Clarendon was a supporter of the Stuarts all through the Civil War and after, so it’s small wonder he called the War “the Rebellion”. The excerpted fragment is about the character of Oliver Cromwell, which Clarendon describes following the ancient historians, starting with his death. Cromwell fell ill with the tertiary ague, and until the very last moment he didn’t believe he was going to die because all his preachers assured him God still needs him here on this earth. But he died on September 3, the date which he considered lucky because won two major military victories on that day. On the day of his death a huge storm ravaged both the coasts of England and France. Much as Clarendon dislikes Cromwell, he admits, quoting a Latin saying, that even his enemies could not curse him without praising him and he does give credit to Cromwell’s extraordinary talents, which enabled him to rise to the position of Lord Protector from rather humble (if respectable) beginnings and without any apparent charm or charisma. After he was made Lord Protector, he never asked anybody’s advice and never revealed his plans to anybody but people who executed them and only at the time when it was necessary. Then Clarendon starts telling a long anecdote about how Cromwell dealt with one political enemy of his, but in order not to break it off in the middle, I’ll save it for another post.
Lucy Hutchinson was an exceptionally well-educated woman, the wife of a high-ranking Commonwealth official and a Puritan. Consequently, the excerpt from her memoirs about Charles I and his wife is not very complimentary to them. She can give credit where credit is due and write that the moral tone at the court of Charles I was much higher than that at the court of his father: catamites, bawds and mimics are gone, and even debauched courtiers at least have the decency to practice their debauchery in private. The king himself is a great connoisseur of art. But unfortunately, as in ancient Rome the best emperors were often the bitterest persecutors of Christians, so the king is the enemy of all liberty. Puritans are persecuted and many of them choose emigration to America. At the same time, papists are favoured at the court and many people convert to Catholicism for that reason. The king wants to be an absolute monarch, following the example of the French king, and he supports bishops because they suport him in this notion. His worst instigator is the queen, about whom everything is described by Hutchinson as ominous: her Frenchness (“a French queen never brough any happiness to England” – really? what did Eleanor of Aquitaine or Margaret of France do that was so terrible?), her name Marie, which allegedly her husband prefer to call her by rather than Henrietta, and which reminds Hutchinson of Bloody Mary, and of course her femininity, because women are not fit to rule, and Elizabeth I was a good queen only because she submitted to her male counsellors (yeah, right). The queen starts to plot with the bishops to root out the godly (i.e. Puritans) out of the land, but God in his mercy intervened.
Winstanley’ third argument (which is, to my mind, not that different from the first and second one) is that the acts of Parliament made England a republic, abolishing the power of landlords, tithing priests and corrupt judges over the common land is the logical continuation of these acts. Fourthly, the plain justice demands that people who fought in the war or supported the army through their taxes need to have their share of the spoils, and if they don’t have them, then it’s no justice but “the club law”, i.e. the rule of the strongest, and thus contrary to law and religion which Parliament members pretend to profess. He emphasizes several times he doesn’t wish any physical harm to the members of the ruling elites, nor does he want to deprive them of their inheritance: he only demands the just share of the common people in the common land.
Winstanley uses the argument of “the Norman yoke”, claiming that Charles was the inheritor of the ignoble tradition of absolutist rule and the Civil War was the successful attempt to throw off finally the bondage imposed by William the Conqueror. Since it wa the collective effort, to which all the people contributed either in their blood or taxes, it is just to reward them all equally. The people who sit in Parliament (really the representatives of small financial elite which could volte) should now continue the job of freeing the common people, the way they themselves were freed.The Parliament always declared they were fighting for the whole nation, not just to set themselves in king’s place. Winstanley is not a Communist demanding to abolish all private property – he wants landlords to keep their fields, but to divide all waste land, common land and crown land equally among all people, because everybody fought for it, not only the soldiers (I guess there were already plans afoot to reward Cromwell’s soldiers with king’s land.(
Gerrard Winstanley was the leader of the small group called the Levellers or the Diggers, people who in the spirit of what could be called Christian Communism took over the waste plots of land (nominally belonging to the local landlords) and turned them into fields. The Levellers are a bit of a pet subject for the Civil War historians, and I have a sneaky feeling that it’s more their appeal to the minds of pinko liberal academics than their actual importance which makes them so popular. The text cannot boast as much clarity and force of the argument as Milton’s, maybe because Winstanley not only lacked Milton’s learning, but also because Winstanley is too preoccupied with the visions of the Apocalypse and the world to come. Winstanley’s argument is basically that there are two kinds of kingly power, the good one and the bad one. Parliament (should I use the definite article?) abolished the bad one by toppling the king. But it’s not enough and by failing to act, Parliament ignores the good kingly powr, God’s power. Getting rid of the king and ignoring the rest is like lobbing off the topeof the tree, which does not stop its other branches from spreading. The bad kingly power (meaning probably the inequality), like the red dragon of the Apocalypse, is still dangerous and needs to be fought.
Milton has proved to his satisfaction that the power of the king is conferred on him by the people and thus all titles such as “sovereign lord, natural lord, and the like, are either arrogancies or flatteries”. The Jews, together with other people of Asia, once they started having kings, are much inclined to slavery, notices Milton, failing to observe that in his times pretty much every country in Europe has a king, too (except Switzerland and temporarily Great Britain). Milton also doubts the hereditary rights of the king, arguing it makes his subjects his goods and chattels, which can be sold and bought. But assuming the idea about the crown as an inherited good is correct, than it is only logical that a king who commits crimes against his people has to forfeit it to the people, just like a criminal has to forfeit his property to the king And claiming that kings are accountable only to God “is the overturning of all law and government.”, because it means if the king, like many of them, fears no God, all his subjects are constantly at his mercy and they can have no protection. The conclusion is, people have the right to judge the king, retain him or reject him, as they see fit.
So now a writer from the opposite end of the political spectrum to Robert Filmer – John Milton. People who want to succumb to tyranny are vicious, he argues, and tyrants will always prefer bad men, who are naturally servile, than honest men. Some of these bad men may even join for some time good ones, when it is financially profitable for them, but will hesitate to remove the cause of tyranny, notwithstanding the fact that the tyrant in reversed circumstances would not hesitate to kill them. So off with Charles’s head! He does not write that explicitly, but that’s his general drift. In the second excerpt The second excerpt is Milton’s theory of government: man was born free, but because of Adam’s fall we cannot do as we please, so the need for the government, either that of a king or magistrates arose. They in turn, being also fallible men, had to be bound by laws and oaths they took to upkeep the laws, and if the king or the magistrate is unfaithful to the laws, the people are entitled not to obey him anymore.