The Diary of Thomas Burton: Speech of the Lord Protector, dissolving Parliament

Pages 465-470

Diary of Thomas Burton Esq: Volume 2, April 1657 - February 1658. Originally published by H Colburn, London, 1828.

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The Speech of his Highness the Lord Protector. (fn. 1)

My Lords and Gentlemen of the House of Commons,

I had very comfortable expectations that God would make the meeting of this Parliament a blessing; and, the Lord be my witness, I desired the carrying on the affairs of the nation to these ends. The blessing which I mean, and which we ever climbed at, was mercy, truth, righteousness, and peace, which I desire may be improved.

That which brought me into the capacity I now stand in, was the Petition and Advice given me by you, (fn. 2) who, in reference to the ancient Constitution, did draw me to accept of the place of Protector. (fn. 3) There is not a man living can say I sought it, (fn. 4) no not a man, nor woman, treading upon English ground; but, contemplating the sad condition of these nations, relieved from an intestine war, into a six or seven years peace, I did think the nation happy therein. But, to be petitioned thereunto, and advised by you to undertake such a Government, a burden too heavy for any creature, and this to be done by the House that then had the legislative capacity, I did look that the same men (fn. 5) that made the frame, should make it good unto me. I can say, in the presence of God, in comparison of whom we are but like poor creeping ants upon the earth, I would have been glad to have lived under my wood side, to have kept a flock of sheep, (fn. 6) rather than undertook such a Government as this is, but undertaking it by the Advice and Petition of you, I did look that you, that had offered it unto me, should make it good.

I did tell you at a conference (fn. 7) concerning it, that I would not undertake it, unless there might be some other persons that might interpose between me and the House of Commons, who then had the power, to prevent tumultuary and popular spirits; (fn. 8) and it was granted I should name another House I named it of men that shall meet you wheresoever you go, and shake hands with you, (fn. 9) and tell you it is not titles, nor lords, nor party, that they value, hut a Christian and an English interest; men of your own rank and quality, who will not only be a balance unto you, but to themselves, while you love England and religion.

Having proceeded upon these terms, and finding such a spirit as is too much predominant, every thing being too high or too low, where virtue, honesty, piety and justice, are omitted, I thought 1 had been doing that which was my duty, and thought it would have satisfied you; but if every thing must be too high or too low, you are not to be satisfied.

Again, I would not have accepted of the Government, unless I knew there would be a just accord between the governor and the governed; unless they would take an oath to make good what the Parliament's Petition and Advice advised me unto; upon that I took an oath, (fn. 10) and they took another oath, (fn. 11) upon their part answerable to mine, and did not every one know upon what condition they swore ? God knows, I took it upon the conditions expressed in the Government. And I did think we had been upon a foundation, and upon a bottom; and, thereupon, I thought myself bound to take it, and to be advised by the two Houses of Parliament; and we, standing unsettled till we were arrived at that, the consequences would necessarily have been confusion, if that had not been settled. Yet there are not constituted hereditary lords, nor hereditary kings; the power consisting in the two Houses and myself. I do not say that was the meaning of your oath, to you; that were to go against my own principles, to enter upon another man's conscience. God will judge between me and you; if there had been in you any intention of settlement, you would have settled upon this basis, and have offered your judgment and opinion.

God is my witness, I speak it, it is evident to all the world and people living, that a new business hath been seeking in the army against this actual settlement, made by your consent. I do not speak to these, gentlemen, or Lords, (fn. 12) whatsoever you will call them. I speak not this to them, but to you. You advised me to come into this place, to be in a capacity by your Advice; yet, instead of owning a thing taken for granted, some must have I know not what; and you have not only disjointed yourselves, but the whole nation, which is in likelihood of running into more confusion in these fifteen or sixteen days that you have sat, than it hath been from the rising of the last session to this day, through the intention of devising a Commonwealth, again; that some of the people might be the men that might rule all, and they are endeavouring to engage the army to carry that thing. And, hath that man been true to this nation, whosoever he be, especially that hath taken an oath, thus to prevaricate ? These designs have been made among the army, to break and divide us. I speak this in the presence of some of the army, that these things have not been according to God, nor according to truth, pretend what you will. These things tend to nothing else, but the playing the King of Scot's game, if I may so call him, (fn. 13) and I think myself bound, before God, to do what I can to prevent it.

That which I told you in the Banquetting House, (fn. 14) was true, that there were preparations of force to invade us. God is my witness, it hath been confirmed to me since, within a day that the King of Scots hath an army at the water's side, ready to be shipped for England. I have it from those who have been eye-witnesses of it. And, while it is doing, there are endeavours from some, who are not far from this place, to stir up the people of this town into a tumulting. What if I said, into a rebellion ? And I hope I shall make it appear to be no better, if God assist me.

It hath been not only your endeavour to pervert the army, while you have been sitting, and to draw them to state the question about a Commonwealth; but some of you have been listing of persons, by commission of Charles Stuart, to join with any insurrection that may be made; (fn. 15) and what is like to come upon this, the enemy being ready to invade us, but even present blood and confusion. And, if this be so, I do assign to this cause your not assenting to what you did invite me to by the Petition and Advice, as that which might be the settlement of the nation; and if this be the end of your sitting, and this be your carriage, I think it high time that an end be put unto your sitting, and I do dissolve this Parliament: and let God judge between me and you. (fn. 16)


  • 1. Parl. Hist. xxi. 199—203.
  • 2. Yet see vol. i. p. 378, for the first introduction of that new project of government, by Alderman Pack, a generally reputed Parliamentary agent of the Protector.
  • 3. "The Petition and Advice" found Cromwell already in full possession "of the place of Protector," which, after having assumed the powers of the executive government by the aid of military violence, he had condescended "to accept," in December 1653, from a Council of his own nomination; such bonâ fide electors as the Chapter of a Cathedral, who, after a prayer for divine guidance, proceed to choose a Bishop, with all the forms of suffrage, though at their utmost peril, in strict accordance with the King's mandate; which, however, appears in the courtly guise of a conge d'elire, with a royal recommendation of the favoured churchman. See Granville Sharp on "Congregational Courts." (1784;) p. 318.
  • 4. See supra, p. 371, note.*
  • 5. Not "the same men." See supra, pp. 316, 348, notes.
  • 6. This professed predilection for a pastoral life appears to have been one of the Protector's favourite common-places. Bishop Burnet, alluding to Cromwell's intercourse with "the Commonwealth party," in which he appears to have applied the admired maxim divide et impera, thus describes his attempt to reconcile "the Fifth-monarchy men and the enthusiasts" to his usurpation. "To these he said, and as some have told me, with many tears, [See vol. iii. p. 211, note.] that he would rather have taken a shepherd's staff than the Protectorship, since nothing was more contrary to his genius than a show of greatness. And he assured them that he would surrender the heavy load lying upon him with a joy equal to the sorrow with which he was afflicted, while under that show of dignity." Own Time, (1724) i. 67, 68. — Quis, talia fando, Temperet â lachrymis. The Spectator (No. 610) assuming that superhuman intelligences may "look into the ways of men," happily concludes that "they do not look for great men at the head of armies, or among the pomps of a court, but often find them out in shades and solitudes, in the private walks and by paths of life." The Protector, that prime actor in the political drama of his day, however he might express himself in the public theatre, for stage effect, was scarcely so ill endowed with self-knowledge as to believe that the condition of one of the angelic "great men," dwelling "under his wood side," could have filled up the measure of his ambition, (see supra, p. 346, note.) Waller has indulged the imagination, that those earlier chieftains, "whose endowments threw a brightness on their crimes," and whose military renown, after having almost engrossed the admiration of antiquity, has too often excited modern heroism, —"to wade through slaughter to a throne, And shut the gates of mercy on mankind," might have been destined to pass their lives among the dwellers "under the wood-side;" where "Great Julius, on the mountains bred, A flock, perhaps, or herd had led: He that the world subdued, had been But the best wrestler on the green." Still more appropriate are those beautiful stanzas of the Elegy, written amidst the scenery where "The rude forefathers of the hamlet sleep;" from among whom the poet conjectures that there might have arisen, under more favourable auspices, a great triumvirate. "Perhaps in this neglected spot is laid Some heart once pregnant with celestial fire, Hands that the rod of empire might have sway'd, Or wak'd to ecstasy the living lyre. "Some Village-Hampden, that with dauntless breast, The little tyrant of his fields withstood, Some mute inglorious Milton here may rest, Some Cromwell guiltless of his country's blood." "This honourable testimony to the exalted character of Hampden," says Gilbert Wakefield, "and the noble detestation of arbitrary power with which it is accompanied, might possibly be one cause of Dr. Johnson's animosity against our poet. Upon this topic, the critic's feelings, we know, were irritability itself." See "The Poems of Mr. Gray, with notes," (1786), p. 174. The blood-guiltiness which the poet imputes to Cromwell, will be appropriated, by various readers; to very different periods of his public life. See supra, p. 390, note‡.
  • 7. Probably that "between the Protector and the hundred officers." See vol. i. p. 382.
  • 8. See on the "need of a check, or balancing power." Ibid. p. 384.
  • 9. Thus Milton on those " who are the greatest," in "a free Commonwealth." They "walk the street as other men, may be spoken to, freely, familiarly, and in a friendly manner without adoration." See "The ready and easy way to establish a Free Commonwealth," (1660,) annexed to "The History of Britain," edited by Baron Maseres (1818,) p. 352. See a contrast; vol. iii. p. 157, note.
  • 10. See supra, pp. 287, note *, 305 note.
  • 11. See Ibid, p. 297, note.
  • 12. "Pointing to his right hand." Parl. Hist. xxi. 201.
  • 13. See vol. iii. p. 372, note *.
  • 14. See supra, pp. 362, 363.
  • 15. See vol. iii. p. 550, ad fin.; Lansdown MSS. 755, No. 38; Parl. Hist. (1760,) xxi. 205.
  • 16. "At which many of the Commons cried, ' Amen.'" See "A Compleat History of Europe," (1706,) p. 445; Whitlock's Memorials, (1732,) p. 673; Parl. Hist. xxi. 203.