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that we ever began the war, or dared to look an enemy
in the face? You talk of innovation upon the old
laws which made us a kingdom from old time. *'But
if writings be true, there hath been many scufHings
between the honest men of England and those that
have tyrannised over them; and if people find that old
laws do not suit freemen as they are, what reason can
exist why old laws should not be changed to new?"

According to the want of debate, Rainborough's heat
kindled Cromwell. His stroke is not as clean as Ire-
ton's, but there is in his words a glow of the sort that
goes deeper than the sharpest dialectic. After a rather
cumbrous effort to state the general case for opportun-
ism, he closes in the manner of a famous word of
Danton's, with a passionate declaration against divi-
sions : "Rather than I would have this kingdom break
in pieces before some company of men be united to-
gether to a settlement, I will withdraw myself from the
army to-morrow and lay down my commission ; I will
perish before I hinder it."

Colonel Gofife then proposed that there should be a
public prayer-meeting, and it was agreed that the
morning of the next day should be given to prayer, and
the afternoon to business. The lull, edifying as it
was, did not last. No storms are ever harder to allay
than those that spring up in abstract discussions.
Wildman returned to the charge with law of nature,
and the paramount claim of the people's rights and


liberties over all engagements and over all authority.
Hereupon Ireton flamed out just as Burke might have
Hamed out : "There is venom and poison in all this. I
know of no other foundation of right and justice but
that we should keep covenant with one another.
Covenants freely entered into must be kept. Take
that away, and what right has a man to anything — to
his estate of lands or to his goods? You talk of law
of nature ! By the law of nature you have no more
right to this land or anything else than I have."

Here the shrewd man who is a figure in all public
meetings, ancient and modern, who has no relish for
general argument, broke in with the apt remark that if
they went on no quicker with their business, the king
would come and say who should be hanged first. Ire-
ton, however, always was a man of the last word, and
he stood to his point with acuteness and fluency, but
too much in the vein styled academic. He turns to
the question that was to give so much fuel to contro-
versy for a hundred years to come — what obedience
men owe to constituted authority. Cromwell's con-
clusion marked his usual urgency for unity, but he
stated it with an uncompromising breadth that is both
new and extremely striking. For his part, he was
anxious that nobody should suppose that he and his
friends were wedded and glued to forms of govern-
ment. He wished them to understand that he was not
committed to any principle of legislative power outside
the Commons of the kingdom or to any other doctrine
than that the foundation and supremacy is in the peo-
ple. With that vain cry so often heard through his-
tory from Pericles downward, from the political
leader to the roaring winds and waves of party passion,
he appeals to them not to meet as two contrary parties,
but as men desirous to satisfy each other. This is the

From the portrait by William Dobson at Hincblnbrook House,
by permission of the Earl of Sandwich.



clue to Cromwell. Only unity could save them from
the tremendous forces ranged against them all ; divi-
sion must destroy them. Rather than imperil unity, he
would go over with the whole of his strength to the
extreme men in his camp, even though he might not
think their way the best. The army was the one thing
now left standing. The church was shattered. Par-
liament was paralyzed. Against the king Cromwell
had now written in his heart the judgment written of
old on the wall against Belshazzar. If the army broke,
then no anchor w'ould hold, and once and for all the
cause was lost.

The next day the prayer-meeting had cleared the air.
After some civil words between Cromwell and Rain-
borough, Ireton made them another eloquent speech,
where, among many other things, he lays bare the
spiritual basis on which powerful and upright men like
Cromwell rested practical policy. Some may now be
shocked, as were many at that day, by the assumption
that little transient events are the true measure of the
divine purpose. Others may feel the full force of all
the standing arguments ever since Lucretius, that the
nature of the higher powers is too far above mortal
things to be either pleased or angry with us.^ History
is only intelligible if we place ourselves at the point of
view of the actor who makes it. Ireton moving clean
away from the position that he had taken up the day
before, as if Oliver had wrestled with him in the inter-
vening night, now goes on : "It is not to me so much as
the vainest or slightest thing you can imagine, whether
there be a king in England or no, or whether there be
lords in England or no. For whatever I find the work
of God tending to, I should quietly submit to it. If God
saw it good to destroy not only kings and lords, but all

iNec bene promeritis capitur, nee tangitur ira, ii. 651.


distinctions of degrees — nay, if it go further, to de-
stroy all property — if I see the hand of God in it, I
hope I shall with quietness acquiesce and submit to it
and not resist it." In other words, do not persuade
him that Lleaven is with the Levelers, and he turns
Leveler himself. Ireton was an able and whole-
hearted man. but we can see how his doctrine might
offer a decorous mask to the hypocrite and the waiter
upon Providence.

Colonel Goffe told them that he had been kept awake
a long while in the night by certain thoughts, and he
felt a weight upon his spirit until he had imparted
them. They turned much upon antichrist, and upon
the passage in the Book of Revelation which describes
how the kings of the earth have given up their powers
to the Beast, as in sooth the kings of the earth have
given up their powers to the Pope. Nobody followed
Goffe into these high concerns, but they speedily set to
work upon the casual questions, so familiar to our-
selves, of electoral franchise and re-distribution of seats
— and these two for that matter have sometimes hidden
a mystery of iniquity of their own.

"Is the meaning of your proposal," said Ireton,
"that every man is to have an equal voice in the elec-
tion of representors?" "Yes," replied Rainborough ;
"the poorest he that is in England hath a life to live
as much as the greatest he, and a man is not bound to
a government that he has not had a voice to put himself
tmder." Then the lawyer rose up in Ireton. "So you
stand," he says, "not on civil right but on natural
right, and, for my part, I think that no right at all.
Nobody has a right to a share in disposing the affairs
of this kingdom unless he has a permanent fixed in-
terest in the kingdom." "But I find nothing in the
law of God," Rainborough retorts, "that a lord shall


choose twenty burgesses, and a gentleman only two,
and a poor man none. Why did Almighty God give
men reason, if they should not use it in a voting way,
unless they have an estate of forty shillings a year?"
"But then," says Ireton, "if you are on natural right,
show me what difference lies between a right to vote
and a right to subsistence." "Every man is naturally
free," cries one. "How comes it," cries another, "that
one free-born Englishman has property and his neigh-
bor has none? Why has not a younger son as much
right in the inheritance as the eldest?" So the modern
reader finds himself in the thick of controversies
that have shaken the world from that far-off day to

In such a crisis as that upon which England was
now entering, it is not the sounder reasoning that de-
cides ; it is passions, interests, outside events, and that
something vague, undefined, curious almost to mys-
tery, that in bodies of men is called political instinct.
All these things together seemed to sweep Cromwell
and Ireton off their feet. The Levelers beat them, as
Cromwell would assuredly have foreseen must happen,
if he had enjoyed modern experiences of the law of
revolutionary storms. Manhood suffrage was carried,
though Cromwell had been against it as "tending very
much to anarchy," and though Ireton had pressed to
the uttermost the necessity of limiting the vote to men
with fixed interests. Cromwell now^ said that he was
not glued to any particular form of government. Only
a fortnight before he had told the House of Commons
that it was matter of urgency to restore the authority
of monarchy, and Ireton had told the council of the
army that there must be king and lords in any scheme
that would do for him. In July Cromwell had called
out that the question is what is good for the people,


not what pleases them. Now he raises the balancing
consideration that if you do not build the fabric of gov-
ernment on consent it will not stand. Therefore you
must think of what pleases people, or else they will not
endure what is good for them. "If I could see a vis-
ible presence of the people, either by subscription or by
numbers, that would satisfy me." Cromwell now
(November) says that if they were free to do as they
pleased they would set up neither king nor lords.
Further, they would not keep either king or lords, if to
do so were a danger to the public interest. Was it a
danger? Some thought so, others thought not. For
his own part, he concurred with those who believed
that there could be no safety with a king and lords, and
even concurred with them in thinking that God would
probably destroy them ; yet "God can do it without
necessitating us to a thing which is scandalous, and
therefore let those that are of that mind wait upon God
for such a way where the thing may be done without
sin and without scandal too."

This was undoubtedly a remarkable change of
Oliver's mind, and the balanced, hesitating phrases in
which it is expressed hardly seem to fit a conclusion
so momentous. A man who, even with profound sin-
cerity, sets out shifting conclusions of policy in the
language of unction, must take the consequences, in-
cluding the chance of being suspected of duplicity by
embittered adversaries. These weeks must have been
to Oliver the most poignant hours of the whole strug-
gle, and more than ever he must have felt the looming
hazards of his own maxim that "in yielding there is



THE Strain of things had now become too intense to
continue. On the evening of the day when Harri-
son was declaiming against the man of blood (Novem-
ber 1 1 ) , the king disappeared from Hampton Court.
That his life was in peril from some of the more vio-
lent of the soldiers at Putney half a dozen miles away,
there can be no doubt, though circumstantial stories of
plots for his assassination do not seem to be proved.
Cromwell wrote to Whalley, who had the king under
his guard, that rumors were abroad of an attempt upon
the king's life, and if any such thing should be done it
would be accounted a most horrid act. The story that
Cromwell cunningly frightened Charles away, in order
to make his own manoeuvers run smoother, was long a
popular belief, but all the probabilities are decisively
against it. , Even at that eleventh hour, as we see from
his language a few days before the king's flight, Crom-
well had no faith that a settlement was possible with-
out the king, little as he could have hoped from any
settlement made with him. Whither could it have
been for Cromwell's interest that the king should be-
take himself? Not to London, where a Royalist tide
was flowing pretty strongly. Still less toward the
Scottish border, where Charles would begin a new civil
war in a position most favorable to himself. Flight



to France was the only move on the king's part that
might have mended Cromwell's situation. He could
have done no more effective mischief from France than
the queen had done; on the other hand, his flight would
have been treated as an abdication, with as convenient
results as followed one and forty years later from the
flight of James IL

We now know that Charles fled from Hampton
Court because he had been told by the Scottish envoys,
with whom he was then secretly dealing, as well as
from other quarters, that his life was in danger, but
without any more fixed designs than when he had
fled from Oxford in April of the previous year. He
seems to have arranged to take ship from South-
ampton Water, but the vessel never came, and he
sought refuge in Carisbrooke Castle in the Isle of
Wight (November 14, 1647). Here he was soon no
less a prisoner than he had been at Hampton Court.
As strongly as ever he even now felt he held the win-
ning cards in his hands. "Sir," he had said to Fair-
fax after his removal from Holmby, "I have as good
an interest in the army as you." Nothing had hap-
pened since then to shake this conviction, and un-
doubtedly there was in the army, as there was in
Parliament, in the City, and all other considerable
aggregates of the population, a lively and definite hope
that royal authority would be restored. Beyond all
this, Charles confidently anticipated that he could rely
upon the military force of the counter-revolution in

Cromwell knew all these favoring chances as vividly
as the king himself, and he knew better than Charles
the terrible perils of jealousy and dissension in the only
force upon which the cause could rely. "For many
months," says Fairfax, "all public councils were turned


into private juntos, which begot greater emulations
and jealousies among them." Cromwell was the
object of attack from many sides. He was accused of
boldly avowing such noxious principles as these: that
every single man is judge of what is just and right as
to the good and ill of a kingdom ; that the interest of
the kingdom is the interest of the honest men in it, and
those only are honest men who go with him ; that it is
lawful to pass through any forms of government for
the accomplishment of his ends ; that it is lawful to
play the kna^'e with a knave. This about the knave
was only Cromwell's blunt way of putting the scrip-
tural admonition to be wise as serpents, or Bacon's
saying that the wise man must use the good and guard
himself against the wicked. He was surrounded by
danger. He knew that he was himself in danger of
impeachment, and he had heard for the first time
of one of those designs for his own assassination, of
which he w^as to know so much more in days to come.
He had been for five years at too close quarters with
death in many dire shapes to cjuail at the thought of
it any more than King Charles cjuailed.

Cromwell in later days described 1648 as the most
memorable year that the nation ever saw. "So many
insurrections, invasions, secret designs, open and pub-
lic attempts, all quashed, in so short a time, and this by
the very signal appearance of God himself." The first
effect, he says, was to prepare for bringing oft'enders
to punishment and for a change of government ; but
the great thing was "the climax of the treaty with the
king, whereby they would have put into his hands all
that we had engaged for, and all our security should
have been a little piece of paper." Dangers both seen
and unseen rapidly thickened. The king, while re-
fusing his assent to a new set of propositions tendered


to him by the ParHament. had secretly entered into an
engagement with commissioners from the Scots (De-
cember 26, 1647). Here we have one of the cardinal
incidents of the struggle, like the case of the Five
Members, or the closing of the negotiations with
Cromwell. By this sinister instrument, the Scots de-
claring against the unjust proceedings of the English
houses, were to send an army into England for the
preservation and establishment of religion, and the
restoration of all the rights and revenues of the crown.
In return the king was to guarantee Presbytery in
England for three years, with liberty to himself to use
his own form of dixine service; but the opinions and
practices of the Independents were to be suppressed.
That is, Presbyterian Scot and English Royalist were
to join in arms against the Parliament, on the basis of
the restoration of the king's claims, the suppression of
Sectaries, and the establishment of Presbytery for
three years and no longer, unless the king should
agree to an extension of the time. This clandestine
covenant for kindling afresh the flames of civil war
was wrapped up in lead, and buried in the garden at

The secret must have been speedily guessed.
Little more than a week after the treaty had been
signed, a proposal was made in the Commons to im-
peach the king, and Cromwell supported it (not neces-
sarily intending more than deposition) on the ground
that the king, "while he professed with all solemnity
that he referred himself wholly to the Parliament, had
at the same time secret treaties with the Scots com-
missioners how he might embroil the nation in a new
war and destroy the Parliament." Impeachment was
dropped, but a motion was carried against holding
further communications with the king (January,

From a print in the British Museum.


1648), thus in substance and for the time openly bring-
ing monarchy to an end. From the end of 1647, ^^^^
all through 1648, designs for bringing the king to jus-
tice which had long existed among a few of the ex-
treme agitators, extended to the leading officers. The
committee of both kingdoms, in which Scots and Eng-
lish had united for executive purposes, was at once
dissolved, and the new executive body, now exclusively
English, found itself confronted by Scotland, Ireland,
and Wales, all in active hostility, and by an England
smoldering in various different stages of disaffec-
tion. A portion of the fleet was already in revolt, and
no one knew how far the mutiny might go. All must
depend upon the army, and for the Presbyterian party
the success of the army would be the victory of a
master and an enemy.

At the moment of the flight to Carisbrooke, Crom-
well had sternly stamped out an incipient revolt. At
a rendezvous near Ware two regiments appeared on
the field without leave, and bearing disorderly ensigns
in their hats. Cromwell rode among them, bade them
remove the mutinous symbol, arrested the ringleaders
of those who refused to obey, and after a drumhead
court-martial at which three of the offenders were con-
demned to death, ordered the three to throw dice for
their lives, and he who lost was instantly shot ( Novem-
ber 15, 1647). Though not more formidable than a
breakdown of military discipline must have proved,
the political difficulties were much less simple to deal
with. Cromwell had definitely given up all hope of
coming to terms with the king. On the other hand he
was never a Republican himself, and his sagacity told
him that the country would never accept a government
founded on what to him were Republican chimeras.
Every moment the tide of reaction was rising. From


Christmas (1647) ^"^1 ^^^ through the spring there
were unmistakable signs of popular discontent. Puri-
tan suppression of old merrymakings was growing too
hard to bear, for the old Adam was not yet driven out
of the free-born Englishman by either law or gospel.
None of the sections into which opinion was divided
had confidence in the Parliament. The rumors of
bringing the king to trial and founding a military re-
public, perturbed many and incensed most in every
class. Violent riots broke out in the City. In the
home counties disorderly crowds shouted for God and
King Charles. Royalist risings were planned in half
the counties in England, north, west, south, and even
east. The Royalist press was active and audacious.
In South Wales the royal standard had been unfurled,
the population eagerly rallied to it, and the strong
places were in Royalist hands. In Scotland Hamilton
had got the best of Argyll and the Covenanting Ultras,
in spite of the bitter and tenacious resistance of the
clergy to every design for supporting a sovereign who
W' as champion of Episcopacy ; and in April the Parlia-
ment at Edinburgh had ordered an army to be raised
to defend the king and the Covenant. In face of pub-
lic difficulties so overwhelming, Cromwell was person-
ally weakened by the deep discredit into which he had
fallen among the zealots in his own camp, as the result
of his barren attempt to bring the king to reason. Of
all the dark moments of his life this was perhaps the

He tried a sociable conference between the two
ecclesiastical factions, including laymen and ministers
of each, but each went away as stiff and as high as
they had come. Then he tried a conference between
the leading men of the army and the extreme men of
the Commonwealth, and they had a fruitless argument


on the hoary theme, dating ahnost from the birth of
the western world, of the relative merits of monarchy,
aristocracy, and democracy. Cromwell wisely de-
clined to answer this threadbare riddle, only maintain-
ing that any form of government might be good in
itself or for us, "according as Providence should di-
rect us" — the formula of mystic days for modern
opportunism. The others replied by passages from
the first book of Samuel, from Kings, and Judges. We
cannot wonder that Cromwell, thinking of the ruin
that he saw hanging imminent in thunder-clouds over
cause and kingdom, at last impatiently ended the idle
talk by flinging a cushion at Ludlow's head and run-
ning off down the stairs.

What was called the second civil war was now in-
evitable. The curtain was rising for the last, most
dubious, most exciting, and most memorable act of the
long drama in which Charles had played his leading
and ill-starred part. Even in the army men were "in
a low, weak, divided, perplexed condition."' Some
were so depressed by the refusal of the nation to follow
their intentions for its good, that they even thought of
laying down their arms and returning to private life.
Thus distracted and cast down, their deep mystic faith
drew them to the oracles of prayer, and at Windsor in
April they began their solemn ofifice, searching out
what iniquities of theirs had provoked the Lord of
Hosts to bring down such grievous perplexities upon
them. Cromwell was among the most fervid, and
again and again they all melted in bitter tears. Their
sin was borne home to them. They had turned aside
from the path of simplicity, and stepped, to their hurt,
into the paths of policy. The root of the evil was
found out in those cursed carnal conferences with the
king and his party, to which their own conceited wis-


dom and want of faith had prompted them the year
before. And so, after the meeting had lasted for three
whole days, with prayer, exhortations, preaching,
seeking, groans, and weeping, they came without a
dissenting voice to an agreement that it was the duty
of the day to go out and fight against those potent ene-
mies rising on every hand against them, and then it
would be their further duty, if ever the Lord should
bring them back in peace, to call Charles Stuart, that
man of blood, to an account for all the blood that he
had shed, and all the mischief he had done against the
Lord's cause and people in these poor nations. When
this vehement hour of exaltation had passed away,
many of the warlike saints, we may be sure, including
Oliver himself, admitted back into their minds some of
those politic misgivings for which they had just shown
such passionate contrition. But to the great majority
it was the inspiration of the Windsor meetings, and the
directness and simplicity of their conclusion, that gave
such fiery energy to the approaching campaign, and
kept alive the fierce resolve to exact retribution to the
uttermost when the time appointed should bring the
arch-delinquent within their grasp.



EVEN as the hour of doom drew steadily nearer,
the prisoner at Carisbrooke might well believe
that the rebels and traitors were hastening to their
ruin. The political paradox grew more desperate as
the days went on, and to a paradox Charles looked for

Online LibraryJohn MorleyOliver Cromwell → online text (page 17 of 35)