John Morley.

Oliver Cromwell online

. (page 32 of 35)
Online LibraryJohn MorleyOliver Cromwell → online text (page 32 of 35)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

by years of service the hero died on reaching Ply-
mouth Sound (1657).

By October of 1655 Mazarin had brought Cromwell
so far as to sign the treaty of Westminster, but the
treaty did not go to the length of alliance. The two
powers agreed to keep the peace among the mariners
of their respective countries, who had in fact for years
been in a state of informal war ; to suppress obnoxious
port dues, and duties of customs, and otherwise to
introduce better order into their maritime affairs. By
a secret article, political exiles were to be sent out of
both England and France. The treaty relieved
Mazarin of his anxieties on the side of England, and
brought him a step nearer to his great object of impos-
ing peace upon Spain.

It was not until March 23, 1657, that the next step
was taken, and the Treaty of Paris concluded. This
marked again a new phase of the Protector's policy, for
he now at last directly bound himself to active partici-
pation in the play of European politics, and he acquired


a continental stronghold. The preamble of the new
treaty states with sonorous and edifying decorum that
the intention of the very Christian King and the Lord
Protector, moved by their singular love of public tran-
quillity, is to compel the common enemy to allow the
Christian world at length to enjoy peace. England is
to send six thousand men for the siege of Gravelines,
Mardyke, and Dunkirk, as well as a fleet to support
them on the coast. When these strong places have
been recovered from the Spanish, the two last-named
are to be handed over to the Protector. Mazarin
described the English alliance as the best day's work
of his life, and begged his assailants at the Vatican and
in Paris to remember that the Protector had his free
choice between France and the cession of Dunkirk on
the one hand, and Spain and the cession of Calais on
the other, and that only the new treaty had averted
the choice that would have been the wrong choice for

The English force was duly despatched. The young
French king with lively curiosity reviewed the iron
men by whom his uncle had been vanquished, de-
throned, and put to death. Turenne, the famous
marshal, a Protestant with the blood of the House of
Orange in his veins, but destined to a strange con-
version and to be the instrument of one of the great
public crimes of the century, pronounced the Crom-
wellian contingent to be the finest troops in the world.
After some delay Mardyke was taken, and then for-
mally handed over to the English representative (Oc-
tober, 1657). It was the first foothold gained by Eng-
land on continental soil since the loss of Calais in the
time of Queen Mary a hundred years before. Dun-
kirk was left until the next season. The glory then
won by English arms belongs to a later page.

From the painting by Philippe de Champaigne at Chantilly.


At the end of 1655, Cromwell told the agent from
the Great Elector that it was not only to rule over the
English Republic that he had received a call from God,
but to introduce union and friendship among the
princes of Europe. Cool observers from Venice, who
knew thoroughly the ground that the Protector knew
so little, predicted in 1655 that his vast and ill-con-
ceived designs must end in spreading confusion all
over Christendom. These designs made little prog-
ress. The Great Elector remonstrated. He warned
Cromwell's ambassador that in the present state of
Europe the interest of Protestantism itself required
them to follow safe rather than specious counsels,
and to be content with trying to secure freedom of
conscience by treaty. Instead of a grand Protestant
league against the German branch of the House of
Austria, what Oliver saw, with perplexity and anger,
was violent territorial conflict among the Baltic Prot-
estant powers themselves. The Swedish king, the
Danish king, the Great Elector, were all in hot quar-
rel with one another — the quarrel in which Charles X,
grandson of Gustavus Adolphus, and grandfather of
Charles XII, astounded Europe by marching twenty
thousand men across some thirteen miles of frozen sea
on his path to territorial conquest. The dream of
Charles, from whom Cromwell hoped so much, was not
religious, but the foundation of a new Gothic Empire.
Anabaptists were not more disappointing at home than
Vv'ere the northern powers abroad. Even the Protes-
tant cantons of Switzerland did not help him to avenge
the barbarities in Piedmont. When a new emperor
came to be chosen, only three of the electors were Prot-
estant, and one of the Protestant three actually voted
for the Austrian Leopold. The presence of Crom-
well's troops in Flanders naturally filled the Dutch with


uneasiness, and inclined one Protestant republic again
to take arms against another. Finally, to hasten the
decline of Spain was directly to prepare for the ascen-
dancy of France; of a country, that is to say, where all
the predominant influences were Catholic and would
inevitably revive in unrestrained force as soon as the
monarchy was once secure.

Bolingbroke mentions a tradition of which he had
heard from persons who lived in those days, and whom
he supposes to have got it from Thurloe, that Crom-
well was in treaty with Spain and ready to turn his
arms against France at the moment when he died. So
soon, it is inferred, did he perceive the harm that would
be done to the general interest of Europe by that
French preponderance which his diplomacy had made
possible and his arms had furthered. But, they say,
"to do great things a man must act as if he will never
die," and if Cromwell had only lived, Louis XIV
would never have dared to revoke the edict of Nantes.
This is problematical indeed. If the view ascribed
to Cromwell by some modern admirers was really
his, it must rank among the contradictory chimeras
that sometimes haunt great minds. Suppose that
Cromwell's scheme of Protestant ascendancy in Eu-
rope had been less hard to reconcile with actual con-
ditions than it was, how was he to execute it? How
was the conversion of England into a crusading
military state, and the vast increase of taxation neces-
sary to support such a state, calculated to give
either popularity or strength to a government so pre-
carious and so unstable, that after five years of experi-
ment upon experiment it could exist neither with a
Parliament nor without one? It was the cost of the
war with Spain that prevented Oliver from being able
to help the Protestant against the Catholic cantons in


Switzerland, zealous as were his sympathies. And
one ground of his anxiety to possess Dunkirk was
trade antagonism to the Dutch, who were at least as
good Protestants as the English. Oliver's ideal was
not without a grandeur of its own, but it was incongru-
ous in its parts, and prolonged trial of it could only
have made its unworkableness more manifest.

"You have accounted yourselves happy," said the
Protector in his speech in January, 1658, "in being en-
vironed by a great ditch from all the world beside.
Truly you will not be able to keep your ditch nor your
shipping unless you turn your ships and shipping into
troops of horse and companies of foot, and fight to
defend yourselves on terra firma." The great Eliza-
beth, like Lambert at Cromwell's own council-table,
believed in the policy of the ditch and "the felicity of
full coffers," and she left a contented people and a
settled realm. Cromwell, notwithstanding all the
glory of his imperial vision of England as a fighting
continental state, was in fact doing his best to prevent
either content or the settlement of his own rule in the
island whence alone all this splendor could first radiate.

The future growth of vast West Indian interests, of
which the seizure of Jamaica was the initial step, has
made it possible to depict Cromwell as the conscious
author of a great system of colonial expansion. What
is undoubtedly true is that such ideas were then alive.
Nor had the famous traditions of the Elizabethans
died. The Commonwealth from the time of its birth,
while Cromwell was still engaged in the reduction of
Scotland, had shown the same vigor in the case of in-
surgent colonies as against royalist foes in waters
nearer home, or against the forces of distraction in
the two outlying kingdoms. The Navigation Act,
which belongs to the same date, has been truly de-


scribed as designed among other nearer objects to _

strengthen the hold of England on her distant posses- ■

sions, though it is perhaps a reading of modern phrases ■

into old events to say that the statesmen of the Re-
public deliberately designed to show that England was
to be not merely a European power, but the center of a
world-wide empire. Be this as it may, Cromwell's col-
onial policy was that of his predecessors, as it was that
of the statemen who followed him. He watched the
colonies in a rational and conciliatory spirit, and at-
tended with energy to the settlement of Jamaica,
though some of his expedients were too hurried to be
wise, for with the energetic temperament we have to
take its drawbacks. For his time little came of his
zealous hopes for the West Indies, and English mer-
chants thought bitterly on their heavy losses in the
Spanish trade for which a barren acquisition seemed
the only recompense. Colonial expansion came in
spite of the misgivings of interested traders or the
passing miscalculations of statesmen.

It had its spring in the abiding demands of national
circumstance, in the continuous action of economic
necessities upon a national character of incomparable
energy and adventure. Such a policy was not, and
could not be the idea of one man, or the mark of a
single generation.



IN France, a century and a quarter after Cromwell's
day, they said that every clerk who had read Rous-
seau's "New Heloisa," every schoolmaster who had
translated ten pages of Livy. every journalist who
knew by heart the sophisms of the Social Contract, was
sure that he had found the philosopher's stone and was
instantly ready to frame a constitution. Our brave
fathers of the Cromwellian times were almost as rash.
There is no branch of political industry that men ap-
proach with hearts so light, and yet that leaves them
at the end so dubious and melancholy, as the concoc-
tion of a Second Chamber. Cromwell and his Parlia-
ment set foot on this pons asinonim of democracy
without a suspicion of its dangers.

The Protector made it a condition at his conferences,
in the spring of 1657, that if he was to go on there must
be other persons interposed between him and the House
of Commons. To prevent tumultuary and popular
spirits he sought a screen. It was granted that he
should name another House. Nothing seemed simpler
or more plausible, and yet he was steering straight
upon reefs and shoals. A mistake here, said Thur-
loe, will be like war or marriage ; it admits of no re-
pentance. If the old House of Lords had been alive,

29 449


and had also by miracle been sincerely in the humor
to work for national pacification, to restore it might
have tended to union. As it was, to call out of empty
space an artificial House, without the hold upon men's
minds of history and ancient association, without de-
fined powers, without marked distinction of persons
or interests, and then to try to make it an effective
screen against an elected House to whose assent it owed
its own being, was not to promote union but directly
to provoke division and to intensify it. Confident in
his own good faith, and with a conviction that to frame
laws in view of contingent possibilities has a tincture
of impiety in it as a distrust of Providence, Cromwell
never thought out the scheme; he left it in the Humble •
Petition and Advice with leaks, chinks, and wide aper-
tures that might horrify the newest apprentice of a
Parliamentary draughtsman. The natural result fol-
lowed. The new House was not to be more than
seventy in number nor less than forty, to be named by
the Protector and approved by the House of Commons ;
a place in it was not hereditary ; and it received no
more impressive title than the Other House. Crom-
well selected a very respectable body of some sixty
men, beginning with his two sons, Richard and Henry,
and including good lawyers, judges, generals, and less
than a dozen of the old nobles. Some of the ablest,
like Lockhart and Monk and Henry Cromwell, were
absent from England, and all of the old nobles save
five held aloof. Like smaller reformers since, Crom-
well had never decided, to begin with, whether to make
his lords strong or weak : strong enough to curb the
Commons, and yet weak enough for the Commons to
curb them. The riddle seems unanswered to this day.
He forgot too that by removing so many men of expe-
rience and capacity away from the Commons he was


impairing- the strength of his own government at the
central point of attack. Attack was certain, for on the
opening of the second session of his second Parhament
(January 20, 1658) the ninety members whom he had
shut out from the first session were to be admitted.
Some of them, after much consideration, deemed it their
duty "to leave that tyrant and his packed convention to
stand upon his sandy foundation," but the majority
seem to have thought otherwise and they reappeared.

The looseness of the constituting document made the
business of an opposition easy, if it were inclined to
action. One clause undoubtedly enacted that no stand-
ing law could be altered and no new law made except by
act of Parliament. As a previous clause had defined
a Parliament to consist of two Houses, this seemed to
confer on the Other House a coordinate share in legis-
lation. On the other hand, the only section dealing
with the specific attributes of the new House regards it
as a court of civil and criminal appeal, and the oppo-
sition argued that the Other House was to be that and
nothing else. It was here, and on the question of
government by a single House, that the ground of
party battle was chosen. Cromwell's enemies had a
slight majority. After the debate had gone on for
four days, he addressed them in an urgent remon-
strance. He dwelt on the alarming state of Europe,
the combinations against the Protestant interest, the
discord within that interest itself, the danger of a Span-
ish invasion to restore the Stuarts, the deadly perils of
disunion at home.

The House was deaf. For ten days more the stub-
born debate on the name and place of the Other House
went on. Stealthy attempts were made to pervert the
army in the interest of a republican revival. As in the
old times of the Long Parliament, the opposition


worked up petitions in the city. These petitions were
designed by the malcontents to serve as texts for mo-
tions and debates in favor of returning to a pure
commonwealth. On the other wing there were some
in the Parliament who even held commissions from
the king. The Protector, well aware of all that was
on foot, at last could endure it no more. In opening
the session he had referred to his infirmity of health,
and the labor of wrestling with the difficulties of his
place, as Maidstone says, "drank up his spirits, of
which his natural constitution yielded a vast stock."
Royalists consoled themselves with stories that he was
not well in mind or body; that his mutinous officers
vexed him strangely; and that he was forced to take
opium to make him sleep. The story of the circum-
stances of the last dealings of Oliver with a Parliament
was related as follows : "A mysterious porter brought
letters addressed to the Protector: Thurloe directed
Maidstone, the steward, to take them to his Highness.
The door of the apartment was closed, but on his
knocking very hard, Cromwell cried out angrily to
know who was there. Presently he unbarred the door,
took the letters, and shut himself in again. By-and-
by he sent for Whalley and Desborough, who were
to be in command of the guard that night. Lie asked
them if they had heard no news, and on their saying-
no, he again asked if they had not heard of a petition.
He bade them go to Westminster. On their way they
heard some of the soldiers using disaffected words.
This they immediately reported, and Oliver told them
to change the ordering of the guards for the night. The
next morning (February 4), before nine o'clock he
called for his breakfast, telling Thurloe, who chanced
to be ill, that he would go to the House, at which Thur-
loe wondered why his Highness resolved so suddenly.


He did not tell him why, but he was resolved to go.
"And when he had his meal, he withdrew himself,
and went the back way, intending alone to have gone
by water; but the ice was so as he could not; then he
came the foot way, and the first man of the guard he
saw he commanded him to press the nearest coach,
which he did, with but two horses in it, and so he went
with not above four footmen, and about five or six of
the guards to the House ; after which, retiring into the
withdrawing room, drank a cup of ale and ate a piece
of toast. Then the Lord Fiennes, near to him, asked
his Highness what he intended ; he said he would dis-
solve the House. Upon which the Lord Fleetwood
said, 'I beseech your Highness consider first well of it ;
it is of great consequence.' He replied, 'You are a
milksop : by the living God I will dissolve the House.'
( Some say he iterated this twice, and some say it was,
'As the Lord liveth.')"

His speech was for once short and concentrated, and
he did not dissemble his anger. "What is like to
come upon this," he concluded, "the enemy being ready
to invade us, but our present blood and confusion?
And if this be so, I do assign it to this cause : your not
assenting to what you did invite me to by your Petition
and Advice, as that which might prove the settlement
of the nation. And if this be the end of your sitting,
and this be your carriage, I think it high time that an
end be put to your sitting. And I so dissolve this
Parliament. And let God be judge between you and
me." To which end, says one report, many of the
Commons cried Amen.

Cromwell's government had gone through six stages
in the five years since the revolution of 1653. The
first was a dictatorship tempered by a military council.
Second, wdiile wielding executive power as lord-gen-


eral, he called a Parliamentary convention. Third,
the convention vanished, and the soldiers installed him
as Protector under the Instrument. Fourth, the sys-
tem under the Instrument broke down, and for months
the Protectorate again meant the personal rule of the
head of the army. Fifth, the rule of the major-gen-
erals broke down, and was followed by a kind of con-
stitutional monarchy. Sixth, the monarch and the
Parliament quarreled, and the constitution broke
down. This succession of expedients and experi-
ments may have been inevitable in view of the fun-
damental dislocation of things after rebellion and
war. But in face of such a spectacle and such results
it is hardly possible to claim for the triumphant soldier
a high place in the history of original and creative

The Protector next flung himself into the work of
tracking out the conspirators. That the design of a
Spanish invasion to fit in with domestic insurrection
would hopelessly miscarry may have been probable.
That the fidelity of the army could be relied upon, he
hardly can have doubted. But a ruler bearing all the
responsibilities of a cause and a nation cannot afford
to trust to the chapter of accidents. We who live two-
centuries off cannot pretend to measure the extent of
the danger, but nobody can read the depositions of
witnesses in the cases of the spring of 1658 without
feeling the presence of mischief that even the most
merciful of magistrates was bound to treat as grave.
The nation showed no resentment against treasonable
designs; it was not an ordered and accepted govern-
ment against which they were directed. This did not
lighten the necessity of striking hard at what Henry
Cromwell called these recurring anniversary mischiefs.
Examples were made in the persons of Sir Henry

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



Slingsby, Dr. Hewitt, and some obscurer persons.
Hewitt was an Episcopal clergyman, an acceptable
preacher to those of his own way of thinking, a fervent
Royalist : the evidence is strong that he was deep in
Stuart plots. Slingsby's case is less clear. That he
was a Royalist and a plotter is certain, but the evidence
suggests that there was some ugly truth in what he
said on his trial that he was ''trepanned" by agents of
the government who, while he was in their custody at
Hull, extracted his secrets from him by pretending to
favor his aims. The high courts of justice before
which these and other prisoners of the same stamp w^ere
arraigned did not please steady lawyers like White-
locke, but the Protector thought them better fitted to
terrify evil-doers than an ordinary trial at common
law. Though open to all the objections against special
criminal tribunals, the high courts of justice during
Cromwell's reign were conducted with temper and
fairness : they always had good lawyers among them,
and the size of the court, never composed of less than
thirty members, gave it something of the quality of
trial by jury. It is said that Hewitt had privately per-
formed the service according to the Anglican rite at
the recent marriage of Mary Cromwell with Lord
Fauconberg, and that the bride interceded for his
life, but the Protector was immovable, and both
Slingsby and Hewitt were sent to the scafifold (June,
1658). Plots were once more for a season driven
underground. But it is impossible that the grim arid
bloody circumstances of their suppression could have
helped the popularity of the government.

Meanwhile the Protectorate was sinking deeper and
deeper into the bog of financial difficulty. ''We are so
out at the heels here," Thurloe says in April, "that I
know not what we shall do for money." At the end


of the month he reports that the clamor for money
both from the sea and land is such that they can scarce
be borne. Henry Cromwell, now lord deputy in Ire-
land, is in the last extremity. Hunger, he says, will
break through stone walls, and if they are kept so bare,
they will soon have to cease all industry and sink to
the brutish practices of the Irish themselves. Fleet-
w^ood is sure they spend as little public money except
for public needs as any government ever did ; but their
expenses, he admits, were extraordinary, and could not
with safety be retrenched. In June things are still
declared to be at a standstill. The sums required could
not possibly be supplied without a Parliament, and in
that direction endless perils lurked. Truly, I think,
says Thurloe, that nothing but some unexpected Provi-
dence can remove the present difficulties, which the
Lord, it may be, will afford us, if He hath thoughts of
peace toward us. By July things are even worse,
"our necessities much increasing every day."

Cromwell threw the deliberations on the subject of
a Parliament on to a junto of nine. What was the
Parliament to do when it should meet? How was the
government to secure itself against Cavaliers on one
hand, and Commonwealth ultras on the other? For
the Cavaliers some of the junto suggested an oath of
abjuration and a fine of half their estates. This was
not very promising. The Cavaliers might take the
oath, and yet not keep it. To punish Cavaliers who
were innocent, for the sins of the plotters would be
recognized as flagrantly unjust; and as many of the
old Cavaliers were now dead, it was clearly impolitic
by such injustice to turn their sons into irreconcilables.
The only thing in the whole list of constitutional diffi-
culties on which the junto could agree was that the


Protector should name his successor. If this close
council could only come to such meager conclusion
upon the vexed questions inseparable from that revi-
sion which, as everybody knew, must be faced, what
gain could be expected from throwing the same ques-
tions on the floor of a vehemently distracted Parlia-
ment? There is reason even for supposing that in his

Online LibraryJohn MorleyOliver Cromwell → online text (page 32 of 35)