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to break up the New Model, and dispose of as many
of the soldiers as could be induced to reenlist for the
distant wilds of Ireland, would be to destroy the for-
tress of their Independent rivals.

THE CRISIS OF 1647 213

There is no evidence that Cromwell took any part
in the various disbanding votes as they passed through
the House of Commons in the early m.onths of 1647,
and he seems to have been slack in his attendance. No
operation was ever conducted with worse judgment.
Instead of meeting the men frankly, Parliament chaf-
fered, framed their act of indemnity too loosely, offered
only eight weeks of pay though between fifty and sixty
weeks were overdue, and then when the soldiers ad-
dressed them, suppressed their petitions or burned
them by the hangman, and passed angry resolutions
against their authors as enemies of the state and dis-
turbers of the public peace. This is the party of order
all over. It is a curious circumstance that a proposal
should actually have been made in Parliament to arrest
Cromwell for complicity in these proceedings of the
army at the moment when some of the soldiers, on the
other hand, blamed him for stopping and undermining
their petitions, and began to think they had been in too
great a hurry to give him their affections.

The army in their quarters at Saffron Walden grew
more and more restive. They chose agents, entered
into correspondence for concerted action, and framed
new petitions. Three troopers, who brought a letter
with these communications, addressed to Cromwell
and two of the other generals in Parliament, were sum-
moned to the bar, and their stoutness so impressed
or scared the House that Cromwell and Ireton, Fleet-
wood and the sturdy Skippon, were despatched to the
army to feel the ground. They held a meeting in the
church at Saffron Walden, with a couple of hundred
officers and a number of private soldiers, and listened
to their reports from the various regiments. Nothing
was said either about religion or politics; arrears
were the sore point, and if there were no better offer


on that head, then no disbandment. The whole scene
and its tone vividly recall the proceedings of a modern
trade-union in the reasonable stages of a strike. In
temper, habit of mind, plain sense, and even in words
and form of speech, the English soldier of the New
Model two centuries and a half ago must have been
very much like the sober and respectable miner, plow-
man, or carter of to-day. But the violence of w^ar
had hardened their fiber, had made them rough under
contradiction, and prepared them both for bold
thoughts and bolder acts.

Meanwhile a thing of dark omen happened. At the
beginning of May, while Cromwell was still at Saffron
Walden. it was rumored that certain foot-soldiers
about Cambridgeshire had given out that they would
go to Holmby to fetch the king. The story caused
much offense and scandal, but it very soon came true.
One summer evening small parties of horse were ob-
served in the neighborhood of Holmby. At daybreak
Cornet Joyce made his way within the gates at the
head of five hundred mounted troopers. Later in the
day a report got abroad that the Parliament would
send a force to carry the king to London. Joyce and
his party promptly made up their minds. At ten at
night the cornet awoke the king from slumber, and
respectfully requested him to move to other quarters
next day. The king hesitated. At six in the morn-
ing the conversation was resumed. The king asked
Joyce whether he was acting by the general's commis-
sion. Joyce said that he w^as not, and pointed as his
authority to the five hundred men on their horses in
the courtyard. "As well-wTitten a commission, and
with as fine a frontispiece, as I have ever seen in my
life," pleasantly said Charles. The king had good
reason for his cheerfulness. He was persuaded that

THE CRISIS OF 1647 215

the cornet could not act without the counsel of greater
persons, and if so, this could only mean that the mili-
tary leaders were resolved on a breach with the Parlia-
ment. From such a quarrel Charles might well believe
that to him nothing but good could come.

Whether Cromwell was really concerned either in
the king's removal, or in any other stage of this ob-
scure transaction, remains an open question. What
is not improbable is that Cromwell may have told Joyce
to secure the king's person at Holmby against the sus-
pected designs of the Parliament, and that the actual
removal was prompted on the spot by a supposed emer-
gency. On the other hand, the hypothesis is hardly
any more improbable that the whole design sprang from
the agitators, and that Cromwell had no part in it.
It was noticed later as a significant coincidence that on
the very evening on which Joyce forced his way into
the king's bedchamber, Cromwell, suspecting that the
leaders of the Presbyterian majority were about to
arrest him, mounted his horse and rode off to join the
army. His share in Joyce's seizure and removal of
the king afterward is less important than his approval
of it as a strong and necessary lesson to the majority
in the Parliament.

So opened a more startling phase of revolutionary
transformation. For Joyce's exploit at Holmby be-
gins the descent down those fated steeps in which each
successive violence adds new momentum to the vio-
lence that is to follow, and pays retribution for the
violence that has gone before. Purges, proscriptions,
camp courts, executions, major-generals, dictatorship,
restoration — this was the toilsome, baffling path on to
which, in spite of hopeful auguries and prognostica-
tions, both sides were now irrevocably drawn.

Parliament was at length really awake to the power


of the soldiers, and their determination to use it. The
City, with firmer nerve but still with lively alarm,
watched headquarters rapidly changed to St. Albans,
to Berkhampstead. to Uxbridge, to Wycombe — now
drawing off, then hovering closer, launching to-day a
declaration, to-morrow a remonstrance, next day a
vindication, like dangerous flashes out of a sullen cloud.

For the first time "purge" took its place in the politi-
cal vocabulary of the day. Just as the king had at-
tacked the five members, so now the army attacked
eleven, and demanded the ejection of the whole group
of Presbyterian leaders from the House of Commons,
with Denzil Holies at the head of them (June 16-26).
Among the Eleven were men as pure and as patriotic
as the immortal Five, and when we think that the end
of these heroic twenty years was the Restoration, it is
not easy to see why we should denounce the pedantry
of the Parliament, whose ideas for good or ill at last
prevailed, and should reserve all our glorification for
the army, who proved to have no ideas that would
either work or that the country would accept. The
demand for the expulsion of the Eleven was the first
step in the path which was to end in the removal of
the Bauble in 1653.

Incensed by these demands, and by what they took
to be the weakness of their confederates in the Com-
mons, the City addressed one strong petition after
another, and petitions were speedily followed by actual
revolt. The seamen and the watermen on the river-
side, the young men and apprentices from Aldersgate
and Cheapside, entered into one of the many solemn
engagements of these distracted years, and when their
engagement was declared by the bewildered Commons
to be dangerous, insolent, and treasonable, excited
mobs trooped down to Westminster, made short work

From the original portrait at Chequers Court, by permission of
Mrs. Frankland-Russell-Astley.


THE CRISIS OF 1647 217

of the nine gentlemen who that day composed the
House of Lords, forcing them to cross the obnoxious
declaration off their journals, tumultuously besieged
the House of Commons, some of them even rudely
making their way, as Charles had done six years be-
fore, within the sacred doors and on to the inviolable
floor, until members drew their swords and forced the
intruders out. When the Speaker would have left the
House, the mob returned to the charge, drove him back
to his chair, and compelled him to put the question
that the king be invited to come to London forthwith
with honor, freedom, and safety. So readily, as usual,
did reaction borrow at second hand the turbulent ways
of revolution.

In disgust at this violent outrage, the speakers of
the two houses (July 30), along with a considerable
body of members, betook themselves to the army.
When they accompanied Fairfax and his officers on
horseback in a review on Hounslow Heath, the troop-
ers greeted them with mighty acclamations of "Lords
and Commons and a free Parliament!" The effect of
the manoeuvers of the reactionists in the City was to
place the army in the very position that they were
eager to take, of being protectors of what they chose to
consider the true Parliament, to make a movement upon
London not only defensible, but inevitable, to force the
hand of Cromwell, and to inflame still higher the ardor
of the advocates of the revolutionary Thorough. Of the
three great acts of military force against the Parlia-
ment, now happened the first (August, 1647). The
doors were not roughly closed as Oliver closed them
on the historic day in April, 1653, ^^^^ there was no
sweeping purge like that of Pride in December, 1648.
Fairfax afterward sought credit for having now re-
sisted the demand to put military violence upon the


House, but Cromwell with his assent took a course
that came to the same thing. He stationed cavalry
in Hyde Park, and then marched down to his place in
the House, accompanied by soldiers, who after he had
gone in hung about the various approaches with a sig-
nificance that nobody mistook. The soldiers had defi-
nitely turned politicians, and even without the experi-
ence that Europe has passed through since, it ought not
to have been very hard to foresee what their politics
would be.



ENGLAND throughout showed herself the least
revolutionary of the three kingdoms, hardly revo-
lutionary at all. Here was little of the rugged, dour,
and unyielding persistency of the northern Coven-
anters, none of the savage aboriginal frenzy of the
Irish. Cromwell was an Englishman all over, and it
is easy to conceive the dismay with which in the first
half of 1647 he slowly realized the existence of a fierce
insurgent leaven in the army. The worst misfortune
of a civil war, said Cromwell's contemporary, De Retz,
is that one becomes answerable even for the mischief
one has not done. "All the fools turn madmen, and
even the wisest have no chance of either acting or
speaking as if they were in their right wits." In spite
of the fine things that have been said of heroes, and the
might of their will, a statesman in such a case as Crom-
well's soon finds how little he can do to create marked
situations, and how the main part of his business is in
slowly parrying, turning, managing circumstances for
which he is not any more responsible than he is for
his own existence, and yet which are his masters, and
of which he can only make the best or the worst.

Cromwell never showed a more sagacious insight
into the hard necessities of the situation than when he
endeavored to form an alliance between the king and


the army. All the failures and disasters that harassed
him from this until the day of his death, arose from
the breakdown of the negotiations now undertaken.
The restoration of Charles I by Cromwell would have
been a very different thing from the restoration of
Charles II by IMonk. In the midsummer of 1647
Cromwell declared that he desired no alteration of the
civil government, and no meddling with the Presby-
terian settlement, and no opening of a way for "licen-
tious liberty under pretence of obtaining ease for
tender consciences."

Unhappily for any prosperous issue, Cromwell and
his men were met by a constancy as fervid as their
own. Charles followed slippery and crooked paths ;
but he was as sure as Cromwell that he had God on his
side, that he was serving divine purposes and uphold-
ing things divinely instituted. He was as unyielding
as Cromwell in fidelity to wdiat he accounted the stand-
ards of personal duty and national well-being. He
was as patient as Cromwell in facing the ceaseless
buffets and misadventures that were at last to sweep
him down the cataract. Charles was not without ex-
cuse for supposing that by playing off army against
Parliament and Independent against Presbyterian, he
would still come into his own again. The jealousy
and ill-will between the contending parties was at its
height, and there w^as no reason either in conscience
or in policy why he should not make the most of that
fact. Each side sought to use him, and from his own
point of view he had a right to strike the best bargain
that he could with either. Unfortunately, he could
not bring himself to strike any bargain at all, and the
chance passed. Cromwell's efforts only served to
weaken his own authority with the army, and he was
driven to give up hopes of the king, as he had already


been driven to give up hopes of the ParHament. This
w^as in effect to be thrown back against all his wishes
and instincts upon the army alone, and to find himself,
by nature a moderator with a passion for order in its
largest meaning, flung into the midst of military and
constitutional anarchy.

Carlyle is misleading when, in deprecating a com-
parison between French Jacobins and English Sec-
taries, he says that, apart from difference in situation,
"there is the difference between the believers in Jesus
Christ and believers in Jean Jacques, which is still
more considerable." It would be nearer the mark to
say that the Sectaries were beforehand with Jean
Jacques, and that half the troubles that confronted
Cromwell and his men sprang from the fact that Eng-
lish Sectaries were now saying to one another some-
thing very like what Frenchmen said in Rousseau's
dialect a hundred and forty years later. "No man
who knows right," says Milton, "can be so stupid as
to deny that all men were naturally born free." In
the famous document drawn up in the army in the
autumn of 1647, ^"^^ known (along with two other
documents under the same designation propounded in
1648-49) as the Agreement of the People, the sover-
eignty of the people through their representatives ; the
foundation of society in common right, liberty, and
safety; the freedom of every man in the faith of his
religion ; and all the rest of the catalogue of the rights
of man, are all set forth as clearly as they ever were
by Robespierre or by Jefferson. In truth the phrase
may differ, and the sanctions and the temper may
differ; and yet in the thought of liberty, equality, and
fraternity, in the dream of natural rights, in the rain-
bow vision of an inalienable claim to be left free in life,
liberty and the pursuit of happiness, there is something


that has for centuries from age to age evoked spon-
taneous thrills in the hearts of toiling, suffering, hope-
ful men — something that they need no philosophic
book to teach them.

W^hen Baxter came among the soldiers after Naseby,
he found them breathing the spirit of conquerors.
The whole atmosphere was changed. They now took
the king for a tyrant and an enemy, and wondered only
whether, if they might fight against him, they might
not also kill or crush him — in itself no unwarrantable
inference. He heard them crying out, "What were
the Lords of England but William the Conqueror's
colonels, or the barons but his majors, or the knights
but his captains?" From this pregnant conclusions
followed. Logic had begun its work, and in men of a
certain temperament political logic is apt to turn into
a strange poison. They will not rest until they have
drained first principles to their very dregs. They
argue down from the necessities of abstract reasoning
until they have ruined all the favoring possibilities of
concrete circumstance.

We have at this time to distinguish political councils
from military. There was almost from the first a
standing council of war, exclusively composed of offi-
cers of higher rank. This body was not concerned
in politics. The general council of the army,
which was first founded during the summer of 1647,
was a mixture of officers and the agents of the private
soldiers. It contained certain of the generals, and
four representatives from each regiment, two of them
officers and two of them soldiers chosen by the men.
This important assembly, with its two combined
branches, did not last in that shape for more than a
few months. After the execution of the king, the
agitators, or direct representatives of the men, dropped


off or were shut out, and what remained was a council
of officers. They retained their power until the end;
it was with them that Cromwell had to deal. The
politics of the army became the governing element of
the situation; it was here that those new forces were
being evolved which, when the Long Parliament first
met, nobody intended or foresaw, and that gave to the
Rebellion a direction that led Cromwell into strange

Happy chance has preserved, and the industry of a
singularly clear-headed and devoted student has res-
cued and explored, vivid and invaluable pictures of the
half-chaotic scene. At Saffron Walden, in May
(1647), Cromwell urged the officers to strengthen
the deference of their men for the authority of Parlia-
ment, for if once that authority were to fail, confusion
must follow. At Reading, in July, the position had
shifted, the temperature had risen, Parliament in con-
federacy with the City had become the enemy, though
there was still a strong group at Westminster who
were the soldier's friends. Cromwell could no longer
proclaim the authority of Parliament as the paramount
object, for he knew this to be a broken reed. But he
changed ground as little as he could and as slowly as
he could.

Here we first get a clear sight of the temper of
Cromwell as a statesman grappling at the same mo-
ment with Presbyterians in Parliament, with Extrem-
ists in the army,with the king in the closet — a task for a
hero. In manner he was always what Clarendon calls
rough and brisk. He declared that he and his colleagues
were as swift as anybody else in their feelings and de-
sires; nay, more, "Truly I am very often judged as
one that goes too fast that way," and it is the peculiar-
ity of men like me, he says, to think dangers more


imaginary than real, "to be always making haste, and
more sometimes perhaps than good speed." This is
one of the too few instructive glimpses that we have
of the real Oliver. Unity was first. Let no man
exercise his parts to strain things, and to open up long
disputes or needless contradictions, or to sow the seeds
of dissatisfaction. They might be in the right or we
might be in the right, but if they were to divide, then
were they both in the wrong. On the merits of the
particular question of the moment, it was idle to tell
him that their friends in London would like to see them
march up. " 'T is the general good of the kingdom
that we ought to consult. That 's the question,
what 's for their good, not zvhat pleases them." They
might be driven to march on to London, he told them,
but an understanding was the most desirable way, and
the other a way of necessity, and not to be done but in
a way of necessity. What was obtained by an under-
standing would be firm and durable. "Things ob-
tained by force, though never so good in themselves,
tvoidd be both less to their honor, and less likely to
last." "Really, really, have what you will have; that
you have by force, I look upon as nothing." "I could
wish," he said earlier, "that we might remember this
always, that zvhat we gain in a free way, it is better
than tzi'ice as much in a forced, and will be more truly
ours and our posterity's." It is one of the harshest
ironies of history that the name of this famous man,
who started on the severest stage of his journey with
this broad and far reaching principle, should have be-
come the favorite symbol of the shallow faith that
force is the only remedy.

The general council of the army at Putney in Octo-
ber and November (1647) became a constituent as-
sembly. In June Ireton had drawn up for them a


declaration of their wishes as to the "setthng of our
own and the king's own rights, freedom, peace, and
safety." This was the first sign of using mihtary
association for poHtical ends. We are not a mere mer-
cenary army, they said, but are called forth in defense
of our own and the people's just rights and liberties.
We took up arms in judgment and conscience to those
ends, against all arbitrary power, violence, and oppres-
sion, and against all particular parties or interests
whatsoever. These ideas were ripened by Ireton into
the memorable Heads of the Proposals of the Army, a
document that in days to come made its influence felt
in the schemes of government during the Common-
wealth and the Protectorate.

In these discussions in the autumn of 1647, j^^st as
the Levelers anticipate Rousseau, so do Oliver and
Ireton recall Burke. After all, these are only the two
eternal voices in revolutions, the standing antagonisms
through history between the natural man and social
order. In October the mutinous section of the army
presented to the council a couple of documents, the
Case of the Army Stated and an Agreement of the
People — a title that was also given as I have said, to
a document of Lilburne's at the end of 1648. and to
one of Ireton's at the beginning of 1649. Here they
set down the military grievances of the army in the
first place, and in the second they set out the details
of a plan of government resting upon the supreme au-
thority of a House of Commons chosen by universal
suffrage, and in spirit and in detail essentially repub-
lican. This was the strange and formidable phantom
that now rose up before men who had set out on their
voyage with Pym and Hampden. If we think that
the headsman at Whitehall is now little more than a
year off, what followed is just as startling. Ireton


at once declared that he did not seek, and would not
act with those who sought, the destruction either of
Parliament or king. Cromwell, taking the same line,
was more guarded and persuasive. "The pretensions
and the expressions in your constitutions," he said,
"are very plausible, and if we could jump clean out of
one sort of government into another, it is just possible
there would not have been much dispute. But is this
jump so easy? How do we know that other people
may not put together a constitution as plausible as
yours? . . . Even if this were the only plan pro-
posed, you must consider not only its consequences,
but the ways and means of accomplishing it. Accord-
ing" to reason and judgment, were the spirits and tem-
per of the people of this nation prepared to receive and
to go along with it?" If he could see likelihood of
visible popular support he would be satisfied, for, adds
Oliver, in a sentence that might have come straight
out of Burke, "In the government of nations, that
which is to be looked after is the affections of the

Oliver said something about their being bound by
certain engagements and obligations to which previous
declarations had committed them with the public. "It
may be true enough," cried Wildman, one of the
Ultras, "that God protects men in keeping honest
promises, but every promise must be considered after-
ward, when you are pressed to keep it, whether it was
honest or just, or not. If it be not a just engagement,
then it is a plain act of honesty for the man who lias
made it to recede from his former judgment and to
abhor it." This slippery sophistry, so much in the
vein of King Charles himself, brought Ireton swiftly
to his feet with a clean and rapid debating point.
"You tell us," he said, "that an engagement is only


binding so far as you think it honest; yet the pith of
your case against the Parhament is that in ten points
it has violated engagements."

In a great heat Rainborough, hkewise an Uhra, fol-
lowed. You talk of the danger of divisions, but if
things are honest, why should they divide us? You
talk of difficulties, but if difficulties be all, how was it

Online LibraryJohn MorleyOliver Cromwell → online text (page 16 of 35)