WE have before us now, on Cromwell, Carlyle’s Life and Letters, Mr. Gardiner’s history of the period, the last volumes of Mr. Lecky’s history, and Mr. Morley’s Life; to which distinguished list should be added the historical chapters of Mr. Masson’s Milton, which, put together and expanded in parts, might be found the best historic mirror of the time.
“Darest thou wed the Heaven’s lightning, then?” ejaculates Carlyle, speaking of Cromwell’s slaughter of the garrison of Drogheda. Sage of Chelsea, we dare not; we should be upsetting the balance of our historical judgment. There was sure to be a recoil from Carlyle. “Dry-as-dust” was sure to have his own again. Dry-as-dust was, of course, indispensable and inestimable. Yet if there has been a man of transcendent power who has done great things for his kind, though far from being “godlike” he may be altogether fallible, human admiration and sympathy are not irrational or unhistoric. Carlyle might, perhaps, retort that Dry-as-dust’s minute criticisms of character and motive were idiosyncratic, and probably had no surer basis than the hero-worshiper’s rhapsodies of admiration. Carlyle has also the advantage of treating history with perfect breadth and freedom on its comic as well as on its serious side. The admission of humor into history is the unique stroke of his genius.
Oliver’s character is a very interesting study in itself as a remarkable combination of power with the tenderness which was totally wanting in the character of Napoleon. To his power there could be no stronger testimony than that of his arch-enemy Clarendon, in whom admiration visibly struggles with hatred. “To reduce three nations, which perfectly hated him, to an entire obedience to all his dictates; to awe and govern those nations by an army that was undevoted to him and wished his ruin, was an instance of a very prodigious address. But his greatness at home was but a shadow of the glory he had abroad. It was hard to discover which feared him most, France, Spain, or the Low Countries, where his friendship was current at the value he put upon it. And as they did all sacrifice their honor and their interest to his pleasure, so there is nothing he could have demanded that either of them would have denied him.” Clarendon goes on to mention the two instances of his protection of the Protestants in Savoy and Languedoc. That the three nations “perfectly hated” Cromwell and that the army “was undevoted to him” are the ideas of Mr. Hyde. But it is certain that Cromwell’s power was shown in bending to his will and using in his service men like Monk, Broghill, and Whitelocke, who had no attachment to his person or to his cause.
The steward of Cromwell’s household, writing after his master’s death, says, “His temper was exceeding fiery, as I have known, but the flame of it, kept down for the most part, was soon allayed by those moral endowments he had. He was naturally compassionate towards objects in distress, even to an effeminate measure, though God had made him a heart wherein was left little room for any fear but what was due to Himself, of which there was large proportion. A larger soul, I think, has seldom dwelt in a house of clay than his was.” Cromwell’s family affections were strong, and show themselves in his letters at the most critical periods of his life. The death of a favorite daughter was one of the things that brought him to the grave.
Cromwell’s character had for its basis religion, and of the most enthusiastic kind, commencing with a dark spell of spiritual wrestlings with evil. A good key to it is the Pilgrim’s Progress. In every crisis of his wonderful life Oliver evidently was upborne by the belief that he was in the hand of God. He ever trusted in divine guidance, and found support in prayer. In this respect a greatly softened counterpart of him has been seen in Gladstone, probably the last of the line. Cromwell’s faith was of a very simple kind, and would not have been out of place at a camp-meeting. He was, of course, utterly uncritical. He believed in the literal inspiration of the whole of Scripture. He drew no distinction, unfortunately, between the Old Testament and the New. His enthusiasm was not free, nor was it possible that it should be free, from fanaticism. In his language there is often an unctuousness which offends our skeptical taste. But of his sincerity there can be no doubt. Of that we have proof in the death-bed scene, as well as in the transport of supreme exaltation when the sun rises on victory at Dunbar.
There were in the Revolution two movements, distinguishable though blended, the political and the religious; resistance to the usurpation of Charles, and resistance to the ecclesiasticism of Laud; two allied powers of reaction. Cromwell belonged to the religious movement, while Pym, and still more distinctly the highly secular Martin, belonged to the political. This should be borne in mind in judging of the consistency of Cromwell’s course when he had risen to power, and especially of his apparent willingness to accept the title of king. He was never a political revolutionist. At the outset, at all events, he would have been content with a really constitutional monarchy, provided there was freedom of religion. Nor was he ever an enemy to aristocracy, though it was with the democracy that his lot as the leader of the Independents was cast. He avowed that he honored a real gentleman. To the Levellers he was utterly opposed.
On the other hand, the two movements being blended as they were, Cromwell was a politician and a partner in the ideas and counsels of Pym, Hampden, and the other political leaders of the party. We have him in the Long Parliament taking part in debate with great vehemence of manner, with unpolished language, and an untunable voice, yet with effect. Napoleon was a soldier before he was a statesman, and carried into government the autocratic ideas of the camp. Cromwell was a statesman before he was a soldier, and in government preserved his statesmanlike and constitutional tendencies and ideals.
Cromwell’s education had not been high, though he had spent a year at Cambridge. His standard of education was very modest, comprising only a little history, geography, and mathematics, a small measure,probably, of the last. But he was no Muggletonian enemy of secular science and learning. On the contrary, he respected them both. He saved the Universities from the fanatics who would have destroyed them. He made himself Chancellor of Oxford, and gave it a set of heads under whom it had its only period of intellectual activity and usefulness to the nation between the Middle Ages and the reforms of the last century. He appreciated college culture, and tried to draw young men of promise from the Universities to the service of the state. To extend academical culture to the North, he founded the University of Durham.
It was not likely that a man who took to war at forty-three would become a master of military science. It appears that Cromwell was out-generaled by Leslie, who had learned his science in the Thirty Years’ War, and would have been defeated by him at Dunbar had not Leslie’s hand been forced by the demented enthusiasts on his side. Not much generalship of the higher kind, in fact, was shown either by the Parliamentary or the Royal commanders. Cromwell became a supreme leader of cavalry at a time when the cavalry was the important arm, the infantry being a weak combination of the pikeman with the musketeer who carried a clumsy weapon with a ponderous rest, and depended on the pikeman to shield him from the horsemen. Cromwell always had his troopers well in hand, and his charges were effective. He seems also to have made good use of artiliery. Ruined castles, at least, are always said to have been battered by Cromwell. But his grand services in the war were the spirit which he brought to it and the insight which led him to replace the “tapsters and servingmen,” of whom the Parliamentary ranks at first were full, with religious yeomen qualified to cope with the fiery valor of the Cavalier. He brought, too, a hopefulness which no reverse could quell, and which burned in him like a pillar of fire. Finally, unlike Manchester and other half-hearted commanders, he saw and acted on the conviction that the only way to sure peace was decisive victory. Without him unquestionably the Parliamentary cause would have been lost.
Clarendon has done Cromwell the justice of saying that he was not a man of blood. He certainly was not. He voted for the death of Strafford, who is now an object of interest and pity. But there could be no doubt that Strafford, after passing from the patriot ranks into the place of favorite and minister of autocracy vacated by Buckingham, had conspired against public liberty, and raised an army in Ireland by arbitrary methods for the purpose of making the king absolute. He was proved to have avowed his design at the Council Board. Mr. Gardiner’s interpretation of the cant word “thorough,” used by Strafford and Laud in their correspondence as denoting merely thorough-going devotion to the king’s service, will surely not bear examination. What did Strafford mean by saying that he “wished Hampden and others to his likeness were whipped into their right senses”? For the execution of Laud, a needless act of cruelty when the old man was powerless and a captive, Cromwell was not responsible. It was the act of the Presbyterians. But Liberal writers who show their philosophy by patronizing Laud should remember that they have not, for writing against Prelacy, been whipped, branded, had their tongues bored, and been sent to confinement for life in a lonely fortress. Laud, let it be noted, was the innovator. He tried to force his mimic Catholicism on a nation which before had been Protestant, as the position of the communion table in the churches showed. Charles tried to force autocracy on a nation which under his father had been Parliamentary, using a prelatical church, according to his own avowal, as an instrument for that purpose. The French Revolution was one of demolition; the English Revolution was one of resistance to reaction.
There can be no doubt that Cromwell was, for that age, humane in war. At Worcester he risked his own life in riding forward to persuade the Scotch to accept quarter. We have him after being twice fired on by the Clubmen still forbearing to fall upon them, and imploring them to disperse. The exception, and about the darkest stain on Cromwell’s memory, is the slaughter of the garrison of Drogheda. The feeling of English Protestants toward the Irish Catholics after the Ulster massacre of 1641 was that of the British toward the Sepoy mutineers after the massacre of Cawnpore. The war of the races and religions in Ireland had been waged with fiendish ferocity on both sides. The Papal Nuncio Rinuccini triumphantly reports that after a victory won by the Catholics no prisoners had been taken. The law of war in those days, and indeed, theoretically, even in the days of Wellington, was that a garrison disregarding a summons to surrender on terms and standing a storm was not entitled to quarter. Cromwell’s temper, as Maidstone says, and as more than once unhappily appeared, “was fiery, though the flame of it was for the most part kept down by his moral endowments.” In this case it was not kept down. Cromwell had led the third storming party in person when two had been repulsed, and Badajos and San Sebastian can tell how fierce are the passions which the storming of a city sets on fire. Cromwell did not thank God for the massacre, as some who rave against him would have us think; he thanked God for the victory, and excused the slaughter on the ground of just retribution and necessary example. The execution appears to have been confined to the soldiery and some friars who were trumpeters of the rebellion. The armies of Alva, Parma, and Tilly put citizens of cities taken by storm, as well as the garrison, to the sword, and sacked the cities. For the slaughter at Wexford Cromwell was not personally responsible. It took place in a conflict between the victorious soldiery and the citizens, the citizens having provoked resentment by their drowning of Protestants and their piracy.
Cromwell’s proclamation on landing in Ireland assuring all non-combatants of impunity and protection was the first note of humanity heard in all those years. Its promise was strictly kept and sternly enforced against any attempt at outrage; whereas Rupert’s Cavaliers marauded at their will and sacked a captured city.
Another and very different occasion on which the “flame” of Cromwell’s temper broke out and was not controlled by the moral endowments was the turning out of the Long Parliament, the “Rump,” as it was then called, and had in fact become. That assembly contained some very able and very noble men, but it was a party oligarchy without credentials, hopelessly unnational and odious to the Puritanism militant of the army by which the victory had been won, and to the people at large. Some of its members were corrupt, and their corruption tainted the body. Its finance was confiscation. It had involved the nation in an insane and disastrous though, on the whole, triumphant war with the Protestant Commonwealth of Holland. It had to depart, and it had made it clear that it would not depart of its own accord. But the contumely with which Cromwell expelled it was in every way a mistake, and sowed his future path with thorns. He had served it, he had accepted rewards and honors at its hands. He owed it at least a decent funeral. He appears to have had difficulty in winding himself up to the striking point, and, thus wound up, to have lost his self-control. The want of command of language which appears in his speeches may have helped, in his convulsive effort to express himself, to carry him farther than he meant to go. Something of that kind happened to Wellington in his calamitous declaration against Parliamentary Reform. The error, at all events, was great and disastrous. It was stamped by Bradshaw’s dignified protest.
But the greatest error of Cromwell’s life was the execution of the king. Not that in this he showed himself a man of blood. There was in him not a particle of the Terrorist, or of the passion for regicide which slew the helpless king of France. He had been provoked, no doubt, by Charles’s double dealing, but he did not hate him; on the contrary, he was well inclined to him, and had wished to come to terms with him. Himself brimming with family affection, he had been touched by the sight of Charles with his children. He was impelled to the fatal act by what seemed to him fell necessity, and by the uncontrollable wrath of the army against the king whose perfidious machinations, while he was treating with the Parliament for a settlement, had rekindled civil war, invited Scotch invasion, and brought them and their cause once more into the extremity of peril. It was at the prayer-meeting of the soldiers at Windsor, before they marched against Hamilton, that the king’s doom was really pronounced. The secret treaty with the Scotch for the invasion of England brought Charles to the block, and his offense surely was capital, though its punishment was most ill-advised. The death of the captive king set the king free and absolved the monarchy; it put inexpiable blood between the regicides and a great part of the nation; and flunkeyism, far from being sickened as Carlyle says it was, flourished on the martyrdom, and has continued to flourish on it ever since. The success of Eikon Basilike was the proof.
On the other hand, to compare the tribunal to a drum-head court-martial is surely unfair. Nothing could be more solemn than the trial; and the government by which the trial was held, though revolutionary, was then the supreme power of the nation. There was nothing of the levity and monkeyism which disgraced the trial of Louis XVI. It may be added that the treatment of the king’s children at the hands of the regicides presents a striking contrast to the infamous assassination of the poor little Dauphin. Carlyle is right in saying that there is a difference between the followers of Christ and the followers of Jean Jacques.
Cromwell’s motive in putting the king to death can hardly have been to open his own way to the throne. Three months afterwards his eldest son was married to the daughter of a private gentleman, after some rather anxious negotiations about the settlement. Richard can hardly have been regarded by his father as possible heir to a crown. As he rose, he would feel that he was rising. He said himself, “No one rises so high as he who knows not whither he is going.” But after Naseby, and shortly before his utterance of those memorable words, he was seriously weighing in conferences with the Elector Palatine a proposal for transferring himself and his victorious veterans to the battlefield of Germany.
A civil war should close with amnesty and settlement. That the war of the American Revolution closed, not with amnesty, but with the expulsion of the Loyalists, and the consequent foundation by them of a hostile nation, is a slur on the humanity and wisdom of the Revolutionists, and on Washington, who failed to exert his influence, as Hamilton did, on the right side. Cromwell’s crowning victory at Worcester was followed by an amnesty, though one not so full as it ought to have been, or as every sign of Cromwell’s general disposition warrants us in believing that it would have been had the decision rested with him alone.
Master of the state after the expulsion of the Long Parliament, Cromwell showed that he did not aim at military despotism, by calling the Barebones Parliament, or the Nominative Parliament, as it is more rationally termed, an assembly appointed partly by the Independent churches, partly by the officers; an attempt apparently to install that government of Puritan worth for which Harrison and the ultra-religious party of the Revolution yearned. The Barebones Parliament showed itself practical by setting on foot social reforms which have been adopted in later days. But it showed itself impractical in attempting at once disestablishment of the church and abolition of the Court of Chancery. In the first attempt it dashed itself against a tendency still deeply rooted in the nation; in ihe second, against a very powerful profession. Unlike the Rump, it had a decent funeral.
Then came the Instrument of Government, which, if it was not the work of Cromwell, who seems, in truth,not to have been much of a builder of constitutions or so attentive as he might have been to forms of polity, must have had his approbation. It is in a measure a republican counterpart of the old constitution with king, Privy Council, Lords, and Commons, omitting the House of Lords. The place of the king is taken by a Protector for life, elected by the standing Council of State, which takes the place of the Privy Council. Vacancies in the Council of State are filled by a mixed process of election and nomination, Parliament naming six, out of whom the Council is to choose two, and present them to the Protector, who is to appoint one. There is a single House of Parliament, with a redistribution of seats on the principle of population, anticipating the Reform Act of 1832. The Protector is invested with the general prerogative of the king, domestic, and in dealings with foreign nations; but his legislative veto is limited to twenty days, and his disposal of the forces, military and naval, a very vital point at this juncture, is to be with consent of Parliament, if Parliament is then sitting, otherwise with that of the majority of the Council of State. There are safeguards against intermission of Parliaments suggested by the anti-Parliamentary action of Charles I. There is a special provision, dictated by the necessities of the time, for the maintenance of a standing army of 10,000 horse and 20,000 foot, by a revenue not to be taken away or reduced without the consent of the Protector.
Mr. Morley in his Life of Cromwell seems inclined to regard the discussion of forms of government as stale and trivial. Yet forms of government are surely important, and seldom has such a union of intelligence with experience been brought to the discussion as was brought by the statesmen of the English Commonwealth. Their work is at least a vigorous attempt at combining authority and stability with responsibility on an elective basis. It has long lain forgotten and mouldering in Whitelocke’s Memorials. But at the pass to which Democracy has now come, with organized demagogism, party government, and the caucus, those who are seeking a way of escape from revolution on the one hand and reaction on the other may not disdain to glance at the Instrument of Government.
The struggle between the Protector and the Parliament, which filled the greater part of the Protectorate, has not been depicted by any intelligent observer, but its general nature is clear. The party in Parliament which sought to keep all power in the hands of the elective representatives of the people might appeal with force to general principles, the assertion of which had been the object of the civil war. It is easy to sympathize with men who had been fighting for a high ideal even when they were practically ruining their own cause and doing their best to set their own heads on Temple Bar. But they were mistaken in assuming that they represented the nation. They were the representatives not of the nation, but of a party; all who had fought for the king having been excluded from election, while even of those who had not fought for the king a great part were not republican. Had they succeeded in making themselves supreme they would have at once come into collision with the body of the people. The Protectorate alone had any pretension to being national or any chance of gradually reuniting the divided and distracted nation. The tug of war seems to have been rather on the subject of the control of the army than on any of the political clauses of the Instrument of Government. But the control of the army was supreme power.
Military government must always be an evil. But the government of the Protector was not military beyond what was really necessary to maintain the settlement. Law reigned and was administered in the regular courts by independent judges. The personal liberty of all who submitted to the government was unimpaired. The command of a sufficient military force was necessary for the repression of conspiracy with which the country was seething and which threatened to ally itself with foreign invasion, and to rekindle the flame of civil war. Did Cromwell use arbitrary power further than was necessary to maintain the settlement, secure public peace, and avert a recurrence of strife ? Was he all the time doing his best to act in harmony with Parliament, and to return in concert with it to constitutional government ? The first of these questions may be confidently answered in the negative; the second may as confidently be answered in the affirmative. The speeches, which to Carlyle seem oracular, are clumsy and uncouth in expression, rambling, and often confused. But through them all there struggles a heartfelt and manifestly sincere desire to get back to constitutional government, to act harmoniously with the Parliament, and in concert with it to save the nation.
On one of the questions between the Protector and the Parliament Cromwell was clearly and nobly in the right, as well as before his age. He steadily upheld to the best of his power the principle of religious toleration. He snatched the Socinian Biddle from the fangs of the persecuting Parliament, in which Presbyterian bigotry held sway. The mad Quaker Nayler was saved from death for his blasphemies only by ninety-eight votes to eighty-two, and was condemned to public whippings, brandings, tongue-borings, and humiliation, compared with which death would have been a mercy. In this case, again, Cromwell interposed, and did his best to control and mitigate the persecution. His constant fidelity to toleration is admitted by his severest critics. Such a case as that of Nayler is a sufficient proof that in the Protectorate, not in the Parliament, lay the hope of a reunion of the nation.
Scotland was united to England upon terms of equality, the bond being sealed by the calling of members from Scotland to Cromwell’s Parliament. Nature had proclaimed that union, though the perversity of man and the malignity of fortune had long delayed it, with the worst consequences to both nations,— desolating wars, border lawlessness and raids, subserviency of Scotland to France. The Scotch people were rid of the domination of an anarchical aristocracy, in place of which came justice administered by judges chosen for merit and not by family; “kinless loons,” as an ejected jobber plaintively called them. To the improvement in this respect the testimony is decisive. Order was extended to the Highlands, and an end was put to the Highlanders’ marauding. The spiritual tyranny of the Kirk was suspended, so that even Royalists craving for religious freedom blessed the day. There was an end of witch-burning. Free trade with England produced its natural effects. “We count those years,” says Bishop Burnet, a Scotchman, “years of great prosperity.” When Cromwell died his work was undone. There ensued a renewal of oligarchical oppression, reintrusion of Prelacy, and Stuart persecution of Scotch religion, more civil broils, the rising of Dundee, renewal of the old animosities, and a quarrel about the Darien Company which brought the two nations to the verge of war. Nor did the mischief end there, for twice the Highlands, which had relapsed into clannish lawlessness, furnished Stuart pretenders with forces for the renewal of civil war. Deprived of free trade with England and her colonies, Scotland became the scene of such penury and vagrancy that the Scotch patriot Fletcher proposed slavery as the cure.
To speak of Cromwell’s treatment of the Irish nation is a misuse of language. There was no Irish nation. There were in the same island two races with different languages and religions, immemorially hostile to each other, which had been waging for four years a war of mutual extermination, commenced on the side of the Celt and Catholic by a hideous massacre of the English Protestants. After such a conflict the settlement was not. likely to be mild. The feeling of the Protestants, both Irish and English, against the Irish Catholics after the rebellion and massacre of 1641, as was said before, was like that of the British against the Sepoy mutineers. The Saxon after a murderous struggle had won the land, and Cromwell could no more have taken it from him and given it to the vanquished Celt, had he been so minded, than he could have made the Shannon run back to its source. The Adventurers who had advanced money for the war on the security of rebel lands to be confiscated, and the soldiers who had received their pay in land-scrip, claimed their respective dues. The transplantation of all the Irish land - owners to Connaught, though not perhaps carried out with the full rigor of its first conception, was a cruel and hateful measure. But fell experience had shown that if the two races were mingled, one would rise and massacre the other, a catastrophe nearly repeated in 1688. Laborers and artisans were not transported; it was hoped they might be drilled into settled industry and respect for law. In all this Cromwell was not his own master, nor specially responsible. The acts were those of the Parliament. Cromwell gave Ireland peace. He united her to Great Britain, thus raising her from the condition of a despised and oppressed dependency to equality with the other kingdoms, and at the same time bringing her murderous factions under Imperial control. He sent her a kind and wise ruler in the person of his son Henry. He sent her a vigorous lawreformer in the person of Chief Justice Cook, saying that he would use her as a blank paper whereon to write reforms from which professional prejudice debarred him in England. He gave her free trade with England, a boon absolutely essential to her industry, to her prosperity, to her civilization. Religious liberty and equality he could not give, though his own inclinations were always evidently on the side of toleration. The mass was not only idolatry in Protestant eyes, it was a symbol of political disaffection, and meant nothing less than a nation in allegiance to a hostile power planted on the flank of England. But Cromwell “ meddled with no man’s conscience,” which was something in the days of the Inquisition, and recusancy laws were not extended to Ireland. Clarendon bears witness to the material results. He says that “ all this [transfer of the lands] was done and settled, within little more than two years, to that degree of perfection that there were many buildings raised for beauty as well as use, orderly and regular plantations of trees, and fences and enclosures raised throughout the kingdom, purchases made by one from the other at very valuable rates, and jointures made upon marriages, and all other conveyances and settlements executed, as in a kingdom at peace within itself, and where no doubt could be made of the validity of titles.”
Cromwell had solved the Irish question. Not in the way in which under happier stars it would have been solved at the outset, but in the way which after so many centuries of misrule and disaster was possible. His solution would probably have been final had he lived longer. Here again his work was undone, and the results were the blight which fell on Irish prosperity, the renewal of the war of races and religions in 1688, the Penal Code, the famines, the agrarian war, the rebellion of ’98, and the Irish question which has distracted the councils of the United Kingdom ever since.
The place which Cromwell, as the chief of England, or rather of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland, and Ireland, in his foreign policy sought for his country was the leadership of Protestant Christendom in its antagonism to the Catholic power. This policy has been said to have been belated, the treaty of Westphalia having put an end to wars of religion. Of that Cromwell was not likely to be a bad judge. Protestants were being persecuted in Savoy and to some extent in France. The Inquisition and the Jesuit were still at work. Louis XIV and James II were still to come. There was still room for a successor of Gustavus Adolphus. Clearly, also, there was a part for any great Christian power to play in putting down the Barbary Pirates. It has been truly remarked that in Cromwell’s aims the interest of his country went always hand in hand with that of his religion. The two in his time, as in the time of Elizabeth, were still, though it might be less manifestly, connected. His war policy was of his day, and is no model for ours. “Nobody,” said Bacon, “can be healthful without exercise, neither natural body nor politic; and certainly to a kingdom or estate a just and honourable war is the true exercise.” It was, moreover, literally true that there was no peace beyond the Line. All who presumed to use the freedom of those waters were, in virtue of a Papal grant, treated by Spain as pirates. There was, in fact, a permanent state of war apart from any special declaration. Cromwell was following the track of the adventurers of the Elizabethan time, whose courses now would be those of buccaneers. Spanish ingots were no doubt very welcome to his needy exchequer. But the nobler motive, that which launched the fiat of intervention in favor of the persecuted Savoyards and Huguenots, was always there. Jingoism cannot point to Cromwell as its forerunner. Cromwell was no more like the Jingo than Milton’s sonnet on the Massacre in Piedmont is like the effusions of the Jingo bard.
The wisdom of Cromwell’s choice of the French alliance has been impeached on the ground that the real danger, as in the sequel appeared, was that of French, not of Spanish, domination. But the decay of Spain was not then visible, nor was the danger of French ascendancy apparent. There would, in fact, have been no danger of French ascendancy had English policy continued to be animated by the spirit of Cromwell. It was by the treasonable subserviency of the Stuarts to Louis XIV that the French monarchy was raised to its formidable height of power.
To the impression that this man made on Europe, and the commanding influence exercised by him, beset as he was at home by difficulties and dangers of every kind, Clarendon’s reluctant admiration and Mazarin’s enforced complaisance bear witness. Nor is it doubtful that the heart of his people was with him. “ It is strange how everybody do now-adays reflect on Oliver and commend him what brave things he did and made all the neighbour princes fear him.” So says the Royalist Pepys in the Stuart days of shame. Those words also seem to indicate that the hatred of Oliver’s memory, while it is assumed to have been universal, was really rather the sentiment of the higher class, which controlled the organs of opinion and the pulpit, than that of the lower classes, which are usually dumb. At all events, there can hardly have been among the people a very bitter recollection of government by the sword.
Never was the state better served in peace or war than it was served under Cromwell by Thurloe, Blake, Lockhart, Monk, and the members of the Council of State. The Protector fearlessly employed men like Broghill and Monk who could be useful to the public without thinking too much about their attachment to himself. The whole machinery of his government seems to have been good. A spy system is an unpleasant necessity, but a necessity in this case it was, and it was curiously efficient. An intriguer who had been on the Continent, being brought before Cromwell on his return, swore positively that he had never seen the Pretender. “You speak the truth,” said Cromwell, “for your meeting with him was in the dark.”
Cromwell’s adamantine courage was shown on many a field of battle. Still more was it shown in grappling with mutiny, and with mutiny of such soldiers as his. Most of all, perhaps, was it shown in his perfect self-possession and devotion to his public work in face of the constant danger of assassination, a peril which has shaken souls unshaken in battle and storm. There can be no doubt that he was upborne by his religion.
Of Cromwell’s colonial policy Bancroft says: “English history must judge of Cromwell by his influence on the institutions of England; the American colonies remember the years of his power as the period when British sovereignty was for them free from rapacity, intolerance, and oppression. He may be called the benefactor of the English in America; for he left them to enjoy unshackled the liberal benevolence of Providence, the freedom of industry, of commerce, of religion, and of government.” Had this policy been afterwards pursued there would have been no rupture, no war of the American Revolution, no war of 1812.
Roger Williams, and a few spirits of the Dawn, as well as a few thoroughgoing freethinkers and iconoclasts like Martin, had embraced the idea of complete separation of the church from the state and perfect freedom of religious opinion. But England was not yet ripe for disestablishment. The nation as a whole still craved for a national religion, and would have thought that in ceasing to have one it was renouncing its allegiance to God. The Presbyterians, now in fact the predominant sect, were as persecuting as any Prelatist or Papist. They had framed an Act of Parliament punishing anti-Trinitarian heresy with death. Toleration was intensely odious in their eyes. By the Instrument of Government the Christian religion contained in the Scriptures was to be “held forth and recommended as the public profession of those nations.” But to the public profession held forth none were to be compelled by penalties or otherwise, but endeavors were to be used to win them by sound doctrine and the example of a good conversation. Such as professed faith in God by Jesus Christ, though differing in judgment from the doctrine, worship, or discipline publicly held forth, were not to be restrained from but protected in the profession and exercise of their religion, so that they did not abuse this liberty to the civil injury of others and to the actual disturbance of the public peace on their parts ; provided that this liberty were not extended to Popery or Prelacy, nor to such as under the profession of Christ held forth and practiced licentiousness. Tithes were to be maintained till a better and less contentious provision could be made. A national establishment with toleration outside it was the general principle afterwards adopted in the Toleration Act of William III. Cromwell’s establishment comprehended all Trinitarian Protestants of whatever denomination. Within that circumscription the title to the ministry recognized by his Triers was not dogmatic, but personal. Nor does it appear that Anglicans in opinion were excluded so long as they forbore to use the Anglican liturgy. Baxter, who was a Royalist and anti-Cromwellian, allows that the Protector’s Commissioners “put in able and serious preachers who lived a godly life of what tolerable opinions soever they were, so that many thousands of souls blessed God.” Thus the people gained, as far as at the time was possible, that for which Cromwell himself had taken up arms, and which in his eyes was the great object of the civil war. Among tolerable opinions were not reckoned Roman Catholicism or Anglicanism, liturgical and sacramental. Both these were not only religious, but political; Anglicanism hostile to the Commonwealth; Roman Catholicism hostile to all Protestant Governments. But Anglicanism, as we may gather from Evelyn’s Diary, enjoyed generally a large measure of connivance. Nor does it appear that the treatment of Roman Catholics was so harsh as it had been under former governments. Archbishop Ussher was highly honored by Cromwell, who gave him a public funeral, and there are some symptoms of a kindly feeling on the part of the Protector himself toward the old Church of the nation.
Cromwellian comprehension seems, at all events, to have effectually ousted Prelacy from any seat which it may have had in the heart of the people. “I and Lieutenant Lambert,” says Pepys, “to Westminster Abbey, where we saw Dr. Frewen translated to the Archbishopric of York. Here I saw the Bishops of Winchester, Bangor, Rochester, Bath and Wells, and Salisbury, all in their habits in King Henry VII’s chapel. But Lord! at their going out, how people did most of them look upon them as strange creatures, and few with any kind of love or respect.”
The most arbitrary act done by the Protector was the temporary institution of Major-Generals. This was clear disregard of law, and could be justified only by the state of the country seething with insurrection, both of Royalists and Levellers, which threatened a renewal of civil war. The moral censorship which was combined with the military and fiscal functions of the Major-Generals is probably said with truth to be traceable to Cromwell’s own mind and to mark the path into which he wished to lead the nation. We see here the Puritan ideal. Bear-baiting, bull-fighting, and cockfighting were put down, not because they gave pleasure to the spectator, but because they were wrong. Horse-racing was generally forbidden on account of the dangerous crowds which it drew, but permitted when the attendance was safe. Cromwell himself was very fond of horses. There was everywhere a raid upon unlicensed and disorderly taverns, as well as upon disorderly life and vagabondage in general. Puritanism abolished the church holidays, Christmas, and May games, unwisely and to its own undoing. It rigorously enforced the Sabbath. It closed theatres, unwisely, though perhaps as the stage then was, or as it reappeared at the Restoration, without much detriment to moral taste. On the whole, probably the extent of the Puritan war on cakes and ale and the annoyance it caused any decent liver have been overstated. Pepys, who was a voluptuary as well as a Royalist, shows no marked sense of escape from a yoke. What probably hurt the feelings of the masses more was the sight of arbitrary power in the hands of men of their own class. But Cromwell’s social policy no doubt was doomed to prove the difficulty of raising general morality to a higher plane.
Government by the sword is the greatest of evils. Government by the sword the Protector’s was in the sense that the army was provisionally used to uphold the settlement. But in ordinary life law still perfectly prevailed, and was administered by the ordinary judiciary. Nor did the government in any ordinary case set itself above the law. In cases of conspiracy and insurrection a High Court of Justice was formed, but it was most respectably composed and followed the rules of evidence; nor has the justice of its sentences been in any case impeached. This was better than packing juries, which would have been the alternative, unless the enemies of the settlement were to be allowed to overthrow it, murder the head of the nation, and renew the civil war. The discipline of the soldiery was perfect. No serious case of outrage is recorded. It was with the highest compliments that the army was disbanded at the Restoration; and its veterans were noted for their good conduct in the callings to which they returned. Let this be contrasted, say, with the repressive action of the Directory after the French Revolution.
It is admitted by the severest critics of the Protectorate that there was no more interference than was necessary with the freedom of the press. Literary men, the most opposed to Cromwell’s principles, such as Hobbes, Cleveland, and D’Avenant, soon found themselves secure, and carried on their work freely under his rule.
In dealing with old political comrades who had been estranged from him and plotted against him, the Protector showed himself always mindful of general sympathy and former connection.
Settled and essentially conservative though Parliamentary government, with moral, social, and legal reform, and the largest attainable measure of religious freedom, made up the Protector’s home policy, while his foreign policy was one of national greatness combined with Protestant leadership in Europe.
Though the robes of Monarchy are too gorgeous, Democracy need not go naked; nor, ruled as we are by our senses, is it desirable that it should. The second and grander installation of the Protector was a model of republican ceremonial, thoroughly significant and impressive without being overdone; the true medium between the gaudy coronation of George IV and Jefferson, as the legend represents him, hitching his horse to the fence. The court of the Protectorate seems to have been stately without being lavish, its entertainments consisting largely of music,of which Cromwell was very fond. It was also admirable in contrast with many royal courts before and after it in presenting a picture of domestic purity and love.
The offer of the crown was made by the party, no doubt very large both in Parliament and the country, which desired a settled government, and saw the best hope of it in a return to old names and ways, together with the lawyers whose forms were all monarchical. The immunity, secured by the old statute, for adherence to a king de facto against the legal vengeance of a Restoration, had also great effect. Nor, as has already been said, was there in Cromwell’s political principles anything repugnant to constitutional monarchy with a free church. But the veto of the companions in arms to whom he owed his position was decisive. The substitution of nomination for election in the succession to the Protectorate practically made the Protectorate hereditary. Had Cromwell’s heir been capable of holding his own, there would have been a sort of counterpart of the Stadtholderate of Holland.
To the question Why did Cromwell fail? the answer is that he did not fail. He failed at least only as Gustavus Adolphus had failed on the field of Lutzen. Worn out with care, broken by the death of his favorite daughter, he died before his hour. There can be no doubt that the Protectorate was taking root. It was supported by multitudes who, careless of form and title, wanted security for stable government and freedom from a recurrence of civil war. Cromwell’s glory and his ascendancy in Europe fired the national heart. Even the nobility were beginning to be reconciled. The purchasers of crown, church, and confiscated lands formed a powerful interest bound to the government from which their titles were derived. In the army and navy, both of them victorious, there was no sign of disaffection. The Protector was preparing hopefully to meet Parliament again. The chief difficulty was finance, which can hardly overthrow a strong government. Mazarin and Don Luis de Haro evidently deemed the Protectorate firmly founded, and would have nothing to do with Charles II. Richard, poor creature as he was, succeeded amid general acclamation, and the Royalist rising under Booth was easily put down. Could Richard have mustered courage to act on Monk’s advice and cashier the mutinous officers, perhaps had Monk himself been in Richard’s place, the Commonwealth of England, Scotland, and Ireland, with the Protectorate, might have lived. But the turbulent ambition of the chiefs of the army brought on a military anarchy, and it was from the military anarchy, not from the Commonwealth or Protectorate, that the Restoration was a recoil. Of course forces before suppressed — Royalism proper, dislike of military government, dislike of Puritan austerity, jealousy of plebeian rule — found vent and helped to bring on the reaction. The death of Cromwell before his hour and without a worthy successor was simply one of the critical accidents which baffle our attempt to create a science of history.
The Restoration fell in its turn. And in a certain sense it may be said that Oliver, after all, mounted the throne as constitutional king in the person of William III. But the constitutional monarchy of William III was the Commonwealth less the unions with Scotland and Ireland, less free trade between the kingdoms, with the Irish question still unsettled and destined so for two centuries to remain, with an unreformed Parliament, with Prelacy, an Irish Church establishment, and a reduced measure of toleration.