Imágenes de páginas

driven to the wall, eight of the cavalry regiments chose, each of them, two Agitators, or, as in modern speech they would be styled, Agents, to represent them in the impending negotiation for their rights, and the sixteen thus chosen drew up letters to the Generals, Fairfax, Cromwell, Ireton and Skippon. As the cavalry was the most distinctively political portion of the army, the writers of these letters for the first time stepped beyond the bounds of material grievance, complaining of a design to break and ruin the army, and of the intention of 'some who had lately tasted of sovereignty to become masters and degenerate into tyrants'. The House, beyond measure indignant, summoned to the bar three of the Agitators who brought the letters to Westminster; but on their refusal to answer questions put to them without order from their military constituents, sent Cromwell, Ireton and Skippon to assure the soldiers that they should have the indemnity they craved, together with a considerable part of their arrears and debentures for the rest.

There is no reason to doubt that Cromwell sympathised with the soldiers in their desire for a just settlement of their claims, whilst he was still disinclined to support them in their design of gaining influence over the Government. When he reached Saffron Walden he found that the infantry regiments had followed the example of the cavalry, and that a body of Agitators had been chosen to represent the whole army. The result of their conferences with the officers was the production of A Declaration of the Army, drawn up on May 16, with which Cromwell appears to have been entirely satisfied, as, while it insisted on a redress of practical grievances, it contained no claim to political influence. If the Houses had frankly accepted the situation, Cromwell and his colleagues would have succeeded in averting, at least for a time, the danger of investing the army with political power.

On his return Cromwell found signs that the Parliamentary majority was even less inclined to do justice to the soldiers than when he had left Westminster. During his absence, Parliamentary authority to discipline and train the militia of the City had been given to a committee named by the Common Council of London. The Common Council was a Presbyterian body, and its committee proceeded to eject every officer tainted with Independency. The city militia numbered 18,000 men, and it looked as if the majority in Parliament was preparing a force which might be the nucleus of an army to be opposed to the soldiers of Fairfax and Cromwell. In Scotland, too, there was an army of more than 6,000 men, under the command of David Leslie—no inconsiderable general—which might perhaps be brought to the help of the Parliament against its own soldiers, as Leven's army had, three years before, been brought to its assistance against the King. Charles, too, on May 12—Cromwell being still absent from Westminster—had at last replied to the proposals made to him early in the year, and had offered to concede the militia for ten years, and a Presbyterian establishment for three, the clergy being allowed to discuss in the meanwhile the terms of a permanent settlement. In the very probable event of their disagreeing, it would be easy for Charles, at the end of the three years, to contend that episcopacy was again the legal government of the Church— especially as he was at once to return to Westminster, where he would be able to exercise all the influence which would again be at his command. On May 18 this offer was however accepted by the English Presbyterians, as well as by the Scottish Commissioners, as a fair basis of an understanding with the King. No wonder that the soldiers took alarm, or that on the 19th the Agitators issued an appeal to the whole army to hang together in resistance.

Nevertheless, when Cromwell reappeared in the House on May 21, and read out the joint report of the deputation, he was able to declare his belief that the army would disband, though it would refuse to volunteer for Ireland. At first the House seemed ready to take the reasonable course, approving of an ordinance granting the required indemnity, and favourably considering another to provide a real and visible security for so much of the arrears as was left unpaid. At the same time the arrears to be given in hand were raised from the pay of six weeks to that of eight . Yet whatever the Presbyterians might offer, they were unable to trust the army, and on the 23rd they discussed with Lauderdale, who was in England as a Scottish member of the Committee of Both Kingdoms, and Bellievre, who was the Ambassador of the King of France, a scheme for bringing a Scottish army into England. Talk about securing the King's person, which had prevailed in some regiments a short time before, had come to their ears, and furnished them with the excuse that they were but anticipating their opponents. They accordingly proposed to counteract this design by removing Charles either to some English town, or even to Scotland. Their hopes of being able to carry out this daring project were the higher as Colonel Graves, who commanded the guard at Holmby, was himself a Presbyterian on whom they could depend to carry out their instructions.

Though nothing was absolutely settled, the conduct of the House of Commons reflected the policy of its leaders. It dropped its consideration of the ordinance assigning security for the soldiers' arrears and resolved to proceed at once to disband the army, beginning on June i. The announcement of this resolution brought consternation to those who were doing their best to keep the soldiers within the bounds of obedience. "I doubt," wrote the author of a letter which was probably addressed by Ireton to his father-in-law, "the disobliging of so faithful an army will be repented of; provocation and exasperation make men think of what they never intended. They are possessed, as far as I can discern, with this opinion that if they be thus scornfully dealt with for their faithful services whilst the sword is in their hands, what shall their usage be when they are dissolved?" Two days later, another writer, speaking of the commissioners appointed by Parliament to disband the regiments, added the prophetic words: "They may as well send them among so many bears to take away their whelps". It was perfectly true. When on June i the commissioners attempted to disband Fairfax's regiment at Chelmsford, it broke into mutiny and marched for Newmarket, where Fairfax had appointed a rendezvous to consider the situation. It was not that the mass of the army had any inclination to interfere in politics. "Many of the soldiers," wrote the commissioners, "being dealt with, profess that money is the only thing they insist upon, and that four months' pay would have given satisfaction."

Such an event could not but drive Cromwell to reconsider his position. Whether he liked it or not, the army had, through the bungling of the Presbyterian leaders, broken loose from the authority of Parliament. It was impossible for him to give his support to Parliament when it was about, with the aid of the

« AnteriorContinuar »