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N 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 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 \Vindsor, talked as ifthe dispute between the Houses and the soldiers might be referred to his decision. “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
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. \Vhat was passing before his eyes did but confirm him in his delusion. There had been a quarrel between army and Parliament \Vhere 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 head-quarters 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 emphasized the points which the army was willing to concede, and had minimised those on which they expected Charles to yield. Charles, at all events, was so convinced that the officers were prepared, almost unconditionally, to restore him to his former power, that he gave it as a reason for distrusting them, that they had not asked him for personal favours in return. There can be no doubt that Cromwell refrained at this time from pressing the King hardly. He was present at the meeting of Charles with his children, now permitted to visit him for the first time since the beginning of the civil war. Himself a devoted father, he was touched by the affecting scene. The King, he told Berkeley, was the “uprightest and most conscientious man of his three kingdoms." Yet he was too keen-sighted to be blind to the other side of his character. He wished, he said, that his Majesty would be more frank and not so strictly tied to narrow maxims.
Already Cromwell’s apparent devotion to the King’s person was not unnaturally drawing forth harsh criticisms from those who failed to understand the essential unity underlying divergencies in his action. Some at least amongst the Agitators were joining the Presbyterians in sarcasms directed against the man who was everything by turns; who had at one time taken the Covenant—at another time accepted the disbandment of the army; at another time again had made himself the instrument of the
army in its resistance of disbandment. Cromwell took no notice of such calumnies. He was more concerned with the eagerness of the Agitators to march upon \Vestminster to force the Houses to condemn the eleven members who were again stirring, and to crush the discontent which was simmering amongst the City_population. Happily the mere threat of force had been sufficient, and Parliament virtually abandoned its hostile attitude by naming Fairfax Commander-in-chief of all the forces in the country. \Vould it be so easy to deal with Charles? By July 23, The Heads 0/' the Proposals, probably drawn up by lrcton—who, of all the officers, was the most versed in constitutional lore—with the assistance of Colonel Lambert, having been adopted by the Army Council, were submitted to the King. So far as religion was concerned, they anticipated the settlement of the Revolution of I688, leaving all forms of worship—including that of the condemned Prayer Book—to the voluntary choice of the worshipper. So far as politics were concerned, provision was to be made, not merely for making the King responsible to Parliament, but for making Parliament responsible to the people. There were to be biennial Parliaments, elected by enlarged constituencies, and a Council of State was to be formed, to whose consent in important matters the King was to bow. The first Council was to remain in office for at least seven years. How it was to be nominated after that was left uncertain, probably till the question had been threshed out in discussion with the King. The army leaders had yet to discover how little profit such a discussion would bring. Charles was not prepared to abandon his old position for that of consti
tutional King, limited, as he had never been limited before by opposing
forces. If he had spoken his objections clearly out it would have been easy to criticise him as one who was blind to the forces which were governing events: it would have been impossible to hold him morally at fault. The course which he took could not but lead to disaster. Listening to the army leaders, he yet conspired against them, still placing his hopes on the assistance of a Scottish army, and speculating on the chances of a
breach between the army on the one side and the Parliament and the City