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Through Great Britain and Ireland With Cromwell by  Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall

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THE LORD PROTECTOR

Less than three months after Cromwell had turned the Parliament out of doors he called another. This time he and his friends chose all [138] the members, and they hoped that things would now be done as they wished. But soon it was seen that this new Parliament was not much better than the last. In six months the Little Parliament, as it was called, was dismissed. It is sometimes called Praise-God Barebones Parliament, from the name of one of the members.

It was now almost five years since King Charles had been beheaded. Yet the country had chosen no ruler. Oliver indeed by the strength of his own character and will had become the foremost man. He was Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland, but he was not, in name, governor of Great Britain.

Now it was resolved that he should really be acknowledged as ruler.


[Illustration]

CROMWELL AS LORD PROTECTOR.

Dressed in black velvet, and wearing a gold band round his hat, Oliver received in state the Lord Mayor, judges, and magistrates of the city of London. With his hand on the Bible, he promised to keep the liberties of the people. Then with the sword of office carried before him, and all around him bareheaded, he only wearing his hat, he was led to Whitehall, which was henceforth to be his house of state.

Oliver was now King in all but name. Indeed had he so chosen he might have been crowned as King. But he knew that the army hated the name of King, so he chose instead the title of Lord Protector. He kept great state and signed [139] himself Oliver P., just as King he would have written Oliver R.

The triumph of Oliver's life had come. But to him it brought no rest. He had laid down the sword only to take up the sceptre. The next five years were years of ceaseless toil. He fought his Parliaments as he had fought his enemies in the field. Not for the last time were the doors of the House locked. Not for the last time had the tramp of armed men sounded in the lobby and upon the staircase. Oliver was a tyrant such as no Tudor or Stewart had ever been. Yet he was a man of so great mind that he used his power, not for his own pleasure, but for the good of the people.

He brought order out of hopeless confusion. The country settled to rest and quiet. Trade and commerce returned. Evil was punished, justice was done, and not only that, learning was encouraged and a life of quiet culture became once more possible in England.

In Scotland, one writes, "we always reckon those eight years of the usurpation a time of great peace and prosperity." In Ireland, alas, it was different, and the bitterness of Cromwell's rule there has never been forgotten.

But great though Oliver was at home he was greater still abroad. Never since the days of Elizabeth had England stood so high. Her ships were victorious on every sea. The Protestant [140] nations of all the world looked to Oliver as their protector, and kings and princes were glad of his friendship and in fear of his anger.

Yet in the midst of all his grandeur Oliver was humble. Once he said, "I can say in the presence of God, in comparison with whom we are but poor creeping ants upon the earth, that I would have been glad to have lived under my woodside, to have kept a flock of sheep, rather than undertake such a government as this."

Oliver, like all strong men, had his enemies. There were many who hated him, and during the years of his rule there were constant plots to murder him. But the plots were always discovered.

Milton, one of our great poets, lived at the same time as Oliver, and was his friend. He wrote a poem about him at this time:—

"Cromwell, our chief of men, who through the cloud

Not of war only, but detractions rude,

Guided by faith and matchless fortitude,

To peace and truth thy glorious way hast ploughed,

And on the neck of crowned fortune proud

Hast reared God's trophies, and his work pursued,

While Darwen's stream, with blood of Scots imbrued,

And Dunbar field, resounds thy praises loud,

And Worcester's laureate wreath: yet much remains

To conquer still; Peace hath her victories

No less renowned than War: new foes arise,

Threatening to bind our souls with secular chains.

Help us to save free conscience from the paw

Of hireling wolves, whose gospel is their maw."

[141] In the midst of his greatness and splendour Oliver had his own sorrows and troubles too. Many of his friends died, some forsook him, and now, in the summer of 1658, his best loved daughter Elizabeth died, after suffering great pain.

Her death struck like a blow at the heart of Oliver, for he had always been a loving father. All through his letters we find tender words and messages about his children. Sometimes it is "Dick "he speaks of, sometimes his little "wenches," his "little girls" and their "brats." In all his greatness he never lost his simple love of wife and children.

Now, broken with sorrow and bowed with many labours, the great Protector lay dying. The hearts of his friends were filled with sadness, and the churches were thronged with praying multitudes. But his hour had come.

One night a fearful storm burst over land and sea. A wild wind howled and shrieked around the stately palace where Oliver lay. It lashed the sea into white, cruel foam, shattering ships and strewing the shores with wreckage. It tore through forest and town, uprooting mighty trees, and unroofing houses, until at last its fury was spent.

And in the calm which followed, the great Protector sank to rest. "My work is done," he said.

He died upon the 3rd of September, the day of Dunbar and Worcester, his lucky day.


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