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