I am not come to make any disturbance … but only to live with my Nation in the fear of the Lord, under the shadow of your protection, while we expect with you the hope of Israel to be revealed.
Petition of Menasseh ben Israel to Cromwell 1655
The immediate period after the Penruddock rising of the spring of 1655 was marked by an ugly jittery mood on the part of the Government. It was true that the light penalties exacted thereafter in the West Country were to be compared highly favourably by historians and others with those laid down in the same area by Judge Jeffreys thirty years later. Comparatively few men were ‘barbadazz’d’, as one Royalist intercepted letter described an enforced departure for the West Indies, as opposed to the pathetic Redleg exiles of Monmouth’s rebellion.1 But the feeling – albeit inaccurate – that Royalists and Levellers had dangerously coalesced and might do so again persisted. A letter from Oliver Cromwell dated 24 March, two days after the official Thanksgiving for the failure of Penruddock, showed how far the Government was from resting on the laurels of what might be supposed to be their newly established security. To Nicholas Lechmere, a lawyer of Hanley Castle, who had been made militia commissioner for Worcestershire and returned as member for the county in the Parliament of 1654, and to the Justices of Peace in that area, he wrote * of ‘the hand of God’ which ‘along with us’ had defeated the late rebellious insurrection. It was their hope that through God’s blessing on their labours an effectual course would be taken for the ‘total Disappointment of the whole Design. Yet knowing the restlessness of the Common Enemy to involve this Nation in new Calamities we conceive our self and all others who are entrusted with preserving the peace of the Nation obliged to endeavour in their places to prevent and defeat the Enemy’s intention.’ With this aim in view, they were specially recommended to keep diligent watches on strangers, not only to suppress ‘loose and idle persons’ but also to enable them to apprehend strangers who might be sent thither to ‘kindle fires’. By these actions, as by the breaking up of all suspicious meetings and assemblies, it was to be expected that any future dangerous designs ‘would be frustrated in the Birth or kept from growing to maturity’.
This was the identical mood which led in the same month to the establishment of Desborough as a kind of overlord to the six subversive western counties. In time Desborough’s command proved to be the pilot scheme for a general experiment, mapped out in August 1655, by which England and Wales were divided into sections, or ‘cantons’ as critics angrily described them. By an order of 9 August, finally put into effect in October, ten – later eleven – Major-Generals were given new and unusually full powers in their respective districts. Since the direct genesis of their installation was the trembling nerve of the Government after the effects of Penruddock, the Major-Generals were put in control of the horse militia, forces already set up throughout the country in May, as a reserve to be called up in an emergency, in order to hold down further potential Royalist insurrections. By the autumn, this new type of militia had been transformed into a permanent cavalry troop, able to serve outside its native area if necessary.2 And as men cost money, it was decided that this force should be paid for by those whose anti-social tendencies made its existence necessary. As if a tithe were to be taken from the income of all past and also all potential criminals to pay for the modern police force, categories designated at the discretion of local authorities, a Decimation Tax was imposed to cull ten percent of the income of all Royalists, and indeed anyone who might vaguely be supposed to favour King Charles ii. This tax, of course, directly negated the healing effects of the Act of Oblivion of February 1652 which Oliver had been so personally anxious to see passed. The implementations of this tax, and the handling of the many appeals against it, was put into the hands of the Major-Generals.
But that was only one part of the outrage which this paramilitary structure – ‘this new chimera’ Bulstrode Whitelocke called it – was generally felt to put upon the local organization of England. Its military nature could not be missed, for quite apart from the control of troops, the names of the Major-Generals sounded like a roll-call of the former young heroes of the New Model Army, now however grown to authoritarian maturity. Fleetwood, for example, returning from Ireland, was given most of East Anglia, and Lambert his native North; there was Whalley in charge of Lincoln, Nottinghamshire, Stafford, Leicester and Warwick; James Berry in North and South Wales, and Hereford; Worsley in Derby, Chester and Worcester; Colonel Goffe and Kelsey dividing up the southern counties between them from Southampton up to Kent. It was also suggested that these new masters were of unbecomingly low birth – ‘silly mean fellows’ said Lucy Hutchinson – as Berry had been according to Baxter merely clerk of an ironworks before the war; therefore the inevitable ousting of the powerful county families who had continued their quiet but formidable control of local matters was made the more painful. The county committees started in the war began to fall from usefulness; the Lord-Lieutenants found their roles usurped, and local perquisites also fell into the laps of those representatives of the central Government, as Thomas Kelsey for example in Kent acquired the governorship of Dover Castle from the neighbouring families who had previously controlled it. The people as a whole, who were just beginning to bask in the gentle warmth radiated by the stability of the Protectorate, found themselves subjected yet again to the chill wind of change.3
The credit for a leading part in the invention of this unpopular hierarchy was given at the time to Lambert. But it is clear from his speech to Parliament a year later, reviewing their function, that Oliver himself had seized eagerly on the project. With his undying optimism where the work of God was concerned, he imagined that the Major-Generals would in addition to their policing role help to transform the social face of England into something more generally virtuous. For their instructions were an amalgam of orders pertaining directly to security, such as the prevention of ‘unlawful assemblies’, and other more widely drawn clauses which even if their inspiration was still security, certainly had the effect of giving them a highly restrictive image. Ale-houses for example were to be restricted, even closed; bearbaitings, race-meetings, cock-fights, performances of plays, were all designated to fall once more under the Puritanical axe of the Major-Generals. In a sense, the closure of at least some of these scenes of pleasure was actually justifiable if the State was really threatened, since they undeniably were employed to cover up meetings of conspirators. An innocent popular gathering for purposes of pleasure always provides the ideal rendezvous for a secret agent. But of course the rage engendered in the hearts of the populace with nothing further on their minds than their own delectation was formidable and did nothing to endear the Major-Generals to them.*
Oliver in his speech of September 1656 did not attempt to evade this specifically moral purpose of the new men.4 ‘If you be the people of God, and be for the people of God, he will speak peace, and we will not return again to folly,’ he said. About this folly he well knew ‘there is a great deal of grudging in the nation, that we cannot have our horse-races, cock-fightings and the like’. It was not however that he was against such pursuits in principle – ‘I do not think these unlawful’ – but only that he condemned the obsessional hold which they seized upon the people, ‘that they will not ensure to be abridged of them’, whereas they should be content merely ‘to make them recreations’. It was the same argument in public which he had used privately to Dick, upbraiding him from Scotland for his idleness: it was not that he condemned such pleasures (and indeed practised certain of them himself) but he did stand out firmly against them being constituted the central object of life.
But as far as the temper of the ordinary people was concerned, Oliver might have done better to have rested his case purely on the requirements of security. His fatherly concern for the moral tone of his people met with no answering response where the hated Major-Generals were concerned. Naturally their rule varied considerably with the character of the man concerned. Heath was to describe them later as being ‘like Turkish Bashaws’; a benevolent Bashaw might allow a degree of leniency, as Whalley allowed racing at Lincoln, announcing robustly that it had never been part of the Government’s intention to deprive gentlemen of their sport. The more interfering Worsley on the other hand forbade it in Cheshire. Desborough in the West has been described as showing ‘zeal and ability’, behaving fairly to the claims of the Cornish Royalists to be exempt from the Decimation Tax, and later displaying much personal clemency to some imprisoned Quakers at Launceston, brutally handled by the local authorities.5 Lambert in instructions to his deputies in the North showed a concern for the autonomy of his district by insisting on restoring the old Court at York. Nevertheless, taken as a whole, the rule of Major-Generals did nothing to preserve that feeling of stability in the social fabric so important to the people as a whole. This was particularly true in an age when the local minister and parish priests on whom they might otherwise have depended for continuity were showing an uncommonly high turnover of incumbents due to the standards of the Government’s committees of Triers and Ejectors. In short, they added to rather than detracted from the creeping repressive atmosphere of the post-Penruddock period.
It was not a happy time for the Protector himself. In June he wrote feelingly to Fleetwood before his return from Ireland of ‘the wretched jealousies that are amongst us, and the spirit of calumny’ which ‘turns all into gall and wormwood. My heart is for the people of God; that the Lord knows; and I trust will in due time manifest; yet thence are my wounds.’ For as he admitted: ‘Many good men are repining at everything.’6 And some of this repining was beginning to take a sinister turn when the actual legal basis of the Protector’s rule began to be called in question: had he any right simply to govern through the ordinances of his Council? A merchant named George Cony refused to pay customs duties, saying that they had not been imposed by Parliament; the Chief-Justice Rolle resigned because he could not, or perhaps would not, maintain the legality of customs duties. Cromwell imprisoned Cony’s lawyers – with all the zest of a Charles i. Yet the fact that Whitelocke and Widdrington resigned the custody of the Great Seal, out of scruples at executing the ordinance that regulated the Court of Chancery, was another straw in a wind which had not yet the force of a tempest, but was nevertheless a breeze of an unwelcome nature to the Protector and his Council. It was significant that the Cony case would never have arisen had there been a King at the helm rather than a Protector; for the King’s right to levy extra customs had been established in the reign of Charles i. It was found necessary to amplify the laws against censorship in August, so that quicker action could be taken. In future only two newsletters, Mercurius Politicus and The Publick Intelligencer, were to be authorized. Every printer was now to be registered and the printer’s name shown.
Perhaps the Major-Generals would provide the administrative and above all the financial solution which Oliver needed to rule the country from on high without Parliament. For that body, by the triennial provisions of the Instrument of Government, was not necessarily due to meet before the autumn of 1657. Poised on the brink of the Spanish War as England was, it remained to be seen whether she could survive without it. In the meantime the increasingly personal character of Oliver’s rule could not be missed by outside observers. Many might see it as resting on the swords of his Major-Generals, or perhaps of his soldiers themselves. But to Oliver himself it might seem that many of his pet projects, endorsed surely by the will of the Almighty, had rested more on his personal say than on that of Protector in Council. The implications of that realization were something he would have to face sooner or later.
Of this contrast between Protector and Council the question of the resettlement of the Jews in England provided a striking example. The rise of philo-Semitism was of long standing: many Puritans in early seventeenth-century England had been led by their quickened interest in the Bible and Bible-reading to a new appreciation of the Jews. Those who saw the conversion of the Jews to Christianity as an important work favoured the logical view that in order to forward this conversion, the Jews should be readmitted to England – a country from which they had been expelled officially as long ago as 1290. Many of Cromwell’s early Puritan associates had desired toleration for the Jews, prominent among them his friend Roger Williams, founder of the Rhode Island colony, who had expressed his views generously in a pamphlet as early as 1643, and on a return to England in 1652 argued again to this effect. Hugh Peter, who had visited Salem and preached for Williams, became infected as a result with the same liberal spirit, and his own pamphlet A Word for the Army and Two Words for the Kingdom had advocated that ‘strangers, even Jews [be] admitted to trade and live amongst us’. John Sadler, also a personal friend of the Protector, had been another of those whose intense study of the Bible and Judaic customs had led him to the opinion that the descendants of this ancient people should in future be permitted to mingle with the English. Jan Amos Comenius, the Bohemian Protestant whom Cromwell much respected, saw the return of the Jews to England as part of the millennium which he expected to be achieved; his fellow members of the ‘invisible college’ of foreign divines and philosophers which surrounded Cromwell, Samuel Hartlib and John Dury also believed passionately that the Jews should be first welcomed and then converted.7
And there were other less official aspects to the generally pro-Jewish atmosphere which prevailed by the early 1650s. The Fifth Monarchists, the intensity of whose calculations as to the probable date of the coming of Christ’s Kingdom has been stressed, believed that the conversion of the Jews played some part in the process by which the fall of Anti-Christ would be ultimately achieved. There were therefore also popular manifestations of philo-Semitism. John Robins the Ranter trained himself to reconquer the Holy Land, by existing with his volunteers on dry bread, vegetables and water. Thomas Tany taught himself Hebrew and built a small boat to carry him to Jerusalem; unfortunately he routed himself via Holland to visit the flourishing colony of Dutch Jews and was drowned on the way. In this age in which apocalyptic curiosity, millennial prophecies, superstition and genuine intellectual interest all mingled inextricably, an English sailor in Leghorn chose to inspect the interior of a synagogue. His conclusion was promising for the future of the Jews: ‘Shall they be tolerated by the Pope?’ he was supposed to have asked, ‘and by the Duke of Florence, and by the Bavarians, and others, and shall England still have laws in force against them?’8
At the same time, due to extraneous conditions in Europe, this skilful people were already beginning to trickle back into England, albeit illegally and therefore secretly. The expulsion of the Jews from Spain and Portugal at the end of the fifteenth century had made England a place of refuge for a number of their former Jewish inhabitants, known as Marranos, who formed private colonies in London, Dover and York. They passed of course for Spaniards or Portuguese, and used on occasion to attend the Catholic Ambassadorial chapels by way of disguise; certain of their number were also deputed to remain uncircumcized with the same object of concealment in face of sudden persecution. So long as they did not parade their religion, the Marranos were left in peace. But at least one secret synagogue existed, in Cree Church Lane, Leadenhall Street (whence mysterious wailings were said to emanate). The owner of the property, Moses Athias, allegedly the clerk to the Marrano merchant Don Antonio Fernandez de Carvajal, may well in fact have been a Rabbi. A man of superb and florid personality, Carvajo was known as ‘the Great Jew’; he rode fine horses, collected armour, and was said to have imported £100,000 worth of bullion a year. In 1645 he was denounced by an informer for not attending a Protestant church, but was defended by the leading merchants of the day, as a result of which the House of Lords quashed the proceedings.9 So the English Jews flourished, brought prosperity to the country and grew prosperous themselves; in the permissive atmosphere of Puritan philo-Semitism, it was understandable that they now wished to legalize their position. An approach to this effect was made to Fairfax and the Council of Officers in the winter of 1648, and although put on one side, at least received favourably.
But there was a third strand in the weaving of the resettlement, proceeding from the Jews themselves, concerning their own prophecies for the restoration of their nation to the Holy Land and the coming of the Messiah. For this to be achieved, it was believed necessary for the diaspora – the dispersion of the Jews ‘to the ends of the earth’ as the relevant prophecy in Deuteronomy had it – to be complete. Thus in the seventeenth century much interest was taken in the ten lost tribes of Israel and their possible fates, in order to check on the progress of the dispersion. John Sadler, for example, suggested that these missing people might have come to rest in Ireland, Tara being Torah; and the Irish harp the harp of David; the coronation stone of the Irish, a holy stone brought thence by the tribes of Dan, being the equivalent of Jacob’s pillow. When there came rumours of the lost tribes as far abroad as Tartary and China, and when at the same time an important body of opinion arose to suggest that the American Indians were in fact descended from another lost tribe, to many the diaspora appeared to be in a state of virtual completion. Only England remained; moreover the French name Angleterre of itself in Jewish mediaeval literature had signified the angle or end of the earth. To one Jewish theologian in particular, Menasseh ben Israel, born in Madeira but long resident in Amsterdam, the resettlement of the Jews in England became the essential prelude to a glorious new development in the history of that long beleaguered people.10
In 1650 against a European background of renewed Jewish persecution during the Cossack rising, Menasseh ben Israel saluted England as the new refuge in a work of his own, Spes Israeli. Two English editions were rapidly sold, the translator of this Hope of Israel being careful to note that his intention was not so much ‘to propagate or commend Judaism’ as to explain it to his fellow-countrymen, with a view to making the Jews ‘real Christians ere long’. A further translator’s gloss on the text explained with reference to God’s covenant with the Jews that it was not nulled or broken, only suspended. An English MP, Sir Edward Spenser, thought it worth rebutting its arguments in a pamphlet of his own. Menasseh already had English friends among the converts to Judaism living in Amsterdam, and John Sadler for example described him as ‘a very learned Civil Man, and a Lover of our Nation’. So far his religiously inspired campaign was joining very neatly with the desires of the Jewish merchants to have their position regularized, a feeling made increasingly fervent by the passing of the Navigation Act which much stepped up the volume of London trade.
In 1651 when Oliver St John went to Amsterdam to negotiate for the abortive Anglo-Dutch alliance, John Thurloe, then his secretary, had met Menasseh ben Israel, and persuaded him to apply to the Council for resettlement. A committee, including Oliver Cromwell, was set up to consider the question in October. While Mercurius Democritus gave some instance of popular xenophobia when it referred angrily to ‘the devouring stomaches’ of the Jews in Charterhouse Lane, the feeling among Puritans that the thing was probably intended to come about in God’s time was expressed by Ralph Josselin in his Diary. Meeting Menasseh ben Israel at the end of 1652, he wrote: ‘Lord, my heart questions not the calling home the nation of the Jews, thou wilt hasten it in thy season, oh my God.’11
The interesting thing was that Cromwell himself reached his own conclusion that the Jews should be readmitted by a much less apocalyptic and much more practical route than many of his colleagues. Much as he believed in toleration, he had belonged earlier to that party that would have drawn the limits at those Jews or Unitarians who denied the divinity of Christ. But as Protector, under Thurloe’s tutelage, he had begun to have an extremely pragmatic respect for the activities of their people as a whole, not so much theological as Menasseh ben Israel might have hoped, as in their role as skilled purveyors of foreign intelligence. The Protector of the 1650s was no longer the straightforward soldier of the 1640s: the resettlement of the Jews, their employment in his worldwide activities, fitted well into the dreams of imperial expansion which from 1654 onwards were beginning to occupy the most grandiose mansion of his mind.
There are indeed many traces of the use of Jewish intelligencers in Thurloe’s voluminous correspondence,12 such as a letter to Monsieur Ferdinando Carnevall, Marchand aupres de la Bourse (and indeed Carvajal did live in Leadenhall Street which was near the Exchange); the letters of John Butler, whose pseudonym was Jacob Goltburgh, probably belong to the syndrome, or perhaps Butler was the husband of Carvajal’s servant Ann Somers. Another leading Marrano merchant, Manuel Martinez Dormido, was sufficiently useful as an intelligencer for Oliver to intervene personally with the King of Portugal when his property was confiscated. As relations with Spain deteriorated, their information of the movements of ships along the strung-out lifelines between the Old World and the New became of particular value: in September 1655 it was a diligent Jew at Amsterdam who reported that eight warships and ten fireships, with approximately eleven thousand men in them under General Paulo de Contreros, had left Spain; and there were details also of a Neapolitan squadron in Almeria which would join with the others against England. The purveyor of this information hoped not only that the Spaniards would fail but that Oliver himself would ‘remain in his arms victorious and enjoy great good success for the good of his people’.
The Jews then were rapidly establishing themselves in Oliver’s mind as people willing and anxious to share in his vision of an expanding and successful England; as with some Catholics, he was increasingly willing to overlook their religious proclivities in favour of their peaceful and profitable intentions. And from every point of view he was surely right: the first Jews were said to have brought one and a half million in cash into England. It was then Oliver the Protector, under whose shadow many peoples could surely live, who inclined his mind favourably towards the Jews, rather than Oliver the visionary – the millennial side of their reintroduction was left to his comrades who had created the original climate of opinion. It was indeed that same useful Dormido who had in November 1654 originally submitted three petitions to the Protector, retailing the grisly horrors of the Inquisition towards those Jews still within its clutches. Oliver received Dormido with cordiality, but the Council rejected the petition. Menasseh ben Israel, still at Amsterdam, decided that he himself must come in person to carry through the destiny of his people, either advised to do so by a Jew living in London, or even, as John Sadler hinted in a letter to Richard Cromwell after Oliver’s death, invited by the Protector himself.*13
Whatever the exact details of his invitation, in September 1655, just before the festival of the Jewish New Year, Menasseh ben Israel duly arrived in London; he brought three Rabbis with him in his train. He did not however stay in the familiar Jewish surroundings of the City, among his co-religionists, but was lodged by the Protector in the Strand, close by Whitehall, in a house opposite the New Exchange. Menasseh was a man of great charm, as well as the importunate if admirable personal energy which had brought him so far. His first attempt to display a host of books as references to his thesis to the Council of State was not a success, since Oliver was not present. But when the two men met, Menasseh’s mental powers, his vision of the world, and his earnest seeking after the will of God (if wrongly directed) quickly conquered the Protector, who had after all succumbed to the delights of the company of many lesser men. Menasseh ben Israel was invited to dine with the Protector; and it was a measure of his success in Puritan London that he dined also with Catherine Ranelagh, in whose salon he would encounter such intellectual philo-Semites as Comenius and Hartlib.15
Menasseh ben Israel’s petition of October 1655, which described him as ‘A Divine and a Doctor of Physic in behalf of the Jewish Nation’, was a moving and dignified document calling for resettlement and free and public practice of the Jewish religion. It began with a compliment, how for some years since he had ‘often perceived that in this Nation [England] God hath a People, that is very tender hearted, and well wishing to our sore afflicted Nation …’ He then explained his desire for resettlement in terms of the prophecy of Deuteronomy, which once fulfilled concerning the total dispersion of the Jews would lead to their return to the Holy Land. Now there were Jews in all corners of the globe – ‘And therefore this remains only in my judgement, before the messia come and restore our nation, that first we must have our seat here likewise.’ More worldly motives which might appeal to their proposed hosts followed: a section entitled ‘How profitable the Nation of the Jews are’ which contained an interesting explanation of the Jewish talent for ‘merchandicing’. ‘I attribute this,’ wrote Menasseh ben Israel, ‘in the first place to the particular Providence and mercy of God towards his people: for having banished them from their own Country, yet not from his Protection, he hath given them, as it were, a natural instinct, by which they might not only gain what was necessary for their need, but that they should also thrive in Riches and possessions; whereby they should not only become gracious to their Princes and Lords, but that they should be invited by others to come and dwell in their lands.’16
These arguments, and especially the preamble, in which Menasseh ben Israel wrote, ‘I am not come to make any disturbance … but only to live with my Nation in the fear of the Lord under the shadow of your protection’, evidently struck an agreeable chord in Cromwell’s breast. The petition was duly forwarded to the Council, and a motion tabled that ‘the Jews deserving it may be admitted to this nation to trade and traffick and dwell amongst us as providence shall give occasion’. A subcommittee was set up. Such a step was of course not without popular reaction. The preachers, merchants and populace were reported to be against the resettlement, and there were certain anti-Semitic manifestations to Menasseh ben Israel in public. Oliver himself was favoured with two pieces of personal attention. On the one hand he was traduced by rumours of pecuniary advantage: he was about to sell St Paul’s to the Jews for a synagogue for a million pounds, for example, or as the hostile satire Agathocles had it, the Protector
Would prostitute it to so vile an use
As to become a synagogue for Jews.
Prynne, who was rabidly anti-Jewish as he was anti-Catholic, accused him of being bribed by the Jews to the tune of £200,000, and the Tuscan agent spoke of ‘Jewish gold’ being handed out. On the other hand, and far more flatteringly, his friendship even gave rise to the suggestion among the Jews themselves that he might be the Messiah: a hasty if fruitless journey was made to Huntingdon by a Jewish investigator to see if there was anything in his parentage to warrant such a conclusion. This was not the only manifestation of the personal reverence of the Jews for Cromwell. When Menasseh first met the Protector, one report said ‘he began not only to kiss but to press his hands and touching his whole body with the most exact care. When asked why he behaved so he replied that he had come from Antwerp [actually Amsterdam] solely to see if his Highness was of flesh and blood since his superhuman deeds indicated that he was more than a man and some divine composition issued from heaven.’17
Indifferent to either theory, on 4 December Oliver addressed the Council personally on the subject of the Jews in what was said afterwards to have been the best speech he ever made. He was able to dismiss the question of the expulsion of 1290 which had after all been an act of royal prerogative, and therefore only applied to those Jews concerned. And in contrast to Menasseh ben Israel’s own arguments, he pooh-poohed the notion that Jewish traders, if introduced, would somehow outwit their English colleagues ‘the noblest and most esteemed merchants of the whole world’. But the controversy thereafter was none the less brisk. Thurloe, who believed at this point that nothing would come of it, told Henry Cromwell in Ireland that his father had been consulting with judges, merchants and divines on the subject and found many differences of opinion: ‘the matter is debated with great candour and ingenuity’ he wrote ‘and without any heat’.18 But in the final session of the Council on 18 December the heat also made its appearance.
Many objections were raised and Oliver’s ultimate contribution was to interrupt the debate, saying that matters must be left in his own hands and those of the Council. In any case he was anxious to prevent any so-called compromise being reached: the suggestion that the Jews should only be readmitted to decayed ports and towns, and should then pay double customs duties on imports and exports was exactly what the Marrano community did not want. Finally an adverse report from the committee of the Council of State was returned, which nevertheless left Cromwell free to deal with the matter.
From now on, the status of the Jewish community in England entered a curious amorphous phase, in which it was generally believed that they were allowed back, and yet there was absolutely no legal backing to the belief, beyond the personal patronage of Cromwell, the man, rightly in this case, termed the Lord Protector. John Evelyn for example wrote in his diary of 14 December: ‘now were the Jews admitted’. But the situation was more complicated: as Salvetti the Tuscan agent reported, the wise Jews believed that Cromwell would now proceed ‘with prudence rather than precipitancy’ in view of the hostile reactions of the Council. Only the unwise were confident that he would not have encouraged them so far in the first place if he had not intended to make a public demonstration. ‘It is thought that the Protector will not make any declaration in their favour, but tacitly he will connive at their holding private conventicles, which they do already in their houses, in order to avoid public scandal.’19
Cromwell then in the early months of 1656 proceeded on his prudent if not precipitate path, neither abandoning his own determination to readmit the Jews, nor outwardly making an issue of it all with the Council. *20 In March the Jews succeeded in their petition for a cemetery at Mile End, the fact that they were concentrating on such devotional matters showing that they were beginning to despair of the formal readmission once so much expected. Another pamphlet from Menasseh ben Israel, Vindiciae Judaeorum, of April 1656 provided an answer to many of the popular accusations against the Jews, the work of Prynne and others, such as the ritual murder of Christian children, and the worship of idols. But in the meantime the development of the Anglo-Spanish War was ushering in a new phase in the whole business. Those Crypto-Jews among the Marranos who had passed themselves off as Spanish Catholics now found themselves threatened with the hideous confiscation of their property, on the grounds that they were enemy aliens. When the goods of Don Antonio Robles were seized by the bailiff of the Privy Council in March, a moment of crisis was reached. After the plea that he was in fact Portuguese failed, the alternative and more daring plea that he was Jewish was put forward. Robles made a personal appeal to Oliver, stressing his Jewish nationality, and referring to him hopefully as the ‘protector of afflicted ones’. And Robles, while admitting that he was uncircumcized and had attended Catholic chapels, succeeded in the object of his petition: in June the Council, spurred on by Cromwell, finally found that he was ‘a Jew born in Portugal’, and that the confiscation was therefore to be rescinded.21
It was a crucial decision. Henceforward the Jewish merchants, bearing those great names among the early settlers of their nation in England, like da Costa, de la Cerda, Meza, Mendes, de Brite, as well as Carvajal and Dormido, walked and traded with confidenceunder the shadow of Oliver’s protection. As intelligencers they continued their useful trade: ‘they were good and useful spies’ for the Protector, wrote Bishop Burnet. Burton in his diary of 1658 referred to the Jews as ‘those able and general intelligencers, whose intercourse with the continent Cromwell had before turned a profitable account’. Not only that, but these distinguished Marranos did share the Protector’s visions of world expansion and world trade, and took readily to the notion of their adopted country. Simon de Caceres drew up a plan to conquer Chile, offering to Oliver both to organize the expedition and command it: those concerned would ‘go all upon an English account, and as Englishmen, and for his highness service only’. Carvajal, who like the Gentile merchant, Martin Noell, came to enjoy the Protector’s friendship, had plans for the revictualling and fortification of Jamaica, one of his patron’s most pressing problems. By 1657 Samuel Dormido had become the first Jewish member of the Stock Exchange, and by the spring of 1660 five tombstones had been erected in the new Jewish cemetery at Mile End.*22
In all this, there was only one tragic figure, and that was Menasseh ben Israel. The Jews were still not formally readmitted; the dispersion was not complete. The Protector had shown himself the Hope of Israel indeed,† but England was not yet the official refuge of his dreams. By the end of 1656 he was in financial straits, and appealed to Cromwell for help, receiving first £25 and then a pension of £100 – a substantial sum by the standards of the time. But his luck was out: the Treasury did not pay, and in September 1657 he had to beg some more money to take home the corpse of his only surviving son Samuel to Holland. He received £200 in return for surrendering his pension rights. The journey achieved, he himself died there broken-hearted later in the year. Even that money never came from a straitened Treasury, and later John Sadler was left pestering Richard Cromwell for money for the unfortunate widow Rachel ben Israel, still without success. Menasseh ben Israel was however buried with a fitting, noble epitaph in Spanish on his tomb: ‘He is not dead; for in heaven he lives in supreme glory, whilst on earth his pen has won him immortal remembrance.’23
After the death of Oliver Cromwell, the depression of Menasseh ben Israel, born of deep knowledge of the reverses of Jewish history, about any resettlement that depended solely on the nod of one mortal man did indeed prove to have some justification. Petitions were forwarded to Richard Cromwell on behalf of English merchants to rid themselves of their Jewish competitors once more. Later a petition was presented to Charles ii to undo the civil rights granted by ‘the late Usurper’ and a City campaign mounted to that effect. A counter petition drawn up at the house of Carvajal’s widow, Maria Fernandez Carvajal, and signed by her among others, pointed out that Royalist Jews had supported King Charles in Holland, and that he had pledged himself to toleration in the future. It was quite true: in September 1656 certain Jews at Amsterdam had applied to the King rejecting the petition of their brethren to Cromwell, in respect of which Charles had graciously acknowledged their support and suggested that any contributions they cared to make to his cause would be rewarded with patronage hereafter. Finally after anxious moments in August 1664 the Jews were at last legally readmitted.24 None of this detracted from the admirable and notable achievement of Oliver Cromwell personally in using his own power to gainsay and positively thwart the wishes of his Council to bring about a change which he judged not only beneficial to the country but right in itself. And if practical considerations played a greater part in his case than religious enthusiasm, that in itself showed how advantageous as well as benevolent his own rule could be, left to itself, when he cast himself in Robles’s phrase in the role of ‘protector of afflicted ones’.
Sadly not all those who lived in England under the shadow of Cromwell’s protection shared the humble desire of the Jews to make no disturbance. The continuing rumbustious attitude of the religious minorities was another stone in the path of peace in England. Once again Cromwell attempted by the exercise of personal clemency to ameliorate the consequences of the laws against them. But it was to prove uphill work. The dilemma of a man who stood for freedom of conscience on the one hand, and yet governed a country where Quakers and Baptists were indubitably penalized for their dissent, was increasingly apparent. It was true that those who broke the censorship laws were treated mildly: Arise Evans and Walter Gosteld, who both presented highly critical pamphlets to the Protector, commending Charles Stuart’s monarchy, were not punished. Oliver was generally supposed to be more tolerant than his Council. Robert Overton, in prison, heard that Cromwell had shrugged off one such manifestation of popular abuse with excellent indifference to satire in a statesman. Overton had copied out a paper of derogatory verses called ‘The Character of a Protector’ which began along these lines:
What’s a Protector? He’s a stately thing
That apes it in the non-age of a King
Fantastic image of the Royal head
The brewer’s with the King’s arms quartered …
These had been subsequently filched from his letter-case and shown to the Protector in question. An explosive reaction might have been expected. But a friend of Overton’s told him that Oliver had merely glanced at the paper ‘and I believe laughed at them as (to my knowledge) heretofore he hath done at papers and pamphlets of more personal and particular import and abuse’.25
The fact remained that the laws of the country were harsh. The Catholics, as has been seen, were enjoying some real measure of effective toleration by 1656, and it was significant that when a hundred English people were arrested leaving the chapel of the Venetian Ambassador on the Feast of the Epiphany in January, the Protector still refused to take steps to restrict the Mass. The fault, he said, lay not with the Ambassador but with the English who had illegally attended the Mass. A year later when eight priests were arrested in Covent Garden, Oliver made merry at their expense: some of his gentlemen tried on their copes and other ‘popish vestments’, which caused ‘abundance of mirth’ in both Protector and spectators. Yet no harm came to the priests thereafter. But as with the Jews, the Protector, for all his oft-declared political desire to please Cardinal Mazarin with some measure of official toleration for Catholics, was unable to bring it about. On several occasions, he assured Mazarin via his Ambassador Bordeaux that he would simply have to trust him and wait; and in the meantime when it suited Oliver’s book to arouse anti-Catholic feelings – as over the Spanish War – on the grounds of their foreign allegiance, that they were all ‘Spaniolised’ and ever had been, that too he felt free to do.26 The Catholics’ condition, like that of the Jews, was much dependent on personal sufferance.
The case of John Biddle provided another illustration of the workings of Cromwell’s essentially pragmatic policy. Biddle, as a Unitarian and disseminator of Socinian doctrines, including the dispensing of catechisms for both adults and children, quickly came up against the Government laws against blasphemy since among other doctrines he denied the divinity of Christ. He was imprisoned, but in a petition of September 1655 pleaded that the Instrument of Government in its Thirty-sixth Article had laid it down that no one should be forced into orthodoxy. Cromwell was at first inclined to listen favourably to the petition, until he discovered that it had been added to after some signatures had been secured; coming to the conclusion that Biddle was merely a stalking-horse for dissidents, he pronounced angrily that the Instrument had never been intended to maintain and protect blasphemers from the punishment of the laws in force against them, and neither would he. Biddle was banished to imprisonment in the Scilly Isles, but here he did receive an allowance of one hundred crowns from the Protector, for which he wrote a number of letters of personal thanks. Cromwell’s own boast was that ‘I have plucked many out of the raging fire of persecution which did tyrannize over their consciences, and encroached by an arbitrariness of power upon their estates.’ It was certainly justified by his record and his actions. Yet equally the fact could not be gainsaid that the prayer-book had been forbidden once more by the proclamation of October 1655, and that many Anglican clergy, who fell under the axe of the Triers and Ejectors for their opinions, experienced not only rejection but suffering. This was particularly true after the Penruddock rising as a result of which the Anglican loyalties to the existing regime were newly suspect. Oliver, as he himself said on another occasion, wished to let all live in peace enjoying freedom of religion and conscience ‘but not to make religion a pretence for blood and arms’.27 But the problem of allowing liberty without letting it lead to outright subversion was one he was incapable of solving.
In no instance was this more apparent than in his prolonged battles with the newly risen force of the Friends,* wittily nicknamed by a Derby magistrate in late 1650 ‘the Quakers’ when George Fox, their founder, bade the whole bench tremble at the name of the Lord. As agitators on their own the Fifth Monarchists were now a spent force, although they continued to make sporadic demonstrations of discontent. The Baptists on the other hand were still capable of causing considerable disturbance from the point of view of the civil authority; there were numbers of Baptists in the ranks of the Army, and Henry Cromwell’s problems with them in Ireland were much enhanced by his father’s increasing habit of despatching the tiresome Baptist element thither. It made sense for England, perhaps, but added another contentious element to the divided Irish society with which Henry Cromwell was so gallantly struggling. But as a source of civil disturbance, the Quakers took over where the Fifth Monarchists had abandoned the stage, spreading rapidly from 1653 onwards, and in view of the strong hysterical element in the early manifestations of their religion, were enthusiasts to be dreaded by local magistrates and justices – or indeed to make them quake and tremble. For concentration on the subsequent strong pacifist traditions of the religion of the Friends gives a misleading impression of the very real disturbance which the early Quakers were capable of causing – it was indeed their aim to do so, once they had been ‘moved’ by the Lord to interrupt any particular service or piece of preaching, as Anne Blacklyn was suddenly inspired to call the minister of Haverhill Church from the midst of the congregation a ‘hireling’ and ‘a deceiver’.28
The revelations of John Gilpin, a self-confessed ex-member of the society, in a pamphlet of 1653 entitled Quakers Shaken: or A Fire-Brand snach’d out of the Fire give a remarkable picture of the wild, even hypnotic, enthusiasm that could be engendered, albeit from the hostile point of view. At his first meeting, in the late evening, Gilpin had listened to a speaker denounce all ministerial teaching and all knowledge gained therein, in order to ‘lay a new ground work vis. to be taught of God within ourselves by waiting upon an inward light’. After the third meeting Gilpin himself was seized, trembled and quaked extremely, fell on his bed, howled and cried to the astonishment of his family. After five meetings he was grabbing a bass viol and playing on it, dancing (things never done by him before) and finally running through the streets of the town proclaiming ‘I am the way, the truth and the life’ (to which activity the same observation no doubt applied). And the ‘devil’, as he put it, did not leave him before he had believed two swallows in the chimney to be angels, had nearly knifed himself in the throat, and had fallen on the floor to lick the dust. This fanatical element was one the Quakers’ brilliant and forceful leader George Fox generally aimed to calm down. A generation younger than Cromwell, Fox was a man of exceptional qualities, from his capacity for ceaseless travel, aided by his lack of need for sleep, to his talent for self-expression displayed by his Journal. But the disruptive actions of some of his early followers, many of them women, does much to explain why the Quakers became generally unpopular, not only with the Government, but also with their compatriots, who believed, with some reason as it was noted in Cornwall, ‘the carriage of the seduced ones is suddenly and strangely altered’.
In effect, it was the old civil problem of a religion which based itself on revelation to the individual: if all outsiders were considered powerless to argue concerning the nature of this revelation, and if at the same time it impelled the individual towards virtual anarchy, then the Government of the 1650s could hardly be expected to sit by. Nouvelles Ordinaires for example explained the Quakers to Europe as people deprived of all modesty, morality and civility, running from Assembly to Assembly troubling the ministers;29 Ralph Josselin termed them ‘men whose work it is to revile the ministry …’ before complaining pertinently that ‘an infallible spirit once granted them, what lies may they not utter, and what delusions may not men be given up unto’. It was typical of the contemporary attitude to the Quakers as potential enemies of the peace that in 1658 John Pell, hearing of their antics, suggested helpfully to Thurloe from Switzerland that many of them were probably Jesuits in disguise!30
Nevertheless Cromwell at first contented himself with a spirit of not unfriendly caution towards the Quakers, or at least their leaders. Perhaps his familiar inquisitiveness played a part. At any rate in 1654, when George Fox had been brought before him after his arrest in Leicestershire, the Protector had been satisfied by his promise not ‘to take up a carnal sword or weapon’ against the regime; thereafter the atmosphere was warm enough for Cromwell to part with him on a note of further invitation (according to Fox’s version in his Journal). With tears in his eyes, the Protector urged Fox: ‘Come again to my house: for if thou and I were but an hour together we should be nearer one another.’ And he assured Fox that he wished him no more ill than he did his own soul.
Having been given his freedom, Fox was subsequently offered dinner in the Protector’s hall, which he rejected. At this Oliver was supposed to have declared: ‘Now I see is a people risen and come up that I cannot win either with gifts, honours, offices or places; but all other sects and people I can.’31 The declaration is somewhat suspect, since Fox could hardly have overheard it himself. No doubt the Protector in his ‘very loving’ welcome to him was being wise in his generation, and seeing whether cordiality and welcome might bring peace. Yet he showed other signs of genuine curiosity and sympathy for the movement. In 1654 two Friends took it upon themselves to try and convert him to Quakerism, and were received courteously, if ultimately put off by the argument that the Protector stood for ‘every man’s liberty and none to disturb another’. But Cromwell did ask after Fox’s remarkable associate Margaret Fell. Described as ‘a tender nursing mother to many’ by an early Quaker, she was the wife of a judge at Ulverston and her Lancashire home became the headquarters of the travelling Quaker preachers; fifteen years later as a widow of long standing she was to marry Fox. Cromwell now enquired after her if she had needs and even offered her money. Another uninvited Quaker guest at Whitehall, in July, Anthony Pearson, encountered the Protector on his way back from chapel: Cromwell led him into a gallery and ‘kindly asked me how I did, with his hat pulled off’. Pearson, who according to the customs of the Quakers kept his hat on, responded to this greeting with a long and mystical denunciation of the Protector as a persecutor. In vain Oliver tried to pose the Quaker some direct questions: Pearson, by his account, persisted in answering ‘to all’. ‘Answer directly’ called the Protector. And he laboured heartily to convince Pearson’s audience ‘against what I said, and told them the Light of Christ was natural, and that the Light within had led the Ranters and all that followed it into all manners of wildnesses’. Still Pearson paid no attention. It was only after some time of what must have been weary listening (and which certainly provided a remarkable example of tolerance on the part of a head of State) that Cromwell felt compelled to cut him short.32
By 1655 however the actions of the Quakers in public had grown to the pitch where Governmental patience had worn thin. The proclamation of February which made it illegal to disturb ‘Ministers and other Christians in their Assemblies and Meetings’ not only marked the rise of this menace, but also had much popular support from non-Quakers. Still Cromwell personally made attempts to mitigate the rigours which some of them now began to suffer at the hands of those who implemented the law. Those Quakers of Horsham who wrote to him because they had heard of his declaration ‘that none in this nation shall suffer for conscience’ were rewarded by an enquiry into their case at the Protector’s direct instigation, and eventually by release. Describing themselves as ‘prisoners for conscience’ sake’, their offences consisted of such things as not removing their hats in church, refusing to take the oath at country sessions (Quakers were forbidden to swear) and owning Quaker books. In addition Margaret Wilkinson and Frances Richman complained that they had been taken away from their children, merely for being moved by the Lord to speak ‘a word to two priests’. Cromwell took the line that not only were the crimes insufficient to justify the penalties, but that in any case they were matters of religious practice. And there were other instances of his leniency, as at Launceston Assizes, where the Clerk of the Assize was forbidden to estreat the Quakers for any of their fines till further orders.33
When George Fox, bearing in mind perhaps Cromwell’s previous open invitation, approached Cromwell’s coach in Hyde Park in 1656, it was Oliver who waved him forward, when the lifeguards tried to push him away. So Fox rode by the Protector’s side, keeping up a steady stream of revelations from the Lord on the subject of the Quakers and their sufferings, all ‘contrary to Christ’, until they reached the gates of St James’s Park. Once more Cromwell in Fox’s words ‘desired me to come to his house’. It so happened that one of the Lady Protectress’s maids Mary Sanders was a Quaker sympathizer, and to her Oliver reported his encounter thereafter, saying that ‘he could tell her some good news … and he said unto her G. Fox was come to town’. At this encouragement, Fox with his fellow Friend Edward Pigott hastened to Whitehall where they met with Oliver and John Owen. Here they were moved at some length to adjure the Protector concerning the persecution of the Quakers, until finally Fox felt the power of the Lord rise further in him, ‘and I was moved to bid him lay down his crown at the feet of Jesus; several times I spoke to him to the same effect’. Whereupon, in Fox’s account of this dramatic scene, Cromwell got up from the table where he was sitting, and perched on the table close by where Fox was standing. Fox took advantage of his superior stance to declare that Cromwell would be as high as he was when the Lord’s power came over him.34
Such incidents all point to a sincere dilemma on the part of the Protector between the claims of conscience and those of civil order, which he attempted in vain to solve by methods of soothing and palliation. These admirable instincts of his own could not disguise the fact that true freedom of conscience did not exist in England under Oliver’s Protectorate, but only a limited freedom for those whose religion did not inconvenience the objectives of the Government. Thus Oliver was irretrievably destined to tangle with the Quakers as his reign proceeded: yet as he well knew and tacitly acknowledged either by his interviews or acts of mercy, these were at heart mostly men of sincerity and anxious desire to fulfil the precepts of the Lord, much as he himself was. This in turn led on to the grave difficulties Oliver experienced in establishing the kind of national Church at which he had once aimed. He had a dream of a national Church in which all moderate parties would take part, whose provisions would lead to the coming of that pious land of Britain on which he had long set his heart. But this kind of Church was attacked from two directions: to some, in their pursuit of the dictates of the Elect, such a Church was not rigid enough; to others it was manifestly too rigid.35 So Oliver also found himself in a personal quandary whereby his own theology, the deep-held conviction that only the Elect would be saved, was in contradiction to his political and humanitarian instincts which wanted a much looser form of organization.
In his political attitudes he had effectively abandoned the stricter notions implicit in Calvinism: as he repeatedly emphasized, all those who would live peaceably were welcome under his protection. ‘The Protector sleeps upon no easy pillow,’ said Hugh Peter. ‘If ’twas such a matter for King Charles to be Defender of the Faith, the Protector has a thousand faiths to protect.’36 In a sense, he had been moving inexorably in that direction since his first angry entanglements with the military Presbyterians who wanted orthodox belief to be the test of a soldier. That still left him with the other half of the problem. The minorities he was now arguing with were not so unlike his own earnest Puritan clique of the 1630s. Some conscious or unconscious sense of the paradox of his situation, persecuting those who stood up for his own first principle of religious freedom, may well have haunted the Protector as now, manfully but ineffectively, he continued to tackle the eternal problem of any liberal Government: how to tolerate sincere opposition without forfeiting civil order. What sign, what dispensation covered these new difficulties? Certainly it was getting sadly difficult to discern any outstanding success in his attempts to deal with the dissenters. At home, as a result, it was becoming easier to concentrate on the daily administrative duties of which there were quite enough to preoccupy him. While signs and dispensations were left for the seeking further afield, in the more visionary realms of his foreign policy.
Contributing to the pressure was the decline in the Protector’s health. Indeed, the winter of 1655 saw the tightly-knit Cromwell family circle undergoing a series of disabilities. The Lady Protectress was sick. Bettie Claypole was seriously ill (probably with the first manifestation of the cruel cancer that was ultimately to kill her) and both her parents were distracted in consequence. Oliver had a series of bladder troubles including the specific and unendurable agonies of the stone, for which he was reported to have written off to ‘an excellent chirurgeon’ of the Faubourg St Germain in Paris, in search of a cure. This gentleman however would only cross the Channel if paid one thousand pistoles in advance and so the suggestion lapsed. A London surgeon, James Moleyns, who was also called in to treat him for his condition of a stone in the bladder, showed more humanity. Moleyns held the special office of surgeon for the stone to the Royal Hospitals of St Bartholomew and St Thomas, and was called in by Cromwell’s physicians, including Bate. Moleyns managed to effect a cure, but as an avowed Royalist, refused to take payment on the grounds that he had not attended his patient out of love, but because he could not do otherwise. He did however ask for something to drink, and on being taken down to the cellars, proceeded to drink a provocative toast to King Charles. But Cromwell, rating good health above politics, refused to take umbrage. With the words ‘let him alone, he is mad, but he has done me good and I don’t want to harm him’, the next day he sent Moleyns £1000 which he asked him to accept in the name of King Charles.37
Gout hovered round the Lord Protector, a disease of which the physician Sir Theodore Mayerne was wont to quote meaningfully the saying of his earlier master King Henry IV of France: ‘Sometimes he had the gout and sometimes the gout had him.’ And in January 1656 Cromwell was in addition suffering from the highly unpleasant effects of a boil on the breast, as a result of which it was reported back to Scotland that no business had been done in that month. Archbishop Ussher, whose audience took place at the time Oliver’s surgeon was dressing his boil, certainly found him in great pain, while swearing: ‘If this sore were once out, I should be soon well.’ To this Ussher reflected piously if pessimistically: ‘I doubt the core lies deeper, there is a core in the heart, which must be taken out, or else it will not be well.’ Oliver to this answered: ‘Ah … so there is indeed.’ And a long sigh followed.38
A boil was an irritation indeed, but it was the stone which caused the purest torment: indeed the nature of the pain inflicted may be judged by the fact that men in a pre-anaesthetic age actually allowed themselves to be ‘cut’ for the stone, a difficult and often fatal operation, rather than endure it further. Dr Bate, another of his doctors, gave testimony of Oliver’s troubles in this respect, how he was for ever swilling down different kinds of liquor in an attempt to get relief; and at other times he would try the violent motion of the horse and coach in order to try and stir the stone from his bladder.
It was these sufferings which no doubt gave rise to the Royalist rumours, ever hopeful, that the great man was actually sick in his mind, as in a letter to Ormonde from London in March: ‘Some say he is in many times like one distracted, and in these fits he will run about the house and into the garden, or else ride out with very little company which he never doth when he is composed and free from disorder.’ A friend who met him about this time in St James’s Park found that contrary to his usual genial self in these pleasant surroundings, the Protector was brusquely refusing all petitions proffered to him, saying that he had other things to think of. Fleetwood followed at a distance, apparently not daring to approach too closely a leader who was giving so many manifestations of a ferocious bear suffering from a sore head.39 When in the spring the Protector also suffered another dangerous coach accident on his way to Wimbledon to visit Lambert’s delightful rustic property there, he might well have considered himself like Job, plagued by a long progression of reverses. On this occasion his coach was thrown from the ferry into the river while making the crossing from Lambeth to Westminster: however, although three of the six horses were drowned, the passengers fared better. All escaped and the coach itself was hauled out of the water the next day.
Like Job, Cromwell survived his troubles. For all the predictions of February that ‘the grandees and courtiers’ were making actual plans for his decease, it was indeed a case, as one observer said at the time, of the bear’s skin being parted before he was dead. Cromwell still had some resilience at his command: by the end of March a more hopeful report spoke of him driving in the park with his lifeguard, walking, galloping, twice round, and looking well and youthful. This was in marked contrast however to the growing number of descriptions from 1654 onwards of him as looking old and careworn. In January of that year the Venetian Ambassador described ‘his pensive [sottivo] brow’.40 The optimism of March 1656 was no doubt a reflection of the general anxiety that had been felt.
In general at this period Oliver Cromwell struck observers as a man laden with cares which were taking much toll of him physically; although at the same time his personal authority gave him the necessary support of grandeur. The incoming Venetian Ambassador, Sagredo, took care to give a full portrait of the man rapidly becoming known as the terror of Europe when he saw him for the first time in October 1655: the Protector, he wrote, was ‘somewhat pulled’ in appearance ‘with signs that his health is not stable and perfect’. The hand with which he held his hat trembled. Yet at the same time he gave a robust and even martial impression; with his great sword at his side, here was one who looked both soldier and orator. It might seem that the ruddy-faced, big-nosed, untidily-dressed faintly ludicrous country gentleman of Sir Philip Warwick’s early description fifteen years back had vanished for ever. Indeed, it was a point that Sir Philip himself made: how ‘by multiplied escapes and a real but unsurped power, having had a better tailor and more converse among good company’ Cromwell managed to ‘appear of great and majestic deportment, and of comely presence’.
Yet traces of the former man there still were: the complexion was still sanguine, as Sagredo noted, if his beard had become scanty; from another source we know that he had kept his teeth extremely well; and like every acute and interested observer of Cromwell’s physiognomy from Marvell in his poetry to Cooper in his miniature, Sagredo concentrated on Oliver’s eyes (which frequently filled with tears) and had, he said, ‘a deep and profound expression’. And despite the authority, not every commentator agreed with Sir Philip’s reassessment of the Protector’s sartorial habits. Sir John Reresby, for example, a young man coming from abroad, remembered him as one who dressed deliberately plainly, and in his apparel ‘he rather affected negligence than a gentile garb’. One of the Quakers who visited him in 1654 noted that the Protector wore a rough coat, whose material was ‘not worth three shillings a yard’. The conclusion that the Protector remained at heart sublimely and rather endearingly indifferent to what he wore is unavoidable for all the acid compliments of Sir Philip Warwick.41
From family cares Oliver had never shrunk, neither in his days of military preoccupation nor in the period of his elevation to power. But they were destined to take on a new and demanding aspect in a period when both his rising majesty and his periodically rough health pointed to the problem of his successor. With his own accession, it was inevitable that his two surviving sons, Richard and Henry, aged twenty-seven and nearly twenty-six respectively when he became Protector, should come to occupy a more prominent place in the public eye, if only because this public was trained to the royal phenomenon of young princes succeeding ageing Kings in the course of time. Whatever the disapproval of any such prospect, at least the gossip on the subject was bound to grow with the possibilities of Cromwell himself accepting the crown. Nevertheless the first reaction of Oliver personally to any notion of hereditary rule seems to have been unfavourable. He spoke out firmly against the hereditary principle to the First Parliament of the Protectorate in January 1655 when he dissolved it. His quotation from Ecclesiastes on the subject, ‘Who knoweth whether he may beget a fool or a wise man?’, certainly represented one unarguable disadvantage of the hereditary system. He would, he told the members, have refused the hereditary office if they had proffered it, for ‘men should be chosen to govern for their love to God, to truth and justice, not for their worth’.42
But in the course of that year and subsequently in the early months of 1656, his views undoubtedly underwent some modification, as problems without cease, civil disruptions and the tentacles of ill-health were also modifying the man himself. Like other fathers, he was also subject to pressures from his family itself, and one at least of his sons was sufficiently cast in his father’s mould to disdain the notion of a quiet and dedicated private life for which Oliver seems to have originally intended them. In the summer of 1655 when Henry was on the verge of taking over from Fleetwood in Ireland, Oliver wrote to his sonin-law: ‘The Lord knows, my desire was for him and his brother to have lived private lives in the country; and Harry knows this very well, and how difficultly I was persuaded to give him his commission for this present place.’ There is no reason to doubt, as Cromwell himself assured Fleetwood, that these views came from ‘a simple and sincere heart’, just as the ‘noise of my being crowned etc’ were at this point also in the Protector’s phrase ‘malicious figments’.43
In Ireland where he arrived in July 1655 Henry Cromwell did extremely well – and this in spite of a list of disadvantages, starting with the fact that he did not in fact replace Fleetwood as Lord Deputy, Fleetwood himself retaining the title, although leaving Ireland for England in the following September. Henry’s authority then derived merely from his position as Commander-in-Chief of the army and membership of the Council in Dublin, until November 1657 when he was finally made Lord Deputy and matters improved. Nevertheless this energetic young man made a very real attempt to cope with Ireland’s manifold problems. His portrait shows a genial appearance, a countenance both broader and handsomer than his father’s, the nose prominent but less bulbous, the complexion and colouring of the hair and eyes much the same. One of his good qualities was a capacity of winning to himself popularity from a number of warring members of the community. In Dublin Henry lived with a princely retinue, providing much conciliatory entertainment to Protestant settlers as well as soldiers. Aided by his wife, with whom he lived on the fond and placid terms reminiscent of his parents’ relationship, he made a gallant attempt to form some kind of healing figurehead. The very attitude that the interests of the soldiers in Ireland should not necessarily be considered paramount – as Fleetwood had believed – was an advance in the cause of moderation.
But while from the immediate past Henry had inherited a situation in Ireland where only many years of conciliation would really undo the harm which had been done, he was also presented with additional new irritations in the shape of the incoming Baptists. In his handling of these difficult people Henry showed himself at times tactless – admittedly in the face of much provocation – and when he wrote back to England that nothing would satisfy the Baptists except the saddle, from which he hoped to keep them, ‘lest they make me their ass’, he probably expressed much of the truth. But unlike Fleetwood, Henry did not attend Baptist meetings, and brought his own Independent ministers from England who denounced the Baptists. When his wife gave birth to ‘a lusty and hopeful son’ – to be named Oliver – in the spring of 1656, there was much celebration among Dubliners, bonfires, a banquet, and more bonfires to follow the banquet. The mother’s labour was reported to have been light, thanks to the prayers of the good people surrounding her, so that she was able to spend most of it writing and despatching letters to England. The public christening of this infant led to a less happy result, since the Baptists, with their concentration on adult baptism, took it as a deliberate insult.44 It was an incident which an older man might with wisdom have avoided. Henry, like any young prince, also felt himself at times put upon by his elderly advisers. Men of an older generation placed about him, Vernon, Hewson and Allen, were not backward with advice.
The arrival of Steele, himself a Baptist, as Chancellor did something to help Henry’s relations with these ‘few busy choleric people’ as Vincent Gookin called them. On the other hand Steele also treated Henry ‘as a tutor guardian to a minor’, presenting him at one point with three or four sheets of rules as to how to behave himself at Council meetings. It was hardly surprising that the association foundered, and Steele was eventually dismissed in favour of Gookin. What was to Henry’s credit was his whole state of mind, which encompassed the welfare of Ireland, as something quite separate from that of England, and at the same time perfectly desirable. When in June 1657 he was voted £1500 worth of lands in Ireland by Parliament, he refused them on the grounds of Ireland’s poverty and England’s debts. While to the Baptist leaders in January 1656 he showed a proper flash of his father’s spirit on the subject of toleration and government: ‘I told them plainly … Liberty and countenance they might expect from me, but to rule me, or to rule with me, I should not approve.’45
Oliver was as ever free enough with advice to a member of his family who might be supposed to be in need of it. In April 1656 he adjured Henry on the subject of his Irish affairs to ‘Cry to the Lord to give you a plain single heart. Take heed of being over-jealous, lest your apprehensions of others cause you to offend. Take care of making it a business to be too hard for the man who contest with you. Being over-concerned may train you into a snare.’ These sage counsels, of which Henry was certainly at times in need, also told much of the lessons that Oliver had learned in the course of government. His final caution was especially sensible from a man who had won his own position to a son who would never need to do so. ‘Take heed of studying to lay for yourself the foundation of a great estate. It will be a snare to you: they will watch you; bad men will be confirmed in covetousness. The thing is an evil which God abhors. I pray you think of me in this.’46 But in principle Henry navigated with a certain elegance the problem of a famous father, that honeyed inheritance which has trapped many a promising young career. Perhaps the very distance between England and Ireland, that distance which led him to complain of lack of support and even to threaten resignation as his father sometimes meditated retirement (without taking the plunge), was to Henry’s advantage. He could spread his wings and allow his own personality to develop, far from the shadow of Oliver’s protection, or his greatness. As it was, in Irish history at least, Henry Cromwell’s name should have an honourable place, as one who attempted in the short space of time allotted to him to solve its problems by moderation rather than by violence. And the spark of the Protector’s greatness that he showed, if fanned, might in time have burst into a flame.
Popular talk said that Oliver was dissatisfied with the talents of both of his sons. But if such paternal depression was unjustified in the case of Henry, there was all too much substance to it in the case of Dick. Alas, poor Dick was still the same amiable but incompetent country gentleman, the news of whose debts had been greeted with such anguished cries by his father from Scotland in 1651. Debts indeed continued to haunt him all his life, mismanagement of the sort which allowed his bailiff to defraud him being as much responsible as extravagant living. In one way or another, all contemporaries made the point that he was an unexpected son for the Protector to be endowed with (since the phenomenon of the weak gentle son of a forceful father, common as it may be, never fails to amaze). His brother-in-law, Mary’s husband, Fauconberg, put it most politely when he wrote of Richard’s excellent qualities even ‘if his sheaf be not as Joseph’s to which all the rest bow’. At its crudest it was expressed by the title of a popular pamphlet:Whether Richard Cromwell be the son of Oliver Protector or no. The golden mean was expressed by the view of one Ambassador: Dick simply did not inherit ‘the high spirit and deep knowledge of his parent’. There are also contemporary hints, such as the allusions to ‘Queen Dick’, or the phrase ‘as queer as Dick’s hatband’, that Richard Cromwell was a homosexual. That again would be a situation easy for modern psychologists to explain. It is true that Dorothy, despite the bright promise of their marriage, did not share the years of Dick’s exile. On the other hand his acute financial situation and her need to protect her own properties for their children, provides an equally acceptable explanation for their later parting. Richard Cromwell’s homosexuality, if psychologically possible, and even probable, is not conclusively proved. Lucy Hutchinson for instance had unexpectedly pleasant words to say of him, from which one divines that Dick was agreeable company: he was meek and virtuous, she wrote, but greatness was not in him. Another pamphlet, highly hostile to the notion of any Cromwellian monarchy, summed him up as ‘a person well skilled in hawking, hunting, horse-racing, with other sports and pastimes’ and who was said in addition to be fond of drinking – even the health of King Charles.47
But Dick could not quite be abandoned to the life of a country gentleman for which he was clearly so eminently suited. He was a member of the 1654 Parliament; in November 1655, perhaps reflecting the tortuous but developing thinking of his father on the whole subject of the succession, he was given his first public appointment on the Committee of Trade and Navigation. And in 1656 and thereafter, as a new Parliament seemed likely to throw up the subject of the succession into still further prominence, Dick, for better or for worse now the Protector’s eldest son, was bound to share the limelight. Indeed his qualities or the lack of them, once merely the occasion of a parent’s sorrow, might prove a significant factor in the history of his country.
This Second Parliament of the Protectorate, which began to be discussed in the summer of 1656, came about directly as a result of the financial requirements of the Spanish War, exacerbated by the troubles of Hispaniola and the new colony of Jamaica, and at a point when Stayner’s capture of the Spanish treasure-fleet of September still lay in the future. Memories of King Charles i’s attempts by a series of unorthodox expedients to pay for his foreign policy without Parliament were still unpleasantly fresh in the minds of Oliver’s own contemporaries: although the Instrument of Government did not necessarily allow for another Parliament until the autumn of 1657, this was to be an emergency gathering to raise the money which the Major-Generals had proved incapable of culling, to last three months instead of the usual five.
Indirectly the causes were deeper and included the Protector’s own political make-up. In Oliver’s temperament there was still much which continued to hope for a solution to the difficulties of government which included the use of Parliament. It was not only that the rumblings of the military, the growing dissatisfaction of former satellites like John Lambert, at what was in effect his personal rule, suggested the thought that Parliament in this respect might provide a useful counter-weight. A revolutionary actor rather than a revolutionary thinker, Oliver Cromwell had in addition perhaps been too indoctrinated in the concept of Parliamentary government in his energetic youth – and the years of crisis with King Charles which he too could vividly remember – to escape it altogether in his more conservative old age. But of course once again it was a docile Parliament which was envisaged, and another version of a nominated assembly seems even to have been discussed briefly before the notion of a conventional Parliament in the end prevailed. After all even if the Major-Generals had failed to raise the vast sums of money required to pay for the new horse militia, at least their existence would help to ensure the election of a more manageable body of men than had appeared in 1654. It was a view to which these local ‘Bashaws’ themselves contributed. At the end of May 1656 there was a conference of Major-Generals and Council; the writs were issued on 20 August for a Parliament to meet on 17 September.
The truth was that in their separate ways the questions of the Jews and of the Major-Generals summed up the problems of the middle period of Oliver Protector’s rule. Over the Jews, the Council had been hostile to his wishes, and he had not been able either to gainsay or to persuade them; nevertheless he had been able to use his personal influence to bring about an equitable situation. The Major-Generals represented an experimental attempt to rule the country without Parliament that had not only proved extremely unpopular but had left Oliver in a situation where he now had to go back to Parliament for money. If Parliament were to fail – fail, that is, by Oliver’s standards of what was right – yet again, the odds on some version of personal rule, be it actual kingship or no, would be stronger than ever, as the Protector’s mind was led inexorably in that direction by the failure of all other courses. In August Edmund Ludlow had an important discussion on the subject with Cromwell, which he reported in his memoirs. First Ludlow attacked the Protector for not granting ‘that which we fought for … that the Nation might be governed by its own consent’. To this Oliver replied that he was as much for government by consent as any man: ‘but where shall we find that consent? Amongst the Prelatical, Presbyterian, Independent, Anabaptist or Levelling parties?’ It was all very well for Ludlow to answer: ‘Amongst those of all sorts who had acted with fidelity and affection to the public.’48 That simply begged the question.
In turn Oliver commended his Government for the protection and quiet the people as a whole enjoyed under it. Ludlow objected to the bloodshed which had taken place: there was, he said, a distinction to be made between a sword in the hands of a Parliament to restore the people to their ancient rights, and a sword in the hands of a tyrant to rob and despoil them of these same rights. Oliver, said Ludlow, could not appreciate the difference. But perhaps it was not so much that the Protector could not appreciate it, as that the evidence of his own eyes was constantly assuring him that he himself did more for the people than any abstract concept of ‘ancient rights’. As it happened, his Major-Generals did not even secure for him the meek Parliament of his expectations: in certain cases elections of Oliver’s supporters could be attributed directly to their influence, as Martin Noell was now elected via Major-General Worsley for Stafford. Desborough had given a wry report from Launceston in advance: despite his consultation with the ‘honest people of every county’, he had to confess that everywhere ‘I hear of their making parties, and undoubtedly their designs are to overthrow all’. While Desborough acknowledged that his specific business was ‘to break all such contrivances’, the evidence of the returns, and indeed the subsequent behaviour of this Parliament, shows that the Major-Generals did not succeed in maintaining any kind of successful electoral stranglehold. Whalley for example boasted that Nottingham Corporation would make no choice without his advance – yet another Whalley, a known Royalist, was actually returned for the shire. In general, these elections showed the returning power of the great country magnates, stirring again like great sea-creatures on the ocean bed after a time of quiescence. At Whitehall Oliver was said by the Venetian Ambassador to be taking the elections extremely seriously: ‘As his highness wishes the assembly to be composed entirely of his partisans and supporters,’ he wrote, ‘he tries to captivate some who are less inclined to him by blandishment and flattery, entertaining them at sumptuous banquets, and heaping infinite courtesies on them to win them to his side.’49 But blandishments at the centre could not prevent some ugly cries of ‘no soldiers, no courtiers’ being heard in London itself, which once again might have provided a sinister echo of the 1640s to the historically minded.
The final proof of the return of the crypto-Royalists was provided at the moment of assembly of Parliament itself. It was significant that only eight of the returned members had taken part in Barebones Parliament: two hundred and thirty had sat in the 1654 Parliament, and one hundred and eighty had never before sat in any Parliament. At this point certainly the mixture was not considered sufficiently satisfactory by the Council until they had exercised the right given to them by the Instrument of Government to approve the choice of members. As a result tickets were prepared by the Clerk of the Commonwealth in Chancery, after the indentures had been scrutinized for each member. Any member lacking ‘a certain ticket’ to present at the door was ‘kept out by the soldiers’. In this manner it seems that about one hundred and twenty elected members were excluded.50Oliver later referred to this piece of blatant if theoretically justifiable interference as having been done at the instigation of the Council by ‘the officers’ rather than at his own wish, which was probably true. Nevertheless it could hardly be argued that the Second Parliament of the Protectorate had got off to a very promising start.
Oliver’s own incursion at the opening was equally fraught with drama. As before, he rode in solemn procession in his coach, surrounded by members of the Council, gentlemen in attendance and lifeguards. As usual the first event was to be a sermon in Westminster Abbey, given by John Owen. Little was the Protector aware that secret agents, inspired by a visit from the former Leveller soldier Sexby, were planning to assassinate him as he left the church. The chief conspirator in it all was one Miles Sindercombe, who had already been involved in that plot against Monk in Scotland which had resulted in Overton’s arrest; he was aided by another Royalist called Boyes and an old soldier named John Cecil. The assassins duly hired a room in King Street, Westminster, belonging to a tailor, and from there moved on the critical day to the house of a Royalist sympathizer, Colonel Mydhope, which lay just next to the east door of the Abbey, with plenty of back doors of its own for easy egress. To this vantage point the three men repaired ‘about sermon-time’ carrying a viol case which contained a blunderbuss and some slugs.
But unfortunately for Sindercombe and his associates, subsequent events only proved the truth of the cruel rule concerning the assassination of individuals: it is not necessarily particularly difficult to kill a single public figure, but it is very difficult for the killer to be certain of escaping free thereafter. If his escape is made a prerequisite of the assassination, then the odds on the killing succeeding are greatly lengthened. So despite their favourable position, the enormous crowds surrounding Oliver prevented Sindercombe and his men taking aim from the window and they feared to mingle with the people. It was said afterwards that had Sexby himself been there, he would have made the attempt and the deed would have been done. Oliver himself referred to such attempts afterwards magnificently as ‘little fiddling things’, giving the lie, if any confirmation was needed concerning his personal physical courage, to the tales spread by the Royalists to the effect that he was drinking himself to death for fear of assassination.51 But the truth was that even such a fiddling little thing, in more ruthless hands, could one day end the life of the Protector. As for the Sealed Knot, although Thurloe had by now converted one of its members Sir Richard Willys into a highly valuable double agent able to lead him to preventive Royalist arrests, the fact remained that the Spanish alliance of King Charles ii had once more raised the nightmare of a foreign invasion. Was it right to leave this Stuart representative – ‘the young man’ as Cromwell called him – in sole possession still of all the aura, constitutional as well as loyalist, which still surrounded the person of a King?
A year previously Marvell had published anonymously his great poem on the First Anniversary of the government under the Lord Protector, then the epitome of the heroic figure to his supporters.
If these be the Times, then this must be the Man …
he had begun sublimely, and on the subject of Cromwell’s ambivalent personal title had commented with equal confidence:
For to be Cromwell was a greater thing
Than ought below, or yet above a King …
But now the Times at least had changed, the Man himself had been much changed by them, and perhaps the title, too, should change. Was it still a great thing to be merely ‘Cromwell’ when so many advantages pointed the way to becoming also ‘King’?