Imágenes de páginas
PDF

King, and afterwards by substituting one of his children for him. Failing in this, and angered by the persistence with which Charles stirred up Scottish armies and Irish armies against England, Cromwell finally associated himself with those who cried out most loudly for the King’s blood. No one knew better than Cromwell that it was folly to cover the execution of the King with the semblance of constitutional propriety, and he may well have thought that, though law and constitution had both broken down, the first step to be taken towards their reconstruction was the infliction of the penalty of death upon the man who had shown himself so wanting in the elementary quality of veracity upon which laws and constitutions are built up. All that is known of Cromwell’s conduct at the trial points to his contempt for the legal forms with which others were attempting to cover an action essentially illegal.”

A further question which has been often mooted is whether Cromwell—whatever may be said on the purity of his motives'—did not commit a blunder in respect of the interests of himself and his cause. If those who have discussed this problem mean that the attempt to establish a free government during Cromwell’s lifetime was rendered‘ more difficult by the execution of the King, it is hard to gainsay their opinion, though the estrangement of the bulk of the population from the new order, in conseqence of the execution, is probably very much exaggerated. Those who, like the Cavaliers, hadibeen mulcted of a portion of their estates had an additional reason for detesting a government which had used them so ill, and there must have been a certain number amongst the crowds who read the Eikon Basz'lz'/ee—the little book in which Charles’s vindication of his life was supposed to have been written by his own hand—who were permanently affected by that sentimental production of Dr. Gauden. If, however, it is argued that Cromwell and his allies might possibly have succeeded in establishing a government to their taste if they had abstained from inflicting the last penalty on the King, it can only be answered that other causes made their success in the highest degree improbable. Their plans for the benefit of the people were on the one hand too far advanced to secure popular support; and, on the other hand, too defective in fair-play to their opponents to deserve it. Puritanism was not, and never could be the national religion, and though it made more enemies through its virtues than through its defects, those who strove to enforce its moral and social precepts needed a strong military force at their backs. ‘:The irritation caused by the interference of the army in religion and politics, and by the demands on the tax-payer which the jmaintenance of the army rendered necessary, would surely have been fatal to any government resting on such a basis, even if Charles had been suffered to prolong his days. If there remains any interest in Cromwell’s career after the execution of the King it arises from his constantly renewed efforts to throw off this incubus, and his repeated failures to achieve his purpose.

I66

CHAPTER IV.

THE LAST YEARS OF THE LONG PARLIAMENT.

DURING the last weeks of Charles’s life, the army, in co-operation with some of the Levellers, had drawn up an enlarged edition of The Agreement of lhe People, a task which was completed on January I5. In accordance with Cromwell’s wish, this proposed constitution was laid before Parliament on the 20th for its approval, instead of being imposed on Parliament by a previous vote amongst the so-called well affected. Parliament being sufficiently busy at the time, laid the proposal aside with a few well-chosen compliments. The members had no wish to engage, at such a moment, in the uncertainties of a general election.

There can be little doubt that in this matter Parliament was instinctively in the right. That mutilated Assembly to which modern writers give the name of ‘the Rump,’ though no such word was employed by contemporaries till its reappearance on the scene some time after Cromwell’s death, was in possession of the field. It now contented itself with proclaiming England to be a Commonwealth without King or House of Lords, and with electing an annually renewable Council of State to perform executive functions under its own control. The first political act of the sovereign Parliament -was to order the execution of the Duke of Hamilton, the Earl of Holland, and Lord Capel, who, having taken the King’s part in the last war, had been condemned by a High Court of Justice, similar to the one that had sent Charles to the block. For the moment the most serious danger to the young Commonwealth arose from the opposition of Lilburne and the Levellers, who, not content with asking, on the ground of abstract principles, for the immediate foundation of a_ democratic Republic in the place of the existing makeshift arrangement, extended theiripropaganda to the army itself, appealing to the private soldiers against the officers. Lilburne and three of his supporters were summoned before the Council. Lilburne, having threatened to burn down any place in which he might be imprisoned, was directed to retire. From the outer room he listened to the voices in the Council chamber. “I tell you, sir,” said Cromwell, “you have no other way of dealing with these men but to break them, or they will break you ; "yea, and bring all the guilt of the blood and treasure shed and spent in this kingdom upon your heads and shoulders '

I and frustrate and make void all that work that, with

« AnteriorContinuar »