Page images

could have drawn into the field within fourteen days, twenty thousand men, besides the standing army. "So far are they mistaken who dream that the affections of this people are towards the House of Stuart." 1 The only momentary semblance of success was what is known as Penruddock's rising in the west. A band of Wiltshire royalists rode into Salisbury, seized in their beds the judges who happened to be on circuit, and the wilder blades were even for hanging them. But they could not get the greasy caps flung up for King Charles in Wilts, nor did better success await them in Dorset and Somerset. They were never more than four hundred. Even these numbers soon dwindled, and within three or four days a Cromwellian captain broke in upon them at South Molton, took most of them prisoners, and the others made off. Wagstaffe, one of the two principals, escaped to Holland, and Penruddock, the other, was put upon his trial along with a number of his confederates. It is curious that this was the first time that treason against the government had been submitted to juries since 1646, and the result justified the confident hopes of a good issue. Thirty-nine offenders were condemned, but some of them Cromwell reprieved, "his course," says Thurloe, "being to use lenity rather than severity." Only some fourteen or fifteen suffered death, including Penruddock. In the army, though there was no disaffection, a mutinous section was little less busy than the royalists. Harrison, who had been in charge of King Charles on his fatal journey from Hurst Castle to Windsor, was now himself sent a prisoner to Carisbrooke. Wildman, who had been one of the extremist agitators so far back as 1647, was arrested, and the guard found him writing a "declaration of

1 March 16, 1655. See Mr. Firth's examination of the rising in Eng. Hist. Rev., 1888, pp. 323-350; 1889, pp. 313-338, 525-535.

[merged small][ocr errors]

the free and well-affected people of England now in arms against the tyrant Oliver Cromwell, Esquire." It is no irrational document on the face of it, being little more than a restatement of the aims of the revolution for twelve years past. But it is not always palatable for men in power to be confronted with their aims in opposition. The Protector spared no money in acquiring information. He expended immense sums in secret service, and little passed in the royalist camp abroad that was not discovered by the agents of Thurloe. Cecil and Walsingham were not more vigilant, or more successful in their watch over the safety of Elizabeth, than was Cromwell's wise, trusty, and unwearied Secretary of State. Plotters were so amazed how the Lord Protector came to hear of all the things contrived against him, that they fell back on witchcraft and his familiarity with the devil. A gentleman got leave to travel, and had an interview with the king at Cologne one evening after dark. On his return, he saw the Protector, who asked him if he had kept his promise not to visit Charles Stuart. The gentleman answered that he had. But who was it, asked Cromwell, that put out the candles when you saw Charles Stuart? He further startled the traveller by asking whether Charles had not sent a letter by him. The gentleman denied, Cromwell took his hat, found a letter sewn up in the lining of it, and sent him to the Tower. Cromwell's informant was one Manning, and this transaction was his ruin. The royalists at Cologne suspected him, his rooms were searched, his cyphers discovered, and his correspondence read. Manning then made a clean breast of it, and excused his treason by his necessities, and the fact that he was to have twelve hundred pounds a year from Cromwell for his work. His only chance of life was a threat of retaliation by Cromwell on some royalist in prison in England, but this was not forthcoming, and Manning was shot dead by two gentlemen of the court in a wood near Cologne. On every side the government struck vigorous blows. Especial watch was kept upon London. Orders were sent to the ports to be on guard against surprise, and to stop suspected persons. The military forces were strengthened. Gatherings were put down. Many arbitrary arrests were made among minor persons and major; and many were sent to Barbadoes to a condition of qualified slavery. The upright and blameless Overton was arbitrarily flung into prison without trial, kept there for three years, and not released until after Cromwell's death and the revival of parliament. When that day arrived, both Thurloe and Barkstead, the governor of the Tower, quaked for the strong things that they had done on the personal authority of the Protector. The stories that came to be told in 1659 are a considerable deduction from Burke's praise of the admirable administration of the law under Cromwell. But though there was lawless severity, it did not often approach ferocity. Subterranean plots and the risings of hot-headed country gentlemen were not all that Cromwell and the Council had to encounter. The late parliament had passed no adequate vote of money. The government fell back upon its power of raising taxes by ordinance. The validity of the ordinance was disputed; the judges inclined to hold the objections good; and it looked for a moment as if a general refusal to pay customs and excise might bring the whole financial fabric to the ground. The three counsel for Cony, the merchant who had declined to pay the customs dues, were summoned before the Protector and the Council of State. After hearing what they had to say, Oliver signed a warrant for their committal to the Tower for using words tending to sedition and subversive of the government. Violation of the spirit and letter of the law could Chap, m QUARRELS WITH THE COURTS 357

go no further. They were soon set free, and Cromwell bore them no malice, but people not unreasonably saw in the proceeding a strong resemblance to the old Star Chamber. The judges were sent for, and humbly said something about Magna Charta. The Protector scoffed at Magna Charta with a mock too coarse for modern manners, declared that it should not control actions which he knew to be required by public safety, reminded them that it was he who made them judges, and bade them no more to suffer the lawyers to prate what it would not become them to hear. The judges may have been wrong either in their construction of the Instrument, or in their view that a section of the Instrument did not make a good law. But the committal of three counsel to prison by the executive, because their arguments were too good to be convenient, was certainly not good law whatever else it was. Judges who proved not complaisant enough were displaced. Sir Peter Wentworth, who had tried to brave Cromwell at the breaking up of the Long Parliament, tried to brave him now by bringing a suit against the tax-collector. The Protector haled him before the Council; Wentworth said that he had been moved by his constant principle that no money could be levied but by consent of parliament. Cromwell commanded him to drop his suit, and Wentworth submitted. The Protector never shrank in these days from putting his defence in all its breadth. "If nothing should be done," he said with scorn, "but what is according to law, the throat of the nation may be cut while we send for some one to make a law. It is a pitiful notion to think, though it be for ordinary government to live by law and rule—yet if a government in extraordinary circumstances go beyond the law, it is to be clamoured at and blottered at." Sometimes he was not afraid to state the tyrant's plea even more broadly still. "The ground of Necessity for justifying of men's actions, is above all considerations of instituted law, and if this or any other State should go about to make laws against events, against what may happen, then I think it is obvious to any man they will be making laws against Providence: events and issues of things being from God alone, to whom all issues belong." As if all law were not in its essence a device against contingent cases. Nevertheless these pious disguises of what was really no more than common reason of state, just as reason of state is always used whether by bad men or by good, do not affect the fact that Cromwell in his heart knew the value of legality as well as anybody that ever held rule, only he was the least fortunate of men in effecting his aim."It was now," says Oliver, "we did find out a little poor invention, which I hear has been much regretted; I say there was a little thing invented, which was the erection of your Major-Generals." This device had all the virtues of military simplicity. In the summer and autumn of 1655, England and Wales were mapped out into a dozen districts. Over each district was planted a major-general, Lambert, Desborough, Fleetwood, Skippon,Whalley, Barkstead, Goffe, and the rest, all picked veterans and the trustiest of them. Their first duties were those of high police, to put down unlawful assemblies by force; to disarm papists and persons dangerous to the peace of the nation; to exact a bond from any householder considered to be disaffected for the good behaviour of his servants, and the servants were to appear before the major-general or his deputy wherever and whenever called upon. Persons in this category were to be registered, and if they changed their abode, the major-general was to be informed. Anybody coming from beyond the sea was to report himself, and his later movements were to be followed and recorded. The major

« PreviousContinue »