« PreviousContinue »
as Cromwell hoped. On the contrary, it was the deathblow to parliamentary government; it produced a period of national chaos, of a republicanism, and then of an unconstitutional personal rule, which were supported by the sword, and would not have lasted for any appreciable period without it.
It was certain that sooner or later the monarchy must be restored and the constitution be renewed-modified, indeed, but in its main form the same as before the death of Charles I. Had it not been for Cromwell's commanding personality, the period of uncertainty would have come to an end much sooner than it did, and it is possible that after the death of Charles I. the monarchy would have been at once continued in the person of his son. Looking back after the lapse of two centuries, the attempts to establish a republic in England appear obviously futile, and the influence which Cromwell exercised upon the course of events appears more and more striking. It is this absence of any real settlement of national affairs during both the Commonwealth and the Protectorate which makes them part of the preceding period, and renders many of the events which occurred during their continuance of really secondary importance, so far as regards any permanent influence they had on the ultimate history of the nation. But it is none the less a time which has its lasting lessons, showing as it does the powerlessness of political theorists who have no popular support, and how a personal rule is nearly always evolved out of an age of confused counsels and amid the ruins of a broken constitution. It is through this period that Mr. Gardiner now undertakes to be our guide, with that same accuracy and impartiality which have distinguished his previous work. He strikes the keynote of the time on the very first page of the book :
• The execution of Charles I.,' he writes, 'the work of military violence cloaked in the merest tatters of legality—had displayed to the eyes of the world the forgotten truth that kings, as well as subjects, must bear the consequences of their errors and misdeeds. More than this the actors in the great tragedy failed to accomplish, and, it may fairly be added, must necessarily have failed to accomplish. It is never possible for men of the sword to rear the temple of recovered freedom, and the small minority in Parliament which had given the semblance of constitutional procedure to the trial in Westminster Hall were no more than instruments in the hands of the men of the sword. Honestly as both military and political leaders desired to establish popular government, they found themselves in a vicious circle from which there was no escape. No government they could set up would be strong enough to remain erect unless the army were kept on foot, and if the army were kept on foot, popular support would be alienated by its intervention in political affairs, and by the heavy taxation required for its maintenance. Every serious attempt to rest the government on the voice of the nation itself would inure to the benefit of the young prince who had not offended as his father had offended, and who appealed to those whom he claimed as subjects on other grounds than the disposal of an armed force.' (Pp. 1-2.) It was a period of good intentions and of attempts to establish permanently a system of government which was unknown to and undesired by the English people. Such a system would scarcely have had even a trial had it not been for Cromwell's political and military pre-eminence, and for the fact that Charles II., by relying for assistance first upon the Irish and then upon the Scotch, by alarming the English people first by a threatened invasion of their country by an Irish army and next by the actual incursion of his Scotch allies in 1651, greatly lessened his own chances of a return to the throne by this reliance on what were in truth forces hostile to the English as a people, and regarded by them as national enemies. Cromwell, with his keen common sense, expressed what was the view of even those who sympathised with the parliamentary cause when, before the Council of Officers in 1649, he exclaimed :-
'I had rather be overrun with a cavalierish interest than a Scotch interest; I had rather be overrun by a Scotch interest than an Irish interest, and I think of all this is most dangerous, and if they shall be able to carry on their work they will make this the most miserable people of the earth; for all the world knows their barbarism, not of any religion almost any of them, but, in a manner, as bad as Papists. . . . Now it should awaken all Englishmen who perhaps are willing enough he [Charles] should have come in upon an accommodation ; but now he must come from Ireland or Scotland.' The apathy with which, from Carlisle to Worcester, the progress of Charles II. in 1651 was received by the people of the districts through which he passed in his invasion, shows that Royalists were no more inclined than Parliamentarians to welcome a king who came to them supported by soldiers from Ireland or Scotland. In this volume the story of these efforts by Charles II. to regain his throne with the assistance of others than the English people occupies a considerable space, but before we advert to them it is desirable to recur to the events which occurred in London after the execution of the king in January 1649 :
On February 1 the remnant of the House of Commons, now claiming for themselves the name and authority of the Parliament of England, attempted to make its own position regular by resolving that no member who had voted on December 5 that the King's offers afforded a ground of settlement, or had been absent when that vote was given, should be allowed to sit until he had recorded his dissent from that resolution.' (Pp. 2–3.) This was not a beginning which augured well for a new form of government, since it showed no desire to rest the new government on the goodwill of all classes, but rather to depend on those who were most extreme in their political views. Nor were the next proceedings of the Parliament characterised by the slightest gleam of statesmanship. Not satisfied with the abolition of the monarchy, the Commons put an end also to the House of Lords. On February 2 the House of Peers sent an invitation to the Commons to discuss the future government of the country in a joint committee, a proposal which was reasonable and businesslike. But ‘not only was permission to appear at the bar refused to messengers who brought it, but on the following day the Commons resolved to take into consideration the position of the other House. On the 5th some members-Cromwell being probably amongst them-expressed a wish to retain the House of Lords as a purely consultative body, but the proposal was rejected by 44 votes to 29, and a resolution “ that the House of Peers in Parliament is useless and dangerous and ought to be abolished” was carried without a division. On the 7th a further resolution that it had been found by experience . . . that the office of a king in this nation, and to have the power thereof in any single person, is unnecessary, burdensome, and dangerous to the liberty, safety and public interests of the people of this nation, and therefore ought to be abolished,” was carried, also without a division. Effect was given to these resolutions by the introduction of Acts—the name of Bills being now dropped—which were not finally passed till March 17 and 19, but under the circumstances the delay was of no importance.' (P. 3.)
The result of this step was still further to weaken the national support of Parliament by the people, to introduce a species of tyranny, and necessarily to cause those who were in power to have their real support in the army, without which the government could not have existed. Instead of the Lords and the king, the Commons hit on the idea of a Council of State, to consist of forty-one persons, some of whom were to be peers. This council was • to have full executive authority in the management of home and foreign affairs, but since its existence was absolutely at the mercy of the Commons, for it came to an end in a year unless it were otherwise ordered by parliament, it introduced no real moderating or advisory force into the new constitution. If the Parliamentarians had taken so mistaken and narrow a view of the constitution as to abolish the House of Lords, and to set up a council which could have no real independence, it was not likely that they would be willing to tolerate among its members any breadth of opinion. Accordingly, when the form of engagement to be required from the councillors came up for discussion, it was resolved at Ireton's suggestion that councillors should * declare their approval of the establishment of the High • Court of Justice, of the trial and execution of kings, of the
abolition of the monarchy and of the House of Lords.' Algernon Sydney rightly objected to the imposition of this test, in that it would prove a snare to many an honest 'man, but every knave would slip through it. But, foolish as it was to drive away men from the administration who, while they did not approve of what had taken place in the past, might not be averse to help in the government of the country in the present, the imposition of such an engagement showed a fear of public disapproval of the past acts of the Parliament which was calculated to weaken its influence in the country. The state of opinion of moderate Parliamentarians on this subject was exemplified by the attitude of Fairfax. Together with four of the peers nominated for the council, he was ready to serve the new government, but, like them, he refused to approve of past actions which
they had opposed.' The test was therefore revised, but in its second form it was withdrawn on February 23. How many members, if any, of the Council took the engagement in the revised form is uncertain ; but Fairfax did no more than promise to be faithful to a republic without king or House of Peers. That he took even this engagement reluctantly there can be no doubt. His refusal, in June 1650, to command the army which was to invade Scotland, on the ground, first, that it would be a breach of the Solemn League and Covenant to invade Scotland, and next, when he resigned his command because of debilities both in body • and mind occasioned by former action and businesses, was, in fact, the sign of an active disapproval of the course of political events, and is remarkable evidence of the dislike of the nation to the armed republic. It exemplifies the strength of the parliamentary position at the beginning of the Civil War, and the wide distance which had been traversed in a year after the death of Charles I. Mr. Gardiner's statement of Fairfax's conduct throws so much light on the true tendencies of events that it must be quoted without diminution:
"So far as it is possible to draw a conclusion from the past conduct of Fairfax, it would seem that up to a certain point his political views were identical with those of Cromwell. Both had set out with the idea of winning by arms a constitutional settlement in which as much as possible of the old Constitution should be preserved in order to secure the safe establishment of the new. Both were from time to time convinced that one or other portion of the old system must give way, because it had been shown to be incompatible with the new. There, however, the resemblance ends. When a forward step had been taken, Cromwell regarded it not only as irrevocable, but as one of which the justice ought never to be called in question. His mind, in short, was so filled with the next problem that presented itself to him that he forgot that he had ever had any difficulty over any steps which had gone before. Fairfax's mind was cast in a different mould. Gradually, in 1647 and in 1648, he had broken first with the Presbyterian majority and then with the King. At each step he convinced himself, just as Cromwell had done, that constitutional government was impossible if either the Presbyterian majority or the King were allowed to triumph. The expulsion of the eleven members, the crushing of the Royalists at Maidstone and Colchester, even Pride's Purge itself, commended themselves to him as things necessary to be done if a worse calamity was to be averted. That in all this the persuasions of Cromwell and Ireton counted for something is hardly to be denied. It was, however, one thing to be satisfied with each act at the time when it was done, and quite another thing to be satisfied with their tendency when taken together. Strong indications are not wanting that by the end of 1648 Fairfax was dissatisfied with the general result of the work which he had reluctantly approved in detail.
If this is anything like a true explanation of Fairfax's behaviour in 1647 and 1648, his subsequent conduct cannot be difficult to explain. The tendency of the recent actions of the military power was presented to him in the clearest light by the trial and execution of the King, and after the first day's meeting of the High Court of Justice he stood entirely aloof from its proceedings, though it is possible that he might have approved of them if the sentence had been one of dethronement or banishment. After the King's death his action is equally intelligible. On the one hand he was ready to do his duty in defending the Commonwealth, the only possible form of government at the time, against its enemies. On the other hand he refused to bind himself by taking the Engagement to oppose the restoration of a constitutional monarchy in the future.
"Such a view of political duty may be logically defensible, but is certain to lead to practical inconsistencies which, if persisted in, are fatal to the self-respect of him who gives rise to them. Inconsistencies of this kind are sure to reveal themselves in speech, and it is therefore easy to understand how Fairfax may at one time have used language capable of being interpreted as acknowledging an obligation to do something for the King, and at another time have explained his unwillingDess to attack the Scots on the ground that the English army was split into factions, and therefore likely to break asunder in his hands. A
VOL. CLXXXI. NO, CCCLXXI.