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being on behalf of a servant of Mr Prynne’s who had dispersed libels against the Queen for her dancing and such like innocent and courtly sports ; and he aggravated the imprisonment of this man by the counciltable unto that height that one would have believed the very Government itself had been in great danger by it. I sincerely profess it lessened much my reverence unto that great council, for he was very much hearkened unto ; and yet I lived to see this very gentleman whom, by multiplied good escapes, and by real but usurped power, having had a better tailor, and more converse among good company, appear of great and majestic deportment and comely presence.” Curiously enough the so-called servant of Prynne— he was never actually in Prynne’s service at all—was no other than John Lilburne, who was such a thorn in the flesh to Cromwell in later years. In undertaking the defence of the man who had been sentenced to scourge and imprisonment for disseminating books held to be libels by Charles and his ministers, Cromwell announced to his fellow-members his own political position. In life—and above all in political life—it is not possible to satisfy those who expect the actions of any man to be absolutely consistent. Later generations may be convinced not only that Charles was sincere in following a course which he believed to be the right one, but that this course commended itself to certain elements of human nature, and was, there
fore, no mere emanation of his own personal character. It nevertheless remains that he was far from being strong enough for the place which he had inherited from his predecessors, and that in wearing the garments of the Elizabethan monarchy, he was all too unconscious of the work which the new generation required of him—all too ready to claim the rights of Elizabeth, without a particle of the skill in the art of government which she derived from her intimate familiarity with the people over which she had been called to rule.
Charles’s unskilfulness was the more disastrous, as he came to the throne during a crisis when few men would have been able to maintain the prestige of the monarchy. On the one hand the special powers entrusted to the Tudor sovereigns were‘ no longer needed after the domestic and foreign dangers which occupied their reigns had been successfully met. On the other hand, a strife between religious parties had arisen which called for action on lines very different from those which had commended themselves to Elizabeth. In throwing off the authority of the Roman See, Elizabeth had the national spirit of England at her back, whilst in resisting the claims of the Presbyterian clergy, she had the support of the great majority of the laity. By the end of her reign she had succeeded in establishing that special form of ecclesiastical government which she favoured. Yet though the clergy had ceased to cry out for the super
session of episcopacy by the Presbyterian discipline, the bulk of the clergy and of the religious laity were Puritan to the core. So much had been effected by the long struggle against Rome and Spain and the resulting detestation of any form of belief which savoured of Rome and Spain. During the twenty-two years of the peace-loving James, religious thought ceased to be influenced by a sense of national danger. First one, and then another—a Bancroft, an Andrewes, or a Laud, men of the college or the cathedralbegan to think their own thoughts, to welcome a wider interpretation of religious truths than that of Calvin’s Institute, and, above all, to distrust the inward conviction as likely to be warped by passion or self-interest, and to dwell upon the value of the external influences of ritual and organisation. To do justice to both these schools of thought and practice at the time of Charles’s accession would have taxed the strength of any man, seeing how unprepared was the England of that day to admit the possibility of toleration. The pity of it was that Charles, with all his fine feelings and conscientious rectitude, was unfitted for the task. Abandoning himself heart and soul to the newly risen tide of religious thought, his imagination was too weak to enable him to realise the strength of Puritanism, so that he bent his energies, not to securing for his friends free scope for the exercise of what persuasion was in them, but for the repression of those
whom he looked upon as the enemies of the Church and the Crown. With the assistance of Laud he did everything in his power to crush Puritanism, with the result of making Puritanism stronger than it had been before. Every man of independent mind who revolted against the petty interference exercised by Laud placed himself by sympathy, if not by perfect conviction, in the Puritan ranks.
Neither in Elizabeth’s nor in Charles’s reign was it possible to dissociate politics from religion. Parliament, dissatisfied with Charles’s ineffectual guidance of the State, was still more dissatisfied with his attempt to use his authority over the Church to the profit of an unpopular party. The House of Commons representing mainly that section of the population in which Puritanism was the strongest—the country gentlemen in touch with the middle-class in the towns—was eager to pull down Laud’s system in the Church, and to hinder the extension of Royal authority in the State. To do this it was necessary not only to diminish the power of the Crown, but to transfer much of it to Parliament, which, at least in the eyes of its members, was far more capable of governing England wisely.
That Cromwell heartily accepted this view of the situation is evident from his being selected to move the second reading of the Bill for the revival of annual Parliaments, which, by a subsequent compromise, was ultimately converted into a Triennial Act ordaining
A that there should never again be an intermission of
‘' Parliament for more than three years. The fact that he was placed on no less than eighteen committees in the early part of the sittings of the Parliaments shows that he had acquired a position which he could never have reached merely through his cousinship with Hampden and St. John. That he concurred in the destruction of the special courts which had fortified the Crown in the Tudor period, and in the prosecution of Strafford, needs no evidence to prove. These were the acts of the House as a whole. It was the part he took on those ecclesiastical questions which divided the House into two antagonistic parties which is most significant of his position at this time.
However much members of the House of Commons might differ on the future government of the Church, they were still of one mind as to the necessity of changing the system under which it had been of late controlled. There may have been much to be said on behalf of an episcopacy exercising a moderating influence over the clergy, and guarding the rights of minorities against the oppressive instincts of a clerical majority. As a matter of fact this had not been the
attitude of Charles’s Bishops. Appointed by the '
Crown, and chosen out of one party only—and that the party of the minority amongst the clergy and the religious laity—they had seized the opportunity of
giving free scope to their own practices and of hamper