Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658): Rebel, Republican and Reformer Part Four
After Cromwell’s enthronement, his time was much taken up by the wars with Roman Catholic Spain, but his elevation, as Queen Christina of Sweden foretold, began to earn respect for him abroad. Thurloe’s State Papers include a letter from the English ambassador in Spain now informing Cromwell that Spain was eager for a treatise between the ‘King of England and the King of Spain’. The matter was most delicate as Durie and Penn at the time were campaigning for ecclesiastical and political agreements with England in Protestant Switzerland, Germany and Holland, 1 but Roman Catholic France had put a price on their heads. Spain strongly supported the Roman Catholics against the Protestants in these countries and especially Switzerland. Memories of Charles I’s cooperation with Roman Catholic states were still fresh in Protestant England and Cromwell now began to feel the winds of opposition again as he bargained with the papist powers which brought later comparisons of him with James II. Just as these problems appeared to have been solved for Cromwell, chiefly by Durie’s and Pell’s diplomacy, war broke out between Denmark and Sweden, the very two nations that Cromwell hoped would lead the Lutherans into union with the Reformed churches. Denmark strove to take Sweden’s north German territories from her and thus the war began to involve Germany, too. Cromwell gave the Dutch the blame for causing the trouble as the Protestant Netherland states ruled by the Duke of Orange, son-in-law to Charles I, were campaigning to oust Cromwell and place Charles II on the throne. Once again, no one spoke of ecclesiastical and educational reforms anymore in England as the great question was how involved Britain would become in the Continental wars and what would it cost. Cromwell now snubbed those former Anglicans and Independents on whom he had been relying to put through ecclesiastical and educational reforms and the State Agency for the Advancement of Religion and Universal Learning, proposed by Durie and now headed by Hartlib, lost its parliamentary support. Germany, Holland and Switzerland all complained that Cromwell had broken peace transactions with them. Durie published more than sixteen pamphlets urging Cromwell’s sporadic, had-picked Parliament to keep up plans for a pan-European Judicium which he had worked out almost single-handed with these countries. His reward was that his Continental expenses were not paid and his pension was stopped. England was now at sixes and sevens with herself. Oxford University, once the flagship of Cromwell’s educational reforms, and who, under John Owen had accepted Durie’s plans for introducing the natural science into the general school curriculum, now blocked reforms for elementary and secondary education. Soon, however, Britain was once again in party mood as the Swedes, Danes and Germans patched up their quarrels and again providentially looked to England for leadership.
Cromwell becomes a fading figure
However, premature old age and weakness had overcome Cromwell and now with all royal honours and privileges and £2,000 per annum salary besides extra royal perks, he wanted comfort, peace and quiet with no Parliament or petitioners to disturb him. Cromwell relied mostly on his chief Secret Service man Thurloe who was paid the vast sum of £70,000 per annum to keep England safe from internal and external danger. It was said of Thurloe that he ‘carried the secrets of all the princes of Europe at his girdle`. Cromwell showed great wisdom in choosing Thurloe as his closest friend and adviser. He was also often the only man Cromwell trusted to share his coach. Thurloe was demonstrably the most competent, knowledgeable and hard-working man in England and of a fine Christian disposition. Thurloe saved Britain from many a catastrophe during the Usurpation and Interregnum, his only trouble being to find a legal basis for his actions as he was a very just man. However, the omnipotence of the law had been abolished in England and Cromwell and his advisors, mostly military men, had become a law unto themselves. Now the almost 60,000 man strong army was the only omnipotence Cromwell tolerated and it was of his making. If this were questioned, Cromwell replied ‘necessity and providence demand it’. Though those faithful to Cromwell were campaigning for him to be proclaimed Emperor and the lick-spittle poets were even calling him ‘divine’, Cromwell’s ever changing moods and tempers pronounced him to be most human.
Though weakened, Cromwell still fought for absolute control
Cromwell now had portraits of himself hung in government places depicting an idolised Protector with three crowns for the three kingdoms encircling his head like a halo. Happily, the common people did not suffer too much from the lack of objective law in England as they were now so far removed from the tiny lawless oligarchy at the top that little contact was possible. The only sight of Cromwell’s glory they experienced was when his coach passed by and his soldiers forced the men to bow and doff their hats and the ladies to courtesy. On the other hand, the royalist gentry trembled under Cromwell’s hand as they were taxed out of existence. The Protector found the money useful as he was now paying his colonels £7,000 per annum. Lisle and Whitelocke, the two highest Commonwealth officials, received, in comparison, a mere £1,000, which was still quite a fortune in those days. A normal minister who had usurped an Anglican living, with the same or better education than an army officer, received an average of less than £50 pounds a year with curates often being thankful for board and lodgings and a change of garments every few years. Former Anglican clergy had their homes and libraries confiscated but were still expected to provide horses and soldiers for Cromwell. They were given theoretically a pension of a fifth of their former salary, payable to their wives to humble them further. Such pensions rarely materialised. Some seven to ten thousand former Church of England clergy, university men and college lecturers were reduced to poverty and their church buildings and colleges left to rot or, at best, to be used as stables and barracks for the troops. Happily Cromwell’s decree that prevented ejected ministers from gaining employment even as teachers and his ruling that the Prayer Book should be outlawed, besides his efforts to keep ministers from their former parishes, were not always enforced. Illegal churches were now set up where Anglicans such as church historian Thomas Fuller and Baptists like Henry Jessey could serve the Lord together. Brave Baxter once took a forbidden Prayer Book service which he knew off by heart, with a soldier holding a pistol to his head, threatening to shoot him if he continued but the gun was never fired, though Baxter went on to complete the service.
Old Archbishop Ussher, supported by most ejected Anglican Puritans and their Independent fellow-ministers, made passionate pleas to Cromwell for religious toleration. When he died, he was allowed a state burial at the request of his daughter but his friends had to pay the bill. The strange result was that Cromwell began to allow the intolerant Presbyterians, who had persecuted both Anglicans and Independents, back into his short-term parliaments. Preaching was now falling out of vogue and secular music and play-acting was more popular than ever. It was bawdy ballads for the proletarian populace and the latest Sir William Davenant operas, enhanced with sets built by Inigo Jones, for the Puritan gentry. Cromwell encouraged this movement by patronising the first opera ever to be composed in England. He was said to especially favour William Davenant’s work as it was anti-Spanish. Cromwell, however, did make some effort to rule his people by forbidding them to speak ill of him under pain of heavy penalties and duels, drunkenness and swearing were banned. Whitehall was strongly influenced by this downgrading and England’s reformers in religion and education were not wanted, though they kept on bombarding Cromwell personally with petitions, explaining how their projects could be financed by the millions gained from the confiscation of Anglican property, the closing of colleges and the plundering of Ireland and Scotland.
The Yeomen of England protest as in Magna Charta days.
The lower middle class and farmers from whom Cromwell was raised now began to form a protest movement as in the days of Magna Charta and King John. For the first time in English history, pastors, poets, scientists, social reformers, men of letters, small land-owners and politicians began to work together in various so-called Invisible Societies to plan reforms. Not all of these by far wanted to restore the monarchy but all wanted a radical change in a society that had slumped into chaos. Now Cromwell’s solutions were merely negative, banning this that and the other arbitrarily and there was little attempt to reform the country’s moral state by positive means. The press became more frivolous and worldly as pamphlet wars were carried out to an extent hardly reached by our modern tabloid press. Milton was much to blame as he had pleaded in his Areopogitica that in the Eutopia (Milton’s spelling) of England press censure should be abolished. This had helped the bawdy press to gain a monopoly on ‘correspondence,’ the word used then for the exchange of information and learning. So, to stop this evil influence, Cromwell nigh abolished newspapers and pamphlets altogether, allowing but one London newspaper to appear twice weekly. Now the Christian press had to work underground as witnessed by Marchmont Needham, the Christian journalist and author who had produced a weekly international news journal called Mercurius.
Public outcry moves Cromwell
After petitioning Cromwell for over ten years with little success, a great breakthrough came on Thursday 25. December 1656 when friends of religious reform and universal learning petitioned Cromwell for the setting up of establishments to train Reformed pastors, teachers, scientists, doctors, and employers in preparing themselves for a work of general usefulness to society. Their sole, non-profit-making aim was to care for the public good and the glory of God, educating young and old, male and female from the cradle to the grave in studies which rather than being subject-based provided an education which synthesised and synergised knowledge, in cooperation with all the world’s think-tanks and data bases. They wanted education to be for the benefit of society and for the common good and not for private gain. Monies were to be invested in machines for data-processing so that students whether still at school, college or employed in the professions, could have immediate access to all data. I have seen apparently workable plans drawn up to have data sent within minutes at eight miles a time from point to point between London and Paris. The libraries, universities and employers of the world were to be encouraged to work to this end and England’s schools and colleges should become international and multilingual until the creation of a single world language based on Christian thought and teaching could be perfected. Never, in the history of religious and educational reform was such a project envisaged though it is realisable today if we would only use it for the common good.
With this and many other petitions worked out by England’s leading theologians, educators, men of letters, social reformers, scientists and employers, was sent a detailed account of how these projects could be financed. It was pointed out that most of the buildings such as the Dean and Chapter Houses and the residences of former Anglican bishops and ministers were standing empty and enough surplus money was lying around gained through conquests in Ireland, Scotland and at sea. The petitioners did not hesitate to condemn the low state of Christianity and learning in England and urged that their motives and aims would preserve England from drifting as a nation from the Lord and help England lead the world through peaceful means.
Cromwell shows signs of grace
The petitioner’s had to wait patiently for a year before Cromwell replied personally from Whitehall on 19 January 1667/8 2. The Protector, had been suffering from monthly bouts of illness and trembling limbs, but had called a new, albeit, short-lived, Parliament together in 1657 composed of 350 members, mostly soldiers or relations of Cromwell. On 17 September, Cromwell greeted them in the Painted Chamber with a three-hour sermon urging the members to make a strong effort to refute sin and profanity and be bold for the gospel’s sake. From now on, Cromwell’s parliamentary speeches were sermons pleading for a righteous nation but they did not touch on the real problems of Britain but were rather in self-praise of Cromwell’s own view of himself as a great Christian reformer. He saw the work of the Parliaments over which he had presided as a fulfilling of Old Testament prophesies and the Book of Revelation with a far too positive reviewing of the past rather than providing a reforming hope for the future. Cromwell’s personality, however, became fettered by eschatological speculations which were quite other-worldly as if to escape from the reality of his times. I have read letters in the Swedish archives from Cromwell which were so full of eschatological imagery and quotes from Revelation as to be beyond modern understanding as Cromwell felt he and King Charles of Sweden were some kind of apocalyptical riders. However, Cromwell and the Durie-Hartlib Circle were very interested in steganography which combined linguistic, para-linguistic, meta-linguistic and socio-linguistic features and which has now become such an integral part of modern digital communication and advertising. However, at the same time, many Christians around Cromwell, and certainly Cromwell himself, were looking at Revelation and what they called ‘Christian Astrology’ as a form of God’s steganography or secret language. Indeed, many with a new superficial knowledge of ‘popular’ Hebrew and Greek, were talking about the whole Bible being God’s codified language to those who had eyes to read it and ears to hear it. Of course, they understood these words as a matter of linguistics and the occult only and lost the spiritual meaning. The many Dispensational sects of today still believe in the Book of Revelation as God’s steganography.
However, a pansophical interest in educating the whole man in the entire knowledge of Christ and His creation as ‘God only Wise, kept the petitioners in hope throughout a whole year. When the reply came from Cromwell in a personal letter, still extant, there was great rejoicing in the Invisible Societies. Cromwell thoroughly approved of the suggested national project and had ordered that proceeds from certain property confiscated during the Irish campaigns and which now brought in an annual revenue of £2,000 would be given the petitioners yearly for their intended work of religious and educational reform. Farms and property should be also bought so that the national schools could be financed through rents. This would have made England the educational leader of the world.
Death catches up with Cromwell
Sadly, now Cromwell was a dying man, striving to rally his country back to God as he prepared his own soul for the Judgement Seat of Christ but nothing was done to carry out the Protector’s wishes. Indeed, Parliament started to go its own way and openly snubbed Cromwell as in the execution of James Naylor, a former soldier, now turned Quaker whom Parliament wanted to punish but Cromwell wanted to save. Thurloe’s diligence now uncovered constant plots to murder the Protector. The Fifth Monarchy men, ever ready to call Cromwell ‘the man of sin’ and ‘the little horn’, now called him ‘the Bastard of Ashdod’. They, however, fell out with one another over their eschatological interpretations and could no longer speak with one voice. Much of the chaos of the cults and the splitting up of ‘free’ denominations can be traced back to their Jesuit-like religions. In lieu of banned newspapers, all England began to read the day’s events from the Book of Revelation, each being his own interpreter.
Now news reached England from the Continent that Charles II would pay any man £500 a year if he rid the world of that ‘base mechanic’ Oliver Cromwell. The ‘mechanic’s’ civilian followers clamoured again for their idol to be made King, better still, Emperor, feeling that this would place him above all threats to his life, though they were regicides themselves. The Presbyterians and the City of London now supported this aim. The Protector began to fade rapidly, especially after his daughter, Elisabeth Claypole died on August 6, 1658. When George Foxe presented a petition on behalf of the Quakers on 21 August to Cromwell, he said as Cromwell approached him that he had felt a ‘waft of death’ go before the Protector. When Cromwell came nearer, Foxe said he ‘looked like a dead man’. Cromwell’s chaplains, John Owen and Thomas Goodwin, began to pray continuously for him, perhaps realising, too, that Cromwell was about to meet his Maker, but the Protector said, ‘I shall not die this bout’. Then Cromwell fell into fits of despair and bad conscience, crying ‘It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God’. He asked his chaplains if it were possible to fall from grace. They said it was not. ‘Then I am safe’, said Cromwell, ‘because I was once in grace’. Then he recovered from his fears and cried out, ‘I am more than conqueror through Christ that strengthened me.’ Biographer John Buchan put it beautifully again, ‘He had escaped from Doubting Castle to the Land of Beulah’.
The funeral ceremonies
Though Cromwell’s death was heavily covered by the State Papers and Parliamentary Records, nobody really knows what really occurred as the propaganda machine blocked out all the fine details. There is however an appendix to the Diary of Thomas Burton Esq. Member in the Parliaments of Oliver and Richard Cromwell from 1656 to 1659, which gives a lengthy description of Cromwell’s death and burial from the pen of the Rev. John Prestwich, Fellow of All Soul’s College, Oxford.
According to Prestwich, Cromwell was taken ill in Hampton Court Palace, with a ‘bastard tertian argue’ or a fit of paroxysms which occurred at regular intervals. Buchan says it was an illness of the mind rather than body. When the doctors and Cromwell’s family realised that he was dying, they took him back to Whitehall. Shortly afterwards, on 3 September, 1658, Oliver was called to face the judgement seat of Christ trusting in His mercy. Richard, his eldest son was immediately proclaimed his successor. Protestant Netherlands proclaimed a public holiday and there was joyful dancing in the streets. Indeed, there were public celebrations throughout Europe. Thousands of exiles abroad received new hope of being able to return as free men to the country of their birth, just as the refugees returned to England from all over the Continent after the death of Mary the Bloody. In the face of the celebrations at Cromwell’s decease, members of the Invisible and Petty-France Societies declared that future Britain still unborn, would value Cromwell more than Britain did before he died and at his death.
Immediately after Cromwell breathed his last, his body swelled up and burst and there was a ‘deadly and noisome stink’ due to the filth that came out. It was therefore quickly buried without the event being officially recorded. However, vast sums of money, far more than the amount spent on former kings’ burials, had been allotted for the funeral rites and the public were demanding to see Cromwell’s body. So a ‘body’ was prepared as Cromwell’s courtiers made sure that the promised ceremonies, arranged to start in late November, were carried out. The ‘body’ was removed from Whitehall and taken to Somerset House on the Strand where it was laid out in royal style. For several days, the multitudes passed by the ‘corpse’ in silent respect. Throughout the lying in state and even the funeral ceremony, the object laid out for public viewing was referred to as Cromwell who was dressed in a costly suit of velvet, adorned with a purple robe, well-furred with ermine held together with rich gold lace and strings and tassels of gold. ‘Cromwell’ wore a richly embroidered belt and carried a costly gold-hilted sword at his side. On its head was placed a purple velvet hat trimmed with ermine. In its right hand he held a sceptre and in its left hand a globe. Immediately behind the head, a chair of gold was placed with the imperial crown upon it. The entire scenario was raised on a platform flanked with banners and surrounded by a row of men in black and a further row of soldiers. Ushers brought the mourners to the edge of the scene where they took a peep and were then led back. A real sight of the Protector was impossible. On the day of the funeral, the ‘body’, which was really a wooden and wax imitation, had the imperial crown put on its head and it was then laid, covered by a black velvet cloth in an open chariot and taken to the Abbey Church of Westminster. Soldiers stood all along the route to prevent spectators from approaching too near the chariot. John Evelyn, the diarist said it was a joyful parade. The only crying was done by Cromwell’s dogs who missed their master. The soldiers stood all along the way smoking or chewing tobacco and had been given too much to drink.
The list of mourners at the ‘funeral’ cover ten pages of small print in Prestwich’s description, from high ranking army officers down to Cromwell’s pastry cook, larder keeper and butcher. The procession took seven hours to reach its near destination. The proceedings were delayed because the guests quarrelled fiercely over the positions given them in the rank and file of the procession, the ‘quality’ being put first. Richard Cromwell, the new Protector, was not even allowed to mourn in public because of his status and Henry Cromwell was in Ireland, so no direct members of Cromwell’s family were present. Though Prestwich lists the names of Cromwell’s favourite musicians who joined the procession, there is no mention of them playing or of a Christian service. Burials and marriages had been banned from the Church’s prerogative, so anything ‘religious’ was not expected. Perhaps because there were no candles or heating in the church and it was bitter cold the ceremony was soon over. Nor, however, is there any indication of a succeeding public burial as the crowned effigy (at times Prestwich speaks in the plural) was immediately placed in the East wing of the church, where James I’s likeness stood. Oliver had often compared himself to James. Prestwich adds, however, that Cromwell’s effigy was much finer than the King’s as Cromwell’s funeral arrangement had cost £60,000. Some say the costs were as high as £100,000 but a year after the event, craftsmen and organisers were still clamouring for some £20,000 of their wages which had not been paid. So, now, to cover the expenses, ‘tourists’ were charged 2s/6d a head to view the newly crowned royal ‘relics’ in the church.
Looking into the papers of citizens who lived in England during Cromwell’s reign, preserved in the Delaware Collection at Sheffield University, I came across a letter written by Moses Wall a merchant who moved in the Durie-Hartlib Circle and who gives every appearance of being a very learned, God-fearing man. Wall wrote to Samuel Hartlib, saying (spelling modernised):
‘. . . . in the late Protector’s days there were more good men persecuted in his almost five years of government, than were in almost five score years of our late Queen, & Kings, beginning with Elizabeth who came in Nov.19.1658. And as for the wars abroad, I am of his mind who sayth, That there was never so much war in the world to so little purpose; the good of mankind being very little, if at all minded.’ 3
Biographer Maurice Ashley, in his book Charles I and Oliver Cromwell, ends his story of Cromwell with the words:
‘The crowds outside Whitehall palace had watched Charles’ execution with dejected faces and in silence. Oliver was said to have died in deeper silence than any king. ‘There is not a dog that wags his tongue so great a calm are we in,’ wrote John Thurloe afterwards. So Charles and Oliver both left the earth in silence; and both, as faithful Christians, were convinced that they were on their way to paradise.’
I believe this is a very fair assessment. God grant that we shall be likewise prepared by Him to meet them both in Glory.