Through Great Britain and Ireland With Cromwell - H. E. Marshall

The Self-Denying Ordinance

After the taking of Newcastle, all the North, it might be said, was in the hands of the Parliamentarians. But elsewhere the King was victorious. He defeated General William Waller, once fondly nick-named "William the Conqueror," at Cropredy Bridge, in Oxfordshire. In Cornwall, the Earl of Essex fled before him. In the North, the Earl of Manchester, under whom Cromwell now served, was slow to move. Cromwell, indignant and impatient, chafed as one of his own horses might have done at a restraining bit. In vain he argued and advised. Manchester moved so slowly that the King reached his headquarters at Oxford once more in safety.

Then leaving the battle-field, we find Cromwell back in his old place in Parliament, as member for Cambridge.

We can imagine him striding across the floor, stamping to his seat in his great riding-boots. His face is ruddy, and bronzed with sun and wind, his dress more slovenly than ever, perhaps with more spots of blood upon it. And there in his voice, "sharp and untuneable" as of old, he lays grave charges at the door of my lord of Manchester. Since the taking of York he had acted as if he had done enough, refusing to fight on one pretence or another; delaying and offputting as if he feared to bring the King too low.

With words as bitter Lord Manchester replied. For had not this loud-voiced soldier declared that there would be no good days in England until they had done with lords, until my lord himself was but plain "Mr. Montague"? Had he not said that if he met the King in battle, he would fire his pistol at him as soon as at any man? Had he not also openly scoffed at the Solemn League and Covenant and the compact with the Scots?

But Cromwell was not to be silenced. "It is now a time to speak or for ever hold the tongue," he said. And speak he would, "To save the nation out of a bleeding, nay, a dying state," else, "we shall make the kingdom weary of us, and hate the name of Parliament."

Already the Puritan Parliament was divided into two parties, the Presbyterian and the Independent. The Presbyterians were those who clung to a strict and narrow form of worship, and who could see no good in any man who did not think as they, and love the Solemn League and Covenant as they did. The Independents, of whom Cromwell was one of the greatest, while hating the Episcopalians as truly as the Presbyterians, yet did not love the Covenant, and claimed a greater freedom in religion. "The State," said Cromwell, "in choosing men to serve it, takes no notice of their opinions; if they be willing faithfully to serve it,—that satisfies." "Take heed of being sharp against those to whom you can object little but that they square not with you in every opinion concerning matters of religion."

And although, later, Parliament came to disagree with Cromwell on many matters, at this time, most of the Commons saw that he was right, and that, if they were to succeed and at last bring the country to peace, something must be done. "Whatever the cause," said another member, "two summers are passed over, and we are not saved. Our victories seem to have been put into a bag with holes. What we won one time we lost another. A summer's victory has proved but a winter's story. Men's hearts have failed them with the seeing of these things."

One reason for these empty victories and heavy losses was that the army of the Parliament, instead of being under only one leader was under many—Essex, Manchester, Waller, Fairfax, and others. These generals did not work together, they did not help nor understand each other, and so came troubles and difficulties.

Another member now proposed that no member of Parliament, whether of Lords or Commons, should hold any Government post, either as an officer in the army or in any other way. This he proposed, so that men like Essex, Manchester, Waller, and others, who had proved themselves to be poor generals, should be obliged to lay down their command. Then the Parliament would be free to choose what leaders they liked.

At first the lords would not hear of this proposal. The nobles had always been leaders of the army, and they wished still to remain so; but after some time they gave way, and the famous Act, called the Self-Denying Ordinance, was passed. By this, every officer who was a member of Parliament was obliged to give up his command within forty days.

Then the army was remodeled and placed under one commander-in-chief. For this post Sir Thomas Fairfax was chosen. He was only thirty-three, but he had been in many battles, and his face was scarred with wounds. He was tall and dark, very quiet in peace, but like a lion in the field, dashing yet decided. "Black Tom" his men called him.

An old and clever soldier, Sir Philip Skippon, was made the new commander's major-general. But the post of lieutenant-general was left empty. This could scarcely be by accident.

But already, having said his say, before the passing of the Self-Denying Ordinance, Oliver Cromwell had galloped off to the battle-field once more. In the west, at Weymouth, Taunton, and Salisbury, we find him. True, according to the new Act, he was no longer an officer. But the King was in the field again, some one must be sent to face him, and Fairfax, struggling hard to remodel his army, found Oliver readiest to his hand, and sent him.

Western England

Then, back from Salisbury he comes, and is soon scouring Oxfordshire. At Islip, he meets and scatters the King's horse. At Blechington, at Bampton, he is successful. At Farringdon, for once, he tries what he cannot do, and fails to take the castle. At Newbury, he joins the new Commander-in-Chief. Then, fresh danger arising, he is off once more to Ely.

So, in marching hither and thither, fighting, now here now there, the days passed. It was seen that in the field Colonel Cromwell could not be done without. Leave to be absent from his place in Parliament was given to him for forty days more, then again for forty days, until, at last, Fairfax wrote to Parliament, begging to be allowed to appoint Oliver to the post of lieutenant-general, which had never been filled. To this, for the time being, Parliament agreed. So on the 13th June 1645, Cromwell, at the head of 600 men, rode into the camp of Fairfax. And when the army knew that Ironsides was come among them once more, they raised a great shout of joy.