King Charles the Martyr, 1643-1649

By Esmé Wingfield-Stratford | Go to book overview
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I
THE TRAIN IS LAID

AFTER the departure of the Parliamentary Commissioners events swept to a climax. Now that Ireton had succeeded in formally committing the army to the programme of revolution and regicide embodied in his Army Remonstrance, he and the dynamic group who were its effective sponsors did not intend to let the grass grow beneath their feet. And behind Ireton, distant, enigmatic, loomed the greater figure that was in every. one's thoughts. When did Lieutenant-General Cromwell intend to make his entrance on the stage? For what part had he cast himself in this last act of the royal tragedy? For by that, as all must have hoped or feared, the issue was likely to be determined.

The question, even in the light of our present knowledge, is not too easy to answer. It is by no means certain that Cromwell could have given any definite answer himself. He was still in Yorkshire, side-tracked by his own choice in work that would have been more appropriately deputed to a subordinate, that of starving out the isolated Cavalier garrison at Pontefract--who, he reports, "are resolved to endure to the utmost extremity, expecting no mercy, as indeed they deserve none."

Whatever else might be doubtful about the Lieutenant-General's mood at the time, it was marked by a blood-thirstiness that only differed from that of his son-in-law as fire differs from ice. That conditional order to massacre the 4,000 prisoners at Preston had been no isolated outburst. On the same day that the Remonstrance was presented to Parliament we have a furious letter of his, written to two Members of the Commons, about a certain Sir John Owen, who had led the rising in North Wales, and instead of sharing the fate of Lisle and Lucas had been let off with a sentence of banishment and a fine--it is like the roar of a wild beast baulked of its prey.

It is five days after this, the day the Commissioners left Newport,

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