ENGLAND UNDER OLIVER CROMWELLCategory: 17th century
Before sunset on the memorable day on which King Charles the First was executed, the House of Commons passed an act declaring it treason to proclaim the Prince of Wales — or anybody else — King of England. Soon afterwards, it declared that the House of Lords was useless and dangerous, and ought to be abolished. Some famous Royalists were captured, and the Duke of Hamilton, Lord Holland, and Lord Capel were beheaded.
A Council of State was appointed to govern the country. It consisted of forty-one members, of whom five were peers. Bradshaw was made president. The House of Commons also readmitted members who had opposed the King’s death, and made up its numbers to about a hundred and fifty.
But, it still had an army of more than forty thousand men to deal with, and it was a very hard task to manage them. Before the King’s execution, the army had appointed some of its officers to remonstrate between them and the Parliament; and now the common soldiers began to take that office upon themselves. The regiments under orders for Ireland mutinied; one troop of horse in the city of London refused to obey orders. For this, the ringleader was shot: which did not mend the matter, for, both his comrades and the people made a public funeral for him. Oliver was the only man to deal with such difficulties as these, and he soon cut them short by bursting at midnight into the town of Burford, near Salisbury, where the mutineers were sheltered, taking four hundred of them prisoners, and shooting a number of them by sentence of court-martial. The soldiers soon found, as all men did, that Oliver was not a man to be trifled with. And there was an end of the mutiny.
* * *
The Scottish Parliament did not know Oliver yet; so, on hearing of the King’s execution, it proclaimed the Prince of Wales King Charles the Second, on condition of his respecting the Solemn League and Covenant. Charles was abroad at that time, and so was Montrose, from whose help he had hopes enough to keep him holding on and off with commissioners from Scotland, just as his father might have done. These hopes were soon at an end; for, Montrose, having raised a few hundred exiles in Germany, and landed with them in Scotland, found that the people there, instead of joining him, deserted the country at his approach. He was soon taken prisoner and carried to Edinburgh There he was sentenced by the Parliament to be hanged on a gallows thirty feet high, to have his head set on a spike in Edinburgh, and his limbs distributed in other places, acfcording to the old barbarous manner. He said he had always acted under the Royal orders, and only wished he had limbs enough to be distributed through Christendom, that it might be the more widely known how loyal he had been. He went to the scaffold in a bright and brilliant dress, and made a bold end at thirty- eight years of age. Charles soon abandoned his memory, and denied that he had ever given him orders to rise in his behalf.
Oliver had been appointed by the Parliament to command the army in Ireland, where he took a terrible vengeance for the sanguinary rebellion, and made tremendous havoc.
But, Charles having got over to Scotland where the men of the Solemn League and Covenant made him very weary with long sermons and grim Sundays, the Parliament wanted Oliver for Scotland. Oliver left Ireton, his son-in-low as general in Ireland (he died there afterwards), and Ireton laid the country at the feet of the Parliament.
Oliver came home, and was made Commander of all the Forces of the Commonwealth of England, and in three days he went away with sixteen thousand soldiers to fight the Scottish men. The Scottish men understood that their troops would be beaten in an open fight. Therefore they said, “If we live quiet in our trenches in Edinburgh here, and if all the farmers come into the town and desert the country, the Ironsides will be driven out by iron hunger and be forced to go away”. This was the wisest plan, but as the Scottish clergy would interfere with what they knew nothing about, and would preach long sermons exhorting the soldiers to come out and fight, the soldiers got it in their heads that they must come out and fight. So they came out of their safe position. Oliver fell upon them instantly, and killed three thousand, .nd took ten thousand prisoners.
* * *
To gratify the Scottish Parliament, and preserve their iavour, Charles had signed a declaration they laid before him, reproaching the memory of his father and mother, and representing himself as a most religious Prince, to whom the Solemn League and Covenant was as dear as life.
On the first of January, 1651, the Scottish people crowned him at Scone. He immediately took the chief command of an army of twenty thousand men, and marched to Stirling. His hopes were heightened by Oliver being ill, but
Oliver scrambled out of bed in no time, and went to work with such energy that he got behind the Royalist army and cut it off from all communication with Scotland. There was nothing for it then, but to go on to England. So it went on as far as Worcester, where the mayor and some of the gentry proclaimed King Charles the Second straightway. His proclamation, however, was of little use to him, for very few Royalists appeared; and, on the very same day, two people were publicly beheaded on Tower Hill for supporting his cause. Oliver came up to Worcester too, and he and his Ironsides completely beat the Scottish men, and destroyed the Royalist army. It took them only five hours to do that.
* * *
The escape of Charles after this battle of Worcester did him good service long afterwards, for it induced many of the generous English people to take a romantic interest in him, and to think much better of him than he ever deserved. He fled in the night, with not more than sixty followers, to the house of a Catholic lady in Staffordshire. There, for his greater safety, the whole sixty left him. He cropped his hair, stained his face and hands brown as if they were sunburnt, put on the clothes of a labouring countryman, and went out in the morning with his axe in his hand, accompanied by four wood-cutters who were brothers, and another man who was their brother-in-law. These good fellows made a bed for him under a tree, as the weather was very bad; and the wife of one of them brought him food to eat; and the old mother of the four brothers came and fell down on her knees before him in the wood, and thanked God that her sons were engaged in saving his life. At night, he came out of the forest and went on to another house which was near the river Severn, with the intention of passing into Wales; but the place swarmed with soldiers, and the bridges were guarded, and all the boats were made fast. So, after lying in a hayloft covered over with hay, for some time, he came out of his place, attended by Colonel Careless, a Catholic gentleman who had met him there, and with whom he lay hid, all next day, up in the shady branches of a fine old oak. It was lucky for the King that it was September, and that the leaves had not begun to fall, since he could catch glimpses of the soldiers riding about below, and could hear what they spoke about.
After that, he walked and walked until his feet were all blistered. At Bentley, a Miss Lane, a Protestant lady, had obtained a pass to be allowed to ride through the guards to see a relation of hers near Bristol. Disguised as a servant, Charles rode in the saddle before this young lady to the house of Sir John Winter, while Lord Wilmot rode there like a plain country gentleman, with dogs at his heels. It happened that Sir John Winter’s butler had been servant in Richmond Palace, and knew Charles the-moment he set eyes upon him. But, the butler was faithful and kept the secret. As no ship could be found to carry him abroad, it was planned that he should go — still travelling with Miss Lane as her servant — to another house, at Trent near Sherborne in Dorsetshire; and then Miss Lane and her cousin, who had gone on horseback beside her all the way, went home.
* * *
When Charles was safe at Trent, a ship was hired to take two gentlemen to France. In the evening of the same day, the King — now riding as servant before another young lady — set off for a publichouse, where the captain of the vessel was to meet him and take him on board. But the captain’s wife, being afraid of her husband getting into trouble, locked him up and would not let him sail. Then they went away to look for another ship. Cornming to the next inn on their way, they found the stable-yard full of soldiers who were on the lookout for Charles, and who talked about him while they drank. Charles had such presence of mind, that he led the horses of his party through the yard as any other sergeant might have done. As he went along, he met a half-tipsy ostler, who rubbed his eyes and said to him, “Why, I was formerly servant to Mr. Potter at Exeter, and surely I have sometimes seen you there, young man!” He certainly had, for Charles had lodged there. His ready answer was, “Ah, I did live with him once;
but I have no time to talk now. We’ll have a pot of beer together when I come back.”
From this dangerous place he returned to Trent. Then he escaped to Heale, near Salisbury; where, in the house of a widow lady, he was hiding for five days, until the ship was found to carry him to France.
On the night of the fifteenth of October, accompanied by two colonels, the King rode to Brighton, then a little fishing village, to give the captain of the ship a supper before going on board. But so many people knew him, that this captain knew him too, and not only he, but the landlord and landlady also. Before he went away, the landlord came behind his chair, kissed his hand, and said he hoped to live to be a lord and to see his wife a lady; at which Charles laughed. They had had a good supper by this time, and plenty of smoking and drinking. It was agreed that Charles would address the sailors and say he was a gentleman in debt who was running away from his creditors, and that he hoped they would join him in persuading the captain to put him ashore in France. As the King acted his part very well indeed, and gave the sailors twenty shillings to drink, they begged the captain to do what he asked, and Charles got safe to Normandy.
* * *
Ireland was now subdued, and Scotland was also kept quiet by plenty of forts and soldiers put there by Cromwell. But the trouble with the Dutch emerged. In the spring of the year 1651 the Dutch sent a fleet into the Downs under their Admiral Van Tromp, to call upon the bold English Admiral Blake (who was there with half as many ships as the Dutch).
Blake beat off Van Tromp, who, in the autumn, came back again with seventy ships, and challenged the bold English admiral to fight him again. Blake fought him all day; but, finding that the Dutch were too many for him (they were double as strong), he got quietly off at night. Upon this Van Tromp stalled to go to and fro about the Channel, between the North Foreland and the Isle of Wight, with a great Dutch broom tied to his masthead, as a sign that he could and would sweep the English off the sea. Within three months, Blake lowered his tone though, and his broom too; for, he and two other bold commanders, Dean and Monk, fought him three whole days, took twenty-three of his ships, and shivered his broom to pieces.
Then the army began to complain to the Parliament that they were not governing the nation properly, and that they could do it better themselves. Oliver, who had now made up his mind to be the head of the state, supported them in this, and called a meeting of officers and his own Parliamentary friends to consider the best way of getting rid of the Parliament.
After that Oliver went down to the House in his usual plain black dress, but with an unusual party of soldiers behind him. He left his soldiers in the lobby, and then went in and sat down. Presently he got up, and made a speech, telling them that the Lord had done with them. Having finished it, he gave a signal to his soldiers, and they entered the hall. “This is not honest,” said Sir Harry Vane, one of the members. “Sir Harry Vane!” cried Cromwell, “O, Sir Harry Vane! The Lord deliver me from Sir Harry Vane!” Then he pointed out members one by one, and said this man was a drunkard, and that man a dissipated fellow, and that man a liar, and so on. Then he told the guard to clear the House.
Cromwell formed a new Council of State after this extraordinary proceeding, and got a new Parliament. As it soon appeared that it was not going to put Oliver in the first place, he cleared off that Parliament, too. After that the council of officers decided that he must be made the supreme authority of the kingdom, under the title of the Lord Protector of the Commonwealth.
So, on the sixteenth of December, 1653, a great procession was formed at Oliver’s door, and he came out in a black velvet suit and a big pair of boots, and got into his coach and went down to Westminster, attended by the judges, and the Lord Mayor, and the aldermen, and all the other great and wonderful personages of the country. There, in the Court of Chancery, he publicly accepted the office of
Lord Protector. Then he was sworn, and the City sword and the seal were handed to him as they are usually handed to Kings and Queens.
Lord Protector — whom the people long called Old Noll — had signed a paper called “The Instrument”, promising to summon a Parliament, consisting of between four and five hundred members, in the election of which neither the Royalists nor the Catholics were to have any share. He had also promised not to dissolve this Parliament without its own consent until it had sat five months.
When this Parliament met, Oliver made a speech to them. He spoke for three hours, advising them what to do for the happiness of the country. Then he dismissed them to go to work and went to work himself.
There was not at that time in England a man so able to govern the country as Oliver Cromwell. He ruled with a strong hand, and levied a very heavy tax on the Royalists, but he ruled wisely. He caused England to be respected abroad. He sent Admiral Blake to the Mediterranean Sea, to make the Duke of Tuscany pay sixty thousand pounds for injuries he had done to British merchants. He further sent his fleet to Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli, to have every English ship and every English man delivered up to him that had been taken by pirates in those parts. All this was gloriously done.
These were not all his foreign triumphs. He sent a fleet to sea against the Dutch, and the Dutch gave in, and peace was made. Then Oliver resolved not to bear the domination of Spain in South America. He told the Spanish ambassador that English ships must be free to go wherever they would, and that English merchants must not be thrown into the Spanish prisons of the Inquisition. To this the Spanish ambassador replied that the gold and silver country, and the Holy Inquisition were his King’s two eyes, neither of which he could submit to have put out. Very well, said Oliver, then he was afraid he (Oliver) must damage those two eyes directly.
So, another fleet was despatched for Hispaniola; where, however, the Spaniards got the better of the fight. The fleet came home again, after taking Jamaica on the way. Cromwell, indignant with its commanders, put them into prison. He declared war against Spain, and made a treaty with France. In accordance with that document France was not to shelter the King and his brother the Duke of York any longer. Then, Cromwell sent a fleet abroad under bold Admiral Blake, which sunk four Spanish ships, and took two more, laden with silver to the value of two million of pounds.
After this victory, Admiral Blake sailed away to the port of Santa Cruz to cut off the Spanish treasure-ships coming from Mexico. There, he found them, ten in number, with seven others to take care of them, and a big castle, and seven batteries. Blake cared no more for great guns than for popguns. He dashed into the harbour, captured and burnt all the ships. This was the last triumph of this great commander, who died, as his successful ship was coming into Plymouth Harbour, and was buried in Westminster Abbey.
There were plots enough against Oliver among the frantic religionists, and among the disappointed Republicans. He had a difficult game to play, for the Royalists were always ready to side with either party against him. Charles was ready to plot with anyone against his life; although there is reason to suppose that he would willingly have married one of his daughters, if Oliver would have had such a son-in-law.
There had been very serious plots between the Royalists and Republicans, and an actual rising of them in England, when they burst into the city of Salisbury. But Oliver soon put this revolt down. He seemed to have eyes and ears everywhere, and possessed such sources of information as his enemies little dreamed of. For example, Sir Richard Willis, who was in the closest and most secret confidence of Charles, also supplied information to Cromwell. He had two hundred a year for it.
Many people conspired to murder Cromwell, but all the plots were disclosed. A few of the plotters Oliver caused to be beheaded, a few more to be hanged, and many more to be sent as slaves to the West Indies.
One of Oliver’s friends, in sending him a present of six fine coach-horses, was very near doing more to please the Royalists than all the plotters put together. One day, Oliver went with his coach, drawn by these six horses, into Hyde Park, to dine with his secretary and some of his other gentlemen under the trees there. After dinner he decided to put his friends inside and to drive them home. But the six fine horses went off at a gallop, and Oliver fell upon the coach- pole and narrowly escaped. He was dragged some distance by the foot, until his foot came out of the shoe, and then he came safely to the ground.
* * *
The rest of the history of the Protectorate of Oliver Cromwell is a history of his Parliaments. He was not pleased with his first parliament. So he waited until the five months were out, and then dissolved it. The next was better suited to his views; and from that he desired to get the title of King. He wished to become King himself, and to leave the succession to that title in his family. But he did not dare to take the title of King, as there was strong opposition of the army to that.
It was the month of August, 1658, when Oliver Cromwell’s favourite daughter, Elizabeth Claypole (who had lately lost her youngest son) lay very ill, and his mind was greatly troubled, because he loved her dearly. Another of his daughters was married to Lord Falconberg, another to the grandson of the Earl of Warwick, and he had made his son Richard one of the members of the Upper House. He was very kind and loving to them all, being a good father and a good husband; but he loved this daughter the best of the family, and went down to Hampton Court to see her, and stayed with her until she died.
Although his religion had been of a gloomy kind, Cromwell had been a cheerful man. He had been fond of music in his home, and had kept open table once a week for all officers of the army not below the rank of captain. He encouraged men of genius and learning, and loved to have them about him. John Milton, a famous poet, was one of his great friends.
But Cromwell had lived in busy times, had borne the weight of heavy State affairs, and had often gone in fear of his life. He was ill of the gout and ague, and when the death of his beloved child came upon him in addition, he sank, never to raise his head again. He told his physicians on the twenty- fourth of August that the Lord had assured him that he was not to die in that illness, and that he would certainly get better. This was only his sick fancy, for on the third of September he died, in the sixtieth year of his age. The whole country lamented his death.
He had appointed his son Richard to succeed him, and Richard became Lord Protector. He was an amiable country gentleman, but had none of his father’s great talents, and was quite unfit for such a post. Richard’s Protectorate, which only lasted a year and a half, is a history of quarrels between the officers of the army and the Parliament, and between the officers among themselves; and of a growing discontent among the people, who had too many long sermons and too few amusements, and wanted a change.
At last, General Monk got the army into his own hands, and declared for the King’s cause. He did not do this openly, but, in his place in the House of Commons, as one of the members for Devonshire, strongly advocated the proposals of one Sir John Greenville, who came to the House with a letter from Charles, dated from Breda, and with whom he had previously been in secret communication.
There had been plots and counterplots, and risings of the Royalists that were made too soon. And there was nobody to head the country, so it was readily agreed to welcome Charles Stuart.
The people began to drink the King’s health in the open streets, and everybody rejoiced. Prayers for the Stuarts were put up in all the churches. Commissioners were sent to Holland to invite the King home, and Monk went to Dover, to kneel down before him as he landed. Charles kissed and embraced Monk, made him ride in the coach with himself and his brothers, and came to London on the twenty-ninth of May (his birthday), in the year 1660.