21. Regicide and Republic, 1647-1660
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21. Regicide and Republic, 1647-1660

August 24, 2019


Prof: So,
we’re in 1646 and, as I explained last time,
the development of the war, especially between 1643 and
’45, had unleashed forces which
could not easily be controlled and created aims and
expectations which had not originally existed at the
outbreak of war, especially the controversy
concerning the future organization of the church and
the issue of ‘liberty of conscience’.
Parliament was now severely
divided between those who wanted a Presbyterian church settlement
and the so-called Independents who favored liberty of
conscience. With the defeat of the King
these issues were now prominent in establishing the terms of
settlement. And, as they attempted a
settlement, the fundamental differences of
perception of the nature of the parliamentary cause–
what it had been, what it was now–came very much
to the fore. In 1646 to ‘7,
the so-called Presbyterian group were the dominant group in
parliament. They held the initiative and in
July 1646 they put to King Charles–
who was now in the north of England held by the Scots in
Newcastle– they put to him the Newcastle
Propositions. Under those terms the King
should take the Covenant; there should be a united
Presbyterian church of both England and Scotland;
parliament was to control the military for twenty years,
which they thought was roughly the King’s expected lifetime);
and fifty-eight of the King’s supporters were to be exempted
from pardon on the grounds that they had committed various
atrocities in the course of the war.
Charles, faced with these
terms, played for time. He might have lost militarily,
but he knew that they still needed him for any settlement.
Remember what the Earl of
Manchester had said back in 1644: “if we beat the King
ninety and nine times, he is king still.”
Charles knew that.
In February 1647,
the Scots’ army was paid off by the English parliament.
They handed over the King into
English custody and they withdrew back to Scotland,
and the King was brought south and lodged in a country house in
Northamptonshire, northwest of London,
Holmby House, where negotiations continued.
Meanwhile, the New Model
Army–which was now for the most part billeted in eastern England
near Cambridge– the New Model Army was ordered
either to disband or to reenlist for service in Ireland where the
Irish confederacy was still in control.
This demand provoked an army,
many of whom were already worried by the prospect of a
settlement which would be intolerant in matters of
religion, and the consequences of that
provocation were momentous. In April and May 1647,
the cavalry regiments of the New Model elected
representatives. They were called
“Agitators.” They elected Agitators.
And a Council of the Army was
formed which consisted of the general officers,
the colonels of the regiments, and the representatives of the
various regiments. Then on the 4^(th) of June a
junior officer, Cornet Joyce,
went to Holmby House and seized the King and brought him to the
army. There’s a famous story that
when Joyce arrived at Holmby House the guard there asked him
where his warrant was to remove the King and he drew his pistol
and said, “here is my warrant.”
Then on the 14th of June the
army issued and printed a Declaration.
They declared themselves to be
“no mere mercenary army,” but an army enlisted
to defend “our own and the people’s just rights and
liberties.” They demanded an Act of
Oblivion to wipe away all acts which had been committed during
the war, pardon for all acts committed;
they demanded liberty for “tender consciences,”
as they put it, in matters of religion.
And the army leaders,
with the council, began drawing up their own
terms for negotiation with the King whom they now held.
Then, in late July 1647,
demonstrations in London on behalf of Presbyterianism and
against the army’s actions, led to the Independent members
of parliament fleeing the city. They fled to the army and asked
for its protection. On the 6th of August the army
marched south and occupied London, restoring them to
parliament, from which some of their Presbyterian enemies fled.
Now then it was the turn of the
army and the Independents in parliament to attempt a
settlement with the King, and they put to him terms which
were entitled the Heads of the Proposals.
They were drawn up by Henry
Ireton, a former lawyer who was the
Commissary General of the New Model,
and John Lambert, one of the cavalry colonels,
and they were probably the most generous terms–
well they were certainly the most generous terms–
ever offered to King Charles; remarkably so in fact.
The army insisted that in
future there would be a parliament elected every two
years and that control of the militia would be with
parliament, but only for ten years,
not twenty. They exempted only five
Royalists from pardon. They were even willing to
permit the reestablishment of a Church of England with bishops
and the old prayer book, but it should have no coercive
powers over those who preferred other forms of worship:
so a reestablished Church of England but with liberty for
tender consciences. Charles’ aide in the
negotiations, Sir John Berkeley,
urged the King to accept these proposals.
He said never would a kingdom
lost be so easily recovered as on such terms,
but the King temporized. Berkeley later recorded in his
memoirs that in his view the King would not agree because he
didn’t trust Cromwell and Ireton and the reason he didn’t trust
them was that they asked for nothing for themselves.
But most likely the King was
simply playing for time and secretly opening negotiations at
this time with the Scots, who were increasingly alarmed,
now that they’d withdrawn from England,
at what was happening in England and at the prospect of
Independents in power. Meanwhile, while this was going
on a further set of proposals began gestating amongst the
Agitators in the army council and some of the officers,
and these were deeply influenced by the views of the
London radical movement, the Levellers.
The Levellers,
led by John Lilburne, William Walwyn,
Richard Overton, and John Wildman,
had emerged initially as pamphleteers on behalf of
liberty of conscience. But their experience at the
hands of an intolerant Presbyterian-dominated
parliament led them to begin questioning the whole basis of
government authority and the manner in which the hands of
power might be tied in a number of respects.
They claimed in their pamphlets
to speak on behalf of what they called “the middle and
poorer sort of people,” “the hobnails,
the clouted shoes, the private soldiers,
the leather and woolen aprons and all the laborious and
industrious people of England.”
A very distinctly populist
stance. And they advanced the
claim–I’m quoting– “that all power is
originally and essentially in the whole body of the people of
this nation”: declaration of popular
sovereignty. Accordingly,
they put forward proposals including a single-chamber
parliament–they would abolish the House of Lords;
a redistribution of parliamentary seats in order to
make them more equitable; elections to be held every two
years with a much wider male suffrage–quite how wide is
debatable. They probably held a variety of
different views at different times.
Some appear to have been for
full manhood suffrage, others for a more limited
suffrage, but certainly a larger
one–thorough reform of the legal system,
the laws to be simplified and to be printed in English.
Well, in October 1647,
much of this was drawn up in a set of proposals called the
Agreement of the People, and the Agreement of the People
having been debated amongst them and printed was then put forward
to the army council in a set of debates which took place in
Putney Church and they’re known as the Putney Debates.
We have the full transcript of
the Putney Debates and it’s a quite remarkable survival.
The secretary of the army
council took the whole thing down in shorthand and this was
rediscovered in the late nineteenth century and is now
fully available in print. In the Putney Debates we find
fully transcribed the statements not only of the leaders of the
army council but also the independent interjections
expressing their aspirations of nameless soldiers who had been
elected on behalf of their regiments.
The secretary of the army
council didn’t know their names. He put them down as “Buff
Coat,” i.e., a man wearing the thick
buff-colored leather coat of a cavalryman,
or in one case “Bedfordshire Man,”
a man who either had a Bedfordshire accent,
perhaps, or perhaps was wearing the sash of the Bedfordshire
regiment. Some of the statements made are
most extraordinary ringing declarations.
General Ireton,
who did most of the talking on behalf of the officers,
thought that all men should enjoy liberty under the law,
but he took the view conventional for a man of his
class that the vote should only belong to people of property,
those with “a permanent and fixed interest in the
kingdom.” In contrast to that view,
Thomas Rainborough, an artillery officer,
replied, “the poorest he that is in England hath a life
to live as the greatest he, and therefore,
Sir, I truly think that every man that is to live under a
government ought first by his own consent to put himself under
that government.” Ireton appealed to the
importance of constitutional tradition in going forward with
the settlement. Trooper Sexby urged considering
“the reasonableness of the thing” rather than
constitutional precedent. Well, the Putney Debates are
well worth reading and they provide an astonishing insight
into the ideas which were circulating in London and the
army; ideas generated by the
experience of the war, by the sense of possibility
which had been unleashed among people who had been brought to
ask, as several did ask in the
Putney Debates, “what hath the soldier
fought for?” That’s a phrase that repeatedly
comes to the fore in the course of the debates,
and they tell us a lot about the army leaders too.
The Lord General,
Thomas Fairfax, was largely silent.
Fairfax was a professional
soldier, not a politician. He was famously taciturn and he
said little. He merely acted as chairman.
Henry Ireton did most of the
debating. He was clear-headed,
very highly intelligent, sharp.
He clearly became exasperated
with what he saw as the utopian schemes being put forward by the
soldiers. At one point he replied to the
question, “what hath the soldier fought for?”
by saying, “I tell you
what the soldier… has fought for…
that one man’s will shall not
be law.” That was Ireton’s perception of
the conflict, but he also declared himself
willing to follow where God might lead.
Cromwell was something of a
mediating figure. He said comparatively little.
It was characteristic of his
manner. He tended often when major
decisions were to be made to hesitate,
to wait, to wait on a sign from God,
and then when he was sure of his course of his action to take
drastic action. Well, were the general officers
seriously negotiating with the representatives of the regiments
or were they just humoring the troops to maintain order and
coherence in the army while pressing ahead with their own
negotiations with the King? We’ll never really know because
ultimately it came to nothing. The debates broke up
inconclusively, and the reason they broke up
was because of an action on the part of the King.
Charles was very much aware of
the possibilities of exploiting potential divisions on the
Parliamentarian side. He was also very fearful of the
radicals and what might happen if they were to gain the
ascendancy in the army council. On the 11^(th) of November he
escaped from custody, went south and took refuge on
the Isle of Wight off the south coast of England.
There he was held by the
Parliamentarian governor in honorable custody but he was
allowed to receive representatives,
and they included representatives from Scotland.
On the 15^(th) of November,
faced with this situation, Fairfax and Cromwell called the
army to a rendezvous and discipline was re-imposed.
Cromwell rode up and down the
ranks, plucking copies of the
Agreement of the People from the hatbands of some of the soldiers
who’d come with copies of the Agreement of the People in their
hats. One intransigent soldier was
summarily court-martialed and shot.
In December 1647,
the King, meanwhile, concluded an agreement with
Scots representatives. It was called the Engagement.
In the Engagement he undertook
to accept a Presbyterian church in return for military aid and
he also began secretly negotiation–
negotiating with the Irish confederacy.
Shortly afterwards in the
spring of 1648 there were concerted Royalist uprisings in
various parts of the kingdom: in Wales,
in South Wales, in Kent, in Essex,
and in the north in Yorkshire. Meanwhile, Charles’ supporters
in Scotland, the Engagers,
began assembling an army for the invasion of England to
deliver the King and with that the second civil war began.
So, after so much hope of a
settlement, so much generosity in the terms
which had been offered to Charles in the Heads of the
Proposals, this renewal of the war
hardened the hearts of the army’s leaders.
On the 29th of April,
1648, they called the whole army to a general assembly at
Windsor to the west of London for a prayer meeting before they
divided into various bodies, each of which was to take on
the Royalist threat in different areas of the kingdom.
And the mood at Windsor was
very different from that at Putney.
The mood was one of heightened
religious anxiety, anger, and expectation amongst
men who had not wanted or expected to fight again.
They saw the renewal of the war
as being both a judgment from God upon their previous actions
and a test of their resolve, and they resolved that Charles
was “a man against whom God hath witnessed”–
I’m quoting from the declaration which ended the
meeting– and therefore “that it was
our duty if ever the Lord brought us back to peace to call
Charles Stuart, that man of blood,
to an account for that blood he hath shed and the mischief he
hath done to his utmost against the Lord’s cause and people in
these poor nations.” And in that mood the army
departed, Fairfax to the east,
Cromwell first to Wales and then to the north where on the
17th to the 19th of July he met and utterly shattered a much
larger Scottish-Royalist army at the Battle of Preston,
a hard-fought running battle which stretched for miles along
the road from Preston to Manchester.
Cromwell saw that victory as
divinely ordained. In the dispatch he sent back he
could see “nothing but the hand of God”
in it, as he put it. God had spoken again as far as
he was concerned and the army began returning slowly to London
in a mood of religious exultation,
pausing in Yorkshire to mop up Royalist resistance at
Pontefract Castle before proceeding south.
At the brief siege of
Pontefract, Thomas Rainborough, the Leveller,
was killed. But meanwhile parliament had
reopened negotiations with the King.
The King was king still.
This proved too much for the
officers in London. On the 6th of December,
1648, Colonel Thomas Pride stationed troops at the entrance
to the House of Commons and conducted what’s known as
Pride’s Purge. He refused to allow into
parliament anyone who did not sympathize with the army’s
cause. Parliament was reduced to only
150 members known as the Rump. While this was going on
Cromwell was mysteriously absent.
He returned to London only
after Pride’s Purge had been completed.
Exactly where he was isn’t
certain. It’s possible that he’d gone
home to Huntingdonshire. That’s one idea.
He seems to have been
undergoing one of those periods of reflection before deciding on
decisive action which were very characteristic of him;
but once he came back he was prominent in driving things
ahead. On the 1^(st) of January 1649,
the Rump, the remaining 150 members of parliament,
set up a high court of justice to try the King.
The House of Lords refused to
participate. The House of Commons therefore
declared that its own decisions would have the force of law
since “the people are, under God, the original of all
just power.” On the 20th of January,
Charles I was arraigned. The charge–I’m
quoting–declaring him to be “a tyrant,
a traitor, a murderer, and a public and implacable
enemy to the Commonwealth of England.”
The King with great dignity
attended his trial in Westminster Hall but refused to
recognize the authority of the court.
He was condemned.
On the 29th of January,
only fifty-nine of the more than 150 members of the court
could be prevailed upon to actually sign the King’s death
warrant. And then the following day the
King was executed on a scaffold outside his banqueting hall in
Whitehall Palace. It’s still there today,
the Banqueting Hall, the only surviving building of
Whitehall Palace. If you visit it,
the room that you enter on the first floor is the former
banqueting hall itself. The ceiling is decorated with a
wonderful painting by Rubens of the apotheosis of King James I.
Charles’ father is shown
ascending into heaven. It’s a wonderful artistic
statement of divine right monarchy,
and ironically it was under that painting that Charles
walked to step out from the window on to the scaffold,
wearing two shirts because it was a cold January day in case
he should shiver and people might think he was afraid.
He met his death with great
dignity, perhaps knowing that this was the best thing he could
do for the monarchy, to die well,
and so he did. And as his head was struck off
one witness says that from the crowd there came “such a
groan as I never heard before.”
It’s ironic for those of us who
live in New Haven that in Broadway we have a high
Anglo-Catholic Episcopalian church which is one of those
that recognizes the execution of King Charles I,
commemorates it as a martyrdom for the Episcopal church,
and we have running from Broadway three streets named
after three of the men who signed his death warrant,
Goffe, Whalley, and Dixwell. So the fingerprints of these
events are here. What next?
They had tried and they had
failed to reach a settlement with the King.
Could they achieve one without
him? Well, it was attempted.
In March 1649,
parliament declared the monarchy and the House of Lords
abolished. In May 1649,
England was declared “a Commonwealth and Free
State.” All writs were to run in the
name not of the King but of the “keepers of the liberties
of England.” A new great seal was made for
the kingdom which bore a picture not of the King but of the House
of Commons in session surrounded around the edge with the legend
“In the first year of freedom by God’s blessing
restored.” Well, perhaps in time those
lofty aspirations might have acquired some real substance,
but for the moment the fact was that this was a regime run by a
committed minority supported by a somewhat larger body who were
willing to conform to its authority out of pragmatism or
for the sake of order or out of mere political opportunism.
But despite its lofty claims
the survival of the regime depended ultimately upon the
army and the army of course had an agenda of its own.
Above all, defense of liberty
of conscience for the godly and the pursuit of a rather vaguely
defined ‘godly reformation’ in the kingdom.
These tensions were initially
disguised by the fact that there was an immediate need to defend
the new regime. In 1649 to ’50,
parliament undertook the re-conquest of Ireland to
prevent its use as a base by Charles II,
now aged nineteen and in exile–and that re-conquest was
brutally initiated by Cromwell himself.
Cromwell was now appointed lord
general since Sir Thomas Fairfax,
after the execution of the King, in which he had no part,
was not willing to go any further and retired.
Cromwell blundered in to
Ireland with very little understanding of the
complexities of the Irish situation and blinded by the
1641 propaganda stereotype of the barbarities committed by the
Irish rebels. At the fortress town of
Drogheda near Dublin in 1649, a massacre of the defenders of
Drogheda was committed. This was justified by the laws
of war. They had refused to surrender
honorably and, under the laws of war at the
time, a city taken by assault, with the losses that that
involved, would be one which would be
permitted no quarter. Nevertheless,
it was an act probably partly fueled by religious bigotry and
zeal. Cromwell himself in the
dispatch he sent back to England after Drogheda appears troubled
by what he had ordered. It has a very defensive tone.
Nonetheless,
it was done and it initiated a bloody pacification of Ireland
which continued for two years and culminated in confiscations
of land from Irish landowners and the founding of a Protestant
ascendancy in Ireland with the land being granted to
adventurers, who had given money for the
re-conquest, and soldiers.
It didn’t create the Protestant
Ireland they envisaged. It created a deeply divided
society dominated by British landowners and the roots of the
subsequent animosity which remains even in the current
fragile peace. Meanwhile, in 1650 Charles II
landed in Scotland where he was crowned king.
Cromwell moved north to
campaign there against Charles. On the 3rd of September 1650,
he took on the army of the Covenant at the Battle of
Dunbar. Heavily outnumbered,
his troops hungry and many of them sick,
and nevertheless by a brilliant tactic of attacking the center
of the Scottish line and splitting it they won an
unexpected victory. Again Cromwell exulted.
“The Lord hath done
this,” he said in his dispatch.
A second Scottish invasion
force was formed in the west and moved south.
Cromwell then chased it down
the east, moved across and met them at
Worcester a year after Dunbar where again on the 3rd of
September, exactly a year later,
they were completely defeated. The Battle of Worcester was
described by Cromwell as “the crowning mercy.”
Charles II, who had been with
that army, fled in to exile again,
after the famous incident in which he hid in an oak tree at
Boscobel House while Parliamentarian soldiers
searched the grounds beneath for him;
a story he liked to tell later after he’d been restored to the
crown. By 1653, the Commonwealth of
England, Scotland, and Ireland created
by these military actions and conquest constituted the first
all-British state, and meanwhile in 1652 to ‘4 a
victorious naval war was fought against the Dutch.
Initially, at the very
foundation of the English Commonwealth the idea had been
put forward of forming a union with the Dutch republic.
That had been rejected and
subsequent quarrels, the Dutch sheltering of
Charles, and trade rivalry led to a brief naval war in which
the Commonwealth was victorious. So, by 1653,
the Commonwealth was militarily triumphant.
Its forces, now battle hardened
and possessed of the extraordinary morale which had
come from victory after victory, were apparently invincible.
But with the peace,
tensions re-surfaced. This was not the popular regime
which had been envisaged by the Levellers.
It was not the godly regime
which had been envisaged by Cromwell.
The Rump had passed a
Toleration Act in 1650 granting toleration and religious sects
of all kinds proliferated, as you know.
Some steps had been taken to
improve the financial position of the clergy in the church to
get a better quality of clergy and some cosmetic reforms had
been made to the law. But apart from that the Rump
showed little reforming zeal. There was also a good deal of
suspicion in the army that the members of the Rump planned to
perpetuate themselves forever. There was talk that when a seat
fell vacant they would hold what were called
“recruiter” elections for a single
constituency rather than holding a general election for the
election of an entirely new parliament.
The army didn’t like that.
Finally, on the 20^(th) of
April 1653, when it appeared that the Rump
was about to go ahead with that scheme Cromwell,
who had been waiting patiently, precipitously acted.
He stood up in parliament,
called in troops, and dissolved the Rump,
famously declaring as he drove them out of their chamber,
“Begone. You have sat here too long for
all the good you do.” Well, what followed in the next
five years was a series of constitutional experiments in
which Cromwell, who now held supreme power,
attempted to divest himself of that power,
but at the same time retained the right to intervene when
necessary to defend what he took to be the central cause,
which to him meant above all liberty of conscience and rule
by men of “godly and honest conversation,”
as he put it. The trouble was that too few
others in the nation shared his aspirations and,
as he later remarked to Bulstrode Whitelocke,
one of his advisers, “I am as much for
government by consent as any man but where will I find that
consent?” His first attempt was to win
consent by establishing a reforming government and a
so-called Nominated Parliament of 140 members was established
to promote godly reform. The members were simply
nominated. Cromwell described this as
“a door to usher in those things that God hath
promised.” He was quite enthusiastic about
the idea. It was the brainchild of one of
his officers, Major General Thomas Harrison.
This parliament,
the Nominated Parliament, sometimes known as ‘Barebone’s
Parliament’ after one of its members,
sat between July and December 1653 and it did indeed begin to
consider radical reforms in the law and the abolition of
compulsory tithes in church. But even in a parliament of
godly men such steps occasioned too much anxiety for most of the
members. In December 1643,
while some of the more radical members were attending a prayer
meeting more conservative members of the Nominated
Parliament seized the moment and dissolved themselves and handed
the power back to Cromwell. Next, between 1654 and 1657,
they attempted government under a constitution called the
Instrument of Government. This was based on the Heads of
the Proposals which had been put to the King in 1647.
Cromwell was head of state with
the title of Lord Protector. Government was to be in the
hands of the Lord Protector advised by a council of state,
parliaments were to be elected every three years,
and the Lord Protector was denied the power to delay any
legislation for more than thirty days.
This provided a measure of
stability, but when the first parliament
met under the Instrument of Government in 1654 it
immediately began to attack both the Instrument itself and the
religious toleration which was so dear to Cromwell’s heart.
Consequently,
he dissolved it at the first opportunity.
In 1655, the risk of a royalist
uprising and a small attempted uprising in the West Country led
to the experiment of appointing regional military governors to
govern the country. Major Generals were appointed
for a variety of English regions.
They were to oversee government
and to promote godly reformation.
This measure was bitterly
resented by the county gentry and when parliament met again in
1656 they violently attacked it as “sword government.”
Cromwell gave way.
Then in February 1657
parliament presented him with what was called the Humble
Petition and Advice, a call upon him to restore the
ancient constitution and to accept the crown.
He took three months to think
about it and then in May 1657 rejected the offer of the crown.
He used the phrase “I will
not build Jericho again.” “I will not build Jericho
again.” But he accepted all the rest.
The Protector with a council
and triennial parliaments was continued,
but the ancient constitution was largely restored including a
so-called Other House, a kind of House of Lords of
nominated members. Well, Cromwell’s rejection of
the crown when it was actually offered to him is perhaps a test
of his personal integrity, but the truth was that as Lord
Protector he was king in all but name.
He was probably sincere in
seeing himself as he described himself as “a good
constable set to keep the peace of the parish,”
and above all to preserve God’s cause of religious toleration.
Domestically,
his rule was relatively mild. Roman Catholics were not
persecuted. He was much preoccupied with
“healing and settling.”
He employed many ex-royalists
if they would accept his government.
Abroad he was successful.
The Protectorate took part in a
brief war against Spain which involved the capture of Jamaica
and also the distinction of the New Model Army defeating the
Spanish army at the Battle of Dunkirk.
But it was not government by
consent and to many of the political nation Cromwell
remained an unforgivable regicide.
To some of those who had been
his former allies he appeared to be a hypocritical opportunist.
John Lilburne,
the former Leveller, said of Cromwell,
he “will weep, howl and call upon the Lord
even while he doth smite thee under the first rib.”
To still more people in the
country he appeared to be the protector not of tender
consciences and English liberties but of wild religious
sectaries and fanatics who threatened to turn the world
upside down and bring confusion in society,
above all the Quakers who in their early,
more radical phase, caused great alarm as they
spread their message across the kingdom.
And ultimately everyone knew
that the entire regime still depended above all upon the
swords of the New Model Army, an army which was increasingly
an army of professionals. Only Cromwell himself could
hold it all together by the curious blend of pragmatism and
militancy which characterized him and by of course the intense
devotion which he inspired in his troops.
And then on the 3^(rd) of
September 1658, aged exactly fifty-nine,
he suddenly died. Well, the rest of the story can
be swiftly told. In 1659, following Cromwell’s
death it all collapsed. He was succeeded as Protector
temporarily by his inadequate son, Richard.
Parliament refused to recognize
Richard’s authority. In May 1659,
under pressure from the generals, Richard resigned,
and the Rump Parliament was recalled.
In October 1659,
General John Lambert, dissatisfied with its
proceedings, dissolved the Rump again.
There was the threat of chaos
in the kingdom. In December 1659,
General George Monck, commander in chief in Scotland,
decided to intervene. He marched his troops south to
restore authority. That meant first of all,
after he arrived in London, restoring the Rump,
and then in February 1660 readmitting to parliament all
survivors of the Long Parliament of 1640.
All of them who were still
alive, all those who had been expelled for various reasons,
were permitted to resume their seats.
By now almost everyone expected
the restoration of the monarchy. In March 1660,
the Long Parliament voted to dissolve itself at last,
and to hold free elections. In April 1660,
Charles II appealed from exile in the Netherlands in an attempt
to allay the anxieties of his former opponents and issued the
Declaration of Breda, in which he said that if
restored he would promise to respect the liberties of
parliament, he would rule by the law,
he would extend a free pardon to all former enemies,
and he would grant liberty of conscience.
This seemed to allay all
anxieties. In April 1660,
the so-called Convention Parliament met,
complete with a House of Lords, and on the 8^(th) of May
Charles II was recognized as king.
A few weeks later on the
25^(th) of May he was brought home on a battleship,
the flagship of the navy ironically named the Naseby
after the battle at which his father had lost the first civil
war. It was swiftly renamed the
Royal Sovereign. So the revolution was over.
It had been defeated,
or one could say it had defeated itself.
But it would never be forgotten
and it left a legacy. First of all,
the restored monarchy under Charles II lived under the
shadow of the events of the 1640s.
These could never be forgotten.
There were tacit understandings
about the acceptable limits of royal authority and the Stuarts
would do well to remember them. Secondly, the politicization of
a much larger section of society,
which had been part and parcel of the dynamic of the dramatic
events of the 1640s and 1650s, was not reversed; it remained.
Thirdly, the Church of England
could never again encompass the sheer diversity of English
Protestantism. The Church of England was
restored, but religious dissent was an enduring fact throughout
the kingdom. And finally there was a fourth
legacy, what Professor Lawrence Stone
described as “an immensely rich reservoir of ideas that
were to echo and re-echo down the ages.”
Those ideas,
political ideas, religious ideas,
generated by the events and the dilemmas of the 1640s and the
1650s, were in a sense what really
made the English Revolution the first of the great European and
Atlantic revolutions, and of course you will be
discussing those ideas in section.
As John Davenport put it,
observing all this from afar in 1647 at the height of it all,
“the light which is now discovered in England…
will never be wholly put out
though I suspect that contrary opinions will prevail for a
time.” He was right.
Okay. Oliver Cromwell’s head;
we have time. Following the Restoration,
Cromwell’s body was exhumed. He died of course in 1658.
The body had been embalmed and
he’d been buried in state. His body was exhumed along with
that of Henry Ireton and they were gibbeted–the bodies were
gibbeted in public–and Cromwell’s head was struck off.
It was put on a spike high on
the walls of Westminster Hall, where it remained for over
twenty years until in a gale in 1684 it disappeared.
It’s thought that it was
probably blown down and one of the guards took it and sold it.
It resurfaced in the eighteenth
century in the cabinet of curiosities of a gentleman,
then vanished again for a while.
It resurfaced again at the end
of the eighteenth century when it was put on public exhibition
and people paid to see it. Then later on in the nineteenth
century it came in to the possession of a scholarly
antiquarian clergyman who looked after it and passed it down in
his family. Eventually, in the early
twentieth century it was offered to his former college,
Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge.
Extensive forensic examination
was done of the head to see if it was genuine.
Well, it was a head–there’s no
doubt about that–>
but it was extensively
forensically examined and an extensive report was prepared.
Well, they decided that the
balance of probability was that it was indeed Cromwell’s head.
It has a spike through it for a
start, which is really>
one clue.
It had been embalmed.
There are still scraps of skin
and hair. The–there was other forensic
evidence consistent with Cromwell’s death mask–
a plaster mask had been taken of his face after his death–
and there was even pitting on the skull in places where his
face was famously disfigured by prominent warts.
So they decided it probably was
Cromwell’s head and it was eventually reburied in–
almost 300 years after it had been exhumed–
in Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge,
where it’s still there. Only the master of Sidney
Sussex and the dean of the college chapel knows exactly
where. It’s a closely guarded secret.
I knew someone who was elected
master of Sidney Sussex a few years ago and did suggest that
it would be nice to know but I was told very politely to get
lost.>
So it’s a closely guarded
secret. It’s still there.
So if you go to Cambridge and
visit Sidney Sussex College and go in to the chapel area where
it’s probably buried you may be walking over Cromwell’s head.
Meanwhile, in the hall of
Sidney Sussex beside the high table they have a portrait of
Cromwell, “warts and all.”
He famously told a portrait
painter that he didn’t want to be prettied up,
paint me “warts and all,” he said.
And he is there and the
portrait has curtains and if a member of the royal family
happens to visit Sidney Sussex, which happens from time to
time, they draw the curtains across Cromwell’s portrait in
order not to cause embarrassment.
But the rest of the time the
curtains are open and he looks down on the students of his
former college, who probably know little of his
career, but there he is and make of him
what you will, either a cynical,
power-hungry, hypocritical opportunist,
or the defender of what people still refer to as the “good
old cause,” or,
as one biographer described him, “God’s
Englishman,” but there we are.
So next week we’ll turn to the
Restoration regime.

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