Eduard Bernstein

Cromwell and Communism

Chapter IV
Parliament and the Monarchy

“THERE in the North the first shot rang.” Charles I and Laud had attempted to introduce into Scotland the episcopal policy and the new semi-Catholic liturgy of the English State Church. Since 1592 the Presbyterian Church had been the recognized State Church of Scotland. Charles and Laud thought they would be able to overcome the resistance of the Scotch by methods at once gradual and harsh. But they were quickly undeceived. In 1637 open rebellion broke out. A kind of provisional Government was formed in which were represented the four classes of nobles, gentry, burghers, clergy. The National League and Covenant was proclaimed and sworn to by the people everywhere. Unable at that time to oppose the Covenanters with armed force, Charles was obliged to enter into negotiations with them, which were protracted for a considerable time. The King pursued delaying tactics, but the Scotch remained immovable, and at last Charles had no alternative but to raise a regular and effective army, for which more money was required than his compulsory levies and other financial devices brought him in. His trusted Wentworth, now Earl Strafford, held Ireland in subjection, partly by force and partly by craft, and had assembled in that country a docile Parliament. By Strafford’s advice, Charles, after eleven years of unconstitutional government, early in the year 1640 summoned another English Parliament, which met in London on April 13, 1640. The King expected an immediate vote of supplies for fighting the Scotch rebels gathered together on the Border. But instead of doing so, Parliament declared its intention of inquiring first of all into the legality of the fiscal measures and political persecutions during the past eleven years of Charles’ government, whereupon Charles angrily dissolved Parliament. On May 5th he sent the members home again. Urged on by Strafford, who was of opinion that the City would not be reasonable until a few fat aldermen had been hanged, the King once more tried to raise funds by enforced exactions of money. But the discontent that was thereby aroused was out of all proportion to the money collected. The attitude of the people of London and of the provinces became more and more threatening. The commotion was such that the King sent his wife, who was expecting her confinement, to Greenwich. And lastly, the Scotch, who had some time since come to an understanding with the leaders of the Opposition in England, crossed the border with a large army. The baffled King was obliged to retreat, and once more an English Parliament was summoned. The troops sent against the Scotch had practically refused to serve, and the four Northern Counties had been taken by the Scotch without any trouble.

After the failure of yet another attempt by Charles to play off the Lords against the Commons, in the autumn of 1640 the elections to the new Parliament took place. As may easily be imagined, these turned out more unfavourably to the King than all their predecessors. During the era of persecution the Opposition has mastered the art of agitation. There were not two members in the new Parliament unconditionally on the side of the King, and his avowed opponents were all the more numerous. The Opposition leaders had determined to take advantage of the precarious position in which Charles was placed to secure the rights of Parliament. As regards monarchical government, these stern Calvinists adhered to the Old Testament and the teaching of the books of Samuel and of the prophets rather than to the sentiment of “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” of the New Testament. They were willing to leave the Scotch unmolested in the counties they had seized until they had themselves settled their reckoning with the King. It is even said that John Hampden himself invited the Scotch leaders to enter the country. Popular songs hailed the Scotch as the saviours of the English people, and there was a universal readiness to co-operate even closer with the Scotch in case of need. Subsequent events proved the wisdom of keeping the Scotch in England as a reserve army. There were continuous conspiracies against Parliament by Royalist leaders of the troops, whilst Charles himself was watching for the moment when he could lay violent hands upon the stubborn representatives of the people.

Meanwhile concession after concession was extorted from Charles. He was forced to sacrifice his friend and counsellor, Strafford, who was impeached by Parliament, condemned, and on May 12, 1641, beheaded. The same fate overtook Archbishop Laud. Charles was obliged to assent to a law providing for the election of a new Parliament at latest three years after the dissolution of its predecessor, even if the King had failed to summon it; to a law which provided that Parliament could not be prorogued or dissolved without its own consent, and to laws which abolished the Star Chamber and Court of High Commission, and deprived the Privy Council of the King of the right to decree arrests and pass judicial sentences. Not until all these things had been secured in August 1641 was the Scotch army disbanded. The King then prepared to go to Scotland to negotiate with the Scottish Parliament, but in view of the distrust in which he was held, John Hampden and others accompanied him. Parliament prorogued itself for the time, intending to resume its work at the end of October. That work was not to end until accounts had been settled with the King and the bishops. A Bill to exclude bishops from the House of Lords, and another to abolish episcopacy altogether, had already been introduced into Parliament and read.

Parliament had, of course, not overlooked the victims of the persecutions by King and bishops. Among its very first acts was the liberation of Prynne, Bastwick, Burton, Lilburne, and others, who entered London to the pealing of bells and the acclamations of the populace. The member who took charge of Lilburne’s petition for the wrong he had suffered was none other than Oliver Cromwell, whose speech in support was the first delivered in Parliament by the future Protector. On May 3, 1641, Lilburne took part in a great London demonstration, which was convened to protest against the resistance that the Lords and the King were offering to the proceedings against Strafford. The next day Lilburne was summoned to appear before the Lords owing to his action on this occasion, but these proceedings, like the resistance of Lords and King, broke down. On the other hand, on the selfsame day Parliament, on Cromwell’s motion, declared the punishment of Lilburne by the Star Chamber to be “illegal, and against the liberty of the subject; and also bloody, wicked, cruel, barbarous, and tyrannical”, and further that Lilburne should be compensated for the pains and penalties illegally inflicted on him. It was the business of the Lords to assess the amount of compensation, and it took them nearly five years to reach a decision; but Lilburne received scarcely one third of the sum of £2,000 which was finally agreed upon, and long before receiving this money he had been faced with the necessity of earning a livelihood. He became a brewer, but the times were “out of joint”, and he was not able to carry on this business long.

In October 1641 Parliament met again, and one of its first acts was to draw up a great list of complaints – the Grand Remonstrance – which set forth in 206 paragraphs all the unconstitutional measures passed since the beginning of Charles’ reign, and asked for security against their repetition. In addition, the action against the bishops was carried a stage farther. The bishops, for their part, had declared all laws passed during their absence from the House of Lords as unconstitutional. Huge popular demonstrations were held against the bishops. At one of these demonstrations, organized by the apprentices, the demonstrators were attacked by the King’s soldiers and members of the Court faction. On the next day, December 28, 1641, armed apprentices proceeded to Whitehall by way of retaliation, and it is said that in the skirmish that ensued the nicknames “Roundheads” and “Cavaliers” were used for the first time. Lilburne, long since out of his apprenticeship, fought in the ranks of the apprentices and received a very painful wound.

The King attempted another stroke. Having failed to attract the support of John Pym, the leader of the Opposition, and whose house was the headquarters of the Opposition, by offering him the Chancellorship of the Exchequer, the King, on January 3, 1642, impeached of high treason Pym, John Hampden, three other members of the Commons, and one member of the House of Lords, Lord Kimbolton, afterwards Lord Manchester. In this case, conversely to that of Strafford, the accusation was supported in essential points by formal law, as, for example, in Article 4, when it was said that the accused “had traitorously invited and encouraged a foreign Power to invade the Kingdom”. This referred to the Scotch, at that time still foreigners. But the whole question of high treason had been carried by events far outside the legal sphere. The attempt to arrest the members by surprise miscarried. When, on January 4th, the King, accompanied by his soldiers, entered Parliament, intending to seize the offending members, he found the birds, warned beforehand, flown. Although the King was listened to respectfully, as he left the House his ears were assailed with cries of “Privilege!” “Privilege!” A proclamation ordering the closing of the ports, in order to prevent the escape of the five members from the country, raised the excitement in London to fever heat. The citizens declared as one man for the Parliament, which, for greater security, had transferred its committee to the City. Threatening cries resounded in the King’s ears as he drove abroad, and a paper thrown into the carriage by an ironmonger bore the ominous words, “To your tents, O Israel”. The words with which the rebellion against Rehoboam had started were flung to the son of the “British Solomon”. Armed sailors, apprentices, and others in great numbers placed themselves at the disposal of Parliament. Feeling his position to be insecure in the capital, Charles left London on January 10th, not to see it again until seven years later as a prisoner.

Henceforth it was plain that the dispute admitted of no issue except the arbitrament of arms. The Queen departed to the Continent, to pawn the Crown jewels and raise money by loans in other ways; whilst the King moved about the country enlisting troops. The Parliamentarians also raised money and recruited an army, over which the Earl of Essex was placed as Commander-in-Chief. The cavalry was commanded by the Earl of Bedford, under whom Cromwell served as captain of a squadron (60) of horse. Lilburne, too, lost no time in offering to fight for the Parliament, and since, as a gentleman, he knew how to carry arms, he held a subordinate command in an infantry regiment. The Fleet passed over to the side of Parliament, and the London train bands were held in readiness.

Recruiting and other preparations went on all through the spring and summer, but in the autumn the parties came to blows. The first serious action between the King’s seasoned soldiers and the people’s army went against the latter. But in the second encounter, at Brentford, November 13-15, 1642, the fierce defence of the popular forces repelled the attack of the Cavaliers, and compelled the King to withdraw with his Loyalists to Oxford.

Lilburne had proved his mettle at the unlucky fight at Edgehill, where he was wounded. At Brentford he also distinguished himself by his great bravery, but he was struck down and carried off prisoner by the Loyalists. In Oxford he was tried and condemned to death for high treason, but the threat of Parliament, if he were executed, to shoot the Cavaliers they had taken, saved his life. He was, however, kept in prison a year and very badly treated. Not until September 1643 was he set free, in exchange for certain Royalist prisoners, after Parliament had threatened the King, who had ordered Lilburne’s execution, that they would avenge his death doubly and trebly. An official post, carrying a salary of £1,000, was offered Lilburne, who refused it, and joined the army of the Eastern Counties which had been formed in the meantime. On the recommendation of Oliver Cromwell, who had been particularly active in organizing this army, Lilburne received a brevet as major of cavalry.

At the skirmish at Edgehill Cromwell had served with distinction, but after the unsuccessful issue of the fight he said to his cousin Hampden that an army made up for the most part of old tapsters and town apprentices would never succeed against an army of “men of honour”. For success they must have men representing a still more lofty principle – “men of religion”. The winter of 1642-43 was employed in reorganization. Unions of associated counties were formed to attend to the enrolment and drilling of the troops belonging to their district, but only the union of Eastern Counties, whose life and soul was Cromwell, had any vitality. The home of Lollardism, where sectarians of all kinds abounded, produced the nucleus of the Parliamentary Army, Cromwell’s Ironsides, as they were later called. The increase of the sectarian element caused the withdrawal of the Presbyterian field chaplains, in whose place laymen, who felt moved by inspiration, undertook the preaching. Thus the Army itself fostered sectarianism and sectarian preaching.

To this eastern division of the Army Lilburne now belonged, and he distinguished himself so greatly on different occasions that in May 1644 he was appointed lieutenant-colonel of the dragoons commanded by Lord Manchester. In the beginning of June of the same year, at the battle of Wakefield, he was shot through the arm, but as early as July 2nd he was taking part again in a great fight, the famous victory of Marston Moor.


Last updated on 21.11.2002