept
on board the Swiftsure, Admiral Penn's ship, and
published by Mr. Granville Penn. The writer of the
journal says*: — ' I told him [General Penn] that it
Avould infmitely redound to the dishonour of the nation
to go off so ; and that it was thought by the most
knowing persons, both of the place and condition of the
enemy, that I had conversed with, that, notwithstanding
these disgraces, the business was very feasible, if but
2,000 or 1,500 good men were picked out of the 7,000 yet
remaining ; '^ and that the ships might do their part in
battering the fort and town, and clear the way for those
men to the town ; and that all whom I had talked with,
belonsino; to the fleet, were afire to be doino;, and rather
leave their bones there than carry off so foul a stain ; and
particularly instanced Captain Femes, who was willing to
carry in the ships, and would undertake, on his life, to
beat them from their guns.^

' Granville Penn, vol. ii. p. 23. These * Instructions' are given in full in
Granville Penn's Memorials of Sir William Penn, vol. ii. pp. 23-27.

« Ihfd.

^ This Journal of the Swiftmre and the accompanying documents furnish
a striking example of the degree to which truth has been perverted in all the
* histories ' of this expedition.

"* Granville Penn, ii. 02. As it was stated before (p. 90) that they had
300 or 400 killed, thi.s would luake the whole amount to about 7,oOO.

5 Ibid.


It is but justice, liowevcT, to Yeiiables to hear his
account of the matter. There are two letters from
General Venables to General Montague, printed in Carte's
Collection of Oriixinal Letters. In the first of these,
dated Barbadoes, Feb. 28, 1654-5, Venables says : 'All
the promises made us in England, of men, provision, and
arms, we find to be but promises. I do not know that
we have raised 3,000, and not arms for 1,300 of them.
Mr. Noel's 1,500 amis are found to be but 190.' The
next sentence is very significant, and exhibits in a
striking manner the difference between ' my lord and his
Council ' and the Council of State of the Commonwealth
which ' my lord ' had destroyed. ' We did not doubt but
my lord and his Council had proceeded and grounded
their resolves upon greater certainties than we can yet
discern, by any one particular, of all that was taken as
most certain. . . . We desired our men's arms might be
changed, they being extreme bad, and two-fifths not to
be made serviceable here. Of 3,000 men designed, we
brought but 2,500, and not 1,G00 of them well armed ;
so that (our stores not coming as promised) we are
making half-pikes here to arm the rest, and those we
raise, for we have not any hopes to procure, at any hand,
above 1,600 fire-arms. . . . It's agreed on, by all
persons that know America, that English powder will
not keep above nine months, and at that time we must
receive constant supplies. French and Spanish powder
Avill keep many years ; therefore I earnestly desire that
saltpetre and all other materials, a mill and men to make
powder, might be sent to us, for the several ingredients
will keep uncompounded very well. We have met with
all the obstructions that men in this place can cast in our


way ; and now we liave thno to draw r)iir men together
we find not liall" of them to be armed; nay, m some
reghneiits, not above 200 are ; the most having unfixed
arms, and unfit men generally given us ; and here we
are forced to make lialf-pikes to arm them, which hath
lost us so much time, and will hazard our ruin. Had we
been armed in England, doubtless we had been at work
before this. I have just now an account from General
Penn, of what the fleet can accommodate us with ; wliich,
as you may see by the enclosed particular, Avill not
amount to, in short, above fifteen shot a man — a most
inconsiderable proportion to have hunted Tories in
Ireland with, where we might have had supplies every
day ; nuich more, to attempt one of the greatest princes
in the world within his most beloved country, where
some supplies cannot be had above twice a year.' ^

We now come to examine the proximate or immediate
causes of the failure of the attack upon Hispaniola. The
materials, it has been seen, were bad ; and these bad
materials were made worse by the manner iu whicli they
were handled. The most prominent of the proximate causes
of the failure was the landing of the troops at a distance
of near forty miles instead of six miles from the town of
St. Domingo, when they had to march through a country
the difficulties of which were very great. The reports of
Penn and Venables agree as to the place of landing ; and
the report of Penn admits that if they had waited till the
15th of April, only one day after tlie landing, the troops
miiiht have been landed at a distance of only six miles
from the town. Penn, in his dispatch to Cromwell dated

* Carte's Collection of Oridnal Letters, vol. ii. pp. l(!-")-V rfranville
Peun, vol. ii. pp. 1-0, iL'l.

33G i:ssAYS ox historical truth.

' On board the Swiftsure, Jamaica, the Cth of June, 1655,'
grjys : — ' The place always intended for their landing
being Hina Bay, some six or seven miles west from the
tow^n, they could not approach unto it (being a lee shore,
and very full of rocks, and the breeze being that day
very great and the sea much grown) ; so that they were
necessitated to sail down farther to leeward unto the next
place, called Point Nicayo, which was more safe, but at least
e'u'ht ^ leagues from Dominc^o ; wdiere all landed the next
day (April 14th), without opposition.' He then proves
that they might have been landed at Hina if he had waited
till the 15th, by his next sentence. 'Fifteen hundred of
the army stayed behind with the fleet, being appointed to
land two or three miles to the eastward of the town ; but
having searched the coast, and found it all along very
steep and rocky, and altogether impossible to land on in
less distance than twelve miles, Mr. Winslow ^ and myself
(Captain Butler having gone along with the general) did
think fit to land them at Hina (the sea being then more
calm) which accordingly, on the 15th, was effected with-
out any resistance ; to which place we made account the
army by that time was arrived, it being their way to the
town.' ^

This was not the way in which Blake went to work, when
in the face of difficulties of winds, waves and rocks, and of

1 Yenables, wlio was likely to be better informed as to the distance, having
traversed it, says, 'near forty miles to the west of Santo Domingo.' — Gran-
viVe Penn, ii. 122.

^ Mr. Winslow and Captain Gregory Butler, with the sea and land generals,
and some others, were appointed commissioners for carrying into etTect the
object of the expedition. Mr. Granville Penn says that ' Commissioner
Butler was in the particular confidence of Cromwell, and was sent by him
as his spy on both the generals.' — Memorinls of Sir William Penn, ii. 31.

3 Admiral Penn to his TTighness the Lord Protector, .Tune <>, Ki.j.^, in
Granville Penn, ii. 109-112.


enemies more formidable than the Spaniards of Ilispaniola,
he captured the Scilly Isles and the Island of Jersey.

It will ])(■ observed that Penn does not say that Venables
insisted on being landed with his troops on the 14th at a
place forty miles distant from the town of St. Domingo
instead of waiting till the state of the sea would permit his
being landed at a place six miles distant from that town.
It is also to be observed that Venables does not in express
words throw the blame of the landing at so great a distance
from the town on Penn. In the second of his two letters
to General Montague before mentioned, Venables says :
' We came to Ilispaniola, where we landed upon Saturday,
the 14th of April, near forty miles to the west of Santo
Domingo. The reason was our pilots were all absent ; the
chief had outstayed his order, being sent out to discover,
and none with us but an old Dutchman, that knew no
place but that : whereas, we resolved to have landed
Avhcre Sir Francis Drake did, except forced off by a fort
(said to be there) ; and then, in such a case, to have gone
to the other.' He then goes on to describe the result.

'From our landing we marched without any guide,
save heaven, through woods ; the ways so narrow, that
five hundred men might have extremely prejudiced twenty
thousand by ambushes ; but this course the enemy held
not, save twice. The weather extreme hot, and httle
water ; our feet scorched through our shoes, and men and
horse died of thirst ; but if any had liquor put into their
mouth presently after they fell, they would recover, else
die in an instant. Our men, the last fortnight at sea, had
bad bread, and little of it or other victuals, notwithstand-
ing General Penn's order, so that they were very weak at
landing ; and some, instead of three days' provision at



landing, liad but one, with which they marched five days,
and therefore fell to eat limes, oranges, lemons, &c., which
put them into fluxes and fevers. Of the former I had
my share for near a fortnight, with cruel gripings that I
could scarce stand.' ^

I have given in my history of the Commonwealth many
minutes from the MS. Order Books of the Council of
State of the Commonwealth, evincing the most anxious
care of the seamen's and soldiers' food — minutes which
have never before been printed, although the critic
before referred to in this essay has asserted that my
history ' is not based, as it professes to be, on unused
materials.' The mode in which this expedition against
Hispaniola was provisioned, to say nothing at present of
its other characteristics, marks very distinctly the differ-
ence between the government of the Commonwealth and
the government of Oliver Cromwell ; of whom M. Guizot
has ventured to say that no party could govern like

There are three accounts of what followed — that of
General Venables, that of Captain Gregory Butler, and a
third in the journal of the Swiftsure from one Ensign
Fowler. Venables dwells most on the weakness of his
men from the want of food and water,^ and says nothing
of the want of discipline and courage. Ensign Fowler, as
cited in tlie journal of the Swiftsure, ' excuses not the
officers, as well as the soldiers, for their failino;s in this

' Carte's Collection of Original Letters, vol. ii. pp. 46—52. Granville
Penn's Memorials of Admiral Sir William Penn, vol. ii. pp. 122, 123. The
statement of VenaViles as to the short supply of provisions is confirmed by
Penn in a letter to Cromwell, dated Barbadoes, March 17, 1654-5. — Gran-
ville Penn, ii. 72.

■'' Granville Penn, ii. 123.


business ; ' and says ' there is no discipline at all, but every
one doth what he lists, and ofricers as bad as the rest.' ^
Gregory Butler evidently writes (his letter is to Cromwell)
for the purpose of throwing all the blame on Venables,
whom he even charges with cowardice as well as in-
capacity, and intimates that he (Butler) ' might, without
him (Venables), have done all that was to be done.' ^
This may be taken for what it is worth. But as this
Butler was a creature and spy of Cromwell, his object
probably was as much as possible to transfer all the
blame of failure from the government, tliat is, from
Cromwell to Venables the general. As Mr. Granville
Peun's compilation also was made for the purpose of
vindicating on all occasions the character of his ancestor
Admiral Penn, the short-ci^mings of Venables are made to
stand in contrast with the zeal of Penn, who is represented
in the journal of the Swiftmre as having ngain urged
another attempt before quitting the place. ' lie offered
to them to stand off to sea, for refreshing the soldiers

Online LibraryAndrew BissetEssays on historical truth → online text (page 26 of 40)