Oliver stayed little more than a year at Cambridge, for in the following June his father died, and once more he rode home to Huntingdon. Now he had to take his place as head of the house, and care for his mother and his sisters. But in those days, it was thought right that every country gentleman should know something of law. So once more Oliver put on his travelling dress, mounted his horse, and set out for London, there to study law. This was a much longer journey than he had taken before. We can imagine how excited the country boy—for he was little more—would be when he first rode into the great city, the capital of the kingdom.
London! To those of us who have seen it, what a picture the name calls up. Here are endless streets, miles upon miles of them, flanked by high houses, and pavements crowded with hundreds and thousands of people hurrying to and fro. In the roadway there is a thick and constant stream of cabs, carts, 'buses, grand carriages with prancing horses, little donkey-carts, unwieldy, noisy motors, and silent, swift electric cars. The air seems thick with sound, as the life of the great city hums and roars its way through the teeming streets.
The great broad river, too, which rolls under the many bridges on its way to the sea, is a busy thoroughfare. Up and down go mighty ships, clumsy barges, graceful little craft, laden with merchandise from all parts of the world. The banks are black with warehouses and noisy with shipbuilding. Everywhere there is clamour and bustle. It is a huge, busy, human hive, this London, the chief seaport in the kingdom, the richest and most populous city in all the world. And besides being the centre of trade, London is the seat of government, for there, in the stately halls at Westminster, Lords and Commons gather to make the laws by which the land shall be ruled.
London has grown to such importance and such greatness partly through its position. It lies upon the broad estuary of the Thames, on the eastern shores of Britain, making it easy to reach the European ports. The channel is safe, as the Wash is not, and wider and deeper than the Humber, although not deep enough for the great ships which are now built, so that many of them cannot come up to the port of London. It has one great fault as a port. It has no coal fields near, nor yet iron ore. These have to be brought a great distance, which makes them dear. So it is to be feared that some of the large shipbuilders will go away from the Thames to places nearer coal fields. Yet in spite of this fault, London has grown to be the heart of a vast network of road-, rail-, and water-ways, which lead out to all the world, and return again, carrying man and merchandise, as the veins and arteries carry blood to and from the heart of our body.
The London which Oliver looked upon was, of course, little like the London which we know. The streets were narrow and dirty, the houses mostly built of wood. Still it was a great and wonderful city. There mingled gay cavaliers, richly clad and decked with feathers and laces, sober Puritans, quaintly dressed soldiers, tradesmen, and merchants, a many-coloured crowd.
But again, of Oliver's life in this great city we know little. He made some friends, however—among them a certain Sir James Bourchier. This we know, for in 1620, when Oliver was twenty-one, he married Elizabeth, daughter of Sir James. The marriage took place at St. Giles's Church, Cripplegate. Then the young couple went home to Huntingdon.
There are people who say that Oliver was a naughty boy and a wild young man. Whether that be so or not, now at least he settled down quietly to farm the land which had been left him by his father. For the next ten years he lived a simple country life with his old mother and his good housewife Elizabeth.
While the years passed peacefully in Huntingdon, the King and his people had begun to quarrel. "The King can do no wrong," said James, and he tried to have all his own way. He tried, for one thing, to force every one to be of the same church—the English Church. But many did not like the English Church. It was too much like the Roman Catholic, which they hated. They wanted to do away with bishops, and robes and ceremonies, and have a very simple service. "No Bishop, no King," said James. And so the quarrel grew.
In 1625 James died, and his son Charles came to the throne. But with the new King things went no better. He wanted his own way quite as much as his father had done. So the quarrel between the King and people, between the King and Parliament, grew worse. Twice Charles called a Parliament. Twice, after a few weeks, he dissolved it in a passion, because the Commons would not vote him money unless he promised something in return. Then in 1628 he called a third Parliament. To this, as member for the town of Huntingdon, went Oliver Cromwell.
This was a remarkable Parliament. It passed an Act called the Petition of Right. This Act forbade the King to tax the people without first getting leave from Parliament. It forbade that men should be put in prison without a reason. It forbade that soldiers and sailors should be sent to live in people's houses, whenever and for as long a time as the King pleased. These were really no new laws. They were old ones, which the King had forgotten and broken. Charles, however, still went on taxing the people without leave, and the quarrel grew worse. Then the King ordered the Parliament to dissolve. At this the members were very angry, and as the Speaker tried to leave the hall, two of them held him down in his chair, crying, "He shall sit here till it please the House to rise."
There the Speaker was held, while the doors were locked, so that no man might go out and no man, not even the King's messenger, might come in. Then the Commons declared once more that it was against the law for the King to levy taxes without the consent of Parliament, and that any one paying such taxes was a traitor to the liberty of his country. For a few minutes the old hall rang with cheers. Then the members quickly scattered, for it was rumoured that soldiers were coming. That was the end of Parliament for the time, and Charles, finding that he could not make it do what he wanted, ruled without calling another for eleven years.
After taking part in these exciting doings Oliver went home, to settle down once more quietly to his farming.