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Chap. vn AGENTS AND COUNSELLORS 399
greatness would be exceedingly familiar, and by way of diversion would make verses with them, and every one must try his fancy. He commonly called for tobacco, pipes, and a candle, and would now and then take tobacco himself; then he would fall again to his serious and great business." This did not prevent persons around him from knowing that whatever resolutions his Highness took would be his own. Chatham, inveighing against Lord North in 1770, charged him with being without that sagacity which is the true source of information,—sagacity to compare causes and effects, to judge of the present state of things, and discern the future by a careful review of the past. "Oliver Cromwell, who astonished mankind by his intelligence," Chatham proceeds, "did not derive it from spies in the cabinet of every prince in Europe; he drew it from the cabinet of his own sagacious mind." Yet there is a passage in a letter from Thurloe to Henry Cromwell not many weeks before the end, where that faithful servant regrets his master's too ready compliance. "His Highness finding he can have no advice from those he most expected it from, saith he will take his own resolutions, and that he cannot any longer satisfy himself to sit still, and make himself guilty of the loss of all the honest party; and truly I have long wished that his Highness would proceed according to his own satisfaction, and not so much consider others."
CHAPTER VIII FOREIGN POLICY
We have all learned that no inconsiderable part of history is a record of the illusions of statesmen. Was Cromwell's foreign policy one of them? To the prior question what his foreign policy was, no single comprehensive answer can be given. It was mixed; defensive and aggressive, pacific and warlike; zeal for religion and zeal for trade; pride of empire, and a steadfast resistance to a restoration of the royal line by foreign action. Like every other great ruler in intricate times and in a situation without precedent, he was compelled to change alliances, weave fresh combinations, abandon to-day the ardent conception of yesterday. His grand professed object was indeed fixed: the unity of the protestant interest in Christendom, with England in the van. Characteristically Cromwell had settled this in his mind by impulse and the indwelling light. Unluckily, in the shoals and shifting channels of international affairs, the indwelling light is but a treacherous beacon. So far as purely national aims were concerned, Cromwell's external policy was in its broad features the policy of the Commonwealth before him.1 What went beyond
Eurely national aims and was in a sense his own, however imposing, was of questionable service either to the state or to the Cause. At the outset his policy was peace. The Common1 See above, Book IV. chap. v. pp. 293-296.
Chap, vm PEACE HIS FIRST POLICY 401
wealth had gone to war with the Dutch, and Cromwell's first use of his new power was to bring the conflict to an end (April 1654). His first boast to his parliament was that he had made treaties not only with Holland, but with Sweden, Denmark, and Portugal. These treaties were essentially commercial, but they implied general amity, which in the Dutch case did not go very deep. "Peace," said Oliver, using the conventional formula since worn so painfully threadbare on the eve of every war by men armed to the teeth, "peace is desirable with all men, so far as it may be had with conscience and honour." As time wenton, designs shaped themselves in his mind that pointed not to peace but to energetic action. He went back to the maritime policy of the Long Parliament. Even in coming to terms with the Dutch in 1654, he had shown a severity that indicated both a strong consciousness of mastery, and a stiff intention to use it to the uttermost. This second policy was a trunk with two branches, a daring ideal with a double aspect, one moral, the other material. The Protector intended to create a protestant ascendancy in continental Europe, and to assert the rights and claims of English ships and English trade at sea. The union of all the protestant churches had long been a dream of more than one pious zealot, but Cromwell crystallised the aspirations after spiritual communion into schemes of secular policy. In spirit it was not very unlike the Arab invaders who centuries before had swept into Europe, the sword in one hand and the Koran in the other, to conquer and to convert. If he had only lived, we are told, his continental policy might have been the rudiment of something great, the foundation of a protestant and military state that might have been as powerful as the Spanish monarchy at the beginning of the century, and might have opened for England an age if not of happiness, yet of vast 2d
greatness and ascendancy (Seeley). There is no reason to think that any such sacrifice of national happiness to national ascendancy was ever a true account of Oliver or of his ideals. Those baleful policies were left for the next generation and Louis XIV., the solar orb now first diffusing its morning glow above the horizon. Justly has it been said (Gardiner), that if Oliver had been granted those twenty years more of life, that enthusiastic worshippers hold necessary for the success of his schemes, a European coalition would have been formed against the English Protector as surely as one was formed against Louis of France. When peace was made with the Dutch (April 1654) the government found themselves with one hundred and sixty sail of "brave and well-appointed ships swimming at sea." The Protector and his Council held grave debate whether they should be laid up or employed in some advantageous design, and against which of the two great crowns, France or Spain, that design should be directed; or whether they would not do better to sell their friendship to both the powers for a good sum of money down. Lambert opposed the policy of aggression in the Spanish Indies. The scene, he said, was too far off; the difficulties and the cost had not been thought out; it would not advance the protestant cause; we had far more important work at home—the reform of the law, the settlement of Ireland, and other high concernments. Whether Lambert here stood alone, or held views that were shared by colleagues on the Council, we cannot say. Cromwell argued, on the other hand, that God had brought them there to consider the work that they might do all over the world as well as at home, and if they waited for a surplus they might as well put off that work forever. Surely the one hundred and sixty ships were a leading of Providence. The design would cost little more than laying up the ships, and Chap, vm DESIGNS FOR THE FLEET 403
there was a chance of immense profit. The proceedings of the Spaniard in working his silver mines, his shipping and trans-shipping, his startings and his stoppages, his management of trade-winds and ocean currents in bringing the annual treasure home—all these things were considered with as much care as in the old days a couple of generations before, when Drake and Hawkins and the rest carried on their mighty raids against the colonial trade of Spain, and opened the first spacious chapter in the history of the maritime power of England. From the point of view of modern public law, the picture of the Council of State with Oliver at the head of the board discussing the feasibility of seizing the West Indies, is like so many hearty corsairs with pistols, cutlasses, and boarding caps revolving their plans in the cabin of the Red Rover or other pirate craft. But modern public law, such as it was, did not extend to the Spanish Main. It is true that Spain refused to grant freedom from the Inquisition and free sailing in the West Indies, and these might have been legitimate grounds for war. But it is hard to contend that they were the real or the only grounds. Historians may differ whether the expedition to the West Indies was a scheme for trade, territorial aggrandisement, and naked plunder of Spanish silver; or only a spirited protestant demonstration in force. Carnal and spiritual were strangely mingled in those times. "We that look to Zion," wrote a gallant anabaptist admiral of the age, "should hold Christian communion. We have all the guns aboard." Whether as substance of the policy or accident, plunder followed. To disarm the Spanish king's suspicion, the Protector wrote to assure him that the despatch of the fleet to the Mediterranean implied no ill intent to any ally or friend, "in the number of which we count your Majesty" (Aug. 5, 1654). Yet if the king could have heard the arguments at the Council