The Diary of Thomas Burton: Editorial commentary

Pages 470-480

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

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Editorial commentary

THIS prompt exertion of his prerogative, the dictate pf policy or resentment, the Protector survived only seven months. These were passed amidst continued alarms and frequent occasions for anxious and unremitting vigilance; a condition of greatness, sufficient, could anything repress the sanguine spirit of ambition, to deter an aspirant from assuming a public station, uninvited by the public voice.

Some who were in the counsels of Whitehall, appear to have expected the speedy call of another Parliament. (fn. 1) Bishop Burnet had conversed intimately with Lord Broghill, and other favourites of Charles II., who were now among the confidential courtiers of the Protector. He says, probably on their authority, when referring to the abortive regal project, that "if Cromwell had lived out the next winter, as the debates were to have been brought on again, so it was generally thought that he would have accepted of the offer," (fn. 2)

His first efforts, however, were directed by urgent nocessity, to an object of more vital importance, even to the maintenance of his usurpation, under any titular distinction. This, from present appearances, should he escape the threatened and justly dreaded, if not justly merited stroke of some English Brutus, (fn. 3) he might soon be called upon, either to vindicate by his usual good fortune in the field, or to expiate, as a criminal, on the gibbet or the scaffold.

"Intelligence from abroad" that "the Cavalier party were again at work upon a new design," (fn. 4) engaged the Protector, first, to subject the supposed adherents of Charles Stuart to new restraints, (fn. 5) and then, as had been usual, with successive governing powers, especially in that age, to conciliate the good will of the metropolis. He invited the Corporation to Whitehall. Thither also, he convened his principal military officers, and received from both the most encouraging assurances of attachment and support. The Jews, also, those able and general intelligencers, whose intercourse with the Continent, (fn. 6) Cromwell had before turned to a profitable account, he now conciliated by a seasonable benefaction to their principal agent resident in England.

State prisoners rapidly multiplied, and the mode of their trial became a serious object of immediate atten tion. The Protector consulted Lord Whitlock, who concurred with Thurloe in recommending the trial by jury. He, however, rejected their advice, and a High Court of Justice was speedily appointed. (fn. 7)

Before this Court first appeared a brother of the Earl of Peterborough, Mr. Mordaunt, whose name frequently occurs in these pages, as an "intelligencer" for Charles Stuart. His treason against the Protectoral Government, especially in correspondence with Sir. Éd ward Hyde, is now fully proved, by "the Clarendon State Papers."

He, however, in this hour of extreme peril, escaped, chiefly from the want of a material witness, whose absence was contrived and effected by the solicitude and perseverance of the prisoner's affectionate wife. (fn. 8) "He was very few days at liberty," says Lord Clarendon, "before he embarked himself as frankly in the King's service as before, and with better success." (fn. 9)

Sir Henry Slingsby, an aged gentleman of Yorkshire, was convicted before this court, for plotting and contriving " to betray and yield up the garrison of Hull unto Charles Stuart," and suffered death. His treason against the Government in possession, sufficiently appeared on his trial, (fn. 10) and is confirmed by a commendatory remark of the noble historian, that "when the war was ended, he remained still in his own house, prepared and disposed to run the fortune of the crown in any other attempt." (fn. 11) On this occasion, that forensic Swiss, " Mr. Serjeant Maynard, (fn. 12) summed up the charge, plea and evidence, and eloquently set forth the fulness and clearness of the evidence" against an adherent of Charles Stuart, "with the heinousness of the offence, and demanded the judgment of the court." (fn. 13)

Dr. Hewet, who suffered death immediately after Sir Henry Slingsby, "was born as a gentleman," says Lord Clarendon, "and bred a scholar. He lived in Oxford, and in the army, till the end of the war, and continued afterwards to preach with great applause in a little church in London; where, by the affection of the parish, he was admitted, since he was enough known to be notoriously under the brand of malignity."

He persevered in demurring to the jurisdiction of the Court, (according to the motto he appears to have assumed: Intrepidus mea fata sequor,) and was pronounced guilty; quitting life with a Christian temper worthy a more honourable cause and a milder fate. Lord Clarendon admits of "these three" that "every one of them knew enough against himself," and as to Mr. Mordaunt, and Dr. Hewet, that they "could not doubt but there would be evidence enough against them."

To these first sufferers under the sentence of the court, was "granted the favour to be beheaded. There were three others," says the noble historian, " Colonel Ashton, Stacey, and Betteley, condemned by the same court, who were treated with more severity, and were hanged, drawn, and quartered, with the utmost rigour, in several great streets in the city, to make the deeper impression upon the people, the two last being citizens. But all men appeared so nauseated with blood, and so tired with those abominable spectacles, that Cromwell thought it best to pardon the rest who were condemned; or rather to reprieve them." (fn. 14)

Yet Lord Clarendon had presided over the Court of Chancery, even in the midst of "those abominable spectacles," (fn. 15) unsparingly exhibited, in 1660, till even Royalists were " nau seated with blood;" and as principal law officer of the crown, and "keeper of the King's conscience," had, at least, virtually, afforded them his official sanction.

The noble historian could comment with his usual amplitude, on an instance of barbarity when Royalists were the victims. But it ill suited the purpose of his History, (whose solemn pretensions to religious veracity begin now to be justly appreciated,) (fn. 16) to add, that this was the first and the only instance in which the Protector had assumed the prerogative of executing thus royally the barbarous sentence (fn. 17) pronounced by the treason law of England.

To the Republic, and, with this single exception, to the Protectorate, must be awarded, even by their enemies, the exclusive praise of having anticipated the judicial decorum of the present age, which, though unfeelingly profuse in capital punishment, that clumsy expedient of unenlightened or indolent legislation, no longer disgusts by the barbarity of its execution.

Those Governments, whose reputation, neglect, ridicule, and fiction, under the specious name of history, have combined to disparage, were satisfied to inflict on treason, most palpable and flagrant, the ultimum supplicium, adding no ingredient of cruelty or dishonour to aggravate "the bitterness of death." The body of King Charles suffered not the least indignity; but five hundred pounds were expended on the funeral." (fn. 18) Those noble adherents to his cause, who perished in a vain attempt to retrieve his fallen fortunes, the Lords Holland, Capel, (fn. 19) and Hamilton, had whatever rites of burial, duty or affection might desire. Thus, also, concluded the fatal stories of Love, (fn. 20) Penruddock, (fn. 21) and the rest, who had sacrificed themselves in the unworthy service of Charles Stuart.

Treason, however alarming in the rumours of its progress, at length had effected nothing but its own punishment, and the Protector acquired additional renown in the estimation of Europe, by the capture and possession of Dunkirk; (fn. 22) when the last and irresistible enemy was rapidly advancing. On the third of September, a day consecrated by the trophies of Dunbar and Worcester, to Cromwell's military fame, his thoughts perished, his mighty purposes were broken off, and he quickly followed a favourite daughter, to "the house appointed for all the living," where

"Ev'n the great find rest,
And blended lie the oppressor and the oppress'd." (fn. 23)

In various parts of these volumes, are passages which will assist an enquirer to decide for himself, what praise or censure may justly belong to the character and conduct of the Protector. It may, however, be remarked, that if, in the earlier periods of his public life, he had possessed a generous patriotism, such as his colleague, Sir Henry Vane, appears to have indulged, he must have resigned himself to a less noble influence, when, with real or affected passion, he stamped with his foot on the floor of the House of Parliament, as a signal for his attendant soldiers to disperse the assembly. The desire of sovereign rule, though not unaccompanied with some just and liberal purposes, must, at that moment, have been predominant, and, probably, the fond ambition, left at last unsatisfied, of founding in his family a royal house: an ambition which a Washington, devoted with singleness of purpose to his country's freedom, would lightly esteem; but which a Cromwell or a Napoleon— might be expect ed to indulge.

"A genius bright and base,
Of tow'ring talents and terrestrial aims,"

It may be conjectured, that the Long Parliament would, eventually, have conciliated the people to their patriotic purpose of founding a free and unexpensive government. On such a supposition, we are almost prepared to execrate his memory, who was impelled by a selfish ambition to interrupt their labours, and to assume their authority.

On the other hand, it may be alleged, with no small plausibility, that an ill-educated people, (fn. 24) whose priests had been so frequently "instructed to teach speculative despotism, and graft on religious affections systems of civil tyranny," (fn. 25) and whose history had known no government but the royal, to which they were devoted; not so much for political uses, as for its imposing forms of dignity; would, at last, have been ready to declare, like Bishop Burnet, speaking for a later age, "we won't be governed by one another, and therefore must have a sovereign to rule over us." (fn. 26) Thus characterising the people of England, in 1653, we regard, not without some veneration, the man who, amidst all the disadvantages of personal insecurity, administered with so much wisdom and vigour the Government he had usurped, as, for six years, to avert from his country, that deep disgrace to our national history, the Restoration of the Stuarts.

But the tolerant spirit of the Protector's Government, on every question unconnected with civil authority, (fn. 27) and this, uniformly discovered, amidst the evil examples of an intolerant age, (fn. 28) may seem almost to atone for the wrongs of his usurpation. How advantageously, for his lasting fame, may this intruder on sovereign power be here compared with the Tudors and the Stuarts, or even with "the hero William;" a prince whose character begins, at length, to be understood, after he had been so long misrepresented, as a patron of civil and religious liberty. (fn. 29)

Poets lamented the Protector, and celebrated his administration of sovereign power, in English verse not soon to perish, and in the classic tongues. Those accommodating bards, especially Waller and Dryden, were quickly prepared to hail the glories of the Restoration, though in confessedly feebler strains, as if condescending to the level of a more ordinary theme.

The pride, or policy, or rather the filial affection of Richard Cromwell honoured his father's memory with a funereal pomp, extravagantly royal, and of improvident expenditure. (fn. 30) But, whatever the artist or the herald had contributed to the Protector's renown, immediately disappeared on the restoration of Royalty; and the mouldering tabernacle of his mighty mind (fn. 31) was forbidden to contaminate the sepulchre of kings. Yet, after the just censures of truth and freedom, on the origin, or the occasional administration of his power, there remains for Oliver Cromwell, among the proudest memorials of his country's fame, a monumentum ære perennius, such as few kings have had the fortune to erect; and which, guarded by the pen and the press, the artillery of æthereal temper, not the most potent prince, even another Omar, shall be able to destroy.


  • 1. Moreland to Pell. "Whitehall, April 16, 58. Many speak as though we should have yet another Parliament." Lansdown MSS. 755, No. 374.
  • 2. Own Time, vol. i. p. 70.
  • 3. See supra, p. 312, note; infra, p. 486.
  • 4. See Lansdown MSS, 755, No. 321. "Clarendon State Papers," vol. iii. p. 388. Merourius Politious, No. 407. Dr. Bates's Elenchus, p. 320.
  • 5. See Mercurius Politicus, No. 405. Ibid, Nos. 407; 409.
  • 6. Where opinions on English affairs appear to have been at this time very contradictory. Monsieur Daillé thus writes to Mr. Pell, at Zurich:— "De Paris, le 22 Mars, 1658. L'on parle ici fort diversement de l'Angleterre; les uns la disant en un peril extreme, et les autres, en grande securité; chacun, comme je croy, plûtost selon leur passion, que selon la verité." "D'Angleterre chacun forge ici des nouvelles À sa mode." Lansdown MSS. 755, No. 360.
  • 7. See Memorials, (1732,) pp. 673, 674.
  • 8. "Such is Lord Clarendon's account, (History, iii. 621.) Whitlock says, "Mr. Mordaunt, one of the great actors in the new conspiracy, had favour from the Commissioners by my means." Memorials, (1732,) p. 673. On collating the two editions of the Memorials, I find that the words, "by my means," were omitted in the first edition, (1682,) which is understood to have been edited, and the preface written by the Earl of Anglesey.
  • 9. History, (1712,) iii. 620–623.
  • 10. See State Trials, (1775,) vol. ii. pp. 278–282, 298–300.
  • 11. History, iii. 623. " He was uncle to the Lord Falconbridge, who engaged his wife and all his new allies to intercede for him, without effect." Ibid. p. 624.
  • 12. See vol. ii. p. 184, note §.
  • 13. State Trials, ii. 280.
  • 14. History, vol. iii. p. 624.
  • 15. See vol. iii. pp. 79, 110, 546; iv. 121, 265, 380, 432.
  • 16. For earlier detections, see the Earl of Chatham, supra, p. 443, note, and Dr. Towers, vol. iii. p. 508, ad fin. On "the good Lord Clarendon," and his part in the legal murder of Sir Henry Vane, see Westminster Review, (1827,) viii. 348.
  • 17. "The offender is to be drawn, that is, dragged to the gallows. He is to be hanged by the neck, and then cut down alive. His entrails are to be taken out and burned, while he is yet alive; his head to be cut off; his body to be divided into four parts, and his head and his quarters to be at the King's disposal." Blackstone. See vol. iii. p. 111, iv. 121, 380, 432, notes. See also the sentence on Major-general Harrison, Trials of Regicides, (1739,) pp.51, 52; State Trials, (1776,) ii. 324. The late Mr. Noble says, that "of the many who conspired against Cromwell, very few were put to death, and they by the clearest evidence, and with all the decorum of the most regular government." English Regicides, (1798,) i. 161. The conclusion of this sentence undesignedly wrongs the memory of the Protector, "the decorum" of whose general administration, on these sad occasions, was happily distinguished, as will presently appear, from the too frequent practices of "the most regular governments," before and since the Protectorate. The first and second kings of the House of Hanover, as the best friends of that House will regret, appear, in the treatment of lifeless enemies, (mere political criminals, some of whom had generously, though rashly, sacrificed their lives and fortunes on a paltry question of hereditary right,) to have followed the unworthy example of their cousin, Charles II. Thus an anonymous writer, in 1716, asks, and the question might have been repeated in 1746, "Will it be a delightful prospect to the royal family to have the heads and limbs of their subjects thrown in their eyes, as they pass through any town in their do millions?" See "An Argument to prove the Affections of the People of England, to be the best security of the Government." But the last of the Tudors, besides the embowellings and mutilations, especially of Roman Catholics, perpetrated by her royal authority, appears to have employed the executioner, as a sort of arbiter elegantiarum, to ornament the walls of her palace, and thus to provide amusements for foreign visitors. In 1601, Henry IV. sent the Marshal Biron, to compliment Elizabeth, who entertained him in the Tower of London. There the Queen gratified the Ambassador, (who then could little expect his fate, to die on a scaffold,) by the following extraordinary exhibition; an "abominable spectacle," under a Protectorate, but "the decorum of the most regular government," under a monarchy:— "La Royne ayant faict reveoir au Due de Biron plusieurs preuves de sa grandeur, et de son affection, luy monstra un estrange exemple de sa justice. C'estoient les testes de plusieurs grands Seigneurs, qui avoient pensé À troubler son estat, et entre autre celle du Comte d'Essex, pour la punition duquel sa justice avoit vaincu son courage et forcé toutes ses affections." See " Discourse grave et eloquent, de la Royne d'Angleterre, au Mareschal de Biron, l'an 1601," annexed to "Histoire de la Vie et Mort du Comte d'Essex," 1607. "Cette Reine s'efforça, par toutes sortes de moyens, de faire connoistre aux François, sa grandeur et sa puissance. Un jour, tenant Biron par la main, elle luy monstra un grand nombre de testes plantées sur la Tour de Londres, luy dît que l'on punissoit ainsi les rebelles en Angleterre, et luy raconta les sujets qu'elle avoit eus de faire mourir le Comte d'Essex, (auquel elle fait voir la teste,) qu'elle avoit autrefois si tendrement cheri." See "Histoire du Roy Henri le Grand, composée par Messire Hardouin De Perefixe, Archevesque de Paris," (1679,) p. 341; "History of Henry the Great," (1692,) p. 262. The modern history of Africa, exhibits similar royal amusements; as if her kings had consulted our annals, and would emulate these "glories of the maiden reign." Atkins, describing a chief, in 1721, who had "paved the entrance of his house with Dutchmen's skulls," adds, "the under jaw-bones of these Dutchmen, he showed me, strung, and hanging on a tree, in the courtyard." Voyage to Guinea, p. 80. Snelgrave, relating his visit to the king of Dahomy, in 1727, says: "in our way to the king's gate, we saw two large stages, on which were heaped a great number of dead men's heads, that afforded no pleasing sight or smell." Account of Guinea, p. 31. His Majesty of Dahomy, was, probably, of the same opinion with Charles IX. of France. That Prince, according to Voltaire, viewing Coligni, "hanged in chains at the gallows of Montfaucon," when "one of his courtiers complained of the stench of the corpse," replied, "A dead enemy smells sweet." Thus symbolized the royal houses of Europe and Africa, in their barbarous retaliations on vanquished enemies.
  • 18. See Dr. Grey's "Attempt towards the Character of the Royal Martyr," (1728,) pp. 61, 62. Parl. Hist. (1763,) xix. 1, 2.
  • 19. See vol. iii. p. 422, note.
  • 20. See vol. ii. p. 88, note.
  • 21. See vol. iii. p. 531, note.
  • 22. See Ibid. pp. 488, note.
  • 23. The circumstances attending this event, which so rapidly changed the condition of England, are amply detailed, probably with some mixture of fable, in the annals of the time. Whitlock soberly says:— "Aug. 7. News of the death of Lady Elizabeth Cleypole, yesterday, at Hampton Court. Her death did much grieve her father. "August 26. The Protector, being sick at Hampton Court, as some thought of an ague, I went there to visit him, and was kindly entertained by him at dinner. He discoursed privately with me, about his great businesses. "Sept. 3. This day, about two o'clock in the afternoon, the Protector died at Whitehall. The same day, that he had before obtained the victories at Dunbar and at Worcester, he now went to rest in the grave. After his many great actions and troubles, he now died quietly in his bed. Some were of opinion that he was poisoned." Memorials, (1732,) p. 674. See infra, p. 516. Dr. Bates, the Protector's chief physician, to whose Elenchus I have been so frequently indebted, describes, (pp. 328–330,) the progress of his disease, and the appearances of the body after death. But no hint of poison could be expected, if the author of Elenchus has been justly charged with having been the poisoner. Wood says, in his Life of Dr. Bates, that, "upon the Restoration, he got in with the royal party, by his friends' report, that he, by a dose given to Oliver, hastened him to his end; was made chief physician to Charles II. and a member of the Royal Society." Athen. Oxon. (1692,) ii. 303. It is remarkable that Crookshank, on the authority of a much earlier writer, should bring a similar charge against this physician, in the case of Bishop Burnet's uncle, Lord Waristoun, who had fled from Scotland, to escape the vengeance of Charles II. "When he was at Hamburgh, (1663,) he was seized with a severe illness, during which, Dr. Bates, one of King Charles's physicians, gave him poison instead of physic, and then ordered to draw from him sixty ounces of blood, by which he was brought to the gates of death, and so far lost his memory, that he could not remember what he had done or said a quarter of an hour before, and continued in that condition ever after." Church of Scotland, (1749,) i. 162. Dr. Bates's description (Elenchus, p. 330,) of the rapid decomposition observed in the Protector's corpse, if it have no reference to the question, of poison, renders it very uncertain whose corpse was exhibited at Tyburn, sixteen months afterwards, (see vol. iii. p. 546, note,) with the bodies of Ireton and Bradshaw, to gratify the petty revenge of the restored Stuart.
  • 24. See vol. iii. p. 257.
  • 25. Catharine Macaulay.
  • 26. See supra, p. 417, note.
  • 27. "It is certain," says Bishop Kennet, (of whom see vol. iii. p. 412; ad fin,) "that the Protector was for liberty, and the utmost latitude to all parties, so far as consisted with the peace and safety of his person and government; and therefore, he was never jealous of any cause or sect, on the account of heresy and falsehood, but on his wiser accounts of political peace and quiet. And even the prejudice he had against the Episcopal party, was more for their being Royalists, than for being of the good old Church." Conform. Plea, pt. 4, p. 510; in "Bishop Hall's Life and Time," (1826,) p. 244; see vol. ii. p. 215, note.
  • 28. Thus the author of "Tithes Vindicated," (1659,) describes the appearance and progress of the "deluded and deluding Quakers," as "a warning for Christian states, how they make Acts for toleration, and especially for ministers, how they print and plead for toleration." King's Tracts, sm. 4to. No. 781. The following curious relation, shows how the Protector, to the last, was ready to receive the representations of the persecuted Quakers: "A short time before Oliver's death," says Sewell, "George Fox went to Hampton Court, to speak with him about the sufferings of his friends. With this intention, he met him riding into Hampton Court Park, and before he came at him, he perceived a waft of death go forth against him, and coming up to him, he looked like a dead man.'' See "History of Quakers," p. 187, in Dr. Grey's Examination of Neale, (1739,) p. 219, note.
  • 29. See vol. ii. p. 452, note; confirming the remarks of Catharine Ma caulay, "that William was as tenacious of power as his predecessors;" and "that the enlarging civil liberty, was not his errand" in 1688. See "Letters on the History of England," (1779,) pp. 8, 144. I had occasion, a few years since, to collect the historical evidence, that King William was no friend to religious liberty. See Monthly Repository, (1822,) xvii. 70–73.
  • 30. See Appendix, No. 7.
  • 31. See Bishop Burnet's account of his "great design for the interest of the Protestant religion." Own Time, i. 77. Amidst the cares and especial perplexities of a disputed government, the Protector had also projected the foundation and endowment of a northern English University: a desideratum, yet unattained. See Appendix, No. 8.