The Commonwealth—The Lord Protector
THE British had hardly done fighting at home, when they had to fight with enemies abroad. They went to war with the Dutch, who at this time had a very famous admiral called Van Tromp. The English, too, had a famous admiral called Blake.
The Dutch and the British had several reasons for quarrelling. Each tried to spoil the trade of the other, and the Dutch would not acknowledge the new British Government. This made the Parliament very angry.
Several fierce battles were fought at sea, and when the Dutch won, Van Tromp hoisted a broom to his masthead, as a sign that he intended to sweep the British ships from the seas. Blake and the English were very angry at this. They built and manned more ships as fast as they could, and once more sailed out to fight the Dutch. When the two fleets met, the fiercest, longest battle of this sea war took place. For three days they fought, but in the end Blake was victorious and, bravely though he had fought, Van Tromp was obliged to lower his proud broom and sweep the remainder of his own fleet homeward.
It was now about four years since King Charles had been beheaded.
Cromwell was the strongest man in the country, yet no real ruler had been appointed, and the Rump Parliament was acting neither wisely nor well. Cromwell made up his mind to put an end to this.
So one day he marched to Parliament at the head of about three hundred of his soldiers. He himself went into the House, leaving some of his soldiers at the door, some in the lobby, and some on the stairs. He sat down in his usual place, and listened for some time to the talking. Then suddenly he rose up and began to speak.
He told the Parliament that the things which they did were unjust, that they were tyrants and worse. "But your hour hath come," he cried, "the Lord hath done with you," and putting on his hat, he stamped with his foot, and his soldiers rushed in.
"I will put an end to your babbling," he shouted, and at a signal from their master, the soldiers drove the members out of the hall, Cromwell calling out insulting names at them as they passed.
The Speaker refused to leave the chair, and tried to address the members, but in the noise and confusion he could not make himself heard. Then one of Cromwell's friends took him by the arm and forced him to go. In a few minutes the hall was cleared of every one except Cromwell's soldiers and followers.
On the table lay the mace. The mace is the sign of the dignity and the lawfulness of Parliament. It is carried before the Speaker as he enters and leaves the House, and lies on the table while the members talk together. It is a sign of law and order, just as the sceptre is the sign of royalty and rule. Cromwell did not like any form or ceremony. He thought it was foolish and wicked.
"Take away that bauble," he said angrily, pointing to the mace. So it was removed. Cromwell's friends then left the House, he himself coming last and locking the doors after him. This was the end of the Long Parliament. It had lasted for thirteen years.
Cromwell and his friends now set to work to form a new Parliament, and one more to their liking than the last had been. Instead of allowing the people to choose the members, Cromwell himself chose them. But this Parliament did not please him much better than the last, and in less than five months it was again dissolved.
Cromwell was now asked to become ruler. Some of his friends wished him to take the title of king, but he refused, chiefly because he knew that his greatest friends were the soldiers, and they hated the name of king. If he took that name he was sure that they would turn against him and become his worst enemies. So he became ruler under the title of Lord Protector.
Cromwell was not crowned and anointed as kings were. But there was a very solemn service held, when a beautiful purple robe was placed upon his shoulders, the sword of office buckled to his side, and the sceptre put into his hand. He was truly king in everything but name.
Cromwell was not only a king, but a very stern and autocratic one. He wanted his own way quite as much as the Stuarts had done, only he really thought of the good of the country, and the Stuarts thought only of themselves.
The troubles of the civil war now began to pass away, and under the stern rule of the Lord Protector, Britain began once more to be peaceful and prosperous at home, and famous abroad.
All the Protestants of Europe looked to Cromwell for help and protection, and so powerful was his name that he could always give help. Kings bowed and obeyed when Cromwell commanded, and Britain was famous as she had not been since the days of Elizabeth. Her soldiers were the best in the world. Her admirals won for her the name of mistress of the seas, a name which she has kept ever since.
Yet the man who had won this great place for Britain lived in terror of his life. He was a tyrant, and like all tyrants he was bitterly hated, and he knew it. Under his clothes he wore armour, he always carried weapons, and wherever he went, he was followed and surrounded by a strong bodyguard. No one ever knew where he would sleep, for he moved about from room to room in his great palace lest some one should attack him while he rested.
At last, worn out in body and brain, the great Lord Protector died on 3rd September 1658 A.D. It was his lucky day.