Front Page Titles (by Subject) I.: 'Anarchy and Confusion' - The Ready and Easy Way to Establish a Free Commonwealth
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I.: ‘Anarchy and Confusion’ - John Milton, The Ready and Easy Way to Establish a Free Commonwealth 
The Ready and Easy Way to Establish a Free Commonwealth, edited with Introduction, Notes, and Glossary by Evert Mordecai Clark (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1915).
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‘Anarchy and Confusion’
A study of the historical situation with which The Ready and Easy Way attempts to deal may well begin with a résumé of the more important events of 1659. Early in that year the Cromwellian protectorate had gone to pieces; and in May the army, by resurrecting the Rump Parliament, restored the republic as it had existed from 1649 to 1653. Eager to exert its authority, and especially to subordinate the military to the civil power, the Rump’s first business was the reorganization of the army. Week after week a steady procession of the ‘well affected’ filed in before that august assembly, received new commissions from the venerable speaker’s hands, and filed out again better ‘affected’ than ever. At last the weary process was completed—and just in time. A general rising of Royalists had been planned to occur on August 1; but only Sir George Booth, in Cheshire, made any considerable demonstration, and he was easily suppressed (Aug. 17-9) by the new-modeled army. From this achievement General Lambert returned with high notions of his own and of the army’s importance. In September the Parliament was suddenly dumbfounded by demands, couched in no uncertain terms, from Lambert and his clique of ambitious officers. Among other things demanded, Fleetwood was to be made commander-in-chief, and Lambert himself was to be placed next under him. The wary and insecure Rump instantly scented a conspiracy. It was convinced that Lambert ‘aspired to succeed Cromwell,’ and that ‘when he should have so gotten the Sword, he would not long want the Scepter.’1 It refused these and other demands, reproved the petitioners, and being secretly assured of support from Scotland, finally cashiered Lambert and eight of his associates. The next morning (Oct. 13) Lambert threw his troops around Westminster, and put an end to the sitting. ‘Illegal and scandalous, I fear me barbarous,’ protested Milton, ‘that a paid army should, for no other cause, thus subdue the supreme power that set them up.’2
But the army-officers boldly assumed control, set up a committee of safety, and fell to work upon a constitution. The sword was law. Citizens were ‘knock’d on the head,’3 or killed outright. The soldiers, in turn, were hissed, jeered, and pelted until they grew ashamed and afraid to march.4 L’Estrange was inflaming Royalists with his pamphlets. ‘No quiet was enjoyed by any party,’5 and on Dec. 20 poor Whitelock was wishing himself ‘out of these daily hazards.’6 Meanwhile the army in Scotland was preparing to march against Lambert. Suddenly Ireland and the fleet declared for the Parliament. The army-régime collapsed. Fleetwood now admitted that ‘the Lord had blasted their Counsels, and spit in their Faces.’7 On Dec. 24 even ‘the Soldiers declared to live and die with the Parliament’; and they ‘stood in Ranks, and made Acclamations,’ as the triumphant little Rump marched back to Westminster on Dec. 26.1
The most potent factor in the overthrow of the Lambert tyranny had been the silent pressure of Cromwell’s old lieutenant-general, George Monk, military governor of Scotland, who now emerged as the dominant individual force in England. Monk was by no means the loftiest character on that remarkable stage; but he possessed a unique combination of qualities that fitted him to glide into the midst of turbulent factions, preserve order, and guide the overwhelming sentiment of the nation to its logical expression in restored kingship. He was a blunt, rough soldier, having had his ‘education in a commonwealth whose soldiers received and observed commands but gave none’2 ; a man of decision and vigor, of much shrewdness and common sense. He stuck not at dissimulation, and knew how to think much and say little. Phillips calls him ‘the most reserved man then living.’3 He was generally known in his army as ‘silent Old George.’ It was precisely this cunning and this incomparable impenetrability that fitted him so uniquely for the rôle he now proposed to assume.
The turn of the year found Monk crossing the Border. The movement was begun immediately upon his hearing of the downfall of the army-régime. This is all the more curious, as his announced intention had been merely to restore the Rump. The apparent aimlessness of the movement argued some deep design, which none could positively fathom, but which every faction chose to interpret as tending to promote its own cause. The very name ‘Old George’ had a pleasurable thrill of mystery about it, and during the month of January all eyes were riveted upon the column of veterans moving steadily southward across snow-covered England. Everywhere they were greeted with acclamations and the ringing of bells. Monk was welcomed as the deliverer, and was petitioned for a free Parliament, termination of the Rump, and readmission of the secluded members. The sphinx heard all and said nothing, except to reaffirm his championship of the existing Parliament.
Meanwhile, all factions in London were stimulated to fresh hopes and enormous diligence by the near approach of this tremendous and mysterious new force. There should be no dearth of good counsel if Milton and the host of pamphleteering politicians could help it; there should be no stone left unturned to enlist ‘the General’ in the ‘cause’ of this, that, or the other faction.
The political alignment at the beginning of February, 1660, should be understood. The two grand divisions were, of course, Royalists and Commonwealth-men; but each of these had several distinct subdivisions. Of the former there were, first, the Old Royalists, including cavaliers, clergymen of the Church of England, and a large part of the gentry and country-folk generally, whose loyalty to kingship had remained unshaken. These were for unconditional restoration. The second sub-group were the New Royalists, including the entire body of Presbyterians—‘new royalized Presbyterians,’ as Milton calls them; that part of the Cromwellians who, upon the downfall of Richard, had gone over to Sir George Booth and his Royalist forces; the City, or Municipal, party; and that vast mass of the common people and ‘rabble’ who, either from sheer fickleness and desire for change, or from motives of personal safety, were now indulging in extravagant demonstrations of loyalty. The Presbyterian element was for a constitutional monarchy, and restoration upon rigid Presbyterian conditions. But the whole group was unanimous in demanding an end of the Rump, admission of the secluded members, and the calling of a free Parliament.
Both Old and New Royalists rejoiced at Monk’s coming; for, in spite of his emphatic declarations to the contrary, they persistently believed that he was, at bottom, for the king, and would yet bring him in. That there was good foundation for this faith cannot be doubted. Overtures from the king had reached Monk the previous summer through the medium of his brother Nicholas, and he had made ready to coöperate with Booth in the Royalist rebellion. That he ‘demurred two days,’ until a fortunate arrival of mail warned him of Booth’s defeat, was all that saved him from committing himself at that time.1 ‘By the grace of God I will do it if ever I can find it in my power,’2 he declared to his chaplain, Mr. Price, just before beginning his march. His own army would not be convinced but that he would restore the king.3 From these and other similar indications, it seems perfectly certain that such was his real intention; and all that he might say could not rob the Royalists of joy and hope in his coming.
The second political grand division—the Commonwealth-men—was still more heterogeneous. It included (1) that small remnant of Cromwellians who had not turned Royalist, but who favored a protectorate, or single-person government (not kingship), and still cherished a design to reinstate Richard. The movers of similar conspiracies among the superior officers may be classed with this faction. In this division were (2) those Cromwellians who returned with enthusiasm to the commonwealth of 1649-53 as a model settlement. To this group belonged Milton. Here, of course, were (3) the uncompromising republicans—those who had stood for the old republic, had not accepted the protectorate, and were now advocating a commonwealth ‘without single person or house of lords.’ Such were the Rumpers—or a sufficient number of them to characterize the body. To this group belonged also the rank and file of the army, and the Independent clergy. Finally, this division included (4) miscellaneous anti-Royalists—Anabaptists, Fifth-Monarchy-men, etc.
These various branches of Commonwealth-men looked upon Monk’s coming with some degree of misgiving. The Independent ministers had solemnly endeavored to dissuade him from marching against Lambert, inasmuch as the ‘Canaanites and Perizzites were in the land.’1 The Rumpers, who knew how it felt to be pulled out by the ears, would have preferred the influence of this masterful man at a safe distance rather than his actual presence with a grim army of veterans at his back. But whatever they felt, they could hardly do less than extend a seemingly hearty welcome to their approaching savior and professed champion. So they made him Ranger of St. James’ Park, voted him £1000 a year for life, and sent Masters Scott and Robinson to escort him to London—and to ferret out all they could of his designs. If Monk would only fall in with their filling-up scheme of perpetuating themselves, and take the abjuration-oath, his coming might turn out to be a good thing after all! The Cromwellians saw a possibility of making Monk protector; while Milton, and Commonwealth-men in general, decided, upon the whole, to accept with good grace Monk’s vehement declaration in favor of a commonwealth.
Into the midst of this welter of faction and boundless curiosity, on February 3, came marching ‘Old George’ the mysterious, with 5800 weather-beaten troops. No less sumptuous an abode was tendered him than the Prince’s Lodgings at Whitehall. On Monday, Feb. 6, he was escorted to Westminster, and compelled to endure a panegyric from the speaker. When the ordeal was over, Monk delivered a brief reply, in which he recommended to the astonished Rumpers their early dissolution; ‘a free and full Parliament; . . . a Gospel Ministry; encouragement of Learning and Universities; and . . . admittance of the Members secluded before 1648, without previous oath or engagement.’1 Sir Roger Gifford, writing on Feb. 8, expresses the general feeling of mystification: ‘Monck was at the House on Munday last who expresst himself so obscurely that most men know not what construction for to make of it.’2
What did Monk mean? What would he do next? The curiosity of the anxious members was to be satisfied before the end of the week. But meanwhile Milton and the other pamphleteers labored amain to supply the blunt, apparently nonplussed general with abundance of ‘light.’
On Feb. 8 the City voted to pay no more taxes to the odious Rump, in which it had not a single representative. The Parliament decided to test Monk’s sincerity, and, as Burnet3 thought, to render him harmless by making him as unpopular as themselves. On Feb. 8 the citizens of London were astounded to find him and his soldiers at work demolishing their gates, posts, chains, portcullises, and other defenses. Parliament had commanded; Monk had obeyed. On the next day he finished the job, and retired from the scene with every shred of popularity gone—the most thoroughly hated man in London. The Rump had scored. ‘Now George, we have thee for ever,’ cried Haslerig, ‘body and soul!’ But Monk marched back again on the 11th, no longer the servant of the Rump, but its dictator! ‘By Friday next,’ ran his ultimatum, ‘they should issue out Writs to fill up their House; and when filled, should rise at their appointed time, to give Place to a full and free Parliament.’1
The demonstrations of joy that greeted this sudden and complete change of front were unparalleled. Pepys’ vivid account2 is as follows: ‘I saw many people give the soldiers drink and money, and all along in the streets cried, “God bless them!” . . . In Cheapside there was a great many bonfires, and Bow bells and all the bells in all the churches as we went home were a-ringing, . . . it being about ten at night. But the common joy that was everywhere to be seen! . . . I could at one view tell thirty-one fires. In King-street seven or eight; and all along burning, and roasting, and drinking for rumps. There being rumps tied upon sticks and carried up and down. The butchers at the May Pole in the Strand rang a peal with their knives when they were going to sacrifice their rump. On Ludgate Hill there was one turning of the spit that had a rump tied upon it, and another basting of it. Indeed it was past imagination, both the greatness and the suddenness of it. At one end of the street you would think there was a whole lane of fire, and so hot that we were fain to keep on the further side.’
‘This blow was it,’ says Clement Walker, ‘made Independency stagger, for so highly were both City and Country pleased with this Declaration, that they did hardly know in what manner to express their joy, ringing their bells, making bonfires, the air resounding nothing but the name and prayses of Monck, and the Streets filled with gratefull hearts, who on bended knees prayed for blessings on the head of the hoped restorer, both of the Church and Commonwealth.’1
But if the Royalists exulted in the assurance of a free Parliament, and, through this, of an early restoration, the Commonwealth-men were in despair. Milton especially must have felt the blow, as it shattered in an instant his favorite scheme of perpetuating the Rump, and paved the way for a return to kingship. Indeed, we find that his pamphlet, which was apparently nearing completion at the time of these mad tumults, was thrown aside, and, for the time being, left unpublished.
Encouraged by Monk’s stand, the secluded members pressed him more closely than ever to espouse their cause. As they were out-and-out Royalists, Monk feigned unwillingness; but he consented to hear them debate the matter with certain of the Rumpers—really only delaying until the army was in ‘temper’ for the move. And finally, pledging them to (1) army-settlement, (2) maintenance and arrears for army and navy, (3) a new Parliament, and (4) their own legal dissolution at an early date, he restored to their seats in Parliament, on Feb. 21, those members who had been excluded by Pride’s Purge in 1648. ‘This began to infuse a new spirit of life into the Kingdom,’ says Walker, ‘in whom at this springing season of the year, began a new to bud and peep out the bloomes of a too long frost-nipped loyalty, so that one now might have seen what twenty years before could never shew, countenances, that lately were dejected through the cruell tyranny of their Ægyptian task masters, now gather cheerfull looks, and like fresh blown roses yield a fragrant savour.’1
But Monk as yet dared by no means to renounce his republican pretensions. A few days before the readmission of the secluded members, he declared to Ludlow that they ‘must live and die together for a Commonwealth,’2 and to Haslerig, ‘I do protest I will oppose to the utmost the setting up of Charles Stuart, a Single Person or House of Peers’3 ; and on the night of Feb. 21 he dispatched with all haste letters to the different regiments in England, Scotland, and Ireland to satisfy them ‘that nothing was intended for Alteration of Government, but that it should continue as a free State and Commonwealth.’4 It was such assurances as these, together with the fact that the restored Parliament, although strongly Royalist, resolved to terminate soon, and leave the whole question of settlement to a free Parliament, that led Milton to take up again his neglected pamphlet, which he now prefaced with a brief reference to the altered situation, and published at the end of February.
After setting up a council of state, and making provisions for general elections, the famous Long Parliament dissolved on March 16; but only ‘after many sad pangs & groanes,’1 for there was a growing inclination among its members to sit on, and bring in the king themselves, and on their own terms. Monk now began to play more boldly his game of negotiation. On the ‘next Evening after the Dissolution of Parliament’2 he consented to a private audience with his cousin, Sir John Greenville, who put into his hands a message from Charles. Three days later, Sir John was posting back to the Continent with Monk’s advice to the royal exile (see note on 16. 31). Among other things, he recommended a proclamation of general pardon, confirmation of titles to real estate, and toleration as to matters of religion.
In the last days of March, amidst the greatest enthusiasm and keenest rivalry ever known, began the general elections. Every one was eager for a place in the ‘free’ Parliament, whereas no one but the excluded members had cared to sit with the Rump. As early as Feb. 23 Lady Anne Rochester writes: ‘Good Mr. Yates, next to my sonne Lee, let not Sr. Raphe Verney faile of being chosen.’3 These two seats, she thinks, will be ‘as many’ as they ‘can compas.’ The elections continued through the greater part of April. From the first the Royalists, of course, carried all before them. Very soon it became obvious to every one that the king’s return was only a matter of weeks. On the 9th of April, Monk felt so confident of this that he sent Charles an absolute assurance of unconditional restoration.
Even Milton admitted as much. He had been revising his Ready and Easy Way with the design of influencing elections, or at least the Parliament. But as the returns began coming in, it became apparent that his efforts were to be as futile in the one case as in the other. Nevertheless, he was not quite alone. There was Lambert, just escaped from the Tower, and gathering together the desperate remnant of Fanatics, who were determined to oppose kingship to their last drop of blood. Milton owned them as kindred spirits, and resolved to make his forlorn fight at their side. Apparently in the very last days before the capture of Lambert on April 22 and the assembling of Parliament on the 25th, and probably after April 20, he finished, and soon after sent forth, the enlarged—and embittered—edition; ‘not so much to convince these,’ which he little hoped, ‘as to confirm them who yield not.’
[1 ]Baker, Chron., p. 577.
[2 ]Letter to a Friend (Bohn 2. 103).
[3 ]L’Estrange, Apology (Tracts, p. 42).
[4 ]Baker, Chron., p. 591.
[5 ]Whitelock, Memorials 4. 380.
[6 ]Ibid. 4. 380.
[7 ]Baker, Chron., p. 592.
[1 ]Baker, Chron., p. 592.
[2 ]Monk, Letter to Speaker (Corbet, Monk, p. 121).
[3 ]Baker, Chron., p. 594.
[1 ]Baker, Chron., p. 575.
[2 ]Corbet, Monk, p. 150.
[3 ]Baker, Chron., p. 586.
[1 ]Baker, Chron., p. 588.
[1 ]Cobbett, Parl. Hist. 3. 1575.
[2 ]Verney Memoirs 3. 458.
[3 ]History of My Own Time, p. 156.
[1 ]Baker, Chron., p. 598.
[2 ]Diary, Feb. 11, 1660.
[1 ]Clement Walker, History of Independency 4. 92.
[1 ]Walker, Hist. of Independency 4. 94.
[2 ]Ludlow, Memoirs 2. 227.
[3 ]Ibid. 2. 237.
[4 ]Baker, Chron., p. 601.
[1 ]Verney Memoirs 3. 473.
[2 ]Baker, Chron., p. 605.
[3 ]Verney Memoirs 3. 465.