HISTORY OF THE ENGLISH SPEAKING PEOPLES
by Winston Churchill
The English Republic and Oliver Cromwell
THE English Republic had come into existence even before the execution of the King. On January 4, 1649, the handful of Members of the House of Commons who served the purposes of Cromwell and the Army resolved that "the people are, under God, the original of all just power . . . that the Commons of England in Parliament assembled, being chosen by and representing the people, have the supreme power in this nation." On the 9th it was voted that the name of a single person should no longer be mentioned in legal transactions under the Great Seal. A new seal was presented, bearing on one side a map of England and Ireland and on the other a picture of the House of Commons, with the inscription "In the first year of freedom, by God's blessing restored." A statue of Charles I was thrown down, and on the pedestal were inscribed the words "Exit the tyrant, the last of the Kings." On February 5 it was declared that the House of Lords "is useless and dangerous and ought to be abolished." Thereafter it ceased to meet. Vengeance was wrought upon a number of peers taken prisoner in the Second Civil War, and Lords Hamilton and Holland, statesmen of high intellectual qualities and long record, were beheaded.
The country was now to be governed by a Council of State chosen annually by Parliament. Its forty-one members included peers, judges, and Members of Parliament, among them most of the principal regicides. It was found to be fearless, diligent, and incorrupt! The judiciary hung for a time in the balance. Six of the twelve judges refused to continue, but the rest, their oath of allegiance being formally abrogated, agreed to serve the Commonwealth. The highly conservative elements at the head of the Army held firmly to the maintenance of the Common Law and the unbroken administration of justice in all non-political issues. The accession of the lawyers to the new regime was deemed essential for the defence of privilege and property against the assaults of the Levellers, agitators, and extremists. This had now become the crucial issue. Fierce and furious as was the effort of the Levellers, there was no hesitation among the men in power to put them down. Even Ireton was excluded from the new Council of i State, with which all power rested. Cromwell and his col- ' leagues were familiar with the extremists' demands. They had originally been put forward by five cavalry regiments who had signed the "Agreement of the People," promoted by John Lilburae at the time of the abortive negotiations between Cromwell and the King in 1647.
It was essential to divide and disperse the Army, and Cromwell was willing to lead the larger part of it to a war of retribution in the name of the Lord Jehovah against the idolatrous and bloodstained Papists of Ireland. It was thought that , an enterprise of this character would enlist the fanaticism of the rank and file. Lots were drawn which regiments should go to Ireland, and were drawn again and again until only the regiments in which the Levellers were strongest were cast. A pamphlet on England's New Chains spread through the Army. Mutinies broke out. Many hundreds of veteran soldiers appeared in bands in support of "the sovereignty of the people," manhood suffrage, and annual Parliaments. This mood was not confined to the soldiers. Behind these broad principles the idea of equal rights in property as well as in citizenship was boldly announced by a group led by Gerard Winstanley, which came to be known as "the Diggers."
Numbers of persons appeared upon the common lands in Surrey and prepared to cultivate them on a communal basis. These "Diggers" did not molest the enclosed lands, leaving them to be settled by whoever had the power to take them; but they claimed that the whole earth was a "common treasury" and that the common land should be for all. They argued further that the beheaded King traced his right to William the Conqueror, with whom a crowd of nobles and adventurers had come into England, robbing by force the mass of the people of their ancient rights in Saxon days. Historically the claim was overlaid by six centuries of custom and was itself highly disputable; but this was what they said. The rulers of the Commonwealth regarded all this as dangerous and subversive nonsense.
No one was more shocked than Cromwell. He cared almost as much for private property as for religious liberty. "A nobleman, a gentleman, a yeoman," he said, "that is a good interest of the land and a great one." The Council of State chased the would-be cultivators off the common land, and hunted the mutinous officers and soldiers to death without mercy. Cromwell again quelled a mutiny in person, and by his orders Trooper William Thompson, a follower of Lilburne, was shot in an Oxfordshire churchyard. His opinions and his constancy have led some to crown him as "the first martyr of democracy." Cromwell also discharged from the Army, without their arrears of pay, all men who would not volunteer for the Irish war. Nominated by the Council as Commander, he invested his mission not only with a martial but with a priestly aspect. He joined the Puritan divines in preaching a holy war upon the Irish, and made a religious progress to Charing Cross in a coach drawn by six Flemish horses. All this was done as part of a profound Calculated policy in the face of military and social dangers which, if not strangled, would have opened a new ferocious and measureless social war in England.
Cromwell's campaign of 1649 in Ireland was equally coldblooded, and equally imbued with those Old Testament sentiments which dominated the minds of the Puritans. The spirit and peril of the Irish race might have prompted them to unite upon Catholic toleration and monarchy, and on this they could have made a firm alliance with the Protestant Royalists, who, under the Marquess of Ormonde, had an organised army of twelve thousand men. But the arrival of the Papal Nuncio Rinuccini had aggravated the many forces of incoherence and strife. Ormonde's army was grievously weakened before Cromwell landed. He had already in 1647 ceded Dublin a Parliamentary general; but he had later occupied the towns of Drogheda and Wexford and was resolved to defend them. Upon these Cromwell marched with his ten thousand veteran troops. Ormonde would have done better to keep the open field with his regulars and allow the severities of the Puritan invaders totally the Irish nation behind him. Instead he hoped that Crornwell would break his teeth upon a long siege of Drogheda, in which he placed a garrison of three thousand men, comprising the flower of the Irish Royalists and English volunteers. Cromwell saw that the destruction of these men would not only ruin Ormonde's military power, but spread a helpful terror throughout the island. He therefore resolved upon a deed of "frightfulness" deeply embarrassing to his nineteenth-century admirers and apologists.
Having unsuccessfully summoned the garrison to surrender, he breached the ramparts with his cannon, and at the third assault, which he led himself, stormed the town. There followed a massacre so all-effacing as to startle even the opinion of those fierce times. All were put to the sword. None escaped; every priest and friar was butchered. The corpses were carefully ransacked for valuables. The Governor, Sir Arthur Ashton, had an artificial leg, which the Ironsides believed to be made of gold; however it was only in his belt that they found his private fortune. The ferreting out and slaughter of those in hiding lasted till the third day.
There is no dispute about the facts, for Oliver told his own tale in his letter to John Bradshaw, President of the Council of State. "It hath pleased God to bless our endeavours at Tredah [for thus he spelt Drogheda]. After battery, we stormed it. The Enemy Were about 3000 strong in the Town. They made a stout resistance; and near 1000 of our men being entered, the Enemy forced them out again. But God giving a new courage to our men, they attempted again, and entered: beating the Enemy from their defences. . . . Being thus entered, we refused them quarter: having, the day before, summoned the Town. I believe we put to the sword the whole number of the defendants. I do not think Thirty of the whole number escaped with their lives. Those that did, are in safe custody for the Barbados. . . . This hath been a marvellous great mercy. The Enemy, being not willing to put an issue upon a field-battle, had put into this Garrison almost all their prime soldiers . . . under the command of their best officers.... I do not believe, neither do I hear, that any officer escaped with his life, save only one. . . . The Enemy upon this were filled with much terror. And truly I believe this bitterness will save much effusion of blood, through the goodness of God. . . .
"I wish that all honest hearts may give the glory of this to God alone, to whom indeed the praise of this mercy belongs."
In another letter to Speaker LenthalL he gave further details. "Divers of the Enemy retreated mfo the Mill-Mount: a place very strong and of difficult access. . . . The Governor, Sir Arthur Ashton, and divers considerable Officers being there, our men getting up to them, were ordered by me to put them all to the sword. And indeed, being in the heat of action, I forbade them to spare any that were in arms in the Town: and, I think, that night they put to the sword about 2000 men; —divers of the officers and soldiers being fled over the Bridge into the other part of the Town, where about 100 of them possessed St Peter's Church-steeple. . . . These being summoned to yield to mercy, refused. Whereupon I ordered the steeple of St Peter's Church to be fired, when one of them was heard to say in the midst of the flames, 'God damn me, God confound me; I burn, I burn.'" "I am persuaded," Cromwell added, "that this is a righteous judgment of God upon these barbarous wretches, who have imbrued their hands in so much innocent blood." 1 A similar atrocity was perpetrated a few weeks later at the storm of Wexford.
In the safe and comfortable days of Queen Victoria, when Liberals and Conservatives, Gladstone and Disraeli, contended about the past, and when Irish Nationalists and Radical Nonconformists champidned their old causes, a school grew up to gape in awe and some in furtive admiration at these savage crimes. Men thought such scenes were gone for ever, and that while moving into a broad age of peace, money-making, and debatings they could afford to pay their tributes to the rugged warriors who had laid the foundations of a liberal society. The twentieth century has sharply recalled its intellectuals from such vain indulgences. We have seen the technique of "frightfulness" applied in our own time with Cromwellian brutality and upon a far larger scale. We know too much of despots and their moods and power to practise the philosophic detachment of our grandfathers. It is necessary to recur to the simpler principle that the wholesale slaughter of unarmed or disarmed men marks with a mordant and eternal brand the memory of conquerors, however they may have prospered.
In Oliver's smoky soul there were evident misgivings. He writes of the "remorse and regret" which are inseparable from such crimes. While brazening them out, he offers diverse excuses, eagerly lapped up by Carlyle. By a terrifying example he believed that he had saved far greater bloodshed. But this did not prove true. The war continued in squalid, murderous fashion for two years after he had left Ireland. In his hatred of Popery, which he regarded as a worldwide conspiracy of evil, he sought to identify the Royalist garrison of Drogheda with the Roman Catholic Irish peasantry who had massacred the Protestant landlords in 1641. He ought to have known that not one of them had the slightest connection with that eight-year-old horror. He shielded himself behind "the heat of action" when his troops had not suffered a hundred casualties, and when, in Ranke's impartial judgment, "there throughout mingled a cold-blooded calculation and a vio-
1 Thomas Carlyle, Oliver Cromwell's
Letters and Speeches, 1846, vol. ii,
lence which is deliberate." Above all, the conscience of man must recoil from the monster of a faction-god projected from the mind of an ambitious, interested politician on whose lips the words "righteousness" and "mercy" were mockery. Not even the hard pleas of necessity or the safety of the State can be invoked. Cromwell in Ireland, disposing of overwhelming strength and using it with merciless wickedness, debased the standards of human conduct and sensibly darkened the journey of mankind. Cromwell's Irish massacres find numberless compeers in the history of all countries during and since the Stone Age. It is therefore only necessary to strip men capable of such deeds of all title to honour, whether it be the light which plays around a great captain of war or the long repute which covers the severities of a successful prince or statesman. 2
We have seen the many ties which at one time or another have joined the inhabitants of the Western islands, and even in Ireland itself offered a tolerable way of life to Protestants and Catholics alike. Upon all these Cromwell's record was a lasting bane. By an uncompleted process of terror, by an iniquitous land settlement, by the virtual proscription of the Catholic religion, by the bloody deeds already described, he cut new gulfs between the nations and the creeds. "Hell or Connaught" were the terms he thrust upon the native inhabitants, and they for their part, across three hundred years, have used as their keenest expression of hatred, "the curse of Cromwell on you." The consequences of Cromwell's rule in Ireland have distressed and at times distracted English politics down even to the present day. To heal them baffled the skill and loyalties of successive generations. They became for a time a potent obstacle to the harmony of the English-speaking peoples throughout the world. Upon all of us there still lies "the curse of Cromwell." .......
The Lord Protector
THE monarchy had gone; the Lords had gone; the Church of England was prostrate; of the Commons there remained nothing but the few survivors contemptuously named the Rump. The Rump sat high in its own estimation. It was the surviving embodiment of, the Parliamentary cause. Its members felt that the country would need their guidance for many a long year. While Cromwell was fighting in Ireland and Scotland these Puritan grandees through their chosen Council of State ruled with efficiency. Though they expatiated with fervour upon religion they shaped a practical policy which, if it incurred odium, did not lack strength. They were an oligarchy born of war, and still warring. The money must be found. It came mainly from an excise and property tax which have not been displaced from the British financial system by the wisdom of later times. The defeated Royalists and proscribed Roman Catholics were obvious sources of revenue. Heavy fines were imposed upon them. They could only preserve a portion of their estates by paying the rest in ransom. There were large sales of land; and since only land directly confiscated was released when Charles II regained his throne there came about a lasting redistribution of landed property, which, though carried out within the same class, provided a core of self-interest among the new proprietors round which in after years the Whigs and their doctrines gradually gathered. The dualism of English life after the Restoration found its secular counterpart in two kinds of gentry, divided in interest, traditions, and ideas, but each based upon landed property. Here Was one of the enduring foundations of the long-lived party systems.
It was a nationalistic Rump, at once protectionist and bellicose. Their Navigation Act forbade all imports not carried either in English ships or in those of the country of origin. Their rivalry with the Dutch, who controlled the Baltic trade and the spice trade with the Indies, and dominated the herring fisheries, provoked against a sister Protestant republic the first war in English history which was fought for primarily economic reasons. Robert Blake, a Somerset merchant, distinguished in the Civil War, but with no seafaring experience, was appointed admiral. He was the first and most famous of the "generals at sea," who, like Prince Rupert, proved that naval war is only the same tune played on different instruments. The English Navy more than held its own against the Dutch and the numerous Royalist privateers. Blake soon learned how to give the sea captains orders, taught the Fleet discipline and unity, and in his final campaign against the Mediterranean pirates proved that land batteries, then deemed unassailable, could be silenced by broadsides from ships afloat.
The Rump prospered only so long as, their Lord General was at the wars. When he returned victorious he was struck by their unpopularity. He was also shocked at their unrepresentative character. Above all, he observed that the Army, hitherto occupied about God's business in other directions, looked sourly on their civilian masters and paymasters. He laboured to mediate between the shrunken Parliament and its gigantic sword, but even he could not withhold his criticism. He loathed the war against the Protestant Dutch. He deprecated Licensing Acts and Treason Acts, which overrode customary liberties. Finally he convinced himself of the "pride, ambition, and self-seeking" of the remaining Members of Parliament. He foresaw sad dangers should they succeed in what he now feared was their design of perpetuating their rule. He looked upon them with the same disparaging glance as Napoleon, returned from Egypt, cast upon the Directory. The oligarchs, dwelling under the impression that Parliamentary supremacy had been for ever established by the execution of the King, and heedless of their tottering foundations, remained obdurate. The Lord General's outlook was clear and his language plain. "These men," Oliver said, "will never leave till the Army pull them down by the ears."
He accordingly went to the Hojpl on April 20, 1653, accompanied by thirty musketeers. He took his seat and for a time listened to the debate. Then, rising in his place, he made a speech which grew in anger as it proceeded. "Come, come," he concluded, "I will put an end to your prating. You are no Parliament." He called in his musketeers to clear the House and lock the doors. While the indignant politicians, most of whom were men of force and fire, were being hustled into the street the General's eye fell on the Mace, symbol of the Speaker's authority. "What shall we do with this bauble?" he asked. "Take it away!" That night a Cockney wit scribbled on the door of St Stephen's, "This House to let—unfurnished." To this halt then had come that famous effort in which Selden and Coke had pleaded, and Pym and Hampden had consumed their lives. Here sank for the moment all the constitutional safeguards and processes built and treasured across the centuries, from Simon de Montfort to the Petition of Right. One man's will now ruled. One puzzled, self-questioning, but explosive spirit became for a spell the guardian of the slowly gathered work of ages, and of the continuity of the English message.
When the Abbe Sieyes returned to Paris after Napoleon's expulsion of the Republican legislature upon the 18th Brumaire, to which he was a party, he remarked to his colleagues in the Directory, "Gentlemen! We have a master." England —nay, England, Scotland, and Ireland—had a master now; and that was all they had. But how different was this master from the glittering adventurer of the eighteenth century! Napoleon was sure of himself. He had no scruples. He knew what he wanted to do. He intended to have supreme power in his hands, and to use that power without limit till he and his family controlled the world. He cared nothing for the past; he knew he had no means of governing the distant future; but the present was his prize and his spoil.
Cromwell, although crafty and ruthless as occasion claimed, was at all times a reluctant and apologetic dictator. He recognised and deplored the arbitrary character of his own rule, but he had no difficulty in persuading himself that his authority sprang both from Above and below. Was he not the new Moses, the chosen Protector of the people of God, commanded to lead them into the Promised Land, if that could indeed be found? Was he not also the only available constable to safeguard "the several forms of godliness in this nation," and especially in the civil sphere the property of God's servants who had been on the right side, against Royalist conspirators or crazy, ravening Levellers? Was he not the Lord General set up by Parliament, now defunct, captain of all the armed forces, the surviving holder of the whole authority of the State, and, as he said, "a person having power over the three nations without bound or limit set"?
Cromwell only desired personal power in order to have things settled in accord with his vision, not of himself or his fame but of the England of his youthful dreams. He was a giant laggard from the Elizabethan age, a "rustic Tudor gentleman, born out of due time," who wished to see Scotland and Ireland brought to their due allegiance, and England "the awe of the Western world, adorned and defended with stout yeomen, honourable magistrates, learned ministers, flourishing universities, invincible fleets." 1 In foreign policy he was still fighting the Spanish Armada, ever ardent to lead his Ironside redcoats against the stakes and faggots of some Grand Inquisitor, or the idolatrous superstitions of an Italian Pope. Were these not now ripe for the sickle; aye, for the same sickle which had shorn down the malignant Cavaliers at Marston Moor and Naseby and had exterminated the Papists of Wexford and Drogheda? In vain did John Thurloe, the able and devoted Secretary to the Council of State, point out, what was already so plain, that Spain was in decay, and that in the ever-growing power of the united France which Richelieu and Mazarin had welded lay the menace of the future. None of this was apparent to the Master. He sharpened his heavy sword for Don Quixote and the successors of Torquemada.
Cromwell's successes and failures in foreign policy bore consequences throughout the reign of Charles II. He sought to advance the world-interests of Protestantism and the particular needs of British commerce and shipping. In 1654 he ended the sea war against the Dutch which had begun two years earlier. He made ardent proposals for an alliance between the republics of England and Holland, which should form the basis of a Protestant League, capable not only of self-defence but of attacking the Catholic Powers. The Dutch leaders were content to wind up with the least cost to their trading prospects a war in which they knew they were beaten.
Conflict between France and Spain was meanwhile proceeding. Cromwell could choose his side. In spite of grave arguments to the contrary urged, by the Council, he sent a naval expedition to the West Indies in September 1654, and Jamaica was occupied. This act of aggression led slowly but inevitably to war between England and Spain, and a consequent alliance between England and France. In June 1658 six thousand veteran English soldiers in Flanders under Marshal Turenne defeated the Spaniards at the Battle of the Dunes and helped to capture the port of Dunkirk. The blockade of the Spanish coasts disclosed the strength of Britain's sea-power, and one of Blake's captains destroyed a Treasure Fleet off Teneriffe. Cromwell's imperial eye rested long upon Gibraltar. He examined schemes for capturing the marvel-
1 G. M. Young, Charles I and Cromwell.
lous rock. This was reserved for the days of Marlborough, but England retained Dunkirk and Jamaica as a result of Cromwell's war with Spain.
Cromwell found no difficulty in reconciling the predatory aims of the Spanish war with his exertions for a European Protestant League. He was ever ready to strike against the religious persecution of Protestants abroad. When in 1655 he heard that a Protestant sect in the valleys north of Piedmont called the Vaudois were being oppressed and massacred by order of the Duke of Savoy he suspended his negotiations with France and threatened to send the Fleet against the Savoyard port of Nice. When he learnt that war had begun between such good Protestaat neighbours as the Swedes and the Danes he tried to persuade the Dutch to take part in joint mediation, and for a time arranged a truce. In the main however Cromwell's foreign policy was more successful in helping British trade and shipping than in checking or reversing the Counter-Reformation. The Mediterranean and Channel were cleared of pirates, foreign trade expanded, and the whole world learnt to respect British sea-power. The poet Waller could write:
The sea's our own; and now all nations greet
With bending sails, each vessel of our fleet;
Your power extends as far as winds can blow
Or swelling sails upon the globe may go.
And Dry den:
He made us freemen of the Continent
Whom nature did like captives treat before;
To nobler preys the English lion sent
And taught him first in Belgian walks to roar.
But how to find a worthy, docile Parliament, with the fear of God and the root of the matter in their hearts, to aid and comfort the Lord Protector in his task? He sought a Parliament whose authority would relieve him from the reproach of a despotism similar to that which he had punished in "the Man of Blood," which would sustain, and within respectful limits correct, his initiative, without of course diverging from his ideals or hampering his sword or signet. But such Parliaments do not exist. Parliaments are awkward things. They have a knack of developing collective opinions of their own, which they derive from those who elect them. Cromwell sought the right kind of Parliament to limit his own dictatorship without crossing his will, and he boxed the compass in his search. He tried in succession a Puritan oligarchy, an upper middle-class Assembly sprinkled with men who had risen through military service, then in despair a naked military dictatorship, and finally a return to constitutional monarchy in all but name. He had expelled the Rump in the cause of an overdue popular election. He replaced it not by an elected but by a handpicked body of Puritan notables, who became known to history as "Barebone's Parliament," after one of their members, Praise-God Barebone. This was to be a Parliament of Saints, with trustworthy political records. The independent or congregational Churches drew up a panel, from which the Council of Officers chose a hundred and twenty-nine English representatives and—thus revealing their sense of proportion—five Scottish and six Irish nominees. They were, said Cromwell in his address to the Assembly in July 1653, "a people chosen by God to do His Work and to show forth His Praise." But a pregnant unfinished sentence from his speech showed his pricks of conscience about nomination instead of election: "If it were a time to compare your standing with those that have been called by the suffrages of the people, who can tell how soon God may fit the people for such a thing, and none can desire it more than I."
The political behaviour of the Saints was a sad disappointment to their convoker. With breath-taking speed they proceeded to sweep the board clear of encumbrances in order to create a new Heaven and earth. They sought to disestablish the Church and abolish tithes without providing any livelihood for the clergy. In a single day's debate they abolished the Court of Chancery. They threatened rights of property and proclaimed Levelling ideas. With a temerity justified only by spiritual promptings, they reformed taxation in a manner which seemed to weaken the security for the soldiers' pay. This was decisive. The Army bristled. Cromwell, to whose advice the Saints no longer hearkened, saw them as a set of dangerous fools. He afterwards referred to his action in convening them as "a story of my own weakness and folly." The Army leaders, wishing to avoid the scandal of another forcible ejection, persuaded or compelled the more moderate Saints to get up very early one morning before the others were awake and pass a resolution yielding back their power to the Lord General from whom it had come. Cromwell did not waste his strength in wrestling against their wish. He declared that his own power had again "become as boundless and unlimited as before," and cast about for other means of cloaking it as decently as possible.
His high place, for all its apparent strength, depended on the precarious balance of Parliament and Army. He could always use the Army against Parliament; but without a Parliament he felt himself very much alone with the Army. The Army leaders were also conscious of the gulf of military rank and social class which separated them from their formidable rank and file. They too held their position by being the champions of the interests and the doctrines of the soldiery. They must find something to fignt against or they would be needed no longer. Thus the whole cluster of these serious, practical, and hitherto triumphant revolutionaries needed to set up a Parliament, if only to have something to pull down. Ireton had died in Ireland, but Lambert and other Army leaders of various ranks drew up an "Instrument of Government," which was in fact the first and last written English Constitution. The executive office of Lord Protector conferred upon Cromwell was checked and balanced by a Council of State, nominated for life, consisting of seven Army leaders and eight civilians. A single Chamber was also set up, elected upon a new property qualification in the country. The old one had been the possession of a forty-shilling-a-year freehold; the new one was the ownership of personal estate with a capital value of two hundred pounds. It was probably not a narrower franchise, but all those who had fought against Parliament were disqualified from voting. Cromwell gratefully accepted the Instrument and assumed the title of Lord Protector.
But once again all went wrong with the Parliament. It no sooner met in September 1654 than it was seen to contain a fierce and lively Republican group, which without the slightest gratitude to the Army leaders or to the Protector for their apparent deference to Republican ideas, set themselves to tear the new Constitution to pieces. Cromwell at once excluded the Republicans from the House. But even then the remaining Parliamentary majority sought to limit the degree of religious toleration guaranteed by the Instrument, to restrict the Lord Protector's control of the Army, and to reduce both its size and pay. This was carrying the farce too far. At the earliest moment allowed by the Instrument Cromwell dissolved the Commons. His farewell speech was a catalogue of reproaches; they had, he said, neglected their opportunities, and by attacking the Army had undermined national security and polluted the political atmosphere. "It looks," he added severely, "as if a laying of grounds for a quarrel had been designed, rather than to give the people a settlement." So here he was back at the old and ever-recurring problem. "I am as much for government by consent as any man," he told a critical Republican. "But"—pertinent inquiry—"where shall we find consent?"
Military dictatorship supervened, naked if not wholly unashamed. A Royalist colonel named Penruddock managed to capture Salisbury in March 1655. The rising was easily suppressed. But the outbreak, combined with the discovery by Thurloe, who directed the highly efficient secret service, of a number of abortive plots, convinced the Protector of great danger. "The people," Cromwell had told Parliament, "will prefer their safety to their passions and their real security to forms." He now proceeded to divide England and Wales into eleven districts, over each of which a Major-General was placed, with the command of a troop of horse and a reorganised militia. The Major-Generals were given three functions —police and public order, the collection of special taxes upon acknowledged Royalists, and the strict enforcement of Puritan morality. For some months they addressed themselves with zeal to their task.
None dared withstand the Major-Generals; but the war with Spain was costly and the taxes insufficient. Like Charles I, Cromwell was driven again to summon a Parliament. The Major-Generals assured him of their ability to pack a compliant House. But Levellers, Republicans, and Royalists were able to exploit the discontent against the military dictatorship, and a large number of Members who were known enemies of the Protector were returned. By a strained use of a clause in the Instrument of Government Cromwell managed to exclude a hundred of his opponents from the House, while another fifty or sixty voluntarily withdrew in protest. Even after this purge his attempt to obtain a confirmation of the local rule of the Major-Generals met with such vehement opposition that he was compelled to do without it. Indeed, many of the remaining Members "were so highly incensed against the arbitrary acting of the Major-Generals" that they "searched greedily for any powers that will be ruled and limited by law."
It was at this stage that a group of lawyers and gentry decided to offer Cromwell the crown. "The title of Protector," said one of them, "is not limited by any rule or law; the title of King is." Thus the "Humble Petition and Advice" in 1657 which embodied the proposed Constitution provided not only for the restoration of kingship, but also for the firm re-establishment of Parliament, including a nominated Upper House and a substantial reduction in the powers of the Council of State. Though he called it but "a feather in his cap," Cromwell was not unattracted by the idea of becoming King, and announced that he was "hugely taken with the word settlement." But the Army leaders and still more the soldiers showed at once their inveterate hostility to the trappings of monarchy, and Cromwell had to content himself with the right to nominate his successor to the Protectoral throne. In May 1657 he accepted the main provisions of the new Constitution without the title of King.
The Republicans rightly foresaw that this virtual revival of the monarchy opened the way for a Stuart restoration. Under the terms of the "Humble Petition" Cromwell had agreed to allow the Members whom he had excluded to return to Westminster, while his ablest supporters were taken away to fill the new Upper House. The Republicans could therefore act both inside and outside Parliament against the new regime. Cromwell, in the exaggerated belief that a hostile design was on foot against him, suddenly, in January 1658, dissolved the most friendly Parliament which he had ever had. He ended his speech of dissolution with the words, "Let God judge between you and me." "Amen," answered the unrepentant Republicans........
Nevertheless the dictatorship of Cromwell differed in many ways from modern patterns. Although the Press was gagged and the Royalists ill used, although judges were intimidated and local privileges curtailed, there was always an effective vocal opposition, led by convinced Republicans. There was no attempt to make a party around the personality of the Dictator, still less to make a party state. Respect was shown for private property, and the process of fining the Cavaliers and allowing them to compound by surrendering part of their estates was conducted with technical formality. Few people were put to death for political crimes, and no one was cast into indefinite bondage without trial. "What we gain in a free way," Cromwell had told the Army in 1647, "is better than twice as much in a forced, and will be more truly ours and our posterities'. . . . That which you have by force I look upon as nothing."
Liberty of conscience as conceived by Cromwell did not extend to the public profession of Roman Catholicism, Prelacy, or Quakerism. He banned open celebration of the Mass and threw hundreds of Quakers into prison. But such limitations to freedom of worship were caused less by religious prejudice than by fear of civil disturbance. Religious toleration challenged all the beliefs of Cromwell's day and found its best friend in the Lord Protector himself. Believing the Jews to be a useful element in the civil community, he opened again to them the gates of England, which Edward I had closed nearly four hundred years before. There was in practice comparatively little persecution on purely religious grounds, and even Roman Catholics were not seriously molested. Cromwell's dramatic intervention on behalf of a blaspheming Quaker and Unitarian whom Parliament would have put to death as well as tortured proves that he was himself the source of many mitigations. A man who in that bitter age could write, "We look for no compulsion but that of light and reason," and who could dream of a union and a right understanding embracing Jews and Gentiles, cannot be wholly barred from his place in the forward march of liberal ideas.
Although a very passionate man when fully roused, he was frequently harassed by inner doubts and conflicts. His strict Puritan upbringing and the soul-stressing of his youth had left him, even though convinced that he belonged to the Chosen People of God, without any certainty as to his own righteousness. Though he attributed his political and military, victories to the special interventions of Providence, he could write to a friend that he feared he was liable to "make too much" of "outward dispensations." This uncertainty about himself excused opportunism, and reflected itself in his famous utterance, "No man goes so high as he who knows not where he is going." His doubts about political objectives became increasingly marked in his last years, and he grew more and more dependent on the advice and opinions of others. And thus there was ever a conflict in the man between his conviction of his divine right to rule for the good of the people and a genuine Christian humility at his own unworthiness. "Is it possible to fall from grace?" he inquired of his chaplain on his deathbed. On being reassured, he said, "Then I am saved, for I know that once I was in grace."
On September 3, 1658, the anniversary of the Battles of Dunbar and Worcester and of the massacre of Drogheda, in the crash and howling of a mighty storm, death came to the Lord Protector. He had always been a good and faithful family man, and his heart had been broken by the death of his favourite and least Puritan daughter. He nominated his eldest son, Richard, a harmless country gentleman, as his successor, and for the moment none disputed his will. If in a tremendous crisis Cromwell's sword had saved the cause ot Parliament, he must stand before history as a representative of dictatorship and military rule who, with all his qualities as a soldier and a statesman, is in lasting discord with the genius of the English race.
Yet if we look beneath the surface to the rock he is revealed as its defence not only against the ambitions of generals, but from the wild and unimaginable forms of oppression in which the Ironside veterans might have used their power. With all his faults and failures he was indeed the Lord Protector of the enduring rights of the Old England he loved against the terrible weapon which he and Parliament had forged to assert them. Without Cromwell there might have been no advance, without him no collapse, without him no recovery. Amid the ruins of every institution, social and political, which had hitherto guided the Island life he towered up, gigantic, glowing, indispensable, the sole agency by which time could be gained for healing and regrowth.
TO BE CONTINUED