Biographies & Memoirs


A Royal Sceptre


Let the rich ore be forthwith melted down

And the state fixed by making him a crown

With ermine clad and purple, let him hold

A royal sceptre, made of Spanish gold …

Edmund Waller to Oliver Cromwell on the seizure of the
Spanish treasure-fleet, 1656

Oliver Cromwell marked the inception of the Second Protectoral Parliament on 17 September 1656 with his customary address.1 Its opening was characteristic: he did not pretend to be a rhetorician, he said, nor like them, to speak ‘words. Truly our business is to speak Things; the dispensations of God that are upon us do require it.’ And speak of Things he now proceeded to do, in a speech of whose length contemporary estimates ranged from two to three hours, and whose structure, even allowing for difficulties of reporting, was somewhat diffused. The Protector touched among other subjects on the Spanish War, which had provided the immediate cause of Parliament’s calling, the Catholics who were blamed for it, the Cavaliers and their plots against his rule, to say nothing of the state of England itself; here he not only praised the freedom of conscience now prevailing, but also the work of the Major-Generals together with that of the Triers, in promoting a new society. These latter had even managed to effect an increase in calls among youthful scholars, if to the possible detriment of their work: ‘And I do verily believe, that God hath for the Ministry a very great seed in the youth of the Universities, who instead of studying books, study in their own hearts.’ As for the reformation of manners, ‘and those abuses that are in this nation through disorder’, he had hinted to them already that it was a thing that should be much in their hearts: ‘I am confident,’ he asserted, ‘that the liberty and prosperity of this nation depend upon reformation, to make it a shame to see men to be held in sin and profaneness … The mind is the man. If that be kept pure, a man signifies somewhat; if not, I would very fain see what difference there is betwixt him and a beast.’

And so on and so forth, a speech undoubtedly turgid in parts yet providing some valuable glimpses of the Protector’s continuing obsession with his self-ordained task of bringing about a more generally godly state in England. Indeed on his own role in this, and his conviction of its rightness, he urged his Parliament to ‘look up to God! Have peace amongst yourselves! Know assuredly, that, if I have interest, I am by the voice of the people the Supreme Magistrate.’ None the less Parliament also had its part to play in their great task, ‘both of us united in faith and love to Jesus Christ, and to his peculiar interest in the world, that must ground this work’. The Psalms were brought into play like heavy guns. There was the eighty-fifth Psalm he had recommended to them beforehand as ‘very instructive and significant’, the one hundred and eighteenth Psalm and another Psalm he described as Luther’s (actually the forty-sixth, beginning ‘God is our refuge and our strength, a very present help in trouble’) which he called ‘a rare Psalm for a Christian’. This Cromwell proceeded to quote more or less perfectly from memory including the great verse ‘We will not fear though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the middle of the sea, though the waters thereof roar and be troubled’ and the final repeated injunction which he especially commended: ‘The Lord of Hosts is with us, the God of Jacob is our refuge.’ But perhaps the most admirable passage of his speech was that in which he urged Parliament to be merciful as well as orthodox,* before finallyurging them to pray that God might bless them with his presence, and go together to choose their Speaker.

For all Cromwell’s adjurations this Parliament was to provide little of the holy strength and calm which he so vividly desired, nor indeed much evidence of a union towards Christ’s work with the Protector himself. It was true that by January it had duly voted £400,000 for the continuance of the Spanish War, in accordance with the purpose of its summons, but otherwise it was marked by increasing discordances. Parallel with the way the militaristic rule of the Major-Generals had only grown in unpopularity in the country with use was the fact that those members of Parliament who were not of their clique also much resented them. Moreover such incidents as the crude rejection of elected members at the door of the House had left a further unpleasant impression of arbitrary sword-supported rule. In October the Venetian Ambassador commented jokingly on the military face of London: ‘here are no mosca [patches] on the ladies’ faces but moschetto [muskets] on the men’s shoulders’. So many troops, he said, might assure Cromwell’s power but they were ruining the country and exhausting it: the machine might be strong but – ‘it is violent’.2 And in the House itself the new membership was marked by an increase in ex-Royalists now interested in a more stable settlement of society, less dependent on the Army’s favours. In Cromwell’s own counsels, lawyers and men like Lord Broghill, with a predisposition towards the return of some kind of monarchy, were beginning to play a more important part.

It was in this context that the first open suggestion in Parliament was made that the Protectoral office should be made hereditary in Cromwell’s favour. The proposal, on 28 October, in the form of an amendment to the Instrument of Government which had established the elective office, came from William Jephson. A former Cromwellian Colonel who had fallen at one point out of favour, he was now returned to Parliament as member for Cork. On 14 November the Protector received a deputation on the subject but declined the suggestion; on 19 November however it was again discussed. Although Broghill argued strongly for it, Desborough, Cromwell’s own brother-in-law as well as a Major-General, was typical of those leading Army men who professed themselves equally vigorous in opposition. The most that Desborough would concede in argument later in the month was that Cromwell might name his own successor: that would prevent the anarchy on his death which was the increasing dread of informed men of goodwill, yet it would not offend the republicans. As for Cromwell’s private thoughts on the subject, Ludlow (who must however be treated as a hostile source throughout all the long-drawn-out business of the kingship) tells a story of Cromwell playfully clapping Jephson on the shoulder at the suggestion that he might become King: ‘Get thee gone for a mad fellow,’ he was supposed to have replied lightly. But, wrote Ludlow significantly, it soon appeared with what madness Jephson was possessed, ‘for he immediately obtained a foot company for his son, then a scholar at Oxford, and a troop of horse for himself’.3 Later indeed Jephson was to be made Cromwell’s special envoy to the King of Sweden before the Treaty of Roskilde.

The fact was that Jephson’s flattering or at least outspoken suggestion only brought out into the open what was being muttered in dark corners, in council chambers, and wherever there was gossip to be found in Whitehall and elsewhere in England that autumn. Of course the scandalous notion of Cromwell as King on the malicious tongues of his enemies at least was not a new one. As early as 1649 a Dutch cartoon had crowned him, and a pamphlet in its title had referred to a crown for Cromwell in the same breath as a coffin for King Charles. Rumours of kingship had swept Europe at the time of the dissolution of the Rump, and again at the time of the creation of the Protectorate, when, as has been seen, there is good reason to suppose that some of the soldiers actually suggested that Cromwell might become King. Nor had the establishment of the Protectoral office put an end to all speculation: in the summer of 1655 Ralph Josselin heard talk that the office of Emperor might be revived. By the autumn of 1656, although much of the action was taking place under cover, it was undoubtedly true that some kind of re-examination of the form of government was taking place. Perhaps, as Giavarina the new Venetian Ambassador suggested, officials were even now busy searching through ancient papers for previous solutions to such problems.4 It will be recalled that there had been those who had preferred the title of Emperor to that of King in the autumn of 1653, because, unlike its later grander connotations, it was in the seventeenth century considered less majestic. Meanwhile there were others, Cromwell’s admirers, who did not scruple to put into poetry what others did not yet put on paper. Edmund Waller, saluting the capture of the Spanish treasure-fleet by Captain Stayner in September 1656, suggested the best use this hoard of gold could be put to, in a way which was scarcely equivocal:

Let the rich ore be forthwith melted down

And the state fixed by making him a crown

With ermine clad and purple, let him hold

A royal sceptre, made of Spanish gold …

In fact one use to which the bullion was put did in its own way contribute to the making of a royal – or imperial – image for the Protector. In 1656 some new Protectoral coins were commissioned from Thomas Simon although not approved by the Council till June 1657; they were to be struck by the ‘ingenious’ Pierre Blondeau according to a new process he had perfected with letters milled along the edges to prevent their spoliation by clipping. Blondeau, a Frenchman who understandably jealously guarded the secrets of his process from inquisitive English eyes, equally understandably encountered some hostility from the supporters of the native Mint: at one point he was reminded unpleasantly of the fate of the French coiner Philip Mestrel condemned to death in the reign of Queen Elizabeth. But Simon’s work was attended by no such traumatic xenophobic demonstrations: for the coins he produced a profile of the Protector crowned by a laurel wreath, which in its imperial conception would not have disgraced the loftiest of the Roman Emperors. Moreover the likeness was later to impress both Pepys and Evelyn as being very pronounced, or as the former recorded: ‘Upon my word,’ it was ‘more like in my mind than the King’s.’ The reverse of the coin contained the Protectoral arms, and the respective mottoes read oliva: d.g.r. pvb. ang. sco. et hib. protec. on the one side, and Pax Quaeritur Bello, Cromwell’s personal motto, on the other. Blondeau’s work was to add the lettering round the edges: Has. Nisi. Periturus. Mihi. Adimat. Neo (These let no man spoil unless he wishes to perish). Altogether a total of about £2000 in milled money seems to have been prepared, with further orders in the summer of 1658, stopped at the Protector’s death.*5 So in some measure Waller’s hopes for the gold were fulfilled.

What seemed inescapable in the autumn and winter of 1656 was the gathering personal authority of Oliver Cromwell himself. Problems multiplied, yet all solutions seemed to encompass employing in some form or other this man still as ‘Chief Magistrate’. It was as though the view of Oliver himself as a powerful figure of historical necessity, to which many loyalists had adhered from 1653 onwards, was beginning to triumph over the notion of a rightly descended hereditary leader. Even the Oceana of James Harrington, a work of political theory printed in 1656, which was in essence republican, envisaged the use of Oliver – here described as Olphaeus Megaletor – to found the new constitution for his imaginary State. Harrington’s ideas went on to include the equitable distribution of land, with a limitation on estates of £2000 a year (and only £500 in Scotland); the senate would propose laws, the people vote them and the Supreme Magistrate carry them out. The book was actually dedicated to Cromwell, but Harrington was popularly supposed to have secured licence for publication only by using the intercession of Bettie Claypole. Harrington humorously threatened to steal her little boy, unless her father restored his own brain-child. Oliver himself observed on the subject of his proposals that Harrington wanted to trepan him of all his power, but he did not intend to surrender it all for ‘a little paper-shot’.6 Yet the Protector might have taken comfort from the undeniably pre-eminent position enjoyed by Olphaeus Megaletor in Harrington’s scheme of things. He was needed to bring about that more equitable distribution of property which Harrington believed would prevent future civil wars.

The treatment of two topics within the confines of Parliament, both given unexpected twists, now accelerated matters in the business of the kingship. The first was the case of an extreme Quaker named James Naylor. He was already famous as a preacher in London, his long hair and beard creating a prophetic impression which some of his followers even likened to that of Christ, when he paid a visit to the West Country to see Fox in Launceston jail. Despite Fox’s efforts to exercise a calming influence on their behaviour, Naylor and his followers ended by being incarcerated in their turn in Exeter prison. And once released, Naylor then proceeded to ride in triumph to Bristol, in what was certainly a direct imitation of Christ’s entry into Jerusalem, with cries of ‘Hosanna’ and ‘holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Israel’ from the crowd. The hysterical raptures of his followers can be judged from the utterances of a maid, Dorcas Ebury, who on examination by a magistrate declared that Naylor had raised her from the dead (seventeenth-century Quaker speech for a conversion) in Exeter jail and that ‘James Naylor shall sit at the right hand of the father and judge the world’. Another letter from London wrote that his name should no longer be called James, but Jesus.7 Naylor was brought back to the capital, and designated to be tried before the House of Commons for ‘horrid blasphemies’.

The trial however raised serious problems concerning the judicial role of the House. Had they in fact any proper duty to try a subject, or had the judicial role of the House of Lords not perished with it? The trial did nevertheless take place: in the course of it Naylor refused to doff his hat or bow to the Speaker. And when some exceptionally severe, even disgusting penalties were prescribed to be inflicted on the wretched prisoner, the role of Cromwell as mediator on behalf of the liberties of the subject was also called in question. Naylor was to be whipped at the carttail through the streets, pilloried, branded with B (for blasphemy), his tongue bored, and as if that were not sufficient, the process was to be roughly repeated in Bristol, the scene of his offensive semi-religious entry; it was considered merciful that he should subsequently merely be imprisoned, instead of condemned to death. Colonel William Sydenham had expressed the general view of Parliament itself on the legality of all this: ‘I take it we have all the power that was in the House of Lords, now in this Parliament.’ To this the Protector sent a pertinent enquiry: ‘We being interested in the present government on behalf of the people of these nations; and not knowing how far such proceedings, entered into wholly without us, may extend in the consequence of it – do desire that the House will let us know the grounds and reasons whereupon they have proceeded.’8

The House refused to back down. Cromwell was left to attempt some minor alleviations of Naylor’s lot. For instance he enforced an order by which Naylor’s wife was allowed to give the prisoner supplies. In May 1657 his Chamberlain, Sir Gilbert Pickering, provided special confinement for the captive on Oliver’s instructions. One of the last public actions of the Protector in August 1658, on hearing of Naylor’s illness, was to send his secretary William Malyn to enquire after his needs. Malyn was a humane man, who encouraged the Protector’s own propensity to acts of generosity towards individuals. It was he, for example, as a friend of Lady Elizabeth Kerr, who interested Oliver in the problem of her Royalist father’s funeral in exile in the Netherlands. Lord Ancram had left so many debts that his creditors refused to let the body be interred until they were given some sort of satisfaction. But Cromwell caused the Dutch Ambassador to intervene, and allow the unfortunate corpse to be buried without further disturbance.9

In his case Naylor refused a doctor (‘God was his physician and he needed no other’) and although Malyn seems to have given him money at Oliver’s orders, Naylor declined to send a message to the Protector. Malyn, while commenting on the prisoner’s wicked pride, nevertheless concluded piously in his report: ‘I hope I should not go about to dissuade your Highness from a work of tenderness and mercy which is pleasing to God.’10 But the whole trial, the obduracy of Parliament, the undoubted cruel sufferings of one man who had acted if unwisely at least for conscience’s sake, and which the Protector had proved powerless to mitigate effectively, could not help raising in Cromwell’s mind yet again the whole ‘union’ of himself and Parliament, to which he had referred in his opening speech. Was this really how the work of Christ was to be done in England, a Parliament free from any restraining influence in its judicial functions, and a Protector who must stand by? This was scarcely the merciful if orthodox society of which Oliver had so often spoken with such eloquence.

Ironically, the second topic which helped to shape the political form of the new year, that of the extinction of the Major-Generals, was raised in the first instance by these gentlemen themselves. It was Desborough who deliberately brought up the subject of their renewal on Christmas Day 1656. Although it was much vaunted as a working-day under Puritan rule, nevertheless attendance had dropped suspiciously low, a fact which Desborough obviously intended to turn to pious advantage. For he now proposed the introduction of a short bill for the continuation of that Decimation Tax of ten per cent on Royalists which had been found necessary originally to maintain the militia and subsequently to finance the Major-Generals. Christmas Day or no, permission to put the bill forward was secured surprisingly only by a tiny majority; and to any political observer, the fact that many members of the Cromwellian clique were seen to vote against it pointed significantly to the sinking usefulness of these ‘Bashaws’ in the Protector’s mind. Why divide a nation further with a tax whose end result was not even productive of harmony? The final omen of their failure was unmistakable: in the debate on the subject in January, the principal attack on the Major-Generals was actually mounted by Cromwell’s son-in-law and Master of the Horse, John Claypole. When Sir John Trevor talked of the measure which divided ‘this Commonwealth into provinces … a power too great to be bound within any law’ it was understood that he was talking by now of an experiment which had failed.

The most spirited attack came from another Cromwell, Colonel Henry, grandson to old Sir Oliver of Hinchingbrooke, representing the senior branch of the family. Unlike his Royalist father and grandfather, this Henry Cromwell had bowed to time and favour, and having been returned previously to the Parliament of 1654, was in 1657 made assessor for Huntingdon. On this occasion, he rose hotly to answer the vigorous speech of Major-General Butler. Vincent Gookin later described the whole episode in a letter:11 how ‘he observed many gentlemen, and he that spoke last [Butler] did say and think it just, that because some of the cavaliers had done amiss, therefore all should be punished; by the same argument (says honest Harry) because some of the Major-Generals have done amiss, which I offer to prove, therefore all of them deserve to be punished’. At this Colonel Kelsey on a point of order asked for those erring Major-Generals to be named. Honest Harry, not in the least put out, begged the House to give him leave to name them, and although, says Gookin, this particular fire ‘was put out by the water-carriers’, this did not prevent the Major-Generals from going afterwards and threatening Harry that His Highness would take the whole matter extremely ill. Even this did not abash him: setting off promptly to see his august kinsman, he repeated all he had said in the House previously both ‘manfully and wisely’, with blackbook and papers in his hands to prove his assertions if necessary. It was not for nothing that Oliver Cromwell had by now been dealing with men in the Army and elsewhere for fifteen years. He answered Harry with ‘raillery’ and taking a rich scarlet cloak from his own back and gloves from his own hands, pressed them on his cousin; off strutted Harry back to the House ‘to the great satisfaction and delight of some’, as Gookin put it, ‘and trouble of others’. It was, said Gookin, ‘a pretty passage of his Highness’. The whole incident had more significance than the mere cooling down of a rash speaker; nor was it surprising under the circumstances that the bill for the renewal of the Decimation Tax was soon to be defeated. On 28 January at the second reading, it met rejection by one hundred and twenty-four votes to eighty-eight.*

Some days before the completion of this process of attrition, the Protector’s loyal Parliament had been shaken by the revelations of yet more dastardly plots against his person, under the general direction of the former Leveller, Colonel Sexby. The variety of the conspirators’ contrivances would seem to have justified the line of one epitaph on the Protector – ‘needing more eyes than ever Argus had’. There had been three separate plans. Miles Sindercombe, aided by the old soldier Cecil and frustrated already at the opening of Parliament, had in the first place intended to fire at Cromwell with ‘screwed guns’, each containing twelve bullets and a slug, on his route to Hampton Court; the intention was to blow him to bits, and for this a house was hired from the coachman of the Earl of Salisbury at Hammersmith, which had a convenient little banqueting room overlooking the road, just where it was so narrow and dirty that the coaches had to slow down. For exact timing, the assassins obviously needed information about the Protector’s schedule, and for this an old comrade of Sindercombe’s in the lifeguard, one Toop, was bribed first with a down payment of £10 and then with the promise of £1500. In the event, the plot was foiled at the last minute when the Protector went by boat, either because Cromwell was warned or because he was lucky.12

It has been seen that the Protector allowed no serious questions of security to intervene with his constant perambulations and exercise in St James’s and Hyde Parks. The next plan consisted of hopes of shooting him outright in Hyde Park, the murderer having mingled with his train. For this the hinges were filed off a particular gate to facilitate escape. Cecil also acquired a specially swift black horse for his getaway, and wore lightweight clothes – the quality of the horse even catching the Protector’s admiring eye on one occasion. But the chosen horse got a cold, and that plan too lapsed. The third essay was intended to be altogether more cataclysmic: it was hoped to fire Whitehall itself, by placing some kind of explosives in the chapel. But at this point Toop gave the game away, and a basket full of strange combustible materials was duly discovered in the chapel, with two pieces of lighted match aptly placed to ignite the ‘most active flaming stuff.’ Arrests were made, Cecil confessed and Sindercombe too found himself on trial; but after having conducted himself ‘most insolently’ at the bar of the House of Commons, he finally evaded the barbarities of the traitor’s death by committing suicide right under his jailers’ noses. The method used was arsenic taken on paper, and they actually witnessed him ‘cheerfully rubbing his hands together, then his face and nose’ as he applied his poison. He did so, he said, in a note found left behind, as God knew, ‘because I would not have all the open shame of the world executed upon my body’.13 So that same body was now buried at the orders of the Government, more tranquilly but with equal ignominy beneath the common highway, as befitted that of a suicide.

It was this tale of horror averted which Thurloe unfolded to the House on 19 January. There was perhaps more than a little element of Schadenfreude in his whole tone, and Bordeaux, always an acute observer, even thought it worth reporting the belief of some cynics that the whole enterprise had been cooked up merely to give ‘more colour to the establishment of the family of the Protector’. In the event the plots were real enough, if the penetration of their organization by Thurloe’s agents probably meant that the threatened dangers never loomed quite so large as was made out afterwards. As Samuel Morland in Whitehall wrote to John Pell in Switzerland: ‘The royalists are high, and threaten sudden action; but I hope, an evil foreseen may be an evil prevented.’ A service of thanksgiving was ordered by the Government for 23 January which paradoxically endangered official lives all over again, for the great crowd on the six-year-old rickety staircase of the Banqueting House caused it to collapse, and a number of celebrants were hurt, including Richard Cromwell. Oliver himself, in his speech for the occasion, admonished his audience that ‘righteousness and peace must kiss each other’, garnishing his words as usual with many Scriptural allusions, including his favourite eighty-fifth Psalm.14 But Sexby did not abandon the pursuit of his Protectoral fox with these failures: it was in 1657 that the celebrated pamphlet advocating assassination of which he was joint author, Killing No Murder, with its self-explanatory title (and incidentally an audacious dedication to Cromwell as ‘The True Father of Your Country’), began to be spread about England. Nevertheless none of this diminished the importance of the personal position and authority of the man thus threatened, the Protector himself. It was on that same day as Thurloe’s report, 19 January, that in the continuing debate on the Decimation Tax and the Militia bill, the issue of the kingship was again raised. Predictably, Desborough spoke against it, and it was now too that Lambert’s personal opposition became clearer.

In human terms, there had always been much likelihood that Lambert would view with jaundiced eye any move to make the Protectorship hereditary for the obvious reason that he was now, in elective terms, clearly the front runner as Oliver’s successor. The establishment of the hereditary principle quite simply replaced John Lambert with Richard Cromwell in that position. This is certainly not to deride the sincerity of Lambert’s republican beliefs altogether, but the significant timing, taken in conjunction with his previous record, does seem to indicate that it was pride as much as republicanism that stirred him in the early months of 1657.

Lambert was a different, more complex and outwardly certainly far more attractive character than his two companions in opposition to the Crown, Fleetwood and Desborough; but their straightforward instinctive rejection of the kingly title, accompanied by general support of Cromwell in other directions, is easier to comprehend. Lambert no doubt believed himself honest when he said that the issue was not whether John Lambert or Richard Cromwell should succeed, but whether they should go backwards or forwards. But the charge made by Cromwell that there had been a time when the Army had pressed the title of King upon him (in late 1653) was never answered by Lambert. Nor was Lambert himself of that rigid mould of Fleetwood and Desborough, both men who might earnestly stick on one particular issue as a matter of conscience. It was hard indeed for Cromwell’s favourite, the dashing popular soldier, to see the possibilities of future leadership wrenched from him in favour of the soft Richard, the younger and much less deserving of the two. Leaving aside the future, under Oliver’s monarchy Lambert would no longer be a ‘demi-collègue’ as one letter put it, but would become a mere subject. As subsequent events were to confirm, Lambert had at least a streak of vanity, that most dangerous quality for any politician, coupled with something spoilt, even slightly sulky about his nature. It sprang perhaps from the unalloyed successes of youth, which had left him with no experience and thus no preparation for the inevitable reverses and disappointments of life in middle age. Even now, said Bordeaux, Lambert was having difficulty in consolidating his own support among the soldiers since he had lately been living much apart, and had in consequence gained a reputation for arrogance.

In the meantime London – and also Europe – buzzed with rumours concerning future changes. On 7 February a newsletter reported that citizens were laying wagers that ‘we shall have suddenly an alteration of the present government’. A letter of Sir Henry Vane of 2 February, sent from the Hague and intercepted by Thurloe, commented knowingly: ‘I did always believe this Parliament would make him King before they parted.’ Bordeaux was convinced that Oliver was set on the title. Throughout February and March he took care to assure Mazarin of the fact, breaking to him also the news of the English Royalists’ satisfaction: a return to the monarchical principle would, they believed, only strengthen their hands since the government of England would resolve itself into a quarrel between two families, that of Cromwell and Stuart, in which that of Stuart could be expected to win out. Mazarin’s reaction was to impress upon Bordeaux that if Cromwell were to be crowned, then he must by no means be the last to congratulate him. In mid-March from the Hague Marigny told Stouppe that he was full of impatience to hear ‘if your protector will be king’.15Everything depended, said Bordeaux, and it was a point which needed making, on the length of Oliver’s days.

It was finally on 23 February that the document then called the Humble Address and Remonstrance, and later adapted into the Humble Petition and Advice, which called for the return of the monarchy and the House of Lords together with a highly generous monetary settlement to the Crown, was presented to Parliament by Sir Christopher Packe. A man of much standing and gravitas – he was well over sixty, a former Lord Mayor of London, still an Alderman, and member of many influential committees – it was clear at the time that he had been put up to the gesture by Broghill and the lawyers. The issue was now certainly fairly in the open. The reactions not only of Parliament and the Army but also of the Protector himself would have to be seen and scrutinized. Was it perhaps time at last to beat that Spanish gold into a royal sceptre, as Waller had suggested, with which to dazzle some members of the community and dominate the others?

On one half of the package, the return of the House of Lords, it was easy to gauge the Protector’s reactions. Indeed, his conviction that some kind of second chamber was necessary to modify the actions and reactions of the surviving single chamber of the former Commons showed one of the clearest instances of the way time and experience had radically transformed many of Cromwell’s theories. The man who in the 1640s was supposed to have spoken enthusiastically of turning the Earl of Manchester into ‘plain Mr Montagu’ had now no time for such fantasies. It was the sheer problems of rule which interested him. Perhaps the House of Lords, in whatever form it was to be resurrected, did not represent the acme of political perfection, but in an imperfect society it was sometimes necessary to accept imperfect solutions. Nothing had demonstrated more clearly the dangerous driving power of a single chamber out of control (the Protector’s control, that is) than the Naylor case. And when the officers protested to him forthwith against the idea of the reintroduction of the Lords, Cromwell made his feelings clear. ‘Unless you have some such thing as a balance, we cannot be safe … By the proceedings of this Parliament, you see they stand in need of a check, or balancing power for’, continued Cromwell, ‘the case of James Naylor might happen to be your case.’ The Instrument of Government permitted Parliament to fall upon ‘life and member’ of the people, ‘and’ he added, ‘doth the Instrument enable me to control it?’16

The question was – what sort of second chamber should be now constituted, or indeed reconstituted? This problem, one which subsequent ages faced with the same issue have found attended by similar difficulties, was eventually solved in the form of a nominated second chamber. It was not so much that Cromwell seemed to retain any great dislike of the principle of hereditary titles, for there are indications that he later deliberately created a few as distinct from this new type of political lord and he also created some baronets. His thoughts on this complicated subject were perhaps never quite fully thought out. At the present time however he was engaged in no piece of social strategy, but in constructing something which would above all be administratively powerful in his own good cause. His aim, in which he ultimately succeeded after some opposition had been quelled, was therefore to secure the nomination of these second chamber members – Lords or not, and they were eventually termed Lords – exclusively for himself. The consequent strengthening of the executive could hardly fail to be valuable. It was Thurloe who rather engagingly put forward the great argument for this nominated body: ‘We judge here,’ he wrote, ‘that this House just constituted will be a great security and bulwark to the honest interest … and will not be so uncertain as the House of Commons which depends upon the electing of the people.’17

The other House finally established by a bill passed by Parliament on 11 March was to consist in the first instance of seventy members all to be nominated by the Protector. But to Cromwell also was to go all subsequent influence over this body, for in addition he was to be allowed to fill up their ranks, as they might empty, by nominating once again: and to these nominations it was agreed, after some protests, that the Commons need not assent. The question of who was now to be chosen was held over till the summer as the great central issue of the kingship remained to be debated and the writs for the new House were not issued till the end of the year. Nevertheless from the first moment such a method of choice was agreed the result was likely to be not so much the base-born aristocracy of jumped up fellows of satirical imagination, nor indeed the new noblesse of officers which Bordeaux for example believed Cromwell intended to create, so much as a simple Cromwellian clique of men united by the patronage which had promoted them. That after all was basically what Cromwell had hoped to bring about with his balancing second chamber, even if he did not present it in quite such bald terms. The revival of a form of House of Lords was therefore a straightforward political achievement, not a piece of romantic social legislation.

The question of accepting the kingship raised more profound issues in Cromwell’s mind. It is not necessary to accept the extreme hostile view of his calculations and ambitions to suppose that there were certain natural attractions of a private nature in such a course. For one thing the position of his family was at present highly ambivalent: on the one hand accused of regal pretensions, on the other hand dreading the question mark that lay over the future after their father’s death if the unforgiving King should return, they were watched at every turn for some clue to their father’s intentions. The assumption of the crown would make them royalty at last, first generation royalty perhaps, but covered at least by the settlement made by their father in future years. The vengeance of King Charles ii, which many of those in a position to know suggested that these lesser stars round Cromwell’s sun constantly discussed and dreaded, would be further averted. As it was, in the present situation, they endured many of the disadvantages of those close to the throne, with few of the advantages.

At one point Henry Cromwell confessed in a letter to Thurloe that he was the only person to whom he could open his heart freely, without his words being regarded as ‘tainted’ (by ambition). Yet Richard Cromwell told his brother in Ireland at the beginning of March he was actually lucky to be abroad: ‘I can say that you are somewhat more happy than others [of] your relations for that you are out of the spattering dirt which is thrown about here.’18 As for the two unmarried girls, Mary and Frances, not yet technically princesses although they were generally addressed as such by Ambassadors, they were also not exempt from the usual fate of such royal ladies, their marriages being already subject to outside pressures. All these persuasions existed to convince Cromwell, the committed family man, of the need in some way to regularize the position of his relations – and this was without taking into account the natural human desire we may believe, without undue scorn, burned in the breasts of some of them, actually to enjoy the glorious possible new position.

Frances for example, now past eighteen, had been having a long-drawn-out romance with a young man Cromwell had originally considered highly unsuitable for her hand on moral grounds. He was Robert Rich, grandson of Lord Warwick, and back in the May of the previous year his grandfather had cavilled at Cromwell’s extravagant financial demands, as a result of which the match had hung fire. However Cromwell told Frances and the rest of his family privately that he had actually taken ‘a dislike to the young person, which he had from some reports of his being a vicious man given to play and such like things’. And there was further the matter of the will of John Dutton, uncle of Marvell’s pupil William, which though not proved till mid-1657, referred in early 1655 to a match arranged between himself and His Highness ‘betwixt my said nephew William Dutton and Lady Frances Cromwell’. Frances might not be the prettiest of the Cromwell girls: at least in middle age her portrait shows a long nose and prim mouth to balance the best family feature of beautiful widely spaced eyes. But she showed all their spirit, and the kind of humorous determination to get her own way characteristic of the youngest member of a large family who often gives the impression that she has long ago sized up both the world in general and her parents in particular. So now, nearly a year later, Richard Cromwell still referred to Rich as ‘my lady Frances’ gallant, flying his plumes in Whitehall’. Frances however found the course of true love still further roughened by the business of the kingship. A correspondent to Paris, referring to the previous project of the Rich marriage, ended his letter: ‘but this new dignity has altered it’. There was now a chance of a match ‘in your parts’ i.e. in France.19 So matters rested for the unfortunate Frances, her romantic life as unresolved as the political situation.

In the case of Mary, it was her father who seems to have taken the initiative about the same time in attempting to arrange a useful alliance with a recently widowed member of a prominent northern family, Thomas Belasyse Viscount Fauconberg, of Newburgh Priory near York. Himself neither a Catholic nor a practising Royalist, Fauconberg nevertheless had connexions with both: his father’s estate in the North Riding had been subject to the attentions of the Committee of Compounding, many of his relations were Catholics, including his uncle, that Belasyse who had been one of the founder members of the Sealed Knot. But Fauconberg evidently appeared to the Protector in the guise of a good middle-of-the-road State servant, a future Lockhart or perhaps a Broghill. He was also incidentally a man of much personal charm. Having gone abroad after his first wife’s death at the end of 1656, by early next year he was being subjected to searching enquiries concerning his background and religious views by Lockhart, who was not only Ambassador in Paris but also of course connected to the Protector by marriage.

The answers proved satisfactory: by March Lockhart was able to turn in a glowing report. Fauconberg, he wrote, was ‘a person of extraordinary parts, and hath (appearingly) all those qualities in a high measure that can fit one for his Highness’ and country’s service, for both of which he owns a particular zeal’. However these good qualities also included caution, and perhaps Fauconberg was also understandably anxious to be a little more certain concerning his future father-in-law’s actual status. At any rate by May Lockhart was reduced to dropping a somewhat heavy hint that he should come forward and actually court the young lady: ‘I waited last night on the gentleman,’ he wrote, ‘and told him the advantage his pretensions might receive from his own addresses to the person principally concerned.’ And when Fauconberg still replied that he expected ‘a clearer invitation’ Lockhart retorted that he feared he had already gone too far in assuring him of a welcome, spoke of the ‘rules of modesty’ and left the rest, pointedly, to Fauconberg’s ‘own merit and application’.* 20 So this match too hung fire.

In the case of Frances’s new destiny, there were definite rumours that she was proposed as a bait for King Charles, or alternatively that the King would take her in marriage as a way of getting back on to his own throne. Oliver’s chaplain later told Pepys that he knew ‘for certain’ that offers had been made to ‘the old man’ for marriage between the King and his daughter, but he would not have it. Indeed at the very height of the kingship crisis, Henry’s father-in-law (who was in Whitehall) told him that the Protector and Protectress were more concerned over the question of Frances’s marriage than anything else. Broghill’s story, told to Burnet by himself, was even more circumstantial: how he raised the subject of the rumours concerning Frances and Charles with the Protector, only to find that his patron showed no particular indignation at it. Broghill then went further and said daringly that ‘a better expedient’ might be actually to bring the King back because they could then make with him what terms they wished, with Cromwell retaining all his present authority. The Protector still remained calm. He simply answered that the King would never forgive the shedding of his father’s blood. Broghill’s answer to this was that Cromwell had been merely one of the many responsible for the execution, whereas he would be alone in bringing about the Restoration. Cromwell then countered that the young King was so ‘damnably debauched’ that he would undo them all, and so dismissed the subject.*22

Certainly the whole question of the bachelor monarch across the water could not fail to occupy one corner of the Protector’s mind at this moment. Any resurrection of the monarchical issue must inevitably call into question the future of the family who had until recently occupied the throne, and were now represented by an energetic and undoubtedly attractive sprig of twenty-seven who on many popular grounds beyond that of sheer legality might compare favourably with a brooding, chronically sick man of fifty-eight. The point has been well made that the spring of 1657 presented by far the best opportunity for a Royalist invasion from the Continent, with English politics in a state of flux, and no firm bastions of republican defence established to beat off the challenge of a returning King.24 Although the chance of restoration by a military coup was let drop, because the foreign support was not considered to be ready, the notion of the return of the King from across the water by more peaceful means of invitation was not so easily dismissed.

A story told of the Marquess of Hertford about the same period cast further light on Oliver’s reaction to such a prospect.25 Hertford was asked by the Protector to a private dinner of condolence following the death of his eldest son Lord Beauchamp (Oliver being ever-sensitive to such griefs). At dinner the Protector turned to his guest and to his considerable surprise asked if he could have the benefit of his advice, since he was no longer able to bear the burden of government. ‘You, my lord, are a great and wise man, and of great experience,’ he was supposed to have said, ‘and have been much versed in the business of government. Pray advise me what I shall do.’ Hertford was a man of nearly seventy who was certainly experienced, having in his far-off youth as plain William Seymour been the lover and would-be husband of the ill-fated Arbella Stuart, before settling down to a long and honourable career as friend and adviser of King Charles i. Hertford allowed himself to show some natural surprise at the question. It would, he said, be unseemly for him to reply since as Oliver knew he had always been for the King. But when the Protector pressed him, he did point out that there was one method by which he could establish himself for ever, and that was by restoring ‘our young master that is abroad – that is, my master and the master of us all’. But to this Oliver merely answered sedately but firmly that he had gone so far that the ‘young gentleman’ could never forgive him.

Even allowing for the post-Restoration atmosphere in which both these tales were ultimately recounted for posterity – it should be noted that both protagonists emerge with honour where Charles ii was concerned – together they amount to a plausible tradition of Cromwell mulling over the position of the uncrowned King across the water, that King, as Broghill later told Burnet, ‘to whom the law certainly pointed more than any other’. Nevertheless it is difficult to believe that for all Broghill and Hertford’s persuasions, Oliver was seriously contemplating for a moment the restoration of Charles at his own hands. It seems far more likely that he was testing out his own position in the eyes of these great magnates, Hertford in particular being chosen as one who could be relied upon to represent the extreme Royalist point of view. If he could be converted to the notion of Oliver’s crown, that indeed would be a favourable omen.

For there were by now a series of extremely cogent reasons, of a more serious and public nature, why Cromwell should accept the crown now that he so fully occupied the royal role, or as Mazarin had impatiently put it over the arguments on his ambassadorial address – ‘Qu’il prenne le titre de roi’. Such reasons could easily be translated into positive dispensations in the mind of one accustomed to seek such. The strongest of these, put forward by Broghill and his supporters, was the strength of the kingship in the laws of the country, not possessed by any other ‘usurping’ office. The whole concept of treason could easily be brought into play over the question of opposition to a King, yet was difficult to marshal with any conviction with regard to the person of a Protector. This argument was recognized not only by Cromwell’s own allies but also by soi-disant Royalists: it was Penruddock himself, at the time of his rising, who confessed that he would not have rebelled against Cromwell had he been King, for that would have been treasonable. Then again, and importantly for those who surrounded him, the servants of a King would not it was thought be subject to a future royal vengeance, because their actions would be covered by law, having been dictated by another monarch. That was an argument whose force Cromwell had recognized as long ago as 1652 in his discussions on sovereignty with Whitelocke. A Protector’s servants could expect no such immunity. These feelings, translated into strong practical arguments for the assumption of the office, undoubtedly weighed all the more strongly with Cromwell because at the same time they coincided with his troubles with Parliament, his unease with the Army, and for that matter his problems with the Major-Generals. Such failures could genuinely be held to be signs of the necessity of change. Officially the Protector denied foreknowledge of Packe’s Humble Remonstrance, and certainly he had not yet made up his mind on the subject; nevertheless it is easy to accept Bordeaux’s story that Richard Cromwell had been shown the document several days before; this meant that its proposals can hardly have come as a surprise to his father.26

As for the Major-Generals, on 24 February, immediately after Packe’s appeal, they flocked to the Protector to complain of Parliament’s action in rejecting the Militia bill. The result merely demonstrated the extent of Cromwell’s disillusion with their work. Answering them ‘hastily’, a word which in Cromwell’s case can always be interpreted with foreboding, he asked: ‘What would you have me do? Are not they [the members of Parliament] of your own garbling [i.e. selecting]? Did you not admit whom you pleased and keep out whom you pleased? And now do you complain to me? Did I meddle with it?’ Three days later, when a hundred officers visited him at Whitehall to protest against Packe’s proposals, this proved to be the occasion when Cromwell reminded them with indignation that once they had not boggled at the word King. And in a long tirade, he virtually accused the Major-Generals of failing to keep the bargain which led to their institution. They had neither kept the ‘three nations’ peaceable and free, nor guaranteed the liberties of the people, nor had they even obtained the majority in the new Parliament which they themselves had aimed at. As for himself, he said, employing that same metaphor for the sovereignty which he used to the Dutch over the details of union, ‘he loved not the title [of King], a feather in a hat, as little as they did’.27 But the inference was clear: how else was the country to be kept at peace, the work of Christ to go forward, and the settlement of the nation maintained in a manner all parties surely desired? In these observations of Cromwell there was much demonstrable truth. Assuredly it was these arguments which were now swaying him remorselessly in the direction of the throne, rather than any feeble desire for personal glory and the title of King Oliver, a romantic wish perhaps, but one from which he had shown himself singularly free throughout his career. It was the office not the title which interested him. And his words made many converts among his listeners; Colonels Howard and Ingoldsby and many Irish officers withdrew their opposition. Throughout March then the campaign for the kingship gathered rather than lost momentum.

Only the hard core of Army antagonists remained under Lambert and Desborough. That same day of the interview, Thurloe alerted Henry in Ireland, in a letter written in code, to the dangers of Lambert who he believed would if he could ‘push the army towards a distemper’. Yet some of their remaining opposition was extremely poignant; one letter of 4 March from Captain William Bradford pointed out the sad contrast between Cromwell’s new supporters, once his enemies, and his old friends, who had attended him through the critical wartime phases of his career:

My lord, those that are for a crown, I fear have little experience of them; the other, most of them, have attended your greatest hazards … I am of that number, my Lord, that still loves you, and greatly desires to do so, I having gone along with you from Edge-hill to Dunbar … The experiences you have had of the power of God at these two places, and betwixt them, methinks, should often make shrink and be at a stand in this thwarting, threatened change … My Lord, when we were in our lowest condition, your tears and prayers much satisfied many. (I was of that number.) Nay, I am confident many of your tears was bottled by God himself. I desire your present business, against oaths and engagements, may not provoke the vials of God’s wrath to break the glasses where your tears yet are …

Such a letter could hardly have failed to rack the old General’s heart. About this time George Fox made one of his Cassandra-like appearances in St James’s Park, accosted the Protector, and warned him that ‘they that sought to put him on a crown would take away his life’, while bidding him pay more attention to another immortal crown.28 On behalf of the Fifth Monarchists, Anna Trapnel, the northern prophetess, put her predictably hostile visions on the subject into rhyme:

Spirit and Voice hath made a league
Against Cromwell and his Crown
The which I am confident the Lord
Will ere so long strike down …

But the latter manifestations could be ignored. One must suppose that it was Bradford’s arguments rather than those of Fox and Anna Trapnel which concerned Oliver. And even Bradford’s hour had not yet come. As for Lambert’s opposition in Parliament, Thurloe noted that although it was still strong, it was now having scant effect there. ‘A little time’, wrote Morland to Pell, ‘may produce great matters.’29

24 March was marked by ‘a pitched battle’ in the House of Commons on the vital first clause of Packe’s Remonstrance by which Cromwell was invited to accept the title and office of King – that clause which had been held over for further discussion while the question of the House of Lords was decided favourably; it was also conceded in advance that Cromwell should choose his own successor. The next day the House voted by one hundred and twenty-three to sixty-two that the invitation should be extended, for all that poor Fleetwood, a lifelong opponent of the principle of monarchy, had issued a long invective against the institution ‘in full Parliament’ in the course of which he could not hold back his tears. Nevertheless at the end of it all he did not ‘mutiny’ so much as ‘lament’. There was a difference. Five days later a party of officers told Oliver that they too were beginning to see Providence in it all. This newly favourable providentialist point of view was put well by Colonel Thomas Cooper in a letter to Henry Cromwell at the end of March. Cooper gave new support for the idea of monarchy – ‘this do I not upon a politic but a Christian account, well knowing that if a hair of a man’s head fall not to the ground without the lord’s providence, much less do so great things as the governments of the world suffer alteration without special providence’. Yet in all this it was important, he felt, that there should be no violence of hurry, but on the contrary ‘a patient waiting upon the Lord [for] the issue of things, and a close dependence upon him for light and guidance in things of doubtfulness is most safe’.30

It was advice which Oliver Cromwell, finally offered the kingship on 31 March by the Speaker of the House of Commons at the Banqueting House in Whitehall, seemed inclined to take. The Humble Petition and Advice, as it had now become, was presented by the Speaker in a long speech whose object was ‘to commend the title and office of a King in this nation; as that a King first settled Christianity in this Island; that it had been long received and approved by our ancestors, who by experience found it to be consisting with their liberties, that it was a title best known to our laws, most agreeable to their constitution, and to the temper of the people’. But Oliver’s speech in reply showed every public sign of genuine indecision, as well as incorporating some flowery compliments: ‘he observed the rich treasure of the best people of the world being involved therein, it [the invitation] ought to beget in him the greatest reverence and fear of God that ever possessed a man in the world’. But after all ‘The thing is of weight, the greatest weight of anything that was ever laid upon a man.’ Considering this weight: ‘I think I have no more to desire of you at this time, but that you will give me time to deliberate and consider what particular answer I may return to so great a business as this.’ In short, the Protector wanted a brief time ‘to ask counsel of God and of my own heart’.31 It remained to be seen what advice these two powerful organs were likely to give. In the meantime a committee was to be set up to discuss the matter with him further.

The first point put to this committee by the Protector, on 3 April, was a vital one. Was the offer, he enquired, indivisible: did all the ‘ingredients’, meaning the title and office of King, the new powers therein, go together? Must his answer be ‘categorical’; if he rejected one, must he reject all? This enquiry in itself, while pointing to the turmoil of indecision and discussion now raging wherever the subject of the kingship arose, also pointed to the very genuine sediment of objections to the title of King itself. It had its advantages undoubtedly, but if the office could be distinguished from the title in some clever way, might not the best of both worlds be had? Cromwell’s own views on the subject are murky, for characteristically he argued the subject both ways in public, testing not only his opponents’ views but also perhaps his own. But Henry Cromwell at least thought it a pity that the excellent new proposals of Parliament should be ‘so inseparably affix’d to the name of King’, even if it was generally said ‘that the title of King is more suitable to the laws etc.’. He himself gave vent to a phrase similar to that of his father’s on the subject of the kingship, yet even more vivid: it was, he wrote, ‘abroad in the world, a gaudy feather in the hat of authority’. But Henry after all was tucked away in Ireland: his father, in the centre of it all, was less certain that the two could be distinguished. As indecision raged, in another speech to the committee on 8 April, once again in the Banqueting House, the Protector’s views were more obscure than ever. The main message was simply that he asked for more time to resolve ‘my own doubts and mine own fears, and mine own scruples’.32

On 13 April the reply came from the committee that the kingship was not merely a title but an office, and as such it was interwoven with the fundamental laws of the nation. This reply obviously ran parallel to the advice of the monarchists, being extended with force behind the scenes to Cromwell at this time; in the words of Broghill ‘the law knows no Protector’ and above all ‘this nation loves a Monarchy’. Thurloe himself put the same point in a letter to Henry: ‘The title is not the question,’ he wrote, ‘but it’s the office, which is known to the laws and this people. They know their duty to a king and his to them. Whatever else there is will be wholly new and be nothing else but a probationer, and upon the next occasion will be changed again.’33

Oliver did not deny the committee’s answer, but he did none the less reply that these arguments were not conclusive. Parliament could easily make another title ‘run through the laws’ with equal efficiency. At the same time he gave further clues to his indecision by referring to ‘certain just men in the nation’ whom God would not wish him to offend: ‘I deal plainly and faithfully with you, I cannot think that God would bless me in the undertaking of anything that would justly and with cause grieve them.’ As for himself, he emphasized that the kingship as such meant little to him: ‘That is I do not think the thing necessary: I would not that you should lose a friend for it.’ Paraphrased, that answer obviously meant that Oliver would only accept the kingship if he was quite convinced that he was being drafted at the general wish of the godly: there must be no possibility of him being accused of acceptance for reasons of personal glory. He needed to be quite sure of the direction in which Providence was pointing.

At this juncture, the Protector’s unreliable health began to play a part in the proceedings, and several planned meetings with the committee had to be cancelled at the last minute in consequence of his indisposition. Whether it was indeed ill-health or whether the equivalent agonies of simple indecision were the cause of his illness, at all events the whole atmosphere was fraught with tension. And when the Protector did meet the committee again on 20 April, they found him half-dressed, in his gown, with a black scarf tied roughly round his neck. The next day another visit was marked by the production of a long paper from Cromwell commenting on certain aspects of the Humble Petition. He regretted for example the omission of anything pertaining to ‘the reformation of manners’, bewailing the dissolute nature of Cavalier society with a sudden side swipe at the idea of their youth travelling abroad to France to ‘return with all the licentiousness of that nation’. But for all he ended that ‘I speak not this to evade; but I speak it in the fear and reverence of God’, his final words could scarcely be construed as decisive. Once these matters had been cleared up, ‘I shall be very ready, freely, and honestly and plainly, to discharge myself of what in the whole, upon the whole, may reasonably be expected from me …’34 The question remained whether further matters might not emerge, to be cleared up in their turn. So this Penelope of Whitehall continued to hold off his Parliamentary suitors with a series of unpicked and delaying tapestries.

The long-drawn-out drama of it all held everyone in London and indeed far abroad enthralled. The day-to-day letters of those involved reporting the twists and turns of the Protector’s mood began to take on the quality of a thrilling if agonizing story of suspense. Oliver through it all smoked heavily. On 16 April Morland wrote to Pell: ‘My lord has not yet accepted the crown, but gives dubious answers, so that we know nothing as yet.’ He at least added: ‘I beseech the Lord to bless him; if ever man deserved a crown, I think he does.’ The same day the French Ambassador told Mazarin that Oliver was likely to accept for all the hostility of the officers. The next day after that, on 17 April, the Venetian Ambassador was equally confident in the other direction, that the prospect of ‘awaking some sleeping dog by assuming the crown prevents him from placing it on his head’.35 On 21 April, the day of the last unsatisfactory interview with the committee, Thurloe told Henry of how his father had them all hanging in uncertainty and ‘certainly his Highness hath very great difficulties in his own mind, although he had the clearest call that ever man had …’ Yet six days later Sir Francis Russell, Henry Cromwell’s father-in-law, gave him reliably to understand that his father was on the verge of accepting: ‘I do in this [I think] desire to take leave of your lordship,’ he wrote off archly to his son-inlaw, ‘for my next [letter] is likely to be to the Duke of York. Your father begins to come out of the clouds, and it appears to us that he will take the kingly power upon him.’ Some weight must be placed on Sir Francis’s evidence, even allowing for the natural optimism which set his mind a-wandering towards his son-inlaw’s future royal title; for not only as a family connexion and also an old military comrade of the Protector’s was he even then within the precincts of Whitehall itself, but he had also had an interview with the Protector that very day – ‘some discourse with your father about this great business’ as he put it; the Protector had been ‘very cheerful and his troubled thoughts seem to be over’, his concentration chiefly on the Rich–Frances romance.36

Nevertheless two days later on 29 April the pendulum seems to have swung back. Thurloe reported that the Protector was keeping himself reserved from everyone he knew, so that even he, Thurloe, professed himself unable to know the measure of his mind. On 30 April Samuel Morland described to Pell how the Protector was still keeping them all in suspense, but was now expected to give his final answer ‘very suddenly’ – a prediction he had already made a week earlier without success. On i May the House of Commons gave an answer to some more questions Cromwell had raised, and once again he promised them a speedy reply. In fact it was perfectly possible at this point to sympathize with the hostile comment of Colonel Hewson: this Parliament was worse than the Devil, for he had only offered Christ the Kingdoms of the World once, whereas they were doing it twice – the only point being that the repetition was scarcely this ‘Devil’s’ fault. Around this time Bordeaux revealed the true depths of the Protector’s irresolution to Mazarin, how on one occasion at ten p.m. the Protector had excused himself to his friends from accepting the crown, and yet by midnight had changed his mind. Still on 5 May Thurloe was able to write away to Henry: ‘What his answer will be, God and his own heart only knows (as I believe) having not yet declared himself.’ The best way still was ‘to refer all to the disposition of the Lord, and to acquiesce in whatsoever shall be his pleasure’.37

In this same letter however Thurloe referred to the continuing opposition to the idea being exerted by Fleetwood and Lambert – how they were speaking of nothing but giving up their commands and all employments if he accepted the title. And it was just about this date that a crucial dinnerparty took place, recounted by Ludlow, between Oliver, Fleetwood and Desborough. It was instigated by the Protector himself, first inviting himself to dinner with Desborough and then bringing Fleetwood along. Shortly he began to joke or ‘droll’ with them on the subject of the monarchy, speaking slightingly of it, calling it but ‘a feather in a man’s cap’ (the same comparison again). Under the circumstances he really wondered that ‘men would not please the children, and permit them to enjoy the rattle’. These words, once again testing the water, marked a significant advance in Cromwell’s thought processes: the kingship, from having been something of no account which he was not therefore concerned to accept, had now on the reverse become a title he might just as well accept simply because it was of so little account, and yet would ‘please the children’ – or the people. The officers’ answer to his cautious jests was unsatisfactory: ‘for they assured him, that there was more in this matter than he perceived …’ Many of those who were putting him up to it had in fact the interests of Charles Stuart at heart, ‘and that if he accepted of it, he would infallibly draw ruin on himself and his friends’.38 So Oliver departed, disconsolate if we may believe Ludlow, and telling his erstwhile friends that they were a couple of scrupulous fellows.

For all that, the answer, finally, was to be yes. That we must believe, on the definite testimony of Thurloe who reported that on Wednesday, 6 May Cromwell told several people, including the Secretary himself, that he intended to accept. To this may be added the evidence of Whitelocke that Cromwell had communicated his favourable decision to various members of his family.39 And the long-suffering committee of the House of Commons (which had been put off once more from a meeting on the Wednesday afternoon) was duly appointed to meet the Protector in the Painted Chamber at eleven a.m. on Thursday, 7 May – a date which at that point seemed inexorably destined to become the Accession Day of King Oliver I. For two broad streams of argument had now joined as one, after all these prolonged heart-searchings. On the one hand in the realm of government itself, Cromwell had moved round to the weary point of view of Hobbes in Leviathan – that since ‘the estate of Man can never be without some incommodity or other’, the best that could be done by any form of government for the sake of the people was to preserve peace, law and order. This he himself could probably best guarantee by accepting the title and office of kingship. But on the other hand the ancient philosophy of the man was not forgotten. It was a series of mighty providences that had brought the obscure country gentleman from Huntingdon within touching distance of the royal sceptre. Those earnest searchings after the ways of the Lord in days just gone by were no mere form intended to cloak his ultimate ambition. He had to be sure that Providence pointed in the direction of the throne.

The signs, however, had not finished with Oliver Cromwell. It was a further providence which finally swung him for ever in the other direction. And as Thurloe said, it happened ‘in the nick of time’. For on Wednesday, 6 May, his mind made up, Oliver took one of those walks in St James’s Park, habitual to him, in this case vital to the course of history. There he encountered what Thurloe termed ‘the three great men’ – Lambert, Fleetwood and Desborough. It matters little that their presence there could hardly have been coincidental, and that like the three Kings of the Gospels, they must surely have followed deliberately the star of the Protector into the Park on hearing the news that he intended to accept formally the next day. It was the import of their message which was momentous: for here was no idle joking on the subject of the monarchy, but a definite announcement from all three that they would not tolerate its acceptance. They would not go into opposition against him but they would resign all their employments. It was as though Julius Caesar, on his way to the Capitol, had been greeted not by a soothsayer but by the triumvirate of Brutus, Cassius and Mark Antony warning him of their intentions. Into the mysterious shadowy realms of the mind of Oliver Cromwell, this straightforward decision came like bright, clear, if searing light.

The projected meeting with the committee for the morrow was put off till the evening. Thursday, 7 May, which might have been his Accession Day, was spent by the Protector in deliberate relaxation. When the committee did arrive panting at Whitehall in the evening – the House had risen before his message was received, but the constituted committee on the kingship thought it their duty to attend none the less – they were not even granted an audience. Cooling their heels for over two hours, they were finally rewarded by a sight of the Protector passing through the chamber on the way to inspect a new Barbary horse. He appeared to ignore them. One messenger then boldly reminded him both of their presence and the reason for it, what was more, ‘they had attended very long’. The Protector excused himself airily: he thought the House had risen before they got his message and had thus not been able to appoint any envoys to come to him. So finally it was on Friday, 8 May at eleven a.m. that the Protector met with the committee in the Painted Chamber. Here, after a delay of nearly two and a half months since the first official proposals of Sir Christopher Packe, Parliament at last got its answer with regard to Oliver Cromwell: ‘he cannot undertake this government with the title of King’.40

He did indeed make a graceful allusion to the time he had taken: ‘only I could have wished I had done it sooner, for the sake of the House, who hath laid so infinite obligations on me, I wish I had done it sooner for your sake, and for saving time and trouble; and indeed, for the Committee’s sake, to whom I must acknowledge publicly I have been unreasonably troublesome’. The Government proposed consisted of excellent parts, ‘in all but that one thing, the title …’ But he would not be an honest man if he did not tell them that he could not take it: in short ‘I say, I am persuaded to return this answer to you, that I cannot undertake this Government with that title of King. And that’s my answer to this great weighty business.’

It was true that Desborough and his comrades had not been idle after their pronouncement, since they could hardly be expected to see into the Protector’s mind, a mind whose workings had long baffled his contemporaries, to appreciate the irrevocability of his decision. On returning home, Desborough found Colonel Pride, that man of iron, and told him of Cromwell’s intention to become King. With his usual vigour, Pride declared: ‘He shall not.’ ‘Why? how wilt thou hinder of it?’ asked Desborough. ‘Get a petition drawn,’ replied Pride. ‘And I will prevent it.’ And forthwith a petition was drawn up, with the active help of John Owen, Cromwell’s friend and former chaplain, who had accompanied him to both Ireland and Scotland, and was now much integrated into every corner of the establishment of the State, having preached the opening sermon before Parliament in September; Owen’s presence illustrated how republicanism died hard in many quarters. The next day, the morning of Friday, this petition was due to be discussed in the House of Commons, suggesting that Oliver should not accept the crown against the petition of the Army. Oliver, hearing of it, and not liking the sound of such stirrings, persuaded Fleetwood to go down to the House and get the matter postponed. Fleetwood was a quarter of an hour too late to prevent discussion altogether, but did succeed in getting the matter postponed.41 By the evening of course the petition was no longer necessary: the crown had been refused.

For all the significance of Pride’s (and Owen’s) actions, they are more relevant to the speculative point whether Oliver could have held on to the crown against the Army’s wishes, than to his actual decision. They might or might not have been strong enough to oblige him to reverse it. The timing however shows that he had already changed his mind by the Friday morning, and in this context the rumblings of the officers were an irritant rather than a clinching argument. It was the Providence which had for so long guided or haunted Oliver Cromwell which finally galvanized him into rejection.

The general reaction was one of amazement. But Jephson at least bore witness to the fact that at any rate among Puritans, Cromwell’s decision was put down to a sign from heaven, not fear of those on earth. Sir Francis Russell had a philosophical word to say on the subject to Henry Cromwell, still, alas, to be addressed as ‘your lordship’ rather than the Duke of York. ‘I suppose if I should tell you he [Oliver] often knows not his own mind twere but to affirm he is but a man, and like unto many of his friends and servants who truly love him.’ Like many men who have passed through a crisis and are convinced of the rightness of their ultimate decision, Oliver himself now appeared generally cheerful and relaxed, with the smoke-ridden days of perplexity put behind him. ‘He laughs and is merry,’ wrote Sir Francis, while the many wise men who had been made to look fools hung down their heads. With Oliver’s capacity for meandering over choices beforehand went an enviable lack of regret for the abandoned path once the choice was made. A month later, he was still ‘very soberly cheerful’, a temper Sir Francis confessed that he liked very much.42 With the rejection of the kingship, as with the death of the former King, there is no evidence that Oliver ever looked back and wondered if he had followed the right course. That certainty at least, his following of providences assured him.

Now there remained the problem of picking up the rest of the package proposed in the Humble Petition and Advice and disentangling what could be left of a new method of government if the principal clause was extricated. On 19 May the debate on a newInstrument began in the House of Commons, and on 25 May Cromwell finally agreed to its proposals. By these he was to be solemnly invested as Lord Protector. He might name his own successor; and the power of Parliament was to be enlarged at the expense of that of the Council. In future Council members would have to take a new oath ensuring their loyalty. Throughout June preparations were made for the projected new ceremony of Investiture which was to take place at the end of the month. Naturally some sorting out of reputations and allegiances also took place. The children of the Protector were generally supposed to be suffering a reverse, although Richard was made Chancellor of Oxford University at the end of July, which with the prospect of being his father’s nominated successor still before him, meant that his future was still potentially bright.

Frances Cromwell was however to a certain extent a gainer. There was no more talk of a royal bridegroom now, and it was in June that her sister Mary reported that the determined girl was gradually overcoming objections to the match, by proving that the original stories concerning Rich’s lack of moral fibre had been spread by those who wished to force them apart.* Everyone, sisters and friends, was being lobbied on her behalf to speak to Oliver, and he was gradually succumbing. In Mary’s view it was just as well: ‘to tell the truth they were so much engaged in affection before this, that she could not think of breaking it off’. This decision – was it one to anticipate the marriage ceremony as Mary appears to hint? – had been communicated by Frances to no one before she took it. ‘Dear brother,’ wrote Mary to Henry, ‘this is as far as I can tell the state of the business. The Lord direct them what to do; and all I think to beg of God to pardon her in the doing of this thing, which I must say truly, she was put upon by the [slowness] of things.’43 Both Fleetwood and Desborough, son-in-law and brother-in-law respectively of the Protector, resumed their place within the fabric of Cromwell’s supporters, thus providing proof if proof were needed of the genuineness of their objection to the royal title as such, rather than Cromwell’s regime generally. Both now took the oath required of the Council with despatch.

For Lambert however there was to be no place in the new world. He neither took the oath, nor resigned his commissions, showing yet another sign of wounded vanity as like Achilles he went through the motions of sulking in his tent. Eventually an interview took place between the two men, once so close, one of whom had expected to succeed the other, and one who had been denied the crown by his comrade’s action. The tenor of the conversation was never known, but the upshot of it was the surrender of Lambert’s commissions to the clerk of the Council, at the Protector’s request. Lambert’s reply was to say simply that ‘he desired nothing more than a retired life in his own house’. So to his delightful spacious property at Wimbledon, once part of Queen Henrietta Maria’s estate, with Frances and his ten children, Lambert retreated. Here he was able to indulge his love of gardening – Lambert was later supposed to have introduced the Guernsey lily to England – and here too he painted, often flower pictures. For all these diversions, he looked, reported Sir Francis Russell, ‘but sadly’. (In happier days, Lambert was even said to have painted a portrait of Cromwell himself: his eldest son John, described as ‘a most excellent limner’, also inherited his father’s talent.)44 Nevertheless Cromwell did not lose all his fondness for him: understanding the severe financial loss incurred in the surrender of his commissions – about £6000 a year altogether – Cromwell allowed him £2000 a year still out of his personal monies. It was as though he could not hold great resentment against a man who, if he had wrecked one Cromwellian prospect, had nevertheless reminded him at the last minute as Captain Bradford had tried to tell him in March: ‘Good my Lord, remember you are but a man, and must die, and come to judgement.’ Ultimately Cromwell was sure that the voice of his conscience had spoken.

The investiture of the Lord Protector when it came indeed lacked nothing in kingliness except the person of a King himself, although the moving of the orders for some of the accoutrements gave the opportunity for some characteristic House of Commons pleasantries. For when one Lister objected to the idea of a sword, on the grounds that His Highness had a sword already, he added: ‘I would have presented him with a robe.’ Some of those in the chamber pretended to understand from this ‘rope’ and there was laughter. Lister replied that he had spoken as plainly as he could, and he meant a robe: ‘You are making his Highness a great prince, a King indeed … Ceremonies signify much of the substance in such cases, as a shell preserves a kernel or a casket a jewel,’ he concluded. ‘I would have him endowed with a robe of honour.’45

Lister however could well have been proud of the programme which followed. For on Friday, 26 June in Westminster Hall where Charles i had been tried only eight years previously for trying to exert powers certainly not much more than those now possessed by the Lord Protector, a weird ceremony was enacted.* The similarities to previous coronation services in some details were so marked as to make it clear they were deliberate. The coronation chair for example, ‘the chair of Scotland’, was brought out of Westminster Abbey ‘for that and only time’. Under the great window, a rich cloth of state was set up. Draperies for the dais were of pink Genoese velvet adorned with gold fringes. Before the throne lay a table, on which ready prepared lay objects such as a Bible, gilt and bossed, to recall the coronation of Edward vi, another Protestant prince, a Sword of state, and lastly even a sceptre, the last being of ‘massy gold’. Most striking of all was a robe of purple velvet lined with ermine, being as Mercurius Politicus most truly said afterwards ‘the habit anciently used at the solemn investiture of princes’.46 Around, there was a chair for the Speaker, and on either side raised seats for MPs, judges and on the other side for the Aldermen of the City. Nor was this impressive spectacle for British eyes alone: Ambassadors too were duly summoned by Sir Oliver Fleming, that invaluable Master of Ceremonies.

About two o’clock in the afternoon, Oliver Cromwell arrived to be inducted into this solemn scene; he came by water, landing at Parliament stairs, and was then taken for a brief retirement to the Lords’ House before meeting in the Painted Chamber a party of MPs, his Council in attendance, officers of State and judges. To these he gave his assent formally to the Humble Petition and Advice with its certain additional clauses. With the Speaker and MPs duly returned to the Great Hall, and Oliver back in the Lords’ House, he was now in a position to process formally towards Westminster Hall. First there were his gentlemen-in-waiting and other people of quality, then the full panoply of the heralds including Norroy King of Arms and Garter who walked before the Earl of Warwick, bearing the sword. Finally there came the Lord Mayor bearing the sword of the City, and then Oliver himself. Once beneath his cloth of State and on his ornate dais, it was time for the Speaker to invest the Lord Protector with his purple ermine-trimmed robe, to girt him with his sword and hand him his sceptre. Thus royally – it is hard to avoid the word – attired, the Lord Protector took a solemn oath beginning: ‘I do in the presence and by the name of God Almighty, promise and swear, that to the uttermost of my power, I will uphold and maintain, the true reformed Protestant Christian Religion, in the purity thereof, as it is contained in the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament, to the utmost of my power and understanding; and encourage the profession and professors of the same.’ And it included these words: ‘I will endeavour, as chief Magistrate of these three nations, the maintenance and preservation of the peace and safety, and just rights and privileges of the people thereof.’

Thus Cromwell ‘standing thus adorned in princely state’, as Mercurius Politicus put it, ‘according to his merit and dignity’, looked up to the altar, listened to a sermon of Mr Manton, and heard too the sound of the trumpets acclaiming him, and the shouts of at least some of the people, in answer to the heralds: ‘God Save the Lord Protector!’ From here, his purple train borne up by three pages, another grandson of Lord Warwick, Lord Sherwood and the eldest son of Lord Robertes of Truro, Cromwell proceeded to the New Palace Yard, and here, still in his magnificent robes, entered his coach with Richard Cromwell and Whitelocke on one side of him, Lisle and Montagu on the other. The horse of honour ‘in rich caparisons’ was led by John Claypole. The next day the Lord Protector was again proclaimed with great solemnity in the City, accompanied once more by lifeguards, heralds including Garter King of Arms, trumpeters and members of the Council who were met at Temple Bar by the Lord Mayor on horseback, in crimson velvet gown, accompanied by Aldermen, who conducted the Lord Protector for three proclamations at Chancery Lane, at Cheapside and finally at the Royal Exchange.

So was carried out with every conceivable panoply, save that of actually placing the crown itself on Cromwell’s head – for even Waller’s royal sceptre had not been lacking – the ritual of instituting Oliver in what was to be his last and greatest office. Parliament was adjourned; the Lord Protector and his Council were once more left in control. But for a narrow squeak of one man’s conscience, it might have been a King’s sway. When all was said and done, it was not an office that Oliver Cromwell would have disgraced, taking into account the fullness of British history. Although the manner of his assumption of power was scarcely perfect, this in itself would have harked back to the Middle Ages, where there were plenty of historical precedents. By ascending the throne as one whose position had been won by force of arms and consolidated by force of personality, Cromwell’s actions would have been at least reminiscent of those of William the Conqueror, Stephen of Blois, Henry iv, Richard iii and above all Henry vii in an age not so very far from his own, all of whom had swept aside contenders with better theoretical claims than their own, on the tide of their own strength. It is true that Cromwell, unlike these named, could not claim for himself a fraction of royal blood. Yet it was curious in British history how justifications of lineage and blood could often be rearranged after the event to fit the coming age.*

Portents of what might have been done, even to Cromwell’s genealogy, were to be seen in the treatment of his figure as Lord Protector in the twelve months left to him before his death. It was in only 1658 that Thomas Pugh produced his British and Outlandish Prophecies to prove ‘his Highness’ lineal Descent from the ancient Princes of Britain clearly manifesting that He is the Conqueror they so long prophesied of …’ These prophecies, said to be formerly insufficiently understood in English (of the type previously applied to another Welsh conqueror Henry VII), were now interpreted to discover in Cromwell, with the aid of a long family tree, the ‘Branch’ who would defeat the wicked Mould Warp, a legendary figure of sinister import here interpreted as Charles i (a role previously played by Richard iii), and then proceed to ‘conquer England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland, shake the anti-christ of Rome, and the Kingdoms of Europe, and force them to a peaceable Association’. In this context it was noticeable that upon Cromwell’s death another Welsh enthusiast not only composed a number of anagrams out of the late Protector’s name (Rule welcom Roy was a typical English example and in Welsh Y Lieu Mor Cower meaning The Lyon is True) but also gave the names of his family a similar treatment, as the lesser royalites they had undoubtedly in a sense become. Thus Elizabeth Cromwell was turned into Be Comlier with Zeal, Bettie intoA Holily Bless Peece and Mary Go main careful bride.47 These Welsh-based fantasies of course did not even begin to make use of the other useful myth of Cromwell’s descent from the Stuarts.

It is not then to be over-cynical to suppose that these problems might conceivably have been overcome had Cromwell accepted the kingship, had he lived longer, and above all had he been endowed with the ultimate good fortune of any man seeking to found a hereditary monarchy, a brilliant forceful and stable eldest son. Even ten years of kingship, ten years in which Charles ii might have eaten his heart out in frustration in exile, his youthful energies dissipating while his debaucheries increased in idleness, might have changed the whole course of English history. As it was Cromwell had rejected the mystique of kingship, an aura which would henceforward work against him and his descendants, as it might have worked for them. This very rejection, accomplished in a manner so characteristic of the whole man throughout his career, sprang from elements which in turn had their deepest roots in his being. The kingship was not the ‘lodestar’ of his existence as Sir Roger L’Estrange thought; if so, he would certainly have taken it and gambled on holding down his officers. But there was another brighter star in his sky, in the shape of what he himself worked out to be right. John Milton was one who had much studied Cromwell in his lifetime, and in his preoccupation with heroes from Satan and Samson Agonistes finally turned to write of the great Christian hero of Paradise Regained after his death.48 This was the true heroism in Milton’s view, the conquest of self: Christ rejecting Satan’s Kingdoms of the world had turned away from public honour; yet at the same moment by conquering himself, he conquered all things.

For what is glory but the blaze of fame,
The peoples praise, if always praise unmixt? …

Cromwell in his rejection of the crown would have agreed with that.

If you find an error please notify us in the comments. Thank you!