Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

ance of a Scottish army. Unhappily it was in Cromwell's nature to meet the difficulty in another way. When most inconsistent he loved to persuade himself that he had always been consistent, and in taking refuge in the statement that the army put forward its claim to be heard as Englishmen rather than as soldiers, he committed himself to a doctrine so manifestly absurd that it could only be received with a smile of contemptuous disbelief. Cromwell, in fact, stood at the parting of the ways. For him there was but one choice—the choice between entire submission to Parliamentary authority and the establishment of military control. No wonder that he instinctively shrunk from acknowledging, even to himself, the enormous importance of the step he was taking: still less wonder that he did not recognise in advance the unavoidable consequences of the choice—the temporary success which follows in the wake of superior force, and the ultimate downfall of the cause which owes its acceptance to such means.

The immediate results developed themselves without long delay. The army, doing its best to carry on the work of violence under legal forms, proceeded to charge eleven of the leading Presbyterian members with attempting to throw the kingdom into fresh war, as well as with other misdemeanours. The accused persons retaliated by pressing forward their scheme for gaining the assistance of a Scottish army, and for bringing up English forces devoted to their cause against the army under Fairfax and Cromwell. Fairfax and Cromwell were too near the centre of affairs to be so easily baffled by specious words. On June 26 a menacing letter from the army made the eleven members feel that their position was untenable, and voluntarily—so at least they asserted—they withdrew from their seats in Parliament. Who could now doubt that—under the thinnest of veils—the army had taken the supreme control of the government into its hands?

[ocr errors]

CHAPTER III.

THE NEW MODEL ARMY AND THE KING.

In his desire to escape from the undoubted evils of military government, Cromwell had the best part of the army behind him. Nor did it, at the moment, appear very difficult to attain this object by coming to terms with the King, especially as the army leaders were prepared to make concessions to Charles's religious scruples. Claiming freedom for themselves in matters of conscience, they were ready to concede it in return, and, for the first time since he had ridden out of Oxford, Charles was allowed to receive the ministrations of his own chaplains, and to join in offering prayer and praise in the familiar language of the Prayer Book of the Church. It was a long step towards the settlement of that religious question which had created so impassable a gulf between the King and the Presbyterians.

The constitutional question remained to be discussed, and the burden of framing terms to bind the King fell upon Cromwell's son-in-law, Ireton, rather than upon Cromwell himself. Cromwell indeed would never have consented to see Charles replaced in the

old position, but he was unskilled in constitutional

niceties, and he left such details to others. The main

difficulty of the situation was not long in revealing

itself. Charles, who had been removed to Windsor,

talked as if the dispute between the Houses and the

soldiers might be referred to his decision. u Sir,"

replied Ireton, "you have an intention to be the

arbitrator between Parliament and us; and we mean

to be it between your Majesty and Parliament." It

was not that there was any definite constitutional

idea in Charles's mind. With him it was rather a

matter of feeling than of reason that he could occupy

no other place in the State than that which tradition

confirmed by his own experience had assigned to the

man who wore the crown. For him as for another as

weak for all purposes of government, as richly endowed

with the artistic temperament as himself,

Not all the waters of the salt, salt sea
Could wash the balm from an anointed King.

Under whatever forms, Parliamentary or constitutional, he and no other was to be the supreme arbiter, empowered to speak in due season the decisive word —always just, always in the right. What was passing before his eyes did but confirm him in his delusion. There had been a quarrel between army and Parliament. Where was it to end unless he sat in judgment to dispense equity to both? Against that will—call it firm or obstinate, as we please—so inaccessible to the teaching of facts, so clinging to the ideas which had inspired his life, the pleadings of Cromwell and Ireton would be vain.

Of this Cromwell had no suspicion. He had never had personal dealings with the King, and had little insight into his peculiar character. On July 4 he saw him at Caversham, where Charles had been established, in order that he might be near Reading, now the headquarters of the army. He fell at once under the charm of Charles's gracious manner, and fancied that a few days would bring about an agreement. In full accord with Fairfax, he hoped to establish the throne on a constitutional and Parliamentary basis Neither Charles nor any of those who were under his influence could understand the sincerity of this purpose. The French Ambassador, Bellievre, seems to have sounded Cromwell on the object of his ambition, and to have received the memorable reply: "No one rises so high as he who knows not whither he is going". To Sir John Berkeley, an ardent Royalist, Cromwell explained that the army asked only 'to have leave to live as subjects ought to do, and to preserve their consciences,' thinking that no man could enjoy his estates unless the King had his rights. Probably Cromwell, in his conversation, had emphasised the points which the army was willing to concede, and had minimised those on which it expected Charles to yield. Charles,

« AnteriorContinuar »