W. J. (William J.) Scott.

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foretold the assembling of the States-general of France
in October, 1789, nor the summoning of the Long Par
liament of England in November, 1640. Yet these are
the pivotal events of modern history. The former was
the day dawn, or rather the night-dawn of the era of
bloodshed, involving terrorism, Napoleonism, and what
else relates to that stormy period of European history.
The latter was the birth hour of the Cromwellian era,
with its Rupert chivalries and its Ironside invincibilities,
with its murder of one king and the precipitate flight
of another. To this last named historic period we dvote
this paper on Cromwell and his times.

In the closing year of the sixteenth century, in the
pretty village of Huntingdon, a man-child was born into
the world, who five days thereafter in the parish church
was christened "Oliver." This happening excited no
interest beyond a narrow circle of village dames, and
yet its remoter results have deeply impressed the civili-


zation of the nineteenth century. Of the earlier years
of Cromwell we obtain only an occasional glimpse. Pos
sibly, as Greene or Carlyle suggests, he was like most
English lads, fond of robbing birds' nests and raiding
upon apple orchards. We believe it is Dickens who
mentions an interview between Cromwell and Charles
I., at the house of Sir Oliver Cromwell, the uncle
of the future Protector, when they were both mere lads.
As the story goes, young Oliver manifested some repug
nance to his Royal Highness, and peremptorily refused
to "pay his duty" to the forthcoming king. It is
spoken to the credit of James I., who was pres
ent at the interview, that he commended the sturdy
independence of young Cromwell, and reminded his
favorite son that the English people all had the same
pluck with his boyish playmate. The whole statement
is probably mythical, and was the after-thought of some
later narrater.

When about the age of seventeen, Cromwell came
under the influence of the Puritan clergy, who were
wont to harangue the village rabble at the foot of the
town cross. In due time he embraced the Puritan the
ology. This was shortly followed by his conversion, a
phenomenal event that might be compared to that of
John Bunyan, the tinker of Elstow. About this time
he was troubled with those hypochondriac fancies of
which Carlyle has preserved the account. Amongst
other odd conceits was his sending to the village physi
cian at midnight, fearing that he was about to die. By
degrees, however, he emerged from this valley of the


shadow of death, so that in his last days he desired
neither refreshment nor sleep, but was in haste to be

Whether wisely or not, Cromwell, at an immature age,
espoused Elizabeth, the daughter of Sir James Bourchier,
who proved a faithful helpmate through all the vicissi
tudes of an eventful life. For several years after this
matrimonial alliance he devoted himself mainly to cattle
husbandry, except that at frequent intervals he officiat
ed both in prayer and exhortation in the religious assem
blies of his native town. But little else is known of
him during this period beyond the fact that he was
returned to the Parliament of 1629, where, owing to his
"inadequacy of speech," he made no considerable fig
ure. This Parliament was noted for the "petition of
right" which Charles I. assented to after many
delays and attempted evasions. No sooner, however,
was Parliament dissolved than he renewed his unconsti
tutional levies under the names of loans and benevo
lences. It is said that upon the dissolution of this Par
liament Cromwell remarked in a significant way to his
old teacher that they did not need him now, but they
would want him hereafter.

During the parliamentary interval of eleven years
which followed, Cromwell removed to Cambridgeshire,
where he became an expert in all kinds of husbandry.
Meanwhile, Strafford had formulated a system of
"Thorough,'' a euphemism for continental despotism.
To this period belongs the story that Cromwell, Hamp-
den, Pym, and other commonwealth celebrities secured


passage for New England, but were stopped by a royal
order in council.

In November, 1640, the Long Parliament, memora
ble for its political results, met at Westminster in
response to the royal summons. In this Parliament
Cromwell sat for Cambridgeshire, one of the aristocratic
constituencies of the country. At the beginning of this
session the House consisted of men of widely different
views in politics and religion. Were we to classify
according to the French method, we should say there
was a center and a right and left wing. The center,
which constituted the dominant faction, was composed
of Presbyterians and moderate Church-men under the
leadership of Falkland, Hyde, and Colepepper. They
were supporters of reform, but opposed to all radical
changes in the Constitution. The right wing was made
up of pronounced Church-men and believers in the
divine right of kingly rule. The left wing consisted of
Independents, who had little sympathy with monarchy
or Episcopacy They were Puritans in their religious
faith, and not a few of them Levelers in their political
views. This party, of whom Cromwell soon became
the acknowledged head, was recruited in a very small
degree from men of gentle birth, like Mampden, and
some of nobler lineage, like Essex and Vane.

The parliamentary majority addressed itself at once to
reformatory measures The Star Chamber and high
commission courts, whose procedure was inquisitorial
and at utter variance with English tradition and senti
ment, were straightway abolished. At the same time


the Parliament voted the imprisonment of Laud and the
attainder and subsequent execution of Strafford, whose
betrayal of popular liberty could not be condoned and
whose evil counsel to the King was the cause of the
general discontent which pervaded the masses. These
extreme measures aroused the resentment of Charles to
such a degree that he committed the most fatal blunder
of his reign. He demanded the surrender of Hampden,
Pym, and Hollis, and upon the refusal of the House to
comply with this demand he ventured on another step
that precipitated an armed conflict. Followed by a file
of soldiers, he suddenly appeared at the door of the
House of Commons for the purpose of seizing five
obnoxious members of that body. The House for the
nonce behaved with a dignity like that of the Roman
Senate when the Gauls invaded that venerable forum.
Charles, followed by his henchmen, moved up the main
aisle to the Speaker's desk, and found to his sore dis
comfort that the game had flown. Mortified and crest
fallen, he retraced his steps amidst cries of "Privilege!
Privilege!" This grave, royal indiscretion was as
decisive as Caesar's passage of the Rubicon. Hence
forth the ill-starred monarch determined to stake his
political fortunes on the issue of a plebiscitum to be
rendered not by ballots, but by bullets. Even at that time
the seemingly inevitable conflict might have been pre
vented by a fusion of the Royalists and Presbyterians.
But Charles was obstinate and impracticable, and with
drew from his capitol only to return a doomed and
defeated sovereign.


At this point we drop the narrative and speak directly
to the personal agency of Cromwell in the great affairs
of this commonwealth era. The contest now impend
ing was essentially the immemorial fight between ple
beian and patrician, which began at Pharsalia and culmi
nated amidst the disasters of Philippi. On the side of
the king were found the principal nobility, the great
body of the landed gentry, the clergy almost without a
single break, and the two great universities, with their
influence. On the side of Parliament were arrayed a
small minority of the nobility, a very large majority of
the yeomanry and of the merchants and shop-keepers of
the realm. Cromwell was but little past forty when the
struggle began He was without military training,
never having set a squadron in the field, and yet was
soon to develop into a commander no whit inferior to
the greatest captains of ancient or modern times. In
the beginning so little were his possibilities appreciated
that he was assigned to no higher position than a cap
tain of dragoons. At the same time such men as the
Earl of Essex, as great a dotard as VVurm.ser, who con
fronted the young Napoleon in the campaign of Italy,
were invested with the chief command. It is not
strange, therefore, that for the first two years of the war,
the parliamentary forces achieved no brilliant success,
and were even placed at serious disadvantage in the
northern and western portion of the kingdom. No one
was more dissatisfied with these results than Cromwell,
who attributed them to a lack of inspiration on the part
of the troops.


In a conversation with his cousin, John Hampden,
that genial and gallant English gentleman, he remarked
that Parliament could not hope to succeed until the
struggle was based on religion, and until there was
greater thoroughness of drill and discipline.

Upon this basis he organized his world-famed regi
ment of Ironsides, everyone of whom was a freeholder,
or the son of a freeholder. This regiment afterwards
became the model of the whole army. The effects that
soon followed this new military departure were known
and read of all men. Heretofore Rupert, the dashing
cavalier, had been victorious upon almost every field ;
but at Naseby and Marston Moor Cromwell's Saints
clove them down like so many thistles. The motives
of Cromwell may not have been altogether patriotic
when he suggested a self-denying ordinance that speed
ily rid the army of many incapable general officers, and
gave the control of military affairs to men like himself,
such as Monk, Fleetwood, and his own son-in-law, Ire-
ton, all of whom had that desperate courage which char
acterized so many of the English leaders from the days
of Caractacus. This remodeling of the army was the
beginning of the downfall of the Royalist cause. It was
not long until Charles I. was placed under mili
tary supervision in the Island of Ely, Col. Hammond,
a kinsman of Cromwell, having charge of the royal pris

It is well understood that at one time pending the
conflict of arms there were negotiations between Crom
well and Charles that, if successful, would have saved


the king from the scaffold. These negotiations con
templated the making of Cromwell an Earl of Essex, a
title which some of his ancestors had worn. Whether
the scheme was defeated by Cromwell's dread of the
king's treachery or his fear of the Parliament is matter
of conjecture. At any rate, the opportunity was lost
and the monarchy plunged forward to overthrow, and
Charles himself to death, if not disgrace.

The crisis was not long delayed. A Presbyterian
majority of the Parliament had through its commission
ers secured what was known as the Newport treaty with
the king, which they declared a proper basis of settle

Cromwell, who was absent from London conducting
the siege of Pontefract, being informed of the state of
affairs at Westminster, left the siege in the hands of a
subaltern, and hurried to the capital. On his arrival he
found things in a bad way for his party, and with his
accustomed vigor he set about circumventing the par
liamentary majority. He was not a man for rose-water
remedies when vast interests were at stake. In this
emergency he resorted to a plan that was thoroughly
revolutionary. He caused the trained bands of London
to be discharged from the custody of the king. At
day-break next morning, Col. Rich, with his regiment
of cavalry, was ranked in the palace yard for the safe
keeping of his Majesty. Col. Pride, with his regiment
of infantry, was stationed at Westminster so as to guard
every avenue of approach to the House of Commons.
Pride had instructions to exclude every member voting


with the Presbyterian majority. This he did with such
thoroughness that the Parliament was reduced in num
ber to less than one hundred.

By this direct method, more honest at least than
Speaker Reed's later method of counting a quorum, he
obtained a majority fully intent on the subversion of
monarchy. The Parliament at this time consisted of
less than one hundred members, seven-eighths of whom
were read)' for extreme measures. A committee was
appointed to prepare a sort of indictment against Charles
Stuart, the King of England, setting forth that said
Charles was guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors.

With the merest bit of discussion the Parliament or
dered a high court of justice to be organized, with Brad-
shaw as President. This vehement tribunal convened
in the hall of William Rufus, the place of the subsequent
trial of Warren Hastings, Governor-general of India. In
this hall, according to Macaulay, not less than thirty
sovereigns were crowned at different periods of English
history. The king was arraigned in due form, and
challenged the jurisdiction of the court. Bradshaw
replied that the court could not allow its authority to be
questioned in that way. After this mock trial the deci
sion was announced condemning Charles, the king, to
suffer death on the 3Oth of January, 1640 (O. S.), in
front of the palace of White Hall. Cromwell, who had
been rarely present during the investigation, was the
third to sign the death-warrant of the king. He has
been greatly censured for failing to defeat the execution
of the king.


In the existing temper of the army and Parliament it
is more than questionable whether his own personal
intervention could have averted the blow. A majority,
however, of the more conservative citizens of the realm
remonstrated against a deed which they regarded as a
sacrament of blood. The United Provinces of the
Netherlands protested against the act, and the French
court was equally emphatic in its condemnation of this
proposed judicial murder. At the appointed time, how
ever, the 3Oth of January, 1640, Charles I. was
beheaded in the presence of a vast multitude. His
royal demeanor in the presence of his enemies was not
less dignified than that of Louis XVI. of France,
who in the Place de la Revolution toward the close of
the next century suffered the like penalty of decapita
tion. There was a saying amongst the Greeks that the
lightning sanctifies what it strikes ; so, likewise, death
canonizes its least illustrious victim. How much more
when it strikes down one in whose veins flowed the
blood of the Plantagenets and the Tudors. The reac
tion in public sentiment shook the realm from Berwick
on the Tweed to Land's End.

From that time forward there could be little enduring
peace or abiding reconciliation between the contesting
parties until the restoration of the Stuarts. Cromwell,
who knew better than any man of his generation the
perils of the existing crisis, with as brave a heart as
when he stood at Worcester and Marston Moor,
addressed himself to the task of reconstruction. Events,
however, were not ripe for this reconstructive move-


ment, for at this particular juncture Presbyterian Scot
land entered the list as the champion of Charles
II. As a precautionary measure, they exacted of
him an oath to support the solemn League and Cove
nant, and straightway mobilized an army for the inva
sion of England. During this struggle, which resulted
in the thorough subjugation of Scotland, occurred two
notable battles that deserve special consideration. This
brings us to the era of the battle of Dunbar, which illus
trates better than Naseby or Marston Moor the superior
generalship of Cromwell. The scene of the battle was
distant only a few miles from Edinburg. Leslie had
intrenched his army on the hill of Doon, confronting
Cromwell and his troops, who by some misadventure
were shut up in a cul de sac, from which there seemed
no possibility of escape. Leslie, yielding to the solici
tations of the lord commissioners who followed him in
his campaigns, unexpectedly left his vantage-ground
and descended to the foot of the hill. When Cromwell
noticed this blunder of his adversary, he is reported to
have said to Monk: "See how the Lord of hosts has
delivered them into our hands." He resolved upon
immediate attack, but was delayed by the non-arrival of
Ireton. To be in readiness, however, he began "shag
ging," as he quaintly styled it, his army toward the left.
In the early twilight of the next day, it being the 3d of
September according to the calendar, he set the battle
in array, having previously spent a half-hour in devo
tional exercises.

As the sun rose over the blue German ocean he


quoted the Psalmist's expression, "Let the Lord arise,
and let his enemies be scattered," and the army, lifting
up their voices in praise and invocation to the tune of
"Dundee," which they rolled high and strong at the
foot of Doon, they went forward to conflict and to sig
nal victory. This battle was alike typical and decisive.
It is hardly credible that the English army, consisting of
twelve thousand men, should ha\e nearly destroyed the
Scotch army of twenty-odd thousand without sustaining
a greater loss than two or three hundred killed and
wounded. Just twelve months thereafter the Scots ral
lied at Worcester, where they again encountered an
overwhelming defeat. It was from the field at Worces
ter that Charles II. was fleeing, when, it is said, that he
concealed himself in the branches of the Royal Oak while
a surly Roundhead rode below droning a Hebrew psalm.
The young king, after divers hairbreadth escapes,
reached the Continent, where he remained until the

These memorable military successes placed Cromwell
in a position that he could safely take up that plan of
reconstruction which had been delayed by the Scotch
flank movement. The Parliament, as already intimated,
had degenerated into a mere handlul of sniveling fanat
ics and psalm-singing hypocrits. The whole country
was weary of their legislative incubation. Without
formal notice, Cromwell, with a file of soldiers, entered
the House of Commons and dispersed what has been
very appropriately called the "Rump Parliament."
Having cleared the House and locked the door, he put


the key in his pocket. In the doing of this he was
backed by an overwhelming sentiment, both in the army
and country. In re-adjusting the machinery of the
government, Cromwell speedily learned that it was one
thing to conduct a military campaign and quite another
to administer the affairs of a great nation. As one step
toward the accomplishment of this purpose, he sum
moned a new Parliament, in which many of the rotten
boroughs of that period were disfranchised, and some
of the larger cities which had been hitherto denied par
liamentary representation were admitted by their repre
sentatives to the great council of the realm. In this he
anticipated the great parliamentary reform of 1832, and
some others of later date. With this Parliament he had
serious trouble, and it was dissolved after a brief ses

Cromwell had now reached the most critical juncture
of his public life. Indeed, he had many reasons to fear
a coalition between the Royalists and the disaffected
Levelers of the army for his personal downfall. To
forestall such a movement, he determined as far as
practicable to restore the ancient forms and symbols of
the British Constitution. He resolved to summon
another Parliament and to reconstruct the House of
Peers as a concession to the nobility, and even to the
middle classes, who had become weary of the religious
dogmas and the political methods of Puritanism.
Accordingly, he invited the leading noblemen to seats
in the Upper House, and, still further to strenghten his
position, he created a number of new peers who were


entitled to no such distinction whether on the score of
birth or blood. A majority of them were plebeians who
were brought to the surface by their military services in
the field. The scheme proved abortive, because the old
families were unwilling to sit with these parvenues, and
the House of Commons itself strongly refused to recog
nize these butchers and shop-keepers as part of the
ancient peerage of the realm. The Commons, however,
tempted him by the offer of the kingly title. He toyed
for a season with the seductive bait, and then accepted
the less odious title of Lord Protector. Henceforth he
administered affairs in a way such as no English sover
eign had attempted since the reign of that royal Blue
beard, Henry VIII. He organized England into twelve
military districts under the control of an equal number
of Major-generals, who were directly responsible to him
self. In the same despotic spirit he appointed eccle
siastical " triers, "' who were as intolerant and prescrip
tive as the High Commission Court under the manage
ment of Laud and his minions. It is the veriest non
sense to condone these flagrant wrongs on the ground
that these prelatists and papists were political factions
rather than religious sects. It is the merest logical
make-shift to reply that Cromwell granted special
exemptions to the Jews whilst he punished the reading
of the liturgy or the saying of a mass with imprison
ment and confiscation. His Puritan defenders never
weary of telling us of his sturdy championship of Prot
estantism on the Continent. Milton, his Latin Secre
tary, in his sonnets, reminds us of how he demanded


freedom of worship for the Piedmontise, and Carlyle
tells us of how he threatened that the English guns
should be heard in the castle of St. Angelo if the Vau-
dois were molested in their simple worship Let all
this and even more be allowed, yet it remains histori
cally true that in the name of liberty he confiscated the
property of the Establishment, robbed the clergy of
their livings, and without the color of law ejected hun
dreds of Presbyterians from their parishes. It is safe to
assert that in the closing years of the protectorate he
was chargeable with grosser infringements on constitu
tional law than was Charles I., whom he himself
rated guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors. Like
Disraeli, of the present century, Cromwell sought to
atone for the sins and short-comings of his home admin
istration by the brilliancy of his foreign policy. He it
was who secured Dunkirk as some compensation for
the loss of Calias and by his admirals despoiled Spain
of some of her best colonial possessions. As the ally
of Lewis XIV , his soldiery were esteemed the best
fighting troops of Europe, and everywhere throughout
the Continent the name of Cromwell were a terror to
those who would oppose the Protestant cause. It is
not strange, therefore, that the character and career of
Cromwell has been a perplexity to the historian.
Hume stigmatizes him as "a canting hypocrit." Fors-
ter, in his "Statesmen of the British Commonwealth,"
alleges that he was "wanting in truth." On the other
hand, Macaulay applauds him to the echo, and Carlyle
styles him "the most English of Englishmen."



There is a measure of truth in these different charac
terizations, and the verdict of the ages will be that he
was essentially a bundle of inconsistencies, if not down
right contradictions. "In every death-chamber there is
the fifth act of a tragedy." This generalization is strik
ingly true of the last hours of the great Lord Protector.
For years his health had been failing, especially from
the period of his arduous Irish campaign and the death
of his favorite daughter, Elizabeth. Some have sup
posed that mortified vanity had been at work to under
mine his originally vigorous constitution. He had
cherished the hope that he might be the founder of a
kingly dynasty, or else the head of a European Protest
ant alliance. These lofty aims were largely frustrated.

In the summer of 1658, he was prostrated by an incur
able disease. His days, indeed, were numbered. There
was in the manner of Cromwell's death more than a sem
blance of poetic justice. It occurred on the 3d of Sep
tember, 1658, the anniversary of the Scots' defeat at
Dunbar, and also of what he esteemed his "crowning
mercy," the decisive battle of Worcester. In front of
the royal palace of White Hall, where he lay dying, had
been exhibited nine years agone that most tragical
pageant, the judicial murder of Charles I., the
purest sovereign of the Stuart dynasty. Almost in the
midst of his death-agony, a strong wind tempest swept

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Online LibraryW. J. (William J.) ScottHistoric eras and Paragraphic pencilings → online text (page 2 of 14)