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CHAPTER VI

FINAL CRISIS-CROMWELL'S SHARE IN IT

It is one of the mortifications of Cromwell's history, that we are unable accurately to trace his share in the events that immediately preceded the trial of the king. It was the most critical act of his history. Yet at nearly every turn in the incidents that prepared it, the diligent inquirer is forced to confess that there is little evidence to settle what was the precise part Cromwell played. This deep reserve and impenetrable obscurity was undoubtedly one of the elements of his reputation for craft and dissimulation. If they do not read a public man in an open page, men are easily tempted to suspect the worst.

When the negotiations were opened at Newport Cromwell was on his march into Scotland. He did not return until the later days of October, when the army and its leaders had grown uncontrollably restive at the slow and tortuous course of the dealings between the king and the commissioners of the parliament. Cromwell had thus been absent from Westminster for six months, since the time of his first despatch to put down the royalist rising in Wales. The stress of actual war had only deepened the exasperation with which he had watched the gathering clouds, and which had found expression in the fierce language at the memorable prayermeeting at Windsor. All this, however, is a long way from the decision that events were hurrying on, and from which more rapid and less apprehensive minds than his had long ceased to shrink. With what eyes he watched the new approaches to the king, he showed in a letter to the Speaker. After giving his report as a soldier, and showing that affairs in Scotland were in a thriving posture, he advances (October 9) on to other ground, and Uses ominous language about “ the treachery of some in England, who had endangered the whole state and kingdom of England, and who now had cause to blush,” in spite of all the religious pretences by which they had masked their proceedings. This could only mean his presbyterian opponents. “ But God, who is not to be mocked or deceived, and is very jealous when his name and religion are made use of to carry on impious designs, has taken vengeance on such profanity, even to astonishment and admiration. And I wish, from the bottom of my heart, it may cause all to tremble and repent who have practised the like, to the blasphemy of his name and the destruction of his people, so as they may never presume to do the like again, and I think it is not unseasonable for me to take the humble boldness to say thus much at this time.”

Writing to Colonel Hammond (November 6), the custodian of the king, a month later from before the frowning walls of Pontefract Castle, Cromwell smiles in good-humoured ridicule at the notion that it would be as safe to expect a good peace from a settlement on the base of moderate episcopacy as of presbytery. At the same time he vindicates his own presbyterian settlement in Scotland, throwing out his guiding principle in a parenthesis of characteristic fervour and sincerity. “I profess to thee I desire from my heart, I have prayed for it, I have waited for the day to see union and right understanding between the godly people—Scots, English, Jews, Gentiles, presbyterians, independents, ana

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CHAP. VI CROMWELL AS AN ONLOOKER 231 baptists, and all.” Still if the king could have looked over Hammond's shoulder as he read Cromwell's letter, he would not have seen a single word pointing to the terrible fate that was now so swiftly closing upon him. He would have seen nothing more formidable than a suggestion that the best course might be to break the sitting parliament and call a new one. To Charles this would have little terror, for he might well believe that no parliament could possibly be called under which his life would be put in peril.

A few days later Cromwell gave signs of rising anger in a letter to two members of Parliament, who inclined to lenient courses toward delinquents. “ Did not the House,” he asks,“ vote every man a traitor who sided with the Scots in their late invasion ? And not without very clear justice, this being a more prodigious treason than any that hath been perfected in England before, because the former quarrel was that Englishmen might rule over one another, this to vassalise us to a foreign nation.Here was the sting, for we have never to forget that Oliver, like Milton, was ever English of the English. Then follow some ominous hints, though he still rather reports the mind of others than makes plain his own. “Give me leave to tell you, I find a sense among the officers concerning such things as the treatment of these men to amazement, which truly is not so much to see their blood made so cheap as to see such manifest witnessings of God, so terrible and so just, no more reverenced.”

To Fairfax on the same day he writes in the same tone that he finds in the officers a very great sense of the sufferings of the kingdom, and a very great zeal to have impartial justice done upon offenders. “And I must confess,” he adds, striking for the first time a new and dangerous note of his own, “ I do in all from my heart concur with them,

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Hammond was doubtful about the acts and aims of the extreme men as respects both king and parliament. “ It is true, as you say," Cromwell replies, " that authorities and powers are the ordinance of God, and that in England authority and power reside in the parliament. But these authorities may not do what they like, and still demand our obedience. All agree that there are cases in which it is lawful to resist. Is ours such a case? This, frankly, is the true question." Then he produces three considerations, as if he were revolving over again the arguments that were turning his own mind. First, is it sound to stand on safety of the people as the supreme law ? Second, will the treaty between king and parliament secure the safety of the people, or will it not frustrate the whole fruit of the war and bring back all to what it was, and worse? Third, is it not possible that the

CHAP. VÌ

LETTER TO HAMMOND

233

army, too, may be a lawful power, ordained by God to fight the king on stated grounds, and that the army may resist on the same grounds one name of authority, the parliament, as well as the other authority, the king ?

Then he suddenly is dissatisfied with his three arguments. “Truly,” he cries, “this kind of reasoning may be but fleshly, either with or against, only it is good to try what truth may be in them.” Cromwell's understanding was far too powerful not to perceive that salus populi and the rest of it would serve just as well for Strafford or for Charles as it served for Ireton and the army, and that usurpation by troopers must be neither more nor less hard to justify in principle than usurpation by a king. So he falls back on the simpler ground of “ providences,” always his favourite stronghold. “They hang so together, have been so constant, clear, unclouded.” Was it possible that the same Lord who had been with his people in all their victorious actings was not with them in that steady and unmistakable growth of opinion about the present crisis, of which Hammond is so much afraid ? “ You speak of tempting God. There are two ways of this. Action in presumptuous and carnal confidence is one; action in unbelief through diffidence is the other.” Though difficulties confronted them, the more the difficulties the more the faith.

From the point of a modern's carnal reasoning all this has a thoroughly sophistic flavour, and it leaves a doubt of its actual weight in Oliver's own mind at the moment. Nor was his mind really made up on independent grounds, for he goes on to say plainly that they in the northern army were in a waiting posture. It was not until the southern army put out its remonstrance that they changed. After that many were shaken. “We could, perhaps, have wished the stay of it till after the treaty, yet,

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