Copyright
John Morley.

Oliver Cromwell online

. (page 19 of 35)
Online LibraryJohn MorleyOliver Cromwell → online text (page 19 of 35)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


men might rule over one another, this to Z'assali:;e us to
a foreign nation.'" Here was the sting, for we have
never to forget that Oliver, like Milton, was ever Eng-
lish of the English. Then follow some ominous hints,
though he still rather reports the mind of others than
makes plain his own. "Give me leave to tell you, I
find a sense among the officers concerning such things
as the treatment of these men to amazement, which
truly is not so much to see their blood made so cheap
as to see such manifest witnessings of God, so terrible
and so just, no more reverenced."

To Fairfax on the same day he writes in the same
tone that he finds in the officers a very great sense of
the sufferings of the kingdom, and a very great zeal



256 OLIVER CROMWELL

to have impartial justice clone upon offenders. "And
I must confess," he adds, striking for the first time a
new and dangerous note of his own, "I do in all from
my heart concur with them, and I verily think, and am
persuaded, they are things which God puts into our
hearts." But he still moves very slowly, and follows
rather than leads.

Finally he writes once more to Hammond on
November 25th one of the most remarkable of all the
letters he ever wTote. That worthy soldier had
groaned under the burdens and misgivings of his posi-
tion. "Such talk as this," says Cromwell, "such
words as heavy, sad, pleasant, easy, are but the snares
of fleshly reasonings. Call not your burdens sad or
heavy; it is laid on you by One from whom comes
every good and perfect gift, being for the exercise of
faith and patience, whereby in the end we shall be made
perfect. Seek rather whether there be not some high
and glorious meaning in all that chain of Providence
which brought that person [the king] to thee, and be
sure that this purpose can never be the exaltation of
the wicked." From this strain of devout stoicism he
turns to the policy of the hour.

Hammond was doubtful about the acts and aims of
the extreme men as respects both king and Parlia-
ment. "It is true, as you say," Cromwell replies, "that
authorities and powers are the ordinance of God, and
that in England authority and power reside in the Par-
liament. But these authorities may not do what they
like, and still demand our obedience. All agree that
there are cases in which it is lawful to resist. Is ours
such a case? This, frankly, is the true question."
Then he produces three considerations, as if he were
revolving over again the arguments that were turning
his own mind. First, is it sound to stand on safety



THE FINAL CRISIS 257

of the people as the supreme law? Second, will the
treaty between king and Parliament secure the safety
of the people, or will it not frustrate the whole fruit
of the war and bring back all to what it was, and
worse? Third, is it not possible that the army, too,
may be a lawful power, ordained by God to fight the
king on stated grounds, and that the army may resist
on the same grounds one name of authority, the Par-
liament, as well as the other authority, the king?

Then he suddenly is dissatisfied with his three argu-
ments. ''Truly," he cries, "this kind of reasoning
may be but fleshly, either with or against, only it is
good to try what truth may be in them." Cromwell's
understanding was far too powerful not to perceive
that salits popiili and the rest of it would serve just as
well for Strafford or for Charles as it served for Ireton
and the army, and that usurpation by troopers must be
neither more nor less hard to justify in principle than
usurpation by a king. So he falls back on the simpler
ground of "providences," always his favorite strong-
hold. "They hang so together, have been so constant,
clear, unclouded." Was it possible that the same Lord
who had been with his people in all their victorious
actings was not with them in that steady and unmis-
takable growth of opinion about the present crisis, of
which Hammond is so much afraid? "You speak of
tempting God. There are two ways of this. Action
in presumptuous and carnal confidence is one ; action in
unbelief through diffidence is the other." Though
difficulties confronted them, the more the difficulties
the more the faith.

From the point of a modern's carnal reasoning all
this has a thoroughly sophistic flavor, and it leaves a
doubt of its actual weight in Oliver's own mind at the
moment. Nor was his mind really made up on inde-

17



258 OLIVER CROMWELL

pendent grounds, for he goes on to say plainly that
they in the northern army were in a waiting posture.
It was not until the southern army put out its remon-
strance that they changed. z\fter that many were
shaken. "We could, perhaps, have zvished the stay of
it till after the treaty, yet, seeing it is come out, we
trust to rejoice in the will of the Lord, waiting his
further pleasure." This can only mean that Ireton
and his party were pressing forward of their own will.
and without impulse from Cromwell at Pontefract.
Yet it is equally evident that he did not disapprove.
In concluding the letter he denounces the treaty of
Newport as a "ruining, hypocritical agreement," and
remonstrates with those of their friends who expect
good from Charles — "good by this Man, against whom
the Lord hath witnessed, and whom thou knowest!"

A writer of a hostile school has remarked in this
memorable letter "its cautious obscurity, shadowy sig-
nificance ; its suavity, tenderness, subtlety ; the way in
which he alludes to more than he mentions, suggests
more than pronounces his own argumentative inten-
tion, and opens an indefinite view, all the hard fea-
tures of which he softly puts aside" (J. B. Mozley).
Quite true; but what if this be the real Cromwell, and
represents the literal working of his own habit and
temper ?

When this letter reached the Isle of Wight, Ham-
mond was no longer there. The army had made up
their minds to act, and the blow had fallen. The fate
of the king was sealed. In this decision there is no
evidence that Cromwell had any share. His letter
to Hammond is our last glimpse of him, and from
that and the rest the sounder conclusion seems to be
that even yet he would fain have gone slow, but was
forced to go fast. Charles might possibly even at the



THE FINAL CRISIS 259

eleventh hour have made his escape, but he still nursed
the illusion that the army could not crush the Parlia-
ment without him. He had, moreover, given his
parole. When reminded that he had given it not to
the army but to the Parliament, his somber pride for
once withstood a sophism. At break of the winter
day (December i) a body of officers broke into his
chamber, put him into a coach, conducted him to the
coast, and then transported him across the Solent to
Hurst Castle, a desolate and narrow blockhouse stand-
ing at the edge of a shingly spit on the Hampshire
shore. In those dreary quarters he remained a fort-
night. The last scene was now rapidly approaching of
the desperate drama in which every one of the actors —
king. Parliament, army, Cromwell — was engaged in a
death struggle with an implacable necessity.

At Westminster, meanwhile, futile proceedings in the
House of Commons had been brought to a rude close.
The House resolved by a large majority once more
(November 30) not to consider the army remon-
strance, and the army promptly replied by marching
into London two days after (December 2). Two
days after that the House, with a long and very sharp
discussion, put upon record a protest against the forci-
ble removal of the king without their knowledge or
consent. They then proceeded to debate the king's
answers to their commissioners at the Isle of Wight.
A motion was made that the answers should be ac-
cepted, but the motion finally carried was in the weak-
ened and dilatory form that the answers "were a
ground for the House to proceed upon for the settle-
ment of the peace of the kingdom" (December 5).
This was the final provocation to the soldiers. The
same afternoon a full consultation took place between
some of the principal officers of the army and a num-



260 OLIVER CROMWELL

ber of members of Parliament. One side were for
forcible dissolution, as Cromwell had at one time been
for it; the other were for the less sweeping measure
of a partial purge. A committee of three members
of the House and three officers of the army was or-
dered to settle the means for putting a stop to proceed-
ings in Parliament, that were nothing less than a for-
feiture of its trust. These six agreed that the army
should be drawn out next morning, and guards placed
in Westminster Hall and the lobby, that "none might
be permitted to pass into the house but such as had
continued faithful to the public interest." At seven
o'clock next morning (December 6) Colonel Pride
was at his post in the lobby, and before night one hun-
dred and forty-three members had either been locked
up or forcibly turned back from the doors of the House
of Commons. The same night Cromwell returned
from Yorkshire and lay at Whitehall, where Fairfax
already was, I suppose for the first time. "There,"
says Ludlow, "and at other places, Cromwell declared
that he had not been acquainted with this design, yet,
since it was done, he was glad of it and would endeavor
to maintain it."

The process was completed next day. A week later
(December 15) the council of officers determined
that Charles should be brought to Windsor, and Fair-
fax sent orders accordingly. In the depth of the win-
ter night the king in the desolate keep on the sea-
shingle heard the clanking of the drawbridge, and at
daybreak he learned that the redoubtable Major Har-
rison had arrived. Charles well knew how short a
space divides the prison of a prince from his grave.
He had often revolved in his mind "sad stories of the
death of kings" — of Henry VI, of Edward II mur-
dered at Berkeley, of Richard II at Pontefract, of his



THE FINAL CRISIS 261

grandmother at Fotheringay — and he thought that
the presence of Harrison must mean that his own hour
had now come for a hke mysterious doom. Harrison
was no man for these midnight deeds, though he was
fervid in his behef, and so he told the king, that justice
was no respecter of persons, and great and small alike
must be submitted to the law. Charles was relieved
to find that he was only going "to exchange the worst
of his castles for the best," and after a ride of four
days (December 19-23) through the New Forest, Win-
chester, Farnham, Bagshot, he found himself once
more at the noblest of the palaces of the English sov-
ereigns. Here for some three weeks he passed infatu-
ated hours in the cheerful confidence that the dead-lock
was as immovable as ever, that his enemies would find
the knot inextricable, that he was still their master,
and that the blessed day would soon arrive when he
should fit round their necks the avenging halter.



CHAPTER VII



THE DEATH OF THE KING

THE Commons meanwhile, duly purged or packed,
had named a committee to consider the means of
bringing the king to justice, and they passed an ordi-
nance (January i, 1649) fo^ setting up. to try him, a
high court of justice composed of one hundred and fifty
commissioners and three judges. After going through
its three readings, and backed by a resolution that by
the fundamental laws of the kingdom it is treason in
the king to levy war against the Parliament and king-
dom of England, the ordinance was sent up to the
Lords. The Lords, only numbering twelve on this
strange occasion, promptly, passionately, and unani-
mously rejected it. The fifty or sixty members who
were now the acting House of Commons, retorted with
revolutionary energy. They instantly passed a resolu-
tion (January 4) afifirming three momentous propo-
sitions : that the people are the original of power ; that
the Commons in Parliament assembled have the su-
preme power; and that what they enact has the force
of law, even without the consent of either king or
Lords, omitting the judges and reducing the commis-
sioners to one hundred and thirty-five. Then they
passed their ordinance over again (January 6). Two
days later the famous High Court of Justice met
262



THE DEATH OF THE KING 263

for the first time in the Painted Chamber, but out of
one hundred and thirty-fi\'e persons named in the act,
no more than fifty-two appeared, Fairfax, Cromwell,
and Ireton being among them.

We must pause to consider what was the part that
Cromwell played in this tragical unraveling of the plot.
For long it can hardly have been the guiding part.
He was not present when the officers decided to order
the king to be brought from Hurst Castle to Windsor
(December 15). He is known, during the week fol-
lowing that event, to have been engaged in grave
counsel with Speaker Lenthall and two other eminent
men of the same legal and cautious temper, as though
he were still painfully looking for some lawful door of
escape from an impassable dilemma. Then he made a
strong attempt to defer the king's trial until after they
had tried other important delinquents in the second
war. Finally there is a shadowy story of new over-
tures to the king made with Cromwell's connivance on
the very eve of the day of fate. On close handling the
tale crumbles into guesswork; for the difference be-
tween a safe and an unsafe guess is not enough to
transform a possible into an actual event; and a hunt
for conjectural motives for conjectural occurrences is
waste of time. The curious delay in his return to
London and the center of action is not without sig-
nificance. He reaches Carlyle on October 14th, he
does not summon Pontefract until November 9th, and
he remains before it until the opening of December.
It is hard to understand why he should not have left
Lambert, a most excellent soldier, in charge of oper-
ations at an earlier date, unless he had been wishful to
let the manoeuvers in Parliament and camp take what
course they might. He had no stronger feeling in emer-
gency than a dread of forestalling the Lord's leadings.



264 OLIVER CROMWELL

The cloud that wraps Cromwell about during the ter-
rible month between his return from Yorkshire and the
erection of the High Court, is impenetrable; and we
have no better guide than our general knowledge of his
politic understanding, his caution, his persistence, his
freedom from revengeful temper, his habitual slowness
in making decisive moves.

We may be sure that all through the month, as *'he
lay in one of the king's rich beds at Whitehall," where
Fairfax and he had taken up their quarters, Cromwell
revolved all the perils and sounded all the depths of
the abyss to which necessity was hurrying him and the
cause. What courses were open? They might by
ordinance depose the king, and then either banish him
from the realm, or hold him for the rest of his days in
the Tower. Or could they try and condemn him, and
then trust to the dark shadow of the axe upon his
prison wall to frighten him at last into full surrender?
Even if this design prevailed, what sanctity could the
king or his successors be expected to attach to consti-
tutional concessions granted under duress so dire?
Again, was monarchy the indispensable key-stone, to
lock all the parts of national government into their
places? If so, then the king removed by deposition

EXPLANATION- OF THE LETTERS ON THE PRINT SHOWING THE TRIAL
OF CHARLES I. (SEE NEXT PAGE.)

A, the king ; B, the lord president, Bradshaw; C, John Lisle, D, W. Say,
assistants to Bradshaw ; E, A. Broughton, F, John Phelps, clerks ; G, table
with mace and sword ; H, benches for the Commoners ; I, arms of the
Commonwealth, which the usurpers have caused there to be affixed ; K,
Oliver Cromwell, L, Harry Martin, supporters of the Commonwealth ; M,
spectators ; N, floor of the court, W, O, X, passage from the court ; P, Q,
guard ; R, passage leading to the king's apartment ; S, council for the
Commonwealth ; T, stairs from the body of the hall to the court ; V, pas-
sage from Sir Robert Cotton's house, where the king was confined, to the
hall; Y, spectators; Z, officers of the court.




From Clarendon's "History of the Civil War," in the British Museum.
THE TRIAI, OF CHARLES I.



THE DEATH OF THE KING 265

or by abdication, perhaps one of his younger sons
might be set up in his stead, with the army behind him.
\\'as any course of this temporising kind practicable,
even in the very first step of it. apart from later con-
sequences ? Or was the temper of the army too fierce,
the dream of the republican too vivid, the furnace of
faction too hot? For we have to recollect that noth-
ing in all the known world of politics is so intractable
as a band of zealots conscious that they are a minor-
ity, yet armed by accident with the powers of a major-
ity. Party considerations were not likely to be
omitted ; and to destroy the king was undoubtedly
to strike a potent instrument out of the hands of the
Presbyterians. \\'hatever reaction might follow in
the public mind would be to the advantage of Royal-
ism, not of Presbyterianism, and so indeed it ultimately
proved. Yet to bring the king to trial and to cut off
his head — is it possible to suppose that Cromwell was
blind to the endless array of new difficulties that would
instantly spring up from that inexpiable act? Here
was the fatal mischief. No other way may have been
conceivable out of the black flood of difficulties in
which the ship and its fiery crew were tossing, and
Cromwell with his firm gaze had at last persuaded him-
self that this way must be tried. What is certain is
that he cannot have forgotten to count the cost, and
he must have known what a wall he was raising against
that settlement of the peace of the nation which he so
devoutly hoped for.

After all, violence, though in itself always an evil
and always the root of evil, is not the worst of evils,
so long as it does not mean the obliteration of the sense
of righteousness and of duty. And. howe^■er we may
judge the balance of policy to have inclined, men like
Cromwell felt to the depths of their hearts that in put-



266 OLIVER CROMWELL

ting to death the man whose shifty and senseless coun-
sels had plunged the land in bloodshed and confusion,
they were performing an awful act of sovereign justice
and executing the decree of the supreme. Men like
Ludlow might feed and fortify themselves on misin-
terpretations of sanguinary texts from the Old Testa-
ment. "I was convinced," says that hard-tempered
man, "that an accommodation with the king was un-
just and wicked in the nature of it by the express
w^ords of God's law ; that blood defileth the land, and
the land cannot be cleansed of the blood that is shed
therein, but by the blood of him that shed it. Crom-
well was as much addicted to an apt text as anybody,
but the stern crisis of his life w-as not to be settled by
a single verse of the Bible. Only one utterance of his
at this grave moment survives, and though in the high-
est degree remarkable, it is opaque rather than trans-
parent. When the ordinance creating the High Court
was before the House of Commons, he said this : — "If
any man whatsoever hath carried on the design of de-
posing the king, and disinheriting his posterity; or, if
any man had yet such a design, he should be the great-
est rebel and traitor in the world ; but since the provi-
dence of God and Necessity hath cast this upon us, I
shall pray God to bless our counsels, though I be not
provided on the sudden to give you counsel." Provi-
dence and Necessity — that is to say, the purpose of
heaven disclosed in the shape of an invincible problem,
to which there was only one solution, and that a solu-
tion imposed by force of circumstance and not to be
defended by mere secular reasoning.

However slow and painful the steps, a decision once
taken w-as to Cromwell irrevocable. No man was ever
more free from the vice of looking back, and he now
threw himself into the king's trial at its final stages with



THE DEATH OF THE KING 267

the same ruthless energy with which he had ridden down
the king's men at Marston or Naseby. Men of virtue,
courage, and pubhc spirit as eminent as his own, stood
resolutely aside, and would not join him. Algernon
Sidney, whose name had been put in among the judges,
went into the Painted Chamber with the others, and
after listening to the debate, withstood Cromwell,
Bradshaw, and the others to the face, on the double
ground that the king could be tried by no court, and
that by such a court as that was, no man at all could
be tried. Cromwell broke in upon him in hoarse
anger, "1 tell you, we will cut off his head with the
crown upon it." "I cannot stop you." Sidney replied,
"but I will keep myself clean from having any hand in
this business." Vane had been startled even by Pride's
Purge, and though he and Oliver were as brothers to
one another, he refused either now to take any part in
the trial, or ever to approve the execution afterward.
Stories are told indicative of Cromwell's rough excite-
ment and misplaced buffooneries, but they are probably
mythic. It is perhaps true that on the first day of the
trial, looking forth from the Painted Chamber, he saw
the king step from his barge on his way to Westmin-
ster Hall, and "with a face as white as the wall," called
out to the others that the king was coming, and that
they must be ready to answer what was sure to be the
king's first question, namely, by what authority they
called him before them.

This was indeed the question that the king put, and
would never let drop. It had been Sidney's question,
and so far as law and constitution went, there was no
good answer to it. The authority of the tribunal was
founded upon nothing more valid than a mere reso-
lution, called an ordinance, of some fifty members —
what vyras in truth little more than a bare quorum — of



268 OLIVER CROMWELL

a single branch of Parliament, originally composed of
nearly ten times as many, and deliberately reduced for
the express purpose of such a resolution by the violent
exclusion a month before of one hundred and forty-
three of its members. If the legal authority was null,
the moral authority for the act creating the High
Court was no stronger. It might be well enough to
say that the people are the origin of power, but as a
matter of fact the handful who erected the High Court
of Justice notoriously did not represent the people in
any sense of that conjurer's word. They were never
chosen by the people to make laws apart from king and
lords ; and they were now picked out by the soldiers to
do the behest of soldiers.

In short, the High Court of Justice was hardly better
or worse than a drumhead court-martial, and had just
as much or just as little legal authority to try King
Charles, as a board of officers would have had to try
him under the orders of Fairfax or Oliver if they had
taken him prisoner on the field of Xaseby. Bishop
Butler, in his famous sermon in 1741 on the anni-
versary of the martyrdom of King Charles, takes
hypocrisy for his subject, and declares that no age can
show an example of hypocrisy parallel to such a pro-
faning of the forms of justice as the arraignment of
the king. And it is here that Butler lets fall the som-
ber reflection, so poignant to all who vainly expect too
much from the hearts and understanding of mankind,
that ''the history of all ages and all countries will show
what has been really going forward over the face of
the earth, to be very different from what has been
always pretended ; and that virtue has been everywhere
professed much more than it has been anywhere prac-
tised." We may. if we be so minded, accept Butler's
general reflection, and assuredly it cannot lightly be




John Bradsliaw



C:3^: 3TA-^^MtrZ. ^




'\^\.



/fit AiUo_^ro/>h from an Oru/ina/ t'n tAe Aifit/ri^n ,f
John Thaiie.



From Clarendon's " History of the Civil War," in the Hope Collection,
-■■•-■■ ■ ■ - - - ■ of Oxford.



Bodleian Library, by permission of the University



THE DEATH OF THE KING 269

dismissed ; but it is hardly the best explanation of this
particular instance. Self-deception is a truer as well
as a kinder word than hypocrisy, and here in one sense
the institution of something with the aspect of a court
was an act of homage to conscience and to habit of law.
Many must have remembered the clause in the Petition
of Right, not yet twenty years old, forbidding martial
law. Yet martial law' this was and nothing else, if
that be the name for uncontrolled arbitrament of the
man with the sword.

In outer form as in interior fact, the trial of the king



Online LibraryJohn MorleyOliver Cromwell → online text (page 19 of 35)