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even that the kindest thing I can do for thee, if thou
repent not and alter, in the name of Allah?' " Even
such sonorous oracles as these do not altogether escape
the guilt of Rhetoric. As if, after all, there might not
be just as much of sham, phantasm, emptiness, and lies
in Action as in Rhetoric. Archbishop Laud with his
wild flashing simitar slicing off the ears of Prynne.
Charles maliciously doing Eliot to death in the Tower,
the familiars of the Holy Office, Spaniards exterminating
hapless Indians, English Puritans slaying Irishwomen
at Xaseby. the monarchs of the Spanish peninsula
driving populations of Jews and Moors wholesale and
innocent to exile and despair — all these would deem
themselves entitled to hail their hapless victims as blas-
])hemous Misbirths of Nature. What is the test?


How can we judge? The Dithyrambic does not help
us. It is not a question between Action and Rhetoric,
but the far profounder question aHke in word and in
deed between just and unjust, rational and short-
sighted, cruel and humane.

The Parliament faced the Irish danger with char-
acteristic energy, nor would Cromwell accept the com-
mand without characteristic deliberation. "Whether
I go or stay," he said, "is as God shall incline my
heart." And he had no leading of this kind, until he
had in a practical way made sure that his forces would
have adequate provision, and a fair settlement of
arrears. The departure of Julius Caesar for Gaul at a
moment when Rome was in the throes of civil confu-
sion, has sometimes been ascribed to a desire to make
the west a drill-ground for his troops, in view of the
military struggle that he foresaw approaching in Italy.
Motives of a similar sort have been invented to explain
Oliver's willingness to absent himself from Westmin-
ster at critical hours. The explanation is probably as
far-fetched in one case as in the other. The self-inter-
est of the calculating statesman would hardly prompt
a distant and dangerous military expedition, for Crom-
well knew, as he had known when he started for Pres-
ton in 1648, what active enemies he left behind him,
some in the ranks of the army, others comprehending
the whole of the Presbyterian party, and all embittered
by the triumph of the military force to which instru-
mentally they owed their very existence. The sim-
plest explanation is in Oliver's case the best. A sol-
dier's work was the next work to be done, and he might
easily suppose that the God of Battles meant him to
do it. Everybody else supposed the same.

It was August ( 1649) before Cromwell embarked,
and before sailing, "he did expound some places of


Scripture excellently well, and pertinent to the occa-
sion." He arrived in Dublin as Lord Lieutenant and
commander of the forces. After a short time, for the
refreshment of his weather-beaten men, he advanced
northward, some ten thousand strong, to Drogheda,
and here his Irish career began with an incident of un-
happy fame. Modern research adds little in the way
either of correction or of amplification to Cromwell's
own story. He arrived before Drogheda on September
3d. the memorable date of three other decisive days in
his history. A week later he summoned Ormond's
garrison to surrender, and receiving no reply he opened
fire, and breached the wall in two places. The next
day, about five in the evening, he began the storm, and
after a hot and stiff defense that twice beat back his
veterans, on the third assault, with Oliver himself at
the head of it, they entered the town and were masters
of the Royalist entrenchments. Aston, the general in
command, scoured up a steep mound, "a place very
strong and of difficult access ; being exceedingly high,
having a good graft, and strongly palisaded." He
had some three hundred men w^ith liim, and to storm
his position would have cost several hundreds of lives.
A parley seems to have taken place, and Aston was per-
suaded to disarm by a Cromwellian band who had pur-
sued him up the steep. At this point Cromwell ordered
that they should all be put to the sword. It was done.
Then came another order. "Being in the heat of
action, I forbade them to spare any that were in arms
in the town; and I think that night they put to the
sword about two thousand men; divers of the officers
and soldiers being fled over the bridge into the other
(the northern) part of the town." Eighty of them
took refuge in the steeple of St. Peter's church ; and
others in the towers at two of the gates. "Whereon I


ordered the church steeple to be fired, when one of
them was heard to say, 'God damn me, God confound
me; I burn, I burn/ " Of the eighty wretches in the
steeple, fifty were slain and thirty perished in the
flames. Cromwell notes with particular satisfaction
what took place at St. Peter's church. "It is remark-
able," he says, "that these people had grown so inso-
lent that the last Lord's Day, before the storm, the
Protestants were thrust out of the great church called
St. Peter's, and they had public Mass there ; and in this
very place, near one thousand of them were put to the
sword, fleeing thither for safety." Of those in one of
the towers, when they submitted, "their officers were
knocked on the head, and every tentli man of the sol-
diers killed, and the rest shipped for the Barbadoes.
The soldiers in the other tower were all spared as to
their lives only, and shipped likewise for the Barba-
does." Even when time might have been expected
to slake the sanguinary frenzy, officers in hiding were
sought out and killed in cold blood. "All the friars,"
says Cromwell, "were knocked on the head promiscu-
ously but two. The enemy were about three thou-
sand strong in the town. I believe we put to the sword
the whole number of the defendants. I do not think
thirty of the whole number escaped with their lives."
These three thousand were killed, with a loss of only
sixty-four to those who killed them.

Such is the unvarnished tale of the Drogheda mas-
sacre. Its perpetrator himself felt at the first moment
when "the heat of action" had passed, that it needed
justification. "Such actions," he says, "cannot but
work remorse and regret." unless there be satisfactory
grounds for them, and the grounds that he alleges are
two. One is revenge, and the other is policy. "I am
persuaded that this is a righteous judgment of God


upon those barbarous wretches, who have imbrued
their hands in so much innocent blood ; and that it will
tend to prevent the effusion of blood in the future."
And then comes a theory of the divine tactics in these
operations, which must be counted one of the most
wonderful of all the recorded utterances of Puritan tlie-
ology. "And now give me leave to say how it comes to
pass that this work is wrought. It was set upon some
of our hearts, that a great thing should be done, not by
power or might, but by the spirit of God. And is it
not so, clearly ? That which caused your men to storm
so courageously, it was the spirit of God, w^ho gave
your men courage and took it away again ; and gave the
enemy courage, and took it away again ; and gave your
men courage again, and therewith this happy success.
And therefore it is good that God alone have all the

That Cromwell's ruthless severity may have been
justified by the strict letter of the military law of the
time, is just possible. It may be true, as is contended,
that this slaughter was no worse than some of the
worst acts of those commanders in the Thirty Years'
War, whose names have ever since stood out in crim-
son letters on the page of European history as bywords
of cruelty and savagery. That, after all, is but dubi-
ous extenuation. Though he may have had a technical
right to give no quarter where a storm had followed
the refusal to surrender, in England this right was
only used by him once in the w^iole course of the w^ar,
and in his own defense of the massacre it was not upon
military right that he chose to stand. The language
used by Ludlow about it shows that even in the opinion
of that time what was done needed explanation. 'The
slaughter was continued all day and the next," he says,
"which extraordinary severity, I presume, was used to


discourage others from making opposition." This, as we
have seen, was one of the two explanations given by
OHver himself. The general question, how far in such
a case the end warrants the means, is a question of
military and Christian ethics which it is not for us to
discuss here, but we may remind the reader that not a
few of the most barbarous enormities in human annals
have been excused on the same ground, that in the long
run the gibbet, stake, torch, sword, and bullet are the
truest mercy, sometimes to men's lives here, sometimes
to their souls hereafter. No less equivocal was Crom-
well's second plea. The massacre, he says, was a
righteous vengeance upon the wretches who had im-
brued their hands in so much innocent blood in Ulster
eight years before. Yet he must have known that of
the three thousand men w^ho were butchered at Drog-
heda, of the friars who were knocked on the head pro-
miscuously, and of the officers who were killed in cold
blood, not a single victim was likely to have had part
or lot in the Ulster atrocities of 1641. More than one
contemporary authority (including Ludlow and Clar-
endon) says the garrison w'as mostly English, and
undoubtedly a contingent was English and Protestant.
The better opinion on the whole now seems to be that
most of the slain men were Irish and Catholic, but that
they came from Kilkenny and other parts of the coun-
try far outside of Ulster, and so were "in the highest
degree unlikely to have had any hand in the Ulster
massacre" of 1641.

Again that the butchery of Drogheda did actually
prevent in any marked degree further effusion of
blood is not clear. Cromwell remained in Ireland
nine months longer, and the war was not extinguished
for two years after his departure. The nine months of
his sojourn in the country were a time of unrelaxing


effort on one side, and obstinate resistance on the other.
From Drogheda he marched south to Wexford. The
garrison made a good stand for several days, but at last
were compelled to parley. A traitor during the parley
yielded up the castle, and the L^ish on the walls with-
drew into the town. "Which our men perceiving, ran
violently upon the town with their ladder and stormed
it. And when they were come into the market-place,
the enemy making a stiff resistance, our forces broke
them; and then put all to the sword that came in their
way. I believe in all there was lost of the enemy not
many less than two thousand, and I believe not twenty
of ours from first to last of the siege." The town was
sacked, and priests and friars were again knocked on
the head, some of them in a Protestant chapel which
they had been audacious enough to turn into a Mass-
house. For all this Cromwell was not directly respon-
sible as he had been at Drogheda. "Indeed it hath,
not without cause, been set upon our hearts, that we,
intending better to this place than so great a ruin, hop-
ing the town might be of more use to you and your
army,. yet God would not have it so; but by an unex-
pected providence in his righteous justice, brought a
just judgment upon them, causing them to become a
prey to the soldier, who in their piracies had made
preys of so many families, and now with their bloods
to answer the cruelties which they had exercised upon
the lives of divers poor Protestants."

A heavy hand was laid upon southern Ireland all
through Cromwell's stay. Gowran was a strong
castle, in command of a Kentishman, a principal actor
in the Kentish insurrection of 1648. He returned a
resolute refusal to Cromwell's invitation to surrender
( March, 1650). The batteries were opened, and after
a short parley a treaty was made, the soldiers to have


quarter, the officers to be treated as the victors might
think fit. The next day the officers were shot, and a
popish priest was hanged. In passing, we may ask in
face of this hanging of chaplains and promiscuous
knocking of friars on the head, what is the significance
of Cromwell's challenge to produce "an instance of
one man since my coming to Ireland, not in arms,
massacred, destroyed, or banished?"

The effect of the massacre of Drogheda was cer-
tainly transient. As we ha\'e seen, it did not frighten
the commandant at Wexford, and the resistance that
Cromwell encountered during the winter at Ross, Dun-
cannon, Waterford, Kilkenny, and Clonmel was just
such as might have been looked for, if the garrison of
Drogheda had been treated like a defeated garrison at
Bristol, Taunton, or Reading. At Clonmel, which
came last, resistance was most obdurate of all. The
bloody lesson of Drogheda and Wexford had not been
learned. "They found in Clonmel the stoutest enemy
this army had ever met in Ireland ; and there never was
seen so hot a storm, of so long continuance, and so gal-
lantly defended, either in England or Ireland." Crom-
well lost over two thousand men. The garrison
running short of ammunition escaped in the night, and
the subsequent surrender of the town (May 10, 1650)
was no more than a husk without a kernel.

The campaign made heavy demands upon the vigor
of the Parliamentary force. A considerable part of
the army was described as fitter for an hospital than
a field. Not one officer in forty escaped the dysentery,
which they called the disease of the country. Crom-
well himself suffered a long attack of sickness. These
distresses and difficulties much perplexed him. "In
the midst of our good successes." he says, "wherein
the kindness and mercy of God hath appeared, the


himself, hath interlaced some things which may give
us cause of serious consideration what His mind there-
in may be. . . . You see how God mingles out
the cup unto us. Indeed, we are at this time a crazy
company; — yet we live in His sight, and shall work the
time that is appointed us, and shall rest after that in

His general policy is set out by Cromwell in a docu-
ment of cardinal importance, and it sheds too much
light upon his Irish policy to be passed over. The
Catholic prelates met at Clonmacnoise, and issued a
manifesto that only lives in history for the sake of
Cromwell's declaration in reply to it (January, 1650).
This has been called by our great transcendental eulo-
gist one of the most remarkable state papers ever pub-
lished in Ireland since Strongbow or even since St.
Patrick. Perhaps it is, for it combines in a unique
degree profound ignorance of the Irish past with a
profound miscalculation of the Irish future. 'T will
give you some wormwood to bite upon," says Oliver,
and so he does. Yet it is easy now to see that the prel-
ates were in fact, from the Irish point of view, hitting
the nail upon the head, while Oliver goes to work with
a want of insight and knowledge that puts his Irish
statesmanship far below Strafford's. The prelates
warned their flocks that union in their own ranks was
the only thing that could frustrate the Parliamentary
design to extirpate their religion, to massacre or banish
the Catholic inhabitants, and to plant the land with
English colonies. This is exactly what Clement
Walker, the Puritan historian of Independency, tells
us. "The Independents in the Parliament," he says,
"insisted openly to have the papists of Ireland rooted
out and their lands sold to adventurers." Meanwhile,


Oliver flies at them with extraordinary fire and energy
of language, blazing with the polemic ot the time.
After a profuse bestowal of truculent compliments,
deeply tinged with what in our days is known as the
Orange hue, he comes to the practical matter in hand,
but not until he has drawn one of the most daring of
all the imaginary pictures that English statesmen have
ever drawn of Ireland. "Remember, ye hypocrites, Ire-
land \vas once united to England. Englishmen had
good inheritances which many of them purchased with
their money ; they and their ancestors from you and
your ancestors. They lived peaceably and honestly
among you. You had generally equal benefit of the
protection of England with them; and equal justice
from the laws — saving what w^as necessary for the
state, out of reasons of state, to put upon few people
apt to rebel upon the instigation of such as you. You
broke this. You, unprovoked, put the English to the
most unheard of, and most barbarous massacre that
ever the sun beheld."

As if Cromwell had not stood by the side of Pym in
his denunciations of Strafford in all their excess and all
their ignorance of Irish conditions, precisely for syste-
matic violation of English law and the spirit of it
throughout his long government of Ireland. As if
Clare's famous sentence at the Union a hundred and
fifty years later about confiscation JDcing the common
title, and the English settlement hemmed in on every
side by the old inhabitants brooding over their discon-
tents in sullen indignation, were at any time more true
of Ireland than in these halcyon days of Cromwell's
imagination. As if what he calls the equal benefit of
the protection of England had meant anything but
fraud, chicane, plunder, neglect and oppression, ending
in that smoldering rage, misery, and despair which


Cromwell so ludicrously describes as the deep peace
and union of a tranquil sheepfold, only disturbed by
the ravening greed of the priestly wolves of Rome.

As for religion, after some thin and heated quibbling
about the word "extirpate." he lets them know with all
plainness what he means to do. "I shall not, where I
have power, and the Lord is pleased to bless me, suffer
the exercise of the Mass. Nor suffer you that are Pa-
pists, where I can find you seducing the people, or by
any overt act violating the laws established. As for the
people, what thoughts in the matter of religion they
have in their own breasts, I cannot reach; but shall
think it my duty, if they walk honestly and peaceably,
not to cause them in the least to suffer for the same."
To pretend that he was not "meddling whh any man's
conscience" when he prohibited the central rite of the
Catholics, and all the ministrations by the clergy on
those occasions of life where conscience under lawful
penalties demanded them, was as idle as if the Cath-
olics had pretended that they did not meddle with con-
science if they forbade the possession or use of the
Bible, or hunted Puritan preachers out of all the

"We come." he proceeds, "by the assistance of God
to hold forth and maintain the luster and glory of Eng-
lish liberty in a nation where we have an undoubted
right to do it; wherein the people of Ireland (if they
listen not to such seducers as you are) may equally
participate in all benefits; to use liberty and fortune
equally with Englishmen if they keep out of arms."
It is true enough that the military conquest of Ire-
land was an indispensable preliminary to any healing
policy. Nor in the prostrate and worn-out condition
of Ireland after ten years of such confusion as has not
often been seen on our planet, could military conquest


though tedious be difficult. If the words just quoted
were to have any meaning, Cromwell's policy, after
the necessary subjugation of the country, ought to have
been to see that the inhabitants of the country should
enjoy both their religion and their lands in peace. If he
had been strong enough and enlightened enough to try
such a policy as this, there might have been a Cromwel-
lian settlement indeed. As it was, the stern and haughty
assurances with which he wound up his declaration "for
the Undeceiving of Deluded and Seduced People" were
to receive a dreadful interpretation, and in this lies the
historic pith of the whole transaction.

The Long Parliament deliberately contemplated exe-
cutions on so merciless a scale that it was not even'
practicable. But many hundreds were put to death.
The same Parliament was originally responsible for
the removal of the population, not so wholesale as is
sometimes supposed, but still enormous. All this
Cromwell sanctioned if he did not initiate. Confis-
cation of the land proceeded over a vast area. Im-
mense tracts were handed over to the adventurers who
had advanced money to the government for the pur-
poses of the war, and immense tracts to the Crom-
wellian soldiery in discharge of arrears of pay. The
old proprietors were transplanted with every circum-
stance of misery to the province west of the Shannon,
to the wasted and desperate wilds of Connaught.
Between thirty and forty thousand of the Irish were
permitted to go to foreign countries, where they took
service in the armies of Spain, France, Poland. When
Jamaica was taken from Spain in 1655, Oliver, ardent
for its successful plantation, requested Henry Crom-
well, then in Ireland, to engage fifteen hundred sol-
diers to settle, and to send a thousand Irishwomen
with them ; and we know from Thurloe that ships were


made ready for the transportation of the boys and girls
whom Henry was forcibly collecting. Whether the
design was carried further we do not know. Strange
to say, the massacre in the valleys of Piedmont in
1655 increased the bitterness of the Dublin govern-
ment and of the Protestant generals toward the un-
happy Irish. Fleetwood says: "The officers of the
army here are very sensible of the horrid cruelties in
the massacre of the poor Protestants in the Duke of
Savoy's dominions. ... It was less strange to
us when we heard that the insatiable Irish had a
hand in that bloodshed." The rigors of transplan-
tation became more severe. Of all these doings in
Cromwell's Irish chapter, each of us may say what he
will. Yet to every one it will at least be intelligible
how his name has come to be hated in the tenacious
heart of Ireland. What is called his settlement aggra-
vated Irish misery to a degree that cannot be measured,
and before the end of a single generation events at
Limerick and the Boyne showed how hollow and in-
effectual, as well as how mischievous the Cromwell ian
settlement had been. Strafford too had aimed at the
incorporation of Ireland with England, at plantation by
English colonists, and at religious uniformity within
a united realm. But Strafford had a grasp of the
complications of social conditions in Ireland to which
Cromwell could not pretend. He knew the need of
time and management. A Puritan, armed with a mus-
ket and the Old Testament, attempting to reconstruct
the foundations of a community mainly Catholic, was
sure to end in clumsy failure, and to this clumsy failure
no appreciation of Oliver's greatness should blind
rational men. One partial glimpse into the root of
the matter he unmistakably had. "These poor people,"
he said (December, 1649), "have been accustomed to as


much injustice, tyranny, andoppression from their land-
lords, the great men, and those who should have done
them right, as any people in that which we call Christ-
endom. Sir, if justice were freely and impartially
administered here, the foregoing darkness and corrup-
tion would make it look so much the more glorious and
beautiful, and draw more hearts after it." This was
Oliver's single glimpse of the main secret of the ever-
lasting Irish question; it came to little, and no other
English ruler had so much for many generations



IT was the turn of Scotland next. There the Com-
monwealth of England was wholly without friends.
Religious sentiment and national sentiment, so far as
in that country they can be conceived apart, combined
against a government that in the first place sprang
from the triumphs of Sectaries over Presbyterians,
and the violent slaying of a lawful Scottish king; and,
in the second place, had definitely substituted a prin-
ciple of toleration for the milk of the covenanted word.
The pure Royalist, the pure Covenanter, the men who
were both Royalists and fervid Presbyterians, those
who had gone with Montrose, those who went with
Argyll, the Engagers whom Cromwell had routed at
Preston, W'higgamores, nobles, and clergy all abhorred
the new English system which dispelled at the same
time both golden dreams of a Presbyterian king ruling
over a Presbyterian people, and constitutional visions

Online LibraryJohn MorleyOliver Cromwell → online text (page 21 of 35)