Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

also voted that, with the exception of Fairfax, no officer should hold a higher rank than that of colonel; in other words, they pronounced the dismissal of Lieutenant-General Cromwell from the service. It was characteristic of Cromwell that in a letter written by him to Fairfax his personal grievance finds no place. "Never," he writes, "were the spirits of men more embittered than now. Surely the Devil hath but a short time. Upon the Fast-day," he adds in a postscript, "divers soldiers were raised, as I heard, both horse and foot—near two hundred in Covent Garden —to prevent us soldiers' from cutting the Presbyterians' throats! These are fine tricks to mock God with." Yet, irritated as he was, he gave no sign of any thought of resistance. "In the presence of Almighty God, before whom I stand," he declared to the House, "I know the army will disband and lay down their arms at your door whenever you will command them." His own dismissal he took calmly. Towards the end of March he was in frequent conference with the Elector Palatine who had offered him a command in Germany, where the miserable Thirty Years' War was still dragging on, and where the cause of toleration, apparently lost in England, might possibly be served.

* This is Carlyle's reading, but the original manuscript is torn, and what indications there are show that the words cannot be 'us soldiers'. But I have no emendation to suggest.

The Presbyterian leaders, Holies, Stapleton, Maynard, and the rest of them, must have flattered themselves that they were at last in the full career of success. To have Cromwell's word for it that the army would accept disbandment, and to see the back of the man whom they most feared, was a double stroke of fortune on which they could hardly have calculated. In their delight at the good fortune which had fallen into their laps, they forgot, in the first place, that there were many officers, besides Cromwell, who mistrusted their policy; and in the second place that, if these officers were to be deprived of their influence over the private soldiers, care must be taken to leave no material grievance of the latter unrelieved. On March 21 and 22 a deputation from Parliament which met forty-three officers in Saffron Walden Church was told that no one present would volunteer for Ireland unless a satisfactory answer were given to four questions: What regiments were to be kept up in England? Who was to command in Ireland? What was to be the assurance for the pay and maintenance of the troops going to Ireland? Finally, what was to be done to secure the arrears due to the men and indemnity for military actions in the past war which a civil court might construe into robbery and murder? In addition to these demands, a petition was drawn up in the name of the soldiers, asking for various concessions, of which the principal ones concerned the arrears and the indemnity. If the Presbyterian leaders had been possessed of a grain of common sense, they would have seen that they could not retain the submission of an army and be oblivious of its material interests. As it was, they treated the action of the soldiers as mere mutiny, summoned the leading officers to the bar, and declared all who supported the petition to be enemies of the State and disturbers of the peace.

Cromwell's position was one of great difficulty. As a soldier and a man of order, he abhorred any semblance of mutiny, and he had shown by his readiness to accept a command in Germany that he had no wish to redress the balance of political forces by throwing his sword into the scale; but it did not need his distrust of the political capacity of the Presbyterian leaders to help him to the conclusion that they were wholly in the wrong in their method of dealing with the army. It was not a case in which soldiers refused to obey the commands of their superiors in accordance with the terms of their enlistment. They were asked to undertake new duties, and in the case of those who were expected to betake themselves to Ireland, actually to volunteer for a new service, and yet, forsooth, they were to be treated as mutineers, because they asked for satisfaction in their righteous claims.

Cromwell, even if he had wished to oppose the \

\

82 OLIVER CROMWELL.

\

army to the Parliament, would have had nothing to do but to sit still, whilst his opponents accumulated blunder after blunder. The House of Commons being unable to extract any signs of yielding from the officers whom it had summoned to the bar, sent them back to their posts. It then appointed Skippon, a good disciplinarian, of no special repute as a general, to command in Ireland; after which, without offering in any way to meet the soldiers' demands, it sent a new body of commissioners, amongst whom was Sir William Waller, a stout adherent of the Presbyterian cause, to urge on the formation of a new army for Ireland. The commissioners, on their arrival at Saffron Walden, were not slow in discovering that the officers did not take kindly to the idea of Skippon's command. "Fairfax and Cromwell," they shouted, "and we all go." The commissioners gained the promise of a certain number of officers and soldiers to go to Ireland; but, on the whole, their mission was a failure. They had not been empowered to offer payment of arrears, and, as they ought to have foreseen, the indignation of the large number of soldiers who complained that they were being cheated of their pay, threw power into the hands of the minority, known as the "Godly party," which held forth the doctrine that, now that Parliament was shrinking from the fulfilment of its duty, it was time for the army to step forward as a political power, and to secure the settlement of the nation on the basis of civil and religious liberty. The idea was also entertained that it would be easier for the army than it had been for Parliament to come to terms with the King, and that it was for the soldiers to fetch him from Holmby and to replace him, on fair conditions, on the throne.

Of Cromwell's feelings during these weeks we have little evidence From the house which, since the preceding year, he had occupied with his family in Drury Lane, he watched events, without attempting to modify them. In the latter part of April both he and Vane, who was now his fast friend, with a tie cemented by a common interest in religious liberty, absented themselves, save on a few rare occasions, from the sittings of Parliament. The incalculable stupidity of the Presbyterian leaders must have made Cromwell more than ever doubtful of the possibility of getting from them a remedy for the evils of the nation. By the end of April it was known that only 2,320 soldiers had volunteered for Ireland. Then, and not till then, Parliament came to the conclusion that something ought to be done about the arrears, and ordered that six weeks' pay should be offered to every disbanded soldier. It was a mere fraction of what was due, and a soldier need not be abnormally suspicious to come to the conclusion that, when once he had left the ranks, his prospect of getting satisfaction for the remainder of his claim was exceedingly slight. Thus

« AnteriorContinuar »