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oppose his usurpation and oppression, and no such
assembly can be the representative body of England.
We may be sure that if such was the temper of nearly
one fourth of a Parliament that was itself just —
chosen under close restrictions — this remonstrance
gives a striking indication how little way had even yet
been made by Cromwell in converting popular opinion
to his support.



THE Parliament speedily showed signs that, win-
nowed and sifted as it had been, and loyally as it
ahvays meant to stand to the person of the Protector,
yet like the Rump, like the Barebones' Convention,
and like the first Parliament under the Instrument,
all of them, one after another, banished in disgrace, it
was resolved not to be a cipher in the constitution, but
was full of that spirit of corporate self-esteem without
which any Parliament is a body void of soul. The
elections had taught them that the rule of the sword-
men and the decimators was odious even to the honest
party in the country. Oliver anxiously watching the
signs of public feeling had probably learned the same
lesson, that his major-generals were a source of weak-
ness and not of strength to his government. The
hour had come when the long struggle between army
and Parliament which in various forms had covered
nine troubled years, was to enter a fresh and closing
phase. The nation, whether Royalist or Puritan, had
shown itself as a whole bitterly averse to the trans-
formation of the ancient realm of England into a mili-
tary state, and with this aversion, even from the early
days of barrack debates at Windsor and Putney. Oliver
was in perfect sympathy. Neither the habitudes of the
camp, nor the fact that his own power which he rightly
^^ 401


identified with public order, had always depended and
must still depend upon the army, dulled his instinct or
weakened his desire that the three kingdoms should be
welded, not into a soldier state, but into a civil con-
stitution solidly reposing on its acceptance by the na-
tion. We cannot confidently divine the workings of
that capacious, slow, and subtle mind, but this quick-
ened perception seems to be the key to the dramatic
episode that was now approaching.

The opportunity for disclosing the resolve of the
Parliament to try a fall with the military power soon
came. It was preceded by an incident that revealed
one of the dangers, so well known to Oliver, and
viewed by him with such sincere alarm as attending
any kind of free Parliament whether this or another.
The general objects of the new Parliament of 1656,
like the objects of its immediate predecessor of 1654,
were to widen the powers of Parliament, to limit those
of the Protector, to curb the soldiers, and finally, al-
though this was kept in discreet shade, to narrow the
area of religious tolerance. A test of tolerance oc-
curred almost at once. Excesses of religious emotion
were always a sore point with Protestant reformers,
for all such excesses seemed a warrant for the bitter
predictions of the Catholics at the Reformation, that
to break with the church was to open the flood-gates of
extravagance and blasphemy in the heart of unregen-
erate man. Hence nobody was so infuriated as the
partisan of private judgment with those who carried
private judgment beyond a permitted point.

James Nayler was an extreme example of the
mystics whom the hard children of this world dismiss
as crazy fanatics. For several years he had fought
with good repute in the Parliamentary army, and he
was present on the memorable day of Dunbar. Then


he joined George Fox, by-and-by carried Quaker prin-
ciples to a higher pitch, and in time gave to his faith a
personal turn by allowing enthusiastic disciples to
salute him as the Messiah. In October, 1656, he rode
into Bristol, attended by a crowd of frantic devotees,
some of them casting branches on the road, all chant-
ing loud hosannas, several even vowing that he had
miraculously raised them from the dead. For his
share in these transactions Nayler was brought before
a committee of Parliament. No sworn evidence was
taken. Nobody proved that he had spoken a word.
The worst that could be alleged was that he had taken
part in a hideous parody. The House found that he
was guilty of blasphemy, that he was a grand impostor,
and a seducer of the people. It was actually proposed
to inflict the capital sentence, and the offender only es-
caped death by a majority of fourteen, in a division of
a hundred and seventy-eight members. The debate
lasted over many days. The sentence finally imposed
was this : To stand in the pillory two hours at West-
minster; to be whipped by the hangman from West-
minster to the old Exchange, and there to undergo
another two hours' pillory; to have his tongue bored
through with a hot iron; to be branded on the brow
with the letter B ; then to be sent to Bristol, carried on
a horse barebacked with his face to the tail, and there
again whipped in the market-place ; thence to be
brought back to London, to be put into solitary confine-
ment with hard labor during the pleasure of Parlia-
ment, without use of pen, ink, or paper. So hideous
a thing could Puritanism be, so little was there in
many things to choose between the spirit of Laud and
the hard hearts of the people who cut off Laud's head.
Cromwell showed his noblest quality. The year be-
fore he had interposed by executive act to remove John


Biddle, charged with Socinian heresy, from the grasp
of the courts. Cromwell denounced the blasphemy of
denying- the godhead of Jesus Christ, but he secluded
Biddle from harm by sending him to Scilly with an
allowance of ten shillings a week and a supply of books.
So now in Nayler's case he hated the cruelty, and he
saw the mischief of the assumption by Parliament of the
function of a court of law. The most ardent friends
of Parliament must still read with a lively thrill the
words that Oliver now addressed to the Speaker :
"Having taken notice of a judgment lately given by
yourselves against one James Nayler; although we
detest and abhor the giving or occasioning the least
countenance to persons of such opinions and practice.
. . . Yet we. being interested in the present gov-
ernment on behalf of the people of these nations ; and
not knowing how far such proceeding, entered into
wholly without us, may extend in the consequence of
it — Do desire that the House will let us know the
grounds and reasons whereupon they have proceeded."
(December 12, 1656.) This rebuke notwithstanding,
the execrable sentence was carried out to the letter.
It galled Cromwell to find that under the Instrument
he had no power to interfere with the Parliamentary
assumption of judicial attributes, and this became an
additional reason for that grand constitutional revision
which was now coming into sight.

A few days after the disposal of Nayler a bill was
brought in that raised the great question of the major-
generals, their arbitrary power, and their unlawful
decimations. By the new bill the system was to be
continued. The lawyers argued strongly against it.
and the members of the Council of State and the major-
generals themselves were of course as strongly for it.
The debate was long and heated, for both sides under-


stood that the issue was grave. When the final divi-
sion was taken, the bih was thrown out by a majority of
thirty-six in a House of two hundred and twelve. One
curious result of the legislative union of the three king-
doms of which the world has heard only too much in
later days, was now first noted. "The major-generals are
much offended at the Irish and Scottish members who,
being much united, do sway exceedingly by their votes.
I hope it will be for the best; or if the proverb be true
that the fox fares best when he is curst, those that serve
for Ireland will bring home some good things for their
country." No Catholics were either electors or eli-
gible, and the Irish who thus helped to hold the balance
were of course the colonists from England and Scot-

"Some gentlemen." Thurloe tells Henry Cromwell,
"do think themselves much trampled upon by this vote
against their bill, and are extremely sensible thereof."
That is to say. most of the major-generals, with the
popular and able Lambert at their head, recognized
that the vote was nothing less than a formal decision
against the army and its influences. So bold a chal-
lenge from a Parliament in whose election and puri-
fication they had taken so prominent a part, roused
sharp anger, and the consequences of it were immedi-
ately visible in the next and more startling move.
Cromwell's share in either this first event, or in that
which now followed, is as obscure as his share in the
removal of the king from Holmby. or in Pride's Purge,
or in the resolve to put Charles to death. The im-
pression among the leaders of the army undoubtedly
seems to have been that in allowing the recent vote, the
Lord Protector had in effect thrown his major-generals

As we are always repeating to ourselves. Cromwell


from 1647 ^^^'^ shown himself ready ro follow events
rather than go before. He was sometimes a consti-
tutional ruler, sometimes a dictator, sometimes the
agent of the barrack, each in turn as events appeared
to point and to demand. Now he reverted to the part
of constitutional ruler. The elections and the Parlia-
ment showed him that the "little invention" of the
major-generals had been a mistake, but he was not so
sure of this as to say so. Ominous things happened.
Desborough, his brother-in-law, brought in the bill, but
Claypole, his son-in-law, was the first to oppose it. An-
other kinsman in the House denounced the major-gen-
erals roundly. People told him he would get a rating
when next he visited Whitehall. Nothing daunted, he
repaired to the Protector, and stood to what he had
said with papers to prove his case. His Highness
answered him with raillery, and taking a rich scarlet
cloak from his back and gloves from his hands threw
them to his kinsman (Henry Cromwell), "who strutted
in the House in his new finery next day, to the great
satisfaction and delight of some, and trouble of others."
Parliaments are easily electrified by small incidents,
and men felt that a new chapter was about to open.
It was evident that Cromwell, who had only a few days
before so strongly defended the major-generals, w,as
now for sailing on a fresh tack.

About this time was published the pamphlet with
the famous title of "Killing no Murder." It sets out
with truculent vigor the arguments for death to
tyrants, with a direct and deadly exhortation to apply
them to the case of the Lord Protector. The argu-
ments had been familiar enough in the fifteenth and
sixteenth centuries, and though the writer does not for-
get Ehud and Eglon, Jehoiada and Athaliah, he has
much to say from pagans like Aristotle, Tacitus,


Cicero, MachiavelH. "Had not his Highness," he
says, "been fluent in his tears and had a supple con-
science ; and besides had to do with a people of great
faith but little wit, his courage and the rest of his moral
virtues, with the help of his janissaries, had never been
able so far to advance him out of the reach of justice
that we should have need to call for any other hand to
remove him but that of the hangman." The Royalists
did not conceal their approval of this doctrine of dagger
and pistol. It is a most excellent treatise, says Nicho-
las, the king's secretary of state. Cromwell, they said,
had no more right to law than a wolf or a fox ; and the
exiles found comfort in telling one another that the
Protector went about in as much fright as Cain after he
had murdered Abel. Three weeks before this pungent
incitement began to circulate, its author had almost
succeeded in a design that would have made pamphlets
superfluous. Sexby, whom Cromwell had described
at the opening of the new Parliament as a wretched
creature, an apostate from all honor and honesty, one
of the republicans whom Oliver's later proceedings
had turned into a relentless enemy, was deep in plots
with Royalists abroad and even with the Spaniards
against the life of the Protector. Diligent watch was
kept upon Sexby, and for long his foreign employers
got nothing for their money. At length he secured
a confederate as determined as himself and less well
known to Thurloe's police in Miles Sindercombe, an
old trooper of Monk's, and a hater of tyrants rather
after Roman than Hebrew example. Sindercombe
dogged the Protector with a pistol in his pocket, took
a lodging in the road between Whitehall and Hampton
Court, where Oliver passed every week, offered bribes
to the guards, and at last his pertinacity came very near
to success in a plan for setting fire to the Protector's


apartments in AMiitehall.
before a jnr}- — a substantial body of men, most of
them justices of the peace — and was condemned. He
died in his bed in the Tower the night before the exe-
cution. Sexby said that the governor had smothered
him, but he afterward admitted that this was a fab-
rication. The evidence went to show that some
mineral poison had been secretly conveyed to Sinder-
combe by three women who had been allowed to visit

This dangerous plot was exploded in January
(1657), and the Protector's narrow escape made a
profound impression on the public mind. It awoke
sober men, who are a majority in most countries when
opportunity gives them a chance, to the fact that only
Oliver's life stood between them and either anarchy on
the one hand, or a vindictive restoration on the other.
Another design of the same sort came to light not long
after. An obscure design of a few score of the extreme
Fifth Monarchy men was discovered in the east of Lon-
don in the month of April. Venner, a cooper, was the
leading spirit; his confederates were of mean station,
and they appear to have had the same organization of
circles and centers that marks the more squalid of mod-
ern secret societies. They had no coherent political
ideas, but they spoke desperate things about the mur-
der of the Protector, and Thurloe, with the natural
instinct of the head of a criminal investigation depart-
ment, was persuaded that stronger hands and heads
were in the plot, and thought of Harrison, Rich, and
Okey. The government had long known all about it,
and at the proper moment laid its hand upon the
plotters. The opponents of the alterations in the gov-
ernment professed to think that these alterations were
the source of the conspiracy, and tried to make a little

Drawn by George T. Tobin from the original portrait by
Sir Peter Lely at Swarthmore College.



political capital out of the discontent which it was sup-
posed to indicate in the honest party. The truth is,
says the sage Thurloe, there is a sort of men who will
never rest so long as they see troubled waters, and sup-
pose a chance of carrying out their foolish principles.
Venner's plot was not of much more serious conse-
quence than the plot against Charles II, for which the
same Venner was hanged four years later, but it now
heightened the general excitement.

The confusion of the sects may have invohed less
direct political peril than some of the government sup-
posed, but it marked a social chaos without a parallel.
Oliver was denounced as the Serpent, the Beast, the
Bastard of Ashdod. The Saints, on the other hand,
were engaged on Life and Death to stand or fall with
the Lord Jesus, their captain-general on his red horse,
against the Beast's government. Cromwell was in-
finitely patient and even sympathetic with the most
fantical of them. He could not bear to quarrel with
the brave and open-hearted Harrison. He sent for
him to Whitehall, gave him a handsome feast, and then
discharged the duty of a friend by admonishing him
to quit deceitful and slippery ways. Like the sensible
statesman that he was, he always liked to carry as
many of his old friends with him as he could, only if
they would not go with him, then he went on alone.

It was in 1654 that the Quakers entered into history.
It was mdeed high time, for the worst of Puritanism
was that in so many of its phases it dropped out the
Sermon on the Mount, and left the best texts in the
New Testament to Arianising heretics. Alilitant
Puritanism was often only half Christian. Quaker-
ism has undergone many developments, but in all of
them it has been the most devout of all endeavors to
turn Christianity into the religion of Christ. In un-


couth phrases but with glowing souls they carried to
its furthest point the protest against outer form and
ceremonial as degrading to the life of the spirit.
They fell in with the corresponding principle of an-
tagonism to powers and institutions as hindrances to
human freedom. No other sect so alarmed and ex-
asperated the authorities for much the same military
and political reasons as had made statesmen persecute
the Christian professors in the early days of imperial
Rome. Cromwell treated them as kindly as he could.
He listened in his chamber at Whitehall with atten-
tion and emotion to one of George Fox's exhortations,
saying, "That is very good," or "That is true," and
when they parted Cromwell said to him, "Come again
to my house ; if thou and I were but an hour of the day
together, we should be nearer one to the other. I wish
no more harm to thee than I do to my own soul."
When Fox lay in prison, a friend went to Cromwell
and begged to be allowed to suffer in his stead. The
Protector answered that it was contrary to the law,
and turning to his council, "Which of you," quoth he,
"would do as much for me if I were in the same con-

Notwithstanding his own good will the Quakers
suffered much bitter usage from country justices, from
judges, and from military officers. The Friends com-
plained that justices delighted in tendering to them
the oath of abjuration, knowing that they could not
take it, and so designing to make a spoil of them. "It
was never intended for them," cried Oliver, "I never
so intended it." When they were harshly punished
for refusing to pay their tithe, Oliver disclaimed all
share in such severities, and assured them that all per-
secution and cruelty was against his mind. Thurloe,
on the other hand, who represented that secular spirit



which is so apt to be the counterfeit of statesmanship,
saw in the Quakers foes of civil government, and re-
garded them as the most serious enemies they had.
The chapter of Quaker persecution must be considered
a dark blot on the administration of the Protectorate.

A curious interview is recorded (1654) between the
Protector and some of his angry critics. John Rogers
had denounced him from the pulpit, and written
pamphlets lamenting over Oliver, Lord Cromwell, from
that most useful of all texts, the everlasting Mcne,
Mene,TckclUpharsin; and for these and other proceed-
ings he was arrested. Cromwell admitted Rogers and
a crowd of followers to an audience. Before they
reached him they were struck, hustled, and abused as
a pack of cursed dogs and damned rogues by the guards
down-stairs. When they came to the presence, "The
Great Man had with him two gentlemen more, who
stood by the fire-side, and a pistol lay prepared at the
window where he himself at first was. Then he came
to the fire-side in great majesty, without moving or
showing the least civility of a man. though all stood
bare to him and gave respect." Cromwell listened
to them with rough good-nature, trying with homely
banter to bring them to the point. 'T believe you speak
many things according to the Gospel, but what you
suffer for is railing and evil doing," and so forth, like
a good-humored police magistrate trying to bring
street preachers to reason for blocking the thorough-

Even with Anglicanism, he was. in spite of the
ordinance of 1656, for fair play. A deputation of Lon-
don ministers waited upon the Protector and com-
plained that the Episcopal clergy got their congrega-
tions away from them. "Have they so," said Oliver,
making as if he would say something to the captain of


the guard. "But hold," said he, "after what manner
do the Cavaliers debauch your people?" "By preach-
ing," said the ministers. "Then preach back again,"
said Oliver, and so left them to their reflections. Yet
Cromwell's tolerance did not prevent a major-general
from sending the harmless and \'irtuous Jeremy Tay-
lor arbitrarily to prison.

Cromwell's importance in church history has been
said to rest on this, that he brought Anabaptism or
enthusiasm, one of the marked epochs of that history,
to its close. "In him, its greatest leader, Anabaptism
reaches its climax, and yet it is by his action that x\na-
baptism ceases to be a historic force. Henceforth it
loses the universal significance that it has possessed
for two centuries. Its political, like its general re-
forming influence, is at an end, and its religious in-
spirations close." ^ When Mazarin (1656) pressed
for the same toleration for Catholics in England as
was asked for Protestants abroad, the Protector replied
that he believed Mazarm had less reason to complain
of rigor on men's consciences under him than under
the Parliament. "And herein it is my purpose as soon as
I can remove impediments to make a further progress,"
but "I may not (shall I tell you I cannot) at this
juncture of time answer your call for toleration ; I say
I cannot, as to a public declaration of my sense on that
point." As constable of the parish Cromwell's power
was only limited by the council of officers, but national
leadership in the field of opinion he did not possess.
In 1655 a retrograde proclamation was issued for the
execution of the laws against Jesuits and priests, and
for the conviction of popish recusants. Sensible men
like Whitelocke protested that it was not needed, and
little came of it. In 165 1 Peter \\'right, a priest, was

1 Weingarten, p. 158.


hanged, drawn, and quartered at Tyburn, along with
a group of ordinary criminals, for seducing the people ;
and in 1654 another priest, John Southworth, an old
man of seventy-two, suffered the same fate for the
same offense. In 1657 the Independents, whose politi-
cal existence had begun with their protest for tolera-
tion, passed an act by which anybody over sixteen sus-
pected of being a Papist might be called upon to abjure
the leading articles of Catholic belief, and if he failed
to purge himself should forfeit two thirds of his prop-
erty. From this flagitious law the Protector did not
withhold his assent. It was one of the last legislative
performances of the Cromwellian Parliament.

The Jews had been banished by law from England
since the end of the thirteenth century, yet it is pretty
certain that their presence was not entirely unknown
in either country or town. Shakspere and Marlowe
had made dark figures of them on the stage, though
Shakspere's glorious humanity had put into the mouth
of Shylock one of the most pathetic appeals in litera-
ture against the cruelty of theological hate. Puritanism
itself was impregnated with ideas, language, argument,
and history, all borrowed from Jewish antiquity and
sacred books. Roger \\'illiams, most unswerving of
the advocates of toleration, argued strongly for break-
ing down the wall of superstition between Jew and
Gentile. Stern men like WHialley saw reasons, both of
religion and policy, why Jews should be admitted, for
they would bring much wealth into the State, and they
would be all the more likely to be converted. Crom-
well with great earnestness held the same \'ie v, but
though the question was debated candidly and without
heat, opinion in his council was divided. In the end
all that he felt himself able to do was to grant a certain
number of private dispensations to individuals, and to


connive at a small synagogue and a cemetery. It was
enough to show him on the side of freedom, pity, and
light. But the tolerance of the Puritanism around
him was still strictly limited. It would be graceless
indeed to underestimate or forget the debt we owe to
both Quakers and Independents ; they it was who at a
critical time made liberty of conscience a broad, an
actual, and a fighting issue. Yet it was from the
rising spirit of rationalism, and neither from the liberal

Online LibraryJohn MorleyOliver Cromwell → online text (page 29 of 35)