Charles had been led to hope that the Scots would treat him as still their King; they preferred to consider him their prisoner. They offered to help him regain his throne if he would sign the Solemn League and Covenant making the Presbyterian form of Christianity compulsory throughout the British Isles; he refused. The English Parliament sent commissioners to the Scots at Newcastle, proposing to accept Charles as King on condition that he accept the Covenant, consent to the proscription of leading Royalists, and allow Parliament to control all armed forces and name all high officials of the state; he refused. Parliament offered the Scots £400,000 to pay their arrears and expenses if they would return to Scotland and surrender the King to English commissioners. The Scottish Parliament agreed. It accepted the money not as a price for the King, but as just reimbursement for its outlay in the war; Charles, however, felt that he had been bartered for gold. He was removed to Holmby House in Northamptonshire (January 1647) as prisoner of the English Parliament.
The English army, now encamped at Saffron Walden, forty miles from London, reviewed its victories and called for commensurate rewards. The cost of maintaining these thirty thousand men had compelled Parliament to raise taxes to twice their maximum under Charles; even so it owed the soldiers from four to ten months of back pay. Moreover, the Puritan Independents, defeated in Parliament, were gaining the upper hand in the army, and Cromwell, their leader, was suspected of ambitions inconsistent with the sovereignty of Parliament. Worse yet, there were in his regiment “Levelers” who rejected all distinctions of rank in Church and state, and who called for manhood suffrage and religious liberty. A few of them were anarchist communists; William Walwyn declared that all things should be in common; then “there would be no need for government, for there would be no thieves or criminals.”92 John Lilburne, the most un-discourageable of the Levelers after every arrest and punishment, was “the most popular man in England” (1646).93 Cromwell was attacked as a Leveler, but, though sympathetic with them, he was hostile to their ideas, feeling that in the England of that day democracy would lead to chaos.
Parliament, now Presbyterian, resented the threat implied in the nearness of so large and troublesome an army so potently Independent. It passed a bill to disband half of it and to enroll the rest as volunteers for service in Ireland. The soldiers demanded their arrears; Parliament voted them a part in cash, the remainder in promises. The army refused to disband until fully paid. Parliament reopened negotiations with the King, and nearly reached an agreement with him to restore him on his consenting to accept the Covenant for three years. Warned of this, a squad of cavalry raided Holmby House, captured the King, and took him to Newmarket (June 3–5, 1647). Cromwell hurried to Newmarket and made himself head of a Council of the Army. On January 10 the army began a leisurely march upon London. En route it sent to Parliament a declaration formulated chiefly by Cromwell’s able son-in-law Henry Ireton, which condemned the absolutism of Parliament as no better than the King’s, and demanded the election of a new Parliament by a wider suffrage. Parliament was between two fires, for the merchants, the manufacturers, and the populace of London, fearing occupation by the army, clamored for the restoration of the King on almost any terms. A city crowd invaded Parliament (July 26), and compelled it to invite the King to London and to put the militia under Presbyterian command. Sixty-seven Independents left Parliament for the army.
On August 6 the troops entered London, bringing the King with them. The sixty-seven Independents were escorted back to their places in Parliament. From that time until Cromwell took supreme authority, the army dominated Parliament. It was not chaotic or unprincipled; it maintained order in the city and within its own ranks; and its demands, though probably impracticable at the time, were sanctioned by posterity. In the pamphlet The Case of the Army Truly Stated (October 9, 1647) it called for freedom of trade, abolition of monopolies, and restoration of common lands to the poor, and urged that no man be forced to testify against himself in court.94 In An Agreement of the People (October 30) it proclaimed that “all power is originally and essentially in the whole body of the people”; that the only just government is through representatives freely chosen by manhood suffrage; that therefore kings and lords, if allowed to exist, should be subordinate to the House of Commons; that no man should be exempt from the laws; and that all should enjoy full religious liberty.95 “Every man born in England, the poor man, the meanest man in the kingdom,” said Colonel Rainsborough, ought to have a voice in choosing those who made the laws of the land by which he was to live and die.96
Cromwell quieted the debate by summoning its leaders to prayer. The Levelers charged him with hypocrisy and with secret negotiations for restoring the King, and he confessed that he still believed in monarchy. He explained to the democrats that the resistance to their proposals would be too formidable to be overcome by mere “fleshly strength,” and after long argument he persuaded the leaders to reduce their demand for universal suffrage to a request for an extension of the franchise. Some soldiers refused to compromise; they wore the Agreement in their hats, and ignored Cromwell’s command to remove it. He had three ringleaders arrested; they were tried by court-martial and condemned to death; he ordered them to throw dice for their lives; the one who lost was shot. Discipline revived.
Meanwhile the King escaped from his army captors, made his way to the coast and the Isle of Wight, and found friendly lodging in Carisbrooke Castle (November 14, 1647). He was heartened by news of Royalist rebellions against Parliament in the countryside and in the fleet. Scottish commissioners in London secretly offered a Scottish army to re-enthrone him if he would adopt Presbyterian Christianity and suppress other forms of religion. He accepted this “engagement,” but limited it to three years. The commissioners left London to raise an army. The Scottish Parliament ratified their plan for an invasion of England, and issued a manifesto (May 3, 1648) requiring all Englishmen to take the Covenant, to suppress all forms of religion except the Presbyterian, and to disband the Independent army. The English Parliament saw itself superseded and England subordinated to Scotland if these proposals came into force. It hurriedly made its peace with Cromwell and persuaded him to lead his troops against the Scots; doubtless it was glad to put him at a distance and in peril. After three days of pleading he prevailed upon the army to follow him back to battle. It went reluctantly, and some leaders vowed that if they again saved England, it would be their “duty … to call Charles Stuart, that man of blood, to account for the blood he had shed.”97