Turbulent parliamentarians; the Cromwell approach

His way was to get the supreme power conferred upon him by Parliament. Therefore he called a Parliament, and gave it the supreme power, to the end that they should give it to him again. Was not this witty?

Thomas Hobbes: Behemoth

In a previous article, Cromwell and the parliaments, I quoted Thomas Hobbes on the end of the Long Parliament and what followed. Hobbes was an eye-witness: he had followed other royalists into exile, but had returned to live in London and was there when Oliver Cromwell drove the parliamentarians out at sword-point. He watched as Cromwell assembled a new, appointed assembly of ‘reliable men’, which promptly named itself a parliament.

However, many of the men whom Cromwell appointed, once they had nominal power, decided they could use it. Cromwell was not amused, and neither was the nation. Hobbes takes up the story again, in his Socratic dialogue, of how Oliver Cromwell found his pocket-parliament:

Harrison, who was the head of the Fifth-monarchy-men, laying down his commission, did nothing but animate his party – against him, for which afterwards he was imprisoned.

This little Parliament in the meantime were making of acts so ridiculous and displeasing to the people, that it was thought he chose them on purpose to bring all ruling Parliaments into contempt, and monarchy again into credit.

 B. What acts were these?

 A. One of them was, that all marriages should be made by a justice of peace, and the banns asked three several days in the next market: none were forbidden to be married by a minister, but without a justice of peace the marriage was to be void: so that divers wary couples, to be sure of one another, howsoever they might repent it afterwards, were married both ways. Also they abrogated the engagement, whereby no man was admitted to sue in any court of law that had not taken it, that is, that had not acknowledged the late Rump.

B. Neither of these did any hurt to Cromwell.

A. They were also in hand with an act to cancel all the present laws and law-books, and to make a new code more suitable to the humour of the Fifthmonarchy- men; of whom there were many in this Parliament. Their tenet being, that there ought none to be sovereign but King Jesus, nor any to govern under him but the saints. But their authority ended before this act passed.

B. What is this to Cromwell?

A. Nothing yet. But they were likewise upon an act, now almost ready for the question, that Parliaments henceforward, one upon the end of another, should be perpetual.

B. I understand not this; unless Parliaments can beget one another like animals, or like the phoenix.

A. Why not like the phoenix? Cannot a Parliament at the day of their expiration send out writs for a new one?

B. Do you think they would not rather summon themselves anew; and to save the labour of coming again to Westminster, sit still where they were?

Or if they summon the country to make new elections, and then dissolve themselves, by what authority shall the people meet in their county courts, there being no supreme authority standing?

A. All they did was absurd, though they knew not that; no nor this, whose design was upon the sovereignty, the contriver of this act, it seems, perceived not; but Cromwell’s party in the House saw it well enough. And therefore, as soon as it was laid, there stood up one of the members and made a motion, that since the commonwealth was like to receive little benefit by their sitting, they should dissolve themselves. Harrison and they of his sect were troubled hereat, and made speeches against it; but Cromwell’s party, of whom the speaker was one, left the House, and with the mace before them went to Whitehall, and surrendered their power to Cromwell that had given it to them.

And so he got the sovereignty by an act of Parliament; and within four days after, December the 16th, was installed Protector of the three nations, and took his oath to observe certain rules of governing, engrossed in parchment and read before him. The writing was called the instrument.

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Cromwell and the parliaments

The year 1642 is seared on the consciousness as Parliament squares of against the government, bur 1653 should be too.  Certain comfortable radicals are glad to take Cromwell as an inspiration, as one who stood up for the rights of Parliament.  In truth, he only used them.  He spilled blood in the name of the liberty of Parliament, and drank deep the usurped authority which the Commons gave him.  When the war ended and the king was slain, Cromwell had the power of the disciplined army and the House of Commons was no more than a fractious crowd. Cromwell would suffer no rival.

Cromwell was the result of an overmighty Parliament, but he was no champion of Parliament. He fought to impose his way of thinking, and it was his power which mattered, not the principle which was the nominal reason for the war.

Cromwell dismisses the Long Parliament

In 1653 he held all power and Parliament was at his mercy.  Then he made his move. His speech as he cast the Rump out of the Parliament-house is well known (not least because it was quoted on this blog this week).

Thomas Hobbes was an eye witness to events and he describes that year in his work Behemoth: The History and Causes of the Civil Wars of England, in the form of a Socratic dialogue:

B. Come we then to the year 1653.

A. Cromwell wanted now but one step to the end of his ambition, and that was to set his foot upon the neck of this Long Parliament; which he did April the 23rd of this present year 1653, a time very seasonable. For though the Dutch were not mastered yet, they were much weakened; and what with prizes from the enemy and squeezing the royal party, the treasury was pretty full, and the tax of 120,0001. a month began to come in; all which was his own in right of the army. Therefore, without more ado, attended by the Major-Generals Lambert and Harrison; and some other officers, and as many soldiers as he thought fit, he went to the Parliament House, and dissolved them, turning them out, and locked up the doors. And for this action he was more applauded by the people than for any of his victories in the war, and the Parliament men as much scorned and derided.

 B. Now that there was no parlirment, who had the supreme power?

 A. If by power you mean the right to govern, nobody had it. If you mean the supreme strength, it was clearly in Cromwell, who was obeyed as – general of all the forces in England, Scotland, and Ireland.

 B. Did he pretend that for title?

 A. No: but presently after he invented a title, which was this; that he was necessitated for the defence of the cause, for which at first the Parliament had taken up arms, that is to say, rebelled, to have recourse to extraordinary actions. You know the pretence of the Long Parliament’s rebellion was salus populi, the safety of the nation against a dangerous conspiracy of Papists and a malignant party at home; and that every man is bound, as far as his power extends, to procure the safety of the whole nation, which none but the army were able to do, and the Parliament had hitherto neglected. Was it not then the general’s duty to do it i Had he not therefore right? For that law of salus populi is directed only to those that have power enough to defend the people; that is, to them that have the supreme power.

 B. Yes, certainly, he had as good a title as the Long Parliament. But the Long Parliament did represent the people; and it seems to me that the sovereign power is essentially annexed to the representative of the people.

 A. Yes, if he that makes a representative, that is in the present case the King, do call them together to receive the sovereign power, and he divest himself thereof; otherwise not. Nor was ever the Lower House of Parliament the representative of the whole nation, but of the commons only; nor had that House the power to oblige by their acts or ordinances, any lord or any priest.

 B. Did Cromwell come in upon the only title of salus populi?

 A. This is a title that very few men understand. His way was to get the supreme power conferred upon him by Parliament. Therefore he called a Parliament, and gave it the supreme power, to the end that they should give it to him again. Was not this witty?

First, therefore, he published a declaration of the causes why he dissolved the Parliament. The sum whereof was, that instead of endeavouring to promote the good of God’s people, they endeavoured, by a bill then ready to pass, to recruit the House and perpetuate their own power.

 Next he constituted a council of state of his own creatures, to be the supreme authority of England; but no longer than till the next Parliament should be called and met.

Thirdly, he summoned 142 persons, such as he himself or his trusty officers made choice of; the greatest part of whom were instructed what to do; obscure persons, and most of them fanatics, though styled by Cromwell men of approved fidelity and honesty. To these the council of state surrendered the supreme authority, and not long after these men surrendered it to Cromwell. July the 4th this Parliament met, and chose for their Speaker one Mr. Rous, and called themselves from that time forward the Parliament of England. But Cromwell, for the more surety, constituted also a council of state; not of such petty fellows as most of these were, but of himself and his principal officers. These did all the business, both public and private; making ordinances, and giving audiences to foreign ambassadors. But he had now more enemies than before. Harrison, who was the head of the Fifth-monarchy-men, laying down his commission, did nothing but animate his party – against him j for which afterwards he was imprisoned.

This little Parliament in the meantime were making of acts so ridiculous and displeasing to the people, that it was thought he chose them on purpose to bring all ruling Parliaments into contempt, and monarchy again into credit.

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Depart, I say; and let us have done with you

Well, thank goodness they have gone home. It is a zombie Parliament which in the past two and a half years has managed to achieve nothing, and has paralysed itself with a proxy war – arguing over Brexit issues as an excuse for argument on domestic matters left unaddressed.

Cromwell ejected the Long Parliament with pike and musket, and his words are famously given

You have sat too long for any good you have been doing lately… Depart, I say; and let us have done with you .

A longer version of his speech sounds very familiar to our own days though:

It is high time for me to put an end to your sitting in this place, which you have dishonoured by your contempt of all virtue, and defiled by your practice of every vice. Ye are a factious crew, and enemies to all good government. Ye are a pack of mercenary wretches, and would like Esau sell your country for a mess of pottage, and like Judas betray your God for a few pieces of money.

…..

Is there a single virtue now remaining amongst you? Is there one vice you do not possess? Ye have no more religion than my horse. Gold is your God. Which of you have not bartered your conscience for bribes? Is there a man amongst you that has the least care for the good of the Commonwealth? Ye are grown intolerably odious to the whole nation; you were deputed here by the people to get grievances redress’d, are yourselves gone!

They will not be missed these next weeks. The only regret is that when they assemble again, it will be the same venal mob with little hope of their repentance in the interim.

See also

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Puritans and the Pilgrim

The Church Times (which may be some readers’ favourite journal) carried an article recently by Dr Nicholas Fisher, ‘Standing down the Puritan Penumbra’, celebrating the work of Symon Patrick, who played a crucial part in defending the settlement of the Church of England after the Restoration. It is not just a subject of interest to church historians but it contains a strong lesson about the nation’s social and political divisions in our own day.

The history and the conflict

In the 17th century, the Church of England commanded the moral teaching of the nation and potentially its whole social outlook, and so control of it was key to controlling the ideology of England.  The Church’s official doctrines included freedom of conscience in that only the Bible is an absolute standard, but secular authorities would frequently find an excuse for punishing dissentient speech.  (Thomas Hobbes was accused of atheism for some of his ideas even though fully concordant with the Bible.)

Therefore the church in England and in Scotland was a battleground, much as media regulation is becoming a battleground for us today, and dissent from the established church would be punished not for doctrinal reasons, but to control preaching.

At the Civil War, Parliament’s Puritan faction changed the polity of the Church of England, abolishing bishops and replacing dioceses and bishops with presbyteries and assemblies. It was a classic political case of the means to an end which became an end in itself, or the fringe demand, put just to be sacrificed in negotiation, which became an unshakable demand.

The old order was restored at the Restoration but it was not a foregone conclusion: Pepys in his diary confides that the King may be forced to concede to a Presbyterian church. In the event, the bishops returned, clergy were required to conform, huge numbers of clergy left to form non-conformist congregations, but it was not over:  strong voices still pressed for the abolish prelacy, to turn the Church of England into a Presbyterian church.

The pressure for Presbytery was strong and growing, and each fault in a bishop, or any slippage towards ceremonialism was held as proof of lapsing towards Roman ways. The move to Presbyterianism was made to feel inevitable.  That is echoed in every age: imperfection is held up as utter corruption and the word ‘inevitable’ breaks resistance. You may think of your own examples.

Into this stepped a clergyman, Symon Patrick. He could see that the Puritans were gaining the upper hand, and so he wrote ‘The Parable of the Pilgrim’, about a pilgrim trying to travel to Jerusalem, and first seeking a reliable guide.

I cannot say the Patrick’s Parable is a gripping read.  It is for from Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. (written in the same age).  It was popular though, and is credited with convincing the King and the establishment that Presbytery was not inevitable nor the will of the people, and that the public mood was for the old ways.

The argument and the outcome

Patrick’s theme in essence was that the Church of England is a reliable guide, and the non-conforming Puritans are a violent, extreme faction who were responsible for the Civil War and would cause another one.

He does not claim that the episcopal version of the Church had the sole claim on truth and does not accuse the non-conformists of false doctrine, except in as far as they claimed to have a monopoly of the way to salvation and of acceptable practice. This then is a key: we are the reasonable men; they are dangerous extremists; remember the horror of the late war, as a revival of it looms in their counsels.

The result was effective: public opinion turned strongly in favour of the bishops, and the Puritans shrank back.  However it also encouraged the secular authorities to impose malicious penalties on non-conformity.  Whether Symon Patrick had that in mind I cannot say, but it makes it uncomfortable to read the triumphalist tone in the Church Times article, perhaps just an echo of the inevitable affection of a biographer for his subject.

Ill-treatment of non-conformists was unprincipled and counter-productive. Since the Restoration, the non-conformist churches and the Church of England have had a mutually supporting role in their mutual antagonism: the non-conformists are often the conscience to admonish the Church of England when it goes wrong, as it frequently does, and they allow preachers to speak out, on matters such as slavery and false doctrines, where the Anglican structure encourages silence and bland following of liturgy. At the same time, the Church of England provides a structure and written standard against which the non-conformist churches may be measured in case they are tempted to stray, as they do without structure: the Quakers have ceased to be Christian in any meaningful sense.

The lessons into modernity

In our own day, the moral teaching of the nation is secularised. Novel, irreligious doctrines coming out of nowhere are established and pressed upon us by secular authorities and those who set themselves up as authorities. Even of the Church of England is complying.

The argument in Patrick’s Parable holds good today: the Puritans who claim a monopoly of truth are dangerous, and while their positions and arguments may be within the wide cast of honest opinion, they cannot be allowed in charge.

However the position of our own day is reversed from the Restoration period: the establishment has been seized by secular Puritans, little different from those Patrick describes in his Parable of the Pilgrim. They act in the way he warns, and without any apparent sense of irony the New Puritans are ready to accuse dissenting, conservative-minded folk of being dangerous extremists, and spit hatred at them in the name of opposing hate.

The New Puritans are not a myth, as case after case demonstrates: careers ruined, businesses closed and intimidated, others harassed by lawsuits. In this, the radical New Puritan may act as legislator, judge, jury and executioner. After the Long March Through the Institutions, establishment positions are held by left-wingers, so there is little resistance.

Now we need non-conforming commentators. A secular Symon Patrick in our own day would face ostracism, even in the cowed Church, as he would be writing outside the establishment. Maybe it would be coming too late: Patrick wrote to prevent a takeover, but for us, that takeover has happened.

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Military coup in Westminster

The Civil War of King and Parliament is much in vogue today. It is not appreciated how at every stage the rebels in Parliament were staring at failure and how remarkable was their eventual, bloody success.  A parliament is a poor method of decision-making and at many points it should have failed.  Even the original Remonstrance of 1642 complaining, quite justly, of the corruption of the King’s ministers passed only by dishonesty and circumstance – so those far more radical resolutions made war on the King are all the more remarkable.

The recent BBC4 series Charles I: Downfall of a King, portrayed very well the tumble towards Civil War, but the events which followed were not inevitable.

In 1648, the war was over and the King was captive on the Isle of Wight in Hampshire, and commissioners were sent to negotiate with him.  Here was the danger for the radicals: there had possibly never been a majority in the Commons for the war, and certainly none in the Lords, and whatever the King proposed might achieve a vote in favour. The Commons would never have voted to try and to execute the King. The war was begun by and fought in the name of the House of Commons, but by the end, Parliament was powerless: the real power lay in the New Model Army, who were too steeped in blood to see all they fought for handed away.

The most learned commentator at the time the war raged was Thomas Hobbes himself in his classic work Behemoth:

But Cromwell marched on to Edinburgh, and there, by the help of the faction which was contrary to Hamilton’s, he made sure not to be hindered in his designs; the first whereof was to take away the King’s life by the hand of the Parliament.

Whilst these things passed in the north, the Parliament, Cromwell being away, came to itself, and recalling their vote of non-addresses, sent to the King new propositions, somewhat, but not much, easier than formerly. And upon the King’s answer to them, they sent commissioners to treat with him at Newport in the Isle of Wight; where they so long dodged with him about trifles, that Cromwell was come to London before they had done, to the King’s destruction. For the army was now wholly at the devotion of Cromwell, who set the adjutators on work again to make a remonstrance to the House of Commons, wherein they require:

1. That the King be brought to justice;

2. That the Prince and the Duke of York be summoned to appear at a day appointed, and proceeded with, according as they should give satisfaction;

3. That the Parliament settle the peace and future government, and set a reasonable period to their own sitting, and make certain future Parliaments annual or biennial;

4. That a competent number of the King’s chief instruments be executed.

And this to be done both by the House of Commons and by a general agreement of the people testified by their subscriptions. Nor did they stay for an answer, but presently set a guard of soldiers at the Parliament-house door, and other soldiers in Westminster Hall, suffering none to go into the House but such as would serve their turns. All others were frighted away, or made prisoners, and some upon divers quarrels suspended; above ninety of them, because they had refused to vote against the Scots; and others, because they had voted against the vote of non-addresses; and the rest were a House for Cromwell.

The fanatics also in the city being countenanced by the army, pack a new common-council, whereof any forty was to be above the mayor; and their first work was to frame a petition for justice against the King, which Tichborne, the mayor, involving the city in the regicide, delivered to the Parliament.

At the same time, with the like violence, they took the King from Newport in the Isle of Wight, to Hurst Castle, till things were ready for his trial.

Hobbes does not name Captain Pride, attributing to Oliver Cromwell the authorship of this military coup, but it was Pride who entered the Commons and expelled from Parliament those who would not serve the Army’s intentions, hence the name “Pride’s Purge”.

The rump of members we call “the Rump Parliament”.  Hobbes continues to describe the Rump’s next actions:

The ordinance being drawn up was brought into the House, where after three several readings it was voted, “that the Lords and Commons of England, assembled in Parliament, do declare, that by the fundamental laws of the realm, it is treason in the King of England to levy war against the Parliament.” And this vote was sent up to the Lords; and they denying their consent, the Commons in anger made another vote; “That all members of committees should proceed and act in any ordinance, whether the Lords concurred or no; and that the people, under God, are the original of all just power; and that the House of Commons have the supreme power of the nation; and that whatsoever the House of Commons enacteth, is law.”

All this passed nemine contradicente.

Pride’s Purge, the army’s exclusion by force of members of Parliament to hand power to those favoured by the army, is the only military coup in English history. This is coup is celebrated by fashionable commentators of our day. Heaven help us all, as they have actual power, through their own, silent coup.

“They had, in their anger against the Lords, formerly declared the supreme power of the nation to be in the House of Commons; and now, on February the 5th, they vote the House of Lords to be useless and dangerous. And thus the kingdom is turned into a democracy, or rather an oligarchy; for presently they made an act, that none of those members, who were secluded for opposing the vote of non-addresses, should ever be re-admitted. And these were commonly called the secluded members; and the rest were by some styled a Parliament, and by others the Rump.

I think you need not now have a catalogue, either of the vices, or of the crimes, or of the follies of the greatest part of them that composed the Long Parliament; than which greater cannot be in the world.”

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