Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. II. Sixteenth Century to the Restoration
Character of Cromwell
By Edward Hyde, Lord Clarendon (16091674)
From the History of the Rebellion
HE was one of those men, quos vituperare ne inimici quidem possunt, nisi ut simul laudent; (whom his very enemies could not condemn without commending him at the same time:) for he could never have done half that mischief without great parts of courage, industry, and judgment. He must have had a wonderful understanding in the natures and humours of men, and as great a dexterity in applying them; who, from a private and obscure birth, (though of a good family) without interest or estate, alliance or friendship, could raise himself to such a height, and compound and knead such opposite and contradictory tempers, humours, and interests into a consistence, that contributed to his designs, and to their own destruction; whilst himself grew insensibly powerful enough to cut off those by whom he had climbed, in the instant that they projected to demolish their own building. What Velleius Paterculus said of Cinna may very justly be said of him, ausum eum, quæ nemo auderet bonus; perfecisse, quæ a nullo, nisi fortissimo, perfici possent: (he attempted those things which no good man durst have ventured on: and achieved those in which none but a valiant and great man could have succeeded). Without doubt, no man with more wickedness ever attempted any thing, or brought to pass what he desired more wickedly, more in the face and contempt of religion, and moral honesty; yet wickedness as great as his could never have accomplished those trophies without the assistance of a great spirit, an admirable circumspection and sagacity, and a most magnanimous resolution.
When he appeared first in the parliament, he seemed to have a person in no degree gracious, no ornament of discourse, none of those talents which use to reconcile the affections of the stander by; yet as he grew into place and authority, his parts seemed to be raised, as if he had concealed faculties, till he had occasion to use them; and when he was to act the part of a great man, he did it without any indecency, notwithstanding the want of custom.
After he was confirmed and invested protector by the humble petition and advice, he consulted with very few upon any action of importance, nor communicated any enterprise he resolved upon, with more than those who were to have principal parts in the execution of it; nor with them sooner than was absolutely necessary. What he once resolved, in which he was not rash, he would not be dissuaded from, nor endure any contradiction of his power and authority; but extorted obedience from them who were not willing to yield it.
When he had laid some very extraordinary tax upon the city, one Cony, an eminent fanatic, and one who had heretofore served him very notably, positively refused to pay his part, and loudly dissuaded others from submitting to it, as an imposition notoriously against the law, and the property of the subject, which all honest men were bound to defend. Cromwell sent for him, and cajoled him with the memory of the old kindness and friendship, that had been between them; and that of all men he did not expect this opposition from him in a matter that was so necessary for the good of the commonwealth. But it was always his fortune to meet with the most rude and obstinate behaviour from those who had formerly been absolutely governed by him, and they commonly put him in mind of some expressions and sayings of his own, in cases of the like nature; so this man remembered him how great an enemy he had expressed himself to such grievances, and had declared that all who submitted to them, and paid illegal taxes, were more to blame, and greater enemies to their country than they who had imposed them; and that the tyranny of princes could never be grievous, but by the tameness and stupidity of the people. When Cromwell saw that he could not convert him, he told him that he had a will as stubborn as his, and he would try which of them two should be master. Thereupon, with some terms of reproach and contempt, he committed the man to prison, whose courage was nothing abated by it, but as soon as the term came he brought his habeas corpus in the Kings Bench, which they then called the Upper Bench. Maynard, who was of council with the prisoner, demanded his liberty with great confidence, both upon the illegality of the commitment, and the illegality of the imposition, as being laid without any lawful authority. The judges could not maintain or defend either, and enough declared what their sentence would be, and therefore the protectors attorney required a farther day to answer what had been urged. Before that day, Maynard was committed to the Tower for presuming to question or make doubt of his authority, and the judges were sent for and severely reprehended for suffering that license; when they, with all humility, mentioned the law and magna charta, Cromwell told them their magna charta should not control his actions, which he knew were for the safety of the commonwealth. He asked them, who made them judges! Whether they had any authority to sit there but what he gave them? and if his authority were at an end, they knew well enough what would become of themselves; and therefore advised them to be more tender of that which could only preserve them, and so dismissed them with the caution, that they should not suffer the lawyers to prate what it would not become them to hear.
Thus he subdued a spirit that had been often troublesome to the most sovereign power, and made Westminster-hall as obedient, and subservient to his commands, as any of the rest of his quarters. In all other matters which did not concern the life of his jurisdiction, he seemed to have great reverence for the law, rarely interposing between party and party. As he proceeded with this kind of indignation and haughtiness with those who were refractory and dared to contend with his greatness, so towards all who complied with his good pleasure and courted his protection, he used a wonderful civility, generosity, and bounty.
To reduce three nations, which perfectly hated him, to an entire obedience to all his dictates; to awe and govern those nations by an army that was indevoted to him and wished his ruin, was an instance of a very prodigious address. But his greatness at home was but a shadow of the glory he had abroad. It was hard to discover which feared him most, France, Spain, or the Low Countries, where his friendship was current at the value he put upon it. As they did all sacrifice their honour and their interest to his pleasure, so there is nothing he could have demanded that either of them would have denied him. To manifest which there needs only two instances. The first is when those of the valley of Lucerne had unwarily rebelled against the Duke of Savoy, which gave occasion to the Pope and the neighbour princes of Italy to call and solicit for their extirpation, and their prince positively resolved upon it, Cromwell sent his agent to the Duke of Savoy, a prince with whom he had no correspondence or commerce, and so engaged the cardinal, and even terrified the Pope himself, without so much as doing any grace to the English Roman Catholics, (nothing being more usual than his saying, that his ships in the Mediterranean should visit Civita Vecchia; and that the sound of his cannon should be heard in Rome,) that the Duke of Savoy thought it necessary to restore all that he had taken from them, and did renew all those privileges they had formerly enjoyed, and newly forfeited.
The other instance of his authority was yet greater, and more incredible. In the city of Nismes, which is one of the fairest in the province of Languedoc, and where those of the religion do most abound, there was a great faction at that season when the consuls (who are the chief magistrates) were to be chosen. Those of the reformed religion had the confidence to set up one of themselves for that magistracy; which they of the Roman religion resolved to oppose with all their power. The dissension between them made so much noise, that the intendant of the province, who is the supreme minister in all civil affairs throughout the whole province, went thither to prevent any disorder that might happen. When the day of election came, those of the religion possessed themselves with many armed men of the town-house, where the election was to be made. The magistrates sent to know what their meaning was; to which they answered, they were there to give their voices for the choice of the new consuls, and to be sure that the election should be fairly made. The bishop of the city, the intendant of the province, with all the officers of the church and the present magistrates of the town, went together in their robes to be present at the election, without any suspicion that there would be any force used. When they came near the gate of the town-house, which was shut, and they supposed would be opened when they came, they within poured out a volley of musket-shot upon them, by which the dean of the church and two or three of the magistrates of the town were killed upon the place and very many others wounded; whereof some died shortly after. In this confusion the magistrates put themselves into as good a posture to defend themselves as they could, without any purpose of offending the other till they should be better provided; in order to which they sent an express to the court with a plain relation of the whole matter of fact, and that there appeared to be no manner of combination with those of the religion in other places of the province; but that it was an insolence in those of the place, upon the presumption of their great numbers, which were little inferior to those of the catholics. The court was glad of the occasion, and resolved that this provocation, in which other places were not involved, and which nobody could excuse, should warrant all kind of severity in that city, even to the pulling down their temples and expelling many of them for ever out of the city; which, with the execution and forfeiture of many of the principal persons, would be a general mortification to all of the religion in France; with whom they were heartily offended; and a part of the army was forthwith ordered to march towards Nismes, to see this executed with the utmost rigour.
Those of the religion in the town were quickly sensible into what condition they had brought themselves; and sent, with all possible submission, to the magistrates to excuse themselves, and to impute what had been done to the rashness of particular men, who had no order for what they did. The magistrates answered, that they were glad they were sensible of their miscarriage; but they could say nothing upon the subject till the kings pleasure should be known; to whom they had sent a full relation of all that had passed. The others very well knew what the kings pleasure would be, and forthwith sent an express, one Moulins, a Scotchman, who had lived many years in that place and in Montpelier, to Cromwell, to desire his protection and interposition. The express made so much haste, and found so good a reception the first hour he came, that Cromwell, after he had received the whole account, bade him refresh himself after so long a journey, and he would take such care of his business, that by the time he came to Paris he should find it despatched; and that night sent away another messenger to his ambassador, Lockhart; who, by the time Moulins came thither, had so far prevailed with the cardinal, that orders were sent to stop the troops, which were upon their march towards Nismes; and within few days after, Moulins returned with a full pardon and amnesty from the king, under the great seal of France, so fully confirmed with all circumstances, that there was never farther mention made of it, but all things passed as if there had never been any such thing. So that nobody can wonder that his memory remains still in those parts, and with those people, in great veneration.
He would never suffer himself to be denied anything he ever asked of the cardinal, alleging, that the people would not be otherwise satisfied; which the cardinal bore very heavily, and complained of to those with whom he would be free. One day he visited Madam Turenne, and when he took his leave of her, she, according to her custom, besought him to continue gracious to the churches. Whereupon the cardinal told her, that he knew not how to behave himself; if he advised the king to punish and suppress their insolence, Cromwell threatened him to join with the Spaniard; and if he shewed any favour to them, at Rome they accounted him an heretic.
He was not a man of blood, and totally declined Machiavels method, which prescribes, upon any alteration of government, as a thing absolutely necessary, to cut off all the heads of those, and extirpate their families, who are friends to the old one. It was confidently reported that, in the council of officers, it was more than once proposed, that there might be a general massacre of all the royal party, as the only expedient to secure the government: but that Cromwell would never consent to it; it may be, out of too much contempt of his enemies. In a word, as he had all the wickednesses against which damnation is denounced, and for which hell-fire is prepared, so he had some virtues which have caused the memory of some men in all ages to be celebrated; and he will be looked upon by posterity as a brave bad man.