It assembled at Westminster November 3, 1640. The House was composed of some five hundred men, the “flower of the English gentry and the educated laity … an aristocratic and not a popular house,”69 representing the wealth, rather than the people of England, but standing clearly for the future against the past. The majority of the Short Parliament were returned, brooding revenge. Selden, Hampden, and Pym were again on hand, and Oliver Cromwell, though not yet a leader, was a man of mark.
It is impossible, at this distance, to picture him objectively, for since his rise and till today historians have described him as an ambitious hypocrite70 or a statesman-saint.71 A personality so ambivalent probably encloses—sometimes he harmonizes—in his character the opposite qualities that beget such contradictory estimates. This may be the key to Cromwell.
He was one of those landowners without pedigree who stood outside the glamour of government, but paid uncomfortably for its maintenance. And yet he too had ancestors. His father, Robert Cromwell, had a modest estate in Huntingdon, worth three hundred pounds a year; his great-grandfather, Richard Williams, the nephew of Henry VII’s minister Thomas Cromwell, changed his name to Cromwell, and received, from minister or King, manors and revenues confiscated from the Catholic Church.72 Oliver was one of ten children and was the only one who survived infancy. His grammar-school instructor was a fervent preacher who wrote a treatise proving the pope to be Antichrist, and another recording the divine punishment of notorious sinners. In 1616 Oliver entered Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, where the headmaster was Samuel Ward, who died in prison (1643) for taking a strong Puritan stand against Laud’s innovations and Charles’s “Declaration of Sports.” Apparently Oliver left Cambridge without graduating. Later (1638) he accused himself of some youthful wickedness:
You know what my manner of life hath been. Oh, I have lived in a loved darkness, and hated light; I was a chief, the chief, of sinners. This is true: I hated godliness; yet God had mercy on me. Oh, the riches of His mercy! Praise Him for me—pray for me, that He who hath begun a good work would perfect it in the day of Christ.73
He experienced all the ecstasies of repentance; he had hallucinations of death and other mental terrors that left him permanently touched with melancholy, and for the rest of his life he spoke in terms of Puritan piety. He settled down, married, had nine children, and became so model a citizen that in 1628, aged twenty-eight, he was chosen to represent Huntingdon in Parliament. He sold his Huntingdon property for £ 1,800 in 1631 and moved to St. Ives, later to Ely. When Cambridge returned him to Parliament in 1640 he was described by another member as “very ordinarily appareled” in “a plain cloth suit … His linen not very clean … a speck or two of blood upon his little [neck] band,” his face “swollen and reddish,” his voice “sharp and untunable,” his temper “exceeding fiery,” but under firm control.74 He bided his time, talked with God, and had the strength of ten. As yet, however, God chose other instruments.
It was John Pym who revealed the angry mood of the Parliament by denouncing Strafford as a secret papist plotting to bring in an army from Ireland, to overthrow Parliament, and to “alter law and religion.”75 On November 11, 1640, the House of Commons—which had never forgiven his desertion to the King—impeached the Earl as a traitor and had him sent to the Tower. On December 16, having declared the new Anglican canons illegal, it impeached Archbishop Laud on grounds of “popery” and treason, and had him too sent to the Tower. Selden later confessed, “We charge the prelatical clergy with popery to make them odious, though we know they are guilty of no such thing.”76 Charles was so bewildered by these uncompromising moves that he took no action to protect his aides. The Queen justified the Parliament’s fears by asking her confessor to solicit aid from the Pope.77
Excitement and passion mounted on both sides. A “Root and Branch” faction among the London radicals—which included Milton—petitioned Parliament to abolish episcopacy and restore the government of the Church to the people; it branded as abominable the opinion of some bishops “that the pope is not Antichrist … and that salvation is attainable in that [Catholic] religion.”78 The House rejected the petition, but voted the debarment of the clergy from all legislative and judicial functions. The Lords agreed, with the proviso that bishops should retain their seats in the upper house. This, however, was precisely what the Commons wished to end, for it expected that the bishops in the Lords would always vote for the King. Pamphlets defending or attacking episcopacy made the issue boil. Bishop Joseph Hall claimed divine right for it on the ground that it had been established by the Apostles or Christ; five Presbyterian publicists replied in a famous pamphlet under the pseudonym “Smectymnuus,” composed of their initials; five later blasts were contributed by Milton. On May 27, 1641, Cromwell again proposed the total abolition of the episcopacy; the bill was passed by the House, rejected by the Lords. On September I the Commons resolved that “scandalous pictures” of the Trinity, all images of the Virgin Mary, all crosses and “superstitious figures” should be removed from English churches, and that all “dancing and other sports” were to be avoided on the Lord’s Day. Another wave of iconoclasm swept over England; altar rails and screens were taken down, stained-glass windows were smashed, statues were demolished, pictures were cut to shreds.79 The House again passed a bishops’ exclusion bill on October 23. The King appealed to the Lords, declaring that he was resolved to die in the maintenance of the existing doctrine and discipline of the Anglican Church; he did. His intervention secured the defeat of the bill, but hostile crowds prevented the bishops from attending Parliament. Twelve of them signed a protest, declaring that any legislation passed in their absence would be null and void. Parliament impeached and imprisoned them. Finally the Lords ratified the exclusion bill (February 5, 1642), and bishops no longer sat in Parliament.
The victorious Commons proceeded to consolidate its power. It borrowed money from the city of London to finance its maintenance. It passed bills requiring triennial Parliaments and forbidding the dissolution of any Parliament within fifty days of its convening, or of the present Parliament without its consent. It reformed taxation and the judiciary. It abolished the Star Chamber and the Court of High Commission. It ended monopolies and the levy of ship money, and rescinded the verdict against Hampden. It granted the King the right to collect tonnage and poundage dues, but only for periods specified by Parliament. Charles agreed to these measures, and the Parliament passed from reform to revolution.
In March 1641 it brought Strafford to trial; in April it pronounced him guilty of treason and sent the bill of attainder to the King for signature. Against Laud’s advice, Charles appeared in the Lords and declared that though he was ready to disqualify Strafford from office he would never consent to condemn him for treason. The Commons pronounced this royal appearance a violation of parliamentary privilege and freedom. On the next day “great multitudes” gathered about the House of Lords and the palace of the King, crying “Justice! justice!” and demanding Strafford’s death. The frightened Privy Council begged Charles to yield; he refused. The Archbishop of York added his plea for signature; nobles warned the King that his own life and the lives of the Queen and his children were in danger; he still refused. Finally the condemned man himself sent him a message advising him to sign, as the only alternative to mob violence.80 Charles signed and never forgave himself. On May 12, 1641, Strafford was led out to execution. Laud stretched out his hands through the bars of his cell window to bless him as he passed. “Thorough” died without whimpering, before a hostile crowd.
His execution sharpened the division of the House into what later came to be the rival parties of Whigs and Tories—those who favored and those who opposed the further transference of power from king to Parliament. Men like Lucius Cary (Viscount Falkland) and Edward Hyde (future Earl of Clarendon), both of whom had supported Parliament, wondered now whether the King, having been so severely chastened, might not be a desirable bulwark against mob rule in London, Puritan rule in religion, and a runaway Parliament that would disestablish the Church, threaten private property, and imperil the whole class structure of British life. Pym, Hampden, and Cromwell might have admitted these dangers, but there was another that touched them more closely: they had gone so far that they feared for their lives if Charles should recover power. At any moment the King might bring over a half-Catholic army from Ireland as Strafford had proposed to do. For its own safety Parliament decided to maintain the friendly army of Scots in the north of England. It sent the Scots an initial gift of £300,000 and pledged a monthly subsidy of £25,000.81
The fears of the Parliament were sharpened by the sudden outbreak of a wild revolt in Ireland (October 1641). Phelim O’Neill, Rory O’More III, and other leaders called for a war of liberation—of Ulster from its English colonists, of Catholics from oppression, of Ireland from England. Inflamed by the memory of merciless persecutions and brutal evictions, the rebels fought with a fury that made them barbarous; the English in Ireland, defending what now seemed to them their legitimate property as well as their lives, returned barbarity with ferocity, and every victory became a massacre. The English Parliament wrongly suspected the King of having fomented the revolt to restore Catholicism in Ireland and later in England; it refused his request for funds to raise an army to rescue the English in the Pale; such an army might be turned against Parliament itself. The Irish revolt continued throughout the English revolution.
The revolution took a further step when Charles advanced two of the excluded and impeached bishops to higher place. Indignant Commoners proposed a “Grand Remonstrance” which would summarize and publicize the case of Parliament against the King, and would compel him to give Parliament the right to veto his appointments to important posts. Many conservatives felt that the measure would transfer executive power to the Parliament and reduce the King to impotence. The division of parties became acute, the debate more violent; members clutched their swords to emphasize their words; Cromwell later declared that if the bill had lost he would have taken ship to America.82 It passed by eleven votes, and on December 1, 1641, it was presented to the King. It began by affirming its loyalty to the Crown. It proceeded to list in detail the offenses which the King had given Parliament and the injuries he had inflicted upon the country. It reviewed the abuses which parliamentary reforms had corrected; it charged “papists … bishops, and the corrupt part of the clergy,” and self-seeking councilors and courtiers, with plotting to make England Catholic. It pointed to repeated violations of the Petition of Right and to highhanded dissolutions of elected Parliaments. It asked the King to call an assembly of divines to restore the Anglican worship to its pre-Laudian form. It proposed that he remove from his Council all opponents of the Parliament’s policies, and employ hereafter only “such counselors, ambassadors, and other ministers … as the Parliament have cause to confide in; without which they could not give his Majesty such supplies for his own support, or such assistance for the Protestant party beyond the seas, as was desired.”83
Charles took his time answering this ultimatum. On December 15 Parliament went over his head to the people by ordering publication of the Grand Remonstrance. Charles then replied. He agreed to call a synod to repress all invasions of “popery”; he refused to deprive the bishops of their votes in Parliament; he insisted on his right to call to his Council, and to public employment, such men as he thought fit; and he again asked for funds. Instead, the Commons proposed a “Militia Bill” which would give it control of the army.
Charles, so regularly irresolute, now rushed into a bold stroke that Parliament denounced as an act of war. On January 3, 1642, his attorney general, before the Lords, indicted, in the King’s name, five members of the lower house—Pym, Hampden, Holies, Heselrige, Strode—on a charge of treason for seeking to turn the army from obedience to the King and for encouraging a “foreign power” (Scotland) to invade England and make war upon the King. On the next day Charles, supported by three hundred soldiers whom he left at the door, entered the House of Commons to arrest the five men; they were not there, having taken refuge in friendly homes; “I see,” said the baffled King, “all the birds are flown.” As he walked out he was rebuked with cries of “Privilege!”; for such royal and armed invasion of Parliament was manifestly illegal. In fear of wholesale arrest, the Commons moved to the Guildhall, under protection of the citizens. When Charles left London for Hampton Court, the Commons, including the five indicted men, returned to Westminster. Queen Henrietta fled secretly to France with the Crown jewels to buy aid for the King. Charles left for the north with the Great Seal. He tried to enter Hull and secure the military supplies there; the town refused to admit him; he moved on to York. Parliament ordered all armed forces to obey only Parliament (March 5, 1642). Thirty-five peers and sixty-five Commoners seceded from Parliament and joined Charles at York. Edward Hyde now became chief adviser to the King.
On June 2 Parliament transmitted to Charles nineteen propositions whose acceptance it held to be essential to peace. He was to turn over to Parliament control of the army and all fortified places. Parliament was to revise the liturgy and the government of the Church. It was to appoint and dismiss all ministers of the Crown and the guardians of the King’s children, and was to have authority to exclude from the upper house all peers hereafter created. Charles rejected the proposals as in effect a destruction of the monarchy. As if rehearsing the French Revolution, Parliament appointed a Committee of Public Safety, and ordered that “an army shall be forthwith raised” (July 12). Cromwell and others left for their home boroughs to organize volunteers. In an appeal to the nation (August 2), Parliament based its revolt not on the desirability of parliamentary sovereignty, but on the imminence of a Catholic uprising in England; and it warned the country that victory for the King would be followed by a general massacre of Protestants.84 On August 17 its agents seized the military stores at Hull. On August 27, 1642, Charles unfurled his standard at Nottingham and began the Civil War.