Unseen Hand in British History - Ian D. Colvin




IX. The Restoration

If we examine the policy of Oliver Cromwell we shall find it in the main the policy of Elizabeth. For that great queen, as we gather from his speeches, he had a profound admiration: in his roughly passionate and poetical nature he worshipped her memory.

"The Queen Elizabeth of famous memory," he calls her in his speech of September 17, 1656, and adds, a little defiantly: "We need not be ashamed to call her so."

Yet Cromwell was moved by something Elizabeth only used, that is to say, the religious motive. What the English interest asked for at the time was to keep sitting on the Dutchman's head and to maintain the declining Spain as a balance to the increasing France. For the Netherlands had not been thoroughly defeated. They were busy patching up the spider's web that had been rent by the war. In his speech of January 25, 1658, Cromwell accuses the Dutch of conspiring with Denmark and Spain against England and Sweden:

"It is a design against your very being; this artifice, and this complex design, against the Protestant interest wherein so many Protestants are not so right as could be wished! If they can shut us out of the Baltic Sea, and make themselves masters of that, where is your trade? Where are your materials to preserve your shipping? Where will you be able to challenge any right by sea or justify yourselves against a foreign invasion in your own soil? Think upon it; this is in design! I believe if you will go and ask the poor mariner in his red cap and coat, as he passeth from ship to ship, you will hardly find in any ship but they will tell you this is designed against you."

But Cromwell pleaded for a war with Spain: he pleaded for it passionately, earnestly, as one who argues against a strong feeling in his own party. He appeals to religion, to the memory of Queen Elizabeth, to race feeling. The Spaniard, he keeps on saying, is the "natural enemy," "the root of the matter," the sworn and implacable foe of the Protestant religion. Moreover, money was wanted to pay the Army, and Cromwell had hopes of looting the Plate fleet.

So Cromwell went to war with Spain, and thereby lost the support of the City of London. Adam Anderson, always a shrewd judge in such matters, describes Cromwell's anti-Spanish policy as "self-interested" and "against the solid interest of England," as it too much depressed Spain and strengthened France.

And Bishop Burnet is much to the same effect:

"The war after that broke out in which Dunkirk was indeed taken and put in Cromwell's hands; but the trade of England suffered more in that than in any former war, so he lost the heart of the City by that means."

The Dutch and the French reaped the profit, the one in commerce, the other in strength. Yet Holland, by the aggrandisement of France, lost in security. "A good patriot of Holland," said De Witt, "ought to wish that France and England may decrease and that Spain may not increase in strength." The increase of French power was now to overshadow Europe.

Nevertheless, we may call Cromwell's policy in the main a commercial policy. He worked to open the Baltic for our shipping by allying himself with Sweden and fighting Holland and Denmark; he even tried to secure a lease of Bremen, as an English stronghold and staple town; he entered into a design to open the Mediterranean by securing a fortress on the southern entrance of the Straits; he avenged Amboyna; he enlarged our Empire in the West Indies.

Yet we see from several indications that there is still a conflict between commerce on the one side and industry and agriculture on the other. The East India policy that bone of contention shows a violent oscillation. Between 1653 and 1657 Cromwell even allows an open trade with India with disastrous results. In 1657 he re-established the old company.

Even the Merchant Adventurers had not things all their own way.

"There were," says Thomas Burton in his Diary, "strong arguments brought on account of the Free Merchants to prove that a Free Trade (i.e. an unregulated trade) was most for the good of this nation.

"Sir Christopher Pack, who is Master of the Merchant Adventurers Company, turned in the debate like a horse, and answered every man. I believe he spoke at least thirty times.

"Mr. Lloyd helped him as much as could be, but both reason and equity, and the sense of the committee being against them, they were forced at last to give up the cudgels, but with much ado. Sir Christopher Pack did cleave like a clegg, and was very angry he could not be heard ad infinitum, though the committee were forced at last to come to a compact with him, that he should speak no more after that time. He said at last he hoped to be heard elsewhere. The man will speak well, and when I heard that the consultation was at Whitehall about the admission of the Jews, of all the headpieces that were there, he was thought to give the strongest reasons against their coming in of any man."

[NOTE: According to Whittock, Menasseh ben Israel offered £200,000 for full admission for the Jews to all the rights of citizenship. The English merchants were against it on the ground that "such an admission of the Jews would enrich foreigners and impoverish the natives of the land."]

The fight with the Free Traders resulted in a partial defeat of the company. Native merchants were allowed to trade into Germany and the Netherlands "without prejudice to the marts at Dort and other places in Holland," and this in spite of the fact that Cromwell was on the side of the company:

"It seems His Highness had published a proclamation, not long since, on the behalf of the Merchant Adventurers against the Free Traders, but they were surprised in it and condemned unheard."

Moreover, the conflict between the cloth-workers and the Merchant Adventurers over the export of undressed cloth was still unsettled. The cloth-workers still pleaded the statute of Elizabeth; the merchants still pleaded their charter and their licenses.

"I am clearly satisfied," says Burton, "that the cloth-workers are injured highly and eaten up in their trade; but the merchants by their influence and power at Court have always mastered them . . . so much so that the statute was altogether useless to the poor cloth-workers."

On December 23, 1656, after a long debate the Merchant Adventurers won in committee by a narrow majority.

It is plain that the great company did not feel itself altogether secure under the Commonwealth. Fanaticism was a force even less calculable than corruption. And its charters which came from the Crown were thought to be insecure under a Republic.

The excellent Sir Christopher Pack was no doubt advised by the company's lawyers that a Crown was necessary, and he made a valiant attempt to regularize matters by making Cromwell King of England. To the good merchant it seemed a simple matter. He strolled into the House one day, and after saying, "He had found a paper, I know not where," he proceeded to read the famous remonstrance. The Radicals and fanatics were beside themselves:

"Those who still retained some affection to the Commonwealth fell so furiously upon Pack for his great presumption that they bore him down from the Speaker's chair to the bar of the House."

The incident has puzzled the historians; but it is sufficiently explained by the fact that Pack was governor of a company whose privileges were held from the Crown and were being attacked by a party. Cromwell was on the company's side, therefore Cromwell should be made king.

There is evidence that Cromwell inclined to favor the proposal; but the Radicals were too strong both for Cromwell and for Pack. Men of stake in the country had reason to fear Parliament: it was mean, it was corrupt, it was fanatic. Those who sought a favor from Parliament went with money in their hands, and Cromwell from painful experience distrusted it so much that he set about to form a House of Lords as a balance. We see in his later speeches an experienced and settled disgust of Parliament "that arbitrariness of committees."

". . .committees erected to fetch men from the extremest parts of the nation to London to attend committees set to determine all things. And without any manner of satisfaction. Whether a man come with never such right and never such wrong, he must come and he must go back again as wise as he came." And again: "Whether or no in cases civil or criminal, if a Parliament assume an absolute power, without any control, to determine the interests of men in property and liberty; whether or no this be desirable in a nation? if you have any sense . . . then I think you will take it for a mercy that that did not befall England at that time . . . which would have swallowed up all religious and civil interest, and brought us under the horridest arbitrariness that ever was exercised in the world."

And yet again this notable outburst which explains so much:

"These hundred and forty honest men could not govern; they attacked a settled Ministry; they flew out at liberty and property, insomuch that both were like to have been destroyed; they held that if one man had twelve cows, another that had none ought to share with his neighbor. Who could have said any thing was his own if they had gone on?"

Certainly not the organized companies of England. As long as Cromwell lived they had one strong and solid pillar to the State: when he died nothing remained but "arbitrariness" or Restoration. In 1659 things were so bad in the City that some merchants almost ceased to visit their places of business; through want of employment a great number of poor were on the point of starvation; Cromwell had given the East India Company a charter; his son Richard granted a license to an interloper, and threw this branch of trade into confusion. At the same time the Council of State sought to borrow £30,000 from the company and were bought off with £15,000.

How far the companies assisted in the Restoration may be suspected, but not definitely known. On March 30, 1658, Charles is trying to induce Spanish Flanders to prohibit commerce with England. The Venetian agent reports that his motive is "to get something by it, his allowance here failing him, having great want of money."

A little later one of the Commonwealth spies reports that London Royalists had sent over £10,000 to their master in one month, "that the Spaniards might see he had friends here ready to assist him." "I dare not," he continues, "inquire into the names of these great citizens lest I should make them jealous."

It is certain that the return of Charles was beautifully organized. It was done from London, and not by the Royalists.

"Holies told me," says Burnet, "the Presbyterians pressed the Royalists to be quiet, and to leave the game in their hands." And again: ". . . the turn was sudden: for the City sent and invited him (Monk) to dine the next day at Guildhall; and there he declared for . . . the secluded members . . . and some happening to call the body that then sat at Westminster the Rump of a Parliament, a sudden humor ran like a madness through the whole City of roasting the rump of all sorts of animals; and thus the City expressed themselves sufficiently." "Monk," John Stukely reports, "seemed at first to court the Rump; but since I hear he hath closed with the City which can pay his Army surer and sooner."

The Republicans, we are told, "went about as madmen to rouse up their party; but their time was past . . . and then every man thought only how to save or secure himself."

The East India Company was among the first to welcome Charles, and presented him with a service of plate worth £3000, and the Duke of York with £1000 in cash. On April 3, 1661, Charles granted it the same charter as had been granted to it by his grandfather.

On January 1, 1661, His Majesty granted the Merchant Adventurers a royal charter "confirming all their liberties and immunities, with a proviso in favor of the liberties of the citizens of London." The other companies were treated with a similar indulgence. And it may be added that although old Sir Christopher Pack was disabled ostentatiously from holding any public office, he continued to enjoy his substantial possessions and died at a ripe age in the odour of sanctity.

From all these hints we may surmise that the same great organized interests which dethroned Charles I restored Charles II. They had broken with the Crown reluctantly; they returned to the Crown gladly, feeling, no doubt, that any settled government was better than the arbitrariness and corruption of professional politicians.