Soldier of God the Just: Cromwell Prt. 2
by Josiah Audette
On August 22nd 1642 at 6 p.m. King Charles summoned his royalist subjects to arms and raised the royal standard at Nottingham. The wind that evening wrenched the royal standard from its pole and hauled it down to the ground the very night it had been erected. This being ostensibly prophetic of King Charles’ includible fall from power. Meanwhile the Earl of Essex was assembling the parliamentary army, in which Cromwell was appointed a captain. A brief time later in October the battle of Edgehill was fought. While it was an indeterminate confrontation for the two armies it was indubitably distressing to the London citizens. It was in this first battle that Oliver too suffered considerable loss in the death of his eldest son. It wasn’t until 1644 that the decisive moment eventuated in favour of the Parliamentary army in the siege of York and the battle of Marston Moor, defended by the Marquis of Newcastle and Prince Rupert. Parliament roundly beat the King’s army, particularly with the aid of Oliver’s calvary upon whom the term “Ironsides” was given. The enemy lost over a hundred flags which were triumphantly shredded by their conquerors. Of this battle Cromwell reported, “God made them as stubble to our swords.” In this battle the King had lost all the north of England and the Queen escaped to France. The battle was costly though, even for Oliver’s “Godly, Precious Men.” Oliver penned the following to the father of one of his fallen Ironsides, “You know my own trials this way; but the Lord supported me in this, That the Lord took him into the happiness we all pant for and live for. There is your precious child full of glory, never to know sin or sorrow any more. He was a gallant young man, exceedingly gracious. God give you His comfort. Before his death he was so full of comfort, that to Frank Russel and myself he could not express it, ‘It was so great above his pain.’ This he said to us. Indeed it was admirable. A little after he said, one thing lay upon his spirit. I asked him, What that was. He told me it was, That God had not suffered him to be any more the executioner of His enemies… Truly he was exceedingly beloved in the Army, of all that knew him. But few knew him; for he was a precious young man, fit for God. You have cause to bless the Lord. He is a glorious Saint in Heaven. Wherein you ought exceedingly to rejoice. Let this drink up your sorrow; seeing these are not feigned words to comfort you, but the thing is so real and undoubted as truth. You may do all things by the strength of Christ. Seek that, and you shall easily bear your trial.” Milton best describes such men who composed Cromwell’s army, “He raised an army as numerous and well-equipped as was ever before done with so short a period; lessoned to the most perfect obedience, high in the affections of its fellow-citizens, and not more formidable to its enemies in the field than admirable for its behaviour to them out of it; having so forborne all injury to their persons or properties, in comparison wight he violence, intemperance, profaneness, and debauchery of their own royalists, as to make them exult in the change, and hail in them a host not of fiends but of friends: a protection to the good, a terror to the bad, and an encouragement to every species of piety and virtue.”
Due to schisms within the Parliamentary army which I shall address later, Parliament gave an ordinance in 1645 that excluded all members of Parliament from commanding positions in the model army. However, General Fairfax stayed Cromwell as captain of the Ironsides and did not dispense with him. Thus onward Oliver continued, dashing at the head of his Puritans and driving the Cavaliers who fled before him. In the battle of Naseby on the 14th of June the King lost not merely a desperate battle but with it all his private cabinet of papers and letters. These were sent to London and examined by Parliament who therewith published them under the title, “The King’s Cabinet Opened.” From the irrefutable attestations that the King was repeatedly requesting the aid of foreign princes, Charles was ruined in the minds of the English people. As D’Aubigne wrote, “There is a justice in heaven which permits neither kings nor the humblest of their subjects to live by falsehood and to make a mockery of oaths. By his deception and perjury, Charles had forfeited the respect of many who were desirous to maintain the dignity of the throne, and from this period no hope remained.” With the previous victories attained Oliver wrote the following of his army, “God hath put the sword in the Parliament’s hands – for the terror of evil-doers, and the praise of them that do well. If any plead exemption from that – he knows not the Gospel. If any would wring that out of your hands, or steal it from you, under what pretence soever, I hope that they shall do it without effect. That God may maintain it in your hands, and direct you in the use thereof, its the prayer of your humble servant.” On April 27, 1646 the King surrendered to the Scots army at Newark. This would be appreciably required year of joy and peace to Cromwell as a respite to the protracted demise he had witnessed of his nation and personally suffered hitherto. An outstanding officer of the Parliamentary army and long friend of Cromwell, Ireton, married his daughter Bridget. After their marriage Cromwell penned to his daughter the following, “Dear Heart, press on; let not thy Husband, let not anything cool thy affections after Christ. I hope that he (they husband) will be an occasion to inflame them. That which is best worthy of love in thy Husband is that of the image of Christ he bears. Look on that, and love it best, and all the rest for that. I pray for thee and for him; do so for me.” At the end of 1646 Parliament offered 400,000 pounds to the Scots on condition of their returning into their own country and took custody of the King where Cromwell’s grievances were to begin anew.
The Presbyterian Parliament and the Independents of the model army had all been unified in bringing down the despotic control of King Charles, but once this was accomplished divisions broke out with regards to what was to be done with the captured King and the nation itself. Many of the Presbyterians were royalists who wanted either King Charles or his son reinstated on the throne and furthermore for the model army to be disbanded. Cromwell and some principal officers of the army wanted an aristocratic republic, that is to say, a society ruled by virtuous, selected men of standing. Cromwell recognized that the reintroduction of the Stuart Monarchy would revive the bloody persecution and so he resisted the absolute democracy of the Diggers, the Levellers, and the royalists of Scotland. Yet as Morecraft recounts, “Royalist insurrections blazed on every side. London rioted. A cry of ‘God save the King’ arose, and the long affinity between the Stuarts in the theatre, the poets, and the ballad singers began to make itself felt. Meanwhile the Presbyterians made common calls with the arminians against the independents and the new model army.” King Charles meanwhile anticipated that this discord between the Presbyterian Parliament and the Independent model army would be the undoing of both parties to his success. On June 10th 1647 Cromwell, his son-in-law Ireton, General Fairfax, and other principal officers put to parliament an army-manifesto of religious liberty. D’Aubigne describes it thus, “The Independents consented that the Presbyterian religion should be the religion of the nation; thus, granting to the latter body a superiority over their own party. But they claimed for all Christians the full enjoyment of civil and religious rights.” The civil war against King Charles was a modern war for freedom and Cromwell did not loose sight of this. For herein was the army’s great charter and they would not lay down their arms and disband until they had realized what they shed their precious, limited blood for in the first place. “Only we could wish that every good citizen and man who walks peaceably in a blameless conversation, and is beneficial to the Commonwealth, might have liberty and encouragement; this being according to the true policy of all states, and even to justice itself.” wrote the officers. Cromwell was instrumental in composing this document and even one in opposition to him wrote of him in these equitable terms, “I have looked upon you, as among the powerful ones in England, as a man with a heart perfectly pure, perfectly free from all personal views.” Parliament in the predicament between its numerous Presbyterian members on the one hand and the Independents in the other was pushed by the City of London to dismissing all officers of the army and giving the posts to men devoted to the Presbyterian cause. Thus the King could not be trusted, nor the Presbyterian parliament, nor the other royalist and religious sects. Unless Cromwell with the Independents interfered, Charles’ Catholicism and popery would resume and the oppression begin anew. D’Abigne writes, “What would now be down by those men who, after prodigies of valour, long labours, great sacrifices and astonishing victories, in which the intervention of Providence had been manifested to them, had arrested the progress of despotism, secured liberty of conscience, and rescued Protestantism and England? They saw that, unless they interfered, Charles, popery, and tyranny, would resume superiority; that good men would deb oppressed, they themselves beheaded, their brethren compelled to flee by thousands, if they could, into the wilds of America, and the Protestant would-be church crushed. One alternative offered itself to them. Must they abandon what they have done, and let things take their course? Or must they interfere irregularly in those irregular times and once more rescue England and the Church?”
Refuse a Garter, Confer a Crown
As D’Aubigne wrote, “It was this monarch’s destiny to be the contriver of his own ruin.” King Charles was being interviewed by Parliament and officers of the Independent army. Oliver and his son-in-law had frequent interviews with the King which were of some equanimity and profit. Even Cromwell’s wife and daughters were presented to the King and received with significant adulation and complements from the King himself. However, one day Cromwell was informed that a letter to the French Catholic Queen would be dispatched for France. This letter, he also learned, was to be hidden in a saddle and forwarded to France from the Blue Boar tavern that evening. Cromwell and his son-in-law acted upon the informant and left disguised as private solders. Upon reaching the Blue Boar tavern they took seat and watched attentively at the door. When the messenger appeared they forthwith confiscated the saddle and discovered the letter. In a private room they read together the following, “My time is come at last. I am now the man whose favour they court. I incline rather to treat with the Scotch than with the English army. For the rest, I alone understand my position; be quite easy as to the concessions I may grant; when the time comes, I shall know very well how to treat these rogues, and instead of a silken garter, I will fit them with a hempen halter.” King Charles detected that he had been found out and on November 11th he escaped his palace and made a desperate flight for France. Charles would have succeeded, but for poor timing in his ship to cross the ocean. Later it was it was uncovered that it was Oliver who had both informed the King of his predicament and had assisted in his escape. D’Aubigne gives an account of Oliver’s reasoning for this surprising series of events, “Convinced that everything was finished between the King and England, and wishing to avoid the bloody catastrophe that was approaching, he… made every effort to favour Charles’ flight and his retreat to France.” With the King back in custody, the House of Commons presented the King with four propositions. Commissioners were accordingly sent to the King, who received them amiably with the impression of being favourable to the propositions. Yet again though, Charles’ plan was to put himself at the head of the Catholic Irish and march against England. For what was to come to Charles and the nation, it would have indeed been better for his escape to have been met with success. D’Aubigne writes, “The letter enclosed in the saddle was a divorce between his people and the unhappy monarch, who by refusing a garter, conferred a crown.”
Throat of the Nation
On January 3rd of 1648 the following motion was adopted by the Commons, “Mr. Speaker, the King is a man of great sense, of great talents, but so full of dissimulation, so false, that there is no possibility of trusting him. While he is protesting his love for peace, he is treating underhand with the Scottish Commissioners to plunge the nation into another war. It is now expected the Parliament should govern and defend the kingdom.” Naturally the royalist parties threatened uproar, the Presbyterian parties increasingly voiced discontent, and other sects furthered the terror and confusion. Among this chaos and unprecedented predicament “The longest heads and strongest hearts in England” belonging to the army leaders met at Windsor for three days in prayer to seek guidance from God. One participant in these three days of prayer wrote the following, “We were also helped, with fear and trembling, to rejoice in the Lord, who no sooner brought us to His feet but He did direct our steps, and we were led to a clear agreement amongst ourselves, that it was the duty of our day, with the forces we had, to go out and fight against our potent enemies, with an humble confidence in the name of the Lord only. And we were also enabled then, after serious seeking the Lord’s face, to come to a very clear and joint resolution, that it was our duty to call Charles Stuart, that man of blood, to an account for that blood he had shed, and mischief he had done to his utmost against the Lord’s cause and people in these poor nations.” This was not done without confrontation. The Presbyterians and loyalists in London, Wales, and Kent formed in great numbers to the King’s defence and on the 8th of July this royalist army from Scotland crossed the border. They had hardly crossed when of a sudden this army received word that Cromwell was rapidly approaching. With unprecedented speed Cromwell had traversed England with his army and met the Royalists head on and fiercely vanquished them, dashed upon them, routed them thoroughly, pursued them in their retreat, and compelled them to surrender. In a fortnight’s campaign, Cromwell had swept away the whole northern army. Cromwell marched triumphant into Scotland, where he was joined by the Presbyterians who praised his cause and religious freedom. D’Aubigne remarks, “The liberties and Protestantism of England were on the verge of shipwreck, when Cromwell intervened; and all his life he upheld in Great Britain religious liberty and the national prosperity.” Many, including Thomas Roosevelt, report that Cromwell’s actions were either a grave neglect of the law or without reference to it. Roosevelt wrote, “Cromwell’s extreme admirers treat his impatience of the delays and shortcomings of ordinary constitutional and legal proceedings as a sign of his greatness. It was just the reverse. In great crises it may be necessary to overturn constitutions and disregard statutes, just as it may be necessary to establish a vigilance committee, or take refuge in lynch law. But such a remedy is always dangerous, even when absolutely necessary and the moment it become the habit or usual remedy, it is a proof that society is going backward. Of this retrogression the deeds of the strong man who sets himself above the law may be partly the cause and the consequence but they are always the signs of decay.” In his own defence Cromwell would say to Roosevelt and his own objecting contemporaries, “The throat of the nation may be cut, while we send for some to make a law.”
When Cromwell returned from Scotland the House of Commons determined to bring the King to trial on a charge of high treason, as the cause of all the blood which had been shed during the war. To this Oliver was hesitant, “Sir, if any man whatsoever have carried on this design (of disposing the King, and disinheriting his posterity), or if any man have still such a design, he must be the greatest traitor and rebel in the world. But since the Providence of God hath cast this upon us, I cannot but submit to Providence, though I am not yet prepared to give you my advice.” The matter of the King’s trial put Cromwell at considerable unease. Despite Cromwell’s hesitation and the protests of Presbyterians, Scotland, and foreign dignitaries, Parliament erected a High Court of Justice for trying the King. On July 20th 1649 Charles was brought before the court as pale as death. It would have indeed been far better had Charles’ escape to France been accomplished. If this had been so, the subsequent wars against Ireland and Scotland, the divisions in parliament and the church, and the execution of the King would have been unrealized. Cromwell and his friends once again devoted themselves to prayer. During this moment, Cromwell determined that Charles’ death alone would save England. On January 27, 1649 Charles was condemned to death with this sentence, “There is a contract and bond made between the King and his people and your oath is taken and certainly sir the bond is reciprocal. For as you are the Lord, they are your lead subjects, the bond of protection is due from the sovereign. The other is the bond of subjection which is due from the subject. Sir, if this bond is ever broken, farewell sovereignty.” On January 30, 1648 Charles was beheaded.
Once again Cromwell received from the Lord that much needed respite from his troubles. That same dreadful year of the King’s execution, Cromwell’s son, Richard, had just been married. Cromwell wrote the following letter to his knew daughter in law. “I desire you both to make it above all things your business to seek the Lord; to be frequently calling upon Him, that He would manifest Himself to you in His Son; and be listening what return He makes to you, for He will be speaking in your ear and in your heart, if you attend thereunto. I desire you to provoke your Husband likewise thereunto. As for the pleasures of this Life, and outward Business, let that be upon the bye. Be above all things, by Faith in Christ; and then you shall have the true use and comfort of them, and not otherwise.” D’Aubigne observes, “It is delightful to read Cromwell’s letters to his children. What wisdom, what tender affection in that we have just selected. What truth in these words! What indications of a soul that has descended into the depths of a Christian life! And how striking a contrast between the gentle amiability of the postscript and the iron front and stern eye that we have observed in him at other times.” President Roosevelt observed the following of Cromwell’s letters. “The religion element entered into everything Cromwell did, mixing curiously with his hard common-sense and practical appreciation of worldly benefits. It appears in all his letters and speeches… It is saturated not merely with Biblical phraseology, but with Biblical feeling, all the glory being ascribed to God, and the army claiming as their sole honour that God had vouchsafed to use them in his service, and that by faith and prayer they had obtained the favour of the most high. It is impossible for a fair-minded and earnest man to read Cromwell’s letters and reports after action, and the prayers he made and the psalms he chose to read and to give out before action, and to doubt the intensity of the man’s religious fervour. In our day such utterances would be hypocritical.”
Soldier of God the Just
Upon Charles’ execution the Irish Roman Catholics had unleashed themselves into rebellion and massacred 50,000 to 200,000 protestants. One historian records, “On all sides the Protestants of Ireland were attacked unawares, ejected from their houses, hunted down, slaughtered, exposed to all the perils, all the tortures that religious and patriotic hatred could invent… A half-savage people, passionately attached to its barbarism… eager to avenge in a day ages of outrage and misery, with a proud joy committed excesses which struck their ancient masters with horror and dismay.” D’Aubigne records how their houses were burnt, they were driven naked into the midst of winter. Some for shame of their nudity and relief from the cold took shelter under hey in a barn only to which the rebels set fire and burned all within alive. With others they marched at the point of the pike, toppled by the hundreds into the sea, plunged into the cold waters with the butts of muskets or fired upon should they resurface. Husbands were disassembled in the sight of their wives. Women were abused in the sight of their children. Children were hung in the eyes of their parents. The Irish went so far as to teach and involve their own children in stripping and killing the children of the English. Numbers were buried alive while others received the quick mercy of having their throats cut. Needless to say this struck Cromwell to the heart. “That kingdom” said Cromwell, “is reduced to so great straits that I am willing to engage my own person in this expedition, because of the difficulties which appear in it; and more out of hope, with the hazard of my life, to give some obstruction tot he successes which the rebels are at present exalted with. And all that I desire is, that no more time be lost in the preparations which are to be made for so great a work.” Cromwell, the “Old Ironside”, departed at the head of 12,000 of his gallant Ironsides. Before embarking they all participated in a solemn day of fasting and prayer. Thomas Carlyle masterfully described Cromwell’s march into Ireland, “Oliver descended on Ireland like the hammer of Thor; smote it, as at one fell stroke, into dust and ruin, never to reunite against him more.” Cromwell wrote of this expedition, “I am persuaded that this is a righteous judgment of God upon these barbarous wretches, who have imbrued their hands in so much innocent blood; and that it will tend to prevent the effusion of blood for the future. Which are the satisfactory grounds to such actions, which otherwise cannot but remorse and regret… It was set upon some of our hearts, that a great thing should be done, not by power or might, but by the Spirit of God… It was this Spirit who gave your men courage, and took it away again; and gave the enemy courage, and took it away again; and gave your men courage again, and therewith this happy success. And therefore it is good that God alone have all the glory.” One of Cromwell’s biographers wrote, “Oliver Cromwell did believe in God’s judgments; and did not believe in the rose-water plan of surgery, in philanthropic sentimentalism… He arrives in Ireland an armed soldier, solemnly conscious to himself that he is the soldier of God the Just; and armed soldier, terrible as death, relentless as doom; doing God’s judgments on the enemies of God!” With the exception of two towns, Dublin and Londonderry, the whole of Ireland had united as a terrible force against Cromwell, yet still notwithstanding Oliver’s victory was colossal. Public order and security revived. Ireland for a little over two years experience peace, ease and industry to such an extend as has never been witnessed again in that unhappy land. Not only was Oliver a peerless opponent with the sword, but he also laboured with the pen and wrote his Declaration in response to the popish hierarchy of Ireland which had drawn up its on manifesto in 1649. Cromwell’s Declaration is one of the most remarkable documents history has ever given us from a soldier. In this document Cromwell refutes the Catholic separation of the Clergy and Laity and presents Luther’s doctrine of the royal priesthood of all believers. “‘Laity and Clergy.’ It was your pride that begat this expression. And it is for filthily lucre’s sake that you keep it up; that by making the people believe that they are not so holy as yourselves, they might, for their penny, purchase some sanctity from you… All Christians belong to the spiritual estate, and that there is no other difference between them than in the functions they discharge.” Later in his Declaration Cromwell emphasizes his life long goal of religious freedom, “As for the people, what thoughts they have in matters of religion in their own breasts I cannot reach; but shall think it my duty, if they walk honestly and peaceably, not to cause them in the least to suffer for the same. And shall endeavour to walk patiently and in love towards them, to see if at any time ti shall please God to give them another or a better mind. And all men under the power of England, within this dominion, are hereby required and enjoined strictly and religiously to do the same.” In all of this Oliver maintained a spiritual devotion to the Lord which he was sure to pass on to his family even from afar of in Ireland. Oliver wrote the following letter to his son Richard after his victory in Ireland, “Seek the Lord and His face continually: let this be the business of your life and strength; and let all things be subservient and in order to this! you cannot find nor behold the face of God but in Christ; therefore labor to know God in Christ; which the Scripture makes to be the sum of all, even Life Eternal because the true knowledge is not literal or speculative; no, but inward, transforming the mind to it.” Cromwell returned to London in the month of May of 1650 and was received by Parliament and the people, “As a soldier who had gained more laurels, and done more wonders in nine months, than any age or history could parallel.”
Once again we have witnessed the remarkable account of God’s providence in the life of Oliver Cromwell. He was the protector of the puritan movement in England from the tyranny of a despotic King and the persecution of his cohorts. Cromwell strove earnestly to bring harmony between the Presbyterian parliament and the Independents of the New Model Army. He sought diligently to attend to the suffering of his neighbour citizens and to make life easier for those who suffered tangible wrong. As Roosevelt documented, “He advocated entire religious freedom. In dealing with the army he declared his readiness to maintain the doctrine that the foundation and the supremacy is in the people, radically in them, and to be set down by them in their representatives in Parliament.” We will close with the words of Cromwell written to General Fairfax of the Model Army. “I pray God teach this nation and those that are over us… what the mind of God may be in all this, and what our duty is. Surely it is not that the poor, godly people of this kingdom should still be made the object of wrath and anger, nor that our God would have our necks under a yoke of bondage. For these things that have lately come to pass have been the wonderful works of God, breaking the rod of the oppressor.”