The Protector: Cromwell Prt. 1

by Josiah Audette

Cromwell, our chief of men, who through a cloud

Not of war only, but distractions rude,

Guided by faith and matchless fortitude,

To peace and truth thy glorious way hast plough’d,

And on the neck of crowned fortune proud

Hast rear’d God’s trophies, and his work pursued.

The Early Years

The following is the opening of a poem from that great poet John Milton of the seventeenth century on his friend and contemporary, Oliver Cromwell. Today I would like to give a brief and simplistic sketch of this great man’s life and work. Joseph Morecraft stated that he personally believed Cromwell was one of the three greatest Christians since Apostolic times. The other two being Augustine and Calvin. Theodore Roosevelt in his 1906 biography on Cromwell stated that he was the greatest Englishman of the seventeenth century. In his peerless biography, Merle D’Aubigne praised Cromwell as the greatest Christian since Martin Luther and John Calvin. However, today Cromwell is little known, never mind acknowledged for changing the Western world as we now know it. It was April 25, 1599, the Geneva Bible, first study-Bible was printed in the common tongue, hit the press, it was the latter years of Queen Elizabeth’s reign and Shakespeare was still alive. Upon this day in the lands round Huntingdon, the wife of Robert Cromwell bore him a son with a glorious destiny. He was named Oliver. Oliver at the age of sixteen studied for a time at the university of Cambridge just fifteen miles from his mansion home in Huntingdon. In June of 1617 at only eighteen he lost his father and his grandfather. As the eldest surviving patriarch, Oliver returned home to care for his mother and six sisters. After a time he proceeded to London to gain some knowledge of law. At 21 years of age, Oliver was married as Saint Giles’s CHurch, Cripplegate to Elizabeth Bourchier. Immediately, he returned home with his newlywed to the mansion of his fathers in Huntingdon. For about 10 years Oliver lived in seclusion and simplicity, passing the time with his flocks, family, and social duties. During such time Oliver came under the conviction of his sin and misery. Oliver agitated under the uttering groans of his wounded spirit into desperate melancholy. A melancholy so fierce he would often send for the local physician in the deep hours of the night supposing himself to be near death. At some length Oliver came out of this dark time with such an unspeakable joy and deliverance as we would name his conversion. Cromwell now zealously attended to the puritan brethren and practice. J.I. Paker denied puritanism as a spiritual movement, “Passionatly concerned with God and godliness. It was essentially a movement for church reform and pastor renewal and evangelism and spiritual revival and indeed in addition, in special zeal for God’s honor, it was a worldview.” Milton wrote of Cromwell’s private life, “He had grown up in peace and privacy at home, silently cherishing in his heart a confidence in God, and a magnanimity well adapted for the solemn times that were approaching. Although of ripe years, he and not yet stepped forward into public life, and nothing so much distinguished him from all around as the cultivation of a pure religion, and the integrity of his life.”

Solemn Times Approaching

Indeed there were solemn times that were approaching as Milton stated. D’Aubigne wrote of these times with the following, “The fearful commotions and sanguinary conflicts which shook the British isles in the middle of the seventeenth century, were in the main a direct struggle against Popery.” Morecraft recounts that there were more wars, divisions, and rebellions in Oliver’s generation alone, than any other single generation in history had ever witnessed. Otto Scott of this time period wrote that Luther, Melanchthon, Zwingli, Farel, Charles the 5th, Henry the 8th, Francis the 1st, and several popes had contended for the heart, soul, and mind of Europe. With such contending there came ineffable persecution. Thirty thousand protestants in Spain had been put to death, tens of thousands of French Huguenots were being slaughtered by their Roman Catholic monarchy, Netherlands was in a civil war under the dominance of their King, Bloody Mary’s husband, Phillip the 2nd of Spain. The Muslims had also invaded Easter Europe and for the very first time the medieval age vanished with the press printing in the English tongue rather than in Latin.  With the death of Queen Elizabeth, King James the 1st of Scotland was made King James the 1st of England. King James was the first of 4 steward Kings. Most known for his printing of the King Hames Version, James was a less than pious man known in his time as a tyrant and a homosexual. King James held to the divine right of kings and persecuted the reformers who denied such anthropocentric doctrines. Contrary to the common expression of the law of England, even when prerogative was at the highest, “The King ought not to be subject to man, but to God, and to the law; for the law maketh the king. Let the king therefore render to the law, why the law has invested in him with regard to others; dominion, and power: for he is not truly king, where will and pleasure rules and not the law” said Henry de Bracton. King James died in agony and his throne was held by his son Charles the 1st, who while of far superior character continued the aggression agains the liberty of protestant England. Charles the 1st both during his life and afterward was found and confirmed for his duplicitous, dubious, dubiety. He kept a close circle of his fathers councillors, no treaty or royal prerogative could bind him, and he maintained a bigoted religious obstinance. Rather than laxing the persecution which puritans such as Oliver so long endured, Charles furthered their sufferings under the Arch Bishop of Cantibury, William Laud, and behaved towards this excellent body of men with increasing severity. In addition to this maelstrom King Charles gave England a papist Queen, Henrietta of France. in their marriage contract, written under the supervision of the Pope, there were several clauses leaning toward the Romish faith. While this was less than quietly fomenting in the King’s house and courts, Oliver was attending to his life of Puritanism and prayer with his family and neighbours. D’Aubigne said of Cromwell that he “Lived and died in prayer.” Those who closely witnessed Cromwell’s life retold of his daily reading of Scripture followed by his prostration on the ground with tears as he poured out himself to God. If there was ever a moving and convincing evidence of his godliness and character it would be the multitude of letters to his children in which he exhorts them to godliness and holiness.

His First Words

On the 29th of January 1628 a new Parliament gathered, in which, on the 17th of March, Cromwell took his seat as member for his home land of Huntingdon. It was on the 11th of February, Oliver rose for the first time to speak against eh reestablishment of Catholicism in England. The subject of his first speech would be the ruling principle of Oliver’s life, that Christ was the King of England, not man. Only when England confesses and puts into practice that great truth will she be free and blessed by God. An eye witness recorded Cromwell’s first speech in the house. “All eyes were turned upon him, and the House listened to him with attention. he wore a plain cloth suit, which seemed to have been made by a bad country tailor; his linen was not of the purest white; his ruffles were old-fashioned; his hat was without a band; his sword stuck close to his side; his countenance was swollen and reddish; his voice sharp and untunable: but his delivery was warm and animated; his frame, although exceeding the middle height, strong and well-proportioned; he had a manly air, a bright and sparkling eye, and stern look.” At a later date as in the House as Oliver was proceeding with a delivery, one Lord inquired to another of the name of the Huntingdon speaker, to which he received, “That sloven whom you see before you hath no ornament in his speech; that sloven, I say, if we should ever come to a breach with the King, (which God forbid!) in such a case, I say, that sloven will be the greatest man in England.” Indeed the battle against the re-establishment of Popery was the object of the seventeenth century, and the subject of Cromwell’s first words, and the main objective of Oliver’s momentous life. The King had called them together to vote for the passage of certain taxes, which in return they bluntly refused and furthermore outlawed. Along with outlawing the King’s levy of certain taxes and declaring those who should levy or even pay such taxes with a guilty count of high treason, they went on that day to outlaw Arminian innovations to the doctrine of the Church, and the outlawing of Roman Catholic rituals and submission to the Pope. Upon news of this, the King ordered the house to dissolve and he didn’t call Parliament together again for 11 years, these were known as the 11 years of tyranny.

11 Years of Tyranny

Charles was attempting to rid himself of the Parliamentary body and govern his kingdom by associating further with the Romish nations of France and Spain. Charles’ Archbishop of Canterbury, restored many of the practices of Popery. The middle class of England was in alarm. With the introduction of Catholicism into England persecution followed in its wake. Adversaries of the Archbishop had their ears cut off, imprisoned for life, or heavily fined. D’Aubigne records of a Dr. Leighton, one of the Arhcbishop’s targets, who was condemned to pay a incalculable fine, to be set in the pillory at Westminster, publicly whipped, to lose his ears, have his nostrils slit, and his cheeks branded with S.S. “Sower of Sedition” – a sentence that was executed upon Dr. Leighton in all its severity. Another, Dr. Bastwick, climbed the scaffold to his mutilation and comforted his affrighted watching wife with, “Farewell my dearest, be of good comfort: I am nothing dismayed.” D’Aubigne continues Dr Bastwick’s account, “On descending form the scaffol she drew from his ear the sponge soaked with blood, and holding, it up to the people, exclaimed: “Blessed be my God, who hath counted me worthy, and of his mighty power hath enabled me to suffer anything for his sake; and as I have no lost some of my blood, so I am ready and willing to spill every drop that is in my veins in this cause, for which I now have suffered; which is, for maintaining the truth of God, and the honour of my king against popish usurpations. Let God be glorified, and let the king live forever.” D’Aubigne gives another account of a Mr. Burton, a puritan divine who was placed under the pillory and asked if it was not too uneasy for his neck and shoulders to which he answered, “How can Christ’s yoke be uneasy? He bears the heavier end of it, and I the lighter; and if mine were too heavy, He would bear that too. Christ is a good Master, and worth the suffering for! And if the world did but know His goodness, and had tasted of His sweetness, all would come and be His servants.” Such were the acts of Charles’ unflinching tyranny that brought to Oliver horror and anguish.

The Beginning

Charles had also sought to abolish Presbyterianism  in Scotland, and the wickedness of the King in Scotland had risen to such heights that they marched their armies against him. Charles was forced to call again upon Parliament for war funds on the 11th of April, 1640, all to the unspeakable joy of the English people. The puritan parliament proceeded unfalteringly to prosecute the authors of the persecutions in the nation. The Archbishop was executed, Charles’ co-conspirator of the Irish army, Thomas Wentworth the Earl of Strafford, was also executed following his exclamation, “Put not your trust in princes, nor in the sons of men, for in them there is no salvation” when he was told the king had given assent to the bill of his execution. On the 1st of November 1641, parliament received news that an Irish army had been commissioned by the king and were ravaging the country with desolation. By December 7th parliament had organized a militia, the Roundheads, officers of which were nominated by Parliament. D’Aubigne records, “The names Cavaliers and Roundheads now first began to distinguish the two parties: the latter deriving their title from the shortness of their hair, which was cut close about their ears.” With the execution of its tyranny inflictors and the erection of an army to protect itself agains the king and his conspiracies “The engines of tyranny” were being dismantled as Morecraft remarked, and the preservation of liberty and protestantism in England was being advanced. On January the third 1642, Charles began the attack by charging five of the leaders of the House of Commons with treason and marching upon parliament with four hundred armed soldiers to arrest them. Parliament fought word and the leaders escaped the clasp of Charles’ murderous hand. Upon later learning that the people, the Parliamentary militia, and even the Thames watermen were going to bring back the five members to Westminster in an act of triumph he retorted, “What! Do these water-rats, too, forsake me!” Most all of the population of London had lost their affection for Charles due to his acts, of which acts Charles only intended to increase and multiply, but only to his ultimate undoing of merely London’s affections, but the hole Nation’s loyalty. Charles was a direct contradiction from Lord Blackstone’s definition of the King’s part, “To govern according to law: to execute judgment in mercy: and to maintain the established religion.” This was the beginning of the civil war, the revolution. the commencement of the struggle between the Parliament and the King.

The Huntingdonshire Yeoman

Oliver was now forty-two years old and the father of six children: Oliver, Richard, Henry, Bridget, Elizabeth, and Mary. To give a lengthy quote from D’Aubigne, “He was living quietly, like many other good citizens and loyal subjects, who, as well as he, had never once thought of the profession of arms. But new times called for new measures. every day these men, who felt the truest affection for their country, were disturbed in their homes at London, or in their more tranquil rural retreats, by reports of the massacre of the Protestants in Ireland, of the King’s connivance at it, of his insincerity and falsehood, of his projects, of the punishments already inflicted on many of their brethren, of the acknowledged Popery of the Queen, of the semi-Romanism of the King, of the persecutions in Scotland, the daily banishment of the best Christians in the kingdom, and by other signs and events no less alarming. When everything seemed to announce that the Protestants of England would ere long be either trampled down by Popery of massacred by the sword, these serious men arose, and called upon the King, through the Commons, not to deceive the expectations of his subjects. But when they found the prince, deaf to their prayers, raising troops to overawe the Parliament, and already victorious in several encounters, they resolved in a spirit of devotedness, to save with God’s assistance their country and their faith, by withdrawing form their families and exposing their live in arms. Oliver now exchanged his parliamentary career for another that had become more necessary. The Huntingdonshire yeoman, who had given the Commons some proofs of his eloquence, was about to astonish the army still more by his courage and genius. The fervent orator was not to show himself a great general, and to become one of the greatest statesmen of modern times.”

A Fault that Saved the Country

On the seventh of February Oliver gave three hundred pounds toward the militia, raised two companies of volunteers from Cambridge, and with them joined the parliamentary army with his two sons, Richard, twenty, and Henry, Sixteen. Cromwell refused to align himself with the hypocritical stance of Parliament who while waging war against the King, pretended to at the same time of fight in defence of the King in accordance to historic principle. The rebellion agains the King was a historic president of astronomical proportions. It was the thinking of the time that “The law therefore ascribes the king, in his high political character, not only large powers and emoluments which form his prerogative and revenue, but likewise certain attributes of a great and transcendent nature; by which the people are led to consider him in the light of a superior being, and to pay him that awful respect, which may enable him with grater ease to carry on the business of government.” The King was ascribed by law, sovereignty, imperial dignity, the supreme head of the realm in matters both civil and ecclesiastical, and of consequence inferior to no man upon earth, dependent on no man, accountable to no man. Lord Blackstone himself wrote, “That by law the person of the king is sacred, even though the measures pursued in his reign be completely tyrannical and arbitrary: for no jurisdiction upon earth has power to try him in a criminal way; much less to condemn him to punishment.” Never before had any one party of England declared war but the King, never before had the King been tried as a criminal, never before had a King been executed by His parliament. From a small perusal of English law, one will notice without trouble, the absolute impossibility of the situation parliament was faced with. These are the reasons why Oliver could not in good conscience say he was in theory of the law fighting for the King when in reality he was fighting against the King. “Soldiers” said Cromwell, “I will not deceive you, not make you believe, as my commission has it, that you are going to fight for the King and Parliament. If the king were in front of me, I would as soon shoot him as another; if your conscience will not allow you to do as much go and serve elsewhere.” As D’Aubigne said in defence of Cromwell and Parliament, “The time had now come when good and evil. salvation and peril, were so obscurely confounded and intermixed, that the firmest minds, incapable of disentangling them, had become mere instruments in the hand of Providence, who alternately chastises kings by their people, and people by their kings. But why should we endeavor to blacken the character of those whom God has employed in His work? It is improper in this instance, more than on other occasions, to entertain respect for hose minds which remain sincere, even when they are misguided, and are doing what they believe to be right, and to be the will of the King of Kings?” Theodore Roosevelt advised his readers in his biography of Cromwell, “We must ever keep in mind the essentially modern character of the movement if we are to appreciate its true inwardness, its true significance. Fundamentally, it was the first struggle for religious, political, and social freedom, as we now understand the terms. As was inevitable in such first struggle, there remained even among the forces of reform much of what properly belonged to previous generations. In addition to the modern side there was a medieval side too. Just so far as this medieval element obtained, the movement failed. All that there was of good and of permanence in it was due to the new elements.” D’Aubigne continued “In studying the life of Cromwell, the reader will undoubtedly have frequent reason to bear in mind the saying of the holy Scripture, In many things we offend all. He interfered violently in public affairs, and disturbed the constitutional order off the state. This was his fault, a fault that saved the country.”

Godly, Precious Men

In order to protect the protestant reformation, Puritanism, and freedom of religion from the tyranny of the King, Cromwell gathered thousands of godly men and created the new model army of independents. Contrary to the European model of nominating officers of nobility and men of estate, Cromwell elected such as were poor and of low parentage, only, as Morecraft stated, “He would give them the title of godly, precious men. That was revolutionary and it was to change the world. It was not introduced by the French Jacobites or by Russian Marxists but by an English Calvinist. It was Cromwell who saw value in tradesman, artisans, farmers, and even labourers.” Cromwell said to another leader of the parliamentary army, “Your troops are most of the old decaying serving men, and tapsters, and such kind of fellows; and theirs are gentlemen’s sons, younger sons, and persons of quality. But I will remedy that. I will raise men who will have the fear of God before their eyes, and who will bring some conscience to what they do; and I promise you they shall not be beaten.” With this design Cromwell went through England summoning young freeholders, with common piety, to take up arms in the name of God. Fourteen squadrons of zealous puritans were soon raised. D’Aubigne wrote, “It was this new element that decided the destinies of war and of England.” Cromwell maintained the strictest discipline in the army. His men considered victory a sure prize and quite in fact, never lost a single battle. Chateaubrand said of Cromwell’s men, “There was a certain invincibility in his genius, like the new ideas of which he was at the champion.” In the very rage of battle, Cromwell would lead his men up to a few paces of the enemy, and never permuted a shot to be fired from among them unless termination of the enemy was sure to take effect. John Milton wrote of Cromwell in battle, “From his through exercise in the art of self-knowledge, he had either exterminated or subjugated his domestic foes, his idle hopes, his fears, and his desires. Having thus learnt to engage, and subdue, and triumph over himself, he took the field agains his outward enemies, a soldier practised in all the discipline of war.” Cromwell’s own religious and moral values expressed themselves in his army. Cromwell was surrounded by men animated by the same faith in God, who passed unoccupied hours in psalm singing, prayer, and the preaching of the Scriptures.  Cromwell’s men wanted to form what they termed, “A gathered church,” and the officers looked about for a fitting pastor, and to the honor their Christian character selected the great puritan, Richard Baxter as Chaplin of Cromwell’s army of godly, precious men.

Here we will conclude our first part of the sketch of Oliver Cromwell. From this account we have seen a godly young puritan, sound in the faith and in Christian practice, live quietly and peaceably as a family patriarch and as a servant to his country in the House of Parliament. But when the dark and unsettling clouds of tyranny began to fester over the freedom of the English people in the form of Catholic persecution of the protestants and servitude to a tyrannical king godly men such as Cromwell rose up to the defence of God’s glory. Cromwell, among and above others, was not only a exceptional teacher of the protestant, reformed faith, but an extraordinary defender of it. Cromwell lived his life as a faithful son, godly husband, and Christlike father, exemplary of the puritan worldview of the supremacy of Christ over all things. He governed his home with equity, and his army with justice. “Cromwell’s life was dedicated to the realization of his dream” says Morecaft, “Of a Christian constitutional republic in England in the place of tyranny of the Stuart Monarchs.” In our next lecture we will follow up with Cromwell as victor over the King, preserver of unity in a nation of discord, and advancer of Christ’s Kingdom on Earth. As Thomas Carlyle said of him, “The last glimpse of the Godlike vanishing from this England.”