Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658): Rebel, Republican and Reformer

Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658): Rebel, Republican and Reformer Part Two

Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658): Rebel, Republican and Reformer Part Three

Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658): Rebel, Republican and Reformer Part Four


Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658): Rebel, Republican and Reformer Part Three

The New Babel Confusion.

     Before Charles was placed in his coffin at Whitehall, it became clear that a number of the judges, now faced with punishment, had refused to sign the death warrant and others had been compelled to sign by force. Cromwell is said to have examined the head of the King at Whitehall to make sure it was totally severed and he was really dead, before saying, ‘If he had not been King, he would have lived longer’. The regicides now refused permission for Charles to be buried in Westminster Abbey and told Bishop Juxon that he could not give Charles a Church of England Prayer Book burial. The King was then interred on 9 February, 1648 (old style) at Windsor Castle.

     An enormous pamphlet war now took place with Diggers, Ranters, Levellers, Fifth Monarchy men, Muggletonians, Adamites, Behmenists, Barrowites, Brownists, Familists and female pastors and soothsayers, each toning the English language down until it reached a bawdy babble. The language used in official reports in those days was so full of socio-politico-religio nuances that it is almost impossible to obtain its real meaning today. Even the evangelical language of Zion was now used as a lingua franca to express profane ideas. It is pointed out how serene, Biblical and devotional Cromwell’s language was, but Charles’ and Laud’s were even more heavenly. Yet the riff-raff and cut-throats of the age hardly spoke less piously. Even today, the most obscene and blasphemous oaths have usually a ‘religious’ origin and we still love to debase former decent words such as ‘gay’ and ‘fairy’ with sordid connotations. Under Cromwell, radicalism swept through Britain through such works as Rutherford’s Rex Lex and the negative use of text-critical scholarship at Oxford.

     As an antidote, the people of England began to read Charles’ farewell testimony of faith Eikon Basilike with its worshipful and doctrinally sound language which went into thirty editions within the year. However, in spite of the official tolerance of the ‘New Babel Confusion’ as William Prynne called it, Parliament made every effort to suppress Charles’ work, condemning Charles’ piety as the idolatrous worship of the Church of England. Durie protested before Parliament that England’s schools were creating an atheist state. John Wilkins, followed by both Royalists, Republicans, Anglicans, Separatists, Religious and Secular thinkers, including foreign scholars settled in England such as Oldenburg and Haak, all demanded that the profane English language should be abolished and a new clear and clean means of objective communication should be founded. John Cleveland showed how England was suffering from bankrupt politics due to a bankrupt language. Hobbes, too demanded a uniform, morally-sound, language based on tried linguistic, Biblical and social laws. People, it was argued by scholars, were simply unable to think correctly because of language barriers. When the Royal Society was formed in the sixteen sixties, the compilation of such a universal language was one of its first aims. In spite of all this decay, Cromwell and his followers spoke of each year after Charles’ execution as ‘The First (Second, etc.) Year of Freedom by God’s blessing restored’.

Supreme ruler of the Commonwealth

     On 19 March, the House of Lords was abolished and Cromwell appointed as the first Chairman of the Council of State. There has been much debate concerning whether Cromwell saw himself as the new King or not. It is pointed out that Cromwell rejected the title, preferring those of ‘Chairman’, ‘Chief Magistrate’ or ‘Protector’. Cromwell, however, as extant speeches show, said that all these titles meant the same thing, namely that he was in charge. He thus explained that if Parliament chose to call him Supreme Magistrate, President, Chairman or King, he would accept either as amounting to the same rank. It is clear that Cromwell now saw himself as the supreme ruler of the English Empire whether he was called Emperor, King or Chief Legislator. Cromwell now had those generals executed who had opposed him such as Scotsman Hamilton and Englishman Arthur Capel but his power was not yet absolute and he and Ireton were thwarted by Parliament in their attempt to have Lord Goring and Sir John Owen also put to death. So, Cromwell now claimed for himself the freedom to call a Parliament only when he felt it could be useful for him and to appoint whomsoever he thought fit to be a member.

The carnage at Drogheda

     Though the Royalists were defeated in England, opposition in Ireland was still relatively strong. There was an army of some 2,500 man under Arthur Aston which had not bowed before Cromwell. This force was led by Scottish, English and Irish officers. Cromwell decided to take over the largest army he had ever recruited to Ireland and stamp out all opposition military or civil. He explained, too, that he would thus be able to pay his troops with the spoil and reward the nobility and army leaders who had served him faithfully. Modern Ultra-Protestants tend to view the siege of Drogheda as the triumph of Protestantism over the Papacy. Most of the leading Royalists were, however, English Protestants and many of the soldiers were Protestant troops fresh from fighting for Sweden in her war against the Roman Catholic Emperor. True, the Irish Confederates, the majority of whom were Roman Catholics, joined the English and Scots for their own defence but even when all exaggerated figures are considered from both sides, over half of those slaughtered on the Irish side in the ensuing conflicts were Protestants and Cromwell massacred far more civilians than he did soldiers. Sadly, one can rely on few modern historians whether Protestant or Roman Catholic to give an objective view of Cromwell’s personal role in the massacre of over 4,000 people. Perhaps the best balanced assessment of the role of England in Ireland during this time is to be found in Crawford Gribben’s down-to-earth book The Irish Puritans. This recent book has been strongly criticised by the leading Reformed Press in England who believe that Roman Catholic Tom Reilly gives a pro-Cromwell picture. Indeed, when I quoted Reilly verbatim in the English Churchman to show that he was not sympathetic to Cromwell’s stand as suggested by our ‘Reformed’ friends, Erroll Hulse, editor of Reformation Today, Director of the Evangelical Press and co-worker of the Banner of Truth Magazine, claimed in the English Churchman that my quotes were ‘ridiculous’ and untrue. The evidence he gave was that he had a friend who knew a friend of Reilly’s who maintained that Reilly was sympathetic to Cromwell. He had obviously not read Reilly himself. So much for modern ‘Reformed scholarship’! Admittedly, wily Reilly does appear to flatter Cromwell and coat the Ultra-Cromwellians’ lips with sugar, but when he has them in his hand, hoping they will now read on, he tells them that the thousands slaughtered at Drogheda were those who had not taken part in any riots and that Cromwell ‘left in his wake a scene of unprecedented carnage’ and he placed himself ‘outside the parameters of regular warfare’. Reilly tells us also that ‘a demon lurked deep within his (Cromwell’s) psyche’ and there was no excuse for his ‘fiendish acts’. He concludes that Cromwell was a hypochondriac and depressive and allowed his personal psychosis to determine the will of God for him. Cromwell’s Parliament, Reilly claims, was guided by ‘superstitions, witchcraft and colourful ghost stories’. Yet, so-called Reformed men are now saying that Rome, through Reilly, is now on their side in their positive view of Cromwell. Reilly goes further in his condemnation of Cromwell than all Protestants and most Roman Catholics. One Reformed, evangelical, retired senior army officer claimed in the Christian press that I had wrongly accused Cromwell of shelling Drogheda though shells had not yet been invented. I had given Cromwell’s own account and, of course, the military art of shelling was at least 100 years older than Cromwell. This shows how badly informed modern evangelicals are of seventeenth century history. On the other hand, contemporary Puritans such as Adams, Love, Featley, Hall, Ward, Balcanqual, Manton and Charnock all claimed that Cromwell gave the Protestant cause a bad name and Baxter called Cromwell ‘a vile and detestable creature’ and testified that ‘most of the ministers and good people of the land, did look upon the new Commonwealth as tyranny’. The Act of Settlement of 1652 robbed most of Ireland’s landowners of their property, though landless Irish nobility still had to raise money to raise a yearly tribute of horses and troops for Cromwell’s army.

The New Engagement

     In order to consolidate his power, Cromwell had his New Engagement passed through his select Parliament. This demanded absolute allegiance to Cromwell ‘without King and House of Lords’. It was very similar to the former oath of Allegiance to the English King and the Church of England. The enraged lawyer and sacked MP, William Prynne, wrote pamphlet after pamphlet against the Engagement and the Presbyterians withdrew from much of the committee work of the Westminster Assembly, especially that which fostered Protestant union. They found their work on the Westminster Standards strongly criticised. Prynne, who had been imprisoned and had his ears and nose slit under Charles for treachery, though he claimed himself that he had deserved the death penalty, now found himself in prison again under Cromwell. Now, all the leading Puritans, mostly former Anglicans, Independents and Baptists found themselves on the side of Cromwell. Biographer Robert S. Paul demonstrates how most of the so-called ‘traitors and detractors’ during Cromwell’s fight for power came from the ranks of the Scottish Presbyterians. Many non-Presbyterians now worked openly at the Assembly and at least four Baptists, including Henry Jessey, were chosen as Triers to supervise the calling and mentoring of candidates for the ministry. Realising that new winds were blowing, Independents and former Anglicans, including Baxter and several ex-bishops, formed new churches throughout 16 counties and Ireland on a Pan-Protestant basis after the pattern of John Durie. Though these churches bent over backwards to make Presbyterians feel at home, these efforts at church unity were branded by the Presbyterians, except Byfield and a few others, as ‘Episcopalian and malignant’.

Many positive Reforms were now implemented or planned

     Educational reforms, blocked by the Long Parliament, were now revived by such as Durie, Hartlib, Owen, Ussher, Gouge, Nye and Thomas Goodwin and state agencies for the education of both males and females were set up to reform and integrate religion and learning. Libraries were made centres and coordinators of the educational system. Plans for a University of London were laid, which would be multi-lingual and welcome Jews, Greek Orthodox and Eastern Europeans. 20,000 extra ministers were to be given university education and places were to be found for a further 80,000 secular academics, including military training. Tuition was not to be subject-orientated but the entire student, body, soul and spirit was to be educated pansophically believing that the knowledge of God, the source and outworking of all knowledge, is the beginning of wisdom. It was argued that if the rich gave up all but three meals a day, they could finance the education of all the new ministers needed. In all these reforms, Cromwell gave his full support, even granting pensions to those like Samuel Hartlib, John Pell and John Durie who pioneered them.

     Now Cromwell began to use his authority to promote the union of all Protestants both at home and abroad. As Cromwell was in constant warfare with France and Holland, he set his hope on Sweden, Switzerland and Germany first. Germany, whose rulers were mostly related in some way with the Stuarts, took some convincing but Cromwell’s agent Durie won most of the German Protestant states for Cromwell’s plans.

A further example of Janusism in Cromwell’s psyche

     However, such pan-European projects were to be under English leadership as the Germans had requested in Charles’ days. Unlike Durie’s, Ussher’s, Gouge’s, Nye’s and Goodwin’s original plans, Cromwell coupled them with hegemonic demands on Europe which brought political, ecclesiastical and educational confusion to the Continent. For instance, whilst military and religious diplomatic relationships were being worked out between England and Sweden, Cromwell declared international waters to be British. He thus felt free to board and capture any Swedish ships striving to enter Swedish ports. Especially two large Swedish cargoes of gold from the New World were thus ‘confiscated’ and used as prize-money for the English navy. All Queen Christina’s demands for restitution were ignored. Cromwell merely told Christina that her ships had been taken according to English law and was a matter for the English only and outside interference would not be tolerated. Cromwell now told his diplomats to beware of Swedish ambassadors, because they used a special poison which could kill a reader when opening letters. This was probably to cover Cromwell’s own embarrassment caused by the Swedish Ambassador to England dying mysteriously in London and Parliament had to send Daniel Lisle, aided by Durie to Sweden in 1652 to pacify the Queen. Whitelocke, often in Cromwell’s black books, offered to show his trustworthiness by opening Cromwell’s letters for him. The Dutch, fed up with Cromwell’s buccaneering, declared war on England (1652-1654).

England humiliated by the Swedes

     Cromwell sent Lord Commissioner Whitelocke to Sweden in 1653 to secure an alliance, though the Court, Chancellor Oxenstierna and Prof. Ravius at Uppsala had asked for Durie. However, Cromwell wanted Durie and John Pell to persuade also the Swiss, Germans and Dutch to enter into alliance negotiations with England. He felt that this would be more difficult than an alliance with Sweden which was as good as certain. Durie’s and Pell’s mission was crowned with success. On the other hand, Whitelocke was kept waiting three months before the Queen found time to give him audience. He was told that royal ambassadors had preference. Whitelocke protested that Cromwell was as good as any king, but Christina asked him if Cromwell had been inaugurated in any capacity as Head of State. Whitelocke had to say that Cromwell had undergone no such investiture. The Swedes then challenged Whitelocke concerning England’s sea-crimes and Whitelocke began to fear for his life. At nights, angry Swedes gathered outside his bedroom door, crying, ‘Come out you English dog’. Christina proved the better diplomat and shortly before abdicating, forced Whitelocke to sign a pact allowing Swedes to fish in English waters and which contained a promise that all English piracy would stop and full compensation paid to Sweden. Whitelocke made a last attempt to gain something of the deal Cromwell had hoped he would get, but the Swedes placed him on a ship bound for Lübeck and bade him farewell. Bradshaw said that next time he and Durie would go and make a better job of it. Christiana was surprised that Whitelocke had behaved like an entertainment-loving Cavalier and not as an earnest Puritan. Whitelocke had assured Christina that the English Commonwealth Court loved dancing and music. The story is still told in Sweden how Whitelocke spent his time teaching the ladies-in-waiting the latest English dances. This seems believable as when Cromwell’s children married, there was music and dancing at Whitehall up to five o’clock in the morning. According to the State Papers, Charles had never more than 47 musicians and he published all costs applying to them. Cromwell employed up to 100 musicians but I have found no reference to what they cost their country in the normal channels for such disclosures. After the humilities that Whitelocke suffered and through him Cromwell, the latter decided to be officially enthroned as Protector and Chief Magistrate of England, Ireland and Scotland. There was, however, opposition in the now tiny Parliament and Cromwell experienced one set-back after the other.

The Saints’ Parliament

     In April 1653, Cromwell was fed up with his Parliament which he had shrunk from the 547 members of 1640 to the 50 of his choice in 1653. So he stormed Parliament backed by 400 musketeers and closed Parliamentary proceedings. In July, Cromwell established a new Parliament under military control which he called The Saints’ Parliament 1, commanding them to put forward educational and ecclesiastical reforms and prepare the way constitutionally for his enthronement. Cromwell chose his ‘saints’ from all walks of life and from the various denominations to represent the entire Commonwealth of England, Ireland and Scotland, but all the Irish and Scots seats were filled by English soldiers. The members could not agree on anything and all proposals of reform were rejected because a majority vote could not be gained. They did manage to ban pastors from conducting marriages and placed a number of church practices in the hands of the Justice of the Peace. Few turned up at the sittings and most members resigned within a few months. Those who would not were then forced out by Cromwell’s soldiers.

Cromwell and the Jews

     In 1655, Cromwell pressed Parliament to resettle the Jews in England. Hitherto, Parliament had ruled that toleration shown only be shown ‘to those who profess faith in God by Jesus Christ’. Treading warily, Cromwell first called a conference of evangelicals (a term which became fashionable at this time) including Simon Ashe, Edmund Calamy and Henry Jessey, at Whitehall. Durie was in Hesse, Germany at the time under Cromwell’s orders but published a guide for the conference explaining what the German position was and how there should be an international tolerance of the Jews. He stated that the lack of the knowledge of Hebrew in England was the result of much faulty Bible exegesis and much could be learnt from the Jews. The Whitehall vote for a return of the Jews to England was unanimous, though Jessey argued that the Jews should only be allowed to populate run-down areas only and pay double tax. Jessey, however, raised substantial sums of money to resettle the Jews in Jerusalem which he thought was more Biblical. Cromwell now placed this result before his new, hand-chosen Parliament, thinking he would have a home run, but Parliament absolutely refused to tolerate a Jewish presence in England. Cromwell thus ignored Parliament, giving Jews such as Mennaseh Ben Israel permission to settle in England, build a Synagogue and bury their dead in English soil. He explained to Parliament that he was making a controlled experiment.

Cromwell’s enthronement

     By 1657, Cromwell was openly demanding that Parliament should enthrone him as Supreme Governor. He had long thought about the exact title he should assume and how the ceremony should proceed and finally decided that the term ‘Installation of his Highness’ would express sufficient dignity. He also insisted that the Protectorship should remain in his family for ever. Eye-witness accounts, therefore, such as Edward Prestwick’s, say that Cromwell was given a Royal enthronement. Indeed, to preserve Royal tradition, Cromwell insisted that the Stone of Scone and the Coronation Throne be used. This would also show, as the inscription on the stone says, that he was also King of Scotland. The stone and throne, however, stood in Westminster Abbey and Cromwell, of no particular church, wanted no church ceremony. So the ‘Protector’ had the throne moved to Westminster Hall, the place of Charles’ execution, as if to say, ‘The King is dead! Long live the Protector!’ At Westminster, according to contemporary records, ‘seats were built scaffold-wise, like a theatrum’ on both sides of the Hall to hold the Members of Parliament and an elevated platform was built at the south end for Cromwell’s throne. On June 26, 1657, Cromwell appeared ‘richly dressed’ in a ‘costly mantle of estate’ lined with ermine. He was girded with ‘a sword of great value’. Now the Speaker, leading the ceremony, presented Cromwell with a purple robe of state, signifying justice and mercy. He was also given a Bible as the source of good government. Next, a sceptre was placed in his hands, and the Speaker, quoting Scripture and Homer told Cromwell that all kings and princes were sceptre-bearers. Then Cromwell was given a magnificent sword, whose Latin name, the Speaker said, was ‘I am the Lord Protector’s, to protect my people’. After taking the oath, Thomas Manton was ‘appointed’ to ‘make and deliver’ a prayer. The trumpets now sounded, and Cromwell was ‘proclaimed his Highness Oliver Cromwell, Protector of England, Scotland, and Ireland, and the dominions and territories thereunto belonging’. The trumpets sounded again and the assembly shouted ‘Long live his Highness’ three times and then three times, ‘Huzza’. After this brief enthronement, Cromwell led the entire procession of office-holders out of the Hall where he entered a state coach. John Durie immediately wrote from Westminster to his fellow-ambassador John Pell, still in Switzerland, informing him of the ‘new settlement’, he explained that the only difference between Cromwell’s new status and that of a king was that the title had been merely changed to Supreme Magistrate and that now Cromwell could ‘administer the laws of the state to all intents and purposes with as much authority and right as ever any king before him did.’ As for Scotland, in spite of Cromwell’s claims to rule her, she had already proclaimed Charles II King of Scotland on 6 February 1649.


Notes:

  1. Another name for the 140 members who rarely turned up was the ‘Barebone’s Parliament after a London merchant and Independent member of that name.