Page images

major-generals are much offended at the Irish and Scottish members, who, being much united, do sway exceedingly by their votes. I hope it will be for the best; or if the proverb be true that the fox fares best when he is curst, those that serve for Ireland will bring home some good things for their country." No catholics were either electors or eligible, and the Irish who thus helped to hold the balance were the colonists from England and Scotland."Some gentlemen," Thurloe tells Henry Cromwell, "do think themselves much trampled upon by this vote against their bill, and are extremely sensible thereof." That is to say, most of the major-generals, with the popular and able Lambert at their head, recognised that the vote was nothing less than a formal decision against the army and its influences. So bold a challenge from a parliament in whose election and purification they had taken so prominent a part roused sharp anger, and the consequences of it were immediately visible in the next and more startling move. Cromwell's share in either this first event, or in that which now followed, is as obscure as his share in the removal of the king from Holmby, or in Pride's Purge, or in the resolve to put Charles to death. The impression among the leaders of the army undoubtedly seems to have been that in allowing the recent vote, the Lord Protector had in effect thrown his major-generals over. As we are always repeating to ourselves, Cromwell from 1647 had shown himself ready to follow events rather than go before. He was sometimes a constitutional ruler, sometimes a dictator, sometimes the agent of the barrack, each in turn as events appeared to point and to demand. Now he reverted to the part of constitutional ruler. The elections and the parliament showed him that the "little invention" of the major-generals had been a Ohap. v "KILLING NO MURDER" 375

mistake, but he was not so sure of this as to say it. Ominous things happened. Desborough, his brother-in-law, brought in the bill, but Claypole, his son-in-law, was the first to oppose it. Another kinsman in the House denounced the major-generals roundly. People told him he would get a rating when next he visited Whitehall. Nothing daunted, he repaired to the Protector, and stood to what he had said with papers to prove his case. His Highness answered him with raillery, and taking a rich scarlet cloak from his back and gloves from his hands threw them to his kinsman (Henry Cromwell), " who strutted in the House in his new finery next day, to the great satisfaction and delight of some, and trouble of others." Parliaments are easily electrified by small incidents, and men felt that a new chapter was about to open. It was evident that Cromwell, who had only a few days before so strongly defended the major-generals, was now for sailing on a fresh tack. About this time (May 1657) was published the pamphlet with the famous title of Killing no Murder. It sets out with truculent vigour the arguments for death to tyrants, with a direct and deadly exhortation to apply them to the case of the Lord Protector. The arguments had been familiar enough in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries; and though the writer does not forget Ehud and Eglon, Jehoiada and Athaliah, he has much to say from pagans like Aristotle, Tacitus, Cicero, and Machiavelli. "Had not his Highness," he says, "been fluent in his tears and had a supple conscience; and besides had to do with a people of great faith but little wit, his courage and the rest of his moral virtues, with the help of his janissaries, had never been able so far to advance him out of the reach of justice, that we should have need to call for any other hand to remove him but that of the hangman." The royalists did not conceal their approval of this doctrine of dagger and pistol. It is a most excellent treatise, says Nicholas, the king's Secretary of State. Cromwell had no more right to law, they said, than a wolf or a fox; and the exiles found comfort in telling one another that the Protector went about in as much fright as Cain after he had murdered Abel. A few weeks before this pungent incitement began to circulate, its author had almost succeeded in a design that would have made pamphlets superfluous. Sexby, whom Cromwell had described at the opening of the new parliament as a wretched creature, an apostate from all honour and honesty, one of the republicans whom Oliver's later proceedings had turned into a relentless enemy, was deep in plots with royalists abroad and even with the Spaniards against the life of the Protector. Diligent watch was kept upon Sexby, and for long his foreign employers got nothing for their money. At length he secured a confederate as determined as himself and less well known to Thurloe's police, in Miles Sindercombe, an old trooper of Monk's, and a hater of tyrants rather after Roman than Hebrew example. Sindercombe dogged the Protector with a pistol in his pocket, took a lodging in the road between Whitehall and Hampton Court where Oliver passed every week, offered bribes to the guards, and at last his pertinacity came very near to success in a plan for setting fire to the Protector's apartments in Whitehall. He was arrested, brought before a jury—a substantial body of men, most of them justices of the peace—and was condemned. He died in his bed in the Tower the night before the execution. Sexby said that the Governor had smothered him, but he afterwards admitted that this was a fabrication. The evidence went to show that some mineral poison had been secretly conveyed to Sindercombe by three women who had been allowed to visit him. This dangerous plot was exploded in January

[merged small][merged small][ocr errors]

1657, and the Protector's narrow escape made a profound impression on the public mind. It awoke sober men, who are a majority in most countries when opportunity gives them a chance, to the fact that only Oliver's life stood between them and either anarchy on the one hand, or a vindictive restoration on the other. Another design of the same sort came to light not long after. An obscure design of a few score of the extreme Fifth Monarchy men was discovered in the east of London in the month of April. Venner, a cooper, was the leading spirit; his confederates were of mean station, and they appear to have had the same organisation of circles and centres that marks the more squalid of modern secret societies. They had no coherent political ideas, but they spoke desperate things about the murder of the Protector, and Thurloe, with the natural instinct of the head of a criminal investigation department, was persuaded that stronger hands and heads were in the plot, and thought of Harrison, Rich, and Okey. The government had long known all about it, and at the proper moment laid its hand upon the plotters. The opponents of the alterations in the government professed to think that these alterations were the source of the conspiracy, and tried to make a little political capital out of the discontent which it was supposed to indicate in the honest party. The truth is, says the sage Thurloe, there is a sort of men who will never rest so long as they see troubled waters, and suppose a chance of carrying out their foolish principles. Venner's plot was not of much more serious consequence than the plot against Charles II. for which the same Venner was hanged four years later, but it now heightened the general excitement. The confusion of the sects may have involved less direct political peril than some of the government supposed, but it marked a social chaos without a parallel. Oliver was denounced as the Serpent, the Beast, the Bastard of Ashdod. The saints, on the other hand, were engaged on Life and Death to stand or fall with the Lord Jesus, their CaptainGeneral on his Red Horse, against the Beast's government. Cromwell was infinitely patient and even sympathetic with the most fanatical of them. He could not bear to quarrel with the brave and open-hearted Harrison. He sent for him to Whitehall, gave him a handsome feast, and then discharged the duty of a friend by admonishing him to quit deceitful and slippery ways. Like the sensible statesman that he was, he always liked to carry as many of his old friends with him as he could; only if they would not go with him, then he went on alone. Towards 1654 the Quakers had entered into history. It was indeed high time, for the worst of puritanism seemed that in so many of its phases it dropped out the Sermon on the Mount, and left the best texts in the New Testament to Arianising heretics. Militant puritanism was often only halfChristian. Quakerism has undergone many developments, but in all of them it has been the most devout of all endeavours to turn Christianity into the religion of Christ. In uncouth phrases but with glowing souls, they carried to its furthest point the protest against outerform and ceremonial as degrading to the life of the spirit. They fell in with the corresponding principle of antagonism to powers and institutions as hindrances to human freedom. No other sect so alarmed and exasperated the authorities, for much the same military and political reasons as had made statesmen persecute the Christian professors in the early days of imperial Rome. Cromwell treated them as kindly as he could. He listened in his chamber at Whitehall with attention and emotion to one of George Fox's exhortations, saying, "That is very good," or "That is true,"

« PreviousContinue »