Cromwell: A Tricentenary Study
OLIVER CROMWELL was twenty-two years old when James I. wrote indignantly to the Speaker of the House of Commons, commanding " that none therein shall presume henceforth to meddle with anything concerning our government.” Four years later Charles 1. came to the throne, inheriting this fatal misconception of a supreme and absolute kingship, under the spell of which lie attempted to bind England to a despotism like to that which Philip II. had fastened upon Spain in the preceding century.
Yet when Charles became king his accession was hailed with every manifestation of popular joy. He was hut twenty-five years old, — just one year younger than Cromwell. Descended from a long line of kings, blessed with health and strength, endowed with dignity of mind and a gentle and affectionate disposition. reared to a due regard for virtue and soberness, and filled with the sweetness of hope that naturally burst from the heart of so fortunate a prince, Charles was hailed as one who would give a new birth of freedom to England. He chose for his wife Henrietta Maria, a girl of fifteen, Catholic daughter of the Protestant champion, Henry IV. of France. The Duke of Buckingham, accounted the handsomest and courtliest man in Europe, was sent to Paris to bring the queen home, and he appeared there with a retinue adorned in all the magnificence that the wealth of England could afford. Buckingham’s manners were so exquisite that even in Paris, where perfect manners were the aim of life, he far surpassed the gay courtiers of Louis XIII. in those airy vanities in which they esteemed themselves unrivaled. In a moment of excessive but not unnatural conceit he dared to entertain a passion for the queen of France, and, mistaking her graciousness for encouragement, returned privately after having taken formal leave and attempted to renew his addresses, but was dismissed with a gentleness showing that majesty itself was not insensible to his charms. At the wedding the French Duke of Chevreuse acted as proxy for Charles ; and while Cardinal Richelieu intoned the nuptial mass, the English party, unwilling to behold a Catholic ceremony, withdrew to the house of their ambassador. On arriving at Dover, the queen, when she had composed herself from the discomfort of the voyage, flew to meet the impatient Charles. She dutifully attempted to kiss his hand, but he caught her in his arms and pressed her lips. “ Sire,” she said, beginning a set speech, “ I am come into this your Majesty’s country to be at your command.” A flood of tears stopped her, and Charles soothed her agitation with many soft words. He playfully expressed surprise that she appeared to be so much taller than he had expected, and looked down at her feet, thinking that she stood on tiptoe. Perceiving his doubt, she said in French, with her head reaching to his shoulder, “ Sire, I stand upon my own feet. Thus high am I; neither higher nor lower.”
But the shadow of religious prejudice which had arisen at the altar in France pursued the royal pair to the end of their lives, obstructing their duty to each other and alienating the confidence of their subjects. When the coronation was arranged, Henrietta Maria refused to be crowned queen of England, her priestly advisers having forbidden her participation in the ceremonies of the English Church. No entreaty could break down the narrow bigotry of her mind, and on that august occasion Charles walked to Westminster Abbey, clad in a dress of white velvet, emblematic of the purity of his bridal union with the state, and took on the splendors of the kingship in mournful loneliness. The king was shocked at the queen’s neglect to learn the language and observe the customs of his country, and exasperated by the meddling impudence of her confessor, until at last he expelled the entire French retinue from England. This act, so plainly in contravention of the marriage contract, was followed by an inglorious war, in the midst of which Buckingham was assassinated by a fanatic who regarded him as the source of all public evil.
The young king called his first Parliament with confident assurance that they would grant him generous supplies, his official necessities, at the moment of his accession, being extraordinary. The ablest men in England were members of that body, including Eliot, Coke, Pym, Hampden, and Wentworth. The proprieties of the situation could not be overlooked by these men; yet, without attempting to explain the cause of their parsimony, they voted him two subsidies, when twelve would not have relieved him of his burdens. It is not difficult now to understand their action. Centuries of monarchal government had produced at last a universal desire to confine within constitutional bounds the powers of the king, and to perform by consent of the people in Parliament a great many of the functions previously exercised only by the sovereign. Swayed partly by their love of liberty, and partly by fear of an unwholesome influence of the Catholic marriage, the English people had determined, at the commencement of this reign, to use those methods for curbing the royal prerogative which finally drove the refractory house of Stuart out of England, and left the initiative of government fixed in the Parliament.
Charles maintained an admirable patience in this extremity, and endeavored to explain the very reasonable grounds on which he required a grant of money. He condescended to remind Parliament that this was the beginning of his reign, that he was young, and that if he now met with kind and dutiful treatment it would endear him to the use of Parliaments, forever preserving an entire harmony between him and his people. But in an evil moment Charles had secretly undertaken to send an English squadron to help the French king reduce the Huguenots in La Rochelle, and as soon as this was known the public mind throughout England was inflamed against him. The Commons peremptorily refused to give him money, but proceeded to strike at his counselors. This conduct impelled the king to dissolve the Parliament before it had sat two months.
After futile attempts to administer his government through forced loans, the king called a second Parliament, in the hands of which his affairs came to a worse confusion, until its early dissolution followed. A third Parliament was called, with Oliver Cromwell sitting in it for Huntingdon, aged twenty-nine. This was the Parliament that brought forth the Petition of Right. Charles, unable to grasp the theory of just government, looked upon the Petition of Right as an encroachment on his throne. The lord keeper was dispatched to the Parliament with message after message, couched in varying tones of entreaty, abasement, or command, which served only to unmask the agitation of the king’s mind. The court party argued, with truth, that Magna Charta contained in substance all that the Commons sought to incorporate in the Petition of Right. The Commons, admitting this, retorted that it had been necessary to secure confirmation of Magna Charta from their kings thirty times ; why not secure its confirmation from Charles ? The House persisted till they forced the king to give his assent to the measure ; but his assent was so ambiguously worded as to rob the instrument of its potency. Enraged at his equivocations, they attacked his favorites with bills of attainder. Instantly came a message from the king forbidding them to cast any aspersion upon his friends. It was a day of desolation. The stern and pious men in that House wept bitter tears. They felt the fabric of their nation tottering. The young member for Huntingdon, in his homespun clothes, — the “ sloven ” with shambling gait, — beheld it all in bigeyed wonder. A Parliament in tears was a thing he would never forget. The king soon perceived that he had gone too far, and, assuming a gracious air, he assented to the statute in the usual words, “ Let it be law as is desired.” The Commons, however, pressed their attainders, whereupon the king wrathfully returned to the Parliament with so much haste that the lords had not time to put on their robes ; and he prorogued the two Houses for six months. When they assembled for the second session they began at once on grievances, — there was no keeping them still, — and Pym spoke of certain lapses in the Established Worship that were hateful to the Puritan soul, “ as angels, saints, altars, and candles burnt in the popish manner.” This recital inspired Cromwell to make his maiden speech. He told them that the Bishop of Winchester “did countenance some persons that preached flat popery ; ” and that Dr. Mainwaring, who was one of them, had been preferred for it. “ If these be the steps to Church preferment,” cried Olivier, “ what may we expect ? ” What a change from the narrow view of this speech to the splendid breadth of that one, in the time of tremendous responsibility and power, when he bade Mazarin keep the Pope still, and the Catholics in England should soon have full toleration !
The king, unable longer to endure his undutiful Parliament, dissolved it, and eleven years elapsed before another sat in England. And why was a Parliament necessary ? This amiable king seemed to get along very well without one. Lord Clarendon, in his fascinating history, assures us that all his Majesty’s dominions “ enjoyed the greatest calm and the fullest measure of felicity that any people in any age, for so long time together, have been blessed with ; to the wonder and envy of all the other parts of Christendom.” Better such tranquillity than the turmoil of a Parliament, surely ! But destiny was walking in the tracks of that purblind monarch. Persuaded of his own rectitude, yet vicious in every public act and opinion, Charles sped on, carrying his life and his kingship to inevitable destruction.
Oliver Cromwell once proudly said that he was by birth a gentleman, living neither in any considerable height, nor yet in obscurity.” He was born at Huntingdon, on the 25th of April, 1599. His grandfather, Sir Henry Cromwell, was knighted by Queen Elizabeth, and lived at Hinchinbrook in so much magnificence that he was called “the Golden Knight.” Sir Henry’s son and heir was Sir Oliver Cromwell, a stout Royalist, whose brother Robert was the father of the Protector. Oliver grew up at Huntingdon. I have walked over the yard where he played his games ; everything else, alas, is gone. A house that was built in this century stands on the foundation of that in which he was born, and a hundred yards away is the grammar school, in a good state of preservation, where he recited his lessons to Dr. Beard. Across the street is St. John’s Church, where seven of his children were baptized. Near it, on the same side, stands All Saints’ Church, where his son Henry’s taint of original sin was washed away. While studying old church records there, one bright August day, I came upon an entry in the parish book for the year 1616 : “ In this year Oliver Cromwell did penance in the sight of God before the congregation.” What offense was it that this boy of seventeen had committed ? Some wayward shift of the mind, doubtless, for which his own conscience reproached him. These church records are open to every inquirer, and I noted with regret that they have been thumbed until their contents are in parts obliterated. It might be wished that these valuable relics should be photographed by the English government, and the originals put away for inspection only on the rarest occasions. About a mile down the road is Hinchinbrook, where Oliver’s uncle lived, where he was frequently a visitor, where the fabulous wrestling match with the infant Charles Stuart did not occur ; and where I, alas, intent on gathering all local color, was refused admittance, because the Earl of Sandwich, its present master, was away, and my pleading to go in as a man of letters was spurned by the too faithful steward, who told me they were repairing the hall, and he could let no one enter in the earl’s “habsence.” There was no opportunity for telegraphing the earl, who I am sure would gladly have overruled his inexorable servant, and Hinchinbrook was unexplored by me. When Oliver Cromwell was once refused admittance there, however, his front was more indomitable than mine. His uncle was on the king’s side, while Oliver led a band of stout Roundheads, and he demanded the family plate for the Parliament’s use. The testy Sir Oliver ordered him to go about his business, whereupon he scaled the wall, entered the house, and carried away all the plate and arms, — keeping his hat off, and obsequiously assuring his uncle of his dutiful service. Oliver was a diligent scholar. From Huntingdon he went to Cambridge, registering there on the day of Shakespeare’s death, and acquired a mastery of Greek and Latin which enabled him in later years to discourse in Latin with the ambassadors for hours at a time. His respect for learning led him, when he grew rich, to collect a vast library; and he loved to choose out able young scholars to do the business of the state, John Milton, his Latin secretary, being a type of his officeholders. He encouraged the building of a college at Durham, and was chancellor of Oxford. In the boyhood years at Huntingdon, he would wake up in the night and believe that he was dying. Then Dr. Simcott would come in haste and prescribe for the lad’s liver, peradventure, restoring him to peaceful sleep. When twenty-one years old, having left Cambridge, and his father being dead, he married Elizabeth Bouchier, to whom, thirty years later, he wrote, in a letter now in the British Museum which my eyes have tenderly perused, “Thou art dearer to me than any creature ; let that suffice.” There came nine children to bless this union.
While rearing his family, while cultivating his farm, while doing works of charity and of public service in his native town, the spiritual life of a pious and fervent soul grew within him, until every aspect was colored by an intense religious enthusiasm. He avowed that he would honor God by declaring what he had done for his soul. “ He giveth springs in a dry, barren wilderness where no water is.” Thus he writes to his cousin, Mrs. St. John, when thirty-nine years old, and standing in the yet unopened morning of his greatness. “ Truly no poor creature hath move cause to put himself forth in the cause of his God than I. . . . The Lord accept me in his Son, and give me to walk in the light! He it is that enlighteneth our blackness, our darkness. I dare not say, He hideth his face from me. He giveth me to see light in his light. . . . Praise Him for me ; — pray for me, that He who hath begun a good work would perfect it in the day of Christ.”
Just about the time of his election to the 1628 Parliament, Cromwell sold his Huntingdon lands, and moved with his family to St. Ives, five miles away, where he continued his career of farmer and stock raiser. Here at St. Ives he engaged in the oversight of that great work of banking the Ouse River so as to check its overflow, his interest in this project gaining for him the nickname “ Lord of the Fens.” Here, too, the first keen sorrow came to discipline his life. His firstborn child, Robert, a fine boy of eighteen, was taken ill and died at Felsted school. The anguish of the Puritan father found a partial solace in that religion which was the food of his soul. “I know both how to be abased and how to abound ! ” he cried, repeating the words of Paul. “ Everywhere and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ that strengtheneth me.” Twenty years later, while tossing on his deathbed, his thoughts sped back beyond his conquests to this early sorrow, and he repeated the words, assuring the watchers that “ this scripture did once save my life, when my eldest son died, which went as a dagger to my heart, — indeed it did.”
It is not hard to picture Cromwell, as a member of the last dissolved Parliament, taking a very lively interest in current affairs, and watching the riotous progress of absolute monarchy as it drew on to its climax. What Cromwell and all other intelligent Englishmen were thinking, what they were saying, as one act of tyranny followed another, can be easily imagined ; for it all had its tumultuous expression when the nation at last gained a chance to speak.
Biding their time to act, Cromwell and the rest beheld that the king had three chief advisers, — Henrietta Maria, his queen, Archbishop Laud, and the Earl of Stratford. The queen, an innocent and beautiful woman, was hated as a limb of popery, and Laud was abhorred for his bigotry and intolerance. Strafford, as the favorite minister, was popularly charged with responsibility for all the odious acts of his sovereign. Charles employed the Star Chamber to take away both the personal liberty and the worldly goods of loyal Englishmen. The king’s proclamations were given the force of statutes. Monopolies were created, and soap, leather, salt, and other commodities were put under the control of commercial oligarchies. Ship-money writs brought John Hampden into court as a defendant, where his valiant contest against a hopeless judgment won the love of the nation. Then the king began to cut off the ears of Englishmen for expressing opinions on social topics. William Prynne, a lawyer, could see no godliness in dancing : the queen liked to dance — and Charles cut off Prynne’s ears. When the poor pamphleteer came out of prison, mutilated, bleeding, smarting from the lash, and fined to his last farthing, the heedless man repeated his views, whereupon his ears — or what was left of them —were cut off a second time, and he was further lashed, fined, and jailed. Prynne was one of many ; and Englishmen were compressing their lips and growing red to the eyes, silent, but thinking, — yea, thinking, — while Lord Clarendon’s felicitous calm endured, and all the world envied.
Toward the end of this period of exceptional tranquillity the Liturgy had brought the Scots across the border, with banners flying and swords flashing, protesting that their sole purpose was to enter the king’s presence in faith and love, and lay their grievances at his feet. This invasion forced Charles to call the Short Parliament, in order that his subjects might defend his dignity ; when he suddenly discovered that tranquillity in a monarchal despotism had not brought national happiness. All the members were talking at once of grievances. There were grievances in England as well as in Scotland, and so loudly were they rehearsed that Charles, unable to shut his ears, dissolved the Parliament when it had sat only three weeks, and sent the members about their business, — Oliver with the rest.
The Scots had drawn back, but now they came again, clearly encouraged in their conduct by the attitude of the English people. These two invasions were called the Bishop’s Wars, because Laud and his Liturgy had provoked them. With a Scottish camp in the heart of his kingdom, Charles called the Long Parliament, and the prerogative of dissolution was taken from him by a bill which it coerced him to sign. Oliver was member for Cambridge.
The Long Parliament sent Strafford to the block, and Laud. Charles thought to stop the rising storm by destroying the leaders. The fatuous man attempted to arrest the five members. The House shielded them. There was an explosion of popular wrath, and Charles fled from London with his wife and children, never returning save when discrowned and to his execution.
The Parliament deemed it necessary to its own safety and dignity to enlist a guard. The king did likewise, and set up his standard at Nottingham. His sister’s son, Prince Rupert, was there to command the horse, — a youth of twenty-three, tall and strong, and full of grace and dignity. His lovelocks fell over a clean-shaven cheek. His eye was bold like a hawk’s, and like the hawk’s was his swoop upon the battlefield, audacious, swift, and cruel.
Englishmen were taking sides everywhere. The Parliament gave the Earl of Essex a commission “ for king and Parliament,” with instructions to deliver the person of his sacred Majesty from malignant traitors and evil counselors who had seduced him. Oliver Cromwell, now forty - three years old, followed Essex as a captain of horse, but was soon made colonel. The two armies fought at Edgehill, without a palpable victory to either side. Then the king’s men began to win in every encounter. Essex and Fairfax and Hampden and Waller were beaten ; and the Cavaliers took Bristol, the second city in the kingdom. Rupert and Hampden fought on Chalgrove Field, and Hampden, the purest patriot of that age, was slain. There was gloom in every Puritan breast.
But Oliver Cromwell had said to his cousin, John Hampden, long ago : “ Your troops are most of them old, decayed serving men and tapsters and such kind of fellows, and their troops are gentlemen’s sons, younger sons, and persons of quality. Do you think that the spirits of such base and mean fellows will ever be able to encounter gentlemen that have honor and courage and resolution in them ? You must get men of a spirit; and take it not ill what I say, — I know you will not, — of a spirit that is likely to go on as far as gentlemen will go ; or else you will be beaten still.” Hampden replied that it was a good notion, if it could be executed; and there he dropped it. But Cromwell was quick to act on every thought, and he straightway organized his regiment, and afterward his army, directly on the lines of his suggestion to Hampden. When all were flying before the Cavaliers, Cromwell met a body of the most chivalrous and daring of them at Gainsborough, dispersed them, and slew their leader. The Parliament had tried its favorites, and they had failed. It now turned to Cromwell. From that moment he became the sold of the Puritan revolt, which would have fallen then without him ; for Charles declared repeatedly that what he had granted to the Long Parliament by coercion should never stand after he had reëstablished his authority.
When the Scots came over to assist the Parliament, Cromwell was fifth in rank in the allied armies at Marston Moor. Prince Rupert made his overwhelming charge and drove all before him, — Scottish and English, horse and foot, officers and men, except a body of twenty-three hundred riders on the extreme left. These were Cromwell and the God-fearing men whom he had chosen to beat “the younger sons and persons of quality ” in the king’s army. Oliver charged the Royalist centre, and cut his way through them, until they fell “like stubble,” he said, “to our swords.” When the prince returned from the pursuit, he renewed the battle with Cromwell, but met a crushing defeat. The result was similar at Naseby, where Charles himself held the chief command, and where his cause was totally ruined.
With the king in prison the Scots came again, — this time to restore him. Cromwell drove them out of the kingdom after one battle. Then there arose all through the Roundhead hosts a cry for retribution, and the king was sent to the block as the “chief delinquent,” a large section of the Parliament being forcibly dissolved by the army in order to secure his destruction. Cromwell had made every effort to save the king’s life, had connived at his escape from Hampton Court, and had smoothed the way for him to fly from Carisbrooke Castle. There is a grim story describing Cromwell and Ireton, disguised as troopers, stopping the king’s messenger at the Blue Boar Tavern, filling him with ale, and then ripping open his saddle, where they found Charles’s letter telling the queen that Cromwell expected a garter, but he would give the rogue a halter. In many ways the king proved to be so treacherous that Cromwell was at last compelled to join in the execution. Then, on the banishment of the royal family, the sovereignty of England rested in the Long Parliament, or in that part of it which still existed as the Rump.
The Parliament sent Cromwell to Ireland to chastise its people for their barbarous misconduct upon the English settlers. His campaign was severe and his conquest complete. Scotland was then invaded, humbled, and pacified, — a thing which English kings had tried in vain to do for eight hundred years. Young Charles Stuart was beaten at Worcester, and driven out of the country. Then, with his warrior’s work done, Cromwell sheathed his sword forever. The chiefs of the army, the members of the Parliament and of the Council of State, together with nearly the whole populace of the country round about, met him on Hounslow Heath and escorted him to London. “What a great crowd comes out to see your lordship’s triumph! ” said one. “Yes,” answered the lord general; “but if it were to see me hanged, how many more would there be ! ” Chaplain Hugh Peters was much impressed by the enthusiasm of the occasion, and declared, “This man will be king of England yet! ”
It was not long before Oliver, who now resumed his seat in the House, perceived a purpose among the members to perpetuate their places in Parliament, or even to make them hereditary. Young Sir Harry Vane drew up a bill to accomplish this end, which was hurried through its legislative stages and made ready for passage. Cromwell had used every endeavor to defeat the plan, and he now called the friends of the measure to confer at his lodgings at Whitehall. The discussion was acrimonious, and lasted until after midnight. The Parliament men reproached the army leaders with desiring to assume all the civil as well as the military power. The army men brusquely replied that the members of Parliament would not be permitted to prolong their own power, and they demanded a new election. General Harrison declared that Cromwell merely desired to pave the way for the government of Jesus and his saints ; and it was retorted that Jesus ought to come quickly, then, for if he delayed it long he would come too late, — he would find his place occupied ! To all of Cromwell’s entreaties the others answered that “nothing would do good for this nation but the continuance of this Parliament.” Midnight came without any satisfactory concessions on either side. Finally, Vane promised to suspend further proceedings about the bill until after another conference with the military party, and with this understanding they separated.
The next morning (April 20, 1653), shortly after the Parliament met, Colonel Ingoldsby, and afterward a second and a third messenger, came hastily to Cromwell to say that the members were pushing to a final vote the bill for the election of a new Parliament and the continuance of their own seats therein. All the sleeping passion in the general’s breast was aroused by this perfidious proceeding. He summoned a reliable body of troops from his own regiment of Ironsides, and walked briskly to the Parliament House. As he entered the Commons’ Chamber, he said to St. John that he had come with a purpose of doing what grieved him to the very soul, and what he had earnestly and with tears besought the Lord not to impose upon him, — that he would rather be torn to pieces than do it ; but there was a necessity in order to the glory of God and good of the nation. He sat down in his accustomed seat, clad in plain black clothes and gray worsted stockings, and listened attentively to the debate on the bill. Then he beckoned to General Harrison, and whispered that he judged the Parliament ripe for a dissolution, and thought this was the time for doing it. Harrison replied that the work was very great and dangerous, and asked him to consider seriously before he engaged in it. Whereupon Cromwell sat still for some fifteen minutes. The question for passing the bill was then put, and Cromwell said to Harrison, “This is the time I must do it,” and rose up, put off his hat, and began to speak. There were not more than fifty-three members present. At the start he said much in commendation of the Parliament for their valuable public services, but as the importance of his purpose began to press upon his mind he changed his style, and spoke with a tongue of flame. He loaded them with reproaches, saying that they had no heart to do anything for the public good ; that they had espoused the corrupt interest of Presbytery and the lawyers, who were the supporters of tyranny and oppression. He accused them of an intention to perpetuate themselves in power, and said that they had brought forward the act of dissolution merely because they had been forced to do so, though he believed they never intended to observe its provisions. He told them — and there was the roar of the lion in his voice now — that the Lord had done with them, and had chosen other instruments for carrying on his work that were more worthy.
Sir Peter Wentworth was the only man who dared to rise amid that tempest of wrath. He said that this was the first time he had ever heard such unbecoming language given to the Parliament, and that it was the more horrid in that it came from their servant, — their servant whom they had so highly trusted and obliged. But when Wentworth had gone thus far, Cromwell clapped on his hat and interrupted him with “ Come, come, we have had enough of this ! ” He walked furiously up and down the floor. “ I will put an end to your prating! ” he cried in a high voice. He stamped his feet upon the floor, — no man had ever seen the like of such rage in a Parliament before. “ It is not fit that you should sit here any longer. You are no Parliament! I say you are no Parliament! ” To an officer he said. “ Call them in, call them in ; ” and the grim companions of his battles entered, with eyes alert and guns ready.
“ I say you are no Parliament! ” They are on their feet now, their faces blazing with amazement. Sir Harry Vane gravely speaks : “This is not honest; yea, it is against morality and common honesty.” Cromwell is all passion. “ Sir Harry Vane ! Sir Harry Vane ! The Lord deliver me from Sir Harry Vane ! ” He glares on Tom Challoner, and says, “ Some of you are drunkards! ” His eye lights on Harry Marten, and he cries, “ Some of you are lewd livers, living in open contempt of God’s commandments ! ” His flashing eyes pass from face to face, and he says, “ Some of you are corrupt, unjust persons, scandalous to the profession of the gospel.” As the once great Parliament stands cowering before him, he thunders out the final doom : “ Depart, I say! ” They began to go out. There was no gainsaying the man. They understood then, perhaps, why he had never been defeated in his battles. His eye fell upon the mace, the emblem of authority, but it aroused no respect in his mind. “Take away that bauble,” he said to one of his soldiers. Lenthall still sat in the Speaker’s chair. His dignity was imperturbable ; and when Cromwell ordered him to come down be tarried. Harrison then took him by the hand and helped him down; and he vanished. So did they all ; and as young Sir Harry walked sadly away, Cromwell said to him reproachfully, alluding to the broken agreement of the night before, that he might have prevented this extraordinary course, but he was a juggler, and had not so much as common honesty. The bill which had produced this scene of violence was taken by Cromwell and carried away under his cloak, and was never found afterward. Cromwell was the last to leave that historic Chamber, and as he passed out he locked the door and took the key with him. The state of England was then without King, Lords, or Commons; it was bereft of all legal government whatsoever.
Cromwell’s commission from the Long Parliament created him “ lord general and commander in chief of all the armies and forces raised and to be raised,” and the government thereby naturally fell upon his shoulders. He had an honest yearning for constitutional government in England, and he immediately issued a summons to one hundred and forty Puritan Englishmen — “ persons fearing God, and of approved fidelity and honesty ” — to assemble at Whitehall, to whom was to be committed “ the peace, safety, and good government of the Commonwealth.” This body was the Little Parliament. Cromwell inaugurated their sitting with a speech, pleading for a broad toleration. “If the poorest Christian,”he said, “ the most mistaken Christian, shall desire to live peaceably and quietly under you, — I say if any shall desire but to lead a life of godliness and honesty, let him be protected ! ” In the selection of officials he counseled them in words which should live to-day : “If I were to choose any servant, the meanest officer for the army or the Commonwealth, I would choose a godly man that hath principles.”
The performances of the Little Parliament fell far short of Cromwell’s expectations; and when, instead of building up the broken fabric of English society, it began to tear down what remained, he sent Colonel White with a body of soldiers to dissolve it. Colonel White entered the Chamber and demanded to know what they did there ; to which they answered that they were seeking the Lord. “ Then you may go elsewhere,” said he, “ for to my certain knowledge he has not been here these many years ! ”
The legal and clerical professions, and in fact nearly all the thinking men in the land, now took alarm lest anarchy should ensue, and the attention of the country was naturally drawn upon Cromwell as one who might preserve order in the state. His formal assumption of authority was a necessity of the times, — the only expedient in an imperative emergency. The army demanded it; the rest of the population of England clearly expected it ; and Cromwell consented to it as a public duty. Four days after the dissolution of the Little Parliament, Cromwell was proclaimed Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland, and Ireland, and installed at Westminster amidst great pageantry. Upon his return to Whitehall, he directed that all the ceremony should be observed with respect to his person that was usual to the kings of England. He was then fifty-four years old.
Cromwell’s first business in this exalted situation was to broaden the lines of political and religious toleration. Having risen high above the bigotry of the age, he rebuked its spirit in these words : “ Every sect saith, Oh, give me liberty. But give him it, and, to his power, he will not yield it to anybody else. Liberty of conscience is a natural right, and he that would have it ought to give it.” Even Catholicism was secretly free, and Cromwell longed to make it publicly so. He wrote of this to Mazarin: “ Although I have this set home upon my spirit, I may not (shall I tell you, I cannot?) at this juncture of time, and as the face of my affairs now stands, answer to your call for toleration. I say, I cannot, as to a public declaration of my sense in that point ; although I believe that under my government, your Eminency, in the behalf of Catholics, has less reason for complaint as to vigor upon men’s consciences than under the Parliament. For I have of some, and those very many, had compassion ; making a difference. Truly I have (and I may speak it with cheerfulness in the presence of God, who is a witness within me to the truth of what I affirm) made a difference ; and as Jude speaks, ‘ plucked many out of the fire,’ — the raging fire of persecution, which did tyrannize over their consciences, and encroached by an arbitrariness of power upon their estates. And herein it is my purpose, as soon as I can remove impediments, and some weights that press me down, to make a farther progress, and discharge my promise to your Eminency in relation to that.”
Again he says to another: “ I desire from my heart, — I have prayed for it, — I have waited for the day to see union and right understanding between the godly people, — Scots, English, Jews, Gentiles, Presbyterians, Independents, Anabaptists, and all.”The Jews had been outcast from England since 1290, and this public declaration for them, together with many other marks of his tender regard, won the perpetual and profound gratitude of that people.
His most important political ordinance was that which consolidated the two kingdoms of England and Scotland into a perdurable union. The effect of this measure was to destroy the ancient power of the great nobles, which had survived in Scotland long after its decay in England, and to ease the burdens of the common people.
Under Cromwell England for the first time felt the power of a strong navy to build up a great nation. It is true that Queen Elizabeth had repelled and destroyed the Spanish fleet; but she assembled her ships only to resist invasion, and her important manœuvres were on the defensive. Cromwell built the first fleet that England had yet seen created for the purpose of crushing her enemies and striking down the oppressors of free religion. Spain, still aiming at universal empire, received her first staggering blow when Cromwell, daring to throw away the traditional policy which England had hugged for four centuries, allied himself with France and made war on Spain. His enemies said then, and for long afterward, that he destroyed the balance of power in Europe. But Cromwell cared nothing for political maxims when they stood in the pathway of that human liberty of which he was the champion. Holland sent out her fleets, more terrible than the old Spanish Armada; but Cromwell’s generals, acting on sealed orders penned by his own hand, beat the Dutch admirals and sent their ships to the bottom.
Contrary to the expectation of his enemies, the manifestations of opposition to Cromwell’s government were few and mild. The congregations of saints everywhere assured him of their fealty. The Royalists, while hating the man who had executed their king, enjoyed more lenient treatment from him than they had received from the Parliament, and were contented to bide their time. The Presbyterians were filled with satisfaction to behold the Independents turned out by the man whom they had claimed to own. England began to see the dawn of peace at home, and, in the meantime, the Lord Protector was feeding the pride of his countrymen by his conquests abroad. It was his boast that he would make the name of an Englishman as safe throughout the world as the name of a Roman had ever been. Young Charles Stuart connived at plots for his assassination, which led Cromwell to organize a thorough system of secret service. His agents reported privately to himself alone, and his bureau of information cost him sixty thousand pounds a year. Cromwell quietly assured some of the influential Cavaliers that he did not intend to injure any of the king’s party ; his design was rather to save them from ruin ; but they were apt after their cups, he said, to run into foolish and ill-concerted plots, which would only bring them to disaster. All he desired was to be informed of their conspiracies, so that none might suffer from them; if he cast any of them into prison, it should be only for a short period ; and if they were interrogated, it should be about some trifling discourse, but not about the main business. This magnanimous declaration, together with the regularity of payment, brought him information from those who were close in the king’s confidence ; and the Royalist party was kept in amazement at the quickness with which Cromwell followed up their plotting.
It was not long before Cromwell’s power surpassed that of any other ruler in Europe, and his state was equal to the most magnificent. Ambassadors from every nation crowded the waiting-rooms of his palaces. His family was established at Whitehall in regal luxury. His mother occupied its chief apartments. With him were his wife and three of his daughters: Elizabeth, his favorite; Mary, the handsome likeness of himself ; and Frances, fondly called “ Frank,” who was looked upon by all the gossips of Europe as soon to wed Charles II. But when the Earl of Orrery suggested this match to Cromwell, the Protector answered that Charles could never forgive his father’s blood. Orrery urged that Cromwell was but one among many who had brought the king to the block, but with this marriage he would be alone in restoring his son, and he might stipulate to still command the army. The Protector replied : “ Charles is so damnably debauched that he would undo us all.” And there the matter ended. Mrs. Hutchinson, Cromwell’s bitter foe, says of him at this period : “ To speak the truth of himself, he had much natural greatness, and well became the place he had usurped.” Sir Philip Warwick, a stanch Cavalier, writes : “ I lived to see him appear of a great and majestic deportment and comely presence.” Even Lord Clarendon, the most partial of Royalists, testifies : “ As he grew into place and authority, his parts seemed to be raised, as if he had concealed his faculties till he had occasion to use them; and when he was to act the part of a great man, he did it without any indecency, notwithstanding the want of custom.” John Milton says: “ He was a soldier disciplined to perfection in a knowledge of himself. He had either extinguished, or by habit learned to subdue, the whole host of vain hopes, fears, and passions which infest the soul. He first acquired the government of himself, so that on the first day he took the field against the external enemy he was a veteran in arms.”
At the very moment when, as Protector, the whole power of the state was in his hands, and he was, theoretically, a dictator, an autocrat, and a despot, he longed most to establish a constitutional government. To this end he issued writs for the election of a Parliament, courageously granting the electoral franchise to all except those who had borne arms against the Commonwealth. To the great majority of Englishmen his yoke was irksome and hateful. The Episcopalians and the Presbyterians despised him. The Republicans had turned from him, suspicious of his integrity. The fanatics — the Fifth Monarchy Men and the Anabaptists — regarded him as one fallen from grace. To give these men the power of calling a Parliament which, under his Instrument of Government, was to hold an authority coördinate with his own, taxed the magnanimity of a man so great as Cromwell. But he cherished a sincere expectation, if he found that the nation would be pliable to his views of general policy, to bestow upon his countrymen a representative government, under which all measures for the public good should receive their consent in Parliament. There were four hundred members chosen, accordingly : three hundred and forty Englishmen, thirty Scots, and thirty Irish. Cromwell opened their session with a wise and eloquent address, in which he described the condition of the nation, and asked them to join him “ in bringing the ship of the Commonwealth into a safe harbor,” — which, he felt sure, could not be done without their counsel and advice. He assured them that he had not assumed dominion over them, but had resolved to be their fellow servant, for the welfare of the people.
Never, in the history of the world, did one holding supreme authority grant to his countrymen a fairer opportunity to win a just measure of the nation’s sovereignty. But no sooner had he withdrawn from the House than they began to question his Instrument of Government, forgetful that if they discarded that, they had no right to be there at all. Oliver, watchful and indomitable, came back soon, and required them to sign an acknowledgment of his Protectorship. A hundred who refused to sign were dismissed. The rest engaged in learned disquisitions on religious doctrines, until they had earned the popular name of “ Pedant Parliament,” when they, too, fell back on the constitutionality of their call. In the midst of a thousand perils they would do nothing; and Cromwell came again, and mournfully dissolved them.
The Protector was now forced to establish what he had earnestly hoped to avert, —a military dictatorship. He parceled out the country among his twelve major-generals, and England was in the clutch of the army. The rule of the major-generals was marked by varying whims and favors. While its character was not cruel, it was naturally odious to the people; and the consequences were particularly severe on the Royalists, who were amerced to the last farthing.
Yet never before nor since has the power of England risen, comparatively, to so great a height. Holland, Sweden, Denmark, Portugal, France, and Spain, through their suppliant ambassadors, were literally at the Protector’s feet. Humanity found in him a champion who was swift to inflict punishment upon cruelty or intolerance ; and he refused to hear the professions of friendship which Louis XIV. implored him to receive until that king had exacted a penalty from the Duke of Savoy for outrages on his dissenting subjects. The
Protector desired to mould a Protestant Alliance that would secure religious toleration and domestic tranquillity for the whole of Europe. But in this hope he was destined to meet disappointment. Sweden and Denmark were in open war. Holland was jealous and irritable. The narrow Protestant princes of Germany would not see beyond the borders of their own states. Only the prestige of England and of Oliver was great throughout the world.
As soon as he perceived that his institution of the major-generals was burdensome and unjust, he determined once more to endeavor to meet the wishes of his people for representation, and accordingly called another Parliament. For a time the results seemed to justify his hopes. The members appeared to be profoundly grateful to him for his good spirit in calling them together, and for three months they labored with him to accept the crown. It seems very clear that Cromwell would have acceded to this flattering invitation, and there was every public consideration to induce him to do so. He could not now resign his high office if he would. Yet the laws of England were silent regarding a Protector, while they clearly associated both the people and their institutions with the offce of king. But the army leaders would not agree to it, and Oliver put the glittering temptation aside, — with some reluctance, it would appear. He did consent, however, to a second installation as Protector, with much more pomp and circumstance than had been used before. he also erected a House of Lords, which afforded him the opportunity of opening a session with the time-honored form,
“ My Lords and Gentlemen ; ” but only two of the ancient peers deigned to sit in it; the Commons contemptuously referred to it as “ the Other House,” and even Oliver grew to be ashamed of it. The two Houses began to quarrel with each other, then to debate upon constitutionality. They soon fell away from their professions of patriotism and good will. There was no time to dally with them, for young Charles was peering eagerly across the Channel, waiting for the first encouragement to invade England. Every Royalist in the kingdom was wide awake. Cromwell’s secret agents reported the spies of the Cavaliers moving everywhere. The Protector hesitated not a moment, but came to Westminster and dismissed the Parliament with a stinging rebuke. And he resolved then to take the full weight of that mighty empire upon his shoulders alone.
As Protector his industry was astounding. We find him giving direction in every detail of the state’s affairs at home, and at the same time administering the American colonies with the closest attention to their requirements. He writes to his commanders in Acadia “to defend and keep the French forts, which Major Sedgwick has laid hold of.” To contending officials in Rhode Island he says : “ You are to proceed in your government according to the tenor of your charter.” To the commissioners of Maryland, explaining the severe terms of a previous letter meant to preserve the peace in needless territorial quarrels, he writes : “ Our intention was only to prevent and forbid any force or violence to be offered by either of the plantations of Virginia or Maryland from one to the other upon the differences concerning their bounds, the said differences being then under the consideration of ourself and council here.” And then to the governor of Virginia he writes, requiring him to forbear disturbing Lord Baltimore, or his officers or people in Maryland, and to “ permit all things to remain as they were before any disturbance or alterations made by you, or by any other upon pretense of authority from you, till the said differences be determined by us here, and we give further order therein.”
Without faltering, he continued to discharge the mission for which he had been chosen, — to keep English Puritanism paramount, with its Open Bible and Drawn Sword. His navy began to strip Spain of her American possessions, commencing with Jamaica, while his army made sure inroads upon the territory of Spain and invested Dunkirk.
With the victorious shouts of the populace ringing in his ears, he was called to the bedside of his daughter Elizabeth, who was ill from a distressing malady. For twenty-four days he sat beside her, ministering to her wants with the most tender compassion, and never leaving her for the public business but once, when he arranged the preliminaries for calling another Parliament. She died, and suddenly it became evident that the Lord Protector himself was seriously ill.
Cromwell was now fifty-nine years old. Eight years before he had written to his wife that he felt the infirmities of age stealing over him. His robust energies had been consumed by the exhausting duties of his career. The gout seemed to leave his leg and retire into his body, and for four or five days he was racked with intolerable pain in his bowels and back, making it impossible for him to sleep. He rode out once at the head of his life guard, and spoke kindly with George Fox, favoring the fullest freedom of worship for the Quakers. “ Before I came to him,” said Fox, “ I saw and felt a waft of death go forth against him.”
While tossing on his bed he repined for the dear Elizabeth ; and then his thoughts swept back to Robert, dead at Felsted school nineteen years ago; and he vainly strove to check the tears with the solace of that Scripture which he knew in whole by heart.
The belief that had followed Cromwell all through life, that he was privileged to hold personal communion with the Most High God, was strangely manifested in these last days. He besought the Lord that for the good of His people He would spare his life yet a little longer. He then assured his counselors that this prayer had been granted, using a manner of such mysterious confidence that his hearers were transported with amazement. Fleetwood sent a quick message to Henry Cromwell in Ireland, that his Highness had made very great discoveries of the Lord, and had received assurances of being restored ; to which Henry replied that the communication had given him some relief.
But there came a night when all saw that the end was approaching. They tried to get him to name his successor, and they affected to believe that in his thick death-gasps they heard him say, “ Richard.” They offered him a drink. “It is not my design to drink or to sleep,” he said, “ but my design is to make what haste I can to be gone.” All night he tossed, and all day he drew his heavy suspirations. The wildest storm that England had known was raging without. It was the anniversary of his great victory of Dunbar ; the anniversary, too, of his great victory of Worcester. And on this, his “ fortunate day,” his spirit passed out amid the lightning.
That incomparable army, which the great Puritan had moulded into the finest military machine in Europe, received the intelligence of his death in the lethargy and gloom of hopeless sorrow. They felt that they had “ not lost a general and protector only, but a dear and tender father to them all and the Lord’s people.” Cromwell’s body was buried with great pomp in Westminster Abbey. But when the lion was twenty-one months in his grave, and there was no roar in him, Charles Stuart came over and induced a pliant Parliament to attaint Cromwell of treason. His body was digged up, drawn on a sledge to Tyburn, and hanged. It was then dismembered and the trunk thrown into a hole under the gallows, while the head was impaled on a pike and fastened on the roof of Westminster Hall, where it stood against the storms for more than twenty years. The bodies of his old mother, Ireton, Blake, and a hundred other of his friends were ignominiously taken up at the same time.
The malignant hatred of Charles and his party drew upon the memory of the Protector a storm of obloquy that seemed to rage through English opinion for nearly two hundred years. James Heath, a Royalist lawyer, wrote (1662) the first “ life ” of Cromwell, a book of scurrility, the closing paragraph speaking of “ his head set upon Westminster Hall to be the becoming spectacle of his treason, where, on that pinnacle and legal advancement, it is fit to leave this ambitious wretch.” Since Heath’s book I count thirty-four biographies of Cromwell in my collection. Heath’s coarse detraction is the style of most of those published before 1787, although some of them make very fair attempts at a just delineation of the hero. In that year Mark Noble’s Memoirs of the Protectoral House of Cromwell appeared, — a painstaking, comprehensive, and useful compilation. Hume, more polished than Heath, is hardly so reliable, and the subject was a dark one in English historical literature until 1845, when Carlyle published what one is tempted to call his masterpiece, — Oliver Cromwell’s Letters and Speeches, with Elucidations and a Connecting Narrative. The research displayed in this book was marvelous, but its great strength lay in the fact that through its pages Oliver discovered himself to the world in his letters and speeches, speaking in tones of wisdom, of tenderness, of pathos, of pleading, of thunder, but always with honesty, unselfishness, and patriotism, until his image was left clear and distinct in the mind’s eye of his countrymen as that of the finest Englishman in history. From that moment the current was turned the other way. Public opinion, always slow to yield its rooted convictions, relinquished them with reluctance in this case. But as soon as Carlyle’s book began to be read and understood, the cloud of prejudice which had so long rested upon Cromwell’s fame was dissipated, and the piercing light of truth revealed his character in unspotted integrity and honor.
Following the apotheosis of Cromwell, as presented in his own letters and speeches, in Carlyle’s book, Macaulay published the first two volumes of his History three years later. Literature, like painting, runs across the field of art from the extreme of realism on the one side to the extreme of idealism on the other side. The biographer is a portrait painter. Lely, Cooper, and Walker painted their portraits of Oliver from the life, which, while very unlike one another, are strong in their likeness to Cromwell. Macaulay’s Cromwell is unlike Carlyle’s. It is more finished in its parts, but the effect is the same as in a portrait so painted that we lose sight of the character in our admiration of the finish on the buttons and the finger nails. Macaulay’s work has much that is truthful of Cromwell, and very little that is not so ; yet he sometimes produces an atmosphere that presents Cromwell in an artificial and misleading view. For example, he says : “The Puritans hated bear-baiting, not because it gave pain to the bear, but because it gave pleasure to the spectators.” This is so plainly a sacrifice of the eternal verities to rhetorical force that it needs no refutation now; yet it has given a false impression of the Cromwell epoch to thousands of Englishmen. Macaulay’s picture of Cromwell is good, but it contains nothing of that bold and rugged soul - painting whereby Carlyle has made it possible to behold the Protector as a compound of the tenderness of a woman and the fierceness of the Numidian lion.
After Carlyle, the most important Cromwellian workman of this century is Professor S. R. Gardiner, — his friend, Mr. Charles H. Firth, being always near him in sympathy and in power. I have read the twenty volumes in which Dr. Gardiner’s history of England in the seventeenth century flows so smoothly from the deep fountains of profound knowledge. Cromwell enters in the seventh volume, and the events move in serried phalanx until the obscure stock drover dominates the empire. Dr. Gardiner’s work is one of the literary monuments of our time; so well is it done that the story will never have to be written in detail again. It is the authoritative mine of information on that period forever. Yet Dr. Gardiner is human, and he has the fallibility of the race. While his narrative is impregnable, his judgment sometimes grievously errs. I shall point out two instances of this, as they present themselves to me. The first is his treatment of Cromwell’s assault at Drogheda. Cromwell had made a breach in the wall, and the garrison refused to surrender. When, in this situation, they continued to slay his men, they were not, under the law of civilized war as it stood up to the time of Wellington, entitled to quarter, and Cromwell gave them none. At this point Dr. Gardiner loses the splendid equipoise of his impartial mind. “ The deed of horror was all Cromwell’s own,” he says. “The stern command to put all to the sword who ‘were in arms in the town’ leapt lightly from his lips.” Surely, the word “ lightly ” here is a most unfortunate choice. The expressions that follow are these: “the cruel deed,” “promiscuous slaughter,” “ the blackest part of his conduct,” “ this horrible slaughter,” “the butchery,” “the perpetrator of the massacre.” In his treatment of this difficult episode, the distinguished author seems to forget that paramount entity the spirit of the times, in the clear view of which all historical judgments should be formed. Cromwell and his invading hosts had read May’s History of the Parliament, published two years before, or the substance of it, — which was, indeed, public information long before it was put in book form; and their minds were filled with the frightful stories, none the less overpowering because they were exaggerated, from which they believed that 187,000 English men, women, and children had been killed under circumstances of atrocious cruelty. When the priests called Irishmen to combine against “ the common enemy,” Cromwell wrathfully defied them. “ Who is it,” he asked the clergy, “ that created this common enemy ? I suppose you mean Englishmen. The English! Remember, ye hypocrites, Ireland was once united to England ; Englishmen had good inheritances which many of them purchased with their money; they or their ancestors from many of you and your ancestors. They had good leases from Irishmen for long time to come, great stocks thereupon, houses and plantations erected at their cost and charge. They lived peaceably and honestly amongst you ; you had generally equal benefit of the protection of England with them, and equal justice from the laws. . . . You broke the union, you unprovoked put the English to the most unheard-of and most barbarous massacre, without respect of sex or age, that ever the sun beheld, and at a time when Ireland was in perfect peace.” This is the point of view, the spirit of the times ; and both the law of war and the frailty of human nature, as well as a sound principle of generalship that it would “ prevent the effusion of blood for the future,” impelled Cromwell to do what every other English commander who has fought in foreign wars since his time has done in greater or less degree. We need look no further than Omdurman or Manila to see that war is not a school for the play of the tender humanities. I have never been able to see why Cromwell’s critics have chosen his conduct at Drogheda for their charge of cruelty, when he was equally reprehensible, from their standpoint, in slaying thousands of fugitives, after winning his victories at Marston Moor, Naseby, Preston, Dunbar, and Worcester. As a matter of fact, Cromwell looked on war as conquest by killing. Has war any other signification ?
My second point is Dr. Gardiner’s insistence upon his declaration that Cromwell was not a constructive statesman, but only a destructive force. He says : “ Cromwell’s negative work lasted; his positive work vanished away. His constitutions perished with him, his Protectorate descended from the proud position to which he had raised it, his peace with the Dutch was followed by two wars with the United Provinces, his alliance with the French monarchy only led to a succession of wars with France lasting into the nineteenth century. All that lasted was the support given by him to maritime enterprise, and in that he followed the traditions of the governments preceding him.” This is the whole burden of Dr. Gardiner’s argument in his little book, Cromwell’s Place in History, and the effect is similar to that which would be produced upon the trained ear when listening to a fine symphony played with one of the instruments sustaining a false note from the beginning to the end of the performance. What is the meaning of it all ? Are we to confine the word “constructive” to that which builds up? Is not the pioneer who hews down the forest, in order that civilization may advance, a constructive workman ? Is not he who digs for the foundation in part a builder of the edifice ? It would be interesting to know the thought in Dr. Gardiner’s mind when he uses the phrase “ constructive statesman.” If it is, as we would assume, one who constructs the institutions of the state, then Cromwell, in clearing away the political and religious barriers that prevented the national growth of the people of the British Empire, and in enlarging beyond human precedent the whole field of their thought and action, was the most constructive of all the statesmen that England has produced. Cromwell destroyed nearly all that was bad in both church and state. In the removal of rooted obstacles he prepared the way for the English nation to develop a higher civilization and to acquire a larger happiness. His work up to that point was constructive in the best way. But he went far beyond that, and implanted three fundamental truths imperishably in the heart of the English constitution, whereby it is forever established that men shall not be judged as to life, liberty, or property by arbitrary power; that all men shall be equal before the law ; and that none shall be persecuted for religion’s sake. What other leader of men has constructed so much ? This is the heritage which he left to England, and as time passed it naturally became the firm foundation upon which the American government was builded. Cromwell never cherished a purpose of hereditary power, and his constitutions, his Parliaments, and his Protectorate were designed by him for the hour only, until a permanent and just government might be formed upon the principles which he had established with his sword. The readjustment of conditions following the restoration made it possible for the last two Stuarts to obscure his work with the gloss of the old tyranny. But not for long. His tremendous precedents made the revolution of 1688 an easy task, and the last of his benevolent theories of human rights — that one in which he declared, “ The state, in choosing men to serve her, takes no notice of their opinions " — was finally incorporated into the laws of his country in 1832. England’s wars with France for two centuries after his death had no more to do with his policy than had England’s wars with France for two centuries before his birth. But while many men differ from Dr. Gardiner on questions of judgment, the quality of his narrative is so fine, his labor is so prodigious, his performance is so vast, that all gladly unite to own him first among living English historians.
Yet Cromwell’s work must ever be judged in England by party standards, and no book on his life from an English pen can there receive an undivided acknowledgment of authority. When Cromwell is the subject, the opinion is Cavalier or Roundhead, Tory or Whig, to this day. He joined in the execution of the king, — a clear act of expediency ; and he put the two Irish garrisons to the sword when they had refused to surrender after he made a breach, — an undisputed right, however rude, granted to him by the laws of war. Time itself can hardly efface the memory of these actions, even when they are set in their proper juxtaposition. But both in England and in Ireland the people are generous in their judgments, and they can forgive even when, they cannot forget, as we shall presently see.
The absence of Cromwell’s statue from the hero groups of Great Britain had long been a topic of comment in England and in America. In 1875 Elizabeth Salisbury Heywood erected a very handsome and costly monument to Cromwell in Manchester, and this, I believe, is the only statue of him that has ever been set up, except the Bernini bust. In 1884 Dr. Edward Everett Hale wrote an amusing satire on the subject, in which he described how a party of Americans made a statue of the Protector, took it to Westminster Hall at midnight, and placed it on the pedestal of Charles II., shattering Charles in their trepidation, but getting away without having their trick discovered. In 1894, in the book. Oliver Cromwell : A History, I said of the Protector : “He has no monument in England, and he can have none with the sanction of the government, because a monument to Cromwell would be an official acknowledgment of successful rebellion.”
Instantly the passage was seized by the English reviewers in a manner that revealed their sensitiveness to a duty unperformed. The book appeared in May. On August 7, Mr. Herbert Gladstone, at that time chief commissioner of works, introduced a bill in Parliament appropriating five hundred pounds for a statue of the Protector, to be erected among England’s sovereigns in Westminster Hall. Mr. Gladstone wrote thus to me : “ I must, however, remind you that in Manchester there is a very fine statue of Cromwell.” I replied that the Manchester statue was well known to me, but that as it had been set up by Mrs. Heywood in a private way, and not with the sanction of government, it hardly came within the scope of my observation ; and that I would gladly cancel the passage in a future edition whenever a monument should be erected with the approval of the government. Sir William Vernon Harcourt, then chancellor of the exchequer, told me that the proposal to erect a statue of the Protector in the precincts of the palace of Westminster was with his concurrence and by his wish.
The monument bill seemed to meet with no opposition. The government leaders fully expected it to pass. The weight of public opinion in England, as reflected in the press, in the speeches in Parliament, and in private conversation, was overwhelmingly for it, and in America the project elicited universal expressions of satisfaction. The first vote was taken on Friday, June 14, 1895, and the bill was passed in committee of the whole by a majority of fifteen. On the following Monday night, when the bill was on its second reading, the Parnell section of the Irish party, comprising about eleven votes and seeking a political advantage, denounced Cromwell’s military policy at Drogheda and at Wexford, and when the vote was taken they carried the Irish Nationalist party with them. The bill was rejected by one hundred and thirtyseven votes, and the government suffered a virtual defeat. Mr. John Morley, Home Secretary for Ireland, in withdrawing the measure, added pain to the popular disappointment at his retreat by Using these words : “ I have never been an admirer of the Irish policy of Cromwell. it was not only stained by what I regard as crime, but it was a political blunder,— the greatest blot upon his illustrious name.” After a subsidiary vote to reduce the salary of one of the ministers, an appeal was made to the country, and the Liberal party was beaten in the ensuing elections.
Then there occurred one of the strangest episodes that the history of politics has yet revealed. An appeal was made in one of the London newspapers for a public subscription to erect a monument; but in the meantime a gentleman, whose name was not then made public, had offered the retiring government a bust of Cromwell, and the newspaper appeal was withdrawn. The gift was not accepted ; but when the new government was established the offer was renewed. Lord Salisbury, Prime Minister of Great Britain, writes to me on January 27, 1899: “The bust of Oliver Cromwell, by Bernini, has been presented to and accepted by her Majesty’s government, the donor being Mr. Charles Wertheimer. It has been placed in one of the corridors of the palace of Westminster.” Mr. Wertheimer has kindly supplied me with the following particulars in regard to the monument. It was made by Bernini from sittings by Cromwell while Protector. Mr. Wertheimer purchased the bust in 1893, at the sale of the effects of Lord Revelstoke, and it was formerly in the collection of the late Richard Clement Barnett. It was because the House of Commons refused to sanction a vote of money for a statue of Oliver Cromwell that Mr. Wertheimer patriotically came forward and offered this beautiful work of art, which had cost him a large sum of money, as a free gift to the House. The late government hesitated to accept it, Mr. Wertheimer tells me, “probably fearing to offend the Irish members ; one of the ministers promised to call here and see it, but he never came, and for a time the matter dropped. But when the present government, Lord Salisbury’s, came into power, the offer was renewed, and they had the courage to accept it in very grateful and gracious terms.” Mr. Wertheimer prepared a suitable pedestal for the bust; and his gift, as the work of a contemporary sculptor, he justly thinks, “ is more likely to be a true representation of Oliver Cromwell than a modern work would be, and of course it possesses greater interest,” The acceptance was embraced in a letter dated February 3, 1898, from Mr. Arthur J. Balfour, first lord of the treasury, informing Mr. Wertheimer that “ her Majesty’s government are glad to accept the generous offer which you have made of a contemporary bust of Oliver Cromwell, to be placed in some fitting position in the House of Commons.” The statue was set in place, by an odd coincidence, on January 30, 1899, the two hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the death of Charles I. When a member of the late government inadvertently informed me, in opposition to the narrative just given, that the bust had really been accepted by Lord Rosebery’s ministry, not then having Lord Salisbury’s letter, I wrote to Mr. Wertheimer to inquire if there could be any mistake. He cabled me that his version was accurate ; and this testimony was confirmed in the next mail by a letter from Mr. Akers-Douglas, chief commissioner of works, who has charge of the official record in the case.
Surely a more cruel irony than this was never played in politics ! I was told by several of Mr. Morley’s party opponents in England that if he had clung to the statue bill, instead of withdrawing it, his party would have been returned with an increased majority which would have enabled them to put up the statue without the Irish votes. But Mr. Wertheimer’s gift made it possible for the party that is traditionally hostile to Cromwell, after overthrowing the government on that issue, to erect his statue among England’s sovereigns without a vote, — an advantage which, rejected by the Liberals as we have seen, the Conservatives were not slow to seize.
Thus, it has happily come to pass that the three hundredth anniversary of Oliver Cromwell’s birthday, April 25, 1899, finds his fame cleared from every unjust aspersion, his public acts illuminated by the purest patriotism, his work so well understood as to be full of inspiration for freemen in all ages, and his statue set among the sovereigns of England, of whom he was the greatest. Wherefore the world has reason to rejoice that Oliver has at last, after much tribulation, come into his own.
Semuel Harden Church.