Story type: Essay
For my beloved wife, Elizabeth Cromwell. These:
Edinburgh, 3d May, 1651
My Dearest: I could not satisfy myself to omit this post, although I have not much to write; yet indeed I love to write to my dear who is so very much in my heart. It joys me to hear thy soul prospereth: the Lord increase His favors to thee more and more. The great good thy soul can wish is, that the Lord lift upon thee the light of His countenance, which is better than life. The Lord bless all thy good counsel and example to all those about thee, and hear all thy prayers and accept thee always.
I am glad to hear thy son and daughter are with thee. I hope thou wilt have some opportunity of good advice to them. Present my duty to my mother. My love to all the family. Still pray for Thine,
Oliver Cromwell was a Puritan, which word was first applied in bucolic pleasantry by an unbeliever–may God rest his soul!–and was adopted by this body of people who desired to live lives of purity, reflecting the will of the Lord.
Oliver did in his life so typify all the Puritan qualities of sterling honesty (as well as some simplicities springing out of his faults) that the time spent in considering him shall not be lost. “Our Oliver was the last glimpse of the godlike vanishing from England,” wrote Thomas Carlyle. Obscured in lurid twilight as the shadow of death, hated by somnambulant pedants, doleful dilettanti, phantasmagoric errors, bodeful inconceivabilities, trackless, behind pasteboard griffins, wiverns, chimeras, Carlyle had to search through thirty thousand pamphlets and forty thousand letters for the soul of Cromwell.
Oliver Cromwell was born in Huntingdon, England, April Twenty-fifth, Fifteen Hundred Ninety-nine. His parents belonged to the landed gentry, but who yet were poor enough so they ever felt the necessity of work and economy. The mother of Cromwell was a widow when she wedded Richard, the happy father of Oliver. The widow’s husband had accommodatingly died, and he now has a monument, placed they say by Oliver Cromwell himself, in Ely Cathedral, which records him thus: “Here sleepeth until the last Great Day, when the Trump shall sound, William Lynne, Esq., who had the honor and felicity to be the first husband of Elizabeth, Mother through the Grace of God to Oliver Cromwell.” At the bottom of the inscription a would-be wag wrote, “Had he lived long enough he would have been the stepfather of Oliver.”
Oliver was the fifth child of his parents, who it seems were happily wedded, the gray mare being much the better horse. And this once caused Oliver to say (and which the same is here recorded to disprove the statement that he had no wit), “Men who are born to rule other men are themselves ruled by women.” This may be truth or not–I can not say.
Smelted out of the dross-heap of lying biographers, most of whose stories should be given Christian burial, we get the truth that this boy was brought up by pious, hard-working parents.
The splenetic capacity, the calumnious credulity, the pleasures of prevarication and of rolling falsehoods like a sweet morsel under the tongue, have made those thirty thousand Cromwell pamphlets possible. It is stated by one writer, Heath, now pleasantly known as “Carrion Heath,” that Oliver’s father was a brewer, and the son grew up a tapster, but was compelled to resign his office on account of being his own best customer.
Waiving all these precious libels, created to supply a demand, we find that Oliver grew up, swart and strong, a sturdy country lad, who did the things that all country boys do, both good and ill. He wrestled, fought, swam, worked, studied a little. He was packed off to Cambridge, where he entered Sidney Sussex College, April Twenty- second, Sixteen Hundred Sixteen, which is the day that one William Shakespeare died, but which worthy playwright was never even so much as once mentioned by Cromwell in all of his voluminous writings. If Cromwell ever heard of Shakespeare he carefully concealed the fact.
Before we proceed further it may be proper to say that the father of our Oliver had a sister who married William Hampden of Bucks, and this woman was the mother of John Hampden, who was deemed worthy of mention in “Gray’s Elegy” and also in several prose works, notably the court records of England. The family of Oliver traced to that of Thomas Cromwell, Earl of Essex; although such is the contempt for pedigree by men who can themselves do things, that Oliver once disclaimed Thomas, as much as to say. “There has been only one Cromwell, and I am the one.” It was about thus (I do not five the exact words, because I was not present and the Pitt system was not then in use, great men at that time not having stenographers at their elbows): Bishop Goodman, (known as Badman) was reading to the Protector a long, slushy Billwalker-of- Fargo address full of semi-popish jargon, when his Lordship’s relationship to Thomas, the Mauler of Monasteries, was mentioned. Here broke in Oliver with, “Eliminate that–eliminate that–he was no relative of mine–good morning!”
Bishop Badman was a queer old piece of theological confusion, who went over to popery, body, boots and breeches, believing that Oliver was a bounder and was soon to be ditched by destiny. Bishop Badman, having made the prophecy of ill-luck, did all he could to bring it about, when death ditched him; and whether he ever knew the rest about Cromwell, we do not know, even yet, as our knowledge of another world comes to us through persons who can not always be safely trusted to tell the truth about this.
At Cambridge, our Oliver did not learn as much from books as from the boys, eke girls, I am sorry to say–all great universities being co-ed in fact, if not in name. His mother sent him things to eat and things to wear, but among items to wear at that time, stockings were for royalty alone. Queen Elizabeth was the first person of either the male or the female persuasion in England to wear knit stockings, and also to use a table-fork–this being for spearing purposes.
Oliver’s mother sent him a baize or bombazine table-cloth. And this tablecloth did he cut up, prompted by the devil, into stockings, for he was justly proud of his calves, the same having been admired by the co-eds of Cambridge. For all of these things, in after-years, Oliver did pray forgiveness and beseech pardon for such pride of the eye and lust of the flesh, manifest in pedal millinery.
A year at Cambridge proved the uselessness of the place, but it was necessary to go there to find this out. The death of his father brought matters to a climax, and Oliver must prepare for very hard times. Then London and a lawyer’s office welcomed him.
On Thursday, October Twenty-ninth, Sixteen Hundred Eighteen, Cromwell saw a curious sight: it was the fall of the curtain in the fifth act of the life of Sir Walter Raleigh, who introduced tobacco into England, and did several other things, for which the monarchy was, as usual, ungrateful. Raleigh had sought to find an Eldorado for England, and alas! he only found that man must work wherever he is, if he would succeed, and that fields of gold and springs of eternal youth exist only in dreams, where they best belong. It was a cold, gray morning, and Sir Walter was kept standing on the scaffold while the headsman ground his ax, the delay being for the amusement and edification of the Christian friends assembled.
“One thing I will never do,” said Oliver Cromwell, law-clerk, swart and lusty, in green stockings and other sartor-resartus trifles; “one thing I will never do–and that is, take human life!” Oliver was both tender-hearted and grim.
Sir Walter’s frame shook in the cold, dank fog, and the sheriff offered to bring a brazier of coals; but the great man proudly drew around him the cloak, now somewhat threadbare, that he had once spread for good Queen Bess to tread upon, and said, “It is the ague I contracted in America–the crowd will think it fear–I will soon be cured of it,” and he laid his proud head, gray in the service of his country, calmly on the block, as if to say, “There now, take that, it is all I have left to give you!”
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How much legal lore Cromwell acquired in London is a matter of dim and dusty doubt. That his vocabulary was slightly extended there is quite probable, for later he uses the word “law-wolf,” thus supplying Alfred Henry Lewis with a phrase that was to be sent clattering down the corridors of time. That Alfred Henry may have been absolutely innocent of the truth that he was using a classicism and not a Kansas mouth-filler is quite probable. In London, Oliver took unto himself a wife, he being twenty-one and three weeks over. The lady was the daughter of a client of the firm for which Oliver Cromwell was a process-server. That he successfully served papers on the young lady is undeniable, for he led her captive to Saint Giles’ Church, Cripplegate, and they were there married August, Sixteen Hundred Twenty, the clerk being so overcome (doubtless by the presence of Oliver Cromwell, the coming Lord Protector of England, Scotland and Ireland) that he neglected to put in the day of the month. In the same church sleeps one John Milton, who was much respected and beloved by our Oliver, and who proved that a Puritan could write poetry.
The father of Oliver having died, as before truthfully stated, first prophesying that his son would grow up a ne’er-do-well, this son took his new-found wife up to the Fen Country to live with his mother and sister. That he would be Lord Protector of the Farm seems quite the proper thing to say, but that he was dutiful, modest, teachable, is a fact.
Here he lived, with babies coming along one a year, hard-working, simple, earnest, for seven years escaping the censorious eye of Clio, weaver of history. Happy lives make dull biographies. Also, we can truthfully say that nothing tames a man like marriage. Take marriage, business, responsibility, and a dash of poverty, mix, and we get an ideal condition. These things make for a noble discontent and the industry and unrest that unlimber progress.
Then comes that peculiar psychic experience which is often the lot of men born to make epochs, who also have souls fit to assert themselves. We find our Oliver consumed with a strange despair, biting world- sorrow, Tophet pouring black smoke into the universe of his being– temptations in the wilderness!
Men of neutral quality do not make good Christians-militant. Our Oliver was not neutral. Out of the black night of unrest and through the thick darkness, he gradually saw the eternal ways and got good reckonings by aid of the celestial guiding stars.
So Oliver emerged at twenty-seven, alive with cosmic consciousness–a God-intoxicated man. That Deity spoke through him, he never doubted. Thereafter he was to be religious, not only on Sundays and Wednesday evenings, but always and forever.
Suddenly and without warning appears in history, Oliver Cromwell, taking his seat in the House of Commons on Monday, March Seventeenth, Sixteen Hundred Twenty-seven, making then a speech of five minutes, accusing one Reverend Doctor Alablaster of flat popery; and goes back into the silence, pulling the silence in after him, to remain twelve years.
Then comes he forth again as member of Cambridge. He was a country squire, bronze-faced, callous-handed, clothes plainly made by a woman, dyed brown with walnut-juice. The man was much in earnest, although seemingly having little to say. He was not especially conspicuous, because it was largely a Parliament of Puritans. As members, there sat in it John Hampden, Selden, Stratford, Prynne, and with these, the rising tide had carried Oliver Cromwell. In a seat near him sat Sir Edward Coke, known to posterity because he wrote a book on Lyttleton, and Lyttleton is known to us for one sole reason only, and that is because Coke used him for literary flux.
Religions are founded on antipathies.
Patriotism, which Doctor Johnson, beefeater-in-ordinary, said is the last refuge of a rogue, is usually nothing but hatred of other countries, very much as we are told that the shibboleth of Harvard is, “To hell with Yale.”
Puritanism is a reactionary move, a swinging out of the pendulum away from idleness, gluttony, sham, pretense and hypocrisy.
Charles the First was king. He was a year younger than Oliver, but as Fate would have it, he was to die first. So sat Oliver Cromwell, grim, silent–thinking. And then back he lumbered by the stagecoach to his country house.
His finances not prospering, he had moved to the little village of Saint Ives, famous because of the fact that there was born the only lawyer ever elected to a saintship. Once a year there is a village festival at Saint Ives in honor of the attorney, when all the children sing, “Advocatus et non latro, res miranda populo.”
The land owned by Cromwell was boggy, willow-grown, marshy, fit only for grazing. Oliver was a justice of the peace, now devoting his days to improving his herds, draining the marsh-lands, praying, occasionally fasting, exhorting at the village crossroads, and once collaring the loafers at a country tavern and making them join in a hymn. This exploit, together with that of quelling a small disturbance among some student factions at the neighboring town of Cambridge, had attracted a little attention to him, and Cambridge Puritans, not knowing whom else to send to Parliament, chose Cromwell, the dark horse.
With his big family he was very gentle, yet obedience was demanded, and given, without question or dispute, and a glance at the portrait of the man makes the matter plain. It was easier to agree with him than successfully to oppose him.
So slipped the years away, broken only by an echo from cousin John Hampden, who refused to pay “ship-money.” This ship-money meant that if you didn’t pay so much–twenty shillings or ten pounds, according to the needs of the exchequer–you could be drafted into His Majesty’s service and sent to sea. The money you paid was nominally to hire a substitute, but no one but King Charles and Attorney-General Noy, who fished out the precious precedent from the rag-bag of the past, knew what became of the money.
Noy was a close-running mate of Archbishop Laud, who hunted heretics and cropped the ears of a thousand Puritans. Noy is described for us as a law-pedant, finding legal precedent for anything that royalty wished to do. Noy devised the ship-money scheme, and then died before his law went into effect: killed by the hand of Providence, the Puritans said, who uttered prayers of thankfulness for his taking off, all of which was quite absurd, since the law lives, no matter who devised it. Rulers who wish to tax their subjects heavily should do it by indirection–say by means of the tariff.
The affection in which Noy was held is shown in that he was known as Monster to the King, the domdaniel of attorneys. When he died the result of the autopsy was that “his brains were found to be two handfuls of dry dust, his heart a bundle of sheepskin writs, and his belly a barrel of soft soap.” He wasn’t a man at all.
John Hampden was tried for refusal to pay ship-money. The trial lasted three weeks and three days.
The best legal talent in England had a hand in it, and one man made a speech eleven hours long, without sipping water. The verdict went against Hampden–he must pay the twenty shillings. I believe, however, he did not; neither did John Milton, who wrote a pamphlet on the subject; neither did Oliver Cromwell.
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There is a tale in that good old classic, McGuffy’s Third Reader, to the effect that a man once punished one of his children, and a minute after had his own ears violently boxed by his mother, with the admonition, “You box the ears of your child, and I’ll box the ears of mine!” This story, which once much delighted the rosy children of honest farmers, was told by Charles Dickens, with Oliver Cromwell in the title role.
That Cromwell inherited his mother’s leading traits of character, all agree. She lived to be ninety, and to the day of her death took a deep interest in political and theological history. She believed in her boy even more than she believed in God, and took a deep delight in “that heaven has used me as an instrument in bringing about His will.” In her nature she combined the attributes of Quaker, Dunkard and Mennonite. She was a come-outer before her son was, and ever appealed in spirit to the God of Battles for peace.
It was the year Sixteen Hundred Forty, and Oliver was again a member of Parliament. The session lasted only three weeks, and then was petulantly dissolved by King Charles, who, not being able to compel the members to do his bidding, yet had the power to send them scampering into space.
At the new election Cambridge again elected Oliver, not for anything he had done, but as a rebuke to the haughty and frivolous Charles for rejecting him. This was known as the Long Parliament: it lasted two years, and during its sessions about all that Oliver did was to sit and cogitate.
In January, Sixteen Hundred Forty-two, there took place the inevitable–Charles and Parliament clashed. The Royalists had been so busy enjoying themselves, and cutting off the ears of people who failed to bow at the right time, that they had not rightly interpreted the spirit of the times. There was an attempt being made to oust Presbyterianism from Scotland and supplant it with the Episcopacy. These religious denominations were really political parties, and while the Puritans belonged to neither, calling themselves Independents, their hearts were with the persecuted Presbyterians, because they were come-outers for conscience’ sake, while the Episcopalians never were. Old Noll called Episcopalians, “bastard Catholics,” and it is no wonder his ears burned. The Bishops wanted to use them in their business.
Come-outism is a peculiar and well-defined move on the part of humanity towards self-preservation, righteousness, at the last, being only a form of common-sense. That greed, selfishness, pomp and folly in all the million forms which idleness can invent, investing itself in the name of religion, will cause certain people to come out and lead lives of truth, sobriety, method, industry and mutual service, is as natural as that cattle should protect themselves from the coming storm.
When the great Omnipotence that rules the world wishes to destroy a nation or a party, He gives it its own way. When the governor of an engine breaks and the machine begins to race, all ye who love life had better look out and come out.
The dominant party had outdone the matter of taxations, star- chamberings, hangings, whippings, and the maintaining of blood- sprinkled pillories. The time was ripe: Charles and his rollicking, reckless Royalists failed to see the handwriting on the wall. It was a case of spontaneous combustion. Oliver was forty-three, with hair getting thin in front, and three moles (which he ordered the portrait- painter not to omit) were reinforced by wrinkles. He had a son married, and was a grandfather.
So he went back to his farm on the order of Charles and took his moles with him. He was a bit sobered by the thought that he had been one of a body who had openly defied the king, and therefore he was an outlaw. To submit quietly now meant branding and ear-cropping, if not the stake. He called a prayer-meeting at his house–the neighbors came– they sang and supplicated God, not Charles the First, and then Oliver asked for volunteers to follow him to the government powder-magazine near by, and capture it ere the Royalists used it for the undoing of the Lord’s people. “His salvation is nigh unto them that fear Him, that His glory may dwell in the land!” And they went forth, and seized the sleepy guards, who had not been informed that war had begun. The plate belonging to the University was taken care of, so that it would not fall into the hands of the enemy, and the classic old campus took on the look of a siege.
Cromwell commissioned himself Captain of Horse. It was a farmers’ uprising, for freedom is ever a sort of farm-product. Adam Smith says, “All wealth comes from the soil.” What he meant to say was “health,” not “wealth.” Men who fight well, fight for farms–their homes, not flats or hotels. Indians do not fight for reservations. The sturdy come-outer is a man near the soil. Successful revolutions are always fought by farmers, and the government which they create is destroyed by city mobs.
Cromwell knew this and said to Cousin John Hampden: “Old, decayed serving-men and tapsters can never encounter gentlemen. To match men of honor you must have God-fearing, sober, serious men who fight for conscience, freedom, and their wives, children, aged parents, and their farms. Give me a few honest men and I will not demand numbers– save for enemies.” And he gathered around him a thousand picked Puritans, men with moles, farmers and herdsmen, who were used to the open. This regiment, which was called “Ironsides,” was never beaten, and in time came to be regarded as invincible. The men who composed it compared closely with the valiant and religious Boers, who were overpowered only by starvation and a force of six to one. The Ironsides were like Caesar’s Tenth Legion, only different. They went into battle singing the Psalms of David, and never stopped so long as an enemy was in sight, except for prayer.
John Forster, who wrote a life of Cromwell in seven volumes, says, “If Oliver Cromwell had never done anything else but muster, teach and discipline this one regiment, his name would have left a sufficient warrant of his greatness.”
The Winter of Sixteen Hundred Forty-two and Sixteen Hundred Forty- three was devoted to preparations for the coming struggle, which Cromwell knew would be renewed in the Spring. All his private fortune went into the venture. He covered the country for a hundred miles square, and broke up every Royalist rendezvous. The Spring did not bring disappointment, for the Royalist army came forward, and were successful until they reached Cromwell’s country. Here the Parliamentarians met them as one to three, and routed them.
“They were as stubble before our swords,” wrote Cromwell to his wife. Old Noll not only led the fighting, but the singing, and insisted on being in every charge where the Ironsides took part. He had not been trained in the art of war, but from the very first he showed consummate genius as a general. He aimed to strike the advancing army in the center, go straight through the lines, and then circle to either the right or the left, milling the mass into a mob, destroying it utterly. It was all the work of men born on horseback, who, if a horse went down, clambered free and jumped up behind the nearest trooper, or, clinging to the tail of a running horse, swung sword right and left and all the time sang, “Unto Thee, O Lord, and not unto us!” This two-men-to-a-horse performance was an exercise in which our Oliver personally trained his Ironsides. He showed them how to sing, pray, fight and ride horseback double. At Marston Moor, Fairfax led the right wing of the Parliamentary army. Prince Rupert at the head of twenty thousand men charged Fairfax and defeated him. Cromwell played a waiting game and allowed the army of Rupert to tire itself, when he met it with his Ironsides and sent it down the pages of history in confusion and derision. At this battle the eldest son of Cromwell was killed, and the way he breaks the news to a fellow-soldier, a young man, as if he were consoling him, reveals the soul of this sturdy man:
To my loving Brother, Colonel Valentine Walton. These:
Before York 5th July, 1644
Dear Sir: It’s our duty to sympathize in all mercies, and to praise the Lord together in chastisement or trials, that so we may sorrow together.
Truly England and the Church of God hath had a great favor from the Lord, in this great victory given unto us, such as the like never was since this war began. It had all the evidences of an absolute victory obtained by the Lord’s blessing upon the godly party principally. We never charged but we routed the enemy. The left wing, which I commanded, being on our own horse, saving a few Scots in our rear, beat all the Prince’s horse. God made them as stubble to our swords. We charged their foot regiments with our horse, and routed all we charged. The particulars I can not relate now; but I believe of the twenty thousand the Prince has not four thousand left. Give glory, all the glory, to God.
Sir, God hath taken away our eldest son by a cannon-shot. It broke his leg. We were necessitated to have it cut off, whereof he died.
Sir, you know my own trials this way; but the Lord supported me with this: That the Lord took him into the happiness we all pant for and live for. There is our precious child full of glory, never to know sin and sorrow any more. He was a gallant young man, exceedingly gracious. God give you His comfort. Before his death he was so full of comfort that to Frank Russel and myself he could not express it, “It is so great above my pain.” This he said to us. Indeed it was admirable. A little after, he said, “One thing lies upon my spirit.” I asked him what that was. He told me it was that God had not suffered him to be any more the executioner of His enemies. At this fall, his horse being killed with the bullet, and as I am informed three horses more, I am told he bid them open to the right and left, that he might see the rogues run. Truly he was exceedingly beloved in the army of all who knew him. But few knew him; for he was a precious young man fit for God. You have cause to bless the Lord. He is a glorious saint in heaven; wherein you ought exceedingly to rejoice. Let this drink up your sorrow; seeing these are not feigned words to comfort you, but the thing is so real and undoubted a truth. We may do all things by the strength of Christ. Seek that, and you shall easily bear your trial. Let this public mercy to the Church of God make you forget your private sorrow. The Lord be your strength: so prays Your truly faithful and loving brother,
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Great Britain was rent with civil war: plot and counterplot–intrigue, feud, fear and vengeance–filled the air. Men alternately prayed and cursed, then they shivered. Commerce stood still. Farmers feared to plant, for they knew that probably the work would be worse than vain: the product would go to feed their enemies and deepen their oppression. Backward and forward surged the armies, consuming, destroying and wasting. The pride and flower of England’s manhood had enlisted or been drafted into the fray.
The fight was Episcopalians against Dissenters: the Church versus the People. Most of the Dissenters were Puritans, and they belonged to various denominations; and many, like Oliver Cromwell, belonged to none. The issue was freedom of conscience. Cromwell regarded religion as life and life as religion, and to him and to all men he believed that God spoke directly, if we would but listen.
If the Church won, many felt that freedom would flee, and England would be as it was in the reign of Bloody Mary.
If the Puritans won, no one knew the result–would power be safe in their hands? Men at the last were but men. In the hands of royalty, money flowed free. There had been thousands of pensioners, parasites, ladies of fashion and gentlemen of leisure, parties who worked an hour every other Thursday, and whose duties were limited largely to signing their vouchers–royalty and relatives of royalty, all feeding at the public trough. These people “spent their money like kings”–which means that they wasted their substance in riotous living. And the average mind–jumping at conclusions–reasons that liberal spenders benefit society. In the South our colored brothers are much happier when getting ten cents at a time, ten times a day, than if receiving a monthly stipend of fifty dollars. Even yet there be those who argue that rich people who spend money freely on folly benefit the race, forgetful that anything which calls for human energy is a waste to the world of human life, unless it is a producer of wealth and happiness as well as a distributor. Waste must always be paid for, and usually it is paid for in blood and tears; but beggars who live on tips never know it. A tramp who is given a quarter feels a deal more lucky than if he gets a chance to earn a dollar.
All wealth comes through labor: the people earn the money, and the parasites get a part of it; and in the Seventeenth Century, they got most of it. Then when these parasites wasted the money the people had earned, the many thought they were being blessed. The English people in the Seventeenth Century were about where the colored brother is now, and I apologize to all Afro-Americans when I say it. However, out of the mass of ignorance, innocence, brutality, bestiality, fanaticism, superstition, arose here and there at long intervals a man equal to any we can now produce. But they were fugitive stars, unsupported, and they had to supply their own atmosphere.
Cromwell was an accident, a providential accident, sent by Deity in pleasantry, to give a glimpse of what a man might really be.
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William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury, was to Charles the First what Richelieu was to Louis the Thirteenth of France. Laud came so near being a Catholic that the Pope, perceiving his fitness, offered to make him a cardinal. In fact, but a few years before, all of the clergy in England were Catholics and when their monarch changed religions they changed theirs. Laud was of the opinion that vows, responses, intonings, genuflexions and ringing of bells constituted religion.
Cromwell said that religion was the dwelling of the spirit of God in the heart of man. Laud brought about much kneeling and candle- snuffing. He was Pope of the English Church, and played the part according to the traditions.
A Scotch Presbyterian clergyman by the name of Leighton declared in a sermon that bishops derived their power from men, not God. Laud showed him differently by placing him in the pillory, giving him a hundred lashes on the bare back, branding him with the letter “I,” meaning infidel, cutting off one ear and slitting his nose.
William Prynne, a barrister, denounced Laud for his inhuman cruelty, and declared that Laud’s misuse of power proved Leighton was right. Then it was Prynne’s turn. He was fined two thousand pounds for “treason, contumacy and contravention.” Archbishop Laud was head of the Church of England, and he who spoke ill of Laud spoke ill of the Church; and he who slandered the Church was guilty of disloyalty to God and his country. King Charles looked on and smiled approval while Prynne had his ears cut off and his nose slit. Charles signed the sentence that Prynne should wear a red letter “I” on his breast and stand in the marketplace on a scaffold two hours a day for a month, and then be imprisoned for life. Thus was Nathaniel Hawthorne supplied a name and an incident. Also thus did Charles and his needlessly pious Archbishop set an awful example to Puritans, for we teach forever by example and not by precept. Rulers who kill their enemies are teaching murder as a fine art, and fixing private individuals in the belief that for them to kill their enemies is according to the “higher law,” and also preparing them for the abuse of power when they get the chance.
Doctor Bastwick, a physician in high repute, expressed sympathy for Barrister Prynne as he stood in the sun on the scaffold, consoling him with a word of friendship and a foolish tear. Laud had a clergyman in disguise standing near the condemned Prynne, “to feel the pulse of the people.” He felt the pulse of Doctor Bastwick, and reported his action to Laud, the religieux. Then Bastwick was a candidate. He was arrested, fined a thousand pounds, had his ears cut off without the use of cocaine, a month apart, both nostrils were slit, and he was imprisoned for life. Cousin John Hampden took a petition to King Charles, asking that mercy should be granted Doctor Bastwick, as he was an old man, a good physician, and his action was merely a kindly impulse, and not a deliberate insult to either the Archbishop or the King. The petition was ignored and John Hampden cautioned.
Oliver Cromwell was then in London, having come to town with three wagonloads of wool, but his wits were not woolgathering. Dissenters were not safe. There is a report noted by both Carlyle and Charles Dickens that Cromwell, having sold his wool and also his horses, embarked on a ship with John Hampden, bound for Massachusetts Bay Colony, leaving orders for his family to follow. The ship being searched by spies of Laud, Oliver and John were put ashore and ordered to make haste to their country houses and stay there and cultivate the soil. The King and his Archbishop made a slight lapse in not allowing Oliver and John to depart in peace.
When John Hampden refused to pay ship-money, Laud wanted him publicly whipped. Charles, guessing the temper of the times, allowed the case to go to trial.
Cromwell was a member of the Long parliament that ordered the arrest and trial of Laud. Laud was placed in the Tower in Sixteen Hundred Forty-one, but his trial did not take place until Sixteen Hundred Forty-four. Cromwell argued that anybody who could speak well of Laud must be heard. The trial consumed a year. Laud was found guilty of six hundred counts of gross inhumanity and violation of his priestly oath, and was beheaded with a single stroke of the ax that had severed the head of Raleigh.
At this time Charles was in the field, moving from this point to that, feeling to see if his head was in place, and trying to dodge the Parliamentary armies. Also, at this time, fighting in the ranks of Cromwell, was one John Bunyan, who was to outlive Cromwell, write a book, glorify Bedford Jail and fall a victim to Royal vengeance.
Fate dug down and tapped in Cromwell’s nature great reservoirs of unguessed strength. As Ingersoll said of Lincoln, “He always rose to the level of events.” There is an unanalyzed bit of psychology here: a man is tired, ready to drop out, and lo! circumstances call upon him, and he makes the effort of his life. Beneath all humanity there is a lake of power, as yet untapped.
Cromwell’s greatest successes were snatched from the teeth of defeat. He always had a few extra links to let out. He grew great by doing. When others were ready to quit, he had just begun. Like Paul Jones, when called upon to surrender he shouted back, “Why, sir, by the living God, I have not yet commenced to fight!”
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When conversation lags in Great Britain, or any of her Colonies, the question of whether the execution of Charles the First was justifiable is still debated.
That Charles the First was a saint compared with his son Charles the Second can easily be shown. He was cool, courageous, diplomatic, regular in church attendance, gentle in his family relations. He was objectionable only in his official capacity. He was weak, vacillating and full of duplicity. It is absolutely true that cutting off his head did not increase the sum total of love, beauty, truth, kindness and virtue in the breast of the beefeaters.
England still spends ten times as much for beer as for books, and the religion in which Charles believed is yet the established one. The religion of Cromwell, which represented simple industry, truth, and mutual helpfulness, omitting ritual, is still considered strange, erratic and peculiar.
For fifteen years the rule of Oliver Cromwell in England was supreme. With the help of Admiral Blake he drove the pirates from the Mediterranean, set English captives free, and made Great Britain both respected and feared the round world over. Spain gave way and dipped her colors; Italy paid a long-delayed indemnity of sixty thousand pounds for injuries done to British subjects; Catholic France religiously kept hands off.
The Episcopal faith was not suppressed, but was simply placed on the same footing as Presbyterianism. Toleration for each and every faith was manifest, and the pillory and whipping-post fell into disuse. The prison-ships lying in the Thames, waiting for their living cargo to be carried away and dumped on distant lands, were cleaned out, refitted, holystoned, and sent out as merchant-ships. Roads were built, waterways deepened, canals dug, and marsh-lands drained.
A general order was issued that any British soldier or sailor, in any place or clime, who at any time was guilty of assault on women, or who looted or damaged private property, or attacked a neutral, should be at once tried, and, if found guilty, shot. If, in the exigency of war, English soldiers were compelled to take private property, receipts must be given, prices fixed, and drafts drawn for same on the home office. All this to the end, “Thou shalt not steal.” Pensions were cut off, parasites set to work, vagabonds collared and given jobs, and all State business managed on the same plan that a man would bring to bear in his private affairs. For carrying dummy names on his payroll, the governor of a shipyard was led forth and dropped into the sea, and a man who gave a ball at the expense of the State was deprived of his office and sent to the Barbados.
Cromwell liked to dress as a private soldier, mixing with his men, and going to taverns or palaces looking for contraband of war. When he was Chief Commander of the armies of England, he insisted on acting as colonel and leading the Ironsides into battle at the head of a charge.
When Cromwell was presented with six coach-horses, all alike, and by one sire, he insisted on personally driving them. The coach was loaded with broad-brimmed Puritans, who had guiltily left their work, when the horses ran away, frightened, they say, by an Episcopal bishop. All Royalists laughed–but not very loud. A few ultra-Puritans said it was a warning to Oliver not to try to set up a monarchy.
In Cromwell’s time the Ananias Club had not been formed, although eligible candidates were plentiful. Oliver refers to Archbishop Laud as a “deep-dyed liar,” and in the Cathedral, at Ely, he once interrupted the services by calling the officiating clergyman, “a pious prevaricator.”
Cromwell, like many another bluff and gruff man, was a deal more tender-hearted than he was willing to admit. The death of his daughter broke the heart of Old Noll–he could not live without her. So passed away Oliver Cromwell in his sixtieth year. The very human side of his nature was shown in his supposing that his son Richard could rule in his place. A short year and the young man was compelled to give way. Royalists came flocking home, with greedy mouths watering for fleshpots, ecclesiastical and political.
And so we have Charles the Second and confusion.