Page images
PDF
EPUB

know. What is credible enough is Clarendon's story that five years later, on the day when the Great Remonstrance was passed, Cromwell whispered to Falkland that if it had been rejected he would have sold all he had the next morning, and never have seen England more, and he knew there were many other honest men of the same resolution. So near, the royalist historian reflects, was this poor kingdom at that time to its deliverance. His property meanwhile had been increased by a further bequest of land in Huntingdon from his uncle, Richard Cromwell. Two years after his return from Westminster (1631) he sold his whole Huntingdon property for eighteen hundred pounds, equivalent to between five and six thousand to-day. With this capital in hand he rented and stocked grazing-lands at the east end of St. Ives some five miles down the river, and here he remained steadily doing his business and watching the black clouds slowly rise on the horizon of national affairs. Children came in due order, nine of them in all. He went to the parish church, "generally with a piece of red flannel round his neck, as he was subject to an inflammation in his throat." He had his children baptized like other people, and for one of them he asked the vicar, a fellow of St. John's at Cambridge, to stand godfather. He took his part in the affairs of the place. At Huntingdon his keen public spirit and blunt speech had brought him into trouble. A new charter in which, among other provisions, Oliver was made a borough justice, transformed an open and popular corporation into a close one. Cromwell dealt faithfully with those who had procured the change. The mayor and aldermen complained to the Privy Council of the disgraceful and unseemly speeches used to them by him and another person, and one day a messenger from the Council carried the two offenders under arrest to London (November 1630). There was a long hearing with Chap, i ELY 15

many contradictory asseverations. We may assume that Cromwell made a stout defence on the merits, and he appears to have been discharged of blame, though he admitted that he had spoken in heat and passion and begged that his angry words might not be remembered against him. In 1636 he went from St. Ives to Ely, his old mother and unmarried sisters keeping house with him. This year his maternal uncle died and left to him the residuary interest under his will. The uncle had farmed the cathedral tithes of Ely, as his father had farmed them before him, and in this position Oliver had succeeded him. Ely was the home of Cromwell and his family until 1647. He did not escape the pang of bereavement: his eldest son, a youth of good promise, died in 1639. Long afterward, Oliver lying ill at Hampton Court called for his Bible, and desired an honourable and godly person present to read aloud to him a passage from Philippians: "Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: everywhere and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me." After the verses had been read, "This scripture," said Cromwell, then nearing his own end, "did once save my life when my eldest son died, which went as a dagger to my heart, indeed it did." It was this spirit, praised in Milton's words of music as his "faith and matchless fortitude," that bore him through the years of battle and contention lying predestined in the still sealed scroll before him. Cromwell's first surviving letter is evidence alike in topic and in language of the thoughts on which his heart was set. A lecturer was a man paid by private subscribers to preach a sermon after the official parson had read the service, and he was usually a puritan. Cromwell presses a friend in London for aid in keeping up a lecturer in St. Ives (1635). The best of all good works, he says, is to provide for the feeding of souls. "Building of hospitals provides for men's bodies; to build material temples is judged a work of piety; but they that procure spiritual food, they that build up spiritual temples, they are the men truly charitable, truly pious." About the same time (1635), Oliver's kinsman John Hampden was consulting his other kinsman, Oliver St. John, as to resisting the writ of ship-money. Laud, made Archbishop of Canterbury in 1633, was busy in the preparation of a new prayer-book for the regeneration of stubborn Scotland. Wentworth was fighting his high-handed battle for a better order in Ireland. CHAPTER II THE STATE AND ITS LEADERS

Students of the struggle between monarchy and parliament in the seventeenth century have worked hard upon black-letter; on charter, custom, franchise, tradition, precedent, and prescription, on which the Commons defended their privileges and the king defended his prerogatives. How much the lawyers really founded their case on the precedents for which they had ransacked the wonderful collections of Sir Robert Cotton, or how far, on the other hand, their "pedantry" was a mask for a determination that in their hearts rested on very different grounds, opens a discussion into which we need not enter here. What the elective element in the old original monarchy amounted to, and what the popular element in the ancient deliberative council amounted to; what differences in power and prerogative marked the office of a king when it was filled by Angevin, by Plantagenet, or by Tudor; how the control of parliament over legislation and taxation stood under the first three Edwards and under the last three Henries; whether the popular champions in the seventeenth century were abandoning both the accustomed theory and the practice of parliament from Edward I. to the end of Elizabeth; whether the real conservative on the old lines of the constitution was not King Charles himself,—all

"c

these and kindred questions, profoundly interesting as they are, fill little space in the story of Cromwell. It was not until the day of the lawyers and the constitutionalists had passed that Cromwell's hour arrived, and "the meagre, stale, forbidding ways of custom, law, and statute " vanished from men's thoughts. To a man of Cromwell's political mind the questions were plain and broad, and could be solved without much history. If the estates of the crown no longer sufficed for the public service, could the king make the want good by taxing his subjects at his own good pleasure? Or was the charge to be exclusively imposed by the estates of the realm? Were the estates of the realm to have a direct voice in naming agents and officers of executive power, and to exact a full responsibility to themselves for all acts done in the name of executive power? Was the freedom of the subject to be at the mercy of arbitrary tribunals, and were judges to be removable at the king's pleasure? What was to be done—and this came closest home of all—to put down cruel assumptions of authority by the bishops, to reform the idleness of the clergy, to provide godly and diligent preachers, and sternly to set back the rising tide of popery, of vain ceremonial devices, and pernicious Arminian doctrine? Such was the simple statement of the case as it presented itself to earnest and stirring men. Taxation and religion have ever been the two prime movers in human revolutions: in the civil troubles in the seventeenth century both these powerful factors were combined.

Ii

In more than one important issue the king undoubtedly had the black-letter upon his side, and nothing is easier than to show that in some of the transactions, even before actual resort to arms, the

« PreviousContinue »